29 September 2006


During my recent trip to New York City, I stopped in at the New York Public Library. The main reading room is an island of peace and quiet above the taxi horns and jackhammers of the streets below, even though it's only on the 3rd floor. (You get to it by walking up marble stairs.) Apparently, the thick stone walls are very insulating. The walls are lined with books, but the heavy wooden tables are equipped with computer screens. Maybe a hundred of them. Internet access is free, but on a Sunday afternoon, most of the stations were not in use.

There was a sign prohibiting flash photography. I guess they have a problem with that. But I couldn't resist snapping a picture of my personal, portable information companion with one of the historic copper lamps. I thought about how many people had been in that room before me. Writing with quills or fountain pens, pencilling notes on index cards, and now, interacting with an electronic screen. But maybe one thing has stood the test of time: a personal, leather-bound book, worn from use and seasoned by skin oils. A private reference volume, a distillation of the volumes of information out there in billions of books and Web pages. A tranquil island refuge in a swelling sea of facts. A Filofax.

27 September 2006

Madison Signatures

I'm back. There's no place like New York City, and Madison Signatures is a quintessentially New York shop, nestled just east of Central Park in a cozy 2nd floor walkup. I almost missed it because I was expecting a storefront. The proprietor, Phil, is a dapper gentleman who sports a feathered hat. His shop specializes in beautiful personalized stationery as well as Filofaxes.

If you're visiting New York, you'll be impressed by Madison Signatures' selection of Personal and Pocket sized leaves. In Personal, there are some harder-to-find papers like Cotton Cream and Clouded. There's an impressive selection of Mini leaves as well. The selection of A5s is a little more limited, and there's even a small section for the discontinued Deskfax. If you use Personal, Pocket, or Mini, you'll probably find what you're looking for. With the larger sizes, I'd recommend calling or emailing first.

Where Madison Signatures truly excels is in service. Phil held his last packet of A5 Project Planner leaves for me for 2 months, sight unseen, even though he could probably have sold it to someone off the street during that time. He even offered to open early for me, since I went in to pick it up on the morning of my travel day. (It turned out not to be necessary.) As I was leaving, a woman was coming in about some custom-engraved stationery or invitations, and she was clearly a repeat customer, for she was greeted warmly, like a friend.

While I was in NYC, I also scored some A5 binders at a Japanese bookstore, which I'll use for archiving. I'll report on that in a later post.

25 September 2006

Pencil News

My life is now divided across three Filofaxes. (To be honest, it's really two: My A5, for general purposes, and my Personal, for financial items. The red Mini Domino I purchased is largely unused. I may have to relegate it to a mental junkyard that has grown to huge dimensions in my life: The Land of Failed Experiments.)

My A5, God bless it, has two loops for writing implements. I have been keeping a Uniball in one, and a Pentel 0.5mm pencil in the other. This combination has worked magnificently. This weekend, I bought a couple more Pentel pencils, in order to stock the Personal Filofax.

Ho hum. No news.

This is the news: I bought some darker pencil leads. Oh yes. Hold me back. If I have simply become too crazy and unpredictable for you, feel free to take a break in order to gather your senses.

I've alluded in the past to the fact that I am a cheapskate. So it was a big deal for me to say, "I shall abandon these faint-hued HB leads that came with my pencils, and instead spend several dollars on a bunch of 2B leads that will show up more clearly on the page." But I did it, damn it. I had to take a shower afterward.

The 2B lead really makes a lovely line, contrasty and dark. It isn't as precise as the HB lead, because it grinds down faster and more quickly becomes a broad line. However, I'm not sketching critical safety mechanisms for nuclear reactors here. I am writing things like, "Dog - Vet." Or, "Make reservation for anniversary." Or, "Purchase gift to atone for failure to make reservation for anniversary." Or, "Purchase gift to atone for failure to purchase gift to atone for failure to make reservation for anniversary." Optical precision is not necessary. (Moral precision is more important.)

Anyway, I'll be enjoying these leads for years to come, because they came in a package of 144 leads. Maybe my old HB leads would make a good anniversary present...

23 September 2006

Road Trip

I'm off, a little later today, to New York City for a couple of days. Going to see friends, lunch with a colleague, take in a couple of shows, and (here's where this post actually becomes relevant to the blog) pick up some discontinued A5 Filofax forms at Madison Signatures. Maybe they'll have the hole punch I've been needing, too. I'll see what they've got; maybe buy my 2007 refills while I'm there. I'll report on my experience at the store, maybe post a few pictures. If time allows, maybe head over to Japantown to see if they have A5 binders that I can store my archived pages in.

What else does this trip possibly have to do with Filofax? Well, the whole journey started out as a list in my Filo. One of those "Next Time in [Placename]" lists. I started planning the trip once I realized I actually had enough things on the list to justify the journey. It was the timing of the shows I wanted to see that clinched the timeframe.

Sure, my Filofax didn't help me book a hotel room, or figure out how to afford it. As far as driving there, I'm on my own. But the Filo helped me germinate the idea, helped remind me who I had to call and email to set up my engagements, helped me see which parts of the planning it made sense to delegate to my husband. When I'm there, it will remind me where I need to be and when, and to do the things I went there to do in the first place.

Since my return to the Filofax fold earlier this year, I believe this trip is the first project that I've taken all the way from idea to realization relying solely on Filofax support.

Let this be just the beginning.

20 September 2006

Leather Tickler

Curiosity got the better of me, and I checked out the site statistics for this blog; namely, the Google search terms that brought people to this address. And I found that someone arrived at Philofaxy by searching for "leather tickler." Now, Filofaxes are certainly made of leather, and they make great tickler files, but somehow I think that searcher had something else in mind.

Now that I've finally stopped laughing, I just thought I'd mention it, in case it turns it out to...er...whip up more site traffic.

17 September 2006

Putting Off Procrastination

Today's post started out as some notes in my A5 Filo two days ago, and I've been procrastinating about posting it ever since. It just doesn't seem formulated yet. However, because of this post, I've been procrastinating about other things until I get it done, so I may as well plunge ahead. What is it about trying to find a solution to procrastination that seems to generate more of same? (Here's my favorite morality tale about the perils of that paradox, as expressed in a podcast by 43 Folders' Merlin Mann.)

Today's post is about the struggle between subscribing to an organizational system packaged up by someone else, and doing what you know works for you. Thematically, I think of it as the third in a series of posts that started with "Dirty Little Secret" and continued with "The BS". Reading those two posts will help you understand how I've arrived at where I am now.

In my case, the three systems I've made earnest attempts to implement in recent years are: Franklin Covey, FLYlady, and David Allen's "Getting Things Done". I've now concluded that the net effect of each of these systems on my life and psyche, with the possible exception of FLYlady, was of more harm than good.

How can I say that? Well, there was some good. In any case, each system provided a break in the monotony and provided new ideas. But the harm was in the form of limitation. Fitting a round peg (me) into a square hole (the system) ultimately prevented me from taking the most expedient form of action available to me. Trying to codify my life's goals and "roles" a la Franklin Covey actually made me less, not more, certain of them. What I really wanted to do evolved organically, and it was right there in front of my nose the whole time. Categorizing my tasks into "contexts" a la GTD and writing them down before actually doing thing didn't free my mind from worry as advertized; it just gave me pages and pages of contextualized task lists to worry about.

FLYlady actually wasn't bad -- not too different from the way I organized my housework before, and with the help of this system I actually got my Christmas shopping done earlier than every before. But because I've spent more time trying to implement the system than just doing the actual housework, that I'd have to say that my house is messier and dirtier than before FLYlady. (But my sink is very, very shiny.) Because of trying to implement David Allen's filing system, I now have more of a backlog of unfiled papers than I did before.

There have been some good takeaways. David Allen's filing system is better than the one I was using, and with its help I do find it easier to access things I've filed away. Franklin Covey reminds me to set aside time to do what's important, not just what's urgent.

These days, I'm trying to remember what worked for me, and start doing it again. Ultimately, I may end up writing my own organization book. Not for publication -- it won't help anyone except me. But I will keep sharing what works and doesn't work for me, in case it provides inspiration for Philofaxy readers.

This post is still rather unformulated, I think. At least, however, it's done.

14 September 2006

Project: Reorganize

A few days ago, I pondered how a busy new father could possibly find time to go buy certain pages for a certain Filofax, despite certain commitments that make life certainly difficult.

So I ordered them from Filofax. It took a while to build up to that, because I am a really miserly fellow, and I hate paying shipping charges. If I can get something on Amazon, that's great, because I can always find $25 worth of stuff to buy and thereby get free shipping. (Although even Amazon comes with its hassles: I accumulate cardboard Amazon boxes like some people collect stamps. Our trash people will take them away only if I break them down flat and tie them up. Ergo, they sit in the house for weeks.) Filofax, paleolithic corporate entity that it is, charges old-fashioned shipping fees.

But I bit the bullet. Yesterday, I received: (i) a bunch of personal-size financial/checkbook register pages; (ii) a 2007 calendar (for the A5); and (iii) a 2008 vertical planning insert.

All I can say is: Woo hoo!

Now the migration of all my financial matters out of the A5 and into the Personal can proceed forthwith. Now I can schedule things in 2007. Now I can notate events, vacations, and other especially important matters as far ahead as 2008.

The A5 is really bursting at the seams, because the packrat side of my brain thinks things like these: "Let's shove the whole 2007 calendar in there. Also, I really need to know the 2007 vacation schedules for all members of the European Union, so better keep that in there too. And what the scientific community has subtly altered the formulas for converting between various measurements? I can't leave out those pages from the new calendar."

This brings me to one of my main criticisms of each Filofax I have used. When the binder is full, or nearly so, I have a great deal of trouble opening and closing the rings. Sometimes I have to remove a big section of the planner in order to get an adequate grip on the rings. I don't find the little chrome nubs on the top and bottom of the ring mechanism very useful at all. It would be wonderful if Filofax could convert these nubs into a smooth, easy system for opening and closing the binder. The current set-up is generally inconvenient, but it's particularly inconvenient for me, because I use a Jot Pad page as a "floating" to-do list from week to week. So every Monday, I have to move the page to the next week. Dammit! I cannot be troubled on a Monday morning to fiddle with difficult mechanical contraptions. This is why my son will learn to curse before he learns to say Mama and Dada.

13 September 2006

Writing Down the Vote

Another hallmark of fall: The politicians are back from vacation. Good citizens are standing at Main Street intersections holding a gaggle of campaign placards, trying to get passing drivers to honk their horns. Glad-handling candidates swarm radio and TV studios and local diners like locusts.

I'll admit, I've been a political junkie since high school, and as early as 9th grade volunteered to work the phones for a state Attorney General hopeful. But this year, I'm doing something a little different -- with my Filofax, that is. A couple weeks ago, a casual remark from my mother-in-law made me realize that I had no idea who I was going to vote for in this year's gubernatorial primary, nor even what date it was! It was time to extend and dust off my political antenna.

One morning, my antenna was piqued by the clock radio, stirring me from NPR Dreamland. One of the gubernatorial candidates was being interviewed, and I liked what I heard. THIS was my guy! I grabbed the pocket Filo on my nightstand to mark down who I wanted to vote for -- but when? Darn you, NPR Interviewer, say the primary date!

No luck. Repeating the candidate's name like a 10-digit phone number, I shuffled into my slippers and scampered down to the computer. Googled until I found the civic-minded .gov site listing primary dates. Aha! I wrote my favored candidate's name in my Filofax calendar ON the primary date. (Killing 2 birds with one stone gives me such an endorphin rush!)

Update: Since then, a lawn sign notified me which way I wanted to vote (or rather, which way I didn't want to vote) on a state referendum. Another entry on my calendar. By the time Primary Day rolls around, I may have the full ticket filled out in my Filo. I hope they let me bring it into the voting booth with me...

11 September 2006

9/11 Neediest

Those of you who watch this blog closely may have noticed that earlier this evening I posted, and immediately took down, a post about a program to donate to the New York Times' 9/11 Neediest Fund on Papershop.com. Sadly, I was looking at a cached page, and the program, which donated 1/2 the price of a personalized die (that Crane's uses to print stationery for you) has long since ended.

Anyway, in rememberance of this 5th anniversary of the attacks, I'd like to provide a link to the 9/11 Neediest Fund in case anyone's interested in making a donation to this ongoing cause.

And, the stationery is still pretty cool.

06 September 2006


Allow me to pose a few rhetorical questions:

(1) How does a single parent do it? I am one-half of a two-parent household. I just had four days "off" work. Guess what? Work, of the office variety, is substantially easier than being even one-half of a functioning parental unit. I feel like dropping a little plastic umbrella in my morning coffee now that I'm back at my desk.

(2) How do two parents, or three parents, or eight parents, handle twins? One child is plenty for us. I really can't even fathom having to deal with two fussy little poop machines all the time.

(3) How does a parent find time to drive out to his local Filofax emporium and purchase some personal size checkbook register pages, a task absolutely essential to his goal of converting his personal-size Filofax into his compendium of all things financial?

(4) Further to question (3), how does such a parent tell the other half of the parenting unit that he is about to disappear for a couple hours so that he can purchase some overpriced pieces of paper and further indulge a fetish that challenges accepted notions of rationality?

(5) How does a parent fit these items into the usual array of pockets found on usual pants: (1) a mini-Filofax; (2) a cell phone; (3) a wallet; (4) keys; (5) on occasion, an iPod; (6) on occasion, a pack of gum or box of Tic Tacs; (7) on occasion, change; (8) on occasion, receipts or other small scraps of paper; (9) on occasion, a burp cloth; and (10) on occasion, a 20%-off coupon for Buy Buy Baby that is forgotten and then disappears into the washing machine, emerging as a papier mache lump?

The answer to all of these questions, rhetorical though they may be, is: "I have no idea."

04 September 2006


In a comment to the previous post, a faithful and thoughtful reader advised being "merciless" in culling outdated pages, as well as those of marginal or dubious usefulness, from one's Filofax. I've been complaining about the bulk and stagnation of my 'faxes recently, so I decided to rise to the challenge. This photograph illustrates, at bottom, the amount of extraneous material I've extracted, and, at top, the lean result.

If I can do it, you can do it. Just doing my part for Philofaxers everywhere.

01 September 2006

New Beginnings

I've been pondering the idea for this post for a few days. I've been thinking that September is a good time for new beginnings, as we're surrounded by the beginning of a new school year, the onset of fall, the kickoff of football and other sports seasons, the ramp-up to the holidays. It can be a good time to think about other kinds of new beginnings, a time to regroup, to pick up the pieces of of resolutions made at the start of the year and start over. Then a very sweet, enthusiastic reader read my mind (sorry - I will answer your email soon!). She was talking about how she often spends time checking out new calendars in September as well as January, since many manufacturers release a 16-month version that starts at the beginning of the academic year.

When I switched from Moleskines to Filofaxes earlier this year, I vowed to stick with my decision through the end of December, so that kind of new beginning is out for me. Actually, the good thing about 'faxes is their loose-leaf format, so that reinvention and evolution are an organic part of the system.

My new beginnings include a new eating and fitness program (but that's another blog -- if I decide to start one), a new car (a red Toyota Matrix), the beginning of a new choir season, and, in a way, school -- starting to work with a writing coach.

My 'faxes, on the other hand, are in a bit of state of disarray. I started using a separate A5 'fax for work again, and really using it this time. Now both my A5 'faxes are bursting at the seams, with no good way to store or use the extra pages. (There are the Filofax storage binders, but they don't open fully for reading. They really are only good for storage.) The worst part: When I'm having problems with my system, I grow reluctant to use it. I still keep track of appointments and important reminders, but I stop capturing ideas, stop journaling, both of which are necessary to work my way through the problem. It's the same old problem -- now that I have my life on A5 Filofax pages, what do I do with them all?

On the bright side, I am still doing some good thinking, still leafing through my Filos waiting for inspiration to hit, and my pocket 'fax is carrying me through. My projects are not moving any faster than before I wrote them in my Filofax, but they're not moving any slower, either. I guess things are moving at the speed at which things move.

Here's something weird, though: The riskiest, most radical, and potentially most significant long-term move I've made recently is contacting the writing coach, and that's something I never wrote down in a Filofax before doing it. Why? And what does that say about the potential plans, ideas, and dreams I've recorded -- that they're unimportant? Or was it necessary to do all that thinking on paper first, for the right action to emerge from the chaos?

What new beginnings are YOU making this fall?