22 June 2006

Dirty Little Secret

Index cards in my Filofax.

See, in the summer of 2005, I had been using a Palm Pilot for all of my organizational and most of my notetaking needs for about 6 years. I was good at it, too. I took meeting notes into it using a portable keyboard. I always, always, had every single address, phone number, and password I ever needed in it. I knew how to run Word and Excel on it. I had just taken it on vacation INSTEAD of a laptop, and worked on the plane and kept up with email using it. I read newspapers and magazines on its screen. I could get online with it by connecting through my cellphone via infrared. I never missed birthdays or appointments (unless I really wanted to). And yet, in the middle of that year, an organizational crisis hit me like a runaway Acela.

Looking at the world through a 2.5" inch square window was changing me. My abilities to prioritize, to ponder, to see the big picture were suffering. I was spending half a day a week troubleshooting my electronic system, because the software that synched the device's information was getting slower and buggier, not better. (What's up with that?) Plus, I had a chronically sore left shoulder from gripping the thing as I stabbed away at Graffiti or Tetris with my right hand. I had to change.

Meanwhile, about 1/3 of the population of North America had marched in lockstep to a bookstore, bought David Allen's Getting Things Done and a Moleskine, stopped off at Staples for manila files and index cards, then went home and started a blog about it. The next few months were a blur. A torturously difficult, time pressured project at work was upon me, and I had NO SYSTEM.

I spent a week transferring my life into Circus Ponies Notebook, then Aquaminds Note Taker. Then back to iCal and StickyBrain. Or could I really do everything on index cards, maybe with a Flylady 3-ring binder on the kitchen counter? But how would I keep work, home, and portability synched? Or was the need for synchronization just an illusion? 200 filled-up index cards later, I still hadn't found a solution. The beginning of my return to sanity was the Levenger Circa system. I read the GTD book and implemented it on these movable pages. But I hated the way the stuff looked and felt. Simpler tools kept beckoning. I still have some of that stuff waiting to be sold on eBay.

Then my Dad gave me 2 Moleskines for Christmas 2005, so it was time to give them a try. I decided to go all-analog, all-the-time for 2006, and not reanalyze again until the end of the year. I bought a dated diary, Moleskines in various shapes and sizes, and a fresh supply of index cards. I set up a manila 12-month/31 day tickler file like a good GTD'er.

Problem was, I'm allergic to redundancy. Anything I captured on an index card, sooner or later needed to be recorded somewhere else. Anything I wrote in a Moleskine often had to be rewritten somewhere else in order to be usable, since you can't move pages around. If I write something stupid, I need to be able to tear the page out and start over. I need to take two pages that are related and place them behind the same tab.

And so I tiptoed down to the basement, dusted off an almost-forgotten shoebox and found what I hoped would still be there. A well-used, tattered, Personal-size Filofax (actually, it was made by Coach) in royal blue leather. Abandoned for a decade, but accompanied by archives of pages that showed I had actually met a lot of life goals (and was still failing at others!) from 10 years earlier. I bought some new Filofax pages, and started using it, copying in the big file jacket of index cards, circa pages, and Moleskines I'd been carrying forward. I used it so well, in fact, that it was bursting at the already-worn seams in a week. Even the Personal size page was cramping my style.

So I made the leap to the A5 size for my "life book," with the Pocket size as my analog PDA. I dumped the contents of that old Coach organizer (and how I wish I'd taken a picture of it before trashing it) into the big, red file jacket, and started moving my life into Filofaxes. But a few remnants of my dailliance on the Dark Side remain...index cards slipped into my Pocket Filofax.

The next time I post a picture of this Filofax, those cards will be GONE.


  1. Nan, you have given validity to my urge to buy another Filofax. My wife already thinks I am insane for having bought two. (Having bumped up from Personal to A5.) I am going to visit my local Filofax merchane and lust over the Pocket or Mini sizes this weekend. I would need the pages to be transplantable into my A5, which I think limits me to the Pocket size. I wonder if the Mini inserts would do that?

  2. Good morning, again, I so glad to see this blog back up and running. One of the best things for me from the frenzy of GTD is 3x5 grid index card. I carry some of them with me always and when I note something, camera setting, good locations, good light, picture ideas I just put the card into the date page in my Filofax...this makes the information really sortable and moveable. Works for me, your mileage may differ. Thanks, Jim

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  4. Hey Jim! Yes, index cards are the absolute best for some things. They're clearly helping you in a big way.

    I use them to "beam" information to other people. I keep a stack on my desk and some in a Filofax pocket. When I have a lot of stuff to do, what works best is to put each task on a card. Then I can figure out what order makes sense, stack 'em up, and then start doing what's on the top card.

    My problem is, they're so handy, I have a tendency to write on them things that really belong somewhere else. Then I have to later copy what's on the card into my journal, add it to an existing list in my Filofax, or whatever.

    I also kind of feel I "should" use my Filofaxes for everyting, now that I've spent $$ on them.* But maybe I should stop being so much of a purist. Then again, it was no fun this morning when I was buying coffee and all these index cards fell out of my Filo and onto Starbucks' floor....

    * By the way, Philofaxer, I rationalize my expenditure by saying I don't spend as much on Filofaxes as most women spend on shoes! The models I buy don't cost more than a nice dinner for two in a major city, and you get to keep them a lot longer!