one ring (in four sizes) to bind them

Jotz Refillable NotebooksSix months ago, I completed the transition of my work-related project and administrative paper files over to a system that uses Rollabind discs as its (literal) backbone. The results have been overwhelmingly positive. Rollabind and Circa products have notably improved my file storage, retrieval, and transfer processes, note-taking, and task management. They’ve even inspired some useful hacks that I will cover in detail in future entries.

Rollabind even wooed me away from legal pads, which had been my constant companions since college. Amazing.

However, for all the inherent strengths of the various products that I’ve tested and adopted for use, there are still some important gaps that need to be filled before the system can be considered a full-fledged paper management system.

I’ll detail my filing technique (which is unstoppable) and my observations on product strengths and weaknesses in future entries. Today, I review how I developed, implemented, and tweaked my Rollabind/Circa system. if you’re thinking about doing a similar implementation, my experience will be a useful case study…

First off, some background. I’d been interested in Circa for a long time, ever since Levenger catalogs began dropping through my mail slot. As a freelance writer with a lot of project files to manage, and as a former records manager with a love of organizational techniques, I just knew that the system had a lot of potential.

Rollabound admin filesMy interest lay with the idea of using Rollabind/Circa not as notebooks, but as file folders. Years of project work had taught me all too well the inherent limitations of traditional cardboard file folders. They don’t travel well, and after heavy use they tend not so much to tear as to disintegrate. Poly folders were suitably rugged, but they still let papers slide out at inopportune moments, misalign, snag on paper clips and stapes, and otherwise generally misbehave.

So I decided to begin with a small-scale implementation for a specific task — folders for selected administrative files — and see where it led me. My first design, to cut and punch cardboard folders as covers, had generally (and predictably) awful results. The cardboard just wasn’t up to the task. Poly covers worked great, though they were harder to cut and punch, and they had the added advantage of allowing me to color code by client (following a color-coding scheme that I had just implemented for my computer-based project files — the subject of yet another future blog entry). In fact, those originals are still in use.

After a few months working out the kinks in the Rollabind-based administrative files and finding them to be insanely useful, the logical next step obviously was to implement a similar system for my project files. After all, I routinely transfer files between the administrative and project files. They should be compatible, right?

That’s how it spreads. Consider yourself warned.

At the time, the Rollabind website was very basic and didn’t have an online shopping capability, so I was dependent on the generally unreliable inventory of crafts stores for my supplies — not the greatest option for someone who was used to buying office supplies in bulk.

Plus, I didn’t want to keep kludging folders together with scissors and punches. An essential part of any filing system is that the supporting hardware is as close to invisible and BDS (brain-dead simple) as is humanly possible to get. It must also be relatively cheap. For all their elegance and durability, Levenger products were unsustainably expensive to use on a freelancer’s budget.

Jotz folders in my filing cabinetMy search for the ultimate poly folder led me to Ultimate Office, one of the best-kept secrets in the office supply industry. And there I found the solution to these vexing problems: the Jotz Refillable Notebook. The heart of my filing system (I buy them in bulk), Jotz notebooks work great as file folders. They have elastic bands to keep them closed when traveling, indestructible extra-thick poly covers, and interchangeable color finger rings (see picture) that harmonize with my color-coding system. When I need to take my files with me on a site visit, the folders pack up and travel better than anything I’ve ever used.

Jotz is apparently unknown to the world of Rollabind/Circa users; I’ve never seen it mentioned in any of the lifehack or diy forums. This must be remedied. Buy them now. Thank me later. Plus, they come loaded with paper that gives Levenger’s Circa paper a serious run for its money, both quality- and price-wise.

Then the creeping Rollism spread even further, to its latest Advanced stage. Because my handwritten notes need to be compatible with my other files, I had a choice — either keep punching legal pad pages (undesirable because the paper’s extreme thinness didn’t stand up to being bound, especially when you have to keep taking them out to read the upside-down reverse-side) or switch over to the thick, luscious, fountain-pen friendly, and brilliantly ruled Levenger and Jotz paper.

So not long ago I retired my trusty old pad holder and splurged on a Levenger Leather Foldover Notebook, which has been worth the investment. I find that the Dayrunner PRO8 Tabbed Monthly Calendar works great in it, BTW.

Rollabind’s strength is the infinite adaptability of its very simple, rugged, and reliable core design. My intention to use Rollabind as a file foldering system was, at first glance, outside the “intended” applications, but not only did it work refreshingly well, it led me to even further innovations.

If you’re thinking about implementing a Rollabind solution to your writing and filing systems, I encourage you to start with one corner of your existing system and take the time to iron out the kinks before seeing how it can interact and connect with other parts. A top-down comprehensive implementation could be overwhelming and quite possibly fail. There is a deep, quiet subtlety to Rollabind; it can’t be forced.

But then again, it’s long been known that the ring will take over those who would try to possess it.

Author: Paul Lagasse

Paul Lagasse provides expert-to-expert communications services to nonprofit, business, and government clients in the metro Baltimore-DC area. Specialties include science and medical writing, technical report editing, and content marketing.

18 thoughts on “one ring (in four sizes) to bind them”

  1. Just a question about the discs — I wasn’t able to see from the Rollabind site. With respect to the notebooks, how do the discs keep from falling out when the notebook is closed? Rollabind binders, of course, have a protective spine covering the discs, but not so the notebooks. How careful do you have to be to avoid inadvertantly take half the pages off (for example, when the notebook is jostling about in a bag or on the seat of a car)? I mean, hinges usually have to be fast somehow — metal spirals rely on crimps at the ends to keep from unscrewing themselves out of the paper; Plastic combs are self-closing, etc. Not sure how the discs, as a hinge, manage to stay put.

  2. Hi, Jenny —

    Glad you asked. Each disc has a rim or lip on either side running around the disc’s circumference. The shape of the corresponding hole on the paper or cover (similar in shape to a sideways “T”) allows it to “snap” around the lip while being able to move freely around the circle. With eleven rings on the letter-size books (eight on the junior size) all reinforcing each other, the result is remarkably solid.

    The thicker the paper or cover, the less likely it is to come unattached. Legal paper is so thin, it comes off the rings at the slightest tug, like peeling soggy paper out of a spiral notebook. The extra-thick poly covers of the Jotz notebooks, on the other hand, require a considerable amount of effort to remove. A protective spine cover isn’t needed because of that.

    The paper that comes with Circa and Jotz are thicker than ordinary paper (60 lb, I think), which lets them snap snugly, but I find that ordinary 20-lb paper holds up pretty well. I use card stock as section dividers with the same results.

    You have to use about the same level of caution that you would for a spiral notebook to avoid inadvertent pulls or snags that tear off pages. The advantage with Rollabind, though, is if you do accidentally pull off a page, you can snap it right back in again! 😀

    The only problem I’ve encountered is that occasionally with my home-made poly folders, the covers tend to drag a little when opening and closing, and if I do it too fast the cover miight pop off two or three rings. The manufactured covers don’t do that (I suspect that the holes are made slightly larger than the standard paper-punch hole). In that case, I just curse my impatience and snap the cover back on.

    Hope this is some help. Let me know if my explanation is “clear as mud!” And thanks for dropping by.


  3. Hi, Duc —

    Thanks for your comment. I just took a look at your site on Squidoo and found it to be very informative and useful. If you haven’t already, you should bring it to the attention of the folks at the D*I*Y Planner site ( There are a lot of Circa and Rollabind users over there who would like it too.

    Keep me posted on your experiences with Rolla/Circa products. Hope you like the Jotz books!

    Thanks for the link! I’ll be happy to add a link to your site in return.


  4. Hi Paul – I also got here through Notebookism. I’m a die-hard Moleskiner, but after reading this article, I decided to change the way I do all my notetaking and calendaring for work. Last night I went to my local Levenger store and put together my dream planner/notebook.

    I got the “junior” size, with big rings, the lined paper with the blank column on the left side, a monthly calendar, and one of those honkin’huge packages of index cards. All of this fits into the one binder, by size, with the index cards on top for my daily to-do lists. The calendar is for meetings and appointments, and the lined pages are for all my research notes, meeting notes, doodling, etc. I start a new page for each new “idea” or topic, and then just move it into the appropriate section (because of course I’m using the plastic dividers.

    I also splurged on a black leather binder, to which I’ve made one modification: I added a little self-adhesive plastic sleeve for a pencil to the inside cover. The pen loop is perfect for my Lamy Safari, but I need to use a pencil as well and I want it all contained in one binder.

    I’m very enthusiastic and I think the innovative design of Circa will remove a great deal of the frustration and complexity I’ve been struggling with.

    Thanks! This is the kind of system I have been looking for for YEARS.

  5. Hi, Shirley —

    Wow, from Moleskine to Circa overnight! You are ambitious. Good luck with it, and please do report back on your successes and challenges.

    I like the system you’ve developed. I’ll be discussing paper filing and organization techniques using Circa in future entries. You may find some of them useful. One of the great things about Circa/Rollabind is that it lets you re-invent and adapt on the fly. While I dig bound notebooks, the fact that you can’t rearrange stuff in them has kept me from using them for nonlinear and dynamic things like projects.

    Interesting idea about the pen sleeve for your Safari. Could you post a picture? Speaking of pens, you’ll love my next entry — a pen loop hack.


  6. Michael over at PigPog ( pointed out something important that I forgot to mention in this entry — that Rollabind/Circa notebooks tend to be “floppy” unless the covers are stiff or unless you put enough pages into the book. (Thanks, Michael!)

    For something like my poly file folders, which spend most of their time in a drawer sideways (i.e., rings down), it’s not a big deal. But for notebooks, it’s an important consideration. The Jotz notebooks’ extra-thick poly covers are very sturdy, and even with smaller rings and only half-filled with paper they are dependable writing surfaces.


  7. Hi, Chet —

    Thanks for mentioning that. I haven’t used Levenger’s plastic covers yet, so it’s good to know. The covers from Rollabind look similar.

    I visited your blog and your entries on the Face to Face Noodle Shop make me hungry! 😀

    Where I used to work, there was a Pho (Vietnamese noodle soup) shop across the street and I was a regular there for lunch. Since moving to Baltimore, the nearest Pho joint is 30 minutes away so I don’t get to have it as often. I think I’m overdue for a visit…


  8. Paul

    I didn’t even post any pictures on the Face-to-Face Noodle Shop entry!

    I love Pho, and there’s a Pho shop at the shopping mall near where I live – it’s one of my regular eating places. Speaking of which, I haven’t been there in a while, and I think I’m overdue for a visit, too.

  9. Hi all – pictures of the pencil sleeve are posted on my blog now. Thanks to all for the great ideas I got for this terrific organizational tool.

  10. Hi, Jennifer —

    You’re welcome! Glad you found the post of use.

    The Jotz notebooks take 8.5 x 11 paper. The covers are 9-5/8 x 11-7/8 (front) and 10-3/4 x 11-7/8 (back). They come with chrome medium (7/8″) discs, which you’ll probably want to swap out for standard Levenger or Rollabind discs with molded-in color because the chrome wears off pretty quickly.

    I don’t know if Jotz still does this, but the last time I ordered a stack of the notebooks they threw in a free Mini notebook too.

    Also — be warned that, according the the buzz on, the Jotz notebooks are on backorder. (In fact, I just checked the page on and the notebooks themselves are not even listed at the moment, though the fillers and the mini notebooks are still up there) Apparently this post touched off a bit of a rush on the notebooks, and poor old Ultimate Office hasn’t been able to catch up yet.

    Humbling, the power of this InterWeb thingy! 😀

    Good luck with your implementation. Feel free to check in from time to time and let us know about your progress. I took a look at your blog, and found it to be a really informative intro to GTD “for the rest of us.”


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