03 October 2012

Guest Post - David - Filofax as a study aid

Thank you to David Popely for his wise words and observations. 

One of the more encouraging trends I've noted from my Twitter feed lately is the number of new and returning university students investing in Filofax.

 It seems commendable that people young as well as older are taking their personal organisation seriously, and I can't help but think that these are the students more likely to succeed - not just because they are using Filofaxes, but because they've spotted that more than half the knack of getting a degree (or a qualification of any kind) is being able to handle the organisation, the deadlines (bunched or otherwise) and the general number of loose threads which need to be tracked and monitored. Good luck to you all….you deserve it.

This trend now seems to be seeping down into schools as well as colleges and universities. If Filofax ever tire of beating the dead horse that is the fashion market (let’s not go there again), they could do a lot worse than get into college and university bookshops, and conduct a concerted campaign among students of all ages, where their products would do some lasting good rather than just pander to the egos of fashion bloggers (oops).

It’s worth bearing in mind that there are a far higher percentage of ‘mature’ (read ‘old’) students than there used to be, and that universities in particular love them for the fact that they’re all giving something up (whether job or just time, and certainly money) to be there, and their commitment is pretty much assured.

I myself came late to tertiary study (I was a comparatively ancient 42 years old when I walked through the doors for the first time), and it was only because I had learned through my business management roles that if didn’t manage my time it would automatically end up in the hands of others that I was able to get the work done and earn a degree. My Filofax and Time Manager (I used the systems interchangeably) were instrumental in getting that done, and I’m still grateful.

If anyone is currently using their Filofax as a specifically study-related aid it might be interesting, but also useful to those just starting out, to see exactly how you apply your system to your studies.


  1. I actually work in higher education and see that lots of students are using paper planners of one type or another. I see lots of simple spiral pocket calendars, moleskines, the occasional Lilly Pulitzer planners, and a good number of cheerful planners from Target and the like. I've not seen a filofax yet, but definitely think that those who are predicting the end of paper planners must be mistaken when so many young people are choosing to use paper.

  2. David, a very interesting post. I used my A5 all the way through my MA, which I started as a mature student in my 30s. I did it full time, while in a full time job, as I didn't have the time to do it over 2 years. It resulted in a working weeks of about 80-90 hours. I handed every essay in early, yet we still had full time students aged 21 coming straight from their BA courses, who always handed in late. Saying they didn't have time to write the essay.
    Commitment is everything an mature students usually have it in sackfuls. Nearly finished my PhD and didn't use irbe FF at all, mainly due to rhe difficulties of my working location and other factors. I always wished I had started using the A5 as a study binder, I know it would have helped enormously.

    I bought my 11 year old nephew a vintage Filofax College to start secondary school last month and he loves it. The fact rhat one is using a system at all, to manage time and priorities, also indicates a more organised and dedicated approach, and I agree that this in itself is a contributing factor to a higher probability of success in studying. I know TPS will agree with both of us!

    1. I do indeed!! :D Excellent uses of Filofaxes for higher education! :)

  3. What I find interesting (I just started uni, for context) is how many people have clearly used school supplied homework diaries their whole lives and it,s only just occurred to them that they ought to go and buy a diary, a week into term.

    This is also how my friend 'forgot' to go to a birthday party this summer. Grumble grumble.

  4. I am mid MSc, about to start my dissertation. I know I need a loose leaf binder in order to form sections/topics. I'm thinking of dedicating my A5 to this, but have some concerns about having to reduce handouts down from A4 to A5. In lectures I use an A4 spiral bound as it can be folded over and handouts during class stuffed in the the back. For that reason, I am undecided between using my A5 or A4 zipped.

    A5 will be more portable, but A4 will be more practical.

    1. Why not try a single A4 work file cum organiser?

      Any Pound type store will sell a cheap A4 diary, which can be cut out and stuck into an A4 file. Add your timetable, plans, contact sheets, clear pocket envelopes, spare note paper and you’re probably there.

    2. Good idea Scoot. There's a Pound shop in town where I work - I shall pop in and see what they have. I don't want to spend a lot on FF inserts.

      I think I am coming down on the side of A4 for the sheer practicality. I'm going to trial it this weekend as I have lectures to attend.

      The binder I have is zipped with a handle on the spine making it easier to carry. It also has a much larger ring size than FF.

    3. Also - you could print out any of the Ray & Steve diary inserts to fit an A4.

    4. Scan the A4 doc to a PDF. You can then print the PDF out direct from Acrobat Reader, specifying A5 as the paper size and tick 'shrink to fit'. Acrobat will put your A4 handout straight onto A5, plus you'll have a PDF you can back up and file/save. Simples!

    5. I have recently purchased an A5 Finsbury for uni (I'm in my final year) and am finding that it works pretty well actually. All the handouts I've been given I just fold in half and snip a bit off the bottom, which generally always has a large margin. It's small enough to fit in my bag, but big enough for writing notes.

      As for refills, for the sake of laziness I bought some A5 notebooks with perforations, I just hole-punch them and stick them in :)

      I have definitely found that I am much more organised this year thanks to my planner! (and much poorer, stationery is addictive!)

    6. Cloudberry, I took the opposite approach. I bought Papercase A5 spiral bound notebooks with perforated pages, wrote all my lecture notes on A5, tore them out when I got home, and punched them for my A5 Filofax. Due to the fine perforations, they had very neat edges. It was a perfect solution for me, and the paper chase books were cheap but very good quality paper.

  5. Some very good points here David. I'm truly sorry to admit that the young ones in my family have no concept of planning, diaries and time management. When I have tried to broach the subject I've been met with friendly indulgent derision (from the adults) and a perplexed shake of the head from the younger ones who would benefit. What worries me is that they just don't see any responsibility at all for managing their time - some all encompassing being somewhere will make sure it all comes out right!

    I think student should learn some of this stuff in school (an active lesson) alongside one or two other useful 'life-skill' topics. I never got taught a lot of things which would have really stood me in good stead in later life - some I figured out for myself but other things I'd love to have known more about at a younger age.

    I definitely agree that Filofax are missing a trick here - capturing them young will keep them for life (well the tobacco manufacturers have learnt this valuable marketing lesson haven't they?)

    1. Hi Alison

      If I *ever* get to do my Masters now that the Government have made further study a pastime only available to the independently wealthy, I'll have to do a compulsory 'Form and method' module which will bring me up to speed on research methodologies. Why not indeed add a module on advanced study skills and planning. I recall reading 'The Good Study Guide' when I started my BA, and although I can't recall the exact content now, I'm sure it had such a chapter, and was (maybe still is) an OU required preliminary text.

      Why has 'planning' become such a dirty word? Maybe it's because we expect our gadgets to be doing it for us rather than acting as tools?

  6. Im a student and i often get weird looks for producing my Filofax during uni hours.

    The careers adviser actually looked shocked and raised his eyebrows at me as i took notes on what he was saying, stashed a business card from him and wrote down my appointment complete with stickers to remind me and in matching pen colour in my filo!

    Most people think im mad, ive very rarely seen any student (mature students included) with any sort of paper planner at all, usually it is iphone's or blackberry's or a scrap of paper (or usually nothing at all) - they are always the ones who have no idea where they are going/what they are doing/generally what is going on!

    At least i know that if i wake up late and have to rush into uni i will always have a pen and notepaper to aid me in my filofax regardless of rushing out without thinking.

    If i didn't have my filo i wouldn't have a clue what was going on! I use it for everything both home and uni related, its stuffed full of to do lists, shopping i need, appointments, family get together's, housework, my cv, my pets feeding records, finance sheets, passwords, bills etc - if i ever lost it i would be heartbroken!

    Ive used a paper planner since year 7 at school (since the age of 11) - we were given them by school up until the end of GCSE) and in 6th form one of my favourite things was picking my new planner from WHSmith's for the next academic year and sticking pockets and things in it ready to use!

    Ive used a ringed organiser since February this year and i would NEVER go back!

    1. Your adviser might benefit from your post, I think.

    2. So why is it now thought of as 'weird' or 'uncool' to be organised? I'd have thought it was the disorganised who would be uncool - always dashing to meet 'surprise' deadlines, not being on top of workflow, etc. Some basic organisation then means you can enjoy life without having your brain handle all those details....good luck with your studies!

    3. I've had a very similar planner experience so far. I've never used a planner so fully as I am right now in grad school and grown-up life, and I made very good use of my planners in undergrad! I just wish I'd realized the full capabilities of ringed organizers in undergrad.

    4. Most of my friends think its 'quirky' and 'cute' that i have a filofax and love it so much! Its uncool to have one as it is old fashioned to use a paper planner apparently.
      I dont mind though, people look at me weird in the shops as well when the shopping list post it comes out and gets crossed off.
      Apparently im far too young to be so 'anal' with my organisation!
      Thanks, hopefully with the aid of my filo my degree will go more smoothly :)

  7. I am a lover of words, and I so appreciate the way in which David uses them.

    1. Hey,
      I would just like to say that I really enjoyed reading this post. I have just started my second year of University, although not using a Filofax just for University, I do have a 'Uni' section in my main Filofax. I get weird looks all the time for pulling it out halfway through my lecture or whenever. I don't understand why, and just chuckle to myself when I see other students pulling out sheets and sheets of loose paper from there bag.
      As I get into my third year, or my MA I will probably give my studies there own separate Filo, but with the amount of print out ETC I'm finding it much easier to just keep reference in my Filofax off the different print outs which are kept in my A4 ring binder.
      I agree, Filofax should be targeting students and college goes of whatever age rather than trying to hit the fashion industry. (It's just not what Filofax is about really). Myself being 22 and living away from home sometimes find the prices of actual Filofax inserts (and binders) a little pricey. but with the wonderful Philofaxy site and eBay this isn't too much of an issue.
      Cheers for a wonderful read :).
      Jess xx

  8. Hi there,
    Just wanted to say that when I was doing my Masters, my Filofax was used as a diary, course work and deadlines planner, a keeper of tutorial records and oft used reference details.... eg Harvard Referencing techniques, dictionary terms used in Qualitative and Quantitative enquiry etc. The main work, the writing and first drafts of projects, essays and dissertation, reading and research papers and yards of data collection were simply far too much for any Filofax or clutch of Filofaxes to handle!!! Huge ring binders and box files were honestly the only step forwards, as was a Filofax diary and wall calendar combo!!! I did my Masters whilst teaching full time, so it really was a plate spinning and juggling around activity.... I also managed to pass my threshold teaching qualification at the same time.... so a lot is possible. Just wanted to say all the best to all students out there who are busy studying and beavering away... and using their Filofaxes as a planning tool. Wish every one of you all the best!! xx

  9. I agree, both on the value of such a tool, and that Filofax are missing out on a potential market where they could do a lot of good as well as a lot of business!

    Throughout school and A-levels I was always organised, but always seeking a better way to be so. I would buy my own academic diaries, but never did I find one that really suited me, and I used to try I'm ashamed to remember how many each year. I would really have benefitted from using a Filofax then to build my own system, but the price of the binders and inserts (I wouldn't have been able to print my own inserts then) always put me off. And even when I found a Filofax at a great price I never really got into using it because the inserts on offer didn't suit me any better than the diaries - in fact they were worse!

    Now, I'm coming back to Filofaxes as a University student who has the materials available to make my own inserts, and has found this awesome site and the amazing inserts people who are serious about organisation have made. I don't use my Filofax for every aspect of organisation. I get on very well with my Mac and iPhone for a lot of things. But now I'm putting together a system that really works for me.

    So far (and I think we all know how that can change!) I have settled on having a main A5 binder for general organisation, with sections for calendar, my studies, my writing, my personal projects and personal reference. I then also have another A5 binder specifically for my course. Since most of our materials are provided as PDFs, it's easy to print and punch them for the binder, and I can annotate them either by hand or on my computer first, but still have them with me when I need them. One thing I like is that I can keep them open beside my computer to see both - which saves switching workspaces on my 11" laptop!

    My new module hasn't even officially started yet, so my study binder is a work in progress, but so far it's holding the main guides for the module and assessment, a printout of the course schedule and learning aims, a section for quotes and inspiration, one for reference such as notes from books I read or interesting concepts I want to remember, and sections for each assignment I'll have to complete, in which I store print-outs of anything relevant I find. I'll soon add blank paper I think so that I can directly work within the binder, but at the moment I'm getting on well working in my 'main' binder and then transferring things across - I like that I can have all the things I could be looking at with me, and then I can choose which I feel I can handle at the time!

    I am aware that my experiences differ from most people so I don't know how well this would work for most people, since I am a distance-learning student who battles illness rather than the jobs and family pressures that seem to be most people's biggest time commitments. But in my past modules when I did not use a Filofax, I found that when working on assignments in particular I'd end up with loads of sheets of loose paper with notes, print-outs, brainstorms etc and they'd never be in order or quite where I needed them (the opposite to my computer where Scrivener keeps me perfectly organised), so now I'm taking action :)

  10. I used paper planners throughout college (and may have used them in high school too), but never Filofaxes, and when I did use looseleaf planners I never took advantage of them like I could have! I don't know how anyone manages to get through school without a planner of some sort, honestly. I think even my most disorganized friends had a list of things to do. I would always pull out my planner to note assignments due for the next class. I occasionally felt self-conscious because I would have to unzip or zip my bag or planner and it made noise.

    Right now, my Filofax is the only thing keeping me on top of my full-time graduate course load, my part-time job, and my full-time wife- and motherhood. As long as I can complete all of my coursework I will be okay. I have never been this busy - not even in my last semester of college, when I was married and pregnant (meaning I remembered NOTHING if I didn't write it down - I couldn't even remember my weekly schedule), taking a full course load and writing a thesis, and working 10 hours a week.

  11. Could it be that young people don't "plan" as much as we used to on paper, because they are "planning" over the phone, texting or on Facebook? They know that if there is a party or other special event, they will receive many reminders from others before the event and so making their own list is seen as superfluous. The hairdresser and the dentist ring me the day before my appointment (actually, the dentist rings, but the hairdresser sends a system-generated SMS). This covers for the lack of planning by clients.