01 September 2006

New Beginnings

I've been pondering the idea for this post for a few days. I've been thinking that September is a good time for new beginnings, as we're surrounded by the beginning of a new school year, the onset of fall, the kickoff of football and other sports seasons, the ramp-up to the holidays. It can be a good time to think about other kinds of new beginnings, a time to regroup, to pick up the pieces of of resolutions made at the start of the year and start over. Then a very sweet, enthusiastic reader read my mind (sorry - I will answer your email soon!). She was talking about how she often spends time checking out new calendars in September as well as January, since many manufacturers release a 16-month version that starts at the beginning of the academic year.

When I switched from Moleskines to Filofaxes earlier this year, I vowed to stick with my decision through the end of December, so that kind of new beginning is out for me. Actually, the good thing about 'faxes is their loose-leaf format, so that reinvention and evolution are an organic part of the system.

My new beginnings include a new eating and fitness program (but that's another blog -- if I decide to start one), a new car (a red Toyota Matrix), the beginning of a new choir season, and, in a way, school -- starting to work with a writing coach.

My 'faxes, on the other hand, are in a bit of state of disarray. I started using a separate A5 'fax for work again, and really using it this time. Now both my A5 'faxes are bursting at the seams, with no good way to store or use the extra pages. (There are the Filofax storage binders, but they don't open fully for reading. They really are only good for storage.) The worst part: When I'm having problems with my system, I grow reluctant to use it. I still keep track of appointments and important reminders, but I stop capturing ideas, stop journaling, both of which are necessary to work my way through the problem. It's the same old problem -- now that I have my life on A5 Filofax pages, what do I do with them all?

On the bright side, I am still doing some good thinking, still leafing through my Filos waiting for inspiration to hit, and my pocket 'fax is carrying me through. My projects are not moving any faster than before I wrote them in my Filofax, but they're not moving any slower, either. I guess things are moving at the speed at which things move.

Here's something weird, though: The riskiest, most radical, and potentially most significant long-term move I've made recently is contacting the writing coach, and that's something I never wrote down in a Filofax before doing it. Why? And what does that say about the potential plans, ideas, and dreams I've recorded -- that they're unimportant? Or was it necessary to do all that thinking on paper first, for the right action to emerge from the chaos?

What new beginnings are YOU making this fall?


  1. It's an interesting observation you make and a problem I've seen before. The problem often strikes me is that people suffer from an excess of documentation -- the paper exists so it must be written on. A few minutes on Flickr will reveal -- especially with the Moleskine people -- just how pervasive this is. People feel inclined to journal all their stray thoughts, all their plans and lists and so on, ad infinitum.

    As this information is essentially totally unstructured its usefulness as a reference tool is diminished. They drown in a sea of self-made data, the value of a greater proportion is probably marginal at best.

    I think you have to be merciless with the amount of data you are recording and to constantly review it to ascertain its usefulness; I used to own a Filofax in the old 1 and a quarter inch ring size (much bigger than the current ring size) and its was bulging with so much "randomness" it eventually became so irrelevent I stopped using. I really didn't need lists of places I used to go fishing at 15 years ago. I didn't need records of photos I had taken in 1989. The central weakness if that over time you acrue so much data without purpose it undermines what's current.

    I think its also important to pick and choose formats carefully; I use a Palm and a Filofax to avoid media atrophy I make sure they don't duplicate each other's jobs. I think the Filofax is in decline as a diary or appointments keeper, combining Outlook and a Palm they keep appointments better than I ever did; it also matches where data comes from. Most of my diary entries are meeting or task requests from other people that all come through Outlook so there is no point in re-entering all this data again. On the other hand though, nothing beats paper for writing notes on but this does present another interesting condition: I find that every year I hand write less than the year before and I find this not a deliberate act on my part but the fact the way we work dictates most things to be in electronic format and handwriting is relegated to scribbled notes on Post-Its and jotter pads.

    But to come back to where I began: I think any problem with format is really problems with the management of information rather than what its originated on -- I find myself doing as much searching for electronic documents just as ever did on paper.

  2. Kevin: I'd be interested to know how your Palm and Filofax coexist--what you use each for. I'm struggling with that same balance (between analog and digital).

    I'm thinking about moving to Filofax (from Moleskine, which is wonderful, but not structured enough) and would be curious to know which of Philofaxer's Filos is his favorite (sorely tempted by the A5). I don't need to cart around much--it would mostly live on my desk--and I think I'd like the bigger size.

  3. There will be a delay to my reintroduction to Filofax. The portable A5 punch I ordered from Filofax UK went missing somewhere between the UK and Malaysia. I wrote to Filofax UK and they're replacing the missing punch.


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