19 December 2013

Are you organised?

People mistakenly think I'm a very organised person. This notion is very far from the truth. I often flit from one thing to another during any given day, sometimes because I need to, sometimes because I get distracted too easily by things around me or in front of me especially if I'm sat at my desk...

So I'm going to make a statement that might shock some of you...

Owning a Filofax organiser does not make you an organised person.

That has got that out of the way. So lets go back to basics shall we...

Why do we record things? Note I say record, not write, I will expand on that thought in a moment.... We record things to remind ourselves at a future date/time of things we are going to do. Or to record what we did and that we have done it.

For many years people have been trying to perfect this 'recording' and 'checking' activity, you would have thought by now we might have perfected it?

So why do various methods fail? Technology failing on us, exhausted batteries, cracked screens, devices lost or ones that have become obsolete. The pen that runs out as you are writing, the system that is too big to carry when needed, the list goes on.

One of the key things I've learnt over the years though is this especially when we are talking about a group of people maintaining a system is you have to make it easy for them to access the information as well as making it easy for them to keep it up to date.

You might have a wonderful pictorial presentation of what your group of engineers is going to be doing next week, but if it takes all week to create that 'picture', then it is not going to be easy to discover what they will be doing the week after and to keep things up to date every week. And I 'speak' from experience with this example!

Personally I find maintaining an electronic calendar easy when sat at my desk, with iCal open on my iMac, I point and click and type (touch typing helps!) and hit the return key and bingo I had the details of a flight I'm meeting on say the 28th December. That information is instantly shared on my wife Alison's computer and it will appear on my son's iPhone, iPad, Macbook Air all at the same time. Wonderful... except this... trying to do that operation on one of the mobile devices is a lot harder in comparison, unless I enter it using voice recognition software.

However, I like a lot of you much prefer to use pen and paper to record these things. So no more talk about technology and how wonderful it is.... or isn't...

So we have decided to use pen and paper... marvellous... now this is were this gets interesting... it's ok I'm not trying to lure you in to a trap like a salmon on to a hook...

So what size paper should we use? Oh that conundrum, A4 too big? Mini too small? Well we can't cheat physics, a sheet of paper has a finite size and we have to decide I suppose what size to use, unless we fold a bigger sheet to fit a smaller size, but with added bulk.

So do we need anything else? Oh a pen I suppose, Bic biro? Or a fancy fountain pen that they only made one of? Take what is comfortable for you to use and it fits your budget... let's go with the free promotional biro with 'Bloggs Window Cleaners' on it. It is a pen, it works, what more do we need..... We have paper and we have a means of writing on it.

With those two things you could devise a method and presentation of recording and noting things to do, meetings to attend, things to remember etc etc... and it would work. You might change it over time, you might refine the layout, but it would still work.

And then you would be organised. Yes?

So why have a few of us got a stock room full of organisers, diary inserts, spare rulers, address sheets in multiple languages, stickers, washi-tape etc?

Yes well, let us choose to ignore what is behind those closed doors for now... Just select one of those organisers for a moment and look at it in detail and see what it brings to the party shall we... We will worry about the rest of our holdings in the national organiser stationery mountain some other time.

A Filofax organiser, what does it do for our simple, but very effective paper and pen organiser?

Having just sheets of paper and a pen is fine if you never have to carry your 'organiser' with you anywhere. Apart from the wind coming in through an open window, your pages are going to sit there just fine in the layout you have chosen. You can pick them up and move them around in the day or during the week as much as you like. Carrying them to a meeting, or to another building might be a bit risky, you could accidentally lose a sheet on your way to the meeting, the pages might get a bit creased in your bag or coat pocket.

So your Filofax organiser holds these sheets of paper on its rings so that the sheets of paper are kept in the order you require, and within the boundary of the outer cover which affords them some protection from the elements and from being bounced around in your back pack.

Does it do anything else? OK may be it holds some other loose items, may be your pen as well.

So ok I will use a ring bound organiser it seems a good idea to keep things in the same place. But that does restrict you a bit on the size of the paper you use... You can't just change when you want without having more than one of these ring binders... sorry organisers.

At this point because we are going to have to fix the size of the organiser we are going to use for our 'organiser' it makes sense to try and decide which size you are going to use, but you don't have to go out and buy each size of organiser..... No you don't, trust me, you do not need to buy ones in every size...is that understood?

We will let you go out and buy some paper in each size, or just take some ordinary copier paper and cut it to the different sizes to try out your 'organiser' for real with your own handwriting to see if you can fit all of your notes and things in a typical day or week on to a page or two of your preferred size of paper.

Do that over a few days or weeks even and you will soon learn which is the best size for you.

Now at this point you might want to think about the time division of your 'organiser' we haven't gone decimal yet with time measurement, there are still 24 hours in a day, and 7 days in a week and a varying number of days in a month, so we tend to use days, weeks and months for most things.

We know from others that there are pros and cons about using a day layout or week layout. Which ever you decide to use will impact on the number of sheets of paper your 'organiser' will contain. This will influence the size of the rings your 'organiser' will have because again that thing called physics decides how much paper we can fit on to the rings of our Filofax organiser.

So given a reasonable amount of time we will settle on what we think is the ideal paper size, layout, pen to use, how many sheets we need to carry and therefore what size organiser with what ever size rings in it. Now you can buy an organiser in the size of your choice.

That is it then? No Steve, I can't decide which model; do I go for this one, which only costs £25, or that one for £300, what is the difference between them?

Nothing at all in terms of being organised.... nothing at all.......


  1. Love this post, just saying how it is....the Life coach has spoken....

  2. Fabulous post. Truth spoken (written).

  3. truthfull and straight the point, love it.

  4. People do often make that mistaken perception of people who use planners. One of my colleagues recently discovered my internet alter-ego: videos, blog, Twitter account! At work the next day he said "You must be the most organised person I know!", and he wouldn't believe me when I said I wasn't! Ok, I use planners, and some people don't, but why does that instantly make me more organised than them? It DOESN'T!! I use my planner because without it my life would be a mess. Even with it, my life isn't perfect- and I know that's a problem with me, not because of my planner. It's a struggle sometimes to put everything in my planner, and then read my planner to see what I should be doing, because I'm an epic procrastinator, and for some reason I find it hard to use my planner when I'm feeling tired or lazy, even though I know it would help me!
    I think the most organised people are those who don't need a planner. People who know what they should be doing and when, and manage to get it all done without having to have a to-do list. They are amazing people!
    In essence, I think non-planner users should ask themselves this: Would I say "Wow, you are a really healthy person" to someone who needs and uses a Doctor's services regularly, compared to someone who doesn't need and use a Doctor? Just because I need and use a planner doesn't make me instantly organised, and I didn't start to use a planner in the first place because I'm organised to start with. I need one because I'm not organised, but my planner is helping me along :)

  5. Steve - Love this post. :)

  6. I am very organized. In my case it´s not a question of being organized with Filofax (albeit I do use one) but being organized in general. I use an A5 Filofax and an A4 notebook to my needs and I have a Balmoral in A5 to organize my home stuffs (chores, cleaning routines and interior decoration and home improvement projects). But on daily terms, on A5 and A4 and I´m good to go.

    In general terms, unless a person neeeeds to be organized, I don´t know if this question is that important and certainly not worth of pseudo-guilt. I do believe it´s much more important to be happy instead. In my life situation, there´s so much of everything going on on different locations that it´s a necessity to keep your ship on tight course.
    Whatever makes people happy, that´s what I always think.

  7. Awesome. Very awesome. As someone who is just coming back to the world of planners after a omg 30 year hiatus... I have been struggling to decide which planner is right. I ordered one purely because I liked the design and then I had second thoughts about whether it was the right size. (And of course reading everyone's stories and watching their videos didn't help because now I want them ALL.)

    I finally did exactly what you suggested. I created a few pages in layouts that I think I like (M2P, W2P, etc.) and wrote in them. Now I feel better about the binder I chose (which I don't have yet because it's a darn Christmas gift and Christmas takes forever to get here -- which is horrible since I can SEE THE WRAPPED FILOFAX FROM MY DESK ALL DAY LONG) -- that doesn't stop me from wanting all of the planners because they are BEAUTIFUL and SMELL GOOD and they hold so much potential (once you put the proper papers, have the proper pens, and figure out how to store your washi so it's convenient to use.... which is another problem altogehter when you have a puppy who EATS EVERYTHING.)

    Anyway -- long story short, this is a great post. All those who are new to planners (or returning after a hiatus) should read this before they buy a planner (or after they buy a planner and are struggling with its size. lol)

  8. People assume I'm organized, too. Partly because I use a planner and partly because I have my ducks in a row - most of the time. And I guess I am organized but I have to work REALLY, REALLY hard at it. It doesn't come naturally. I have ADHD and that makes it even more complicated. I think that's what people miss sometimes - planning isn't easy. It takes work and maintenance. But the end results are more than worth it!

    And like you said, the system needs to be easy to use. If it's too complicated, it will be abandoned.

    Great post.

  9. What a relief! My planner is not a magic wand that turns me into an organized person. And I don't have to feel guilty when it doesn't.

  10. The thing about a planner nobody mentions, but is so important is that element called elastic time. If a project takes three days work allow six, if an appointment takes quarter of an hour to drive to, allow half an hour. The elasticity principle... estimate the time and double it, was the very best advice given to me by my tutor when I was embarking on my Masters dissertation and golly was he right. Elastic time applies to all everyday tasks too!! xx

  11. Excellent post, Steve. Love the idea of printing up stuff on the different size papers and seeing which works for you for a few weeks and THEN purchasing the size of paper you like. Think how much money that single idea could save our community! Great work!

  12. Brilliant post Steve, I'm only sorry I'm late to the party so far as comments are concerned. Had to factory reset my laptop yesterday, reinstall apps, yada yada yada.

    It's a truism that it's what you *do* with your system, the habits you adopt, the routines you put in place, all of which make you organised (or not), but how often do discussions about organisation degenerate almost immediately into discussions about what *tools* people use, rather than how they use them (or whether they use them or not!). This is particularly true of some of the GTD forums (forums? fora?) I'm on....endless discussion of what app will solve all the problems, no discussion of what it is we need to do and to become in order to *be* organised people.

    Thanks so much again for this.....it needs to be said, and what a great way to round out the year.

  13. This. Exactly this. My planner does not mean I am organised. I have a planner because I am naturally DISORGANISED! Without it I am completely useless. With it, I get most of my stuff done, usually on time (which is a vast improvement on what I was like before I used planners). I am also scatterbrained, so if I don't store things in my filofax I will find a great place to put them....then forget where that place is.

  14. Another great post! I am organized, and always try to be. I was actually thinking the other day about 'why' I organize vs. 'whether' I'm organized. Organization for me requires effort and maintenance, and I need to do it or my life will be in shambles. My planner helps me remember to be organized, but it doesn't automatically mean I'm organized.

  15. Organised? Dammit - is that what they're for?!!! I have people telling me that I must be really organised, and I know that I am more organised than I used to be, but I'm still a very, very long way from being organised - maybe one day... :-)

  16. A very timely post, Steve. And some good points, well made. I have always believed that simply owning and carrying a planner doesn't make one organised. I have a colleague who permanently has his mobile phone with him. But its often on silent and non-vibrate, so getting hold of him is difficult. Like most tools, it depends how you use them. Planner fail is probably 98% "user fail". There are some things which I have tried to do with my Filofax Personal, and couldn't - mainly involving large and unwieldy spreadsheets. Like most tools, it has limitations. I've found my limitations with my current job and how the FF can help, and I'm happy. I have everything I need for work and personal life in one binder, it goes everywhere with me and is usually much faster to access for the info inside, than looking at a phone or laptop or tablet.