27 January 2014

Guest Post - Using Multiple Diaries - Helen.

Q: How many diary inserts does one Filofax user need to use at any one time?
A: In my house, nine paper and two digital.
I know, pick yourself up off the floor and I will explain how my system came to be and why it works for me.

The need

I am a lawyer by day and at night/weekends building a career as a textile artist. To enhance both I do a little freelance writing about art and law. I also love to travel, bake, journal, do yoga and read. I don't love to exercise (other than yoga) but I do it anyway. Sometimes I blog and know I ought to keep my websites up to date better. I am involved in various textile art related groups.Oh and I have a husband who likes to see me from time to time! 

I am the type of person who has too many ideas and too many goals to realistically achieve in the too little time in a day. I struggle not with will power but with achieving a healthy balance between work and play and being realistic about what I can achieve.

My Filofaxes are therefore meeting the need of enabling me to ensure I achieve all my goals, meet my obligations and achieve a balanced life. 

The functions

To meet that goal I need my system to
  1. Record appointments
  2. List goals, next steps and progress to those goals
  3. Allow me to apportion time appropriately between different areas of life ( work, art, home, health etc)
  4. Act as a repository for the many pieces of information and thoughts I come across which otherwise would make my head explode
  5. Give me information as to how much time I need/ have spent for various tasks to enable me to better balance life in the future
  6. Give me a visual overview so I can easily see when I am about to overcommit or neglect an area of life.
  7. Facilitate me doing tasks I do not naturally gravitate towards.
My system needs therefore to both forward plan and backwards record.

It also needs to be available to me at all times when I need it. For me, that does not mean one life one binder. Some information and recording is place specific and so can stay where it is.  But the capacity to capture information at first instance and to schedule and balance must be always to hand. For me that means a personal sized binder as that easily fits in my handbags.  

As I write I am in a very fat Mia Cara Gillio but I  rotate between Maldens, Regency and Osterley and with only minor filleting can run the system from a compact Regency when I am travelling.

Monthly diaries

I use three monthlies. Two for tracking, one for planning

(A) horizontal Filofax Yearly Planner - I use the tiny boxes on this to track, by way of symbols the days I manage to fit in, reading, journalling, baking bread or a new recipe.

(B) A colourful set of inserts I bought on Facebook which I think originally came off Etsy where I track my time spent on yoga, cardio and strength exercise. These two diaries will allow be to look back, in conjunction with other diaries and see what tends to be happening in my life when I fail to fit in the things that keep me mentally and physically balanced and healthy. Thus they are a tool to help me learn lessons to improve my habits.

(C) Filofax tabbed monthly. This diary provides me with birds eye view planning. I use it mainly to show   (a) time blocked out for holidays  (b) weekends which I intend to dedicate mainly to my art (marked with a green dot) and (c) relaxation and celebration days (marked with a blue dot). This is new this year as a result of lessons learned last year. I will happily flog myself to death in pursuit of my goals and I do not celebrate my successes enough. So, now I plan for that.

Weekly diaries

I have one personal week on one page with notes in my planner. The diary contains all personal appointments and commitments and the notes are used for  
(a) notes related to the appointments such as train times, directions etc  and 
(b) Big Rocks. The three things I really want to achieve this week. Those items are sometimes added a week or two in advance- usually where I wanted do it in an earlier week but realised I already had three other more vital tasks and so carried this one forward. Mostly I add them on a Sunday for the week following.

I also have separate A5 diaries (week on one page with notes)  in three A5s which are dedicated to specific activities
(A) My Studio Planner (Brown Osterley) - used for my art activities. I use the diary to set out very specific tasks for that week for art only and record my time spent on production, learning, design and studio business in the diary. Time recording is vital for me to calculate the costs of art works, to be knowledgeable,about how long tasks actually take and so how much I can take on. It also motivates me to clock up targeted hours.

(B) Kitchen Planner. (Jade Finchley)  I have an aim to become a very good artisan bread and cake maker. So I use this diary for brief notes about what recipes I have tried and which I plan to do. Some breads require overnight preparation and I need to plan ahead to have the right ingredients. So I note what I plan to do so I don't go off piste and waste ingredients or forget to to make the poolish the night before.

(C) Yoga Journal ( Purple Finchley). I have subscriptions to various newsletters, online class providers and magazines. I use the notes section to note things like new classes or sequences I want to try and the diary to schedule them and note what I did.

The A5s stay in the studio/kitchen/dressing room save when I do my weekly review. There is a small overlap with my planner. At a weekly review on a Sunday I will decide when I am going to schedule yoga sessions. I simply write 'Yoga' in my daily pages and the details of the session in the yoga planner. In my weekly diary I may note that my Big Rocks include completing a particular quilt or art related article. The steps to do that and the time I take go in the studio planner.

Daily diary- home

I use Filofax day on two pages in my personal planner. (And still cannot fathom why I have to buy them from France!) These pages have four sections for week days which I use as follows:
(A) timed appointment column - the few timed personal appointments I have go here but I also schedule my appointments with myself eg. Gym or studio time. I wish these pages did not stop at 8pm because I certainty do not! Because of my other filos and action lists I need only write the very basics of the activity here.
(B) Lined vertical column- brief journal of the day done at bedtime
(C) Action - this box has ten to do boxes. Pesky admin and household tasks go in here. Collect dry cleaning, post tax return. That sort of thing. Non project related tasks mostly. I make myself do these on the day scheduled as much as possible. If I don't I write CF (carried forward)  in a circle and rewrite them again with a CF symbol. CF symbols get priority the next time they appear.
(D) Notes. Used for food diary when I remember and, um, notes!!

Annoyingly weekends only have one page and that is the timed and lined columns. I can actually be exceedingly productive at the weekend but resent a To do list. I also hope to do too much. So if I am at home I insert a lined piece of notepaper and make a Must Do List, which is as short as possible and a To Choose From List on which I put as many nice things as I like. Then there is no pressure to do them all but I just get to pick. Usually I get to most of them. Then I use the appointments column to note what I achieve as the day goes on.

Daily diary - work.  

I do both civil and family law and my civil appointments are controlled by a team of staff and I don't see the diary until it is printed out for me in the morning. The family appointments I can see and edit on outlook calendar but as it is a communal diary it has to stay electronic. Again I get a print out. I inevitably lose that list by eleven am. So my morning ritual is to write it out by hand into a daily diary in my Gillio. Because some appointments are ten mins, some for a whole day and anything inbetween, a pre- printed diary with times is useless. So I buy a day per page diary from WH Smiths (I like the cream pages you find in the faux leather ones), pull it apart and punch. I cross out appointments in red as I finish them for a sense of progress and control. To dos go on those pages too. 

Action lists

This system is supplemented by a set of action lists in my personal planner. I use a tweaked GTD system.  I could never fathom Dave Allen's system of project lists for all and sundry and contexts that to me overlapped ( being online, on a train and in a shop usually being one and the same thing for example!). So I have a  different  coloured page for each area of my life in which I have set goals for 2014 and behind that as many to do lists as I have projects under that heading. So under Home for example I list my plans and motivations in bullet points then behind that page, there is an action list for booking our Italy trip and one for landscaping the garden.

So thats my system. No doubt it reads as being highly complex (and yes, expensive in diary inserts!). However, because it fits me and my life I find it works to contain a very involved life into calm segments and enables me to feel I am in control and making progress. I do a weekly review early Sunday evening to plan the week ahead when I have personal and A5s together to synch them. Feel free to leave comments if you have any questions and I  would be pleased to answer them. 

Thank you Helen for an interesting insight as to how your system works. 


  1. Fascinating! Do you move pages between the various binders, or are each of them very discrete and self-contained?

    1. Pretty much self contained save that if I want to make some new notes and don't have the right one to hand I can grab whichever is to hand and move pages later.

  2. BTW since I wrote this I bought another insert. I have been neglecting my blogs and so I bought an A5 month on two pages to go in the grey Malden I have stuffed with all things Internet related. That for blog post planning.

  3. Too much in this system for me personally, but having said that I very much admire you for the amount you do fit into life... and after all, we each have our own systems which work for us.... that's the joy of a Filofax and Philofaxy.

  4. Wow, hats off to you for being able to manage all of that and still remain sane. I definitely have lots to learn from this post. I too am Constantly setting goals way beyond what my usual day would permit. Good luck to you & thanks for taking the time to write this.

    1. What on earth gave you the impression? Did you not read? i have ten diaries. Mad as an ( organised) hatter, I tell you!

  5. After reading your post, my approach of "one life - (mostly) one binder" looks a lot clearer to me. I now understand that I can only work for me, because I only have one life, and a quite boring one ;-)
    I really respect and admire you for doing all you do in your one life, I would never be able to manage even half of it!

    Fingers crossed you will remain this active and interested (and organised!).


    1. Yes you can manages it - we all have the same 24 hours I am nothing special!! I bet you do plenty I do not. For example you notice there is no diary for children or housekeeping in my life!

  6. Wow! My system (and my life) are much simpler than yours but I see a lot of similarity in terms of system and the details of making it work. The big difference being that my work is self-planned and is task driven, not appointment/meeting driven (although I do, of course, have some of those too!). And I am very much in one binder but I have made some concessions allowing some diversification; I now maintain a reference binder at home and am using a Plannerisms planner to do bigger picture planning and tracking.

    This was a great read! Thanks so much for writing it up.

    1. You are welcome! I wrote it in reponse to David Popely's comment in FFAF a wekk or so back asking about multiple diary uises. I think I am probably an extreme case. anyone else using several diaries in a different way?

    2. I use several diaries too. I am an attorney as well, not sure that matters, but wonder if we think about things in distinct projects/billable time chunks? I have to categorize my life into several binders. My personal has a few different subjects in it right now, and even that bothers me a bit. But, I don't want to have to carry several with me. For example, in my personal I have a MO2P for appts/recording events (bday/Rx), WO2P for more detail, and toying with DPP since the weekly doesn't give me enough room to write notes (e.g. detail from a phone call). I actually just ordered the WO1P w/notes to try.

      Then I have seperate binders for finances, medical, pen pals, fitness, coaching business, 365/30/journal, storage, and setting up a pet and travel ones as well. Still working on my system for sure.

    3. Also wanted to add that I have a binder for work as well-- actually using 2 there too. A MO2P for overal view of assignments, holidays, meetings. Then I am using FC 2DPP where I will try to do as you do-- fill in what I am working on during the appt times, task list, then notes = emails/notes/phone calls. These calendars stay at work.

    4. Yes, I do think it has something to do with the legal brain that categorises all the time. Certainly the time recording I do with my art is from my legal career.

  7. Thank you for sharing your system. What is the difference between your personal 1 week-per-page-with-notes and the personal day-on-2-page diary? Seems you keep your personal appointments and commitments in both?

    1. I do yes but I have a full year view with the week on one page with notes and only a couple of weeks of the dailies. So for today for example the weekly diary is blank for today as I have no personal appointments with other people I had to remember. But the daily pages have time scheduled around my work for yoga and gym ( witha note of which workout type I am on) and studio work this evening, a personal call to make at lunch time, and a list of tasks to do. I will fill in one column as a journal tonight. I tend to fill the dailies in on a weekend for the days ahead maybe at a 7-10 day range. So weekly is about my recording of long range obligations and notes to give me what I need to fulfill them. Daily is about actualy scheduling time for myself and the nitty gritty of life. If you could fit a whole year of day on two pages into a binder I might just go with that but even without anything else its truly impossible! And anyway the overview feeling is lost and I woudl likewise get lost in the detail.

  8. Thanks for your post! The information is very helpful.

    I'm an attorney too so work occupies a huge chunk of my time. I also have to juggle hobby (Astronomy), family life, and all kinds of appointments/social activities. Right now I actively use 4 planners but I can see why I might need more to better plan and keep track of important things too.

  9. Hi Helen, thank you for a great post....the strength of the ring-bound system is that it's absolutely 100% able to be customised to each of our needs and preferences. I've taken much from this and am sure many others will also find it useful.

  10. I can't do multiple binders like that. I have to see everything in one place and on one page. It makes it very complicated sometimes. It would be a lot easier if I could split it out the way you have. Impressive how you make it work so seamlessly. Thanks for sharing.

  11. HI Helen,

    Thanks for taking the time to do this post. I have a very similar approach (maybe it is a lawyer thing). I categorise my filofaxes (and notebooks) for different areas of my life as well and pick up the relevant one when I am 'working' on that area of my life or that particular project. Some binders also have both monthly and weekly diaries and I do have a couple of notebook systems as well.

    p.s. nice to see you're back writing on plancreatesucceed :)

  12. I enjoyed the post --- i have wanted to do the GTD David Allen as I have multiple diaries and alot of events, things occurring with family, work, yoga, meditation, home, etc. How did you get started?