16 January 2013

Flex-ing some creative muscle! - Guest Post

I love Filofax. I really do. I only (re-)discovered them a few years ago and naturally developed a collection in a very short time – as you do. I love the leathers, the weight of the binder in my hands, the look of a paper stuffed gold mine of information. It just doesn’t seem to … well, love me back. I have read up on models, systems, sizes, printable templates (thank you, Philofaxy!). I have tried to make one Personal Filofax do everything (it doesn’t). I have had combinations of A5 notebook and Pocket diary (un-coordinated). I have had large rings (too stuffed, too heavy), small rings (too small), compacts (easy to carry, not enough room) and slimline (okay for bedside notes to be transferred, which most of the time they’re not). I really have tried. It’s not them, it’s me.

The problem is I want to use it for everything. Like so:
  • Diary: I translate novels for a living and work from home, so I don’t go to meetings or need lots of space to jot down appointments and tasks. I don’t need more than Week per page to organise my personal and work life, interleaved with lined note paper for quick jots. Add a horizontal planner for work progress and deadline overview, and I’m sorted.
  • Work: I’m obviously working on my PC and make notes on a separate document which can be edited, added to and shared while I work. In the Filofax work section I keep notepaper for jotting down ideas when I’m away from my desk, a Month to view planner with daily goals and a list of autocorrect codes. Not a lot there either.
  • Travel: I travel a lot for business and for pleasure. Before I go I stuff my passport and printed travel documents into my Personal Malden and insert a card holder with relevant travel cards, job done. I could use any old folder or wallet really. But I would like to keep the planning notes and lists, info, research etc for my Camino trips in one place. Printing my own maps and itineraries would be great – not so great in a Personal, though.
  • Info: Sometimes when I travel I have to (or like to) read up on things and make notes en route, to make sure I make the most of (and a good impression at) meetings, seminars and even social but still work related events. This means either formatting docs to print out in Personal size but not being able to scribble in margins, or taking A4 printouts that just don’t fit in and look really unprofessional if I fold them and stick them in. Or of course taking another file or folder, which defeats the all-in-one object.
  • Projects: I’m struggling to find a system of organising my (copious) writing notes on paper so I can work offline and off-PC, typing on an Alphasmart Neo. I am Municipal Liaison for our local Nanowrimo group and we have all day Write-ins throughout the year, which really works for me. I prefer making notes on paper rather than on a laptop and normally carry notes for several projects, some first drafts, some in the planning or ideas stage, some needing editing and reworking. Ideas from conversations at Write-ins. Notes on characters, on plot, progress, goals. Ideally I want a combined notebook and a place to keep printouts. What I need is something that works with the way I work.

The perfect size is A5. Great writing space, easy to print your own stuff. Enough room to make notes in the margins or even on the left hand page, which I never write on anyway because of the rings. So far, so good. But as we all know, a well fed A5 is murder to carry around. I might as well bring the laptop.

So the perfect size must be Personal, then. Smaller, lighter, handbag friendly. But not as nice to write in, my hand knocks into the rings, so I tend to only write on the right; and even if I write on the notepad and then insert them into the rings later … well, it’s not always so easy to ‘just insert’ something if the binder is too stuffed – the leaves come loose, the dividers fall out, you have to rearrange it all outside the binder and then try to get everything back in; it is all too fragmented. And what about the stuff you have to take out to make room for something else? It would have to go into a storage binder – in which case I can promise you I will leave it there and forget it. I can also forget about printing my own pages. It just involves too much cutting and mess and is never really done.

But then surely the perfect set-up is double Filofaxage, right? A Personal or Pocket for my diary, work and planning stuff, to be taken out and about, and a nicely three-quarters full A5 with projects only. Oh, I know, and I really have tried, but then I make notes when out and about and forget to transfer them to the A5 and because the sheets are smaller they sort of disappear and need rewriting into the bigger size … No. The double Filo set-up doesn’t work for me either.

Also after a few years of rings I realise I miss having a diary which I can save in its entirety for the future, not just loose leaves which tend to get thrown away month by month to make room for more notes. I am starting to think about keeping diaries and notebooks in self-contained volumes – I miss the chronology and the scribbled out stuff, the doodles and notes in the margins.

So … what about the Flex? Plasticky, cheapo looking Flex with its boring grey notebook covers and rubbish cardboard pen holder. A5 size … but hardly bigger than a Personal. Slimmer … lighter! Infinitely flexible …

Let’s see what I can do with it: 
  • Print my own notes, chapter lists, timelines and add, edit and change as the story changes! *like*
  • Print a Philofaxy © diary instead of buying a big diary book, then just fold and insert.
  • Fold my travel docs just once and they’ll fit in the outside pocket, easily accessible – and they have inside slots which are (presumably) passport sized.
  • Scribble to-dos on to-do-list pad (even if it’s ridiculously expensive for what it is).
  • Add a notebook – or add two, in fact add one for each project! Or one ruled and one unruly! And never mind the boring grey – use Moleskine Volants in bright and happy colours!
  • Invest in (hello, stationary!) more stickies to mark pages and add notes as I go!
  • Print out relevant meeting/seminar notes and read on the plane, scribbling to heart’s content in the margins!
  • Take some of the notebooks out before elegantly laying it on the meeting table – it’s not as if the leaves are going to end up in a chaotic heap as soon as you open the rings, after all!
  • Adjust the footprint (or rather, desk print) of the set-up depending on the situation and room available (think plane) – again without opening rings.
  • Slide my Kindle into one of the slots when I want to work on translations during flights, waiting times etc.

So I ordered a first edition A5 Flex. I will be trying it for capture, storage and reference throughout February, when we are having a 30,000 word writing month, followed in March by two three-day work seminars. I will be reviewing it again afterwards to see how it compares to a ringed binder. Positive first impressions are:
  • The black cheapo plastic cover actually doesn’t look – or feel – that cheap! I am pleasantly surprised. Will probably upgrade to leather if this works well.
  • The vertical pocket on the left hand side does indeed fit a passport. Even printouts folded to A6, if you trim them ever so slightly. I assume the vertical ones in the leather updates also take the same size.
  • I can write on both sides of the paper!
  • The Flex notebook has very nice paper in it. I don’t use fountain pens, so don’t know how it stands up to ink.
  • Moleskine large Volant books fit perfectly and leave room for a pen loop because they are 18mms narrower.

The supplied Flex notebook fits snugly into the back of the cover so you have to leave the pen in one of the outside slots.

  • When I have two Volants in the inside slots – I like a small desk print – there is still room for a true A5 notebook to slot in behind them = 3 notebooks in one!
  • I got a Moleskine diary as well to slot in – I know they will be available year by year and I want to keep them for the future, to track my long term goals, books translated etc.
  • Wire bound A5 soft cover notebooks will also fit, as long as the spiral isn’t too wide.

  • The size is perfect – smaller than an A5, slimmer than a Personal, as light or heavy as I make it. 

  • You can buy an additional pen loop if you prefer to have two. Put them in the outside slots and thread the pen though both to keep the cover closed!
  • The Slimline notebooks and diaries fit into the horizontal slot on the first edition A5s! A pocket size Moleskine Cahier also fits, or any A6 jot pad, I suppose. 

  • I can – and will – colour code projects by notebook cover colour, and replace them when needed.
  • You can make it look fun and colourful or businesslike just by choosing your notebooks.

Negatives and solutions:

  • The card with the pen loop is great when you keep it in one of the outside slots, but I want my pen on the inside, in the gap conveniently left by the Volants. The loop points straight forward, so the pen ends up scrunched into the fold and makes the cover really tight, so I trimmed it by maybe just less than 1cm and it’s perfect! And it will still do the job in any outside slot.
  • A4 folded printouts go all the way to the back of the cover too. Unfortunately you can’t put many sheets of folded A4 into any of the slots before they buckle and make the cover quite bulky. 

They would have to be trimmed down – or fastened to a notebook cover with paperclips, maybe? Or some lengths of thin elastic string wound around the middle of the cover, allowing me to slip the crease of the folded papers into the elastic, keeping them safely in place. I might even make it a permanent solution with a needle!

Bound books don’t fit. I have a big, thick but flexible notebook from Paperchase I thought would slide into the inside slots but it’s too thick. I’d have to trim both cover edges, which defeats the object of using a big, bound and beautiful notebook which I can remove and keep as is. But then again it would be very heavy, and that’s what I am trying to avoid. Unfortunately this means that Laurie’s Plannerisms planner wouldn’t fit either.

Er … well, it’s a Filofax product, so it would be rude to have just the one. I have decided to keep my Camino travel planning and notes, maps and itineraries in one, one writing project which is almost finished in another, and keep a third for my everyday all-in-one; diary, two notebooks and some printouts paperclipped into the relevant notebook. Rearranging content is so easy I can be ready for a seminar or a Write-in in a minute carrying only the essentials! And yes, I have treated myself to a leather one …

Possible improvements:

I do think these should be made with say three elastic strings vertically along the middle of the inside of the cover, to keep folded printouts in place. Or maybe even make a horizontal A4 pocket along the cover, like the notes section in a Pocket size ringed Filofax. Being able to store A4 papers without folding them would be great.

Speaking of outside pockets – I’d like one secretarial pocket on the outside too, for folded A4 papers, not quite as tight as the ones meant to hold the notebook covers.

Or how about selling a flexible card, like the one with the pen loop, with a set of 13mm Personal size rings on it, as an accessory? That would be the best of both worlds!

Oh, and please make some notebooks in more cheerful colours – even black would be an improvement!

Anyone else tempted to try it? I’d love to see more reviews of the Flex and how people use it!


Thank you Linda for your Guest Post


  1. A very timely post based on yesterdayd ffat. my annoyance is that all the things u suggest would be what everyone is coming up with. i dont have one but i can see the pluses against a ring binder but things like the outer full size pocket would be great. I guess even if anyone from filofax reads these comments there we be a reasonable lead time especially as the new ones havent been out long. something else i had thought for storing a4, do moleskine memo pockets slot in?

    1. I googled Moleskine Memo Pockets, apparently they are 9 x 14 cms and would fit into the vertical left hand inside slot in a first edition Flex, but the slot is just over 10 cms lying flat, so it would depend on how thick the Memo Pocket was. Could be a tight squeeze. You could slide it into the notebook slot though.

    2. Thanks i was actually looking at the bigger ones but now wonder if i have the orientstion wrong in my head! They are about 14 x 21 so i was thinking maybe the flap would go in one of the slots. Subject to snow may shop at weekend, if no there is always the internet

    3. The 14 x21 versions fit beilliantlyn

    4. Thanks and im hoping i know what the last word is by virtue of u having the same typitus as me!

  2. This is a great article. You know you can purchase just the rings of the binder and make your own to slide into the inside pocket.

  3. HERE IS A Link for binder rings http://www.custombinders.net/custombinders.html

    1. Thanks for that, I'll have a look. I'm pretty sure Filofax do a card with rings on it for some of the Temperley models too? Someone will probably correct me if I'm wrong here. It would be great if they could sell them separately. It would make the Filoflex completely customisable!

  4. That was an awesome post! I'm really intrigued by the flex system and like the way the inserts look quite a lot! Thanks for all the pictures :)

  5. Fabulous review. I have been tempted to try setting myself up in my Flexes, but have resisted as I've only just got my set ups done for 2013 and haven't even settled into them yet. Although it will be all change when my Plannerisms planner arrives...

  6. What a fantastic article. Thank you so much. You have articulated many of my petty annoyances but I still persist and keep purchasing in the hope of finding the 'perfect' one to suit my needs. Hadn't even given the Flex so much as a passing thought so you given me much to consider.

  7. What an excellent post! I used my Flex for nearly 2 years before reverting back to a ringed Filofax again. I used an A5 size and what annoyed me was no closure as things fell out in my bag (I resorted to a headband to hold it together). It also got too fat:(
    You have got some great ideas for improving the Flex - hope they are reading it.

    1. Thank you for your kind comments!
      As for closing the Flex you can find or make notebook bands, wide elastic bands made to keep an A5 notebook together. I haven't needed mine yet, but the Flex keeps getting fatter so I think it's just a matter of time ... or try the two penloops trick?

  8. By the way, I should add that I tried once again with a bound book, but a thinner one this time, and it IS in fact possible to squeeze it into the slots, but only just - and if you use the innside ones it takes a lot of room because the cover is a bit longer than an A5 piece of paper. In an outside one, folding the book into the Flex so the spine is visible when you close it, I suppose a Plannerisms Planner or similar would fit. But like I say: only just, and be very careful not to damage the Flex.

  9. From one 'Linda' to another, let me thank you, and give you a well-deserved gold star, for one of the best guest posts I ve ever read!
    Thank you for giving me a lot of great new ideas for 2013 ! Please write again soon!

  10. Thank you all so much for your encouraging comments! I am glad you liked it and hope that it has made some of you rethink the Flex. I really think this can become a brilliant organising tool with a few tweaks! And yes, I would love to do a follow-up post after I have used this system for some heavy writing in Feb and two seminars in March - that will really put it through its paces!

  11. Just a could of points: -

    - Plannerisms planners sadly won't fit in any pocket of any Flex unless you chop the cover. I did it to my Plannerism. It looked awful and I ended up cutting it into loose pages.

    - a ring fitted to a flat card (like Time Manager binders have always used) won't work on a Flex with A5 paper. Either the ring has to be fitted to a bendy card (say made of plastic) so that the ring bends into the spine when closed, or it has to be fitted to the spine itself. I've tried both - the latter is the better solution long-term.

  12. Tim, thanks for clearing that up, I don't want to mislead anyone. Also I see what you mean about bendy card. I thought Filofax used a ring mechanism on card for the Temperley Ikat? The back of the binder is made to slot into the (so called) clutch bag. Your guest posts on the Filoflex were what made me decide to get a Flex in the first place, and I love what you did with the TM rings to achieve the perfect A5 planner! I am hoping to find a different solution which doesn't involve sharp implements. I'll see what I can come up with ...

    1. Hi Linda - Yours is a great post, bu the way!

      The ring attached to thin plastic (I used a piece of old overhead projector clear acetate sheet) works well and saves using a craft knife.

      If I remember correct the Temperley rings were for Personal size paper not A5. That's why they fitted!