29 July 2006

A Rock, a Hard Place, and Some Complaints About Each

I finally had a chance yesterday to visit my local Filofax emporium. I hadn't been in a long time, and in the interim I had developed all sorts of fantasies about revamping my system. Foremost among these fantasies was the introduction of a mini-size Filofax, to function like a Star Trek shuttle: Leave the mothership in the bag or on the desk; deploy the shuttle for information-gathering and discrete missions; upon completion of mission, dock with the mothership and offload the new data.

Fantasies are so much more fantastic than reality.

The store had a huge selection of Mini Filofaxes, and for a brief moment, I was very excited. I flipped one open. The pages are so cute I would pinch their cheeks if they had them. But it quickly became apparent to me that I would not be sticking one in my pocket. Puffy, thick leather is luxurious, but not compact. Neither are binder rings pocket-friendly.

And the Minis were $70 each. Yikes. So I soured on the Mini idea quickly.

Plan B: Come up with an alternative pocket-friendly system that is compatible with Filofax. The problem here is that, as far as I can find, there is no pocket-friendly paper system pre-drilled for Filofax compatibility. I could buy the A5 hole punch sold by Filofax, but it is priced for millionaires. $50 for a tiny little hole punch. Puh-leeeze.

Enter the Moleskine, tantalizingly close to a solution, but not quite there. Portable: Check. Cool: Check. Drilled for Filofax: Uncheck. Perforated pages for transfer to a Filofax: Check/uncheck. (Some Moleskines have some perforated pages, but none have all perforated pages, as far as I can tell.)

Tear down this wall, Mr. Moleskine: Drill your notebooks for Filofax!

Maybe I am destined to buy the hole punch, but I can't drop that kind of coin on a hole punch unless I am quite certain it will be heavily used. Perhaps I should first experiment with carrying around an awl, or getting a job teaching high school shop so I would have access to a drill press.


  1. Only the watercolor Moleskine has all perforated pages, and it wouldn't be much good for notes.

    The hole-punch is expensive. It wouldn't be so bad if it was really good quality, but although it *looks* good, it doesn't actually work very well. It'll only do a few sheets at a time (ten is challenging to it), the plastic end-bits have a tendency to fall off, and emptying it is annoyingly difficult. Oh, and it *needs* emptying often, because it's not designed so that there's enough space for the punchings to fall into, so they just jam the thing up after a few shots.

    Having said all that, it's still a lot easier than any alternative. The *closest* alternative I've found is a single-hole punch we picked up from Staples for under £2 (less than $4). You have to use a 'real' punched sheet to help judge where the holes go, and the results aren't perfect, but it's fairly easy, it'll go through lots of sheets at once, and it's cheap. The biggest problem with the results is that the holes are a bit too big, so the paper can 'rattle' about on the rings a bit too much.

  2. I'm so glad I Kept my 1.25 inch personal sixe Filofax-- a size that Filofax unfortunately doesn't make any more.

  3. I plan to buy a Filofax A5 hole punch someday, despite all the bad press it's getting here! Currently, I'm using the single-hole punch solution. I happen to have a couple of all-in-one office kits, given to me for Christmas over the years. These kits contain miniature staplers, tape measures, hole punches, box cutters, and so on. The hole punches in these kits are small and oddly-shaped, but they make smaller holes than the standard, scissor-shaped single hole punches, so the resulting holes are nicely Filofax-compatible.

  4. The problem is Filofax subverted their own idea with way too many sizes - they should have stuck to just the Personal and Deskfax sizes.

    Moleskine's are just this year's fad and are qualitively no different from any notepad other than the price.

    For your interest I maintain a Filofax chronology as I'm a collector of them

  5. This is such a great post. I've read it at least 3 times now. And I'm very envious that you actually have a Filofax "emporium" in your area. I think the closest one to me is in NYC, as far as I can tell from searching the Web.

    Between Filo pr0n, a good haircut, and a couple of shows I want to see, I think a 5-hour each way trip is in the offing.

  6. Hi Kevin - Welcome to our little corner of the Internet. This is your first post, no?

    I read your Filofax choronology with great interest. I forgot that Day Runner owned Filofax for a time. I'm also old enough to remember the stiffer leather when 'faxes were all made in the UK. (Let's just say I've been fascinated with paper from the cradle!)

    I agree that that there are a few too many sizes right now, but I think the A5 and A4 sizes are a smart idea on the company's part. These are standard international paper sizes (the Personal organizer size is, too), and compatibility with them is crucial to Filofax's survival. Vive Filo!

  7. pigpogm, that's disappointing news about the hole punch. I had suspected that the little plastic in-planner hole punch would operate like that, but I assumed the nice metal one would be solid. Oh well. I'll probably try the handheld single hole punch method.

    Kevin, that chronology is awesome. I have expressed strong feelings about the moleskine frenzy in other posts. Most of those feelings are negative. However, I am nothing if not a hypocrite, and I still want to be one of the cool kids.

    Nan, "emporium" is a pretty strong word for my local Filo-source. But in a desert, a puddle is like a lake.

  8. Philofaxer: FYI - The NYC souce I'm talking about, which pledges to have the full range of available refills, is Madison Signatures, 743 Madison Ave., NYC 10021, (212) 717-1386 or (800) 783-9590.

  9. Hello, that was my first post :) I have to confess that most of my Filofaxes are at least 15 years old, as I collect any and all from 1980-1992 from what I consider Filofaxes "golden era" when the binders were handmade in England; as a Brit myself I take a lot of pride in the quality of their older binders before Robin Field took control of the company from David Collischon and had nearly everything made overseas. I found it astonishing that the essential "Britishness" of Filofax was a major quality they felt it didn't need.

    I still think Filofax need to take a look at their own heritage and see what great ideas they had - it's an irony that a few days ago I emailed the company about bring back some older designs (like the Duplex) and, I quote, "I have asked our Marketing Department about your 'Duplex' organiser and they are not familiar with the name." Amazing!

  10. Kevin, the loss of British craftsmanship is very sad. As one of our American presidents used to say, "I feel your pain." Just try to get a pair of blue jeans made in the USA!

  11. Hiya

    I bought a Circa punch when it was way too expensive (cuz the price dropped after I bought one - story of my life), but now, everytime I punch up pages for my home-made Circa planner, I thank myself for making that expensive investment at the time.

    Go ahead, get yourself the Filofax punch.

  12. Hi and welcome Chet!

    I don't have a Filo punch yet, but I did buy the Circa punch when I was using Circa. It really is necessary when you're using that system. And talk about a sturdy, well-made piece of equipment! That thing is solid!! I guess because it's not popular enough yet for mass-production.

    When I was a Circaphile, I used the punch every day. I really loved the fact that any email, PDF, iCal, or Word document on my computer could become part of a book. I was really big on printing out PDFs and binding them. I printed out my iCal calendar every morning and punched it for my daily notebook. I really liked the fact that, unlike a ring binder, the resulting book was only as thick as the pages and cover, without wasted space.

    Levenger used to quote emails from enthusiastic Circa users on its site...and I was one of them!

    In the end, I stopped using Circa because I felt I was spending more time printing, punching, and tweaking than it was worth, and after a while, the pages wore out and popped out of the book. I could never get pages to print out the way I wanted. I still have the punch though...haven't gotten around to selling it on eBay. Maybe I won't.

    Anyway, there was another way I used my Circa punch...check it out on my Flickr page.

  13. What a wonderful Blog site. This is my first posting so hello to everyone. I myself have been a Filofaxer for probably 15 years, beginning with a personal size and quickly moving to an A5 size. I converted some years ago to a PDA, trying a number of iterations but went back to my trusty Durham when I found it wasn't adding anything to my work life, but only to my personal.

    Maybe this is the key, use what works for you for the part of your life that it is needed for. I have a password application on my PDA and some other applications that I find useful occasionally. However my Filofax allows me to go into meetings, take notes, check my schedule and plan so much more easily and efficiently than having to poke around on a small PDA screen.

    I have the aluminium A5 punch, having purchased it a number of years ago. What seems to work for me is a combination of electronic and manual in that I have A5 copy paper in my office and print out my week per page diary directly from Outlook, where I receive and manage most of my appointments. I use the punch for this and keep this page on the left hand side, with an "Action Items" list on the right hand side, which moves from week to week if I can't get to all my action items. The "Action Items" list is manual, as I receive and manage most of my tasks manually rather than over email.

    I keep Filofax ruled notepaper and spare "Action" lists in the back and generally am happy with how everything comes together...except!

    The size of the rings are becoming an impediment to the way I want to work rather than the way I have to work. I have the maximum 1.25" ring size, but due to my setup above am not able to keep contact information in the binder, nor am I able to provide additional tabs for projects, an extra 3/4" would be nice, say a 2" ring. Filofax, despite a number of requests over the years have steadfastly refused to provide a size similar to say Covey or Day Timer, much to my annoyance.

    Now you may well say why not move to the other systems, but I really do enjoy the refills of Filofax. They are simple and effective without too much decoration or unnecessary affectation. A sublime solution for me would be to utilize Filofax refills in a larger binder, but alas to date I have not found a compatibile A5 binder with the correct six ring mechanism...my search continues.

    Keep up the great blog, thoroughly enjoying it.

  14. Welcome Alan --

    I've found the same thing at various times...using a Palm Pilot for most of my life, but a simple notebook when I'm at the office. Or finding that different page sizes work for different contexts.

    I agree about the hole size dilemma. Franklin Covey has some great leaves (some of which are discontinued) that I can't use in my Filo because the holes are not lined up. Now when I see different leaves, I let them inspire my own ideas, rather than thinking I need to have that exact page.

    The size limit in Filofax rings is kind of like living in a small apartment. It forces you to be neat and organized.

    Anyway, I'm so glad you've joined us!

  15. Nan

    I'm glad I don't live in the States and use the Letter / Junior paper sizes. Otherwise, I would be a regular Levenger customer! I bought the Circa punch mainly because of the paper size differences. Here in Malaysia, we use the A paper size (with the A4 being the equivalent of the Letter and the A5 the Junior).

    As it is, I recently saw that the Circa Junior uses the same number of rings as an A5, so I pestered Levenger Customer Service about whether it would take A5 paper. Unfortunately (or should it be fortunately?), it doesn't.

    I so want a leather Circa cover. It would complete my home-made Circa notebook.

  16. If I'm not mistaken, Franklin Covey planners have 7 rings, rather than the universal 6 rings.

  17. Nan

    Did you know there's a Filofax portable punch?

    Go to this accessories page, and scroll down, it's the last product on the page:

  18. Chet, thanks for the tip about the A5 Portable Punch I didn't know they made a portable version in the A5 size!

    By the way, I think the Levenger customer service person you talked to was confused. Levenger's Junior paper is 210mm x 143mm. I think it's closer to A5 than to the American 8.5 x 5.25! In other words, I think the Circa Junior leather notebook is perfect for A5 paper.

    P.S. You're right about Franklin Covey. They do have 7 rings instead of 6.

  19. Hi I have a Filofax E199 1/2bought in Chisholm's Ltd., 103 Kingwasy, London about thirty years ago which was the main supplier in those days...I was told that there was a lady who punched the holes for the stationary by hand above the shop!Sadly the stationers no longer exists. It is slimline but with rings in between the two present sizes which works well. Anybody any clues about a replacement as it is getting a bit tired.

  20. Does anyone know if there is a refill that you can print on with a laser printer for the Filofax with the 3.75 inch by 6.75 inch pages

  21. If you have a Kinko's or other copy service in your area, they will often drill pages for a minimal fee.

  22. I SO enjoyed reading these comments. I worked at the Filofax Head Office in Ilford (north east London)from 1985-1991. We were immensely proud of our product and had very good relationships with our manufacturers. The leather binder manufacturers were mostly in Walsall, near Birmingham and the paper printer was about 20 minutes drive away.

    Towards the end of my time there products were being sourced from abroad and the quality was nowhere near as good.

    The company started as Norman & Hill in (if my memory serves me right) 1926. During the 2nd World War the office was bombed but the secretary rescued the Filofax with the addresses of all the customers & suppliers. That secretary was Grace Scurr who went on to buy the company. David and Lesley Collischon bought it from Grace. Grace was a regular visitor to the office (as was the Queen's cousin, Lord Linley).

    The company name changed to Filofax, to match the product, in 1986.

    David and Lesley very much treated us as family. We would get a hamper from them at Christmas as well as a bonus. I think this is very much down to their Christian beliefs.

    It did change when Robin Field and his company took over. You either liked or hated Robin. Personally, I got on well with him but can understand why others didn't.

    I was made redundant when the manufacturing was put out to an outside contractor. I feel that the workers at this warehouse won't have had the personal attachment to the company and product as us 'old handers' did.

    I don't recognise the products labelled as Filofax in the shops anymore. There is nothing about them that makes them stand out. The quality is not a patch on what it was.

    Sorry for the ramble.

  23. Dear Sir/Madam.
    Thank you for your email requesting additional information for the Filofax.
    I can confirm that this product is produced in China.
    Hope this information is useful to you.

    Kind regards
    Filofax Mail Order

  24. For a good hole punch look at the Time/Design (USA or Europe). These work for the A5 size (6 hole).

    Hope this helps.

  25. Personally, I tried to dual-Filofax approach and it didnl;t work for me. I now stick to an A5 model.
    I can vouch for the Time/Design A5 punch since I've had one for at least 15 years! Still works great after all this time despite being heavily used. Remember that a good punch isn't cheap; I've worn out several letter-size punches and found that you have to spend about $50 on a heavy-duty punch to get something that will last.
    Here are two alternatives to a punch and/or a second Filofax. 1) Buy prepunched A5 paper (I got some in London while visting, wasn't too expensive although Filofax and Time/Design A5 computer paper sure is!) or use the Filofax jotter pads. About 2 by 3 inches, these pads have three holes to insert into most Filofaxes and easily fit your shirt pocket. You get three pads in a package. Of course, Post-Its work great for jotting down notes too, and you just stick them in your Filofax at the appropriate place. Good luck!


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