11 May 2007

Cooling-off period

In 2004 and 2005, my lifelong habit of tweaking my organizational system reached toxic levels. At one point, I changed at least twice a month, and I don't mean just changing my calendar or to-do list. I mean changing all of my information from Palm Pilot to Circa to HPDA to Moleskine and back again.

And now...I've been using Filofax exclusively for over a year. I recently tweaked the arrangement of my work A5 Filofax, and considered abandoning it for letter-size, but in the meantime, I've been using what I've got and am in no hurry to make the next change. I made this recent change not because I felt impatient for a change but because I found I wasn't getting a good enough handle on my projects' milestones (those mini, internal deadlines). Otherwise, the system was working well enough, so I left it alone.

How did I reach this point? I roughly went through the following stages:

• Tweaking overload. I think there was a certain amount of tweaking that I needed to get out of my system, and for a while, I allowed it. I bought columns of index cards, hundreds of dollars worth of software, and reams of Circa paper. I let myself go as far as I could in every possible direction, until I was just worn out. I think my eventual landing on the Filofax airstrip stemmed from a desire for a fairly simple system with built-in limits. But I had to go through the mad, crazed tweaking to get to this desire for sanity.

• Doing what works. I stopped reading Getting Things Done and The Seven Habits; stopped visiting 43folders.com. I took a look at what I needed. I do need a calendar that I can mark up with reminders before things are due. I don't need to write down major life goals; I know what they are. I do need a list of things that must be done. A "maybe do" list proved to be of questionable value. I need to be able to move pages around. But that's just me. (And that's the point.)

• Imposing time limits. When I decided a Filofax would do everything I needed, I still couldn't commit for the rest of my life. I was way too scattered for that. So I made a limited time committment. I decided to stick to Filo for a year (2006), at the end of which year I could switch again to anything I wanted. I even bought a variety of 2007 Moleskine diaries (they sell out quickly), to prove to myself that my options were still open. The Moleskines are still sitting in my drawer. (I do use a large ruled Moleskine for my journal, though.)

• One change at a time. I'd say this practice is the one most people can and should implement, and it's actually the easiest. It's make one change at a time. In other words, say you're using a day-per-page Filofax calendar and find that you're not filling up the page each day, and your book seems too thick. So switch to a week-per-two pages format, but don't change anything else. Don't buy a new binder, don't change all your tabs, don't change where you're keeping contact info. Live with the one change long enough to evaluate it. If you need to change something else next, it will become clear soon enough.

The whole process reminds me of something I read in a Natalie Goldberg book, in which she was quoting her own Zen master. The master was giving advice to a young, budding musician who was planning to move to Los Angeles to "see what happens." The master said (and I'm paraphrasing here), "Don't go to see what happens. Go to make it. It's only when you give something everything you've got that it will become clear when it's not right anymore."

So don't change your Filofax system to see if it works. Make one change, and give it a chance to work by actually using it, wholeheartedly, for some amount of time longer than a day. Like a month, a year, or a season.


  1. I feel your pain. I have gone through 3 years now of tweakage, flitting from my Filofax (that I had been a loyal user of for several years) to a daily diary book, weekly Moleskine, and various other incarnations of organizers, and back again. I was thrown into turmoil when I had my first child and moved overseas, within two months of each other. My whole life was suddenly different, and I was searching for a planner that would...what? Help me organize my new life? More than that, I needed one that would reflect my new identity. Moleskine, for my minimalist wanna-be self (lasted a week. My life is not minimalist). Go Mom, which was really great but had too much stuff I didn’t need and not enough of what I did need. A daily diary didn’t let me plan ahead the way I need to. Recently my family and I were back in the U.S., traveling around visiting people. I was using a spiral-bound planner that did not contain an accumulation of years of information. Normally when I travel I have my Filofax with all of my addresses, phone numbers, passwords, data, maps, etc. etc. Often on the 7 week trip, I or my husband would need a bit of information that used to be at my fingertips in my Filo, but that was lost in space without it. I started making plans for a major overhaul of my Filo as soon as I got home. Now that I have its lovely leather self back in my hands, I have completely redone the tabs (adding, subtracting, re-structuring). I made a minor switch with a big payoff: I put the monthly calendar in front of my weekly agenda, and now my Filo lays open. Not flat, but open to my weekly page. This is glorious. I now have all of my information in one place again, and I will back up all of my info into a big binder at home so I don’t have to worry so much about losing my Filo and its contents. After having tried several different planners to find one that reflects my new identity, I have finally realized that nothing comes close to my Filofax. All it needed was an overhaul of its life, too.

  2. Hi Laurie -- Thanks for your well-thought and inspiring comment! Welcome!

    How old is your child now? When you have a kid, everything becomes more immediate and urgent.

    Thanks for sharing with us!

  3. Hi Inky! She’s two. And she has an 8 month old little brother! I’ve had a busy couple of years! They are great, and they definitely keep me on my toes.

  4. Good posts inky and laurie! I'm good at keeping to a core system though I also try things once only to rediscover them months later. Life is a process of trial and error?

  5. Interesting post. I switch between various systems and planners (Filofax, Time/Design, Franklin, and Moleskine). It's not that they don't work -- they do -- it's just that as soon as I "commit" to one, the others start whispering in my ear, reminding me of the other's shortcomings. So then I'm copying all of my tasks and appointments into my planner du jour and the process starts all over again. I went for years using only a Franklin system without even looking at another planner (I did change from the Classic to Compact size). At some point I was seduced by the sleek, Euro-cool Filofax, but it didn't last, and so here I am today. Is there any hope for me?

  6. And I thought perhaps I was the only one! How glorious to read of other's passion for the filofax; what a great blog, and its a pleasure to stumble across it.

    I've never tried any other method of planning or organising, its been the filofax or nothing for more than 20 years (my obsession began as a teenager). It's something I've blogged about too - I'm happy to share my thoughts on it here....




  7. Hi Inky

    Of course! I'd be delighted!


  8. Jon -- I too stuck with the Franklin Covey system for a number of years. They make beautiful leaves. My favorite was one called Seasons, and in 2000 I used the Milennium, which was filled with historical facts and quotes. The pages had an orange background, and it actually left me with quite an affection for that color. They used to also make quite a selection of page sets for sports, health, and other pursuits. I was sorry when they discontinued most of them.

    I used the Classic size mostly, although I tried Compact, too. At one point I was juggling about 5 part-time jobs and voluneer jobs, and I swear the Covey system was what made it possible. I had everything with me to work anywhere I went. The Compact is a cool size, being the same height as the Filofax Personal size, but wider.

    Jon, I understand about the voices whispering in your ear. That describes me completely. There's definitely hope for all of us.

    I think you're totally right when you say that all systems work. They do! These days, I say look at how you're using what you have and whether that's helping you live the life or persona you want. With a Personal-size Filo, I tend to be less creative, live an efficient life, but a bit of a dry one. Right now, that's OK for me. With Moleskines or an A5 Filo, I'm really good at getting ideas down, but must less effective at putting them into action. Other people might find the opposite.

  9. Great post Inky. It's good to know there are others who have switched calendars mid-year. I am still working out the kinks having both A5 and Personal Filofaxes. The new A5 is set up more simply and has less in it than the Personal did when it was my only planner - a surprise. The difficulty is I don't carry the A5 around the house, but there is a silver lining! I get exercise running up and down stairs to get it! Filofax fitness! This is because our computer is downstairs and the A5 lives on my desk upstairs. Perhaps if I fill it and carry it around it can count as weight lifting? I am determined not to make a problem out of the transition to having 2 Filofaxes. It is an experiment, so I'm sticking with it for 2007.

  10. Great post Inky. Good to know others have changed calendars/planners mid-year. My transition to 2 Filofaxes has a few challenges, but I'm not giving up. I forget to carry the A5 around the house but am getting extra exercise going upstairs to get it off my desk. The A5 is set up more simply and has less in it than the Personal did when it was my only planner and I feel less compulsive about it. I too have a monthly calendar in front of a week on 2 pages with time slots. I use both for planning - the monthly for advance prep, monthly to dos, and avoiding getting over committed. The weekly helps with backcasting, blocking off how much time things actually take. I also highlight chunks of free hours to ensure that I use them for the most important things, which may be To Dos or creative projects. Philofaxy is helping me stay with the system I've chosen!

  11. Thanks for your comments, Tangerine. I love, love, love your idea of blocking off that precious free time! That's what I call using your Filo to live life to the fullest.

  12. This is a great post! Thank you Inky. It's true they all work but the whispers... ack! The whispers!

  13. Love this site. It is because of this and DIY planner that I am spending alot of time trying to get organised. So far I am the user of a classic DIY planner in a cheap three ring binder format. That was the gateway drug into the Filofax, which was ebay'ed recently (personal classic). Now I am see-sawing between the two formats. I have some DIY template for the Filofax, but have yet to get a hole puncher. My cooling off period is just to use the Filofax, sans tweaks for two weeks and see what I think. As it is, I am spending way too much time 'getting organised'.

  14. Welcome, Shortie! I love your quote about "spending time getting organized." That is so true! Let us know how you do when two weeks are up.

    I'd love to see your DIY or Filofax system. We have a Flickr group for pictures like that: http://www.flickr.com/groups/40748476@N00/. (You can look at the photo pool without posting anything, too, and there are some really classic Filo pictures that you haven't seen on this blog.)

  15. Hey Inky,

    Thanks for the welcome. I have been over the Flickr site many a times, researching, yes that was it. I felt so much like the voyeur, looking at other people's Filofax. Now that I have seen yours and others, I will have to contribute, showing one next to the other. Stay tuned. (Need to go find/borrow a digtial camera. - Yes, that is written in the next action column, hmm...wait, should it be a project instead?)

  16. Hi,
    I realy like your site, I found it while looking around for info on planners. I want my own filo, and I am looking at the personal piazza right now. Do you think that is a good choice?
    I also asked this at the flickr site, that is me.

  17. Yes, the Personal seems to be the most versatile all-around size, and the Piazza is a beautiful, relatively new model.

  18. Hi Inky,

    I finally got pictures of both my setups, DIYplanner and Filofax. It is uploaded to:

    They are both really nice to use and customize, so to come up with the verdict of which I prefer has been difficult. So far, I am leaning towards the Filofax. I love the feel and smell of leather and it is better for me to carry it around; I have a smallish backpack. And if it is any indication, I have been using the Filofax more than I have the DIY planner.

    Shortie AKA ecor109

  19. ps, not the best pictures out there, could have been better without the setting sun, the blue hue and with some photoshoping.