Thank you Paul for this very detailed Guest Post.
This post has been a long time in draft, due to work commitments, but here it finally is. I promised Steve a guest post a long time ago, on using an Organiser for frequent business travel. Maybe it will be useful to others who travel a lot with work.
The Organiser itself is a vintage Lefax Chelsea, circa, 1984.
It was for sale along with a few other leather items, such as a 1930s Gladstone bag, which had been stored in a shed for a couple of decades. When it arrived, it needed quite a lot of cleaning. I used Saddle Soap to get rid of the majority of the grime, then I used Lord Sheraton Leather Balsam for the last couple of coats, which cleaned the last bits of grime away, and nourished the leather back to a very nice suppleness. As you can see in the photos, it has definitely been lived in. It has what looks like coffee marks on it, but they don’t bother me at all. They are part of its history and I love using it. If this Organiser was a dog, it would be a sheepdog, not a show dog. It has to earn its keep, and we now understand each other very well.
There are a couple of things about this particular Organiser that I think are special, and I wish Filofax would take note. First, the flap closures.
Unlike on the early Filofaxes such as the Balmoral Jotter, they are unpainted, brassed metal.
That means there is no paint to flake off over time, which is much more practical. Second, and more importantly, the studs are magnetic. The Winchesters from the 80s and 90s have a couple of common problems. The top of the popper does not survive longevity well. Also, I have had Filofaxes where the two metal stays inside the female part of the popper either widen, or break, resulting in the binder being unable to be fastened. The magnetic closures have nothing to break. Simple, effective, durable and stylishly understated. The flap itself is a nice piece of design. I realize that this is a feature which won’t appeal to everyone, but Lefax made them both with and without flaps. Personally I like the flap. It protects the long edge of the leaves. It also means that the tabs of my dividers never get damaged. Apart from a zipped organizer, I have always had issues with tabs being bent and damaged in daily use. I admit I am rather heavy-handed, and also clumsy. Not a good combination, but this binder has not been affected by my ham-fistedness.
The leather itself is remarkable.
I don’t know what type of leather it is, but it has both a sheen to it, almost like a coat, and it has a lovely patina as well. It squeaks when you rub the pen holder, a peculiar but fascinating oddity. I have a pair of boots made of very similar leather, from Russell & Bromley, bought in the early 90s and still going strong. You just don’t seem to find this kind of quality nowadays with modern Filofaxes. The rings are by Krause, proudly stamped into the metal and as expected, they are a piece of engineering beauty. As someone once said, they open and shut with the satisfying thud of a BMW car door. I fully expect this Lefax to outlive me, and will be happy if it does. The rings are the main reason why I choose not to buy a modern Filofax. Comparing the Krause rings to the current Filofax rings is like comparing a BMW to a Tata.
Inside the left-hand cover, there is a full-width slip pocket, with one additional pocket on top. This has a plastic window, in which I keep my business card, in case I mislay it. I had assumed that the rings were the standard 7/8” but having measured them, they appear to be exactly 1”. The right-hand cover is 3.5” wider than the left, as it accommodates the fold-over flap. Inside the right-hand cover is another slip pocket of the same width as the opposite cover. I use this to keep a Filofax notepad which has been modified to slide inside.
Looking at the back, you can see a sheet of Personal-sized, stiff plastic which is simply double taped to the cardboard back of the notepad.
It is then taped to the inside of the cardboard, under the paper.
This allows it to slide inside the right-hand slip pocket. During customer meetings, it stays where it is with the plastic in the slip pocket, and this allows me to write my notes on the pad without taking it out. As my organizer is usually pretty full, I can’t afford to lose the ring space which the notepad would take up, hence the required hack. This slip pocket also holds the pen loop, made of the same leather. The inside edge has the two brassed, magnetic studs embedded in it.
Inside the left-hand cover, I keep a TMI address book when travelling. This has my most important contacts in it, mainly family and friends plus my five key work contacts.
I use a standard set of Filofax dividers, plus quite a few of the DIY Index tabs.
The first section is my Diary. This starts with a Year to View foldout planner, essential for planning my trips. My overseas travel, conferences and family birthdays are about the only things that I enter on this year planner.
Next, I would normally have the Filofax tabbed monthly dividers. Last year, these were invaluable to me. This year, I trawled every shop I could find in London, while visiting in December, and couldn’t find any at all. In their place, I use an Outlook Calendar, printed for a monthly view, and cut to size.
I’m not a fan of cutting and making bespoke inserts, they take way too much time, but the Outlook calendar is easy.
In the photo above, I have placed a piece of Paperchase Personal notepaper to show where I cut the height. – just below the bottom black line, and just below the letters that spell the month. This makes it Personal sized, in terms of height. Then I just cut a strip off the end, punch it and I have a monthly calendar, colour-coded as per my Outlook categories, in less than 30 seconds.
I print a new one when I have added sufficient handwritten notes to warrant a fresh printout.
After the Monthly calendar comes a Day Per Page.
I have a lot of meetings, conference calls, and travel plans so anything less that DPP doesn’t allow me to add the level of detail I need. I have previously tried Day On 2 Pages, but I very rarely needed the second page, so DPP works very well for me. I bought this DPP while travelling to Johannesburg, it is very thin paper, and definitely not fountain pen friendly, but it is similar thickness to Tomoe River DaVinci paper, so it means I can carry six weeks of DPP leaves without taking up too much space. Six weeks is the most I can forward plan anything, so there is no point in me carrying extra weight and thickness by adding more than this.
The next tab is Notes. This is where I add any miscellaneous info I capture on a day to day basis, such as people’s phone numbers, or similar. I don’t use this for work notes, as these always go on the Filofax notepad, and are then filed in the relevant places.
Next comes Information. This is my reference section and is in constant use when travelling. I have two sheets which contain all my airline/hotel/hire car loyalty accounts.
Since this photo was taken, I have added the logos to most of these as it makes it much faster locating my details when I check in at hotels, or collect hire cars. Having all of these account numbers to hand means I don’t need to carry a wallet with about 40 cards in it, as 99% of these organisations can take the number from you and add the points. Two colour photocopies of my passport are next, on bi-folded paper. Admittedly, there is a risk to carrying things like this, but in the Middle East and many African countries, it is a common thing to be asked to provide a copy at zero notice. Trying to find a photocopier in Abidjan airport is very challenging. After this comes a copy of my residency permit, and a copy of my local driving licence and my international drivers’ permit, for the same reasons as above. Next is a list of the direct dial phone numbers for the reception and concierge of the hotels I usually stay in, plus the reception desk of our local office in these countries, which makes life easier when I am out and about. After that, I have an airline timetable with the codes, departures and arrivals of flights to the countries I visit the most.
Again, when I’m sat in the back of a taxi and need to change my travel plans, it saves a huge amount of time actually telling the travel agent what flight I want, instead of waiting for them to trawl through their system. Most of this I have learned the hard way, so all of this information above has been added to avoid repeat experiences. This was made using a simple Excel spreadsheet, then reduced to fit a Personal leaf, and printed. It is one of the very few self-printed or bespoke inserts I use. The times change usually every quarter, so re-printing this once every three months isn’t much of an overhead. Any changes in between, I add in pencil. Also in this tab is a very thin, plastic, top-opening envelope which I bought from the Japanese store DAISO, and which is about 10 times thinner than the same Filofax insert. In this I keep one sheet of Mont Blanc blotting paper.
These are thin strips and come in packs of ten. They are ridiculously expensive and I would not have bought them by choice but I ran out of blotting paper in a city where nobody even understood what blotting paper is. The Mont Blanc store was the only place I could get some quickly. Since then, I have bought a very large sheet from the Pen Shop in the Burlington Arcade in London, which gave me about 3 times as much paper, for around a tenth of the price of the Mont Blanc paper. Can I tell the difference between the two? Not at all. Next I have a plastic insert to hold business cards next, but this holds my biometric swipe card for my local airport’s passport control (allows you to complete passport control in less than 20 seconds), my airline card and my lounge access card.
In the middle of the Organiser, for ease of removal, I have a plastic Personal hole punch.
Sometimes, if the Organiser is full, I just slide this inside the inside cover, but it always travels with me. I know that these plastic punches get a bad press, but maybe that is down to perception of intended use. These were never designed to sit on a desk and punch sheet after sheet, neatly and cleanly. They were designed to be clipped into an organizer and carried as a temporary, or emergency punch. In this regard, I find them very fit for purpose. Mine is a WH Smith one, as it was half the price of a Filofax-branded one, but does the job just as well. It is 4 years old now, and one of the punch teeth does not quite make a perfect hole, but this tool is for punching something I need to clip into the Organiser, so I don’t lose it. Not everything will fit inside a plastic wallet, and this is where this tool is very useful.
The Financial tab is next, and I use Filofax Bank Account inserts, but I use them for noting my expenses instead of my personal spending.
This makes it easier to do my travel claims when I return from a trip. I also use the same insert for a different list, of claims submitted, the reference number, the amount claimed, the date submitted, and the final column for the amount I was paid. Once a claim is paid, I highlight it in green so I know I’m not chasing that money any more. The final insert here is a piece of sheer genius from the man, the legend, Ray Blake. Like many of us, Ray was frustrated that Filofax discontinued production of the Expenses envelope in Personal size. (They are still available in A5). Unlike most of us, Ray decided to do something about it, and produced a template which you can print out and cut, then stick, to make your own.
I said previously that I don’t usually cut bespoke inserts. It just takes too much time, when I can get by for the majority of my planning needs with plain and lined paper, a Filofax notepad and existing inserts. But an expenses envelope is essential to me, as I have to keep all kinds of receipts while travelling. I have two versions of Ray’s envelope, one with standard expenses, and one with specific info useful to me for submitting my claim when I return, such as eTicket number, flight number, departure and return dates, the exchange rate for my claim, the time I left home and the time I returned home.
After this, my tabs become personalized to reflect my job. I have a tab for pricing information, which saves me going through a slow process of online quoting. The next tab is for current customers, and is a two-page summary of their contact info, their requirements, when we met, next steps required, and anything I am waiting for from someone else. Most of my colleagues keep all of this in their laptops, which takes time to retrieve. I prefer having the important info to hand, as it saves time accessing it. Then come tabs for each of the main Business Partners whom I deal with, and these include their contact info, any help they have requested and the status of these requests, any issues they may have, or plans they want to discuss. The final tab is a running total of revenue, by week, month and quarter, for my own reference. This is a big help in answering difficult questions from above, with no notice. I have a couple of tabs left over from a GTD experiment, which I use on an ad hoc basis – Waiting For, In Tray, Calls.
I don’t use the final tab in the Filofax set, Addresses. Like many people, I rely on my phone for my address book. I suspect that I am not alone, however, in having been caught out on several occasions, by supposedly “smart” devices synchronizing their data in decidedly un-smart ways. And I am going back to when I used to have a Psion 3a organizer, and it used to happen even then. I now religiously back up my outlook contacts, in .PST format and in .XLS too. I also have a hard copy of them printed on A4 paper. My most important contacts are kept in the TMI Address book which simply slides into the inside pocket. I only carry this when travelling, not when I’m back at home.
The penultimate insert is a 3-slot business card holder.
In the top, I have a spare battery for my mobile phone, also credit card sized and very thin. It’s only a 650mAh battery, so it is more of a “get you home” battery than one which will deliver several full charges, but the key thing is, it fits the credit card slot, so doesn’t take up much space. In the middle is an 8GB Memory Card, credit card sized, and very thin. I picked it up for free at a conference, but I have seen them available on eBay too, for a reasonable price. Finally, at the bottom is a superb tool which only cost a couple of pounds but is used on almost every flight I take. It is the “Safety Magic Cutter”, by TMI. And if you’re wondering, it is airline safe. I fly at least 4 times a week and I have never had a problem flying with this. The actual blade is so thin, you couldn’t do anything which it except the job it was designed for – cutting paper. When you run it around an article in a magazine, 99% of the time it will only cut through the sheet you want, not the ones below. Sheer genius.
The final insert is a Snopake Polyfile plastic wallet with a press-stud top. I bought this in a pack of five, in Rymans, in London. They cost less than £1 each. I have punched it for Personal size, and then cut a slot out of the flap, so it can still close. This holds my passport when I’m travelling, so all my essential cards, info and passport are all together. It saves a lot of time at the X-ray scanners, as all my metal objects are already in my cabin baggage before getting to the airport, and everything else essential is in my Organiser. All I have to put through is my Filofax and my belt, and I’m done. This can be seen below, above the punch.
Regarding equipment, I used to use a Rapesco hole punch but now use a KW Trio, as it is more versatile for my needs. For cutting, I use a very basic guillotine by Maped, which I bought in Rymans in London, for £10. It came with a spare blade, but 9 months on, the original blade is still fine.
I am missing only one thing which would be a welcome addition to this set-up: a Filofax jotter insert. If anyone has one lying around unused, please let me know, as it would be the last piece in my system. I have learned a great deal of useful info from reading about how other Philofaxy readers set up their Organisers, so if any of the above information helps someone else out, I’ll be happy. Safe travels.