Friday, 3 August 2012

OTF: Many True Filofaxes Guest Post

Hi everyone! 

Here is a fantastic guest from Marcus, who wants to show us how 2 filofaxes used simultaneously works perfectly for him!



As an Army officer I am, apparently, one of the original target market for Filofax. I have been a committed 'user' since being an Infantry Platoon Commander in 1996. I don't remember the model of the binder I had at the time, but it was Personal Size with 2 sets of rings (duplex?) and 2 heavy duty press studs. In a time of limited computer use at Battalion level, this served me well for many years. This was also a time when more Filofax inserts were available. I actually had and used many that were available, including the likes of  the 'Soldier Record Cards' to keep details of all my troops under command. As an Infantry Company Commander, I now have have over 190 troops under command,  more responsibility, a much faster pace of life and the curse of Email. my organisation system has therefore evolved considerably.

Anyway, scene setting – onto what works for me. My system consists of 2 Filofaxes, an A5 and a Pocket. Currently, both are Kendals, although the A5 was a City until recently. It had to be retired after 8 years of hard service (including two tours of Afghanistan!) and it now reclines on the bookshelf in my office looking after all my spare inserts. The Pocket Size is my analogue PDA and has been with me for 5 years now, hence the colour difference in the photo below.

The A5 Filofax
This is primarily my work Filofax. During the working day, I will have this to hand in the office, or in my daysack when I am out and about. It provides me with room to scribble and therefore think. The best thing about A5 size, is the ease with which I can print, punch and file documents. Whilst this is also possible in personal size, every page requires trimming, which can be a pain. In the Filofax I have the following:
ñ  Blank Notepaper – My 'Inbox' and capture tool when at my desk. I use standard (non Filofax) quadrille paper which I punch to fit.
ñ  Actions, Projects, Waiting and Agenda tabs. These are based on GTD and are mostly extracted from the DIY Planner kits. It is also the most worked part of the Filofax and I can quite easily fill (but also cross off) 2 sides of 'Next Actions' for the office in one day. This is also where I keep track of tasks that I have delegated to my Platoon Commanders. Personally, I find pure GTD too detailed, meaning I spend more time scouring my lists of next actions than actually doing stuff. I have settled somewhere  between the minutiae and the big picture which seems to work for me. (I can expand on my system in a later conversation if anyone is really interested).

ñ  A Reference Tab (although I called it Info), which has further tabs behind, dividing up information along Military Staff Functional Areas. This is the information I need to hand most days, either in the office, or in meetings, but probably not in between.

ñ  Towards the back are the ubiquitous card holders, along with a zip wallet containing my passport and various other paperwork.
ñ  Finally, right at the back, in the pocket designed for the Filofax Notepad, I keep a Moleskine Cahier for taking notes that I need to keep. These will either be meeting notes, or the regular download from the notes section in either the A5 or the pocket. I find that I am less 'prissy' about cahiers than the posh notebooks, so am more likely to use it. I also find that when using squared notebooks, you can rotate it 90 degrees and have almost an A4 / letter sized page if you need yet more space to think.

The Pocket Filofax
This goes everywhere with me and is the core of my planning function. Although it is not truly 'Pocket' sized, my uniform has cargo pockets on the legs, which are designed for carrying notebooks and maps. Out of uniform, I tend to wear cargo shorts in the summer and a jacket in the winter. Carrying the Pocket Filofax is therefore not an issue. Because I always have it with me, I always have somewhere to jot notes, or information I need to hand. In it I have the following:
ñ  Blank notepaper, for jotting general information and capturing ideas.
ñ  Actions, Projects, Waiting and Agenda tabs, as per GTD. These are mainly for personal projects and tasks and although a duplicate of the system in the A5, the contents are different.

ñ  A Reference Tab which has information I need to refer to regularly (my Company Nominal Roll, Battalion Telephone List etc). These are shrunk and punched to fit.
ñ  A home made month on one page calendar (inspired by the templates on Philofaxy)

ñ  A Filofax standard week on 2 pages diary.
ñ  The standard card holders, containing stamps and post-it page flags.
ñ  A clear slip envelope for receipts with a number of Post-It style sticky notes.

With a few useful tips, tricks and hacks, the pocket Filofax is almost enough to run my life, albeit in miniature. During my most recent 7 months in Afghanistan I found that I very rarely used my A5. Because the IT system was classified SECRET, printing and punching documents was avoided. Therefore my pocket Kendal, a Moleskine Pocket Notebook and access to the IT system, were all I really needed and helped me reduce the 'combat' load when travelling. For those of you thinking about using a Pocket Filofax,or struggling with one now, the following may help you get round the size issue:

Don't try to carry too much:  Rather than carry a whole year's worth of diary, carry a few months of week to view, and the rest on month per page. You can still make a note of appointments far in the future, but carry a lot less bulk. If you use day per page, again, carry 2 weeks worth of DPP, a couple of months of 2DPP and the rest on month per page.
Carry an extra pen: Obtain a Filofax Flex slim pen holder insert. Trim the top and bottom, so the pen loop is central and punch to fit. Voila!

Handwriting:  I use a 0.1 mm black ink drawing pen to write, along with pencil for the diary. When taking notes, small handwriting is still neat and tasks can generally fit onto one line of a Pocket sized page.

Make things stand out:  Being slightly cramped, in pocket size, sometimes your writing can look a bit jumbled. Go over completed tasks with a blue highlighter. Your incomplete tasks will be far more obvious than trying to identify tasks without a line through them. Use Post-It style page flags to highlight important stuff. Write on the flag and put it wherever you need to. (I use them to highlight important dates or tasks).

Diary Size:  To prevent the diary from being too cluttered, using pencil means that you can erase and rewrite, which takes up less room than scribbling out and writing a second time. I also use Post it flags to alert me to impending important events that may get lost. When things get really busy however, I may print out a week's worth of 2DPP and insert it where required, giving me more space. This format is available free from Philofaxy, making it ideal to to mix and match at no extra cost.

Daily Overview:  To enable me to concentrate on the day itself, I cut a single page of Pocket Sized paper in half and annotate the day's appointments on one side with key tasks on the other. Again, if things are really busy, a full page is more than enough. Following a recent idea by Ray Blake of My Life All in One Place however, I am tempted to hack his handy tasks tab with times down one side and use it instead of the today marker.

Over the years, this system has served me well. During the last 18 months however, It has been tested to its limits. It is during this time that I have experimented the most in order to try and improve it and I think that this has helped me get the most out of the system. I think that everyone's Filofax needs are different, both from person to person and from month to month. It is OK to change up and down sizes, or use different inserts as your needs see fit. I often wish that Filofax would take a look at Apple and realise that the App Store brings in most of their money. Filofax inserts could be analogue Apps. In the meantime however, I am glad for the likes of Ray Blake of My Life All in One Place, Steve Morton of Philofaxy and the folks at DIY Planner to help fill a need and provide some inspiration. Thank you for reading.

Marcus Myles


  1. This is a really helpful post! Thanks for sharing. I have a compact personal at the moment, but am thinking about a pocket and this has given me some ideas on how I might use that size.

    1. Having managed with just the pocket for 7 months in Afghanistan, I recently tried a Personal size again. I lasted about a week, as I found it neither fish nor fowl - too big to carry easily (even in a leg pocket), yet too small to be able to scribble rapid notes. Having to cut every print out to fit was the biggest bugbear. Thankfully however, I had spent minimal cash in my experiment, as all the diary inserts were available for free from Philofaxy.

  2. Marcus, thanks for a great post. I joined the Army in 1984 and bought my first Filofax in 1985 and have been a user ever since. It was great to see the similarities in your use of it, and mine back then. The duplex binder you mentioned was a flashback. We were issued the Commanders Battle Book in the late 80s, but they were so hard to get hold of, and as Filofax was in its boom period then, of course everyone wanted one. Here's a photo of mine: .

    The DUplex layout was really useful. I had one side set up for info, with the parts of the TAM that were useful to me ( I really didn't need to know that much about Combat Engineering then......) and the right hand side for my own perosnal stuff, notepaper, etc. Remember the Filofax Range Card in white plastic? Brilliant. I took an A5 Finsbury to Afghanistan with me and it lasted for almost 3 years, although quite a bit of the leather spots wore away from heat and sweat. But as you say, when you're in an environment with classfied IT, you just cannot beat a Filofax. And when you're deployed, and away from guaranteed power sources, it just keeps on going. I really enjoyed the post. Good luck with your career!

    1. I remember the original TAM (Tactical Aide Memoire for any non military readers) binder well, although my Filofax at the time was a sturdy leather version. I remember shelling out a small fortune on waterproof paper to go into the TAM, so I could write in the rain. It was so expensive in fact, that I also remember cleaning it off at the end of every exercise so it could be used again! We are still issued TAMs today, although not in a duplex version (HM Supplies sells a slightly less robust version of the original duplex one though) We can also get waterproof notebooks through the system now, so no more shelling out. The best bit of the old TAM was the pen holder - an insert that held 3 pens. I always wished Filofax would make a version of this for all binders, as the ability to carry pens is probably a common wish.
      You say you took your A5 Finsbury to Afghanistan. Did you spend 3 years there? I know what you mean about heat and sweat affecting the finish if the binder. As you can see, the pocket Kendal has developed a dark glossy sheen compared to the relatively new A5. Definite improvement with age! It also has a slight curve where it sits against my thigh.

    2. Marcus, The A5 spent a full 3 years with me in Afghanistan and by the time it was done, half of the "rambling grain" had worn away, but it did a great job. I couldn't have done the same with an electronic device. As you well know - constant periods without power, entry and exit into secure areas, and all the other challenges of that environment.

      I have just posted an entry on the Commanders Battle Book (or the Army Filofax, as my friends used to call it) at and the short link is

      It took me back, reading it. Some thing you never forget, like the Orders format :)

  3. Thanks for this post you have really helped as i've been struggling with my pocket recently but am not ready to move onto personal just yet for carrying around :)

    1. Hi, Alison, I am also an A5 +Pocket user - and I am also tempted all the time with the Personal size (or Compact). I tried Laurie´s idea of `calling the dog`with a really nice Compact - and after a DAY I came back to my Pocket - for carrying around even a slimeline or compact (for me) are to big.....But I absolutely agree - this post gives a lot of `moral support`to a pocket user...
      @Marcus: Thank you very much for a great post! I use a very similar setup and you really helped me convincing myself that it´s not necessarily to carry around something bigger than a pocket size. I started using a pocket size binder in the late 80´s and it seems I always come back to this size. BTW, I love the look of your Pocket Kendal very much!

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    3. @Alison
      I know exactly where you are coming from, as I sometimes get frustrated with the pocket size (but then I get frustrated with every size for some reason or another). Until a company can develop a pocket size binder that unfolds into A5, there will always be a compromise somewhere. It was during these periods of frustration that I would think 'if only I could do X, Y or Z with the pocket' As soon as I started experimenting with diary sizes, adding the odd blank page or sticky note for extended scribbles and learned to make the key stuff stand out, I realised that I could do X, Y AND Z. I think that expanding on all these tips tricks and hacks is a full post itself. Hmmmm....

      Good to hear that someone else uses a similar system. The finish on the pocket Kendal comes from heat sweat and hard wear (nice!!), but I think it has improved with age. I can't see the A5 looking like that any time soon.

  4. Hi, Marcus,
    if you decide to write a bit more about your version of GTD (as you offered so kindly in your post) I´d surely be interested. I use GTD in Pocket and A5, the A5 holds a bit more of the GTD related stuff and the pocket more information I need `on-the-go`. I use half cut pages for important To-Do´s of the week, but after reading your post I already copied your `time-line` idea for the day and I really like it!

  5. Wow Marcus!! What a great post! I so enjoyed reading this. I loved your idea of a vertical timeline for today instead of a today bookmarker. A huge pat on the back for your work in Afghanistan and especially for coping with the hot conditions there. I think if I had combat trousers, each pocket would carry bottles of ice cold Evian with one pocket in reserve for Filo.....a pocket red Malden!!!!

  6. Love your system! I have a 3 Filofax system at the moment, on which I will soon post on my blog as well. Also using the pocket size to carry around everywhere I go. Use 2 A5 sizes (Both Finchleys); One as my main Filo (contains my personal life) and one as my Business Filo, which contains all my Business planning and such. Since I do a lot of client visits, I needed to have a dedicated binder to serve that purpose! NO problem, not at all hehe :)

  7. Thanks for all your comments and thanks to Kate for the air time. This was my first blog post, so it was good to get the feedback.
    @Sari - I will look at putting together another post for how I use GTD, along with expanding on the hacks to get the most from the Pocket size. It will after after summer holidays though!!