Lo-Fi Productivity – The Hipster!

A few years ago, I was updating my task lists on my Palm Pilot PDA when “POOF”, the screen disappeared.  Turned out my rechargable battery had went bad and my data, at least the most of it from that day, was lost.  I had synched my PDA with my computer at home before I left for the day but all the data I had created that day was gone.

I took the unit to the “geek” store in my local mall to have it checked and was set back a bit by the price of fixing it.  Of course, the salesman wanted me to buy a new unit but at that time, cellphone hybrids that are common now, were just starting to make headway.  I elected to wait it out to see how the market would shake out.  I didn’t want to pay for an expensive hybrid, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to replace the Palm Pilot at the time.  I thought I might be able to purchase a used unit through one of the online resale sites for a few dollars.

Enter the Hipster PDA.  Popularized by Merlin Mann at the blog “43 Folders”, the hipster PDA is simply a stack of index cards held together by a binder clip, snap-rings, fancy covers, or my choice; Circa/Rollabind rings.  Today, the hipster is more well known than it was at the time of my Palm Pilot’s death.  Still, you may want to laugh and ask how a stack of 3 x 5 index cards could possibly rival a high-tech device like today’s Blackberry or iPhone.  It does and here’s a few reasons why:

  • No Batteries.  I no longer have to reacharge my PDA or replace batteries like my old Handspring Visor used to require.
  • Durability.  I’ve dropped by hPDA and it still works!  I can store it anywhere and it doesn’t require a fancy case to protect it from scratches and such.
  • Low Cost.  Aside from replacing the used cards every few days, there’s little to upkeep here.  Pencils are cheap too.
  • Low Theft Rate.  I’ve left my hPDA on a table while I’ve gotten coffee in a bookstore without worry someone will steal it.
  • Geek Factor.  I’ve gotten comments from people wanting to know how I use it.  I’m pretty simple in my organization that I will share in another post.
  • Immediacy.  When I need to jot something down, the hPDA is ready in seconds.  No bootups and waiting for a program to load.

I remember many times taking my PDA with me in its special case but I handled it carefully so as not to break it.  Sometimes, that alone made it cumbersome.  Then, when I wanted to remember something, it would take a bit for me to fire it up, find the program, and then write something down and save it.  That’s too much a hassle for me when I simply want to make a note to pick up coffee and milk at the grocery store.

Over the years, I’ve varied in the way I’ve used my hPDA.  I’ve tried little folders, multi-colored cards for each area, pre-designed templates (and there are many.  Just search for “Hipster PDA templates” in your favorite search engine and see what you get), and special binders.  What I’ve settled on over time is a simple system of cards that I can manage, store, and process each day when I return.  About the only modifications I make to the cards themselves is rounding the bottom corners with a corner rounder I purchased at the local Hobby store and binding them with Circa/Rollabind rings.  The “small” size Rollabind rings are about a quarter of an inch in diameter and make the perfect binding ring for a Hipster.

What I’ve found with this device is that I remember things more.  I write more things down because it’s easy to do.  My results list each day is easy to create and manage, and because I’m not worried about dropping the thing or getting it wet, I take it everywhere I go.  I use a system of card management that’s easy for anyone and it keeps me on top of things day by day.

In my next post, I’ll share more about how I maintain my Hipster, how I manage my cards, and why you may want to give this a try.  Until then, I encourage your feedback.  Do you use one of these?  How do you organize it for results.  Do you have any favorite “hacks” for using a hPDA?  Let’s dialog about it!

Lo-Fi Productivity – The Hipster!

3 thoughts on “Lo-Fi Productivity – The Hipster!

  1. Hi Scott,

    I am a big fan of paper based productivity too. The hipster works well for a lot of activities, but sometimes a smaller version is more portable. I have a smaller “business card” sized version available for download on my blog. All you need is some Avery blank business card sheets and you’re ready to go. I call it the Walleteer and it fits handily in a pocket or purse.
    The page link is



  2. John,
    Good to see you here. I’m a big fan of the Walleteer. I have several of them in my collection. You’ve done a great job using the business card template to make several nice paper-based tools!

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