For the past few weeks I’ve been using Circa notebooks from Levenger on a daily basis as a planning tool. I’m going to share my experience with these so far and tell you what I think about the product.
First, it’s worth explaining what Circa notebooks are. The Circa system uses plastic disks of various diameters to bind together notebook covers, tabbed dividers, and a wide variety of pages. Pages have to be specially punches to fit on these rings, which function similarly to the way Rolodex cards are attached to a Rolodex.
The beauty of this system is that it allows you to create custom notebooks. This is more than just a fancy version of a three-ring binder. Because there are generally several Circa disks involved in creating a notebook (11 in the case of a full-sized 8½ x 11 notebook), pages of different sizes can easily be inserted into the same notebook. This turns out to be surprisingly useful.
What I ordered
There is a wide variety of Circa products available from Levenger, but I started out by ordering a Circa Simply Irresistible Sampling Kit. This is a very low-risk way to start experimenting with Circa. The package is $40, but comes with a $40 Levenger gift card, so you end up paying just for shipping (assuming there are other things Levenger sells you might be interested in if it turns out you don’t like Circa). This kit includes the disks, a variety of different sized papers, notebook covers and other items.
I liked the first sampler pack so much that I ordered a second one, plus a packet of 300 letter-sized 8½ x 11 sheets with the special Circa punching. I ordered the note taking style sheets, which I find are useful for not only taking notes, but lots of other things, too. On my second order I also ordered some additional compact size “Things To Do” refill packs. I use these for my daily to-do lists. (In another post I’ll write about how I use a single Circa notebook to manage all of my projects and tasks at work and at home.)
What I think of Circa
A number of people have said to me that Circa is simply a fancy, expensive, overpriced version of a three-ring binder. I suppose that criticism is fair in some respects. You could do what I do with my Circa system with a much cheaper three-ring binder, mostly. But I think Circa does have several characteristics that make it superior to an ordinary ring-style binder.
- The rings in the circa notebook are more compact, and the whole package is more compact — more like an actual notebook, less like a binder.
- The pages can be moved about the notebook more quickly than if you were using rings you had to snap open and shut repeatedly.
- The ability to easily insert multiple sizes of paper into the notebook, which is difficult with a ring-style binder, is both useful and attractive, and allows me to create a notebook that does exactly what I need it to — no more, no less.
In addition to the qualities of the Circa system itself, Levenger does a great job of providing paper sheets that are ideal for organizing, brainstorming, taking notes and planning. The paper is beautiful and a little heavier than run-of-the-mill filler paper from your local office supply store. It comes with a variety of unusual and useful printed forms, like the notes style sheets and various planner inserts — calendar pages, to-do lists, etc.
There is one big downside to the Circa system: The Circa punch. The punch that’s required for you to punch your own Circa paper costs $58 from Levenger. That’s a lot of money for a hole punch. I’m looking for alternatives that aren’t quite as pricey, and for the moment am fairly happy ordering inserts from Levenger. The quality of paper and the preprinted templates are worth the extra cost. But it would be useful to have a punch (though my boss has one that I could probably borrow if needed). If I stick with Circa in the long haul I’ll probably end up buying one.
If you’re not a big paper person, you may find the whole set-up a little over the top. That’s fine — different strokes for different folks.
If you like to organize on paper and take notes on paper (and I do), and if you appreciate the quality of the paper, pens and other items you’re actually using, I would definitely recommend Circa. It’s attractive, functional and flexible. For my money, given how it allows me to be better organized and gets me off the computer, it’s worth it.
Any experiences with Circa or similar products you’d like to share? Let me know in the comments.