Using a personal Filofax for grad school and life

My last post on this blog was back in January! Yikes! Suffice it to say that my planning system changed several times, unnecessarily, and now I’m back in something that’s very functional and I plan to stick with it!

After some inquiry on Facebook, I’ve been prompted to finally do that Filofax for grad school post I’ve had in the back of my head for a while. Since this is purely about the function of my planner, I’m not including as many pictures as I might otherwise. Words work just as well.

I am now employed full time, as well as being a grad student and having a family. I need to write things down in order to keep track of things. So, my planner has to handle a lot! I use a personal sized Filofax, as it’s the perfect size to take with me everywhere and place in front of a laptop on a small coffee shop table. Also, one can hold it in one hand and write with the other, something I’ve found quite difficult with larger ring-bound planners. I use Franklin Covey page per day inserts. The fact that they stick out of the Filofax doesn’t bother me. Filofax notepaper and to-do sheets make up the rest of my pages, along with dividers. I happen to be using ones I made out of scrap paper I was given.

First, my sections: Notes, Projects, Actions, Learn, Info, and a blank tab. I am using a GTD type set-up.

Notes is where I write random bits of information before I decide what to do with them. It’s also where I write non-day-specific information which I only need temporarily. I keep extra notepaper and to-do sheets behind this divider as well.

Projects begins with two project lists. If I have any multi-step actions I need to do which are not related to school, they go on one of these lists. “Me” is for projects which I can do independently, while “Others” is for projects which involve others. Both of these lists are on Filofax to-do paper, but you could just as easily use plain lined paper. Per GTD, the projects list is actually a list of *outcomes*. For example, I have “arrange babysitters for chats” as a project, *not* “chat babysitters.” It took me a while to understand this. If the *outcome* is listed, I am prompted to think of the “next action” just by reading what I’ve got listed and thinking for 2 seconds. If I have something more generic, it doesn’t work. After the project lists are notes pages with any information or lists that go along with any of the projects. One project has its own page, while others share a page. At the end of this section is my Someday list, on notepaper. This entire section is only 6 sheets of paper.

Actions contains 8 sheets of to-do paper which make up seven categorized “next actions” lists. If something needs to be done, but doesn’t have a date attached to it, it goes on one of these lists. My categories are Home, Computer (2 sheets), Materials (e.g. if I want to journal something it goes on this list), Talk to Husband About, Agendas (for those I know), Contact (for businesses and such), and Errands. I also keep my Waiting For list on a post-it on the back side of the divider.

Learn is the big one, and here’s where the pictures come in! This is where all my grad school information is kept, including assignments.

First I have the major assignments listed chronologically.












Then my minor assignments, with due dates noted, in the order in which I find out about them.


Then my reading lists — one for computer and one for books.
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After that, I have a page with my class information and professor contact information for the current semester. This is followed by page(s) for each class, with assignment information and notes on how the class works.

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After that, I have the page I used to plan out which courses to take when. On the reverse side I have my degree plan, along with my GPA for the semesters I’ve completed. Then some pages with school-related notes. At the end of the section, I have cheat sheets for the citation methods I’ve had to use.


This section is 14 sheets.

My Info tab also contains 14 sheets at the moment. I have a list of current coupons/deals/gift cards, a to-buy list, gift ideas, a sheet with one car’s maintenance and events record on one side and the other car’s on the other, a sheet recording my daughter’s health info, our budget plan (we use a software called YNAB to keep track of spending and our budget in practice, but this is what I use when I budget every month to remind myself of our goals), a username/password list for some of our bill websites which I only use once a month, my goals, my health, and various other notes. Right now I have a sheet for “Filofax Wisdom” for example.

My blank tab currently has my list of books to check out from the library, categorized by fiction, non-fiction, Christian, and “action” (e.g. dieting books). I keep this in here because I work at a library!


Then comes my calendar. I use Franklin Covey page per day inserts, which come with monthly tabs. (I picked less full days so that I didn’t have to block things out — my days and months end up far fuller than this!)

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I do color code. Bright blue is for school assignments and notes, while red is used for deadlines (both for big school assignments and for important non-school-related things). Oriental blue is for work, green is for my husband’s schedule and family events, and purple is used for special events, travel, and birthdays. Black is the default and is used for everything else. 

The monthly calendar gets monthly notes, odd work hours, due dates, and special things (e.g. dinner with friends, concerts, birthdays). Anything else just goes on the dailies.

I use my daily pages in a specific way. Appointments go on the appointment schedule. The notes area is used for day-specific information (e.g. due dates, confirmation numbers, addresses) and occasionally for recording something that happened that day. I put day-specific to-dos (pay bills, do homework) starting at the top and going down. Once the day arrives, if I have things I’d *like* to do that day, I put those on the list starting at the bottom and going up. I don’t use the priority box. Instead, I start the first line of a to-do there, and the second line where the to-do is “supposed” to start. Throughout the day, I will have to refer to my action lists and my school lists to get things done. That’s how I make the page per day work. If I needed to have everything in front of me, I would use the 2 pages per day.

So, there’s my set-up. I hope it’s helpful for students trying to figure out what they need!


My Filofax set-up, fall 2012



I’ve kept the same set-up since August or so, when school started. I work part-time, take a full load of grad school classes, and I am married with a toddler. Before too long I was clinging to my Filofax like a life raft. I was afraid to tweak my set-up or change calendar pages in case I lost information along the way! I have to say, though, that this set-up did work well. I rarely missed anything. I did change up how I kept track of school assignments, but I will be doing an All-Stars post on that later on.



This is my personal brown Holborn. It has been serving me well since August, when I bought it. I’ve grown to like it more and more as time goes on. The pockets arrangement is just wonderful, and I like brown.




As you can see, however, it’s suffered some scratches.


I have it completely stuffed. It wasn’t like this originally, but as time went on I added more and more pages with notes. (I’ve also put in another full month of 2 pages per day, and it fits!) You can see how much the Franklin Covey pages stick out. It didn’t bother me much originally, but lately it’s been bugging me. I think I may have to switch to another brand, since I don’t like the thought of switching binders – the Franklin Covey offerings just aren’t as good.



Side view.



At some point I started using my Filofax as a wallet. I spend a lot of time at coffee shops, and realized that I didn’t need to carry around my wallet when all I needed was an ID and credit card. Now I carry my auto insurance card, health insurance card, credit card, ID, student ID card, and card-sized diploma in the slots. The pocket beneath them has coupons and my sticky flags. US standard size papers that I need get folded in fourths and put in one pocket, and cash lives in the other pocket (where the purple paper is poking out). I have a clear flyleaf, and then my Filofax and Philofaxy cards.


This is my clear plastic envelope which makes up my real front page. That’s me and my husband when we were dating. :)



The backside. A note from my best friend, and a quote from an excellent book.



These are my tabs. The dividers are regular Filofax ones with the tabs cut off; the tabs are Martha Stewart ones by Avery. MLS is the degree I’m going for.



I decorated the dividers with stickers from Half Price. The post-its remind me what’s in each section. This is my “God” divider, which basically means it has anything to do with faith/church.



My MLS divider. I am a graduate student, studying library science. I will be doing an All Stars post about this section later on.



My “Me” section.



My pledge to stick with one set of calendar pages. I’m considering breaking it though…*innocent face*



Family divider. Currently it’s got a Day-Timer Hot List post-it on the other side with my list of gifts to get…I’ve only got 3 people left!



This section is sorely neglected…



This section is somewhat of a “miscellaneous” section, but most of it is important miscellaneous information – such as “important phone numbers” in case my phone goes dead or is unavailable and someone needs to get a hold of people close to me.



It also holds my Filofax brainstorm page, which has been neglected for several months. Turns out that being busy constantly takes away the need to do anything related to Filofax tweaking.



Here’s an example of a daily page. The daily tracker box is where I put my husband’s schedule. The notes page is an “inbox”.



And here’s a month. I can’t take a picture of a past month because there’s too much personal info! I do color-code my months – birthdays in light green, work in orange, deadlines in red, schoolwork in blue. I outline the actual day boxes with a colored pencil matching the pages, because I have trouble distinguishing between notes space and day boxes otherwise. I also write down my husband’s work shifts once they happen, and put how many hours I work in the notes space after each week.



More Filofax musings at the end of my calendar pages. I have a transparent flyleaf at the end to protect my pages. It helps the binder close better – though, the leather covering the zipper helps as well.



Stickers from Sandra on the other side of the flyleaf! I have some post-its and stickers from Sandra in that envelope. I rarely use these pockets, however.



The backside. You can see the wear.



As you can see, the rings are rather full…



Open to today. I have the current month and the next month in here.



And my today marker…



I never pay attention to these stickers. That’s a bad thing.

So, that’s my fall Filofax. I’m grateful that it’s served me well. Now that I’m on break, however, I’m starting to think about tweaking again. The daily pages are wonderful…and they are Franklin Covey, so they stick out. Also, they take up a LOT of space. I also end up forwarding tasks a lot, too.

I’m considering testing a GTD/week on 2 pages set-up while school is out. I don’t need the 2 pages per day right now, and I don’t think the to-do list is serving me well when I have no real deadlines (though it worked fairly well when I was in school, I think…I’m going to go back and analyze that). But I don’t have enough room in my Filofax for context to-do lists AND 2 months of 2ppd. I’ve also noticed that I need lines, and times are helpful. The cotton cream week on 2 pages from Filofax is beautiful, but it isn’t structured enough for me to be able to use it well. My mother’s Christmas present is the DayTimer Coastlines week on 2 pages, and I’m contemplating getting it or something similar. We’ll see! If I decide to keep the 2 pages per day, I might try DayRunner pages – very similar format, but Filofax sized instead of Franklin Covey sized.




On diary (calendar) formats

In the past month, I have used three different diary formats. The first was with my short-lived Moleskine experiment – a week on one page with notes, in a very large size. The diary layout itself worked fairly well, but I was having problems with the bound planner and so switched back to my Filofax. At this point I was lacking diary inserts, as I’d traded my personal size diary for my mother’s Franklin Covey Classic (similar to A5) inserts. So I needed some new ones if I wanted to use the Filofax as a planner again.

The second diary format I used was very kindly mailed all the way from France by Steve of Philofaxy. It is the Filofax cotton cream week on two pages, with the days all the same size and a notes space above Monday. I honestly love this layout – it works quite well. My problem with it is that it’s very compact, and I just don’t think I can squeeze everything I want or need to note in a day-specific way into this diary.

Today, the third diary format arrived – Franklin Covey 2 pages per day (in the Serenity pattern). I ordered these because I am starting grad school in just over a week, and several people recommended the 2ppd, saying that I would need the room. (Thanks Laurie, Rori, and Zoe! and anyone else I’m forgetting!) I’ve used the page per day layout before with success. This diary also comes with a month on 2 pages, which is absolutely essential for use with daily pages.

I just finished getting all my appointments, etc. written over. The daily sheets are still quite bare, as most of my to-dos are still on the context sheets and grad school hasn’t yet started, but I expect they will fill up rapidly. I do feel like there’s a lot more room to breathe, which is nice. The pages are sectioned: appointments, to-dos, a “daily tracker,” and notes. I’m going to use the daily tracker for my husband’s schedule, and I think this will work VERY well. In the past I’ve taken the top line of the appointments, or just the “margin” of a day space on a weekly page, and neither of those have worked too well. The daily tracker box gives me room to note details if I like, and it means his schedule is not taking up space where my schedule needs to be! The notes page will be used as an inbox-type thing as well as having the extra information I will need for assignments.

So, there you have it. I am planning on forcing myself to stick with this format. My problem is that I sometimes try and fix what isn’t broken! Ack! I really must learn not to do that.

A day in my life, through the eyes of my planner

(I actually decided to do this post because I was so excited that I got my entire to-do list finished for once. Hopefully I can turn this into a trend!!)

Anyway. Here’s what my day looks like:

I use Franklin Covey’s page per day Serenity insert. Note the full page for Sunday.

On the left, we have the task list. I put time estimates in the “priority” box. The only task I moved today was one which is incredibly time-consuming thanks to a decent sized dining area with a grouted tile floor. I despise that floor, actually. I also still need to get cash from my husband, but I can easily do that later. Everything else is done! YES!

On the right are appointments. I use the top line to record my husband’s work schedule – today, for example, he starts work at 5pm. We usually go to church on Sunday mornings, but my daughter was ill so that didn’t happen. Instead I decided to go to Barnes and Noble and study for the GRE, where I once again reminded myself that I have forgotten pretty much all the algebra I ever knew and I will probably fail. Unless, of course, I use my awesome planning skills to create a plan to relearn all the algebra I ever knew in the span of 4 weeks. So I bought a prep book, and I still need to create the plan.

Not many notes, as usual – there isn’t much space. Most random notes go in my “inbox” in the front of my Filofax. Sometimes I will put a quick reminder of what I did that day in order to transfer it to my five year journal later. Yes, my memory is that bad.

This is a pretty good representation of what my pages look like. I’m contemplating laying all my April pages out on the floor and taking one massive picture. Or two, to get both sides. Hehehe…haven’t decided whether I will or not.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this glimpse of my life!

Filofax “styles” – time and task management

There are many ways of handling tasks and keeping track of appointments, but they seem to boil down to two basic methods. The first is compartmentalized and topical – appointments go in one place, tasks go in another (often divided into contexts), notes in another, and any other needed things go into topical sections. To-dos are only scheduled if they are time-sensitive – otherwise, you should work off of the various lists as you see fit. Getting Things Done is the most well-known incarnation of this method.

The second method is mostly chronological, with appointments, tasks, and notes all attached to dates. You schedule your to-dos in order to make sure you have the time to get them done. You keep your notes on the daily pages and refer back to them later. Project lists could be kept on monthly pages. Julie Morgenstern is an advocate of this way of doing things, and her book Time Management from the Inside Out explains it well.

Both methods claim that they will change your life and help you get things done, even though they are opposites – and both have worked for hundreds of people. Having read books on both methods, I can see why. It really boils down to what works for you. Some have found huge success with GTD methods, while others have tried them and found GTD doesn’t work for them. Others find that scheduling everything works for them.

Personally, I tried GTD and found that I needed a daily to-do list. Now I’m firmly in the schedule-everything camp, and while I still move tasks more often than I like, I’m finding it works pretty well for me. I still have a separate notes/”inbox” section instead of using daily pages, though, as my page-per-day insert doesn’t have enough room for me to use the inbox as my only notes area!

There are plenty of lovely inserts that one could use in setting up a Filofax for these methods. Personally, if I were going to have a GTD set-up, I would use Filofax WO2P or WPP in cotton cream, with Filofax to-do lists and notepaper to make up the rest. My current chronological set-up uses FC PPD. I’m still pondering switching to 2PPD for the extra notes space, but as it is the PPD layout is great for my tasks and appointments.

What method do you use? Have you tried the other? Feel free to leave links to blog posts, as well – I love reading blog posts about such things! :)