My Filofax Post-it's GTD System

Filofax Productivity and Post-it Ninja’s in a Digital GTD Landscape

People that know me, tend to say I’m a bit of a geek and a gadget man, so it’s a major surprise when they find out I use a Filofax© Planner and Post-it Notes© for Productivity and Daily Task Management.

David-Allen-Getting-Things-Done-BookI’m an ardent advocate of David Allen’s GTD or “Getting Things Done” philosophy, and I’m passionate about making my life and that of others, as simple and easy as possible. In short I like having systems of work, which work well!

First of all, for those not familiar with David Allen’s GTD system, it is an easy, step-by-step and highly efficient method for streamlining your workflow, improving productivity and achieving a relaxed productive state. Whilst the full explanation of GTD is beyond the scope of this article the basic premise involves…

Moving anything and everything that has your attention, such as task or projects out of your mind, defining them into outcomes and actionable next steps and recording them externally into a 100% trusted system. In my case this is a Filofax, but it could just as easily be a notebook, laptop, tablet or smartphone the choice as they say is yours.

Those of you in a heavy workflow situation or who simply push yourself to the limits will find the effect of implementing this simple process allows you to focus attention on taking relevant action on tasks, instead of trying to recalling them. This in turn helps alleviate the feeling of being overwhelmed and instils confidence to be more creative and productive.

So how does my Filofax GTD system work?
Each morning I spend approx. 45 minutes planning my day, with a cup of coffee and a clear mind. As I think of ideas, task, projects or just mundane things such as “get cat food” I write them on a post-it note. One Task – One Note – No Exceptions!

Once written I stick each Post-it onto a next action page in the appropriate section of my Filofax. I have 6 different sections for home, office , projects, goals, finance and someday-maybe and each section contains 3-4 ‘next action’ pages.

One thing I do slightly different from the ‘pure’ GTD system is that I do not use context processing such as @phone @computer @shop because to be honest whether I’m in the office or at home I have access to most of these contexts anyway.

When writing out my Post-it’s I make no mental distinction between personal or work, I like to let my mind wander and just write down each idea as it comes to mind, then stick it in the appropriate section of my Filofax.

Bam, Bam, Bam!… No fancy little squiggles, little hearts or stars, my notes are all info. I write as little as I need to tell me the outcome I’m trying to achieve and what the very next action I need to take is, remember this is meant to make life easier.

When I’m “on it” – I’m like a Post-it Ninja,
I can write 50+ Post-it’s in 15 minutes!

The goal each morning is to empty my mind into my system, leaving me with a clear and hopefully focused mind. Just knowing that everything is written down in a system I inexplicitly trust means; no worrying about getting cat food on the way home, ringing Natalie about the last months accounts or booking that holiday to Bermuda in July. I’ve got it covered, it’s all down, on a Post-it, in my Filofax.

Do you know how powerful that mindset is? … yes I’m going to say it “It feels Awesome!!!” and I get that every morning just before going to the office. Ask yourself how you normally feel 10 minutes before you start work?

Filofax GTD in a Digital AgeSo I have a Filofax full of Post-it’s, now what?
First of all I tend not to spend too much time prioritising. I’m not saying I don’t because there will obviously be items that take precedent over others, but hey, I wrote these things myself, this morning, I know what’s important and what’s not. I do try to do the biggest/hardest stuff first, but that’s just a personal thing.

Ok on to actioning these little suckers… pick one, not at random but a single task nevertheless,  then do it!… phew and you thought it was going to rocket surgery right!

You notice the “do one thing” logo on the bottom of my pages, this is my way of reducing procrastination. I find that just doing one single item, sets me going to the next and so on…  my system is very visual, I can see at a glance what’s left, trying to remove all the Post-it’s is addictive.

Positive Reinforcement
One quirk I’ve got is this; when I finish a task I remove it from the page, BUT, and this is the important bit, I do not throw the note in the bin, instead I stick it to the inside front cover of my Filofax, one on top of another. The simple ritual of removing them all in bulk at the end of my day shows me what I have achieved and provides me with a Positive Reinforcement that, firstly I have had a productive day & my system works, and secondly I deserve a little chocolate indulgence! Kidding on the second one, but sometimes on a really good day…

I always try to achieve zero inbox (zero Post-it’s), but if there are some left over then they simply stay in the same place ready for the morning. No copying into a new list they are exactly where I want them to be.

So why do I prefer to use a Filofax instead of my digital alternatives?
Ok I did say Filofax GTD in the digital landscape and I’ve had many people question me as to why, given my gadgetman tendencies I don’t use technology for task management. The answer is speed and simplicity of entry.

I’ve tried many (and I do mean many) digital GTD, Tasks & To-Do apps in the past on iPad’s, Smartphone’s & my Kindle Fire HD and for me they all lacked two simple things… Speed and Simplicity of Entry (now where have I heard that before!).

Let’s be honest you cannot type into your tablet or smartphone as quickly as you can write the same info onto a Post-it, am I right? For 99.99% of the population that statement is probably true.

As regards simplicity of entry let’s take a typical scenario, the best way I can explain this is by way of an example.

During my morning ‘mind dump’ whilst writing a typical task, say… “update Febuary income projections,” I see my cat walk past and think… must remember to get cat food on way home tonight, whooooosh, I’ve written that on a new Post-it, almost as fast as the thought entered my head, and then I remember, must get coffee there too, whooooosh again I’ve written another note in 4-5 seconds and then without missing a beat I’m back to my original income projections note and add … “with Natalie!”

Total time to add 3 tasks approx. 15-20 seconds.

I am confident there is not an app out there with the same fluid workflow, my system is almost seamless.

The same scenario on my mobile (cell) phone for instance would be switch on, swipe, open app…. select new entry (+, or whatever) type in “update income projections”….,  [see cat], now I have to save the task, this usually involves setting a category or priority or context (or any combo thereof), select new entry again type “get cat food”.  Add that to shopping category or @errand context that you set up when you first installed the app… you know you did! Then create new note repeat for coffee, the go back to categories or main menu, re-select original projections entry and continue to add “…with Natalie!”

Okay, so MAYBE I was a little over the top, but my point is this, if you cannot get an idea or thought out of your head and into YOUR particular system QUICKLY and EASILY you will invariably stop using it and if you struggle to thumb type on a mobile, then it’s really a no brainer.

One other thing, most apps (not all) are glorified to-do lists, for those of you still working with to-do list I strongly recommend you seek out David Allen and learn the difference, I am confident once you “get it”, you will not go back to traditional to-do lists… welcome to the dark side, my friend!

What about Appointment / Events etc?
I address this as part of my morning planning routine. Anything that needs to happen on a specific date or at a specific time goes in my Filofax Diary, but that’s it, nothing else goes in there.

My Filofax GTD Diary Calendar

For important events such as a hospital appointment, I do set a reminder on my smartphone (I’m not stupid) and yes I use an app to sync this to my Google calendar.  My default reminders are always 2 days before and 2 hours before, but I check my diary every morning as part of my day planning.

Having a System You Trust is More Important than What Gear You Use!
It really doesn’t matter whether you use a Filofax, a Smartphone or Tablet for your GTD system, the most important thing is that you trust your system 100%. It’s a personal preference and what works for you. My Filofax GTD will not suit many, but it works FOR ME and that’s kind of the point really!

What about the rest of my GTD System?
I’ve only touched upon Daily Task Management in this article and David Allen’s “Getting Things Done” System is so much more than that. If enough people want me to, I’ll maybe do a follow-up on the rest of my personal GTD System at a later date.

For those wishing to find out more I suggest you visit David Allen’s or better yet why not buy the book of the same name here


nigel-bowles-filofax-for-getting-things-doneAre the colours significant?
Generally no, although I do tend to use a red pen on yellow notes for important stuff.

Are the sizes significant?
Absolutely, it’s all down to how much info I need to write to make myself clear, e.g. the small little strips for note like “Ring Mark!”


Whats the Gear
I know Filofax users love to compare their “Gear” (I do, unashamedly!), so here’s a brief rundown of my current set-up.

Notes are all Genuine Post-it’s© in various sizes/colours & the small strips are “Tesco Index Markers”.

Where do you get your stationery?
I make my own; if your interested in doing the same there is an excellent article, including templates and tutorials over on the fantastic Philofaxy website

Final thoughts…
Albert Einstein is famously quoted as saying,
Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler

I couldn’t agree more.

As always, I’m truly grateful for you taking the time to read my posts, if you liked it I would be grateful if you would take an extra moment to share this with your friends and followers on Facebook & Twitter.
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  1. After reading your post, I think maybe I’ve adopted GTD more than I like to admit. Not that there’s anything wrong with it. It’s fantastic. At this point I’ve gone all-digital using a combination of Omnifocus for tasks and Google Calendar for events.

    It can be tedious capturing tasks on a mobile device so I typically jot just enough info into Omnifocus for me to remember what I’m capturing and leave it in my inbox. Each morning when I get into my office, I can quickly process anything that’s sitting there while on my Mac thanks to Omnifocus’s handy auto-fill features.

    Trusting my system is probably the most important part. Knowing at any moment, everything I need to do is in 1 of two places, my calendar or Omnifocus, puts my mind at ease.

    I love how you move your completed tasks to the front and remove them at the end. I can see how that’d be a very rewarding feeling that I definitely lack with my digital system. I do believe you’ve given me some ideas of what to do with the plethora of post-its I accumulated from my Filofax days.

    I can’t wait to see more of your system.


  2. I’d love to see more about how you’ve set up you Filofax and how you use it. Two of the same week on opening is intriguing. Utilising GTD, how have you organised the filofax? More, more please.

    • Hello again Jules, I’ve had a few requests for more info on my Filofax GTD system, so I’ll hopefully write a mini article in the next few weeks.


  3. This is just what I needed. I’ve become tangled up in trying to use GTD with my filofax. My first step now is to spend time pulling all information together, aka brain dump. Post-it’s are a sheer stroke of genius.

    • Hi Jules, It really can become a nightmare trying to set up a filofax for GTD, it took me about 6 months of trial and error to get it so I was happy with it. There is a lot of stuff on the net about “How to Use a Filofax for GTD” but my own system is a combo of these – I just used the bits that worked for me.

      As you rightly say getting the ‘stuff’ out of your head is the first step, just write down EVERYTHING!!! This will take you several hours (if not days) so don’t become overwhelmed. With luck you will only need to do this FULL brain dump every couple of month.

      Once it’s out of your head you will feel so much better, trust me.

      Have Fun & Good Luck Jules

  4. so cool! As a highly creative person I lack in neat organized ways. I love post its! This is the way to go for me. Passing this post on to my uplines!!!

    • Malika, Thanks for you kindness, I’m glad you liked the article, it was your suggestion that inspired me to write it, although it was only going to be a short 300 word mini-post, I got carried away (I often do!).

      As a system it works for me, but even if you don’t rush out and buy a new Filofax or Day Runner (or dust off an old one!), the most important thing is to have ‘A SYSTEM’ that you 100% trust.

      Good Luck with your establishing your system and I hope you too will become a Post-it Ninja!

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