The Frugal Person’s Guide to Getting Organized

Part 1 DIY Paper Organizers

Calendar page

Who hasn’t started a new year with a resolution to finally get organized? Planner systems (such as DayTimer, Day Runner and FranklinCovey), calendars, software, and accessories are often the first things people buy when they want to get organized, but later they often sit around collecting dust because people don’t use them. They can also be expensive. This series of article will show you (mostly) free and inexpensive tools to develop your personal system for getting organized as well as many learning tools for increasing your productivity.ToDoList-small

An organization system can be as simple as a to-do list on the back of an envelope or as sophisticated as a daily, weekly, monthly and annual analysis of your goals, needs and projects with coordinated contact managers, and more.

Paper is always a good start for getting organized. Like the planning systems mentioned above, most paper systems include to-do lists, a calendar, contact lists and notes. However, a paper to-do list won’t update itself daily and a paper calendar won’t send you reminders for appointments, nor will it automate setting up a meeting with your work group. Nor can you check it on your phone. But they’re easy to use, easy to read, and – when you actually check with it at least daily – effective.

The key to getting organized is developing a personal, customized system that you enjoy using. There are many types of organizers for different types of people.

Let’s look at some resources for various systems.


Productive Flourishing

One of the most impressive paper systems is available from Charlie Gilkey’s Productive Flourishing website. Here you will find downloadable PDF pages for Daily, Weekly, Monthly, Quarterly and Annual planning guides to organize projects and track tasks. (Subscribe to the free newsletter to access all of them.) First, take a look at the Free Planners page. If you decide this system may be useful, you can choose to download each month’s guides free at the beginning of each month, or you can can download a year’s set of monthly, weekly and daily Action, Project or Blog planners for $12. Getting organized should save you much more than $1 a month!

Whether using one month’s or a year’s forms, download and print out the pages, add a 3-ring binder, dividers, and an address book, and you have a complete organization system for very little money.

In addition, Gilkey also offers a Freelance Workweek page for people with less-regimented schedules, and a Productivity Heatmap to track your most productive times of day. There is also a good tutorial for the system and a productivity blog. The only drawback to the downloadable pages is that they are all 8.5″ x 11″ sized pages and don’t fit in “Classic” sized notebooks (5.5″ x 8.5″) With a little bit of work, though, you can design your own.

A good place to start is with Charlie’s article, “50+ Better Questions To Ask Than How To Be More Productive.”

Alternative places to start are with his New Here? page and his blog. Charlie now markets several books and has expanded into corporate organization, too. Lots of good stuff here.

Organizer and penD*I*Y Planner

Another long-standing and top-notch site for downloadable organizer pages is the D*I*Y Planner website, which has many different planning pages for daily and special planning, ready-made for different size notebooks. Even if you buy a commercial planner (or use Charlie Gilkey’s, above), you’ll find special page designs to add to your notebook. Be sure to read “A Beginner’s Guide to Making a D*I*Y Planner” guide.” All the forms are in PDF form, so they are printable from any computer with a PDF reader. Everything here is free!Colored 3x5 cards

In addition to the standard paper notebooks, the site has templates for the Hipster PDA system, which is a low-tech, simple collection of printed 3×5 cards bound together. The Hipster is a concept more than a product. The best place to learn more about using the system is on the 43 Folders website.

43 Folders – The Site and The System

By the way, the 43 Folders website is another useful site for getting organized, derived from David Allen’s Getting Things Done (more on this later). Check out the How to Use 43 Folders page there. 43 Folders refers to the number of file folders you need to create numbered folders for each day of the month plus one folder for each month, all rotated as a “tickler” and organization system. See’s description of the tickler file system.

Do you use the popular “Classic” 5.5″ x 8.5″ size binder as your organizer? (Day-Timer, Day Runner and FranklinCovey offer this format.) Finding blank paper to print your own forms can be either very expensive or quite cheap. Here’s a tip for easy and cheap: Go to your favorite office supply store, pick up a ream of good quality, lightweight 8.5″ x 11″ paper in your favorite color and take it to the store’s copy center. Ask them to cut the pages in half on their industrial cutter. (The charge shouldn’t be more than $2, plus the price of the paper.) You now have two reams of perfectly-cut Classic-sized binder paper to use with your home printer. If you have a 7-ring binder, a FranklinCovey metal 7-hole puncher is a worthwhile investment for $25, and it’s attractive, too!

In Part 2, we’ll look at some of the best software for getting organized. Finally, in Part 3, we’ll share some of the best books and web links to learn how to be organized.

Do you have a paper organizer? What type and how do you use it?

Artwork Credits:

“Calendar” courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at

“To Do List” by the blog author, Andrew Brandt.

“Organizing Schedule for Week Ahead” courtesy of Stuart miles at

“Colored 3×5 Cards” by the blog author, Andrew Brandt

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