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.


  1. Oooh, I know who this is. I already knew about your notebook fetish. Good to see you back. Yes.

  2. Henry, curses! I guess a man's disguise is only as good as the telltale list of links on his blog. It's like a fingerprint -- who the hell else would have that motley list?

    Amazingly, this blog has existed for about four hours, and I've already received my first spam comment. I think I'll leave it up for posterity (and turn on that word verification thing).

  3. Finally, a blog about Filofax!

  4. You need D*I*Y Planner - they're the planner-obsessed people you seek.

    Lots of forms as PDFs to download to make your own pages too.

  5. I believe the "Diary" tab is for the calendar; at least, that's how I've always used that tab, as I've heard calendars referred to as diaries.

    I too have recently made the conversion back to Filofax! Huzzahs.

  6. D*I*Y Planner looks interesting. I honestly don't know if I have it in me to take on the task of reformatting the various pages of my Filofax. At least until I identify glaring inadequacies, I'll stick with the default.

    And to the anonymous tipster on the "Diary" tab: Damn it if that doesn't make sense. Consider the tab moved. Thanks.

  7. Filofax make a set of 6 numbered tabs which make more sense to me. Where's the value in a "Diary" tab when the ruler/bookmark will always take you to the current date? Why have a "Financial" tab with just one or two sheets behind it?

    My six tabs are:
    1 Notes/Inbox
    2 Next Actions, Calls, Errands
    3 Waiting For, Maybe Get
    4 Projects
    5 Information
    6 Addresses

  8. To the most recent anonymous commenter: I actually get a fair bit of use out of my "Financial" tab. I keep my checkbook register back there, a record of my savings account balance, and a running list of charitable donations. I also have some blank expense sheets that might prove useful the next time I travel for work.

    The "Diary" tab doesn't serve much purpose, true, except that by putting in front of the calendar I give the whole binder logical coherence. Everything has its tab.

  9. If you think about it, not only is the "Diary" tab made superfluous by the "Today" marker, but the "Addresses" tab is really unnecessary, since you have alphabetical tabs for your addresses and phone numbers.

    So I also use simple numbered tabs:

    1) Notes/Inbox/Ideas
    3)Person-Specific Agendas/Context Specific Lists


  10. Any idea where I can get pages that focus on setting goals etc?