31 October 2005

Choosing My Weapon

Even though I had organized my life by the byte for several years before making my recent switch, I have a background in paper-usage. During college, I used a Filofax for a while. I stopped not because I didn't like the system, but because my life was simple enough that the effort necessary to manage it on paper was wasted. I had a class schedule that repeated itself each week, and reading assignments that were usually already recorded on a syllabus. There really was no need to remind myself to "get drunk" on the weekends.

I went to law school next and, surprisingly, it was the same way. It just wasn't that hard to manage in my head and in the margins of my notes. I dabbled in calendars, but never made a commitment. It was after law school that I needed some assistance. That's about when I moved to the Device.

Once I decided to shelve the Device, the big question became: Which planner? My wife recently started using a Franklin Covey planner. It's pretty nice, but the leather binders for Franklin Covey systems can be prohibitively expensive. (And I made the possibly irrational determination that I needed real leather, because the more I value the object itself, the deeper my commitment to it would be.) Plus, there's something vaguely cult-like about Franklin Covey. Right now, I'm not interested in setting life objectives and balancing my yin and yang. I don't want to take any expensive classes, which may or may not involve the chanting of mantras and the writing of additional checks. I just want to centralize some dispersed aspects of my life.

I looked at Day Timer and Day Runner. They both looked amateurish to me. I don't want bold, italicized headings and stylized formats that look like they came out of my ninth grade yearbook. I want my planner to say, "Relax. You're a serious, professional man and here is what your schedule looks like. And here is a serious, professional list of the people with whom you sometimes get drunk." I don't want it to say, "Bang! Zoom! Tomorrow is just a day away! You might as well get drunk now!"

My first decision was abortive. I purchased an Exacompta calendar from Barnes & Noble. I really liked the format and the classy appearance. But it was a spine-bound calendar, not a spiral bound planner. My life couldn't coagulate around it the way I wanted.

I remembered (but couldn't find, damn it) the Filofax I used in college. Classy? Check. Useful format? Check. Understated European cool, kind of like a 3-series BMW? Check. I went online assuming I would find someone blogging about the relative merits of various planner systems. I found fine folks like the ones at Moleskinerie and 43 Folders, singing the praises of paper. Clearly, paper is the new black. But I didn't find an obsessive-compulsive site about planners, like I predicted. On my own, I made the plunge and ordered a Filofax. Here are the vital signs of the system I chose:

Size:   Personal (7.25" x 5.25")
Style:   Cross (leather, with 7/8" rings and attractive stitching in a cross pattern)
Color:   Chocolate (I call it "brown")
Calendar format:   Week-on-two-pages (default system supplied with binder)
Extra inserts:   Extra lined paper; extra to-do sheets; laminated map of Washington, DC (last two items backordered; not yet installed)

I have the gun; I have the ammunition. The binder came with address pages and index tabs, and a series of somewhat oddly named other tabs: Diary; Notes; Projects; Information; and Financial. I'm still sorting out exactly how I want to use those items. There seems to be some conceptual overlap among the broad terms on these tabs. The diary tab is particularly befuddling. I'm making them work, though. And damn it if it isn't fun.

In my short time with the 'Fax, I've already developed a couple useful hacks for making it work really well. I can't give up all the goods this early in the game, though, so I'll describe them later. In the mean time, please feel free to breathe again. I know the suspense can be agonizing.

In the beginning...

In the beginning, there was paper. And it was good. On that paper, I wrote facts, appointments, numbers, and other data of all sorts. And that paper required no synchronization. It required no travel chargers; no screen protectors; no spare styli; no third-party software. It required only a writing instrument, ink, and pressure applied by my wrist sufficient to affix the ink to the paper.

Then came the Fall.

On the sixth day (or circa 1999), I abandoned paper in favor of the Device, a portable electronic machine that, unlike paper, did require travel chargers, screen protectors, spare styli, and third-party software. Slowly, my life seeped out of the paper world and into the digital world of the Device. Appointments went first, followed by phone numbers. Then came shopping lists. And my checkbook register. Soon, my entire life was summarized and collated into digital bins stored inscrutably inside the Device.

The Device gave me a sense of confidence and freedom. I could pick it up without additional thought as to what I needed it for. Whatever eventuality arose in the course of my day, it contained the answer. I coddled the Device, my precious, in brushed steel cases, caressing its glass screen with expensive styli. I gave it all the best third-party software; nothing was too fine for the Device. I even upgraded the Device several times, ushering out the old with a solemn nod and indoctrinating its replacement in a sea of love, with new protective cases and screen coverings.

Paper was a quaint prop from a period piece. Paper was for simpletons, or at least people with simple lives. My life exceeded the bounds of the analog and could be kept in check only by the unbending rules of the digital world. Paper tears and decays; bytes persist forever.

Or so I thought.

A series of problems befell the computer with which the Device mated on a daily basis. The problems were not insurmountable, but solutions were difficult because the computer was ruled by the iron fist of The IT Department. The IT Department frowned on my efforts to install the Device's software on the computer. They "do not support third-party software," said The IT Department. Somehow, though, I thwarted their dominance and succeeded in reinstalling the Device's software.

Then it happened again. And again. And each time, the Device began to feel more like a burden. And other problems arose. I found it very difficult to mate the device with two computers -- at home and work -- without causing many problems. The Device was testy, perhaps upset with the periodic trauma of reinstallation and recovery. As the Device began to feel burdensome, I felt hopeless. Yes, the Device sucked. But what else could a man do?

It hit me one day as I fumbled with the Device, attempting to translate arcane scribbles on its screen into recognizable text. I remembered the substance that had sustained me in ancient times. A substance that, alchemically combined with ink, could be manipulated in infinite ways. A substance that, depending on my mood, could be as strictly rule-bound as any computer or as free-form as an artist's canvas.


I set aside the Device, and bought a Filofax. And it was good. No, great.

The Device now gathers dust, and the Filofax gathers no moss. I carry it with me around the house, to the bathroom, to the family room. I set it next to me in bed.

My relationship with the Filofax is in its infancy. My return to paper occurred in earnest only a couple weeks ago. But I have found there is very little on the internet in the way of planner-love. I know there are others out there, secretly laboring as members of my brotherhood. Planner-lovers, unite! You may be a devotee of Filofax, Day Timer, Day Runner, Franklin Covey, Exacompta, or wall calendars with photographs of puppies and kittens. It matters not. Rejoice in the experience of pen to paper. Rejoice in the use of alphabetic tabs. Rejoice in the critical decisions a planner maker must use: Week on a page? Week on two pages? Page-a-day? Notebook-size? Pocket-size? It's all glorious!

Let us celebrate. And, on the seventh day, let us pencil in, "Rest."