Review: The Levenger Circa System, Part I

Levenger FolioDon't get me wrong: I love art. I'm married to an artist, and I've suffered my own artistic yearnings over the years. But the reason most often cited for purchasing many of the expensive products created by upscale manufacturers is that the objects are art in themselves, and not meant to be used seriously in any practical application. In other words, form does not always follow function. (Would one take a family trip in a Ferrari, or tote a $10K Prada handbag to a day-job?) Things precious to us, and dear to our wallets, can be merely a symbol that screams out, yes, I have arrived.

Time for some perspective. I'm definitely not the sort to pose in a Ferrari, nor in any other vehicular objet d'art. Neither am I a man of any great pretension, nor significant financial position. Give me a hefty, boxy, unergonomic, kidney-busting Jeep any day. If it's utilitarian, I'm quite happy. (Woe to my fashion-conscious wife with the delicate internal organs.)

Which brings me to Levenger. I've been watching the forums and comments with some interest, musing on the possibilities of the Levenger Circa notebook and folio line-up. But --as I said-- function is usually more important to me than form, and Levenger is widely known for insisting on a certain upscale aesthetic quality in their products, along with price tags that might prove intimidating to those folks overly familiar with the office supply section of Wal-Mart. True, Levenger does produce some beautiful gear --everything from Oxford bookcases to leather Quincy Winger recliners in russet-- and there's barely an item in their catalogue that doesn't awaken something in me akin to lust, but how much of it would prove useful on a day-to-day basis? And what of the costs? Are they really worth it?

I decided on a little experiment.

Picture, in a Closed Circle...

"Hi, my name is Douglas Johnston, and I'm a planner junkie. What? Oh, it started a few years ago, after my Palm IIIc crashed. Then there was that D*I*Y Planner thing, and people started giving me all kinds of great suggestions, and then there was that Hipster PDA thing. Yeah, I'm hooked. How many? Well, I use a leather Classic size Day Runner planner as my hub. But I have a Moleskine for keeping notes. No, I use two of them, a pocket and a regular, plus a couple of PaperBlanks. And a Hipster PDA for portable planning. And, the business card stuff, too, yes. And.... Hmm? Yes, I'm afraid I've even used letter-size at times, mainly for mind-mapping. Where does it all go? Erm, everywhere, I guess. And don't even get me started on sticky notes and online temptations.... Fragmentary, yes, that's a good word. It's a struggle to keep organised at times."

A Possible Solution in Sight

Strolling through the online Levenger catalogue, I was intrigued by the possibilities afforded by their Circa system. Thanks to a certain forward-looking employee of the company (forward-looking, because he listens and talks to some of his most inspired customers on our little site), I was able to secure a number of samples of different shapes and sizes of Circa gear, along with punches, folios, and other items that could be used for my "Great Circa Experiment." The goal: use the Circa gear for a month as a complete replacement for my hodgepodge planning and notetaking system.

Introducing the Circa System

RolodexAnyone who may have used a Rolodex back in the glorious days of paper contact management knows the basic mechanism behind the Circa series. Remember the large rings or discs with the little perpendicular strip around the outside rim (forming a "T" in cross-section), and the cards that were punched with "T"-shaped holes? The cross-bar ringing the outside exerted enough pressure to hold the cards firm, and yet by bending the cards slightly, one could easily snap the cards in and out at any position around the rings. This way, one could easily manage contact cards, free of the hassles of dealing with a snap-shut ring-and-hole system.

That painful ring-and-hole system is the basis of most day planners, including the omnipresent Day Runner, Day-Timer, and Franklin-Covey models. If you have such a planner, you know too well many of the problems with the ring system, including the insertion or removal of forms near the beginning or end of a full planner: one often has to remove up to a third of the pages because one side of the rings will not hold all the papers when shuffling. Then, of course, there's the incompatible ring configurations for different size planners, the inability to modify your ring size, and --in some models-- an awkward amount of pressure needed to open or close the rings.

Instead of rehashing the ring-and-hole system yet again, the Circa system applies the Rolodex concept to notebooks and planners. Instead of two fixed rotating rings, there's a series of discs with edges that are --in cross-section-- like a "T" with a rounded top. They are held in formation by the paper sheets and covers that they're holding, which in effect become a spine. The paper, of course, is punched right to the edge with that "T" shape.

To build a standard Levenger Circa notebook, one first inserts discs into the punched holes of the covers. This will keep them steady enough to insert the paper. Then one takes a few sheets at a time and presses the area around the punched grooves (using two fingers) to force the paper onto each disc. Once there's about 20-30 pages, there's enough of a spine that the rings become fairly fixed. From then on, one can easily insert paper anywhere by the same method, or remove a page or three by pulling the sheets downward from the top.

But here's a clincher: since the rings are equidistant in everything Circa, one can insert any Circa-punched page into any product with Circa rings, as long as the maximum physical dimensions permit. So, for example, you can insert a punched index card, a compact sheet, a "junior" sheet, or a letter-size sheet into a letter-size planner. Therefore, the system does offer a variety of interchangeable options.

Do you hear a siren song for those suffering from chronic PSS (planner switching syndrome)?

The Gear Arrives

It's to Levenger's credit that there's a wide variety of options within their catalogue for implementing a Circa notebook or planning system. In response to my request to test a number of those options for my Great Circa Experiment, I was to be shipped a representative sample of products in various sizes and shapes. I also asked specifically for any "planner insert" pages that they produce.

It was like an early Christmas for me as I tore open the shipment to find the beautiful packaging that awaited me: the product boxes were slick greenish-gold with the Levenger name in raised print, and all were held tight with cloth bungee-style straps wrapping around from beneath. Truly, every box looked like a handsome gift. Inside, the leather goods were coddled in fine light-grey Levenger-branded cloths that protected the contents. This was almost decadent.

Well, enough with the fancy presentation already. The Jeep driver in me decided it was time to get to work, so I unwrapped everything and surveyed my options.

First, there were a few packages of discs, or rings. The discs all have the same thickness, but come in a variety of diameters and colours. In practical terms, it means that if you find yourself needing a bigger ring than, say, 1/2", you can step up to 3/4" or 1". Unlike a snap-ring or spiral-bound planner or notebook, you can easily modify your gear to accommodate whatever number of pages you wish.

Circa NotebookNext up, there were covers and generic refills for compact, junior, and letter-size notebooks. The flexible covers are all made of slightly-cloudy translucent plastic, about double the thickness of a typical plastic report cover, and are slightly larger than the paper they're meant to cover. The letter size is normal 8.5" x 11", the compact size is 4.25" x 6.75" (the same as Franklin-Covey compact size), and the junior size seemed slightly shorter and wider than Classic size, which is 5.5" x 8.5".

This led to my first point of confusion. I shuffled through the various "junior" sized forms, covers and tabs. There were several inconsistencies. For example, the plastic tabs of one set seemed to be designed for the "standard" junior size (as evidenced by the refills), while another set seemed more suitable for the taller and more narrow Classic size. The agenda pages seemed to be just a bit smaller than either. It appeared that the more recent the product design, the closer it was to the Classic sizing of 5.5" x 8.5". I mentioned this odd finding to our Levenger contact, and I was told that the company is actually in the process of slowly switching all of the slightly different junior sizings to the standard Classic size. Of course, this is wonderful news to most North American users of the D*I*Y Planner, as all of the Levenger gear will fit our forms perfectly without resorting to any time-consuming trimming. Even if you don't use the D*I*Y Planner, it's still far easier to find refill paper that's half letter-size.

(A brief aside: don't fret if you have a slightly older junior product, or are thinking about buying a junior product now -- the differences are negligible enough, as you'll find out in the next article.)

I'm told the Circa paper sheets are 60 lb paper. While this affords a higher quality writing surface, it does mean that your notebook or planner can mustre fewer pages than with standard 20 or 24 lb paper. (More on that later.) The refill packages are offered in three styles: blank, lined and gridded. The latter two are done in a semi-Cornell fashion -- the left side contains a blank "gutter" for keywords, sketches, headers, and so forth, while the right side is standard lined or gridded. Unlike Cornell, however, there is no summary area at the base of the page. I'm not bothered by this, and in fact, find the layout quite useful as is. These refills are also offered five-colour packages of 300 sheets.

Also included in the shipment were a few leather folios and notebook covers. I'll come to these in the next article.

Circa 3x5 NotebookAlmost lost among its larger siblings was a small Circa index card notebook. First, a word about Levenger index cards: in contrast to standard cheap index cards like those of Oxford or no-name brands, the Levenger cards take ink very well (even from a fountain pen), have a nicely-coated service on both sides, and provide a stiffer and more durable writing surface. Besides offering the usual 3"x5" cards with blank or lined/gridded faces, the company also sells a perforated type that can fit into said Circa mini-notebook. As you finish off each card, you can tear off the punched edge, resulting in a standard 3"x5" card. That being said, those people who want to create Circa mini-planners with the D*I*Y Planner Hipster PDA Edition cards are probably best advised to scale their print-outs to 93-95% with a further 1/4" margin, which should allow printing on standard index cards while providing enough room for Circa punching.

A Few Lines about Punches

Circa Desk PunchThe Circa Desk Punch is a slickly-produced and hefty metal appliance that looks like it could eventually be inherited by your great-grandkids. While its weight means you won't want to lug it everywhere, it's a handy (and necessary) accoutrement to any self-respecting D-I-Y addict who wants to produce his or her own Circa-based planner or notebook system. The $64 price may seem rather prohibitive, but --speaking as someone who really knows his punches-- I can vouch that its quality is far better than many 3-7 hole punches retailing for several times the cost.

Circa Portable PunchThe Circa Portable Punch is a completely different beast. It's certainly an imaginative solution to the problem of producing the many holes needed for Circa binding. The gorgeous little jig consists of two pieces: a long clamp/guide and a small roving puncher. One inserts up to three sheets in the clamp, shuts it tight, and then --using a series of notches to aid positioning-- punches a series of holes along the edge of the paper. It's rather awkward at first, but one does get used to it. At $38, it is a little pricey, and unless you need the portability, I'd advise just spending the extra $26 to get the desk version. And if you intend to punch plastic, or anything else besides paper or thin card stock, you definitely need to use the heavy-metal variant.

Before I leave the topic, I've heard a few people elsewhere advocating a possible portable Circa "snap punch," like the common thin three-hole punches that fit into the rings of a binder. Frankly, I doubt this would work, for two reasons: first, most of these become dull very quickly, and are rarely worth the money paid for them; and second, because of the number of holes necessary for Circa punching, the pressure-to-hole ratio is tremendous -- a three-hole punch is hard enough. It's possible that a clever product engineer may come up with a solution to these issues, but it won't be an easy one.

Taking the Plunge, Circa Style

I picked and prodded and shuffled my way through all the sumptuous folios, notebooks, inserts and refills scattered across my desk. I wanted to used almost every single one of them. Did I dare? Wasn't this going to destroy the last coherent vestiges of my productivity system?

Stay tuned for next week's installment, in which your befuddled protagonist attempts to recreate his once-trusty planner in a brand new image, spews forth the occasional curse word, has an epiphany or two, and muses upon the eternal question: can art be functional?

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Thanks

Hi Doug.

Thanks for this.

I kinda wish I'd seen it before I bought my gear. I might have sprung for the desk punch instead of the portable. :) I like the portable, and even my engineer DH acknowledges there's some good engineering in the clamp/notch/punch design. The execution is good too. But I mighta sprung for the big one for the sake of convenience.

Oh well. Looking forward to your next installment!

shris

I *Love* Circa!

I've been a Circa user for easily 5 years and I just love the system - primarily because of the interchangeability of the pages - I have them in *all* sizes and I have both punches. I think you are right on target with your recommendation to buy the big punch - it's worth it.
I have just recently discovered D*I*Y Planner and was just in the process -literally started yesterday - of setting up my circa planner with d*i*y* forms,etc. So, all I can say: logging onto the site today and reading your first article on Circa was pure serendipity! Can't wait to read the next installment.

*holdsbreath*

I'm loving this...

I'm hoping this will help me decide if I should start saving up for a Circa system.

Thank you Doug~!
♥---♥---♥
my artwork

Circa-fied

I've been Circa-fied since November and I'm not going back any time soon. I am glad to hear that they intend to move their Junior size toward the more standard "Classic" sized pages.

Actually, I was so inspired by my Junior-sized leather binder, I ended up buying some basic supplies to try the letter size. I really like the ability to punch and carry the letter-sized documents that are so ubiquitous at work. And with the "fold-over" cover, the letter size takes up no more desk space than a letter-sized pad. One reason I'd resisted letter size planner for so long was the sheer amount of desk space it takes up. A traditional letter-sized planner would take up - what? - 10 x 20 inches of desk space when laid open...

In the end, I'm not using my letter-sized setup for my work stuff (printer Outlook calendars, meeting notes, student data, classroom observations...) and my Junior for personal stuff (notes on that call to T-Mobile for tech support, or that call to the bank to dispute a charge...).

I'm sure you'll enjoy, Doug. I resisted for so long because of the price, but as you noted the quality of the products is unmatched.

Scott
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http://www.theeliases.net

Circa <--> Rollabind

I would like to mention Rollabind.

It is the same thing with very ferw exceptions. The one significant exception being the Circa Extra Large Disc - it is bigger than the Rollabind Jumbo (which is the same size as the Circa Large).

All the parts and pieces are interchangable. I have a Rollabind desk punch and the Circa portable punch.

Being a "DIY on a Budget"/"I'm just plain Cheap-like-a-Scot" kinda guy, I shy away from using Circa products exclusively. I prefer Cordura/Ballistic nylon to leather, and I go through way too much paper to use the Circa paper. I am finding good laser/inkjet paper in the 28 to 32 pound range works great for me to print with my inkjet on both sides (I hope to whip up a detailed article on this later).

But after splurging on the punches and buying some basic Circa stuff for learning purposes, I believe I have settled in to just needing paper (and a plan).
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"I think the surest sign that there is intelligent life out there in the universe is that none of it has tried to contact us." (Calvin and Hobbes/Bill Waterson)

Definitely worth looking at Rollabind

And just to back this up for the jeep lover, Rollabind stuff can be gotten at Staples or Target (or online). I love the circa stuff and have splurged on the cover, but for the bulk of my refills and secondary notebooks, where presentation isn't as important, I tend to go with rollabind.

Clarification: Punches and Discs

You make a good point. Circa's covers and notebooks are far superior and worth the extra cost. Next time they have a sale or I score enough spare cash, I want a junior zip folio.

I was mainly talking about the punches and the discs.
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"I think the surest sign that there is intelligent life out there in the universe is that none of it has tried to contact us." (Calvin and Hobbes/Bill Waterson)

huh?

The Circa Large = Rollabind Jumbo ?

Circa X Large = ?

♥---♥---♥
my artwork

Circa X Large = BIGGER !!

Circa Large = Rollabind Jumbo (same size)
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"I think the surest sign that there is intelligent life out there in the universe is that none of it has tried to contact us." (Calvin and Hobbes/Bill Waterson)

Planner Heaven!

I just bought the Circa Junior Zip Folio in Red with my initials embossed on the front. Opening the box was like unveiling my Coach Handbag (and the Circa fits beautifully inside the tote). I have tried all the electronic gadgets (Palm III and V, Smartphone then, Treo Smartphone), software and online ideas, and NOTHING comes close to my Circa system with the DIY Planner pages - NOTHING! I have loved (and donated) to your site and to see my Circa on the home page today was a feeling of pure joy. Keep up the excellent work.

Question about the portable punch

I'm a devoted Circa/Rollabind user already, and I have a desk punch that I use all the time. I've been considering getting the portable punch and hence my quesion:

Could you use the portable punch without the guide to punch the three "holes" in the tops of 3x5 cards? This would be handy, if you use a top-bound hPDA...
-Sarah

Top Bound

Yes, Sarah, I do this all of the time. I carry just the little punch in my bag with me and you can center the punch on the top side of a 3X5 card just by eye-balling it! I am going to expirament tonight to see if I could make a "paper template" for punching other size paper too by just using the small puncher... Not sure if it will work, but I will let you all know.
nay nay

Sarah, I find the portable

Sarah, I find the portable punch easier to use on 3x5s than on regular letter paper. The width of the card is only slightly wider than the punch - very easy to line up. I did this for a while with my hPDA before going the route of the shirt pocket briefcase.

You're gonna make me do it

Well, your answers have told me that I am definitely going to have to buy the portable punch. It's been in my Levenger shopping cart for, well, a really long time now, so maybe soon I'll take the plunge!

Thanks!
-Sarah

Centering

Hi.

You could use the portable punch to punch 3 centered holes on any size piece of paper. The little 'guide' that fits into the alignment tool is centered on the punch. So all you have to do is know the center point of any piece of paper (any size) to punch 3 holes. Obtaining the center point is easy if you fold the paper in half and just crease about the first half-inch or so of the fold.

shris

eyeballing

Hey everyone, Well, last night I tried to "eyeball" lining up the punches using just the portable punch (not the guide) for a 3X5 size but on the long side of the card (so you would need 5 holes) and it did not work so well. You really need the guide if you are going to punch over 3 holes. If you just do 3 holes, you can easily just use the punch w/o the guide... Hope that helps!
nay nay

Circa "holes"?

Thanks, nay nay, that does help. I'm currently experimenting with a top-bound hPDA, so three holes is what I need. It would be handy to be able to carry a small punch in my auxiliary briefcase.

Also, what do you call Circa punch outs? They aren't really holes, as such. Openings? Nah. Cutouts? Nah. Hmmm.......
-Sarah

shrooms?

you could call them 'shroomies or umbrellas... or smurfs... smurfs lived in mushrooms...

((I'm avoiding doing my next project at work ... and my coworked saved over my template so I had to redo it... blahhhh.))

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my artwork

Lemme try that out...

Boss: "Sarah, can you start on that new project right away?"

Me: "Hang on a minute, Boss, I need to go do some shrooms first."

I dunno.....

:)

-Sarah

What's in a name?

Hi.

Are they chads? Or maybe knockouts. You could call them confetti, or scraps, or leftovers.

[edit: OK, on second thought, those names work for the paper bits, not the holes.]

shris

im partial to smurfs now... >.<

My inner child (who is often in control) insists on calling them smurfs...

"I have to punch some smurfs, wanna watch?" ;P

♥---♥---♥
my artwork

*giggles*

Sara,

Okay... I gotta agree with you here. Just by the line alone that name has stuck. I hope you do use that on someone just to see their reaction. Heck I may try that and see what people do.

/innowen

man, i gotta start a website...

...i dropped $300 on levenger stuff this month, and didn't get as much as you did...FREE!!!

Writing Website Reviews

It's an awful lot of work, trying to keep the D*I*Y Planner and site going, but review materials are definitely a perk that can help compensate for the thousands of hours put into the project. However, most of the not-for-retail goods are far less interesting than the Levenger gear. I've been solicited to review everything from glue sticks to software to time management paperbacks to pieces of cardboard, and while I do mention something if I truly find it useful and well-made, well... many things aren't.

all my best,
dj

Circa Junior vs. Classic

Doug,

I always thought it odd that Levenger's Circa had a non-standard page size for the Junior Circas. One hesitation that I had about buying the Circa products was whether I would be "stuck" with buying their refills for a good fit, or have to trim 1/4" strips off 5.5"x8.5" paper to fit their covers and binders. Without a convenient Levenger store nearby (the closest one is probably about 2,500 miles away ), it was difficult to judge this.

So, it's good news that they're moving to a standard Classic size, but I still wonder if their current products are compatible? (which I guess you may get to.) Looking forward to the next installment.

And, their index cards and notepad paper was always superb and fountain pen friendly. Excellent quality products, albeit at an upscale price. And, their customer service is excellent too.

Thanks,
Walter
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Remember, no matter where you go, there you are.
B. Banzai

Junior vs Classic Page Sizes

Walter, I find that Classic size and Junior are close enough that I can even mix the pages within my planner as long as I'm careful about how I write on the tabs. I'll get into the gritty details in the other installments.

all my best,
dj

Levenger is great but is it DIY?

The problem I see here is that you've moved from planning that is that's both economical and flexible to something that's way over on the other end of the range in terms of expensive. DIY after all means 'do it yourself' (although I anticipate you'll say it's still very flexible). I mean, one attraction of the DIY planner is that with the simple purchase of a planner binder (possibly expensive but as cheap as Day Runners or Staples small binders) along with things most of us already have (hole punchers, printers and printer paper) - then use with your templates, and, voila, you have a sophistcated, flexible, and -- cheap -- planner ... with good-looking pages. And cheap is not the same as 'utilitarian' - Jeeps may be utilitarian but they're not cheap (as is the used decade-old Honda Civic I drive).

Don't get me wrong, I love Levenger, their stuff is great, and I find it practical too -- and I'm a real good customer. But a lot of hard earned cash has gone from my bank account into theirs (albeit willingly).

DIYing

Good points, and Levenger's things are very nice, to be sure.

For me, "DIY" stands for "experiment to find what works best for me, whether it's something from the dime store or something from Levenger or someplace else, or a combination. Using the Circa/Rollabind binding instead of a ring binder does open up some options for combining various formats and sizes, as well as ease of moving pages around. So, for me, DIY doesn't necessarily equate with "inexpensive"... you can just ask my credit card if you don't believe me!

-Sarah

Yes and No

I see your point, but agree with Sarah on this one. To me, the DIY option doesn't really need to mean inexpensive, just customized. With Circa stuff, you have a very flexible customizable system, albiet at a price. No need to buy thier paper, refills, tabs or anything else if you don't want to. Thier binders and notebooks give you a high quality "home' for your planner, which you can organize and fill with DIY forms, or anything else you want, how you want. Heck, you don't even need Levengers punch or disks, you can get those a bit cheaper from Rollabind.

This forum is a phenominal source for ideas to DIY and we can spend as much or as little as we want to, and build the perfect system!

Best,
Reese

PS - Doug - I'm really looking forward to your next installment(s), I hate waiting!!

DIY=Do it yourself

Yes, I see your point too - you are right. For me, DIY has strong connotations of the person who repairs their own home because contractors are so expensive (like the previous owner who wired my house - leaving me a legacy of lots of quality time with my electrician...). However, what you say is that, literally, DIY is do it yourself - it could be the person who wants to save some money on wiring his dimmer switch -- or it could be the people who can only get their custom designed dream addition if they simply built it themselves. For my own purposes, I'm hoping to hit somewhere between.

A little further thinking brings me to this: the ultimate in both inexpensive and customizable is the blank piece of notebook filler paper. Title it anything you want - use your pen - Projects, Next Actions, Date it and write 8,9,10 etc on the side and you have a calendar. Yet, I'm not doing this, and I suspect that few others here would consider it. Why? Is it just desire to work with something nicely printed?

i think...

I think that is in our nature to want a ready-to-go version. I have no problem with creating my own "templates" for my hPDA. However, I tend to lean towards a special pen for the job... like colorful gel ink or something that sets it apart from my other writing. Maybe that's part of it too. We want to be able to differentiate our additions to the paper without having to put in much effort.

Also, as others have pointed out around the site, having a planner that is comfortable and equisite encourages us to stick with it and use it regularly. If it feels like a chore, a person might let it fall to the wayside. If the dread of drawing out the daily templates keeps a person from becoming organized, then passing it to the printer is a good thing. :o)

♥---♥---♥
my artwork

It's because we're also...

computer dorks at heart :-)

Half the fun is playing with, tweaking, and printing all those crazy forms we may or may not use.

Well, for me anyway. LOL!

Seriously, though - while many here are free artistic, journalling types, many of us are also more the business/professional type and do want or need to look more polished and neat. The simplisity of Dougs designs are quite aestetically pleasing, to me.

That's my $.02
Reese

i agree

I enjoy creating templates and manipulating things... learning new things is part of what keeps me going. (I learned some CSS and HTML just because I was curious how it all worked.)

Some days artistic people need to look professional every now and again... stickers and gel pens don't cut it on those occasions ;P
♥---♥---♥
my artwork

DIY is what you make of it

i also agree with the others who say DIY is a combination of wanting to do it yourself and getting more mileage for customization. I am a big DIY'er and love creating my own books, doing my own house repairs and whatnot. However, sometimes doing it yourself doesn't mean going the cheep route.

I choose what I buy very carefully. I look for alternatives and cheaper and examine quality. When I buy something I want it to last and fit some style/image i have in my head. Levenger's gear looks great and LASTS. that's why i invest in them. they allow me to customize my hipster with whatever forms... and then give it a great presentation. More often than not, i'm willing to shell out a few more dollars on a product that'll last me 20 years than to go a cheep route and get sub-par gear.

I guess it's all up to what you decide is in your realm of expertise. Only you can determine what you can make yourself and then buy components for those things you cannot do. I don't work with leather, so I buy expensive and quality cases from companies i can trust. Conversely, with my computer, i can make whatever planner forms i want; so those i print out myself.

/innowen

Wow, serendipity!

I was surfing around the other day, debating whether or not to drop the $$ for the Circa punch, and Google led me to your site and this article. (Wait, you mean there are *other people* in search of the "perfect planner," too?! I must tell my husband that it's not something gone wrong in my genetic makeup...)

I used the Circa letter-size notebooks when I was in grad school and loved them. (If I recall correctly, at that time they offered a notebook with pull-out "hooks" so you could store them in a hanging file drawer.) I also had some junior-size notebooks that I used less frequently.

I've been considering replacing my well-worn Franklin-Covey compact binder with a Circa junior, but I was put off by the non-classic sizing (and the price of the punch), so I'd been stalling. After I read your post, I realized that I was going to be near the store in Tysons Corner (VA) today, so I thought I'd go look in person.

In a word, wow.

The store was very busy and not terribly large, but there seemed to be lots of salespeople eager to help. I picked up the punch, and it was of high quality. Then I picked up a pack of covers and looked at the rings. I commented to the salesman that I thought it was annoying that the rings were sold in packs of 22, since I needed 24 to make 3 notebooks. He immediately handed me two loose rings that matched the ones in my hand. (And another one in a different size to replace one that I'd lost from one of my other notebooks.) Then he gave me a FREE starter kit in the junior size. Great customer service AND no shipping charges. If you can find any excuse to drive to the store, it's worth it!

I cut and punched my own letter paper and assembled a notebook fairly quickly. The plastic covers are 8.5" tall, so the paper goes right to the edge (as it does in most spiral-bound notebooks), and 6" wide. The tabs that were included with the starter kit are plastic(not white cardstock, as I expected in a free kit) and are also 6" wide. They included white labels for hand-labeling, but I used clear printer labels instead.

I don't think I'll splurge on the leather cover until the sizing is more in line with the page size I'm using. (Another poster mentioned Staples, which offers a Rolla "faux leather" or fabric-covered notebook that seem to be the same size but costs under $10. I'll have to check them out-- I miss my pen loop!)

Can't wait for the second installment, Doug, to hear about all the goodies I *didn't* buy today! Thanks for writing such a detailed review and for putting this site together.

Laura

Another Circa user jumping

Another Circa user jumping in.

I lusted after the foldover leather junior for a long time. I checked the Sale page all the time, hoping it'd be on sale. No such luck. Finally, they had a Christmas sale - 20% off, I think - so I finally took the plunge.

The foldover leather junior is SO lovely I'm reluctant to use it in case I scratch it. DUH!

Recently, I ordered some translucent junior covers, they've arrived, and I replaced the home-made covers of my home-made work planner with them and now I have my work planner with me both at work and at home.

Someone posted that Circa is moving their junior size closer to the classic size. On the Levenger site, the translucent junior covers are described as being 6" x 8" which is too short for even the classic at 8½". So I wrote Levenger's customer service to clarify and they wrote back to say the pictures on the site are not always accurate.

Anyways, to cut a long story short - my translucent junior covers cover my A5 pages (almost 6" x 8.25") perfectly, so I think Levenger has moved its junior size to classic size.

Do I regret buying the folder leather junior? Nope. I'll get round to using it more in public eventually.

Oh, those translucent covers allow me to put in my own cover picture - love it!

A few thoughts about Circa and Rollabind

I've been experimenting pretty extensively with Circa and Rollabind products for the last six months, and here is what I have learned, both good and bad.

THE COMPANIES
** Rollabind can be difficult to deal with -- they frequently fail to answer email, and I gather from what I have heard that some of their resellers find them problematic as well.
** Levenger, on the other hand, has great customer service.

THE FORMAT
** Circa-type products are available in the following formats: original Rollabind, Circa, Jotz (ultoffice.com--letter only), Rolla (Staples), and a Target-sold notebook I have never seen.
** Levenger Junior size is 5.6x8.25 inches. (I am nonplussed to hear that Levenger is changing their paper size, after I have optimized for it.)
** Rolla and Rollabind size are 5.5x8.5 inches.
** All have letter-sized mnotebooks.
** Levenger also has a Compact size that is narrow and short, plus a 3x5 size that is smaller still.
** All have the same ring spacing, as the review stated.
** The Circa notebooks come with Medium rings, which seem to be too small for a notebook. (I use Large and XL almost exclusively.)
** The Circa Junior covers are 8.5 inches tall, so as they adopt the new size paper, it should be fine.
** One drawback of Circa/Rollabind is that you can't label the spine.
** Another drawback is that the rings are slightly wider than the covers, meaning Circa notebooks set next to each other on a shelf tend to interfere with each others rings. (The leather covers are a little better about this, because of the thickness of the cover.)

THE LEATHER PRODUCTS
** The Rolla faux-leather notebooks are 1/10th the cost of the Levenger notebooks. The quality is about 1/10th as well. They are a little narrower than the Levenger notebooks.
** I have no experience with the Circa slipcovers, but from what I have seen of them they seemed to be designed for Medium rings or smaller.
** The leather Levengers and faux-leather Rollas have two pieces of thick (faux-)leather with a plastic ring holder in between, whereas the plastic covers have the equivalent of just the plastic pieces. This means the plastic covers actually hold a little more and fold a little nicer than the (faux-)leather covers.
* The current generation of Circa leather notebooks have noticeably stiffer covers than previous generations.

THE PLASTIC PRODUCTS
** The Circa translucent covers are too narrow -- the Circa tabs stick out of them. But they are nice and thick.
** The Rollabind plastic covers are a little wider and work nice, but are not as thick as the Circa translucents.
** The translucent Rollabind covers are not as heavy as the Rollabind non-translucent ones. I found this out after buying a 25 pack. (Yes, they sell items meant to be used in pairs in an odd-number count pack.) So for plastic covers, I use solid cover backs (from individually purchased notebooks) and translucent front covers. This means you can write the notebooks name on the front sheet and see it through the cover.

THE OTHER NOTEBOOKS (I.E., ROLLA FIBERBOARD)
** The other Rolla notebooks have some sort of fiberboard covers which are VERY susceptible to warping AND which do not take switching rings very well. I would avoid them at all costs. (If I found them REALLY cheap I might buy a couple for the plastic pocket insert, which appears to be the only way to get such an insert in the Junior/Classic size.)
** Atually, I think these notebooks may scuttle the Staples Rolla experiment. I find pils of these obviously warped notebooks at Staples. You would think the Staples store managers would pull these obviously damaged products from the shelves, but they just sit there, silently screaming "Rolla sucks!" to everyone who notices them.

THE PAPER
** Rollabind paper has gotten better, but it still is not great, and it is a different size from the Circa Junior.
** There are two lines of Levenger paper -- Circa and CircaImagine. The former is the semi-Cornell stuff the review mentions, the latter omits both the header and the left column.
** The boxes on the grid Levenger paper are too big and the lines are too heavy. For that reason I have started using blank CircaImagine paper and printing my own grid in my inkjet. The latest interation of this is a full-page grid, with a red line approximately here the Cornell margin would be. This way, the paper can be trivially used either Cornell-style or as a regular full page grid.
** When printing in an inkjet, the holes have to feed last, not first or on the side.
** I use the old Circa Cornell-style sheets as project sheets. I print a list of projects in small type down the Cornell margin onthe left, leavingthe rest of the page for me to add notes later.

THE HOLES
** I buy the hideously expensive Levenger paper (currentl;y $28 for 300 sheets) rather than punching my own because the holes in the pre-punched paper (Levenger, Rolla, and Rollabind, although not Jotz, which uses the smaller) are larger than what the punch produces.
** Let me say that again: THE PUNCH DOES NOT ACTUALLY PUNCH THE SAME SIZE HOLE. This is true even of the used large $800 punch I bought. You can add individual sheets, but if you have dreams of punching your own covers (you need a big punch to do anything thicker than a thin sheet of plastic) or reams of paper, this may not be practical. (In related news: anyone want to buy a big punch?)
** The hole size makes a BIG difference. The smaller holed pages do not turn nearly as smoothly.

THE ALTERNATIVES
** There are other companies in other countries that make similar products: ADOC, Atoma, and a Fench company whose name escapes me. At least one of these purports to date back to 1948.
** These systems are not compatible with Rollabind. It is unclear to me whether they are comptaible with each other.
** Atoma doesn't sell a punch, ADOC does but it is expensive.
** I personally went with Circa because of the aforementioned dreams of extreme customization enabled by their cheap punch. This was not born out.
** These others focus on plastic covers, but the ADOC line is HUGE (multiple paper sizes, multple grid sizes, multple covers, including some steno-style notebooks.
** All of these other systems appear to have small US footprints. ADOC, for instance, has a website with a huge number of products and no prices, because it is more geared towards attracting resellers. I never explored whether it would be possible for me the consumer to get any ofthis without flying to Belgium.
** If I had it to do over again, would have seriously explored ADOC, as even the big expensive rollabind punch didn't get me the capability that I viewed as being the defining difference between ADOC and Rollabind.
** That having been said, the Levenger mind-control substance with which they treat their leather notebooks does seem to have worked well.

HOW I USE MINE
** I have a leather Junior size notebook with XL rings and ten dividers, five for Work (Planning, [Project Name], Current, Future, Past) and five for Personal stuff (same headings, with "Writing" replacing "[project name]"). I have blank sheets before the first section, so I always have a blank sheet available when I flip the cover. This notebook goes everywhere with me.
** I have one category-per-sheet pages of projects, printed as described. There are about 15-20 of these, with a modified copy of Deavid Seah's Compact Calendar leading it off.
** For Next Actions I use a Hipster with 3x5 cards.
** The real purpose of all of the notebooks is to Feed The Computer. The paper is a transitional step. Notes written on the project pages eventually get added to the computer. (At least, that's the theory.) Thus, I need a notebook which I could remove and add pages. Otherwise, if Really Big Notebook were all that was required, I'd be using a Miquelrius in a crappy leather cover for "permanent" notes, with a Moleskine Cahier stuck in the cover's flap for temporary musings.
** I have other Circa/Rollabind notebooks for stuff that isn't important enough to be computerized but which needs to be saved at least for a while, or stuff that hasn't made it to the computer yet.
** As mentioned, I print my own sheets, but I have stock of the Levenger-printed sheets. I try to use these for pages which have a high turnover rate, and save the better, higher-capacity (more lines per page) sheets for big projects with lots of notes that are going to be around a while.

I hope some of this is useful. (I really wish there had been a post like this when I was researchiong all of this, it would have same me some serious $$$.)

chrisw

A few things I forgot to mention

I spend an hour writing a reply, and still forget a few things:
** The pre-punched holes are not only bigger, they are deeper than the holes the punches create. Thus, measuring is a bit of a trick. If you are making your own dividers (the one bit of creativity that the punch does support is turning Avery plastic tabbed dividers into Circa dividers), I find it works best to measure from the top of the punch hole, not the edge of the paper.
** To follow that index riff a little more: Avery makes translucent plastic dividers in three colors (clear, light blue, and assorted). They make them in two cuts, 5-tabs and 8-tabs. Cut down for Junor size, the 5-tab dividers make 4-tab Circa dividers, and the 8-tab dividiers make 6-tab Circa dividers. These dividers are thinner than the old Circa dividers. I haven't bought any of the new ones yet.)
** Levenger is selling off the old Circa dividers for $5/set, which is half the price of the new ones.
** The bigger rings do indeed have a lot more wobble than the smaller rings, with the difference between the Large and XL being surprisingly large. It's one of the things I don't like about the system.
** I really wish (and have suggested it to Levenger) that they would make a lot more accessories for the Circa line, like plastic pockets and the like. They have added page finders and zip pockets as of late, and that is good, but I would like to see more.
** I wish they made oval rings, to allow thick notebooks but decrease ring protrusion.
**Levenger also makes a Circa card holder which they are currently selling for $15 (vice $24). I find it to be too thick for a regular Circa notebook, but it might work well on top the plastic cover of a notebook in a Circa folio.

chrisw

woes of the DIY holes

>The hole size makes a BIG difference. The smaller holed pages do not turn nearly as smoothly.<

this is disappointing, as the DIY aspect of the circa is to me one of the main attractions.

plus, if the pages don't easily turn, the advantage of the circa being able to fold back onto itself would seem to be negated. this is the other big attraction -- folding onto itself would make it easier to use when writing in one's lap, and it would take up less space on the desk.

are others having the same problem as chris re the performance of the self-punched holes?

Performance

Hi.

I have small, medium, and jumbo rolla rings in use at the moment. I have no trouble with the small and medium--they have no texture to drag at the 'ears' or 'smurfs'. The jumbo has a texture in the center of the ring, with the logo and patent number, etc. This texture does seem to make a difference.

The mold marks on the rolla rings also make a difference. When you grind those off with a file or knife blade, it opens more smoothly. Search on "mold marks" and you should find the more detailed post on this subject.

I have some large rings on order, I think they'll probably come with texture from what someone else posted. That's a bit of a bummer, because that's the size my planner actually needs instead of being squeezed onto a medium.

I can tell you that the less jammed your ring is with paper, the smoother it opens and turns.

Paper on the medium rings opens fine, the way you expect it to. The jumbo requires a slightly less intuitive arc when you open the pages. Looseleaf rings seem more forgiving since the holes are bigger and allow more play as you move the paper around. The rolla rings are form-fitting, so there's no play at all. You have to move the page along the specific arc of the disc. You may find this feels 'picky'.

Referring to the earlier poster, I thought about oval rings too, but I think that would require an even stiffer page-turn arc than the round rings. DH has some spiffy machinery for making small parts, I might ask him to make me a few oval rings someday and see how they turn. I'm thinking it might be good for reference material but icky for a daily use item. But that's just a guess.

Personally, I like the way the small and medium rings fit and turn. I am not as keen on the jumbo, but I have uses for them. We'll see how the large do when they get here. At this point I have no desire to go bigger than the jumbo, though I think the circa rings are better quality from what other posters have said.

shris

General agreement

I'd agree with most of what Shris said -- I had the same experience with the printing and the little bit of flash from the mold.

Note that the oval rings I'm imagining wouldnt be *that* oval -- I'm thinking of something that was the width of a Large but the height of an XL. That's only a quarter inch of straight section. (That quarter inch makes a BIG difference on the width, though, because when you increase the size of the ring, ALL of the extra ring counts towards making the overall notebook wider.) I'd be willing to put up with a little difficulty in turning to save the protruding rings, which can be a big problem.

Note, though, that when I was talking about the size, I was talking about the size of the HOLES, not the rings. The Rollabind and Circa punches produce smaller, shallower holes than comes with the prepunched paper.

Another things I forgot to mention: The size of the rim of the Circa products is a little narrower than the rim of a Rollabind disk. In other words, if you lay one of each flat, the Rollabind disk will be a little taller. Anecdotally, though, I think that the flat part of the disk for the Circa product might be thicker. (It's very tough to tell, because the rim gets in the way. If I had some clay I could take imprints and then cut them in half to measure, but that is too much work.) When I switched to the Levenger XL rings, the Circa covers just didn't turn right until I trimmed the holes just a little bit with an Xacto knife. For the final tuning, I held the book steady with the problematic cover open, and individually turned the rings to determine which holes pulled when the ring turned. Now it works a lot better.

chrisw

Circa Questions

I've read the reviews but I am a little confused, sorry if I'm just being stupid, but you need a circa notebok and a cover to make an organizer? I was looking at this on the circa site, but I wasn't sure, is this the 5.5X8.5 refills? And is this the size most people seemed to use?

Sorry: reread again and now I understand! All that is Circa has been revealed!

[edited by innowen on 3/01/07: moved link behind HTML tag.]

Notebook vs. Leather cover

Tai,

No problem. The product you linked to is a leather cover that contains translucent circa notebooks via a side loading slot. There are a variety of leather products for this purpose, but there are even more methods for using the translucent notebooks on their own.

(If you dig through the site, you will even find some truly custom DIY notebooks that were constructed with nothing but a punch and some discs.)

Thanks,
Ryan

Non Zip?

Okay, well most people seem to like the zip atleast from what I've read, is there anyone who uses a non-zip and is happy with it? Also, I think I'm clear on it now, but the cover and notebook I linked to should be sufficient to use DIY planner for right?

Just punch 2 times with a

Just punch 2 times with a 1millimeter difference, you will have bigger holes (lol). Not deeper but at least it should do the trick ;)

ATTN: Christopher Weuve !!

Did you ever register ?
Also, you said: (In related news: anyone want to buy a big punch?)

What did you pay for it and what will you take for it ?
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"I think the surest sign that there is intelligent life out there in the universe is that none of it has tried to contact us." (Calvin and Hobbes/Bill Waterson)