A big thank you to Tim for this excellent (picture heavy) guest post about his Flex which has rings in it... read on.. and as it says at the end Part 2 is tomorrow.
They say that size isn’t important. But not a week goes by on Philofaxy without the topic cropping up – particularly A5 versus Personal size. Is the original the way to go for compactness and portability? Or is A5 the better bet, combining extra page space and ease of printing information sheets for inserting into your binder? (I know this doesn’t apply in the USA or Canada, where you’ve yet to switch to the international paper size standard. Hey guys! Even the UK adopted it - in 1959 - and we’re not usually with the avant-garde!)
It’s certainly not a new topic. I've been having this debate with myself since 1986 when I purchased my first organiser. It was an A5 vinyl Time Manager system. Tens of thousands in the UK and around the world went on the TMI two-day course which got you the organiser system. If (like me) you weren’t high enough up the greasy pole to go, you had to buy it yourself and read about how to use it in your own time! It was available in two sizes and I chose A5 rather than the 'original' version (which was the equivalent and key competitor to Filofax). I was persuaded by the roomier pages, and (as a left-hander) being better able to work around the binder rings when writing. Even so, I soon got fed-up lugging the bulky A5 binder around due to its’ size and weight.
Even in the 1980’s, portability was becoming an issue. So, when TMI introduced their Compact binder in 1989, I purchased one. It was a great size for carrying around, but hopeless for inserting any printout information (agenda’s, contacts etc).
My A5 was soon confined to the desk and major conferences, but even then often replaced by a Psion electronic organiser (remember them?)
Filofax didn't introduce A5 until around 1991 and it was only when I migrated to their Time Management system in 2004 that I again found myself unhappy with the bulk of an A5 zipped monster. This time a nylon faced Logic binder – typical weight with contents 1.6Kg! Indestructible. Built like a tank. It felt like I was going back in time!
So out came my Time Manager compact again and a few pages switched between that and the Logic-zipped. One day (probably having dropped the Logic on my toe again!) I purchased a reduced price A5 Kendal. I was trying to get to "one life, one Filofax"! OK! it was smaller and a bit lighter, but not slimmer (still 30mm rings).
Last year when the A5 Holborn came out (with 25mm rings), I purchased one of these. However, like many Philofaxy readers have found, being A5, it was still bulky to carry around everywhere. I was finding that the looks of admiration I got 20 years ago when whipping out my well-structured, professional-looking A5, were now being met with glances of pity. I remember one meeting when I was sat thumbing through my rather obese Filofax and a colleague very vocally recalled: “Oh! I used to have one of those things” before giving everyone an unrequested demonstration of the merits of his new iPad! But, he did have a point. 20 years before, everyone in the room would have had a paper organiser. Now I was the only one! But, I still enjoyed a paper-based system and had no wish to go completely digital. I just needed a way to stick with A5!
Then came the Flex by Filofax announcement. I instantly recognised the Flex design as a direct copy of the 1980's Time Manager Planner Wallet. To be fair this had never been produced by TMI in A5. I was one of the first to buy a Flex - motivated by a brilliant video by Imy of Imysworld Unfortunately, Imy took the video off (she told me it was a bit embarrassing), but there is still a great review by Imy here; and Steve did a review too.
Could I abandon a ringed system and use a ringless Flex? Well, I tried for a few days. Honestly, I did! But I quickly got frustrated at not being able to move pages around into order. Without a ring I couldn’t add new sheets or remove others. Also, I only use my diary as a journal. All appointments have long since been coordinated through Microsoft Outlook and synced to my 'phone. So carrying a full 12 month blank diary and a big empty notebook wasn't for me.
So, If not Flex - what might work? I loved the Flex binder size. It slotted into a small pocket in my briefcase and took up little room in a rucksack or day bag. OK - the plastic vinyl material is dire but I could predict from the outset that leather versions would follow, if I waited (I’m still waiting!). We've long campaigned for a slim A5 Filofax (no, not Adelphi) but with no prospect of a decent slimline compact A5 being launched (this was June last year) which way could I go?
After close examination of my A5 Flex, I realised that there was potential. I could fit a slim ring mechanism into the spine and still use the Flex in the intended way - both the inside and outside pockets. After a trial with a ring fixed to a flexible insert (similar to the pen holder) I found that the 13mm ring from my old Time Manager Compact worked well. Indeed, so well that I confidently took a modelling knife to my virtually new Flex one evening and fitted the ring to the spine. TMI don’t use rivets for their compact mechanisms, so the two-piece ring mechanism was fairly quickly fitted to the Flex. In minutes, it was transformed to become my first compact A5 organiser!
Here’s how I did it… Important: this technique involves using a sharp modelling knife. If you were to use a riveted Filofax ring mechanism, you would also need a sharp instrument such as a pocket screwdriver. This is not a recommendation for anyone to do what I did. Proceed with the greatest care and at your own risk if you are tempted to try anything similar!
As mechanisms are not sold separately, my only option was to use one from an old organiser. I removed the 13mm ring from my old Time Manager Compact. If anyone wants to try to source one, they are made by a small Swiss company called “Krause”. (Note that newer TMI Compacts have 17mm rings as the smaller ones were regarded as too small!). Filofax mechanisms are made in China by a company called “World Wide”. I suspect they would want a minimum export order of several thousand! Such is life! [See Note 1]
First, I carefully unclipped and removed the mechanism. I worked out exactly where it was to go in the Flex and where I needed to make two holes in the inner cover. I then, VERY CAREFULLY, cut the holes ensuring that I only cut through the inner layer of plastic and not through the separate outer layer. The holes didn’t need to be too neat as they would be covered by the mechanism.
The TMI compact mechanism is in two parts that just clip together.
I applied some impact adhesive (Evo-stick – other brands are available!) to the baseplate and carefully pushed the plate through the bottom hole I had made, pushing it up past the top hole and checking it was correctly aligned.
I then offered up the ring mechanism sliding it onto the two sets of lugs on the baseplate..
..and finally checking that the lugs had engaged correctly with the ring mechanism.
This is how it looked when complete
Fitting a Filofax mechanism would be harder as mechanisms are held by two rivets protruding from the baseplate. It can be tried by gentle easing the lip of the rivets up using a pocket screwdriver (with great care to avoid scratching the chrome and to avoid personal injury!)…
…then removing the mechanism from the baseplate…
… then proceed in reverse having fitted the baseplate inside the Flex cover.
Just as the glue had dried, I realised that by moving the binder ring slightly off -centre (slightly lower) I could have created enough space for some dividers with tabs on the top without them sticking out at all. So I unclipped the mechanism, gently eased the glued baseplate off and re-glued it a few millimetres lower. It worked perfectly! My dividers were made from Time Manager storage box dividers, suitably punched, but they could have been easily cut from plastic.
I decided that three tabs would be a suitable compromise – basically a section for my work, one for personal and a third for information.
Despite what this photo suggests, the tabs don’t protrude from the top or the dividers stick out at the bottom of the binder – they are just flush as you can see (or not see!) here…
There was the issue of the hole spacing being different to Filofax A5 (TMI use the same spacing as Filofax Personal). However, having been long unhappy with Filofax insert quality, I decided to use up my stock of old Time Manager inserts (some over 20 years old but still better quality than modern Filofax paper). As for diary/ journal pages my modelling knife soon converted the Flex diary into loose leaf format (Steve by coincidence did the same thing a few months later). I used my solid robust TMI hole punch to make the correctly spaced holes in the cotton cream paper and they’ve been fine.
So, could I fit everything I needed into my new "Filoflex"? Or would I fail and end up back with a traditional A5 Filofax? Or would I give-in altogether and succumb to the temptation of going Personal?
Find out in part two, tomorrow...
Note 1: Steve found some suppliers of ring mechanisms in this post on creating your own organiser. Additionally I tracked down two other companies: