Tools of the trade: Field Notes Campfire Review

As a reminder, I use analogue tools for creative planning (including business strategy, idea generation and note taking). Therefore the items I use have to meet three criteria. They must be:

  • Attractive to use, so they make me want to write
  • Portable, so I can use them at my desk, office or coffee shop
  • Flexible, so they are appropriate in multiple scenarios

So how does the quarterly Field Notes Campfire release shape up against those requirements? Great, actually.

The different cover designs are awesome

Compared to the previous two releases (Utility and Black Ice), this edition feels like a Field Notes book. It has shades of Americana that people expect from a company like Field Notes. It is part of their brand appeal. For me, the two previous editions were innovation over functionality. They reduced the usability of a product that I want to carry with me at all times.

So are they attractive to use? Oh yes. A big tick in the box on that score. The three different covers add variety and they have a beautiful tactile finish on the covers. Nice additional touches include the different shade of grid lines in each book to match the key tones of their respective covers.

Attention to detail with the grid line colours

As for portability, Field Notes always have that covered. Of their 35 quarterly editions, only two have broken away from the pocket book size (Arts and Sciences and Byline). Both were great alternatives, but not as truly portable as the pocket size. Campfire Edition has the portability that we’ve come to expect from Field Notes and fits in all those standard carry cases as well as your back pocket.

Straight into my trusty Nock Co case

Finally, flexibility for use in both personal and business scenarios. Field Notes are never going to be corporate like Moleskine or Leuchtturm1917, but they’re not trying to be. At the same point, neither are they offensive or too gimmicky most of the time. If I had to pull these out in a client meeting, they’re the kind of notebooks that might attract attention, but in good ways. They don’t scream unprofessional.

As for the paper, I haven’t found it to be a problem with fountain pens, as long as I’m not using a big juicy wet nib and ink. There’s very little feathering or bleed through on the page, which means I don’t have to stop and think about the pen I’m using before beginning to write.

Very little bleed through on the page

Overall, I give this one a big thumbs up and can’t wait to see what the next quarterly release is. Fall is subscription renewal time for me, but I have a mountain of pocket notebooks still waiting to be used. It will be interesting to see if Field Notes pull something out of the bag that makes it impossible for me to resist subscribing for another year.

You can buy the Field Notes Campfire Edition here until they’re sold out.

Healthy Motivation: FitBit Alta

I am not one of life’s natural movers. I’d always prefer to be curled up with a good book than down at the gym or pounding the pavements. It takes a lot to get me motivated but I finally found something, so I thought I would do a quick Fitbit Alta review.

The original Fitbit Alta came out nearly a year ago and I’ve been using it since then. The updated FitBit Alta HR is the new model, for those who want the additional heart rate tracking functionality, but I’ve stayed with the basic one. After continuous use, I’m happy to give it a big thumbs up.

Pros

The Fitbit Alta and the app are both really easy to use. Honestly, this is the main one for me.

Sleep tracking. Oh boy, this was eye-opening (no pun intended). I finally saw why I was still tired after going to bed at a reasonable time. Restless nights equal tired days:

Challenges and social sharing – given the lower cost of entry to the Fitbit market compared to the Apple Watch or hardcore Garmin products, I’ve got many more friends and acquaintances using a Fitbit. This makes social interaction much easier and the group challenges really hone into the competitive spirit.

Step per hour reminders – another winning feature. 250 steps an hour? We all do that anyway, right? Nope. It’s so easy for an hour to go by and I’ve sat at my desk for the entire time. The subtle buzz on my wrist tells me to get up and get moving for ten minutes, but is subtle enough not to be intrusive if I’m in a meeting and can’t get away.

All of these key features are easy to interact with on the intuitive user interface:

Cons

Only splash resistant, not waterproof. Not good for pool bunnies.

The official bands aren’t the most durable or corporate friendly (turquoise and purple are my favourite). However, the customer service was great when my band broke and the delivery of a replacement was fast and efficient. Plus you can easily get unofficial alternatives on Amazon (I chose these replacement bands for a bit of variety – around $1 per band).

I’m under no illusions that walking 10,000 steps a day will turn me into a lean, mean, fighting machine. Diet plays a significant role in health and 10,000 steps does not by default mean cardio, strength or calorie goals get met. But for someone like me, it’s a daily gentle push towards better health. Overall, I’d recommend Fitbit Alta as a great starter wearable for anyone of any age who wants to be more conscious of their daily activity levels. You can always upgrade to something more hardcore at a later point.

Books for Entrepreneurs: Essentialism

Greg McKeown’s infamous book, Essentialism, has been on my reading list for a long time. I can’t even remember when or where I first heard about it, but those who mentioned it always spoke of its life changing effect.

When you read a lot of business and personal improvement books like I do, you get used to people waxing lyrical about how things will never be the same after adopting strategy x. This may turn out to be one of those rare occurrences where it happens to be true. The constant doing more, but achieving less. Never feeling satisfied or that the day was meaningful.

As I began reading, I was relieved to discover I already had quite a few essentialist habits. I discovered the underlying cause of friction I felt on many projects: my broadly essentialist approach versus the non-essentialist approach being taken.

This meant that in addition to completing the task itself, I had to work out the true intent and purpose of the project. Where some people are happy to just complete any task (usually just taking the easiest route to something approximating done), I have never accepted mediocre as the target to aim for. Instead, I would rather take longer to work out how to provide a valuable outcome.

But although I was embracing essentialism in many areas, in others I was getting woefully distracted. My personal life, especially, was in free-fall at the time of reading this book. In no small part this was due to the mental exhaustion that came with battling work tasks handed to me that were governed by non-essentialist principles.

So how has this book helped me? Largely by giving me the confidence not to accept a task without getting those in charge of the project to clarify their thinking about it first. Sometimes, the person handing out that task is me. As a freelancer or entrepreneur, understanding essentialism is vital for avoiding burnout.

It’s hard to ask difficult questions sometimes, but it gives me the boundaries to not only do good work, but also valuable work.

The best part of this is that I ultimately freed up valuable creative energy to expend into my personal life and projects. I developed a new infrastructure for 2017 that allowed me to be location independent and travel.It also gives me the framework to consider carefully my side projects and see which ones are ready to move from hobby to business and which ones simply need to be cut from my life, no matter how enjoyable they seem on the surface.

For the first time since reading David Allen’s Getting Things Done, I have experienced a fundamental shift in what I believe is achievable and what my life needs to look like to get there. The confidence comes through in the decision making process. Whilst success is never guaranteed, I am giving myself the best possible shot at living a meaningful life, rather than a purely busy and productive one.

With challenging economic and political times ahead, Essentialism is one of the books I would recommend for anyone who wants to make the most of future opportunities in the changing workforce.

Gran Canaria for Digital Nomads

After spending 3 months with Gran Canaria as my home base, I can say for certain it has been a perfect place. Although the location independent lifestyle is still in its infancy in real terms, I can see great potential for the Canary Islands as a whole to become the nomad capital of Europe. I group them together as a single entity because there is so much variety in such a small space, all of it easy to access. Tenerife and Lanzarote also have a growing digital nomad community that can be reached within an hour or two.

However, I’m also aware that I have some very specific requirements when picking out my ideal travel locations, so in the review that follows, I’ll try to be balanced towards the areas that matter to a majority of people. So how do the Canary Islands fare on the key metrics?

Costs are in US dollars, unless otherwise specified.

Cost

Compared to much of Europe, the Canary Islands aren’t that expensive. They’re not dirt cheap either, as they’re developed and off the mainland. But flights from all over Europe can be purchased for around $50 if you shop around. At this price, I was able to get a return flight to the UK for a long weekend in May for around $75 – an absolute bargain.

The cost of accommodation varies depending on season (as the islands have a strong tourist influence). A one bed apartment can cost as little as $800 per month with utilities included. For less than $900 you can have sea views and balconies, which are my personal preferences. The good news is that low season, when the prices are at their most competitive, the conditions are ideal for working.

Not a bad office view

As someone who tries to eat healthily, fresh meat and produce can be slightly more expensive than in mainland Europe. Supermarkets tend to be smaller and buying in bulk to save money is not always an option. Even so, it is still more cost efficient than eating out, especially in the tourist areas, when a main meal can set you back $15-20 per person.

You have to enjoy meat and cheese around here

The constant requirement of bottled water doesn’t sit well with my conscience either if I’m honest and adds about $2 per person, per day. That adds up over three months!

Weather

Located off the coast of Africa, approximately 28 degrees north of the equator, the Canary Islands have the best weather in the world. Hot days, balmy nights, with very little rainfall. Unlike a lot of other hot, palm tree laden places in the world, this is not subject to intense rainfall. The humidity doesn’t sap away all your energy and force you inside as a sweaty sticky mess.

There can still be variations in temperature, even on the same island, given the exposed position they have to the west. Gran Canaria is a good example of this. Las Palmas in the north has much cooler temperatures than the tourists hotspots of the south, only an hour’s drive away. Regardless, if daily temperatures of 25-35 degrees Celsius (75-95 degrees Fahrenheit) sound good to you, then this might be the place to visit.

Every day is a beach day

 

Internet

If you rely on the internet (and if you’re reading this post then I assume you do), the Canary Islands can be a bit patchy. Coffee shops and coworking spaces in cities have good enough internet to use in most cases. However, once you venture into tourist areas, then coffee shop wifi is more or less an afterthought.

There is a wide variety of accommodation that come with good, free internet access included, but if you want to work in public spaces more, then stick to the cities. I made the trade-off to keep the wifi in the apartment and the beach coffee shop for pleasure or analogue work. I’m still happy with that decision after 3 months, as it actually helped with a work/life separation that can be tough when you’re independent.

Community

A strong digital nomad community isn’t high on my list of needs. Much of the work I do isn’t collaborative and I’m naturally an introvert. Coffee shops with good wifi are enough for me.

Cafe Regina – with coffee like this, I don’t need people!

But I know that for many people, especially those travelling alone, a strong digital nomad community is a must. So, although I can’t speak from personal experience here, it’s clear that Nomad City are pushing things in the right direction. In April Digital Nomad Girls Las Palmas Retreat took place, again highlighting the potential for community over here.

They are all fairly positive, but in comparison to somewhere such as Chiang Mai, it will probably seem a little slow.

Transport

Travel throughout the Canary Islands is affordable and efficient. This applies not only to the bus services that connect the various parts of an island, but also to the inter-air flights that make island hopping easy. It is also fairly simple to hire a car if you prefer to drive yourself, but it is worth noting that these are volcanic islands, so confidence on steep, winding roads with a sheer drop is a must!

Culture

Puerto de Mogan is an idyllic getaway

Although the islands don’t have the same depth of history as much of Europe, there is still over five hundred years worth of culture to be absorbed here. There are some great old buildings, festivals and the food and drink is varied and tasty. You can also explore the volcanic landscapes. I recommend going over to Mount Teide on Tenerife (the highest volcano in the world base-to-peak outside of the Hawaiian Islands) and doing a Teide star-gazing trip.

 

Courtesy of volcanoteide.com

Safety

As a woman, safety is of high importance to me. The Canary Islands contain some of the most comfortable places I’ve found. Of course, in any location, I take a lot of sensible precautions. Outside a city such as Las Palmas, you can find sleazy tourist hotspots where it is assumed that you’re there to have a good time or a summer fling. If that’s also on your travel agenda, then great. For me, it was as simple as avoiding bars at kicking out time in these areas, just as I would anywhere in the world.

In summary, the Canary Islands have something for every digital nomad or location independent worker. The key is knowing what you need and how you want to live. For those who are starting out, bootstrapping and traveling for the first time, it might not be the best place to start if you’ve watched a lot of digital nomad YouTube videos. But for those who are more settled into the lifestyle, or want something in Europe rather than Asia, then I would recommend here so much that I already look forward to when I can return.

Interested in finding out more? Check out the resources below:

CANARY ISLANDS SEIZING THE GLOBAL GROWTH OPPORTUNITY – It’s great to see the government and locals embracing the opportunities of a global market and the digital nomads that come with it.

Places To Work – Las Palmas Co-Working spaces.

Wolfhouse Tenerife – Co-Living – I’ve not visited the Wolfhouse, but I have been to Los Gigantes several times and can say it is a great place to visit.

 

Tools of the trade: Lamy Petrol ink review

As anyone who follows me over on Instagram knows, despite being deeply immersed in the digital world, I use analogue tools for creative planning. This applies to both books in development and business outlining or note taking. Therefore the items I use have to meet three criteria. They must be:

  • Attractive to use, so they make me want to write
  • Portable, so I can use them at my desk, office or coffee shop
  • Flexible, so they are appropriate in multiple scenarios

Lamy seem to be making waves in the stationery world this year, both good and bad. On the side of good, the Limited Edition Lamy Petrol collection has generated a fair bit of hype.

I’ve always been a fan of deep colours, so when I popped back to England recently, I visited Paperchase on the hunch they would have some cartridges available. They did (and probably still do), so I grabbed a couple of boxes.

Although they didn’t have the limited edition Lamy Safari Petrol fountain pen available, I have inked up my Safari medium nib, as this will be roughly the same experience. After nearly a month of constant use, I thought I’d share what makes this a good ink from my perspective.

Lamy’s official description is that Petrol is a dark teal. Teal, for those wondering, is defined as a medium to dark greenish blue. Having used it in a variety of notebooks, my experience of it has been that it is a very dark colour, with few traces of blue. If anything, it is green-black.

To an untrained eye in the boardroom, looking at regular writing rather than a swatch, I suspect that most people would label it as black ink:

It does have some variation and shading, but in most instances, you would need more than a medium nib, plus some good lighting, to bring it out.

Like many Lamy inks, it is quite wet, which works well for me. It means I can write long form quickly without it stuttering to keep up. As a bonus, it’s not so wet that it completely destroys a standard Moleskine page.

In summary, I really enjoy using this ink. It passes the portability test; I don’t hesitate before picking it up, no matter what notebook I have with me. It’s dark enough to switch between personal and professional use without being boring. However, if you’re more of a fan of a lighter, bluer teal, then you are quite likely to be disappointed by this.

At the time of writing, you can still buy Lamy Petrol Cartridges on Amazon but the prices are going up due to the limited stock, so shop around if you can. The Lamy Safari Petrol is still available over there too.

No juice for babies – the significance behind the shift

The American Academy of Pediatrics made the news recently when it updated its guidelines to advise that babies under 12 months should not be given juice. Previously, it had made this suggestion only for babies under 6 months.

Unfortunately, it is easy to assume that this means fruit juice is absolutely fine and should be encouraged for babies over 12 months old. In fact, the underlying reasoning for the change contains some findings that can apply to us all.

Fruit juice is promoted as a healthy and diet-conscious option. Yet research continues to show that it can actually be detrimental to controlling weight. From the article behind the headlines comes this snippet:

“High sugar content in juice contributes to increased calorie consumption and the risk of dental caries. In addition, the lack of protein and fiber in juice can predispose to inappropriate weight gain (too much or too little)”

One of the reasons I have become so vocal about the benefits of a sugar-free lifestyle is that it runs counter to food marketing, with its billions of dollars of advertising to blind and confuse the masses. For parents trying to do the right thing, when juice is promoted as an equivalent of whole fruit (which it really isn’t), it seems an easy way to get some nutrients into your kid. Yet, once they start loving and drinking it, the reverse becomes true:

“Malnutrition and short stature in children have been associated with excessive consumption of juice”

And of course, we’re encouraged to keep our children hydrated. Getting them to drink enough can be a problem, so we make it easy for them. But unless the fluid in that sippy cup is water or milk, you’d better hope that your kid enjoys going to the dentist:

“The practice of allowing children to carry a bottle, easily transportable covered cup, open cup, or box of juice around throughout the day leads to excessive exposure of the teeth to carbohydrate, which promotes the development of dental caries”

Although these issues are accentuated in children, it is easy to see that they can translate to adults as well. Fruit is amazing. It has fibre, nutrients and energy. Juice is sugar and water. I wonder how many parents would be horrified at their babies drinking a can of cola, but wouldn’t think twice about a nice healthy juice? This article is a great first step in educating ourselves away from ways of eating that simply aren’t beneficial, just easy.

For the actual article rather than the headline grabbing summaries, you can find it on the American Academy of Pediatrics Publications page. If you don’t want to read all of it, skip to the conclusions section to see the specific dangers and concerns.

 

If you’re interested in cutting down or completely removing sugar from your life, then check out The Realist’s Guide To Sugar Free. It’s full of tips, tricks and information to help you live a healthier lifestyle.

Essential books for entrepreneurs: The 12 Week Year

As someone who implemented David Allen’s Getting Things Done methodology back in 2009, I’m no stranger to the review process. The weekly review is the element that keeps the system running. Over the years, I moved from just a weekly review to also implementing monthly and quarterly reviews. To top it off, an end of year review and goal setting day seemed to be a significant amount of personal time given to strategic thinking and planning.

Yet somehow, I still didn’t always achieve my most important goals.

The 12 Week Year by Brian P. Moran is an interesting take on how to achieve greater success and results, rather than being purely a productivity system.

Near the beginning of the book, Moran offers up this truth: there are always more ideas than you can effectively implement. Any entrepreneur or freelancer trying to build a business will have experienced this. It is more often than not the source of that subtle source of procrastination – with so much you could do, where do you start?

“The number one problem is a lack of execution”

Moran’s answer is to begin by getting rid of the annual goal setting process. His underlying reasons for this actually make a lot of sense. With a whole year ahead, it is easy to overestimate what you will do and fill your plan with projects that will never come to fruition. Twelve months feels like a long time, whereas twelve weeks is in the foreseeable future. You can complete a major project in twelve weeks, but you are less likely to attempt three or four that then linger with the faint whiff of failure associated to them.

Instead, the twelve week year is designed to give you a tactical framework to shift your mindset. It is a system that creates accountability, deadlines and focus on key opportunities.

By working only on activities that focus you on the main goals for that twelve week sprint, rather than a longer term vision, he argues that you will achieve as much – if not more – than you would with a set of yearly goals that continually get deferred until the final quarter.

The 12 Week Year does not dismiss vision and longer term strategy entirely. It is essential to have some higher level overview to determine which projects are the vital ones for the next twelve weeks.  The subtle shift is changing the emphasis so that a failure in the current twelve week cycle can’t be ‘made up’ later on in the end of the year. Instead, daily habits and actions build momentum to achieve the ‘end of year’ success in a quarter of the time. To make sure the days are planned with tasks that are actionable and measurable, rather than drifting through towards some vague goal, is essential to staying on track. It becomes about clarity and adding value, rather than simply completing a task list.

My one major criticism of the book is that it doesn’t give enough emphasis to the potential dangers of burnout. Renewal is hugely important, especially when you are working for yourself and there is no forced cut off time at 5pm where you forget about the day. As an entrepreneur it is more likely that your projects feel more like passions, which in turn means you are more likely to push on to the point of exhaustion.

This book encourages the reader towards working frequent cycles of high intensity activity, but doesn’t address the dangers of this in a balanced way. Working consistently on a project at a high level requires more than giving yourself  ‘a weekend off’ at the end of the twelve weeks to recover.

However, I’ve used The 12 Week Year to complete a significant number of projects that have been hanging around on my yearly goals list for a while now. The techniques have been proven to produce results. For anyone starting out who needs to take charge of their own career, or for those who want to finally achieve things they’ve been dreaming of for years, I would thoroughly recommend this book.