There's a reason there's still so much paper around in this hyper-connected, everything-online age: the stuff is cheap, portable, compatible with all your applications, and everyone masters the interface by the time they're out of the first grade. Ingenious hackers and productivity thinkers, however, have taken paper to the next level in a huge variety of ways, creating templates for pocket organisers, super-handy calendars, thoughtful gifts, and even makeshift tools. Fire up your printer and let's take a stroll through some of the best printable productivity tools out there. Photo by Cirofono.
Note: Don't waste paper! Use recycled paper whenever possible, and preview your work before you hit print to reduce mistakes and unnecessary tree deaths.
10. Print out in-a-pinch graph paper or rulers.
Sometimes it's just easier to write or sketch out your thoughts when there's guidelines on your paper, as you may remember from grade school. If your office or home office doesn't keep a stack of it handy, there are many DIY solutions. Printable Paper keeps a virtual Staples aisle of graph and lined paper on hand, while PrintFreeGraphPaper.com lets you click to determine your sheet's parameters. If you just need to know whether an object or life-sized picture is 4.5 inches but you're missing a ruler, try a collection of the paper version.
If you've got reading to do on your commute, or anywhere you're on the go, it's a lot more convenient if it fits in your pocket. Spare yourself staple-torn sheets and awkward folding with BookletMaker, which takes in PDFs and reprints them as readable, multi-page booklet(s) you can order and customise. Note that PocketMod (you'll see it below) and Adobe itself have a similar capability baked-in, but without the multi-booklet convenience.
As replacements for busted jewel boxes or containers for thoughtful gift mixes, a paper CD case is an attractive, value-added way to keep scratches and thumbs off your loose tunes or programs. The link above shows how to fold and decorate your paper sheath; for a more straight-forward artist/album/track listing, check out paper CD case.
We're obviously big fans (in gawking at, if not always assembling) of DIY wallets of all types, but the durable paper wallet detailed at Instructables is truly cheap, conversation-starting, and, if made out of Tyvek film, durable and water-proof. It's also super-thin, which your well-worn back pockets will thank you for.
6. Fold a 3D, 12-sided desk calendar.
Admittedly, a dodecahedral, AD&D-style calendar isn't as useful as your standard at-a-glance models, but it sure outdoes your fellow cubicle workers for ingenuity. Generate your own print-and-fold PDF at Ole Arntzen's site, and check out illustrated assembly instructions at simplehuman.
Add a timeline to your project notebook or wallet for a computer-free date reference with Dave Seah's Compact Calendar—an Excel worksheet you download and mark off important dates on (original post). The "candy bar of time" layout of continuous days makes highlighting blocks of dates easy. For those who want an at-a-glance calendar at their desk, a monitor strip calendar offers similar no-click convenience.
Many university graduates couldn't look back at their notes from any lecture and make much sense of them at this point—unless they took them right the first time. Whether you're in academia or just need better notes from your meetings, the Cornell Method of note-taking breaks down raw sentences into workable concepts and items. Once you've learned the basics, you can pre-print Cornell-formatted templates at Cornell-Notes to force your hand, and your brain, to do the right thing.
When you don't have an actual CEO making sure you're working on the important things in the business of your life, you can print one out. The Printable CEO is a simple checklist that constantly asks "When is something worth doing?" Geared to those building sales-based services, you can easily re-purpose the Printable CEO for any goals or decisions, as Lifehacker alumnus Keith Robinson found out.
PocketMod, a free webapp that creates slick-looking printouts you fold a few times into a mini-organizer, embraces the very reason paper is still around in this ultra-digital age—it's portable, it's cheap and recyclable, and you don't need special tricks to embed daily/weekly/monthly planners, a calendar, RSS feeds, notes, or anything else into it. The original design will keep you busy for some time, but you can also track your mileage and workout schedule, keep the kids (hopefully) entertained, and create walk-around maps. The PocketMod is a truly extendable system that anyone can use.
You can drop some serious cash on expensive paper planners at the fancy stationary store, but they always have too many pages of this but never enough of that. Instead, configure and refill your planner with the wide range of printable D*I*Y Planner templates, a collection of more than 100 lists, calendars, task management, thought trees, and other helpers in all the standard paper sizes. They've also added a Hipster PDA edition (here's more on clever little hack), stylish covers, and much more.
There are many, many cool uses for ink on paper—or even just paper itself, in the case of opening beer bottles—so let's hear what bits of pulp make your day more productive, more fun, or just come in handy for you on a regular basis. Share your links and ideas in the comments.