11 July 2012

Guest Post: In search of the ultimate compact A5 Filofax – Part 1 By:Tim Edwards

A big thank you to Tim for this excellent (picture heavy) guest post about his Flex which has rings in it... read on.. and as it says at the end Part 2 is tomorrow. 

They say that size isn’t important. But not a week goes by on Philofaxy without the topic cropping up – particularly A5 versus Personal size. Is the original the way to go for compactness and portability? Or is A5 the better bet, combining extra page space and ease of printing information sheets for inserting into your binder? (I know this doesn’t apply in the USA or Canada, where you’ve yet to switch to the international paper size standard. Hey guys! Even the UK adopted it - in 1959 - and we’re not usually with the avant-garde!)

It’s certainly not a new topic. I've been having this debate with myself since 1986 when I purchased my first organiser. It was an A5 vinyl Time Manager system. Tens of thousands in the UK and around the world went on the TMI two-day course which got you the organiser system. If (like me) you weren’t high enough up the greasy pole to go, you had to buy it yourself and read about how to use it in your own time! It was available in two sizes and I chose A5 rather than the 'original' version (which was the equivalent and key competitor to Filofax). I was persuaded by the roomier pages, and (as a left-hander) being better able to work around the binder rings when writing. Even so, I soon got fed-up lugging the bulky A5 binder around due to its’ size and weight.

Even in the 1980’s, portability was becoming an issue. So, when TMI introduced their Compact binder in 1989, I purchased one. It was a great size for carrying around, but hopeless for inserting any printout information (agenda’s, contacts etc).

My A5 was soon confined to the desk and major conferences, but even then often replaced by a Psion electronic organiser (remember them?)

Filofax didn't introduce A5 until around 1991 and it was only when I migrated to their Time Management system in 2004 that I again found myself unhappy with the bulk of an A5 zipped monster. This time a nylon faced Logic binder – typical weight with contents 1.6Kg! Indestructible. Built like a tank. It felt like I was going back in time!

So out came my Time Manager compact again and a few pages switched between that and the Logic-zipped. One day (probably having dropped the Logic on my toe again!) I purchased a reduced price A5 Kendal. I was trying to get to "one life, one Filofax"! OK! it was smaller and a bit lighter, but not slimmer (still 30mm rings).

Last year when the A5 Holborn came out (with 25mm rings), I purchased one of these. However, like many Philofaxy readers have found, being A5, it was still bulky to carry around everywhere. I was finding that the looks of admiration I got 20 years ago when whipping out my well-structured, professional-looking A5, were now being met with glances of pity. I remember one meeting when I was sat thumbing through my rather obese Filofax and a colleague very vocally recalled: “Oh! I used to have one of those things” before giving everyone an unrequested demonstration of the merits of his new iPad! But, he did have a point. 20 years before, everyone in the room would have had a paper organiser. Now I was the only one! But, I still enjoyed a paper-based system and had no wish to go completely digital. I just needed a way to stick with A5!

Then came the Flex by Filofax announcement. I instantly recognised the Flex design as a direct copy of the 1980's Time Manager Planner Wallet. To be fair this had never been produced by TMI in A5. I was one of the first to buy a Flex - motivated by a brilliant video by Imy of Imysworld Unfortunately, Imy took the video off (she told me it was a bit embarrassing), but there is still a great review by Imy here and Steve did a review too.

Could I abandon a ringed system and use a ringless Flex? Well, I tried for a few days. Honestly, I did! But I quickly got frustrated at not being able to move pages around into order. Without a ring I couldn’t add new sheets or remove others. Also, I only use my diary as a journal. All appointments have long since been coordinated through Microsoft Outlook and synced to my 'phone. So carrying a full 12 month blank diary and a big empty notebook wasn't for me.
So, If not Flex - what might work? I loved the Flex binder size. It slotted into a small pocket in my briefcase and took up little room in a rucksack or day bag. OK - the plastic vinyl material is dire but I could predict from the outset that leather versions would follow, if I waited (I’m still waiting!). We've long campaigned for a slim A5 Filofax (no, not Adelphi) but with no prospect of a decent slimline compact A5 being launched (this was June last year) which way could I go?

After close examination of my A5 Flex, I realised that there was potential. I could fit a slim ring mechanism into the spine and still use the Flex in the intended way - both the inside and outside pockets. After a trial with a ring fixed to a flexible insert (similar to the pen holder) I found that the 13mm ring from my old Time Manager Compact worked well. Indeed, so well that I confidently took a modelling knife to my virtually new Flex one evening and fitted the ring to the spine. TMI don’t use rivets for their compact mechanisms, so the two-piece ring mechanism was fairly quickly fitted to the Flex. In minutes, it was transformed to become my first compact A5 organiser!

Here’s how I did it… Important: this technique involves using a sharp modelling knife. If you were to use a riveted Filofax ring mechanism, you would also need a sharp instrument such as a pocket screwdriver. This is not a recommendation for anyone to do what I did. Proceed with the greatest care and at your own risk if you are tempted to try anything similar!

As mechanisms are not sold separately, my only option was to use one from an old organiser. I removed the 13mm ring from my old Time Manager Compact. If anyone wants to try to source one, they are made by a small Swiss company called “Krause”. (Note that newer TMI Compacts have 17mm rings as the smaller ones were regarded as too small!). Filofax mechanisms are made in China by a company called “World Wide”. I suspect they would want a minimum export order of several thousand! Such is life! [See Note 1]

First, I carefully unclipped and removed the mechanism. I worked out exactly where it was to go in the Flex and where I needed to make two holes in the inner cover. I then, VERY CAREFULLY, cut the holes ensuring that I only cut through the inner layer of plastic and not through the separate outer layer. The holes didn’t need to be too neat as they would be covered by the mechanism.

The TMI compact mechanism is in two parts that just clip together.

I applied some impact adhesive (Evo-stick – other brands are available!) to the baseplate and carefully pushed the plate through the bottom hole I had made, pushing it up past the top hole and checking it was correctly aligned.

I then offered up the ring mechanism sliding it onto the two sets of lugs on the baseplate..

..and finally checking that the lugs had engaged correctly with the ring mechanism.

This is how it looked when complete

Fitting a Filofax mechanism would be harder as mechanisms are held by two rivets protruding from the baseplate. It can be tried by gentle easing the lip of the rivets up using a pocket screwdriver (with great care to avoid scratching the chrome and to avoid personal injury!)…

…then removing the mechanism from the baseplate…

… then proceed in reverse having fitted the baseplate inside the Flex cover.

Just as the glue had dried, I realised that by moving the binder ring slightly off -centre (slightly lower) I could have created enough space for some dividers with tabs on the top without them sticking out at all. So I unclipped the mechanism, gently eased the glued baseplate off and re-glued it a few millimetres lower. It worked perfectly! My dividers were made from Time Manager storage box dividers, suitably punched, but they could have been easily cut from plastic.

I decided that three tabs would be a suitable compromise – basically a section for my work, one for personal and a third for information.

Despite what this photo suggests, the tabs don’t protrude from the top or the dividers stick out at the bottom of the binder – they are just flush as you can see (or not see!) here…

There was the issue of the hole spacing being different to Filofax A5 (TMI use the same spacing as Filofax Personal). However, having been long unhappy with Filofax insert quality, I decided to use up my stock of old Time Manager inserts (some over 20 years old but still better quality than modern Filofax paper). As for diary/ journal pages my modelling knife soon converted the Flex diary into loose leaf format (Steve by coincidence did the same thing a few months later). I used my solid robust TMI hole punch to make the correctly spaced holes in the cotton cream paper and they’ve been fine.

So, could I fit everything I needed into my new "Filoflex"? Or would I fail and end up back with a traditional A5 Filofax? Or would I give-in altogether and succumb to the temptation of going Personal?

Find out in part two, tomorrow...

Note 1: Steve found some suppliers of ring mechanisms in this post on creating your own organiser.  Additionally I tracked down two other companies:


  1. That looks like exactly what I have been looking should sell them lol....genius

  2. Filofax has ignored years of us begging here on Philofaxy for a truly slimline A5 binder. Maybe they will finally take notice when they discover people have started to make their own!!

    Well done, and let us know how you get on with your slimline A5!

  3. This is a really interesting post. I've been wanting to switch to A5 for ages but can't cope with all the enormous binders that Filofax make. I bet loads of us on here have had this problem. The A5 binders are nearly all the same - 25mm rings and identical pocket layout.

    Can't wait to hear if it worked for Tim or not - bet it has! Filofax should listen to their customers and not keep making products that are heavy and impractical.

  4. Many of us are now wedded to portable electronic devices, but also want to keep with a paper-based system. That was my dilemma. Surely a great opportunity for Filofax? Instead they stuck with traditional designs rather than respond to A5 market demands. So just Adelphi as a supposedly slimline, compact A5 - with very limited appeal! Flex is good but traditional Filofax users have had to switch completely from loose-leaf - a step too far for many of us.

    Now it seems like we've been waiting for a London bus. (You hang around for ages and then, just as you're about to give up, several come along all at once!)

    Luxe - new to most markets - will have 20mm rings in A5, as will the new Boston. Now it looks like the "iFilofax" models are also all going to be 20mm (Pennybridge and Malden Zip).

    It'll be interesting to see whether this sudden burst of activity works, or whether it will just saturate the market.

    1. Unfortunately the Luxe and Boston will be out of my price range. The Pennybridge in slimline would be great, but since I don't have an iThing that would just be wasted bulk.

      Filofax, I'll say it again: a slimline A5 Finsbury please!! Or even a non-leather, true slimline without extra pockets and add-ons.

  5. Oh my goodness, I nearly had to go and have a lie down when I saw that knife against your Filofax...chilling it was! BUT you did a fantastic job of creating a beautiful sleek organiser. Looking forward to part 2 now. Filofax need to start listening to what people want in an organiser or they are going to start making their own.

  6. Excellent post, Tim! I was just getting on Steve's nerves about it during the last Skype chat, he he.
    This is brilliant, as it would allow to carry the utmost essentials with you, while leaving the bulk at home.
    So, do you take orders? I'd like a pink A5 Flex with 17 mm rings please!!

    1. Hi Jotje - glad you like! You've done some excellent stuff yourself!

      Not wanting to give away the plot, but tomorrow is all about finding a way to carry only everything I need to have, rather than a way to carry everything I have!

      I'm afraid we're currently out of pink (and purple!)

  7. Yes I'd like to make an order please!

    Actually here in Australia, our 80 year old chocolate maker is going broke because their products didn't move with consumers tastes. Here is a perfect example of what Filofax is missing out on. They already have the products, they just need to combine them properly and not just try to force us to choose 'one or the other'. I've been using an A5 slimline I found in Bangkok (A5 really is the perfect size to my needs) and I'd much prefer the extra quality of filofax, but needs must. I now have 3 not quite right beautiful filofax A5's, and one works well, not quite right but a perfect size almost, plastic planner made in Thailand with 17mm rings that fits nicely in my bag.

    By the way, has anyone found the Slicci range of refillable pens by Pentel? I've just started using a 3 colour version - blue, red and green. I purchased the 'Princess' barrel and added my choice of colours from refills. Three is a lovely range of colours and the three colour fits nicely in my Cuban zip and also in my Holborn personal size (now retired to archiving due to my new plastic A5). Slicci range also has double colour barrels, but they are the same diameter as the triple so I went for three colours.

    But back to A5 slimline. Come on Filofax. Keep up!

  8. The picture of the Psion brought me out in a cold sweat. They didn't sync with your computer and if the penlight battery fell out you lost everything! I had two and it happened with both of them - the battery compartment wasn't very secure.

    1. Hi Janet - Gosh, I'd forgotten all about the battery fallout problem. It could be solved by having a back-up card in one of the slots, but you had to be sure to save your work frequently!

      There was a program called "Psiwin" to exchange info - though it probably wouldn't work with anything more recent than Windows 3.1! And you would need a 3.5" or 5" floppy disk-drive! How technology has changed in just a few years!

      I had a 3, then a 3a and finally a Psion 5. (There was a Psion 2 but never a 4). There was one final model before they withdrew from the sector (still as market leader!). That was the 5mx. Steve has got one of these and still uses it! If you look carefully at mine, you'll there is a crack on the screen - it still works though!

    2. Yes I'm the proud owner of two Psion 5mx's both still work and one of them sits on my desk next to my iMac! Both are 16 MB capacity and I have CF cards in them as well But they are a great little machine I got quite proficient at typing on them and I've taken lots of meeting minutes on one.

      Sadly because technology has moved on a bit it's not easy to use these on line these days.

      I later on bought an HP iPaq which is colour touch screen, but it died and the battery will no longer charge.

      But I love the Psion because it uses ordinary AA batteries, I've never had the problem of the batteries falling out.

      I can still sync my Psions with Windows XP using PsiWin 2.3.3 there are still quite a following for them as well.

      These days I have an iPad and an iPod Touch, but I keep the Psion going because I have a couple of databases on there and a few other calculation apps that I use quite a bit, it's just easy to use rather than to transfer them to something else!

    3. I had a Psion 3c and a 5 then switched to Palm Pilot. Went through all their updates and after the Life Drive I switched back to paper which I have used ever since.

  9. The picture of the Psion brought me out in a cold sweat. They didn't sync with your computer and if the penlight battery fell out you lost everything! I had two and it happened with both of them - the battery compartment wasn't very secure.

  10. Wow!! I just love the inventiveness of all the Philofaxers out there!! Mind you, if I tried it, I'd end up in casualty I think!! Sooo come on Filofax, get widening your product range, after all you don't really want folks risking life and limb getting enthusiatic with craft knives now do you??

  11. That's amazing! I'm itching to cut one of mine apart....


  12. Talking of the flex, I popped into the Conduit Street store today. They have a slim line flex in leather in a lovely purple colour. I really wanted it but don't use the slim size. They had grey leather slim size and A5 sized flex's too. The leather is beautifully soft. The lady said that's all they've had in at the moment but they're hoping to get more middle of August/September. The slim leather flex is £19 and the A5 leather flex is £27.

    1. Hello Lostwithoutyou - certainly leather Flex is promised during 2012 and maybe Conduit Street does have a sample. If so, they must surely have the prices wrong! The current A5 vinyl plastic model is £27 in A5 and £19 in Slim (currently 25% off on the Filofax UK website). The leather A5 Flex is expected to be more like £55. Are you sure it wasn't the soft "leather look" version that Steve featured last week?

  13. Drat! I used to have a Franklin Covey ring mechanism attached to a pliable plastic 'sleeve' but I think I got rid of it. Double drat. I think it may have fit into that flex cover. FC made these ring 'inserts' for their wire bound planner covers for those of us who couldn't between wire bound or ring bound or for whatever reason wanted both options in a flex like cover. I recall the ring size was very very small though so not sure how many pages it would have held.

    Pretty creative converting that A5 into a ring binder. I do like all the pockets the Flex system has but like you and others can't deal with that style of insert...I need to be able to move things around!

  14. A Psion Series 5!! I still have mine in storage with my papers. Loved the portability at a time when sub-4lb laptops were +$3k and the sheer elegance and foresightedness of much of the design. I've never heard of this battery issue, and never had that problem with mine. To this day, the SD card has drafts of stories I wrote in my early twenties, just as accessible with AA's or the AC adapter- and editable! - now as when I wrote them in 1999.

    1. Hi John - Looking at my Psion 5 (8Mb), you're right that they had solved the battery cover problem that plagued the earlier models. I've just put some fresh batteries in mine. Full of stuff from 1997 - just before I was made redundant! I had completely forgotten that the Psion 5 was touch screen. Way ahead of its' time!

  15. Hi Tim....great post, and a pleasure to read it from someone I know to be a fellow TMI veteran.....

    I've finally got round to re-tooling my old (Original size)TMI binder for GTD, and it works *great*! Based on what you've written here though, I might bid for a TMI compact binder on Ebay (none available at the moment, I checked). I used to have one but it got disposed of during my misguided 'electronic' phase. Lesson learned!

  16. Hi Tim, not sure if you're still checking comments but do you think a 20mm mechanism would fit? I've found a supplier who does A5 in 20mm, but crucially for me, for an extra £1, he does an assembly with scre-top rivets, not proper rivets, which would make life a lot easier. I'm keen to have an A5 flex to try, but am worried the 20mm rings would be too wide and might stretch the leather so the edges of the paper stick out. Thanks