Filofax Personal Organizer


Sturdy, customizable, portable paper-based organizing system

Why a paper-based organizing system in this digital age? First, as Getting Things Done guru David Allen puts it, “low-tech is oftentimes better because it is in your face.” Second, last I checked (channeling Jaron Lanier here), I am not a gadget. I cherish the tools that help me stay organized, yet allow me to abide within generous swaths of Internet-free time—formally known as normal life (you know, when you didn’t see everyone doing the thumb-twiddling zombie shuffle). The Filofax personal organizer is one of them.

I got my first Filofax over 20 years ago and it has been a love story ever since. Part of this English company’s century-old line of organizers originally developed for engineers, it is a beautifully made 6-ring loose leaf binder. With the Filofax diary, address book, paper inserts and other items that get tucked in there, for most users, it fattens up to the size of a paperback edition of Anna Karenina. Or, say, a Philadelphia cheesesteak sandwich. Right, it does not fit in a coat pocket.

Depending on the model, the Filofax personal organizer comes with an assortment of pockets on both the inside and outside flaps. Mine also includes a pen holder on the right and a highlighter holder on the left, and it closes securely, so no loose items (such as that drycleaner’s ticket) can fall out.

Filofax sells a cornucopia of inserts for the 6 ring binder, from a wide variety of configurations for the diary refill, to a personal ruler/ page marker, maps of most major cities, a pad for assorted sticky notes, checkbook holder, business card holder, super-thin calculator, extra paper in a rainbow of colors, index tabs, a portable hole punch, and an address book, among other items.

Countless are the ways to configure one’s Filofax personal organizer. I’ve evolved into using the Week on Two Pages diary for noting appointments, birthdays, and any time-sensitive to-dos; two rulers/ page markers; the assorted sticky notes pad (though now with my own, more economical, Post-Its); the address book at the back; plus a “page” of plastic sleeves for business cards. I stash items such as stamps and paperclips in the front inner pocket (especially handy when traveling). Tickets (drycleaners, concerts) go in another pocket. In addition, I made up several tabbed sections to index my personal, financial, business, and other to do / might one day do lists, to which I slap on ideas scribbled on Post-Its as they occur to me. The tabbed sections follow my personal interpretation of David Allen’s Getting Things Done (GTD) system — his basic idea being, capture all your to dos in one “bucket” you regularly revisit, and thereby can clear your mind for more clarity and creativity in the present moment. (To track more complex medium and long-term projects, I use the Projecteze system of a Word table which relies on the sorting feature—that’s another post.)
As for address book, it’s not my main nor my only address book, just the addresses I like to keep handy in this particular system — so, in part, it serves as a paper backup for the most vital addresses, and those I regularly consult when making appointments.

Usually the Filofax stays open on my desk — which works for me, but clearly that won’t be ideal for those who work in less private and/or mobile situations. I take it with me when I travel or attend meetings where I might need to review my schedule or consult the to do lists and/or address book.

High-end stationary, luggage, and department stores often carry the Filofax line of organizers and inserts — as does Amazon — but to ensure that I get exactly what I want when I want it, I order the refill for the following year from the Filofax USA’s on-line shop on September 1st. At year’s end — following the advice of my tax accountant who says it could be handy in case of an audit — I file the diary with the rest of that year’s tax documents.

There are four major disadvantages to this system. None of them torpedo it for me, but they might for you:

  1. It’s a paper-based system, and for those who want their hand-held and/or laptop to be their all, and the many bells-and-whistles of a cloud-based system, clearly, it’s a headshaker.
  2. High cost. You get what you pay for, however, and I have been happy to pay for the refills and other accessories because their simple and elegant design inspires me to stay better organized. For those who bristle at such prices, however, it would certainly be possible to make a homemade version of many of the inserts.
  3. Security risk. One’s office or house could burn down or someone could steal the Filofax — but then again, they couldn’t hack into it at 3 in the morning from Uzbekistan, either.
  4. Bulk and weight. I can easily toss my Filofax into a briefcase or shoulderbag, but without an on-call chiropractor, I wouldn’t want to haul it around on a walk. That said, when I go for a walk, I go for a walk.
11/19/14 -- C.M. Mayo