Saturday, 15 December 2012

Christmas gift advice.


It's that time of year again, where we secretly hope that well-wishers don't fall into the trap of believing that what we really need is a Filofax product of their choosing, rather than ours. A well intentioned gift could condemn the hapless recipient to many years of binder shuffling, where you occasionally move your life out of the binder you love, and into some hideous thing you'll come to despise, but feel compelled to be seen using now and again to avoid any secret animosity during the coming years.

As I write this, revelling in the slightly unusual situation (for a bloke) of having missed the crowds by buying early this year, I can imagine well meaning buyers falling for the delights of that discounted binder in WH Smith's, clutching that well thumbed Metropol as they queue for the till, together with a cheap variety pack of assorted coloured papers - the ones where the holes are much larger than those used with Filofax paper, so you have to use your free hand to stop the sheet joggling up and down excessively as you reach half way down the page.

Let's face it, we'd rather buy it ourselves, right?

So my seasonal tip is to make it clear, using your inimitable tact and diplomacy, that you love your current binder, have already selected a 2013 diary, and that the wise buyer steers well clear of Filofax dilemmas at this time of year.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

An analogue/digital journey - combining a filofax with a smartphone.

 Have you ever experienced anxiety over your precious data? Have you agonised over your choice of binder? Have you endlessly weighed up the pros and cons of a traditional filofax, versus some digital device? Have you tried to grasp at the elusive karma promised through the ensnaring embrace of "GTD" and felt deflated when you discover that you're spending more time working "the system" than you're saving? Have you looked out from your kitchen window and watched the saccharin sun struggle to rise above the sulphur cityscape, and experienced the sudden shock to your core as your drop your wrists onto the cold marble of your kitchen worktop, hands wrapped hesitantly around that overstuffed A5, listening for the familiar sound that announces the arrival of a faded yellow taxi and realised that, come what may, the success of your business trip may well depend on how you deal with the information you hold between your hands?

I've been taking this "journey" for some time and probably always will, being the geek that I am and constantly experimenting with any number of ideas in the search for organisational nirvana. But, right now, I want to share a concept with you if you are indeed sitting on that digital/analogue fence, a concept that could work with any size of binder and any digital organisational application. It's easy to understand, visually foolproof and substantially reduces the possibility of losing your data.

This is what I'm using right now, as the main part of my "system"; a vintage slimline (because I'm a vintage kind of guy) and an iphone; but "other binders and smartphones are available", as they say.

"Belt and braces".

In my slimline, I have around fifty sheets of lined paper. I use one sheet per day, so I find it easy to insert additional sheets on rare occasions as required. It's also cheaper than buying a diary and removes my seemingly endless quest to find the "perfect" template. But you may be thinking, I can't fit 400 pages into my slimline, but I think I have found a compromise that works for me, whereby I hold the first four weeks of my diary in my slimline, and the next few month's worth of sheets after that in a personal filofax on my writing desk. The remainder of the sheets in my slimline form a basic "GTD" system that I will share in more detail with you, in another post. For the digital side of things, on my iphone, I'm currently using the standard "Reminders" app that comes with IOS5 and 6, which can be used with the iphone 4 and above. There's a plethora of more sophisticated products out there but "Reminders" appears to work just fine, proving to be stable for me so far. I never trust any electronic system completely, even with Apple's "Icloud" (which I have set to automatically back up my data) but the beauty of my hybrid arrangement is that I have the security of having everything written down in my filofax.

Let me take you through my work process.

You're at home, or the office, or wherever your filofax happens to be.
Your partner calls you to arrange a lunch date.
You check your filofax and enter the information. So far, so good.

No templates, just plenty of space. Extra sheets for busy days will work just fine.

Now, you'd also add this appointment into your iphone app immediately after entering it into your filofax but, for the purposes of illustration, let's assume you simply don't have the 30 seconds it would take to do this. No problem, just get on with what you're doing.
Let's assume you repeat this process with a number of interruptions over the next hour or so. You're basically adding notes and appointments to your filofax, as you would if you were purely using your binder without any digital back-up. Personally, because I split my diary across a slimline and a personal sized filofax, I just have to make sure both filofaxes are on my desk, but that's fine.
So you're now in a situation where there are some entries in your filofax that aren't in your iphone.
But, let's now assume you have a couple of minutes to spare to "sync" your iphone with your filofax.
Enter the appointment into your iphone app.

Other apps are available, but Apple's "Reminders" app is nice and simple.
Now add some form of mark against your filofax entry, to indicate that this appointment is now entered in your iphone.
I use a circle, so that I can insert a tick into each circle when a task is done, but you can do whatever you please. If the note uses up two lines, just insert two circles, one for each line. The important thing is that, as each sheet fills up with notes or appointments, it's easy to identify anything that isn't also entered in your iphone, because there will be a gap in the line of circles. I can run through my entire slimline within 60 seconds, and cover the next week or so within 10 seconds. My recommendation is to avoid stickers,  highlighters, or different types of pen. Being able to use any pen frees you from the drudgery of carrying lots of, er, pens, and it also gives you the excuse to try out a new pen from time to time without fear of mucking up your system.

The all important check marker.
This simple checking system is visually foolproof, and can obviously work with both appointments and "to do" lists, both of which you can set up in Apple's reminders, just like most other electronic organising systems.
Now, you can leave your filofax in the office if you want, and just rely on your phone when you're out and about.
Of course, I could take my filofax with me, which I do most of the time because it's a slimline, but the key is that I don't have to, because I have two identical sets of data. Which means that I can restore all my data if my iphone is stolen, or restore my filofax system if my office burns to the ground. Additionally, because my iphones are linked to "the cloud", any data I enter automatically appears on each phone and can also be accessed using any pc.
The chances of my office burning down, both my phones being lost, and my iphone account being hacked by someone intent on maliciously wiping all my data, all happening on the same day, are pretty slim, so my procedure gives me great peace of mind, as well as eliminating the absolute necessity to carry a filofax everywhere I go.
It also means that I can carry my slimline, in the knowledge that any appointment more than four weeks in advance can be referred to by checking my iphone, no matter how far into the future that happens to be.And that single salient point is a revelation in the waiting because, let's face it, it's a real pain having to haul a fat filo around, when most of our fervent page rustling is going to be happening at the "front end" of our 'faxes.

But, I'm sure you're wondering, does my system work the other way around? In other words, what if you need to input data on your iphone first, on the odd occasion that you don't happen to be carrying your filofax?

No problem.
I've created a folder marked "IN", into which goes any new "stuff". Appointments, notes, "to dos", everything. In the example below, the appointment is in my "IN" folder, but I've already added the appointment to the calender, with a reminder set for 09:00 that morning. Ok, it's a little inconvenient, but that's the price of  freedom from the obligation to carry your precious binder wherever you go, like some infomatical "ball and chain". At least you know that "syncing" will be a breeze.

Doing it the other way round, using a digital "in box".
When I next get a chance to "sync" my filofax, it's an easy task to go through the minimal list of things in my digital "IN" box, adding the appropriate entry into my filofax, before "moving" each task into an appropriate contextualised folder.

Similarly, if you're "crossing off" tasks or appointments as completed, and you're crossing them off on your smartphone first, you need to move them to an "OUT" box set up so that you then have a list of tasks that you can refer to when you "sync" your filofax. When you've updated your filofax you can then delete these tasks from your "OUT" box.

I also use a Filofax M2 wallet, with a Rhodia no.12 notepad, for those times when I need to jot something down very quickly and don't have my slimline to hand. It's quite easy to update both my iphone and my main filofax system from here.

Ultra fast note taking when "on the move".
So there you have it. A versatile system that allows me to "sit on the filofax/iphone fence", gives me tremendous security from data loss and adds only a small amount of administrative time to my day. In fact, I find that duplicating everything in this way acts as a sort of review process, which leaves me with a clearer picture of the tasks in hand. It probably adds a total of ten minutes to my day, but I do seem to be more productive.

Coming up next week:
The easy GTD system that works on paper, on your phone, or in conjunction with my combined system as outlined in this post.

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Filofax M2 - turning the M2 into a really useful bit of kit.

As most readers will know, the M2 is a wallet sized filofax that is no longer in production, very similar in size to a "Filofax Mini" but in horizontal format. Here's a video that shows the M2 I'm currently using, but in a way that might have kept the M2 in production if only Filofax had had the same idea all those years ago.

I'm absolutely convinced that there is a market for a traditional wallet with a ring binder mechanism that holds a notebook of useful size. And, when I say useful size, I mean as big as possible within the dimensions of the wallet - a man sized notebook capable of seizing the written word by the scruff of the neck, not some apologetic collection of inserts barely able to satisfy the requirements of ladies (or indeed gentlemen) who "do lunch"!

A wallet combined with an "organiser" has limitations, and is difficult to assimilate into a broader system involving one or more additional filofaxes, but a wallet with a useful notebook to use as a daily input device is a great idea, and Filofax are failing to spot a gap in the market in my not so humble opinion.

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Filofax dissection.

I paused for more than a moment before I did what I did but, in the interests of science, personal curiosity and a growing desire to dispel a few myths, I took a knife to my pocket Finsbury.

So what do I think, now I've done the dastardly deed?

Well, to be honest, I thought that the outer cover was of better quality than I would have imagined - strong, durable and pliable, perhaps more so than usual because I had "fed" the leather some time ago.

But, and it is a big "but" for me; I now realise that my attempts to "train" my filofax in the dark art of flatability were in vain. Although I can only comment on the construction of just this one filo, there are simply too many layers of stiffening material underneath the outer layer of leather.

But that has to be only my opinion.

My Filofax Finsbury is no more, but some of the parts will live on in other incarnations. The ring mechanism is destined to be used in a bespoke custom leather binder project, and the original Finsbury leather cover just happens to be the right size to patch a hole in my bicycle panniers.

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Filofax vs ARC notebook.

Whether they're aware of the salient fact or not, but I strongly suspect they are, those nice people at Filofax will surely be wondering about the consequences of  the arrival of a particular cardboard box, at Staples stores any time now.

I'm talking about the metal punch for the ARC notebook system, the system that uses plastic discs instead of a ring binder mechanism, a system that will undoubtedly provide some traditional Filofax users with some food for thought. And which potentially turns the ARC system into a "game changer".

We'll have our punch within the next few days but, in the meantime, if you can bare the thought of twenty minutes of idle chat about stationery, here's a couple of videos. We're not abandoning Filofax, far from it, but the three Filofax users in our family are trialling the ARC notebook system from the relative perspectives of a business owner, a university student and a busy working mum.

Wednesday, 30 May 2012


"Flatability" appears to be the adopted term that describes the degree to which a filofax will successfully lay flat without assistance when opened and, although this word has yet to appear in the Oxford English Dictionary, it is a term dear to the heart of many a filofax user.  Indeed, flatability (or the lack of it) can make or break the relationship one has with one's binder.

So my story goes like this.

I bought a Filofax pocket sized Finsbury in a January sale (it's the one in the video below, even though I erroneously call it a "Kensington"), for less than the price of a round of drinks and, although I have many filofaxes, this is my first 21st century purchase.

And I was happy with it.

Why?  Because it probably cost me (in real terms) less than a tenth of the price of binders made in England all those years ago and I thought that the distinct lack of "flatabilty" wouldn't be a problem, because I just intended to use it for storage.

But, as filofax affectionados will appreciate, it's fun to change things round occasionally and I'm actually using this binder in anger from time to time.  And that is what lead to this particular Filofax Finsbury undergoing the "Nivea treatment" for a couple of days, amongst other things, to see if there was anything I could do to make my new aquisition lay flat.

And the result?

I've ended up with a reasonably well behaved binder, my daughter now has some extra inserts for her pocket fax (because I prefer to use 140mm x 90mm paper myself), and Filofax end up with another sale. Oh, and Beiersdorf, if they knew what their skin product was being used for, would probably be happy too.

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Paying attention to my "to do" list.

I have dabbled with "to do" lists for decades.  In fact there may still exist, within the English public library service, a copy of "Jennings goes to school" which contains one of my early attempts at paper based organisation.  To have defaced public property in this way is a little shameful, but to have returned the library book without detaching and retaining my "to do" list was clearly a shocking case of GTD failure!

Forty years on, I realise that using scraps of paper, or indeed school library books,  is a somewhat precarious strategy, and that the only way for me to keep tabs on a "to do" list, is to insert it in my diary where I will see it, preferably quite regularly.

So, in my "action fax" (that's the pocket sized one in the videos below), I make sure that my ever growing list of things to be done is inserted at today's diary page, whenever I open my filofax.  In my humble opinion, continually repositioning my "to do" list, so that it stares at me on a daily basis, is the only way!

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

ARC - what's in it for Filofax users?

A few days ago, I bought a couple of those ARC notebooks at my local Staples. You know, the ones with those funny plastic discs instead of the familiar "filoesque" mechanism.

So, why am I fooling around with a new type of re-positionable binder, when I'm a "dyed in the wool" Filofax sort of person? Well, it's all about ISO standards and, in particular, the requirement for punched holes to be positioned 11-13mm away from the edge of the paper.  Which means that, perhaps miraculously given the incompatibilities in life these days, you can use a standard hole punch to perforate each ARC page to enable them to fit Filofax binders.

Currently, here in the UK, Staples are knocking out packs of 50 sheets of lined 100gsm paper for two quid in both A4 and A5 formats ($3.99 and $2.99 respectively for letter and junior formats in the US). And this paper hits the spot when I want to use my fountain pen. I can't vouch for every pen and ink combination but my Lamy ST, with a medium nib and black Sheaffer Skrip ink works just fine on this super smooth paper. I'd be inclined to blot the last few lines before you turn the page, though, as drying times are not particularly fast.

The ARC punch isn't in the UK at the moment but, when it is, you will be able to punch your existing A4 and A5 Filofax inserts too, so enabling all sorts of possibilities; like, for instance, the option to keep an ARC binder on your office desk but travel to and from work with that lovely A5 Malden you simply can't risk losing, transferring projects between binders as required.

Ok, this may not be binder nirvana, but the concept of combining the two binder systems is definitely worth thinking about.

Saturday, 12 May 2012

An introduction.

My name is Neil, I live in the UK, I'm old enough to be part of the generation who bought into the Filofax phenomenon in the eighties, and I've been using them on a continuous basis ever since. In fact, I have several.

So, what will you find in this blog?

Well, I'm not really part of the fashionista crowd, although there's nothing wrong with that. "Filofax Filosophy" (note the spelling) is all about hardcore productivity, product testing and other geeky stuff. There's not many of us blokes out there, banging on about Filofaxes, so I hope you will find my thoughts (and indeed my Youtube videos) interesting.