11 September 2014

My Set Up - by Steve

Chatting on Skype with David Popely is always enjoyable, although not as enjoyable as meeting him in person and chatting over lunch as we have done once and I look forward to repeating that....

As often happens we get to talk about the set up our organisers and how our set-ups differ. David if he doesn't mind me saying this, is always looking for that little nugget of information that would improve his own set up.

I can only share my own thoughts, I don't have some magical sixth sense and a magic wand to analyse the way someone is using their organiser at the moment and then declare 'this is what you want to do....' and their whole set up magically comes together and they are at peace with their set up and they ride off in to the sunset.... although it would be a nice skill to have!

So my set up... or rather my current set up... has changed over the years, so I think it best if we went back to 1985 when I started using a Filofax and take the trip through the 29 years on how I got to what I'm using today... Don't panic 29 years in one blog post will not become War and Peace in size, well I hope not.

So as a newly married man I bought a Filofax, I had read an article in the Sunday Times and it got me interested, although I don't know why. I can't recall now what I used for a diary back then before I bought my Winchester, if I even used one at all. May be a pocket diary from WH Smiths if that.

However, I got the Filofax bug, the ability to populate this lovely leather ring bound organiser with a diary and a selection of different pages which you could swap and change as you wished.  Looking back now I'm sure I didn't use my Filofax to the full potential at all. To a degree it was a life style accessory more than anything else though, but one that has stayed with me.

So in those first few years I just used a personal size (A5 didn't yet exist!) and we are looking at life in the 1980s, pre Windows, pre internet. However, I did create my own inserts back then, with Wordstar (DOS) and a 24 pin dot matrix printer and some fan fold printer paper that was sold in Rymans stationery stores. [I still have some paper, but not the printer!] The inserts were fairly basic and crude I suppose, but they worked.

In the early 1990's I abandoned my Filofax and slipped in to the world of electronic organisers going from a basic Casio digital diary, to a Psion 5 Mx and finally a HP iPaq Pocket PC machine. The first two I still have and they still work... but not the HP, it no longer works and frankly never really replaced the Psion which I still love for it's simplicity and what it can do with only 16 Megabytes of memory, yes 16Mb! But let's not get too carried away.

Jump forward to 2004 (getting moderately modern now!) and I got made redundant (boo hiss... well not quite) after 11 months off work (my gap year!) I found employment with a UK government department, and I arrived with my new briefcase and smart suit (well for the first day at least) I was still using my iPaq at this point. I was then told 'Sorry you can't use any personal electronic items in the office... security'  Oooo that was a surprise.. but ok what about a Filofax? That was ok. So I dug my Filofax out of my desk, dusted it off, and put in a new diary and off we went again.

I was still using the same Winchester personal from the 1980's, again I wasn't that fussed about the set up or how it worked, I didn't know any better really... or I wasn't until some day in 2007 when I discovered Philofaxy by complete chance I suppose. This got me looking at how I was using my organiser in a lot more detail. Reading the posts and the comments got me hooked again. I started recreating old inserts and inserts for myself and making them available.

I 'graduated' to an A5 Finsbury for the sole reason of it being easier to print inserts myself. I was still predominately using a Week on Two pages like most people. My organiser was always with me, but I didn't use it as much as I do now.

Leap forward to 2010 and I had been a contributor here on Philofaxy for about a year and my wife Alison and I were about to make a big change in our lives. We both gave up our respective secure jobs in UK and we sold our house in UK to move to our house in France. We had owned the house here since 2005, so no big surprises when we moved.

No longer 'working' I started devoting more time to Philofaxy and my other interests (photography, amateur radio etc) and all of a sudden I started to notice I was using my organiser a lot more than at any point in the past.

I went from one thing to another trying to find a set up that would fit my new needs and it took me several attempts to find 'the set up' that worked for me. I was initially still using a diary I had printed off from MS Outlook blank apart from a few birthdays and the public holidays.

One the main changes in my life style when we moved to France was I became more task orientated rather than focused on appointments and deadlines. It took me a little while to realise this, but I got there in the end!

By chance I found a retailer selling off some diary inserts in about May 2011, I managed to buy an A5 Day Per Page Business Style diary insert for £1! This had space for tasks and to-dos as well initially this changed the way I was using my A5 and I was able to keep up with things, although moving things forward to the next day so they didn't get forgotten about was a bit of a pain.

Then I swapped in to the  Week on Two pages insert from the Filofax Time Manager range. This one looks like this:

Lots of spaces as you can see for different reminders and things, but a little limited on space for appointments, also to me the layout seemed the wrong way around, why I don't know, but I tend to think from left to right and would have preferred the pages to have been swapped over. I also didn't like the way that Saturday and Sunday were not equal in size. As I was no longer in paid employment, weekdays and weekends were more or less the same to me.

So I continued to use this set up for the rest of 2011. It still wasn't perfect but I stuggled on with it.

Then along came Ray Blake in 2011 with his own inserts and we started talking about the possibility of expanding the range and sharing them with the community. The first one I designed was a re-design of the Filofax Time Manager Week View which you see below.

As you can see I switched the days to my preferred side. The design evolved with a few minor modifications which I will now highlight.

The first change was to go from five lines per day to four lines per day (although both versions are still available) I found the lines a bit too narrow for my hand writing.

So starting on the left hand page. We have a small column in the time space, this can be used to colour code or symbol appointments if you like to do that.  I add in holidays and birthdays in to my merged file manually before I print it and you can see that on the 1st and 4th in this case.

I did wonder the other day about splitting morning and afternoon by creating two more columns for time and description and narrowing down the existing ones. Easy enough to do if you need more appointment slots.

At the top of the page is a 'This Week' notes area if you are planning or highlighting events or tasks.

Moving across to the right hand page. This is mainly for tasks and reminders with a small tick box to help you spot ones still to be done. Who doesn't get a sense of satisfaction ticking off jobs!

This page like the left hand one has the date range for the week view and calendars for this month and the next month.

The tasks for each day are now labelled with the name of each day with the pages at different heights in my organiser I sometimes found myself writing on a line that didn't correspond to the right day before I added this. However, this could just be my funny 2D eyesight playing tricks on me. But I think it might help most people.

The notes/reminders tend to be general tasks I'm doing around the house or in the garden.  I use the 'communications' heading for blog post ideas, and work in progress on line etc.

The amount of space for each of these two can be easily changed if you found you needed more of one and less of the other.

The 'Coming Up' section at the bottom of the page gives me a 'look forward' reminder without having to turn over the pages.

This insert is of course available on our Diary Inserts page, there is an slimmed down version for Personal size as well there.

My A5 stays on my desk open at either this view or a page per month insert which is used for planning posts here on Philofaxy.

If I am away from my desk/out of the house I carry a personal size organiser. In this organiser I have a week per page insert. Again one of our own designs.

Away from my desk I rarely need the details of my tasks or the tasks around the house, so this insert has the bare essentials of my schedule. I sometimes supplement the diary with an interleaved 'to-do' list for the list of people coming to a meet up, or if I'm travelling my packing list

Additionally in the personal size organiser, I keep various information sheets I either need at home or if I'm travelling ones that will be relevant to the trip (maps, phone details, booking details etc). It is all  information that I might also have in my A5, but it is information that doesn't change that too often.

So although there is some duplication between the two sizes of organiser the overlap isn't too huge and I find that they complement each other nicely and work together well for me.

I've found over time to try and keep the duplicate information in both organisers to the minimum as there is then less chance of the information getting out of date.

I'm in the process of creating my inserts for 2015 at the moment and up dating the information in both organisers when I get a few spare minutes!

If you have any questions about my set up please leave a comment below.


  1. I loved my Psion and probably still have it somewhere in the depths of my spare bedroom ...

    I use Office 365 for my email and calendar, so it syncs with my phone and ipad when I am away working and out and about. However I still like to use a desk system for my daily tasks. In my case this takes the form of a day per page where I records my appointments (usually phone calls) and tasks - both personal and work based. I like to look back and see what got done on any given day and also I write down short scratch notes instead of using a post it or other spare bit of paper.

    I use Evernote for recording lists and nice to know info and Trello for tasks and projects. But l like to take the tasks from these and write them into my daily diary so I can tick off when done. I enjoy the mix of electronic and handwritten. I also use what I call a 'day book' for writing down notes when at meetings and other general notes so I have mostly everything on one place.

    It's still a work in progress, and like any other system requires some self discipline which I am constantly working on.

    Looking forward to hearing about system's used by others and will be reviewing the layouts for 2015 to see what fits for me.

  2. I think this may be my favorite Philofaxy post ever! Thanks for sharing!!

  3. Me, too. Everything is so clearly explained with the illustrations!

  4. Thanks for a great post, Steve, and also for such kind and generous comments. I really enjoyed our lunch sorry I had to bail out on the second one we had arranged), and look forward very much to meeting you again when you're next in the UK - presumably in London. Just let me know!

    You're right - I *do* seem always to be seeking that 'extra nugget' of information. Plus, as you know, I always seem to be running some 'experiment' or another, whether with format, set-up or whatever! Looking at your post gives me the confidence that as long we keep looking to learn, we will always be adapting and improving what we have in our binders. Thanks again.

    1. Thank you David.

      Another point I forgot to mention in the post... It's what is inside the organiser that counts not what organiser it is or how much it cost!

    2. You know I agree 100% with those sentiments! It always seems to be set-up that I'm working on....generally choice of binder doesn't enter into it. The other point which I've recently been reminded of is that the best system in the world is useless if we don't take the time and establish the routines to use it and maintain it regularly. That Filofax isn't going to to keep you organised on its own, and without your (our) help!

  5. I always say this Filofax thing is a 'journey' and your post definitely takes us on a ride with your particular trek through the last three decades. A thoroughly enjoyable read and my gratitude for sharing.

  6. I concur with all the above. I enjoyed reading that article. It was nice to hear of an organisation saying no to tech and forcing the analogue issue. It's the opposite these days with everyone wanting to be able to sync up with everyone else! I'm with David on the grail quest for planner utopia!