All Booked Up : A Filofax Phobic Asks: Is the Unscheduled Life Worth Living?


I’M THINKING ABOUT converting. I realize that it’s a really big step, but I’ve talked to people who have made it. And they assure me that my life will improve dramatically. I’ll be a better person--more confident, more creative and more effective. All I have to do is surrender my life to a higher power, to the Good Book--the Personal Organizer.

I know it’s a little late. For years, millions of Americans have worshiped patented, refillable loose-leaf notebooks. But these three-ring oracles make me nervous. They tell you where to go and what to do--minute by minute--for the next week, month, year or decade, depending on the model. And there are as many models as . . . well . . . denominations, all promising to fulfill your every need.

“It’s my bible,” exclaims Kay, a stockbroker who swears by her brown leather Running Mate. “It’s with me all the time. I can’t move without it.” Frankly, I’m amazed that she can move with it. The yuppie equivalent to Linus’ blanket must weigh a ton.


“I write my theater schedule in it and my notes on paying bills,” Kay says, “and when the kids go to their father and their Scout activities and their doctor’s appointments. And my appointments. And lists of things to do each day.” Just listening to her makes me feel slothful. “If I ever lost it, I would die,” she says. “I wouldn’t know how I could reschedule my life.”

Many people think that the unscheduled life is not worth living. These never-a-dull-moment types find it comforting to open their Day-Timers, Filofaxes, Write Tracks and other gospels to the “Today” page and see that every 15-minute slot is filled with Places to Go, People to Contact and Things to Do or Buy. (Stuck with a void, they can always write down “check the book” or “update the book.”)

Once, organizers were the exclusive property of bill-by-the-minute professionals. But now CNN reports that they’re a $200- to $300-million-a-year industry. Even elementary school students can make sure that they don’t miss the big Duck, Duck, Goose game or the power ice cream and cookie networking session with a Dinky Diary Organizer from Day Runner. (Oh dear.)

Secretly, I would love to be a hyper-efficient automaton who never forgets birthdays or holidays, who can find a receipt without turning the house upside down. But I have a weakness for spontaneity. I want to be able to call my friends without making a note in my Communication Log.

“You do have free will,” says my friend Marjorie, a Pocket Day-Timer disciple. “You don’t have to do everything the book says.” She tells me that with her system you carry only one month at a time, “so you can’t lose your identity.”

I want to believe her. But many people are slaves to their systems. “It makes me more efficient,” says Lenny Fagelman, owner of the Filofax department at Fred Segal Melrose. Fagelman, who says, “I don’t use my organizer to drive to work,” strives for order the way gurus strive for inner peace. He stocks more than 400 Filofax components, including inserts for keeping snooker records. “It’s all function,” he insists.

I’m ashamed to admit that for years I’ve been functioning with just a disarranged Rolodex and a calendar that is usually chosen because it has pretty pictures, not vital information. I make notes in a cheap little notebook that doesn’t even have a movable plastic “Today” marker. Or worse, I resort to the Scrap System and jot important details on a used envelope or--if I want to feel in control--a Post-it Note.

I sometimes suspect that the real appeal of the Good Book is that it gives baby boomers a chance to reconnect with the wonder years, when our biggest decision was whether to carry a loose-leaf notebook emblazoned with Fred Flintstone or Mr. Spock. But nowadays, though most binders still come with the clear-plastic pencil case, our choices are far more complicated.

In fact, I could have been organized months ago, but I can’t make up my mind. Should the book be as big as a briefcase or as small as a pocket calculator? (I can also set up shop on a hard or floppy disk, though it would be a pain to turn on the computer whenever I need a phone number.) And my choices go on and on.

Do I want a calendar that has a page per day, two pages per day, a page per week, per month, per millennium? Who cares? And then there’s the really big question--what should my organizer be made of? Catalina vinyl? (It’s hard to make a commitment to a material I can’t identify.) Cowhide? Lamb? Shark? Definitely not alligator, which sells for $1,900.

“My Filofax is reindeer,” Fagelman says. Oh no, not Rudolph. “It’s a limited edition,” he says. “They recovered the hides from a 200-year-old German shipwreck.”

I’m no longer thinking about converting.