Guest Post: Steve Morton
My first Guest post comes from Steve Morton who is one of the faces behind the Philofaxy blog. I blame him for my
obsessional collecting selective purchasing of filofaxes and so he owed my the favour of answering some of my questions!
1. You run a very popular blog Philofaxy, which has a real sense of community. What would you say is the secret of the success of that blog? How do you plan that blog (talk to me about stationery and systems!)
Philofaxy isn’t just down to me, there are four of us now who contribute to the content. But we must also thank Nan for keeping the blog running for a few years on her own, otherwise it would have died I’m sure. The success of Philofaxy is also down to the readers and their feedback. Keeping things fresh and thinking of new ideas can be difficult at times, but I find keeping an open mind and looking to see what goes on in other areas of blogging and then adapting them to the Filofax world works quite well. Some of the ideas are very successful and came to me out of no where, for instance the ‘Reader Under a Spotlight’ questions and answers, I just sat down and started jotting down some questions in my Filofax. The questions and the order of them are still the same since we started.
Quite a few ideas are discussed behind the scenes, what questions to ask, the timing of things, the best way of phrasing things, it’s great to have the support of others when you are blogging, it can be quite a lonely pastime for some people.
Whilst Filofax can be a fairly dull topic/subject I try to include elements of humour in to my writing and I get a lot of enjoyment out of peoples reactions. The best one was earlier in 2012 where I wrote an introduction to a post about the new range of organisers, the introduction was based on a classic spy thriller sort of story, but it rambled on and one a bit to ensure people had to scroll down the page, drawing them in with each paragraph…… then it just ended suddenly. I’ve not laughed so much when I started reading the comments to that post. I had to quickly do the follow up post and get it on line before the heavies turned up at my front door!! So don’t take it all too serious, have a bit of fun, but keep a good balance.
By expanding our blogging activities to include face to face meet ups, Skype chats, Facebook Groups, we have got amongst our readers and tapped in to what they like and don’t like instantly. At first it took a little while for the meet ups to become popular, in fact it was about 5 weeks before anyone showed any interest in the first one. But since that one the places go in a matter of minutes. Once people have got over the hurdle of ‘meeting a stranger off the internet’ they quickly realise that they have a lot more in common with other readers than just Filofax and lots of friendships have developed from making contact via Philofaxy.
I constantly have to jot ideas down in my Filofax for post ideas. I recently had an idea for a post, didn’t write it down and it took my a day or so to remember the details. I use a simple one-month per page diary insert in A5 format to plan all the blog posts on the site. We work around about 2 weeks ahead of ourselves so we schedule nearly all our posts. The blog is set to East Coast US time and with three of the four contributors in Europe we have to schedule everything really.
I monitor the visitor stats for the site using Google Analytics on a fixed 31 day interval and I have stats going back to September 2009, the numbers and rate of increase over that period is quite scary. I’m no statistics expert, but a pattern is starting to build up and it seems to be repeating, why I don’t know. The numbers take some explaining, may be another blog post?
2. Filofaxes are often thought of as a 1980’s yuppie accessory. Why are they still so popular as a planning tool?
I returned to using a Filofax in 2005 after nearly 15 years of using an electronic organiser of one type or another, I think I went through about 4 different electronic PDA’s in that time, yet I returned to my faithful Filofax when my new employer told me I wasn’t allowed to use personal electronic devices in the office, and secure ones supplied by the office where in short supply.
So I returned to paper, I quickly discovered a lot of things had changed in those 15 years, things like new sizes. I bought an A5 and I was then able to print off my diary pages from Outlook and also my contact lists etc and then I discovered Philofaxy…. At the time I didn’t quite realise what impact the use of a Filofax would have on me. But it certainly turned things around in many ways. I think we have all suffered fateful syncing issues with electronic calendars/contact lists. Me as well, although I have to admit that iCloud on my Apple i devices have solved a lot of those issues these days. But I find using a paper organiser so much quicker than having to open up an application, going to a date, typing in numerous fields, where as with pen and paper you can write in as much or as little detail as required. I always add appointments to my Filofax before I reach for my iPod Touch, iPad or go to my iMac.
There is also the tactile feel of a lovely leather organiser and the individual set up of the pages. I have never really got on with bound planners or notebooks. The flexibility offered by a ring bound system gives suits me perfectly. I can slim down the contents when I’m flying back to London and every gram counts. The ability to move the contents around is also another big plus point for me. I’m also not so constrained when using paper as to what information I associate with other information/notes.
And rather than the packaging saying ‘Batteries not included’ it could simply say ‘No batteries required’
3. In your personal life you achieved a major lifestyle change. Can you tell us about that: why did you feel the need to do it? What were your goals for the change? How did you plan it? Did you achieve your aims?
Yes in 2010 my wife and I moved to France to live. It was a long-term goal of ours to retire here when we could. We had looked in the estate agents windows here whilst on holiday and wondered about buying a house here. But we never thought we would be able to do it until I retired when I was 60 in 2019. A twist of fate unfortunately or fortunately happened in 2004 when I was made redundant from my job with Ofcom. Sadly for Ofcom, they didn’t realise that I was going to be very costly to make me redundant at the age of 45, I came away with a very large 6 figure settlement, I never thought they would pay it until it arrived in the bank account one Friday night… Now what do we do!
In short I had a year off… my Gap Year.. we paid off our UK house mortgage and also bought a house in France as a second home and set about refurbishing it and redecorating it and furnishing it. I then got a job working for the Ministry of Defence, although the writing was on the wall from day 1, I wasn’t planning on working until I was 60, initially I thought I would get out at 55 and then retire to France. Having taking a cut in salary when I joined MoD (because I could afford to) I thought I would have less stress in my new job, but sadly it was the opposite, I had less man management responsibility (something I am good at) but a lot more responsibility for other aspects of my work compared to my previous job. The stress lead to high blood pressure, in the end I couldn’t see a way out and we started to look seriously at the move to France a bit earlier… much earlier in fact. If we had been able to sell our UK house quicker we would have moved sooner. But we were patient and got the price we needed for us to move to France in 2010
The goals were to lead a quieter life style in a location were we could live a comfortable life style. The warmer climate helps with that. The roads are empty compared to Kent and the South East. Our quality of life was maintained easily, but I would say it is a lot better now.
Planning wise we had lists of lists… loads of them for every conceivable thing. It included lists of people to contact about our move; we called them our ‘French Escape’ lists. We detailed lots of things. I also used a Gantt chart to help get things in to the right order as we got close to moving day. The day we moved I was technically still in employment, but on leave, I just hoped they didn’t call me back again! I developed a complex spread sheet that calculated our ability to move or not, it included things like the house price, exchange rate, inflation rates, interest rates, income, pension income etc. The spread sheet helped us predict our spending and income over a 10-year period to when I got my full civil service pension, but it goes beyond that to include my old age pension at 66. If the house value went down by £10k we could see if we were still in the black or red at the end of our 10-year period! At one point it was touch and go if we would be able to move or not, but house prices came back up again at the crucial time and everything worked out fine. We had quite a large contingency fund included in our figures to ensure we didn’t run out of money towards the end of the period.
One of my biggest worries about giving up work at such a young age (51) was that I would get bored and not know what to do each day… ha! I am busier now than I ever was at work some days, but the big difference is that there’s no stress involved, I get to choose when I sit and write, or eat, or go out. I can save my document and go for a walk down by the river near our house. Or go for a swim in our swimming pool. Two and a half years on I don’t think I need to worry about being bored and never having anything to do! Philofaxy keeps me busy…just a bit. Plus I do other voluntary work for organisations in UK.
The move was quite stressful, my blood pressure wasn’t getting any lower despite medication, and not helped by the pressure I was under at work and home at the time. But I’m happy to say within 3 months of arriving here in France my blood pressure had dropped to near normal with all the benefits of that. I was sleeping far better, much happier in the world and I have never regretted the move. There have been a few minor headaches to get over with the move, but nothing that has been a total showstopper. You can plan to the nth degree, but it is always possible to over look something, or something can go wrong just at the wrong time.
4. How do you define success in your own life?
Being happy, being appreciated, and getting good feedback for something I have done. I’m not a very competitive person, if anything a poor loser, so I prefer to support others in their climb up the greasy pole of life, I just sit back and maintain a laid back approach to most things!
5. Can you give us a key piece of advice about either planning, creating or succeeding?
Have a grand plan, it doesn’t matter how big that plan is in terms of how achievable or unachievable it is. Your project might be ‘Move to France’ like mine was. But there’s a lot more to it than that… Just having that as your plan is never going to work. You have to break that down in to smaller chunks. The smaller parts all go together to achieving that ultimate goal.
I spent years as a project manager doing this sort of thing. I didn’t need to fully understand the details of the project to the same level as the engineers on the team, I just needed to understand the processes and timings and know how to get the most of the resources to hand, be it people and/or equipment. Can we do 10 measurements on 10 samples or only 10 measurements on 5 samples and will our results still be valid. Or would we get better results by only doing 5 measurements on say 20 samples. Looking at the results as we went along and occasionally adjusting the work plan over time.
Create your list of things you need to achieve to succeed with your final goal. Be prepared with some alternative solutions, which might take longer, or are an alternative way, costing less to reach your final goal. You might have to work an extra year. You might have to sacrifice some things along the way.
Keep an open mind about different ways of carrying out your project, listen to other people who might have done something similar before, compare it to your own situation, check the solution is still valid. Be prepared to change your plan as you go along. But always keep an eye on that final goal.
Sometimes it can feel like you are performing a big plate-spinning act, keeping an eye on many things and making sure nothing falls on to the floor. But plan your moves and learn to delegate and trust people to be able to do a good job and you will keep on top of things.