15 July 2015

Experienced User - David Popely

Hi, my name is David and I’m a sole practitioner accountant (which means I run my own one-person practice) based in the South West of the UK. I’m married to the lovely Emma, and Human Servant Number Two to two fat, lazy and indolent cats. When not working I like to collect and read books, listen to jazz, folk  and classical music, and I’m scorer for the cricket team of the village net to ours. Over the next year I plan to improve my photography, spend more time outdoors and learn the mandolin.

1. When did you start using an organiser?

Around 1982. I’d been using ‘organiser diaries’ for a couple of years before that, but got my first ‘real’ Filofax at that time, and then quickly graduated to a full Time Manager system.

2. How has your use of an organiser changed over the years?

I’ve changed systems and methods many times, and I think cataloguing them all would take a book! As a general summary, the big shift in my system has been from the TMI-style ‘project management’ based approach of the 1980s to a more fluid GTD style (with some modifications) in the past 4-5 years. Also finally ditching my TMI system was a key moment (I sold the lot to a nice lady in Denmark, in four large boxes!)

3. Which diary format works best for you and why

Despite all my various trials (I’ve used most formats which are out there), I keep coming back to Wo2P. Being able to see the ‘landscape’ of my week in advance enables me to see what time I have committed to others, and what I need to keep back for my own projects, in a way which I can’t seem to get from other formats. Monthly views seem too ‘brad’, while daily views lead to loss of perspective from day to day – much as I would like that sort of planning ability! My current diary is a Wo2P generic Filofax diary with lines (ref 6841815). I draw a line down the centre of each page, write appointments on the left and key date specific tasks on the right. If I have so many meetings that I need to, I just erase the line and use the whole page, on the grounds that if I have that many meetings I’m not going to get any tasks done anyway! I always and only use pencil in my dairy, without exception.

4. What other information do you keep and maintain in your organiser.

Basically, everything! Diary, GTD lists, general reference info, agendas for people I see regularly, places I go regularly, or just ad hoc lists. There really isn’t anything I don’t keep in my organiser, except the bulk of my contact info, which is on my phone and synced to Google. However, I’ve recently started to entertain the idea of bringing them back into my Filofax.

5. Do you use a 'system' of organisation, and how does it work in your Filofax?

I’ve written at length about my system and its evolution elsewhere on Philofaxy so I won’t inflict a repetition here. All of that information is readily available by searching the site. I have a fully structured ten-part system which does everything I need it to, although with most of the things I would want it to!

The previous material concerning my system can be found at:

Guest Post - My current (GTD based) Filofax setup - David Popely

6. What routines and structures do you use?

Again, this information is in my previous posts. Suffice to say that for me routines are key, because routines build habits and habits build success. My key routine, as a GTD user, is of course the weekly review, and I always do that on a Friday, unless I’m in London or elsewhere on Friday, in which case I do it as close as I can to the appointed day. I think the other key routine is *always* having my Filofax with me, always writing things down immediately, in the Notes/In section, so I can process them later.

7. Do you use one binder or several, and if several, how do you use them?

One binder, and always and only one. One life, one organiser. I cannot imagine how anyone could use a ‘split’ system, other than for storage, although it’s obvious that people do, and very successfully.

Not me, however. I own five binders, as follows:-

  1. An A5 leather Bridle in tan, which was a gift from a Philofaxy reader (thank you – you know who you are)
  2. An A5 Finsbury in Chocolate brown, again a gift from a Philofaxy reader (and likewise, thank you – you also know who you are).
  3. A black Cavendish personal.
  4. An ochre Malden personal.
  5. A Hampstead personal in brown (they were all brown).

At the moment I’m in the Hampstead. I’ve had it since around 2001, and the clasp is loose, but I love it as much as any old friend. It has 25mm rings and holds as much as the 30mm Cavendish (don’t ask me why, I’m no expert), and two elasticated pen loops. A superb binder, and a good friend over many years.

The Cavendish is my reserve binder if I fancy a change. The Malden is currently out of favour since that stupid and inadequate pen loop caused the loss of a Parker 25 mechanical pencil of great sentimental value, and which it had taken me many months to obtain. Not good.

The A5s have recently been the scene of an extended attempt both to ‘make A5 work’ (for the umpteenth time), and to develop a more top-down system than GTD allows for, but at present it’s GTD in the Hampstead which gets me through the battle scarred landscape of my business life, and less battle scarred personal life!

Thank you David.

If you would like to take part in this series please email steve@philofaxy.com and mark your email 'Experienced Filofax User'


  1. Hi David! Good to hear from you--As one of your loyal fans for a number of years, I have taken inspiration from your long term commitment to consistent organization, the GTD mind set, and the success with your "one life/one planner" methodology that you have practiced over the past 10 + years!

  2. Thanks for the post , David. I am a retired accounts office manager. It's nice to know there are other Filofax users in the SW I am in Torbay. I use a Personal Ranger as a purse, and several A5s and Deskfax as note takers and for planning. I do research on writers and books, so the Filos are invaluable.

    1. Hi Clare, good to hear from another South Westerner. I'm often down your way, as my mother-in-law is in Teignmouth - coffee? Drop me a line off-list? davidcpopely (at) gmail (dot) com

  3. Thank you for sharing.

    I'm so glad I'm not the only one who thinks the pen loop on the Malden is stupid and that uses only one book.

    Your posts really make me want to try GTD.

  4. Wow, "a fully structured ten-part system". My hat's off to you for your consistency. I had experimented with the GTD system, but spent more time trying to figure out where what went than actually getting things done. I've winnowed down to 4, expandable to 5, sections. However, I am a multiple book person. 1 for home maintenance, 1 for work (right now, work search), and 1 to rule them all (funnily, it's the smallest one.) This was the answer for me when at a staff meeting my planner got passed around the table. My privacy paranoid brain would not relax until things were separated.

  5. Dear David,

    Excellent post and interesting reading material. Also funny to read that you are a one life one binder person, yet still have multiple Filofaxes! It must be envy, because I have been eyeing a small VDS, but the little voice inside keeps me from following through. Also nice to reread you GTD setup. I see a lot of similarities.

    As you know I am always interested in seeing systems put to work and I remember from an older post that you also used the TM system from FF itself, or at least the dividers. I am curious though to what made you switch from TMI to GTD? Seeing that you have been a very long time user of the TMI system, I can only imagine the *smooth* transition to GTD with its agnostic tools approach. I tend to move slightly in the opposite direction going from strictly GTD (full implementation) to Time System / TMI (or a spin off).

    Best regards

    1. Hi Guido.

      Yes, keeping multiple binders is slightly anachronistic, isn't it! However, I don't use them in parallel - ever - and they all have a particular reason for being in my possession, whether for a particular set of circumstances or for sentimental reasons, as in the case of the Hampstead, for example.

      I moved from TMI to GTD largely because it looked at first reading to be more fitted to the modern world....when I started using TMI systems there was no email, no mobile phones, and I worked in a 9-5(ish) job where I could walk away at the end of each day and my time was my own. I think the world has changed for all of us in that respect (even to the extent of breaking down the contexts described in the GTD book, which curiously haven't been updated in the second edition), so I wanted to see if I could make GTD work in the more 'distracted' circumstances I found myself in. By and large, I still feel it *does* work, although as has been well-rehearsed, we are all now well aware of the short-comings of the system from a 'top down' perspective, and, being aware of them, are able to at least start to compensate.

  6. Hi David, thanks for that and for sharing the link to your GTD setup article from a while back. Great refresher. Did you ever get round to writing and posting the follow up articles you mentioned there? Regards, Micha

    1. Hi Micha.

      No, I never did write that post! So as not to 'clutter' the Philofaxy website with a plethora of articles of my own, I might do it as a blog post, shall I send you a link when it's done? Also, see my comment below..........

    2. Hi David,

      Yes, that would be great.

      I do believe there is a wider interest in using paper planners with GTD or another (formal) system for the purposes of goal setting, planning, project management, being efficient and effective, productivity, etc.

      It's not up to me whether this would clutter Philofaxy. Maybe Steve can add a separate subsection (like adspot, etc) on Philiofaxy so as to keep it all easily accessible for every one?

      Looking forward,


    3. Hi David,

      I just reread your post reviewing GTD 2015 edition as well as reading through the comments. I came across your suggestion:

      I'm going to try and address this in my own planning without giving up the 'horizontal' benefits GTD offers, and wonder if anyone would like to join me in thinking this through. If you would, please could you contact me off-list, and I'll maybe set up some kind of Yahoo group for this purpose alone, which can be closed off when it has run its course. Maybe together we can find a way of 'plugging the gap, in GTD?

      Is this still something you'd like to pursue?

    4. Hi Micha

      In fact I recall we tried something like this a few months back, but it stalled due to lack of time to comment on various sides (mine included).

      I'd certainly be willing to try again if you wanted to curate such an exercise. Just drop me a line off-list or send me your email address through here.

  7. Thank you David for this post! It is a very detailed summarization of tid bits you have given to us thru the years. I too am a one organizer person. I love your Hampstead. Filofax doesn't make binders like they used to!

    1. Hi Michele. If the popper on the Hampstead's closure wasn't completely ineffective due to repeated use and misuse, it would be my go-to EDC for sure. You're right - they don't make them like that any more, at all.......

  8. Great post David. I admire your system very much and how well it works for you. Lots of food for thought there!

  9. This comment has been removed by the author.

  10. David, just wanted to pass on that your post finally pushed me in the direction of investigating GTD a little more closely. There's a neat authorized app for iPhone that includes an assessment aspect. I'm also convening with other freelancers tonight to talk about the issue. Thanks!

    1. Deletion above only because I'm a stickler for typos!

  11. Excellent post, David.

    Always enjoy hearing about your setup and journey with GTD, etc...

    Thanks for sharing,


  12. OK final comment so far.........It seems that there might be a place for a serious of (blog) posts detailing specifically how to set up and run GTD out of a Personal sized Filofax (or similar).......any interested parties if I generate such a short series?

    1. Absolutely interested! David, thanks for your recent, and older post about your system. I am inspired to give it a go as I juggle multiple projects seemingly all the time!!! I'm particularly interested in a "snapshot" of how you manage your project plan section in such limited space. The typical "action plan" template comes to mind but I'm curious to learn how you manage. Thanks again and I'll stay tuned for the next post!

  13. One interested party here! I've continually gravitated back to the Personal size, as well as integrating "all" into one book.

  14. Hello David, as another user living in the South West (Teignmouth) stopping by to say hello!

    1. Hi Julie

      Mother-in-Law lives in Teignmouth, so I am a sometime visitor - coffee?