12 November 2015

Experienced User - Greg

Thank you Greg for sharing how he uses his organiser. 

My name is Greg Graham and I am a management consultant in my fifties who lives in Ottawa, Canada.

This is my third career. I started out as an engineer, then was a marketing executive in the tech industry for 15 years, and now write business plans for tech companies. My working life has bridged the paper world to the digital age, and although I’ve tried several other paper-based systems and shiny gadgets, I find that nothing helps me organize my life like a Filofax. I never minded spending money on new Filofax binders and supplies because it is a tool that truly helped me in my career as well as personal life.

1. When did you start using an organiser?

I started using a DayTimer in the 1980’s at one of my first jobs after I graduated from university. The lined pages were too narrow for my big sloppy handwriting, so I abandoned it after just a few months.

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

About five years after my failed attempt to use a DayTimer, my employer at the time sent our entire department on a time management training course at Priority Manager. The Priority Manager techniques and planning forms were excellent, but I found that the 8.5x11 inch (about the same size as A4 paper) ring binder, pads of planning refills, and a shelf full of storage binders were impractical.

Laptops were becoming popular then and the Priority Manager binder was like carrying around a second laptop! None-the-less, my department used it for a few years, and it was indeed effective for a small collaborative team to be able to share information, planning approaches, and supplies all in the same format.

After changing jobs I switched to Filofax, which I instantly liked because of the wide variety of well-designed forms with reasonable line spacing, thin but high-quality paper (so you can fit a lot in your binder), much more portable format, and posh appearance. Filofaxes work great and look good!

I have had several Filofaxes (always black) and replace them every couple of years because I’m hard on them. I carry my Filofax everywhere and it is always being crammed into pockets, squeezed into laptop cases, rained and snowed on, and once, dropped into a puddle!

We went to London on vacation the year that the A5 System Organizer came out, and I bought one at Harrods. The A5 is a good choice for people who want to record lots of detail. The size works well on a desk, but is a little big if you need to carry it around a lot. I went through three A5 binders. Some of the A5 pages gradually evolved into what were called the A5 Professional pages, but apparently these have all been discontinued. What a pity, they were excellent for planning meetings, taking notes, setting priorities, and planning projects. The Charted Institute of Marketing in the UK even gave a training course on using the A5 Professional system.

In the mid-1990s people were trying to find a way to have all their data with them all the time, and electronic gadgets started to become popular. I had experienced how much my productivity improved using Filofax, and tried several electronic organizers because I thought they might be even better. I really liked being able to carry around a small device that could do email (email was all ASCII text then, and small dial-up modems that operated on AA batteries were available). I think I was one of the few people in Canada to become a fan of Psion devices, and used a Psion 5MX, and later Psion Series 7, for perhaps five years. I used the Psions for information-intensive tasks -- directory information, calendar, reference files, alarm clock, dictionary, and email.

My A5 Filofax became more of a notebook and To Do list. Unfortunately, Psion ran its course and the products were discontinued in the early 2000’s. I flirted with Palm, Sony, and Hewlett-Packard PDAs, but always returned to my trusty Filofax. It never ran out of power, or lost any data, or wouldn’t synch with my PC, or had software limitations that rendered it obsolete.

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

Functionality is essential for me and so I prefer the Two Pages Per Day format. Appointments on the left page, to-dos on the right plus room for notes like mileage.  I check off the action items throughout the day as I complete them. If I don’t finish something I can easily transfer it to the next day without overlooking or forgetting anything.

I like the Vertical Year Planner for long-term planning and to answer questions such as “when’s that trade show?”.

For the last several years I have been using a personal size Slimline Richmond. Its portability is key -- it fits into any briefcase or overcoat pocket, and doesn’t weight much while holding a reasonable amount of information. I would like a little bigger ring size, and bought a Compact Finsbury, but that one doesn’t lie open flat on my desk. Maybe there is some way of softening the leather?

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

Lots! Just as they did almost a century ago, Filofax still has a role to play in organizing the details of a busy life. Mine has blank paper for time and project planning, and note taking. A running shopping list, lists of favourite wines, gift ideas for my wife, books to read, movies to watch, etc. If traveling I put in a map since I have amassed a small collection of six-hole-punched maps. I also keep a Post-It Fax Note and some regular Post-It stickers and flags. I don’t send many faxes now but just in case I have to while travelling I can jot down the particulars and stick it to the document being faxed. And there are still lots of bits of paper that need somewhere to live : business cards, train tickets, Starbucks coffee card, claim stubs from the cleaners, movie tickets, a hole reinforcement strip, some emergency money, etc.

Golden Oldies: Shopping List, Travel Information, Hole Reinforcements. Many pages are now discontinued so if I come across a store that has been selling Filofax for years, I always ask about old stock.
5. Do you use a 'system' of organisation, and how does it work in your Filofax? 

Despite lots of experimentation, I haven’t found anything that makes more sense than the original Diary/Notes/Projects/Information/Financial/Addresses tabs, so I file things according to these categories.
  • The Vertical Year Planner/s and three weeks’ worth of Two Page Per Day pages go into the Diary section.
  • The Notes section has blank lined paper, To Do, and Travel Information leaves. The top page is used to jot down random thoughts or messages that get dealt with later when I’m back in the office.
  • The Projects section has a To Do page for each project that I’m working on, business and personal, plus lined pages with notes filed behind each To Do page (or pages). Some work projects are too complex to be managed with a short checklist, but a surprising number can be! I also use To Do pages to plan and make a customized packing list for every trip I go on.
  • I keep the Filofax Registration Page at the start of the Information section. However, a lot of the items previously in this section have moved to my Blackberry.  Computers are better than paper for keeping lots of detailed information, especially if you want to be able to update it.
  • I use the Financials section only for expense and mileage tracking with Expenses and Motor Running Record pages.
  • Ditto, the Addresses section is not used much, just a couple of Address pages to jot down telephone numbers when somebody doesn’t have a business card, or says “I know a great plumber”. I also keep a Post-It Fax Note; I don’t send many faxes now but just in case I have to while out and about you can jot down the particulars and stick it to the document being faxed. I also keep a few Post-Its and Post-It Flags on the back of the tab page as well.
  • There are still loads of little bits of paper that need somewhere to live, and the full-width pocket and card slits house business cards, train tickets, my Starbucks card, claim stubs from the cleaners, tickets for plays, a strip of hole reinforcements, etc. There’s also some emergency money tucked away.

Map of Chicago, Motor Running Record and Jot Pad. Many pages have been discontinued so if I come across a store that has been selling Filofax supplies for several years, I ask about old stock and buy it when available.

6. What routines and structures do you use?

Space is always a problem, so each week I groom my Filofax by taking out the previous week’s diary pages and filing them. Then I plan the week to come by referring to my Vertical Year Calendar, Monthly Priorities list, and project plans on the To Do pages. I update a running list of projects and their priority on a To Do page at the start of the Projects section.

At the start of each month I write out a list of my Monthly Priorities on a To Do page and file it under the Projects tab.

It sounds complicated, but only takes about 15 minutes weekly, and an extra 20 minutes once a month. I often refer to the last year’s Monthly Priorities for seasonal tasks like “Family summer BBQ”, “Fall clean-up” and “Winter tires for car”.

I once experienced everyone’s nightmare of losing my Filofax. Coming back from a business trip, clients had given me so many documents that my briefcase and suitcase were completely full, and I made the critical error of carrying my bulging A5 Filofax in my hand. I put it in the train’s overhead compartment with my luggage and forget to take it when debarking! The next few weeks weren’t so great. From then on, the Filofax always gets first priority when packing up, and when shopping for briefcases, I look for one with a secure Filofax-sized pocket.

And perhaps the most important rule of all -- put everything that is time-related and priority-related in your Filofax so you won’t lose track of it. If your significant other or a client asks about something or wants something done, write it down. As the old saying goes, “the faintest ink is more powerful than the brightest memory”.

A useful item that I keep in my wallet -- rather than in my Filofax -- is the Jot Pad. It solves the problem of what to do when you want to write something down and your Filofax isn’t handy. The Jot Pad is pre-punched so you can file its pages in your Filofax.

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

I use two binders at a time, my Slimline Filofax and a Filofax ring binder used to store the current year’s dairy pages, both past and upcoming, because the Two Pages Per Day format is far too thick to carry around an entire year. Unused A-Z tabs are perfect for this; they have 13 tabs so you can put the annual items like the Vertical Calendar behind the 13th tab. Completed Project pages as well as the Reference Information pages included with the diary go into the Storage binder, and it is kept handy in a desk drawer.

In January I like to archive everything in the storage binder in the plastic Filofax storage binders (it takes two per year), but they are getting hard to find and are now ridiculously expensive at $22 each!

Thank you Greg.

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


  1. Thank you, Greg, for an excellent post! Your system sounds simple, yet effective. I also have started carrying a jot pad in my wallet which is working very well.

  2. Yes - thanks for the post Greg.
    Good to see the Motor Running Record leaves still in use there. They make a useful log of when things were last replaced etc., and give visibility of the full costs.
    Mine currently act as a rather sad reminder that maintenance during 2015 (excluding fuel, insurance and road tax) has totalled £4000. Scary stuff!
    (It's a normal, mid-sized diesel, rather than an Italian supercar in case you were wondering!)

  3. Good post Greg. For archiving you might look at Franklin Covey compact size with slip case. They have the capacity to hold a whole year, and look great on a shelf, plus if you need to copy something, you don't have to take it all apart then put it all back together. That saves a lot of time.

  4. That was awesome. Thanks for sharing.

  5. Greg, thank you for sharing. Ring binder and Blackberry got me closest to my beloved Palm.

  6. Thank you for such a well-written post. I feel as though I've been on your daily adventures. I very much like the quote: “the faintest ink is more powerful than the brightest memory”.

  7. Great post Greg! I like the idea of the jot pad in the wallet..

  8. Hi Greg, and thank you for a great post! from which Filofax site do you get your 2PPD diary refills? They definitely aren't on the UK site (in Personal size)....I believe the French site has one. Is there a Canadian site?

    1. Hi David, I use the FF Day on 2 Pages Personal size refill. This year they were English/German/French and available from filofax.de (German) and filofax.fr (French). Sadly, for 2016 they are only available from filofaxusa.com, even though they are English/French. I contacted filofax.co.uk and filofax.fr but they said it was unavailable and were otherwise clueless. Apparantly, one country doesn't know what the other is doing. As filofaxusa.com doesn't ship internationally I ordered them and had a friend bring them over to Amsterdam. Sadly it seems Filofax is doing everything to drive away their customers. By the way, best way to search the various sites is using the product code. Without the prodyct code the 2015 ones don't even show up. The product code is 6841716 for 2016. Good luck!

    2. Thanks So much for looking, Micha.

      Sadlly, this does seem to be yet another case of Filofax trying their hardest to drive customers away and dissipate loyalty.......what a ridiculous state of affairs. For what it's worth, although you are correct in saying that FF USA won't ship to the UK, I found the same refill on eBay at http://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/Filofax-Personal-Size-2016-One-Day-On-Two-Pages-Appointment-Diary-ref-6841716-/121536890430 frome a supplier who *may* ship.

      In my case, FF's constant drive to alienate their customers is all becoming too much (again) and as I already have a TMI dated calendar set for 2016, I may well just decamp into my TM.......or if I decide to try A5 again, get either a FF DPP diary (the DPV having been made virtually redundant in the same way) or (better) invest in a TimeSystem update.

      Honestly......I despair of Filofax. They truly do not deserve customers at all.

    3. Hi David, I share your sentiment. I just received a kind email from the French Filofax customer service saying it's available now: http://www.filofax.fr/one-day-two-pages-diary-personal-68417-pers-51dr.html#year=2016

    4. I had contacted them some time ago, and then they replied they didn't have it and weren't expecting it. Now I received another email apologising for the late update, but saying it's now available on filofax.fr I hope this information helps you and other Philofaxers. Regards, Micha

    5. Hi Micha

      Thanks so much for adding this. I have now ordered through the third party French supplier, the link to which was kindly posted as a response to my companion enquiry on this week's FFAF. However, I really appreciate your efforts. I wonder if this is going to be an ongoing problem, year on year...........

      Thanks again - it really is appreiated.

  9. Dear Greg,

    Thank you for a very good read! The flirtations with Palm and Psion sound all too familiar! I also have similar feelings as you do regarding the apparent discontinuing of the Professional system. I did find the 2PPD version on Amazon.co.uk (displayed as Day Per View) and the weekly version is also available through that website. As are the Results Planner and Meeting Planner, albeit that you would need a friendly resident (such as the kind gentleman above my comment :) because the latter two are only delivered in the UK.

  10. Great read. Thank you for taking us on your planner journey

  11. Thank you for a wonderful post. I especially liked seeing the older stock photos. Hole reinforcements need to come back!!

  12. Very interesting and informative. Really enjoyed reading this.


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