My Hipster PDA

The first time I saw a mention of the “Hipster PDA,” I thought it was ridiculous. “So it’s just a bunch of 3x5 cards? How is that advanced organizational power? How will I do Google Maps on it? Or addresses? Or… anything? How is this not entirely lame?”

Unfortunately, as I grow somewhat older (and more importantly, more distracted), I find that this (still quite) lame little device is just what I need– and indeed, I’ve found it to be useful for a far longer period of time than any digital PDA I’ve ever used (including my really nice (at the time) Handspring Visor Platinum, now being used as a datebook for my father’s scheduling conferences).

So then, as a bit of background– yes, the essential Hipster is just a bunch of 3x5 cards, bound together with a binder clip. You can add nicer holders, covers, pictures, special pens, whatever you want; part of the advantage over, say, a small planner is that you only need to include cards you actually want to use– and if you realize that you aren’t using one, just pull it out. I found an invaluable resource at– they have pre-created templates for 3x5 cards (and other forms of paper) to do all sorts of neat things– write novels, make task lists, you name it. The other resource I find helpful is my GTDTiddlyWiki– it’s a one-page wiki (derived from the original TiddlyWiki) that you don’t need a web server to host– it’s self-modifying code that uses javascript and can be run locally. The GTD part is the modification to be compatible with the “Getting Things Done” methodology– which I don’t really follow religiously, but their tools are nice. The really useful part of the GTDTiddlyWiki is that it can print “tiddlers” (the replacement for wiki pages) to 3x5 cards– CSS sugar, but useful sugar nonetheless. This thing holds my task list on my computer, as well as my agenda, people I need to call, research goals– whatever I need at the moment.

So then, with those two tools and some playing in PhotoShop, here’s the current contents of my HipsterPDA:

  • Cover-- the DIYPlanner cover with my address and email, and the same cartoon self-representation I use everywhere else
  • Agenda-- generated by the wiki
  • Blue Divider-- The dividers are just me outlining a 3x5 card with a marker, the truly artistic solution :-)
  • Task list-- this is usually two, sometimes three cards, generated by the wiki
  • Research tasks--wiki
  • Recruitment tasks (stuff about prospective internships, jobs, gigs, etc)-- wiki
  • People I'm supposed to call-- wiki
  • Green Divider
  • A calendar (no boxes, as I have information on the agenda page-- just a quick reference as to what day of the month next Thursday will be)-- DIYPlanner
  • A penalty guide cheat sheet for my Judging duties for Magic-- derived from the cheat sheet in the penalty guide itself
  • A resume-- yes, seriously, a resume; I reformatted my resume (thank you, LaTeX) for 3x5, and I've actually handed this to employers; it's odd how often I meet people who ask me randomly for a resume, so now I just carry one at all times. It's surprisingly readable, considering how packed my normal resume is at 8.5x11)
  • A shopping list that I add things to as I remember-- wiki
  • Red divider
  • A shuttle schedule for the Hopkins shuttle
  • A MARC schedule, as if I ever had time to go to DC
  • Back cover

All the covers and dividers have hard lamination, which was by far the most expensive part of the project; with it, the whole thing costs maybe $3– I.E., 1/100th the cost of a PDA (or less!). It works pretty well for me– whenever I think of something, I can write it down on the appropriate card as soon as I think of it, so that it might actually get remembered and done at some later date. Periodically (daily when I’m in school, weekly on vacation), I pitch the scribbled-on agenda and task list after disgorging their contents into the computer, then print off fresh ones, which makes sure I can actually read my tasks. :-)

In addition, I have three DIYPlanner grid-printed index cards (for drawing charts, or playing games, whatever’s necessary at the moment), and six blank cards for writing stuff on and handing to people, or making collections of information and sticking them into the PDA; again, whatever I need. That flexibility is extraordinarily helpful.

For those of you (like my father) concerned about the geeky look of pulling out a binder-clipped thing in otherwise formal circumstances, Levenger sells really nice “Pocket Briefcases” designed for 3x5 cards, that are shiny black leather; while I was loathe to give up my binder clip at first, I have to admit, this works much better in a suit (for instance, while talking to the Governor).

So: for just a bunch of notecards, this little thing works pretty well. It also works well in conjunction with my other tiny business things: my tiny laptop, and my tiny business cards. Life, as a micro cosmos!


  • Outstanding tasks: 14