20 August 2015

Experienced User - Josh

Hello everyone.  I have used a filofax (or similar ring-bound system) intensively since 2011.  I work at an academic law library where I manage the main desk, collection maintenance, and stacks maintenance and various related workflows.

I typically have approximately 20 student employees and am constantly hiring, training, coaching, assessing, and scheduling.  I also serve in a leadership capacity for several professional organizations.  I manage a couple of rental properties too.  I live with my partner, two dogs, and three cats in Connecticut.  I used to post videos about my planner experiments, setup, and processes at my YouTube channel

1. When did you start using an organiser?

I started using an organizer in 2011.  I had recently been assigned several new responsibilities at work and found myself in a panic trying to keep track of everything that needed to be done, followed-up on, or simply remembered.  Until that time my work had been highly routinized and my simple scheduling needs were managed easily with the calendar on our email program at work (Lotus Notes, the most miserable piece of office technology in existence!).

I initially tried using the task and notes functions in Notes but realized that it was not portable or flexible enough to serve my needs.  I read an article in the New York Times about people who use paper calendars and it mentioned Filofax.  I decided to give Filofax a try.

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

My usage has been remarkably consistent over the years.  I try to just get everything down onto paper, and keep it altogether in one binder which I carry more-or-less everywhere with me.  I am regularly making small tweaks but rarely make bold changes anymore.

Setting up a new planner involves an enormous amount of overhead, with perhaps 200 pages or more needing to be transcribed.  For this reason, I have really dedicated myself to the personal size and try not to make drastic changes.  At this point, the system works effortlessly and naturally, and I feel little interest in tinkering.

3. Which diary format works best for you and why?  

I began with week-to-view for scheduling along with a to-do list and notes.  But quickly realized that if my tasks are not scheduled I never do them.  I have ADD, and opening my planner to a long, running, random to-do list sends me into total overwhelm and I don't do anything.

If I take that list and plot it out onto specific days, I just do what I assigned myself to do today.  It is not perfect, but it is much better.  I quickly transitioned to day-to-view and then went back and forth between the weekly and daily layouts.

Weekly is wonderful for perspective, being able to see the whole week at a glance and know what's coming up.  Days are great for the focus: you don't worry about what is happening tomorrow or later in the week, you just deal with today.

At many times of the year, I completely fill both pages of the day-to-view diary every day.  Lots of tasks, notes, phone messages, meetings, reminders.  I need the space!  I find that even when I don't need all that space, I appreciate the focus the daily views provide.

The eventual compromise I reached which seems to work very well is to have the current week in daily pages plus the coming several months in weekly for future planning and scheduling.  Beyond the weeklies, I keep monthlies and year pages for way-out-in-the-future planning.

In terms of brands, I've tried many things.  Filofax has a day-on-two-pages diary offering (which is no longer available from Filofax USA) but I am not too keen on it.  Basically it has a page for scheduling and a page for tasks, and very limited space for notes.

Franklin Covey makes a nice product in their "compact" size but it puts the schedule and tasks in two narrow columns which I find difficult to write in, plus the fonts and ink colors are just awful!  Daytimer offers the best compromise, with scheduling first, then tasks underneath, with a full open notes page facing.  It works really well for me. I wish they printed on better paper and the line ruling is very narrow, but they seem to be the best compromise in the Personal size for my needs.

Beyond that I use plain-old Filofax week-to-view, Monday start, with lines.  I don't mind that the weekend days are smaller as I typically have many fewer meetings on the weekends.

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

I'd like to keep ALL OF THE THINGS in but that is not really feasible or practical. For a while I used a Franklin Quest binder with 1.5 inch rings (38mm) and had pretty much everything inside: account ledgers, addresses, staff rosters, voicemail instructions, birthday lists, work projects, vacation plans....  But it was SO BIG.

So now I have a more streamlined arrangement.  The ledgers and addresses stay home.  I have contact phone numbers (and account numbers, etc.) in a slimline address insert from Filofax, the kind with ruling right on the tabbed divider so you can write the info right on it.  Between these tabs, I file other documents alphabetically (birthdays behind the A B tab).  I have a lot of work plans and lists and some personal as well.

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

Not really.  I have read most of the books and have taken elements of the various systems, but I find more success and satisfaction with a more organic system tailored to my needs.  I found Getting Things Done and Julie Morgenstern's Time Management From the Inside Out to be very helpful.

6. What routines and structures do you use?  

Never put a file away without a tickler in the diary when to look at it again.  Jot down everything and do a proper sort-through on the weekend to review them.  Assign everything important a deadline.  I do a quick look over of the past day in the morning and move anything critical which is incomplete.

When I do the review over the weekend, I pencil in all scheduled events, then fit my tasks in around them, and then, if possible, block off time to complete the tasks on the scheduling part of the planner pages.  If something does not get done, and is not time sensitive, I just leave it to deal with the coming weekend when I do my review and planning rather than try to squeeze it into the next day.

I do leave empty time in my schedule every day, as my work involves a lot of interruptions and unplanned, urgent needs.  I try to delegate (down, laterally, or up) anything I know I will struggle to do efficiently; I see no point in laboring for hours on something if a colleague can bang it out in 45 minutes.

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

I really only use one.  I keep a second at home with reference information inside but only look at it a couple of times a month.  If I need something regularly I squeeze it into my main planner.  I have tried several times to bifurcate my work and personal lives into separate planners but always find the results totally baffling and useless!

I think, for me, that the biggest value of using a planner at all is seeing everything I need to do, know, and remember in one place.  It simplifies my life.

Thank you Josh a great insight. 

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


  1. Thanks Josh. I always enjoy your posts/videos and they have helped me a lot. I would love to see a video on how you find the DIYfish inserts as I have been thinking about giving them a try.

  2. love this post, as always love the thought process behind every video and post you have done Joshua

  3. Thank you Josh, for writing such a well-crafted post, and for sharing with us how you went about finding the best planner system to address your organizational needs.
    I understand, and share your pain regarding the use of Lotus Notes; never was I happier than when it crashed, and had to be replaced!
    I am looking forward to trying several of your solutions, in my own quest for a workable one planner system.
    Once again, thank you!

  4. Thanks for a great post, Josh! Love your videos & your red Winchester.

    And thank you, Steve, as I am finding these posts very useful & interesting.

  5. Good info! Miss your videos. Are you still using that gorgeous Winchester?

  6. Yes, enjoy your videos and miss them. Lots of good info here. I have a set of those compact address inserts I've never used; think I will give them a try. The idea of carrying only one week of dailies was a lightbulb moment. I have a month of dailies and only a couple weeks in my planner and have been trying to figure out what's 'off' about this set up. Going to switch it up and try your way as it makes more sense to me now. When I use dailies I miss the weeklies and vice versa. And I couldn't agree more about the lack of good daily pages.

  7. Good morning! I am definitely still in my red Winchester. I also own a green Dundee which I have periodically swapped into but generally prefer the Winchester. I have also been enjoying this series!

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  9. Love the recap of your system, Josh. And you are right, switching between binders/systems is extremely time-consuming and wastes resources. I've been in flux with my system for a little bit now and had that reminder hit home this morning when I got a call reminding me of a doctor's appointment I scheduled in June that was for next Monday. Thank goodness I got the reminder call because it was not transferred into my new system!
    I think the recent trend in planners/decorative planning has caused many people (myself included) to get sidetracked as to what planning is REALLY about - keeping your life organized and purposeful. I am definitely getting things back on track. Pretty is nice, but functional is better!
    I've been writing at the top of my weekly view "If it ain't broke, don't fix it!" as a reminder to me to leave things alone.

  10. Josh, thanks for this post. I've been struggling to find a "new" planner to use. I am constantly switching between my FF A5 Malden, a Moleskine, a Midori Notebook, etc. I've been losing things due to the switching. Do you find the convenience of the Personal size works well in an office/work environment? Where do you capture meeting notes?

    1. Terry, Personal size is obviously not ideal for everything, and seems to be too small for some people to write on comfortably. I find it to be a good compromise between overall portability and large enough pages to write on, and it does become my primary capture tool in meetings. If I am heading into a meeting where I anticipate writing a lot of notes, I will bring a legal pad or similar and then put a note in my planner to "process meeting XYZ notes" to make sure everything actionable gets into my primary system. I then file the original notes in case I need them again. But I end up in plenty of meetings where I just jot notes straight into the notes section of my personal-size filofax which works fine too.

      Changing planners is just so much work and so error-prone. When you use your planner extensively for work you really can't risk the errors. I have ticklers and notes in my planner all the way up to 2017 and every time I change to a different format or size I end up missing something that usually ends up being important.

  11. Josh, thank you for sharing your thought processes in both post and video format. Watching, listening, and reading about others' systems, has helped me to fine tune my own. I need to have my personal and work lives separate, but do enjoy seeing and reading how other users successfully combine into one binder.

  12. Hi, Josh, Thanks for the post sharing your system. I live in CT too! Cheers, Marylou

  13. Great post, Josh, and love your Youtube channel. :) I also have adult ADD and get overwhelmed by my vast workload. One of my favorite techniques, which I learned from you, is doing a weekly review--really helps me stay on top of everything so thank you!!!