Wednesday 20 December 2023

Time Management for the Stationery Lover (One More Filofax for the Road)

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.

— Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

In a recent blog post I discussed how people have different ideas about the most appropriate time to do things. This led me to ponder how people keep track of time. Specifically, how I keep track of what’s going on in my life and the things that have happened to me. As we approach the close of the year, I thought it would be interesting to review some of the time management methods I’ve employed over the course of my lifetime. This post was further inspired by me buying — and almost immediately regretting buying — yet another Filofax planner. More on that later!

Personal Diary

Regular readers will know that I’ve kept a daily diary since I was fourteen years old. My diaries represent the definitive account of my life as I experienced it. They have captured, and continue to capture, the most significant details — events, emotions, thoughts, and relationships — as I’ve moved through my life, one day at a time. Excepting a few years in the eighties when I’d occasionally tip in sketches and drawings, there are no photos, clippings, or other embellishments. Just my words, handwritten in black ink.

They proved an invaluable resource when Fran and I were writing our book. We included numerous excerpts to illustrate what I was thinking and feeling at different times in our journey as friends. I rarely look through old diaries nowadays, however. I archive each volume as it’s completed, and hardly ever take them up again. I sometimes wonder why I continue to write a diary at all if I never look back over what I’ve written. I don’t have an answer, other than to say I continue writing my journal because doing so is part of me, and how I process what’s happening in my life. I’m unsure who I’d be if I no longer committed my thoughts and feelings to paper. As I expressed it recently in relation to my writing generally, “if I’m honest, I write because I’m scared to stop.”

My diaries contain what I’ve done and how I felt about it at the time, but there’s no high-level perspective and no summary of highlights. Being hand-written, it’s also not easily searchable. Over the years I’ve developed various strategies to provide these alternate views. In different ways, they help me navigate to a particular date or event. From there, should I wish to, I can pull the relevant volume of my diary and revisit how I was feeling on that day. These strategies include my Traveler’s Notebook, online calendar, to do lists, online notes, timelines, and photos. Let’s take a look at these in more detail.

Traveler’s Notebook

As I wrote a few years ago in Every Day Essentials for the Successful Blogger, I own two Traveler’s Journals. I love how easy it is to swap out individual inserts, folders, and other accessories. I started out using my Standard Traveler’s Notebook for work notes and for drafting blog posts, but I’ve not used it in quite a while. My smaller Passport Traveler’s Notebook serves as a memory journal, and is very much still in use. I keepsake days out, holidays, and other special occasions. I decorate the pages with washi tape, stickers and stamps, and photos printed on my little HP Sprocket printer. I carry it with me pretty much everywhere I go. It’s my go-to if I want to reminisce about a special event, or check the date so I can look it up elsewhere. There’s a wonderful online community of people who use and love Traveler’s notebooks, and creative journaling in general. Apparently, there’s a word for us: papyrophiliacs, literally those who love paper!

Clocks and Calendars

My diary and journals allow me to record and recall my time and memories, but when it comes to managing the present and planning future activities I turn to the multi-timezone clock and calendars on my phone and tablet. Fran and I live three thousand miles and three hundred minutes apart. After a dozen years of friendship, I rarely need to think about the five hour difference between us. I instinctively think in UK and US Eastern times simultaneously. It’s nonetheless helpful to have both clocks to hand. This is especially true when daylight saving adjustments complicate things, or if Fran travels out of state or abroad. I’ve used various clock apps over the years. Currently, I’m using Universal Clock Widget 2021 by Aaadbic. This simple app allows me to display not only Fran’s time on the East Coast, but also other friends’ times.

I’m a big fan of the Google suite of cloud applications. I use Gmail as my main e-mail client. Our book was written on Google Docs. Our blog is hosted on Google’s Blogger platform. Google Drive is my primary cloud storage, with Microsoft’s Onedrive as backup. I use Keep as my main note-taking app. It’s natural, then, that I should use Google Calendar as my main calendar application. One of the first things Fran and I did was set up a shared calendar. This helped a lot with our book tasks and activities. More generally, it helps to keep us aware of each other’s plans so we can schedule our calls more easily. I’ve shared calendars with other friends in the past too, and found them very useful. That said, I’m not a huge fan of the Google Calendar app itself. I use aCalendar by Tapir Apps GmbH on my Android phone and tablet to manage my Google calendar appointments.

To Do Lists

Although Google Calendar and aCalendar include task functionality, I prefer to use a separate to do list application. I’ve tried many over the years. My favourite is Trello. Fran and I used it extensively in planning the writing, editing, and publication of our book. It’s highly customisable and flexible, but these days I find I have less need of its extensive functionality. I’ve taken to using a single tick box document in Google Keep as my to do list. I keep this displayed in a widget on my phone homescreen. I use it to track my current and upcoming blog posts, as well as domestic tasks like paying bills. Keep’s simplicity is a bonus here, as it keeps me focused on the tasks in hand. For anything more complex or complicated, I would use Trello.

Google Keep

I mentioned using Google Keep for to do lists, but that’s not my main use for this grossly underestimated app. It’s my go to for note taking of any kind, and where every blog post I write begins its life. I have a “scrapbook” document for jotting down spontaneous notes and ideas. I tidy this down on an ongoing basis, but there are entries I don’t wish to lose and I’ve archived my scrapbooks a few times in the past. They serve as informal memory journals, charting thoughts and ideas which may or may not have made it into my diary or been recorded elsewhere. I rarely hit the word limit on individual notes, and there is no limit on the number of notes you can have. Keep is also searchable. This makes it a good starting point if I want to retrieve specific memories quickly.


My diary and blogging aside, I document my life in the many photographs I take. Older digital photos are archived on an external hard drive with DVD backup. Photos taken since the start of 2016 are organised by year on my phone with cloud backup. It’s often the first place I look if I want to check when a specific event happened, or what I was doing around a particular time.

Social Media Posts

Social media provides another valuable index to the events of my life. I wish Facebook had better search options, but I love the Memories stream which reminds me of things I posted or was doing on this day in years gone by. As with photo albums on my phone, I use Facebook albums to home in on images I’ve shared. I post less frequently to Instagram but the photos I share there tend to be ones that are especially significant to me. In that sense, Instagram serves as a digital memory journal.


I use Facebook Messenger to chat with friends all over the world. Its text search means it can be very useful in recalling events and discussions. I use it a lot to recall conversations relevant to whatever I’m blogging about at the time, or to inform my personal reflections in my diary. My chat history with Fran was incredibly important when we were writing our book. I downloaded our conversations in full — we used Skype at that time — and we quoted extensively from them in the book.

Friendship Timelines

The above techniques focus on recording — in words, images, or social media posts — what was happening at a particular point in time. That’s invaluable but doesn’t provide a high level perspective. With this in mind, some years ago I began a timeline to track the ups and downs of one particular friendship. Marking the frequency of our get-togethers, calls, and other significant events helped me see the friendship in broader terms, and respond with more understanding as things changed over time. I’ve used the same approach with other friendships since.

Wellbeing Logs

In 2013 when Fran was traveling in Europe, and again for a period in 2020 when she was out of town, I tracked my health, wellbeing, and self-care routine. It helped keep me on track but I didn’t keep up with it for more than six months or so on either occasion. It’s something I might take up again in the new year.

Blog Posts

I pour a lot of myself into my writing and find it both interesting and instructive to look back over topics I’ve covered in the past. The nature of my blog posts has changed a good deal over the ten years since Fran and I began Gum on My Shoe in August 2013. That’s something I might explore that in a future post. For now I’ll just note that I explore my life, experiences, and issues more now than in the early days of our blog. I’d go so far as to say it’s become my primary vehicle for self-examination, overtaking even my personal diary. Certain articles have come to serve as waypoints, marking key moments in my personal journey. Of these, I’d pick out the following in particular.


Being a Man: Exploring My Gender Identity for International Men’s Day

Return to Down: How My Baseline Mood Has Slipped from Positive to Low

I Can See Clearly: Celebrating My New Glasses from Grey St. Opticians

Big Boys Cry Too: Challenging Toxic Masculinity for International Men’s Day

One Must Imagine Sisyphus Happy: Encounters With the Absurd Man

Others are useful as indexes to my experiences and life events. These include the review posts I’ve written for 2020, 2021, and 2022. Look out for the review post for 2023 in the next week or so.

One More Filofax (for the Road)

I’ve focused on techniques I’ve found helpful, but I can’t close without mentioning one that never quite has, despite me wanting it to very much. I refer, of course, to the Filofax personal planner. My first was part of my induction pack when I began working for the UK civil service I.T. Services Agency thirty years ago. It was royal blue with the ITSA logo on the front. I don’t remember how much I used it at the time, or for what, but it caught my imagination. I never quite got over the allure of opening and closing those six little metal rings to add, remove, and rearrange the pages, dividers, pockets, and the like. I still have it, somewhere.

I may have bought another Filofax which didn’t get used — I wasn’t overly enamoured of the colour of the ITSA one — but the next personal planner I remember buying was an A5 zip cover planner sold by WH Smith. I used it for a while, then set it aside because it didn’t quite fit my needs. At some point I donated it to charity. That’s something I bitterly regret because, in my head at least, it was the perfect planner for me. Around ten years ago I saw a black personal size Filofax Domino planner on offer at Staples in Newcastle and bought it without hesitation. Surely, this time, it would be just what I was after. Needless to say, it wasn’t. I liked the planner itself but I simply couldn’t find enough uses for it.

Fast forward to last December, when in a renewed fit of papyrophilia and having mislaid my personal size Domino — somewhere — I bought an A5 Domino with calendar inserts in various formats, dividers, plastic pockets, and extra note paper. I began using it to take notes on various projects, including reworking a novella I wrote years ago. I like the Domino covers, with their elastic closure, but the one I received was slightly damaged on the inside. I didn’t return it for a replacement, but the damage played on me and I was never completely happy using it.

So this year, as Christmas approached, I caught the bug again and ordered myself a black A5 Metropol Zip Filofax planner. I hoped to recapture the satisfaction of the WH Smith zip planner I gave away, but I was sorely disappointed. I knew it was PU (artificial) leather, which is fine, but it’s very shiny and feels horribly tacky. So here I am, again, with yet another planner I’m unlikely to use.

Maybe I’ll go back to the A5 Domino. Maybe I’ll try and track down a second-hand WH Smith planner, only to discover it’s not as great as I remember it being. Maybe, out there somewhere, is the perfect planner for me. In the meantime, I’ll keep on keeping on, living and documenting and managing my life as I go.

Over to You

In this post I’ve described some of the ways I keep track of the events, emotions, and happenings of my life. How do you manage your time? What works for you? Are you a Filofax person? Do you journal at all? I’d love to hear from you, either in the comments below or via our contact page.


Photo by Kevin Ku at Unsplash


No comments:

Post a Comment