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!


Insert choices

My original plan for 2013 was to use these Barnes and Noble inserts:


Then I received the Kate Spade inserts for 2013 along with the wine Holborn I purchased:


Now I’m not certain which one to use. Kate Spade has a monthly planner and gorgeous two-page pretty picture type things before the months. BN has monthly “events pages”. I also set up the BN with color coding, while the Kate Spade I kept black and white. At this point I’m leaning towards Kate Spade. What do you all think?

(This is assuming that a busy schedule doesn’t drive me back to my FC 2ppd or FF ppd of course.)

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.




An open letter to Helena Bloomer of Slam PR

This letter was written by David Popely and is being posted simultaneously on several blogs. As I am not fashionable, I like to do much more than just write notes, and I appreciate items being the quality they should be instead of being subpar, I am joining those who are posting it. As an American, I have to put in some effort to purchase Filofax products, and I have gladly done so – but if the current trend continues, it is highly likely that any large purchases I make will be from other American planner companies, especially since I already use calendar inserts from elsewhere.

Dear Ms Bloomer

This letter is a response to the interview recently conducted with you by FeaturesExec Media Bulletin, and is being posted simultaneously (more or less) on a number of blogging sites in the UK, the US and beyond.

What binds us together as bloggers is that we are all members of an international community and website devoted to all things Filofax, and are all passionate about personal organisation, and the Filofax brand in particular. We have read, as a community, and with increasing disbelief, your comments concerning the Filofax brand, and this is our response.

We note from your comments that, as a result of a ‘usage and attitudes study’ you have conducted, you have been led to the conclusion that the distinguishing features of Filofax users are that we ‘like to write notes’, and that we are ‘very interested in fashion/stylish accessories’. We can assure you this is not the case in either respect, and that we find being pigeon-holed in this way to be demeaning and insulting in a way you most probably cannot understand. We are a community whose passions are for good organisation and a flexible, functional system to underpin that organisation. Some of us, perhaps a minority, have considerations of fashion, but all of us care that our systems of personal organisation assist us in the lives we live and the tasks we undertake.

In short, if all we wanted to do was to ‘write notes’, it is highly unlikely we would invest in relatively expensive binders, refills and systems such as your client provides. We wonder just who you have asked to participate in your ‘usage and attitudes study’. Whoever they are, we can assure you they are unrepresentative of your client’s core customer base, many of whom have been loyal customers for over twenty years and now feel ignored by your client.

We want to suggest to you that the direction you are taking your client in is ultimately going to prove fundamentally damaging to their business. The fashion ‘business’ is notoriously fickle and fast-changing, and you seem to have convinced your client that ignoring and alienating their loyal core customer base will bring dividends in terms of a new, fashion-conscious, high-spending corpus. We want to suggest to you, and by extension to Filofax themselves, that when the fashion ‘carousel moves on, your client will be left neither their newly promised client base, nor the client base you have led them to abandon.  Do you really think this is smart business advice?

You say in your interview that you consider your brief with Filofax to ‘make (your client) fashionable again’. We would suggest to you that your client’s products, if they were ever ‘fashionable’ at all, were so because they fulfilled a function and a need which was perceived to be important to their customers. We now have growing evidence of a lowering of standards of manufacture in Filofax binders, of poor paper quality in refills, and of a lack of willingness to listen to your customers’ opinions. Several of our members, on voicing opinions similar to these, have been invited by Filofax (or whoever runs their Twitter feed) to communicate those opinions directly to your client. This has been done, and no further comment or reaction from your client has been forthcoming. We would like to know whether this is really the kind of public relations you wish for your clients? Or are you merely concerned with putting fashionable, well-heeled ‘bottoms on seats’ at London, New York and other Fashion Weeks with the aid of free give-aways of ranges of binders priced beyond the reach of the average core Filofax user and similarly poorly manufactured? We would suggest that your ‘fashion focused press office’ would be better employed communicating with the loyal, core customer base of your client, the majority of whom, it now seems, are on the point of abandoning your client’s brand in favour of providers who will listen.

We write as concerned individuals and not as representatives of the community to which we belong. However, it is worth noting that many of us have a very high annual spend on Filofax and related products, and we suggest that Filofax is in danger of sacrificing this loyal customer spend in exchange for something far less reliable in the long term.

In conclusion, we have every confidence that these opinions will be ignored as ‘unfashionable’ by your ‘attitude studies’ and ‘fashion focused’ executives. However, we care enough about the Filofax brand to communicate these opinions plainly to you, and to hope that Filofax will one day return to the business in which it flourished for over seventy years, of providing highly functional, attractive but reasonably priced, personal organisation systems to those who need them, which is an increasing number of people in the societies in which we live.

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.

First impressions of the Holborn

1) Man, it’s hot outside. Poor leather having to deal with that heat.

2) Ooh soft and smooth.

3) Woo, no gaps in the rings!!!

4) Hm. The rings seem to almost be *bent* where they close, kind of like my Franklin Covey classic’s, but a tad bit moreso. But still, no gaps yay!

5) Man, this is FLOPPY!

6) This is not the same type of ring mechanism as my Finchley – this one has things (I presume it’s the attachments) on the metal.

7) Ooh fun stuff that came inside the Holborn

8) ooh lots of pockets!

9) …I need to go to work soon and my kid does not appreciate how awesome Filofaxes are.

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!