Monday, May 10, 2010

Planner Preference: Ring Binder vs. Bound Book

There are advantages and disadvantages for using either a ring binder (such as Filofax or Franklin Covey) vs. a bound book planner (like Moleskine etc.). In the end it comes down to personal preference. But it is worth thinking about what you need from your planner to help you decide which will work best for you. Personally, I’m always going back and forth between the two, for all the reasons below:

1) Your choice of pages

Unless you happen to find a bound-book planner that has exactly the pages you want, it's hard to beat a ring binder for page choice. Maps, forms, notes pages (as many as you want), tabbed dividers, accessories--anything you want can be in your binder. You can even print out pages and hole-punch them to insert in your binder. The choices are endless.

With a bound book, you get what you get. If there are information pages or maps that you never use, they just take up space in your book. If there are other pages you want to include in your book, you can either put them into the pocket (if your book has one) or paperclip them in.

Moleskine has a partial solution on their website: MSK templates. You can type in your information, or select the pre-formatted Moleskine template of your choice. Print it, cut it out and glue it into your book.

Ultimately though, you are limited by the pages bound into your book.

2) Flexibility

This goes along with choice, and again a ring binder wins over a bound book. Your book can hold whatever you need when you need it, and can change as often as you need it to. Going on a trip? Pop in your maps and info pages. When you get home, you can take them back out again. Very busy? You can add some day per page diary pages to have more space to write your daily details.

With a bound book, you are stuck with the contents all year. Often when I use a bound book and write on the notes pages in the back, those notes are irrelevant a few months later and by the end of the book they are, as I told my sister, "so last year." In a ring binder, you can choose to keep only the pages that are currently relevant.

3) Archiving

This is where I prefer a bound book, hands down. Even when I diligently put my Filofax pages into archival binders, I still can't reference past information or events as easily as I can when I've used a bound book. This is because of #2 above. In a Filofax, I use only the pages I need at the time. Other things get shifted around, removed, lost, or if I do manage to archive them they are not in the place where I originally used them so they're harder to find.

When I'm using a bound book planner, I write relevant information directly onto the daily or weekly page. A phone number, directions to a new place, and notes go right there at the moment I need them. When I use a Filofax, I tend to write this information elsewhere, for a few reasons: either my weekly page isn't large enough to accommodate the extra info (due to the classic Filofax dilemma of small page/ big book) or I feel like I should categorize this information somehow, so I write it someplace else in my book.

The situation where the ring binder is better for keeping track of information like this is in the case of lists or contacts that I carry over year to year. These things tend to get lost if I have to re-write them year to year.

In the end, bound planner books become a sort of a time capsule of the year. Unless you shelve your Filofax at the end of the year (an expensive option), then you can't re-create this in a ring binder.

For example, I used my first ring-bound planner for several years. Even though I kept many of the pages, they got mixed around, some were carried over from year to year and others weren't, and some were lost. I don't have the year-by-year record I would have had in bound books.

By contrast, when I found my old Septanote from 11 years ago, I discovered a detailed record of my life at the time down to the amounts of my bills and the dates I paid them. Relevant cards and papers were still stuck inside the cover. I can't seem to recreate that level of detail when archiving my Filofax pages--it just doesn't have the same permanence.

4) Portability

This is the flip side of the Page Choice coin. In general, ring binders are larger than bound books of equal page size and number. The rings add bulk and often the binder's cover is bulkier too. Add in the human factor of adding too many pages (which I'm guilty of) and you can wind up with a much larger book than if you use a bound planner.

5) Tab hell

This can happen with either format, actually. When I use a ring binder I tend to use too many tabbed sections which adds bulk, and makes it difficult for me to find things (did I put that page under "Lists" or "Actions"??).

Meanwhile, people who use bound planners or notebooks can add their own tabs, whether marked on the pages or as sticky tabs. The classic problem with making tabbed sections in a bound notebook is, what do you do when one section fills up before the others?

Like I said, ultimately it comes down to personal preference more than functionality. Some people prefer the style of a Filofax even if Franklin Covey might work better for them (you know who you are). Some people want the streamlined portability of a bound book even though a ring binder might technically work better for them. Some people want the minimalist cool-factor of a Moleskine even though they might actually function better with something more structured.

We are humans. We do what we like, not always what's best for us!

Which do you prefer, and why?


  1. i find it much easier to use a ring binder because i get scared to write for the first time in a bound book. if you make a mistake, or what you write becomes irrelevant, all you can do is rip out the page which is unsightly. i've used moleskines in the past and always been a little wary, for the first few weeks anyway, of writing everything down in them in my usual scruffy way - especially when paying so much for one! the benefits of a ring binder outweighs the cons for me.

  2. I also like ring binders because I like to edit my history - sometimes I note things down that are a bit unsightly, like Jess said, and I can just take that page out and toss it when it is no longer relevant. I archive only the stuff that reflects well on me :) With a bound planner, I found myself needing to carry an extra notepad or tons of post-its to make notes that I didn't necessarily want to keep forever.

  3. Oh, that first ink mark in a pure, untouched bound book - what a stressful moment!

    I still prefer bound books though, for the "portability" and "archiving" reasons above. I can't stand to carry a "brick" around with me, which is what usually happens with a binder style. I like to keep my planner in my purse, which I've found to only be achievable with a bound planner.

  4. I've come to like the bound. I've been using a Large Ruled Moleskine this year. I put a monthly calendar in the front. This way I can view the whole month at a glance. There is enough room to jot quick reminders. Then after that I did all of 2010 in weekly format across two pages. That gives me enough room to expand on the items that are in the monthly view. This leaves about 1/3 of the book at the back for more detailed notes at meetings, etc. Right now it is perfect for me. The best part is next year I might try something else.

  5. I vote for a binder with rings. Main reason is page selection. I also have all the blank paper I need in my planner. Plus, I can remove and insert pages at will. Rip a page you don't need out of a bound book? I'm too well trained to do that.

    My big complaint with rings is that it's sometimes a bit annoying when you need to write right next to the rings.

    I avoid tab hell by limiting myself to the standard tabs which come with my Franklin. That gives me the standard tabs plus four extra tabs for me to assign. Trying to decide what to do with more tabs than that is too painful.

  6. I for one have always liked the ring binder style. First the Monarch/A4 size then I went to classic/A5 for a couple of years. Currently I have realized I don't need that big binder and have opted for the personal Filo. Which I think the Finchley finally tickled my fancy. But I have been researching the Molskine binder for next year. I don't have the "tab" issue or the bulk issue. I decided to stick with minimal pages (calendar, to do list, blank pages, and address pages) but I do agree that archiving the past year will be a problem. Where as if I used a binded book, when the years over, you put the whole book aside and start new. But it's pretty hard to put that elegant Filo Finchley aside and even compare it to a cardboard date book. So on with the issues.
    I don't think I'll ever be truely satisfied.

  7. I used to use a spiral bound planner. Loved it but always had to carry extra note pads and post-its and couldn't really make it my own. Never wanted to use the ring style binder because it was difficult to write on the left side and because it could potentially too big to lug around depending on the size of the rings. But when I came across Filofax and actually used the ring binder, I never went back to the spiral planners. One of the things I love about the Filofax is that I can make it what I need it to be - it works for me rather than the other way around.

  8. Aaron, you're in luck for next year if you want something similar to your current setup but don't want to go through making your own again: all 2011 Moleskine planners have monthly calendars with the days as squares, instead of the monthly columns they've had so far. It's a month per page, so two months to view, but the boxes are still plenty big to write in. Of course the weekly planner won't have 1/3 of the book empty for notes, but it's still something to consider if you want something similar but pre-printed.

    Also stay tuned here, in the coming weeks I'll have reviews of several other planner options to consider.

    I agree it's an issue to mark in a new, pristine book. But when I do I repeat my mantra in my head, "It's not perfect, because it's mine." That's what I tell myself when I'm about to use something new, or when I scratch my new purse or whatever. I'm not a tidy, neat person and I live a messy life, so anything of mine has to be able to deal with it. Nothing stays in its perfect, pristine state around me unless I never use it. And what's the fun in that??

    Thanks for your replies everybody!! I love hearing about stuff like this.

  9. There is a third option - a binder that holds your planner and any other notebooks you want to carry round, plus maps, tickets, fliers, pen, etc, all without the bulk of rings - I have been using one like this for about eight months now. It's called a roterfaden taschenbegleiter. I use the A6 size which takes moleskine notebooks perfectly, but roterfaden also has its own notebooks, which are colour coded by year, to make archiving even easier. The notebooks are held in by simple metal clips, the outer cover is a super tough synthetic while inside is tactile felt in a contrast colour - well, as you can tell, I love mine and have been using it for longer and with less angst than any other planner I have ever tried. This is the website:

    BTW I have no connection to this company - just a happy customer!


  10. mandarine, that looks really cool! I've never seen that before. It's a similar idea to the Rickshaw Bagworks Moleskine folio (that I've written a lot about how much I love mine). The Moleskine (large size) back cover slips into the sleeve, and there are also pockets (2 clear and one zipped) to hold cards, cash, passport, papers etc. When I'm using a Moleskine, this is a kind of "best of both worlds" situation for me. I can put my maps and whatever else I want in the pockets, then take them out later. The book is archival, and when it's used up I slip it out and slide in a new one.

  11. That is a cool solution sort of a cross between both ideas, the video is worth watching to see how it works:


  12. A good article here:


  13. Steve that's an excellent article, thanks! :)

  14. I really like the bound planners. For archiving it's great. I have yet to find out how to see the plannerisms planners. I don't like the loose pages for storing with a ring binder.

  15. I really dislike wire bound planners as I can never keep the wire from migrating out of its holes. I like bound books for the weight and easy of carrying. As the Junior Classic A5 what have you size rings, I find that I can archive it very simply by getting a Staples heavy duty binder or buy a Franklin Covey storage binder for the year in the US version of A5. As I do not put a full year in my planner that I carry (it weights way tooooo much) I keep the unused material in front of the binder and then as each month is used, I put it in the back. I keep all the monthly tabs in the binder I carry.

    However, one of the draw backs of the ring binder is writing on the left page next to the ring. One way to fix that is to use the Levenger Circa system with a binder that can be folded bak on itself.

    I have the hole punch for this - one size fits all! - and then I can use my own printed pages or use the Levenger pages (which are too expensive for me at this point in time).

    My other issue is size of page when writing - I like US letter size - anything else is too small for me for the most part. But I have compromised with the A5 due to weight.

    The best thing I learned last month - the Women's Success Planner starting in March 2014, now comes unpunched! So I got out my Levenger Circa 1.5" Rings and plain plastic covers and created my new binder for this year. I also can put it in my latest F/C wire bound cover in Lucca in green in extra wide. The nicest thing about this binder is that it is much lighter than a leather binder.

  16. You mentioned disc-bound, but said you are stuck with what comes in it. Not really! There are page punches that cut the slits into any paper you would like to add to your planner. It's very versatile, because pages can be moved and removed. Also, ring-bound page holes can be Washied over and punched with the Arc or Levenger (Circa) paper punches.

    1. Hi Amelia, I didn't mention disc bound books in this post. When I mention "bound" I mean fully bound like a Moleskine or similar book. You are right, disc bound books are similar to ring bound in that you can add and remove pages.