24 January 2011

The Big Debate: A5 vs. Personal size

Here is another reader question, on a topic that is frequently discussed here on Philofaxy: which is better, A5 or Personal size?  Of course the answer depends on what you will use it for, and how much weight you are willing to carry around with you.

Here is reader Deirdre's email with questions regarding her specific situation.  Any advice would be welcome, please post a comment!

"Hello Philofaxy!

In my quest to decide on a new filofax for graduate school, I came across your wonderful blog, and I'm enjoying reading it -- especially the posts regarding how your writers and readers use their filofaxes -- fascinating stuff!

My quandary is whether or not to buy an A5 or a Personal size filofax. In the past, I've used a Personal size, but sometimes found it too small. On the other hand, on a recent trip to a shop, I checked out the A5 binders, and while I love the size of the paper (I like lots of room to write and having some white space between my daily appointments and tasks), I'm not sure my back would appreciate lugging around such a heavy organizer. (While playing devil's advocate, I wondered if I lug around a Personal organizer, how much heavier is an A5 anyway?)

I'm writing to you because while I searched on your blog for an entry comparing the A5 and Personal size binders, I couldn't find such an entry. Have you written about this subject and I just missed it? If so, would it be possible for you to email me links to articles I might have missed, when you have a chance?

Alternatively, if you haven't covered this topic, is this one you might consider in future -- such as articulating the pros and cons of the two sizes?

Any help you can offer would be most appreciated.

Thanks again for your wonderful blog, I plan to be a regular reader!

Kind regards,



  1. I size downgraded from an A5 to a personal recently. The A5 was just too big to carry around with me but the personal will fit in my bag (& I can fit other items in too!!!).

    There is not as much room but I am finding that I can adapt to this size.

  2. I found the personal quite big for carrying around as well. I compromised and I use a pocket for carrying around (i.e. with my appointments and some personal notes) and my A5 which I leave on my desk which is my planner and has all work related info.

    I have used a personal slimline in the past which is great for diary only, but a bit slim if you regularly carry around a lot of stuff.

    The other idea I had recently which I need to action, is to use my filofax to hold info that I currently have and carry around in other containers. So, for example, I could carry my spare cards (i.e. library card and overflow store loyalty cards) in there as well as some of my business cards to save carrying a business card holder. In fact the less items I have in my bad the more room for the filofax.

    My tip would be if you go for a personal, then check out the interior design to make sure you can make the most if it for storage of items that would reside in your bad in other containers.

    Of course the other option is to get amuch bigger bag - but not sure that is good for your shoulders/back in the future!!

  3. PS I also occasionally take my A5 to meetings etc, but in this case it travels in my briefcase. Otherwise I use my 'day book' - a notebook in which I take all my notes.

  4. I will try and put forward my pros and cons regarding to two sizes (but I am a fairly committed A5 user, so am unashamedly biased!).
    Space. There is plenty of space to write notes. There is also plenty of space on the diary pages, even on WO2P to write quite a lot of appointments and also some to-do notes (especially, I find, if you use the vertical layout).
    Home-made inserts. If you want to make your own pages it's as easy as anything to booklet print them on A4, chop them in half and punch them to go in the binder. Most of what is in my filofax are sheets like this. There are some excellent files of templates both here on the files pages, and also over on DIY planner (link on the files page).
    I also have cheap dividers in mine, re-punched to fit (not classy, but functional) which are a lot cheaper than filofax versions (and come in many colours too).
    Big. Kind of the down-side to space! It depends on what you want to carry though and what for - I swapped to an A5 filofax at work because I was always carrying an A5 diary and an A4 notebook around with me. In comparison, the filofax is lighter! (And classier!)
    More expensive: more expensive to buy in the first place and the inserts are more expensive to feed it with (unless you print your own, in which case they're cheaper).
    Less variety: both in the binders and in the inserts. Other brands of inserts will fit in the personal size (and may suit you better than the filofax ones). Nothing else (as far as I can tell -please correct me if I'm wrong) fits in the A5 except Filofax without re-punching the holes.

    More portable; bigger range of designs; bigger range of inserts; cheaper binders and bought inserts.

    Not as much (not enough, in my case) space to write; the rings can get in the way of writing more obviously; it's much harder to print custom sheets unless you pint them onto filofax paper (not much of a saving though).

    The Domino is lighter than the leather binders, so might relieve some of the portability issue. I couldn't tell you a weight for weight comparison though.

    I suppose it depends on what you want to use your filofax for. My work A5 stays at work - it is entirely a work thing. My home filofax mostly stays at home, but does come on trips with me. I don't feel naked if I leave the house without it though. I guess if you need to be glued to it, you would be better off with a Personal or smaller as the A5 is less portable. Maybe, as others on here do, you could use a pocket to carry around and then a bigger filofax at home to store and hold things?

    Let us know what you choose to do!?

    1. I've been recently struggling with this topic. For about three or four years now I've been using Personal sized filofaxes. I decided I need to change the one I have now (only have had two so far, and got the second only because the third got damaged within a year of use), and as I've been looking for something more durable, and that ages more gracefully than my current one (I've an Identity), I've also started considering the matter of size. The larger size doesn't bother me so much, but the weight? How much more an A5 weights compared to a Personal?

  5. I am a faithful A5 user.

    It's very big and heavy and I lug it everywhere but it's worth it. I have tried to switch systems and tried to downsize but for my job and my life I would be carrying all the papers anyway, it's just the binder that weighs extra. And it keeps everything organised at my fingertips.

    At the moment I am using a Siena in cinnamon but my faves are the Finsbury (can take a battering) and the domino snake (light and tough). The only time I switch is when I travel and then I use a mini.

    I have been using an A5 for years. I like it because all my attendance registers and assignment briefings need to be in A4 so I just fold and punch them.

    Love love love A5.

  6. I used a Personal size for several years before trying to move up to the A5 size. I've tried to use A5 several times since then and every time I go back to the Personal size because I travel a lot and like to take my Filofax with me everywhere but the A5 was just too big and heavy to take with me all the time. Plus there's a much better selection of maps and inserts for the Personal size.

  7. Hello all, this is from Deirdre, the reader who posted the question to Steve -- so happy you all are replying so quickly, thank you!

    Yes, sadly (or not?) I will likely need to have the filofax with me at all times, not just living on a desk at work or home -- I'm currently in graduate school and hope to graduate to a job in investigative journalism, so I plan to use the filofax now for keeping track of school work, deadlines, assignments, appointments, etc., (always on the go) and foresee using it as a working journalist to keep track of (concurrent) work deadlines, scheduling interviews and keeping track of sources, etc.

    I know my eyes prefer having a larger page to write on and seeing some white space, so as not to get overwhelmed with long lists and not knowing what to tackle first, but I wonder if I will loathe carrying around a large and heavy binder. I have used a Personal size filofax in the past, with moderate success -- I think I became turned off by the binder itself, not the filofax system (I had an older one, no longer available, that zipped up [aka bulky] and never laid flat, so it was often cumbersome to write in. If it helps to know, I like the looks of the Chameleon line, so that's the one I'm thinking of, though the Domino is an appealing option to balance out the weight issue if I go with an A5.

    I really appreciate your advice -- if there are any other details I could provide that would help, please let me know -- and thanks again!

  8. This really is becoming The Big Debate, isn't it...!

    Most people here know that I downsized from A5 to Personal on a permanent basis at the new year. So far my Personal is holding up....just. I run a small business with a *lot* of task micro-management, and I've been experimenting with GTD, with varying degrees of success, trying to tweak the system to my own needs.

    I *certainly* don't feel comfortable carrying the A5 when I go out after work or at weekends....do I really want to lug that thing around to the gym, the shops.....? My Personal fits nicely in my hand, or I can slip it in my laptop bag when I go travelling on business, which is frequently.

    I think I can manage my tasks with the Personal...and I think that if *I* can do it, anyone ought to be able to! Now diary format is another subject! At the moment I'm persevering with the Week on 2 pages vertical format with appointments which Jotje kindly got for me and sent over from Holland....but I could really do with more space. But then again that mitigates against the GTD philosophy of diaries.....so the jury's out on that one. But size-wise the thought of having to lug about the A5 is too much to make me go back to it - even though I sometimes would like the space. Actually, being committed to staying with the Personal makes me concentrate on how I can most efficiently manage all my information, which is a *good* thing.

    So my vote goes with the Personal. But if you want to know more about how I use it, email me at davidpopely (at) googlemail (dot) com and I'll be happy to share

  9. I want a binder that is Personal sized when closed and an A5 when open.

  10. JJ I want that too!!! I guess technically it's possible to have a smaller binder with larger pages that can fold out open and fold in to close, but folding and unfolding pages all the time is too fiddly for me.

  11. JJ, Laurie: I want one of those too!! No... not to have to do the unfolding and all that doo-dah. It would work by magic! It would be small and snug like a personal but then, da-daaaahhhh! Open it up and lo and behold, it would be A5!

  12. I just weighed a personal domino and an A5 domino, both new and made of the same materials, unused 'out of the box' so to speak so both only have the pages they originally came with. The weight difference is; Personal 374g or the A5 786g providing my kitchen scales are correct.

  13. Wow that is a big difference!!

  14. If anyone watches Doctor Who, we need a tardis like filofax that is small on the outside and massive on the inside!

  15. I have a personal filofx at the moment, but it's overstuffed. I have a small bag and since I carry a lot with me anyways, I can't justify carrying around an A5 filofax, although that would be my dream.

    I'm working with a WO2P, but have also ordered the WO1P, without the notes bc that was sold out, so I'll have to add in the notes myself. I'll see how that works, because I work with post its a lot.

    Alison, a Tardis like Filofax would be a dream come true!!

  16. A tardis filofax sounds fab - can I put my name on the waiting list please?!

    I have a personal Malden which I love. Lays open and great interior design (including a notepad in the back). Really, really happy with it (& I normally swap and change fairly often).

  17. Hi Everyone.
    Thanks to you all for a great response to this question that arrived in the Philofaxy in-box yesterday just as I was in the process of doing some final packing to escape, sorry travel back to France! So thank you to Laurie for fielding this one.

    Your thoughts mirror mine exactly, the A5 is great if you don't mind the size and potential weight.

    My 'fully loaded' A5 Finsbury weighs in at 1155 grams, where as my also 'fully loaded' Finsbury Personal tips the scales at 590 grams, which is similar in proportion to the weights Saffy quoted ie double. I've not weighed the A4 yet!!! Mind you I've not added many pages to it yet!

    I suspect my Pocket isn't that much lighter than the personal because of the amount of stuff I have in it including coins.

    I got back to France this afternoon so I'm still unpacking and catching up!

    Thanks everyone

  18. Hi all, thank you so much for your thoughtful replies, it is much appreciated! I had to laugh when the conversation took a turn toward science fiction -- if I had my wish, I'd like that magical filofax to be pocket size on the outside and a5 on the inside...alas!

    I really appreciate all the advice and information, particularly the weight stats -- so helpful! I just got out my kitchen scale and weighed a jug of maple syrup and it's a little more than Steve's 1155g A5, and it seemed like quite a bit to carry in my shoulder bag everywhere I go. I was also reminded of the video a filofax user from Aberdeen posted about her aqua finsbury -- I think she said hers might weigh somewhere toward 7lbs, but she was just guessing based on the total weight of her bag.

    As much as I want an A5, I think I'm the type of person that if I give myself an inch in terms of what I'd put in my filo, I'd take a mile, and mine might start to head toward the 7lb mark rather than the original 2.5lb/1155g estimated starting point -- so now I'm leaning toward the Personal size. It's funny because if any of the stores near me that carry filos had the A5 Chameleon in stock when I first started looking, I would have bought it in a second, but with all this time to weigh (literally) my options, I might now choose something I was convinced at first I didn't want.

    David's point about confining tasks to the space available in the Personal-size page makes a lot of sense, and Amanda's comment about the cost of the larger filo made me pause. The last thing I'd want is to invest in a slightly higher-end A5 and then find that I didn't want to carry it around because it was so heavy. I think those of you that do carry the A5 daily are probably a lot tougher than me! Plus, I may often be carrying a laptop as well for school/work, so I may need to cut my losses where I can. (And I'm not really into using a briefcase/backpack on wheels, which is what I'd probably need with all that stuff!) So if I go with the Personal, on days when I might need to write more out, I could just add a few lined pages or something to that day's spot.

    I agree too with an earlier post from Jotje, who wrote about how she uses her Personal size filo. Like her, I don't want to have multiple filofaxes to sync either, and she seemed to work out a good system for utilizing that sized space. (Plus, for some time-sensitive appointments/reminders, I might add the info to my iPhone so I get an audible alert, so I really don't want to go back and forth between 2 filos and the phone...that's too much! -- This past year, I tried using just the iPhone and iCal on my laptop, and like a lot of you, I really prefer to write everything out, and missed my filo!)

    So I finally found a shop near me that has a Personal Chameleon in stock, and I was supposed to go there today so I could check it out (and the Malden too -- close-second choice!) and make sure I like one of them enough to give up the idea of having an A5, but we are having seriously inclement weather today, so it's likely that my shopping excursion will have to wait for another day.

    In the meantime, I just wanted to thank all of you for your comments, it's so nice of you all to take the time to address my question -- everyone had something new to add that I wasn't aware of, so I really appreciate the replies! I'll keep you posted on my big decision once I'm able to get to the shop!

  19. Bigger is better.

    The personal isn't pocket sized anymore. I still have a couple of ancient binders that are, but these days Filofax make the binder the size of an A5 pad, so you have to carry it in a bag anyway. Might as well have a slightly bigger bag and enjoy the flexibility of the A5 binder.

    If you don't pack the binder and go for one with smaller rings, the loaded weight isn't so bad. (Smaller rings are better anyway - tougher and the pages turn properly).

    In terms of refills, it's easier to make your own inserts for the A5 and there is the excellent FIlofax Time Management system available.

    Most of all you can use it as a proper notepad.

  20. I know that this thread is very old, but I wanted to ask, for those that only want to use ONE Filofax...is the consensus still Personal size?

  21. I believe Personal is still the most popular size. But if your stuff can fit in a compact A5, like the Heritage, then that too can be set up as "the one" Filofax for everything.