Building a Custom Middle Way Planner

Editor's Note: Hey gang, sorry this article is late in posting, it has been done for awhile but since it features a huge nine-book signature upload, we've been having a hard time locating server space to host the files. We're putting the files on Jordan's site for now; so go easy on his web server. Thanks for your patience!

My Complete SystemLast month, I introduced you to the The Middle Way Method, which is a productivity system I made up that works for me. Today I'm going to show you the kit that I made for use with that system. One of the reasons I created this system was because I wanted to ditch the binder. I've been wanting to create my own books for a while now, and this gave me the perfect opportunity to show off my creative skills. I'm currently using the first book I made as a journal; and my second, third, and fourth books become the basis of my planner.

As you can see from the first photograph, my kit has three parts: a 9-signature planning book, and two single signature sub-notebooks: a Weekly Diabetes Tracker (containing 6 weeks of data) and an address book. I also keep a stash of index cards inside the kit, when I need them.

Before you set about to create your own kit, I suggest you read the following articles:

Designing the Planner Guts

The first thing to do is put together the signatures for your book. Take some time to think about what forms you like and would want to use on a daily basis. I created several custom forms:

  • Mission Statement
  • Vision Statement
  • Middle Way Method Flow Chart
  • Middle Way Weeks
  • One Month to a Page
  • Diabetes Weekly Workbook (single signature booklet creation)
  • A 2010 2011 Yearly Calendar, from the Dynamic Templates

From the Core D*I*Y Planner systems I used:

  • hPDA edition Project cards (kept in the back pocket of my planner)
  • Personal Information
  • Important Numbers
  • Contact Sheets (these make up the pages of my single signature address book)

Once you have an idea of all the forms you'll want to use, the next step is to figure out what order you want to put them in. This is the order your signatures will be built in. My planner design uses 9 signatures, with 4 sheets of letter sized (8.5" x 11") banana paper. Remember, you'll want to use both sides of the page (front and back) when constructing your planner signatures. To help me figure out the book's flow, and where to put the forms, I folded up a signature, and wrote the names of each form on it. This helped me visualize the planner pages in order. I used a vector graphics program to do all the planner page layout and used my printer to print out each form (front and back) once I was satisfied with how everything turned out. However, if you'd like to use a book exactly like the one I'm using, please click this link to visit my website and download the signature files that compose my planner. I've also attached various zip files at the end of this post, with other helpful files. Hopefully, this will speed the creation process up for you. If you decide to try and make your own set of signatures with your own software and planning pages, I recommend setting the page margins to: .25" on the top, bottom, and outer edges, and .5" for the inner edges.

Sewing the Planner Signatures Together
When you completed the computer design of your signatures, the next step is to print out all the pages and then fold them and make your signatures. Follow the instructions at Shannon's Make Your Own Moleskine-Like-Notebook post. Use the step-by-step instructions on using Coptic stitch binding techniques to sew the main book together. If you just want to make a few single signature books, you can follow innowen's instructions instead. I have included a PDF file of the places to punch your signatures for both Shannon's coptic stitching, and innowen's stitch-style. When you are done constructing the inside, come back over here to read the steps on creating a custom cover with a flap. I have attached a PDF file at the end which has punching templates for both the main book, and the one signature books.

Making a Custom Fabric Three-Flap Cover, and Attaching a Book Block

When you are done sewing all the signatures together, follow these steps to flesh out the cover:

  1. Glue two pieces of card stock paper to the first signature and the very last signature page. Doing so creates end papers for your book and it also turns those signatures into a book block.
  2. Figure out how you want to make the cover. For my kit, I used an old board game board. I was able to find an old game at a thrift store for less than $2.00. I made my covers 5.5" x 8.5", because I wanted this notebook to be as close as possible to the size of the pages. My kit even includes a flap. So I cut an additional flap at 5.5" x 8.5" as well. I also cut two more pieces at 1" (or the width of my spine) by 8.5". One of the one inch pieces became the spine of the book, and the other one went between the cover, and the flap.
  3. Find and select a piece of fabric for the cover. You'll need a square approximately 30 inches wide, and 10 inches tall. This will allow for a full covering of the boards on the outside with about 1/4" fold over, and some extra so the pattern can be aligned correctly. I received help from my wife for this part of the project, and I found the extra set of hands very helpful. My cover uses a nice plaid, tartan-looking piece of fabric from my wife's fabric scraps.
  4. Cover the fabric in fusible webbing. Fusible webbing is an adhesive which is double sided and activated by heat and pressure. I laid the webbing out over the fabric, and ironed it onto the fabric.
  5. Cut the excess webbing off the fabric.
  6. Remove the paper covering the other side of the fusible webbing. You will know if you have a bond or not by how the paper, and any webbing (if any), pulls up.
  7. Use the iron to attach the boards to the cloth. I tried ironing through the boards, but it did not take fully, so I laid the fabric over the first cover (5.5" x 8.5") measuring out its position on the fabric. I ironed the cloth to the board, and laid out the spine (1"x 8.5"), giving a 1/4" gap between the two pieces, and ironed it down. Then I laid out the next cover, with a 1/4" gap and ironed it down. Next I laid out a spine piece and ironed it out, and then I laid out the cover piece, and ironed it down. Something I learned about fusible webbing is that you need to match the webbing to the thickness of the cloth, so that the webbing does not bleed through and mess with the cover design.
  8. Cut down the excess, if any fabric to a size between 1/4" and 1/2", be sure to leave enough to cover interior of the flap completely.
  9. Scallop the corners of the cloth, which is wider than the boards.
  10. Fold the excess cloth over the edges of the covers, and spine, and iron it in place. When it comes to the flap, you will want the interior of the cover completely covered, so I suggest making an incision in the fabric at the far edge of the flap, cutting the height of the material down to just covering the folded over from the outside material, and ironing it in place to completely cover the boards.
  11. Glue a piece of material (or ribbon) 1" thick to the interior of the spine. This piece should be at least be 8.5" tall. If you double the length, you will end up with a nice bookmark.
  12. Glue a piece of elastic to the planer's back cover on the top and bottom with the elastic folded on the outside of the book. When the end paper is glued into place, and it is dry this will allow the book to stay closed, like a Moleskine notebook.
  13. Glue the book block spine to the fabric, or ribbon and spine board.
  14. Glue the endpapers to the front and back cover.
  15. Let the book dry overnight to make sure everything has a chance to bond.
  16. Optionally, you can add a pocket for index cards. I went ahead and attached one on the inside of my back cover. I made the pocket by folding a piece of card stock until I had a pocket. Then I used fusible webbing to attach cloth to the front. I folded some of the same cover fabric over the top and bottom to hide the cardboard color. The fabric was also fused in place. I then folded the cloth over the sides of the paper to create the edges of the pocket. I attached my pocket to the outer end paper of the back cover. Once again you'll want to let the glue dry completely before using it.
  17. Take some time to admire your new planner.

There are some things which I really like about doing my planner this way, like a small width. My pages are protected. I can create and insert books to add things, like an address book to the kit quickly and easily. Of course, the potential drawback to using a bound system is that you can't remove and interchange pages on a whim. But I believe that with a little planning you can create a custom system with everything you need. Next month, I'll give you some tips and tricks for using the Middle Way Method and your newly minted kit together. Until then, have fun with this project!

MiddleWaySVGFiles.zip1.27 MB
AddressBook.pdf710.57 KB
DiabetesTracking6Weeks.pdf244.97 KB
PunchingGuide.pdf1.85 KB
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What do I use to open an .svg? Thanks.

"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)


SVG stands for Scalable Vector Graphics. It is a vector type graphic. Try using Either Adobe Photoshop, expensive, or Inkscape, free. Inkscape is free, and SVG is its native format.


I am completely new to this website (linked through to this form lifehacker) and I'd like to say excellent planner!

Pardon my ignorance, but what exactly is meant by "signatures" in this case?


Book-making term


Signatures are groups of pages that are folded together before being sewn into the final book. So if this is a nine-signature book, you'll have nine sets of pages to sew into the spine.

Example: Take five sheets of letter paper. Stack them on top of one another, fold in half. This is one signature. Do it again to make another signature, and set them side-by-side (not overlapping). Stitch each one down the crease in the middle to some other device (that'll be your spine).

Signatures apparently vary in the number of pages they contain, but the concept remains the same.


I may have an easier alternative

Did you see this thread about the DayRunner LifeTracker ?
I am in the process of coming up with a DIY-clone of this, mainly because the original does not use standard paper sizes.
I am working on a Classic size (5.5" by 8.5" pages) and a Hipster-ish size (3" by 5" or quarter page {4.25" by 5.5"} size pages)
"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)

Daytimer also has a system

Daytimer also has a system call iChange.

Is there a place where I can

Is there a place where I can get this binded and printed online so I don't have to do it myself? Thanks!

You might try...

"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) ***

Michael Shannon's article is locked

Michael Shannon's article in how to do your own moleskine style notebook is locked. As is the entire domain.

Not now

It may have been before but I got to the page just fine.
"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) ***