Category Archives: Tools

Pens, paper, book reviews and other useful information for creative entrepreneurs

The Blackwing 54 – A Writer’s Pencil

Whether you’re more of a fan of digital or analogue, I’m a firm believer that the more attractive a tool is, the more likely you are to use it. When it comes to getting things done, that also means more gets done.

Palomino are known to make beautiful, unique looking pencils that make people willing to step up to the relatively expensive price point. If people are prepared to do that for the standard issue, then they are more than willing to buy into the limited edition concept.

Which leads me to…. the Blackwing Volumes Edition 54: The Exquisite Corpse. A pencil unlike anything they’ve released before and possibly the fastest selling quarterly release ever.

Look

I’ve yet to see any photograph that really does justice to the colour of the 54. That goes for the rose-coloured body and the teal stamping. Truly gorgeous. I’m in two minds about the colour of the eraser ( a fairly standard blue), but as they’re interchangeable then I know that if another colour comes along in the future then it will be easy enough to swap.

Feel

For me – and many others – the real selling point is the core. The Blackwing 54 has the extra firm core that has so far only been made available in limited edition releases. As the Blackwing 24 has been my favourite edition of all time, I’m happy to see a release that has the same innards.

As you would expect from a premium pencil, the graphite just slides over the page regardless of how hard it is, making it an absolute joy to write with.

Point Retention

It is the point retention of the Blackwing 54 that makes it a writer’s pencil. When writing longform pieces, there is nothing worse than having to stop and sharpen your pencil every three minutes. It’s possible to write with the Blackwing 54 for longer than a standard Blackwing 602 (and certainly longer than the affectionately named MMX), but without sacrificing a nice dark line in the process.

Comparison

Although there are three volumes editions with the extra firm core, in my experience they are not actually identical. The 530 was lighter than the 24 (something other people noticed too), which was a bit of a disappointment. In my test below, you can see how they all line up – with the majority standard favourite, the Blackwing 602 – included for comparison.

The overall verdict? I love this pencil. It makes me want to get out my notebook and write for hours. The 24 is still my favourite, but from a writing perspective, the 54 has to come in a close second.

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The 5 best bullet journal health tracker spreads

With all the apps out there focused on health and habits, analogue still remains a fantastic way to set goals and easily monitor your progress. I’ve been using a modified bullet journal for years now and its best feature is that the system does whatever you want. When it comes to tracking your health, a simple one or two page spread is all you need.

I have limited artistic skills to say the least. My bullet journal set up needs to be simple or I spend more time doodling than doing. So the following examples don’t all focus on exquisite calligraphy or time-intensive set up. Of course, they could all be made simpler or more elaborate depending on your personal preferences.

Remember, your healthy habits will be personal to you, so don’t worry about tracking things you don’t care about because someone has included them here. Alternatively, you might see something you’d never considered before.

1 – Minimal

Image: marianeofcysn

This is the kind of tracker I use. I can just about manage to draw small squares without going too far wrong. With the habits listed down the left hand side and the dates across the top, it gives a quick and easy visual of missed days and progress.

2 – Data driven

Image: oak.tree.journaling

These simplified graphs allow you to see much more than a yes / no response to your habits. This is particularly useful if you are setting yourself sleep, calorie or water consumption targets, for example. The space for notes is helpful for noting any external factors that impacted progress to add more context to the images.

3 – Funky

Image: Boho Berry

There is literally no one who bullet journals who hasn’t heard of Boho Berry. With good reason too – she’s always tweaking and experimenting so you don’t have to. With this tracker, I love the sense of full circle you get for the month. It is also a fantastic way of quickly assessing if there is any correlation between your habits. If you eat badly after a poor night’s sleep, then chances are you’ll be able to spot the pattern quickly with this one.

4 – Wordy

Image: b.izzi

Like the minimalist tracker above, this is the kind of spread I can get behind because it uses more words than images! This is great if you want to track at a greater depth on a weekly, rather than monthly, level. Instead of simply recording whether you hit (or missed) your goal that day, you get space to think about and record the reason why. This is especially useful for those who like to review for strengths and weaknesses so they can course correct as necessary.

5 – Visual

Image: mybulletjournal18

Although this one is also simple in terms of its components, visually it packs quite a punch. The bright colours and easy to read progress bars are great for those who like to take in their information in a visual way. Colour co-ordination really comes into its own with a spread like this and allows you to see where you need to focus your attention as the month progresses. It’s less useful if you’re trying to establish a successful streaking process.

Don’t forget to check out the creators of these spreads (click on the images) to get other ideas that might work for you and see their work in more depth. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the sheer number of options when you scroll through instagram, so if you’re new to it, start out simple and focus on what you need. There’s plenty of time to tweak it later.

For more information on building habits and healthy eating, check out The Realist’s Guide to Sugar Free and The Realist’s Guide To Resolutions.

            

Ultimate Mindfulness Planner: The Trigg Life Mapper Review

I was gifted The Trigg Life Mapper at Christmas, by someone who had no idea that it was on my purchase list, which was a lovely surprise. Of course, it is exactly my sort of thing.

My morning review. It’s so dark here in England right now.

According to the guys over at Think Trigg it:

“fuses the principles of planning, productivity, habit, mindfulness and gratitude to provide a daily, weekly and annual framework that will ensure you work less, get more done and constantly strive towards meaningful targets”

I’m always trying to fuse the principles of productivity and purpose, so I couldn’t wait to try this out. There have been a few stand out features so far.

Think about what you should do, not everything you could do

It is the first planner that has forced me to use the Covey-style matrix on a daily basis. Anyone who has read anything about time management or productivity will know what this is, but it is another thing entirely to do it as the core planning task of your day. So far it has forced me to be more focused (and therefore more productive) than anything I’ve used before.

Best feature – the focus on what matters most

 

Because I do more granular planning in my Leuchturrm Weekly Planner (see here for my overview post), the appointment section doesn’t work for me. Instead, because it is fairly inobtrusive, I simply use it to list 3 things I am grateful for as I start my day. I found that to work quite well, although I appreciate I’m probably a bit of an edge case here.

Appointments section – easily modified if required

 

Although the planner has a daily focus, it is also designed to force a weekly review – something I believe is critical to any kind of success. The review section is quite small, but it is followed by a ‘Priority Planning’ page to allow you to set up your ideal next week.

Review section with quotes to ponder

Revisit your goals and projects each week

Other reviews are at the six month and end of year points. This is probably sufficient for most people, although I’d like there to be monthly/quarterly review points as well to allow for course correction earlier in the process.

6 month review section for each life area

For those of you who plan out your weekends as heavily as your weekdays, Trigg – like so many other planners out there – gives a reduced space for Saturday and Sunday. There is also no specific structure for these days, just a standard blank space.

Weekend mindfulness and focus optional

The one thing I don’t really use is the Month by Month Theme section. I appreciate the idea of having a theme for each month, but I can’t quite factor out how to use this in my own process as the date spaces are too small for any meaningful annotations.

Lamy safari for scale

Begin with the end in mind

The key to getting the most out of the planner is to take the time in the beginning to set it up right. I can see how this is daunting for most people. After all, it starts with a declaration of who and what you intend to be.

Daily reminder of what I’m aiming for

You then set out your yearly intentions in the key life areas of Self, Relationships, Passions and work. As with everything, this will only work if you review it daily, but it can certainly help you set your big picture planning for the year.

Knowing what you really want is always the first step

If this seems a bit daunting, then there is a help section on how to think about the annual forecast. Honestly, if you’re ready for the Trigg planner, you probably already have some sense about what you want. So although it seems intimidating, it took me only an hour or two to set up fully.

Quick reference guide

Begging for a simple design tweak

There’s so much good stuff in here that I really feel like a single bookmark is not enough. Just putting that out there so it can be considered for next year’s edition!

Trigg, Leuchtturm and coffee, my 2018 morning setup

So, in summary, there is no such thing as a perfect planner, but it is possible to modify and mix to create something that works well for you. Trigg has added a whole new level to my morning mindfulness. I now organise the granular detail over in my Leuchtturm planner with much more intention, rather than creating a crazy-making ‘To Do’ list. The result? I had my first guilt-free weekend in about a year. That’s priceless.

I’d recommend this for anyone who is ready to take their focus to the next level.

You can buy the Trigg Life Mapper from Amazon or over at Pocket Notebooks

Top 5 podcasts for writers of 2017

Over 2017, podcasts remained one of my favourite forms of entertainment and education. Thinking about this post, I couldn’t help but wonder if there would be any changes from my Top 5 of 2016. Or – even more impressively – if any from my Top 5 of 2014 would make it back onto the list.

To kick us off, returning for the second year: Cortexbroadcast_artwork_cortex_artwork

“CGP Grey and Myke Hurley are both independent content creators. Each episode, they discuss the methods and tools they employ to be productive and creative.”

Despite the not-a-schedule schedule being even more erratic this year, I’ve still looked forward to getting the alert that a new episode has arrived. For independent creatives in any field, Cortex is a conversation between friends about productivity, efficiency and a new way of working. Plus, someone gave me a knowing look and a ‘nice Cortex T-shirt’ comment at a hotel breakfast buffet this year and it made my day. Honestly, it’s not as creepy as it sounds. Monkey brain wins every time.

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The only podcast to have featured on all previous lists is the amazing Writing Excuses.

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“Fifteen minutes long, because you’re in a hurry, and we’re not that smart.”

Although the number of writing podcasts on my app of choice (Overcast, if you’re interested) has increased this year, this is still the best one out there dedicated to craft. This year there have been a number of co-hosts who bring new perspectives. Although I miss hearing from the main hosts sometimes, I would much rather that than have no weekly podcast at all. Whether you’re still working on your first draft or if you’re a seasoned professional, there really is something in here for everyone.

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Sticking with a writing theme, Creative Penn podcast has been a great resource and a show I’ve consistently listened to over the course of the year.

“Interviews, inspiration and information on writing and creativity, publishing options, book marketing and creative entrepreneurship”

It is much less craft-focused than Writing Excuses, but still manages to stand out in a tough field of shows that want to teach you how you can make a living with your writing. I’ve discovered that most of them are seriously geared towards getting you to buy the premium course that shows you how. This is less pushy (maybe because it’s more British?), which I prefer, especially as there’s still lots of useful information and some very interesting guests.

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Writing related, but in a different way, I have a brand new stationery podcast making it onto the list this year in the form of the RSVP podcast.

“A podcast about stationery and so much more!”

What started off as an April Fool’s one-off episode on the Erasable podcast (also worth checking out if you’re a fan of writing by hand, specifically with graphite – yes that is still a thing), became a podcast of its own. In a world full of default male voices, it has been fantastic to hear these three women bring a fresh spin on things. Plus, they don’t have a problem with calling out BS, drinking fine beverages and smashing the patriarchy, so what’s not to love?

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Finally, in a very different  style, The Tim Ferriss Show is another overall favourite of 2017.

“Each episode, I deconstruct world-class performers from eclectic areas to extract the tactics, tools, and routines you can use.”

The thing I love about Tim and his products, be they books, videos or podcasts, is that nothing is off limits. As someone who loves to try new and inventive ways of life hacking, the wide range of topics always keeps me interested. Almost everything out on the internet is as niched down and specific as possible, but Tim constantly surprises me with some of the people he interviews and the experiments he’s prepared to try. I come away with something worth pondering every single episode and that’s pretty unusual.

So those are my top five podcasts of 2017. Some new ones and two old ones, but all of them worth checking out, especially if you’re a writer, creative, entrepreneur, life-hacker or simply enjoy damn fine audio.

Top 5 books of 2017

Unlike my top 5 blogs of 2017, this post was much easier to do. I set myself a goal of reading a book per week during 2017. It didn’t work out perfectly, but it averaged out at about that rate.

However, despite having almost fifty to choose from, it was really easy to pick the standout ones for me. 

Tools of Titans

I wrote a full review of Tools of Titans earlier in the year because it made such an immediate impact on me. It doesn’t have all the answers, but it certainly will help you ask better questions. If you take nothing else from it, the whole book is a fascinating insight into how top performers in every field think and behave. When it comes to their beliefs, it’s important to remember that correlation does not equal causation, but there are certainly some patterns worth taking note of.

All The President’s Men

Technically this was an audiobook, but that still counts. In the current political world, it was a fascinating insight into the time and effort required to maintain democracy. Being British, I didn’t really know much about Watergate, but reading this did give me hope that ultimately, as long as good people keep doing hard work, there will be a day of reckoning for all those politicians and fat cats who perpetuate lies to benefit their own agendas.

The Year of Living Danishly

I loved this book. It was funny, quirky and a staple in my general mission for 2017 to declutter and strip my life back to the basics of what I really want and need. Given that I love hot weather and the sun, I didn’t think there would be anything about the physical location of this book that would appeal to me. But it’s about more than just daily temperatures and hours of sunlight. It’s about what makes you happy even when conditions are extreme. Simplicity is a great way of working out what gives you joy when many of the distractions are gone.

Black Box Thinking

If you want to learn from your mistakes and actually benefit from them, then Black Box Thinking is a must read. Whether you’re self-employed, a cog in a big machine or at the forefront of any decision making, this book will make you see why you can’t always trust yourself. The examples involved are often extreme and terrifying. Can’t understand why people won’t back down when the facts are so clearly stacked against them? You will after reading this.

Turtles All The Way Down

Whilst the others were all non-fiction, Turtles All The Way Down had to go on the list. Technically a YA book, it’s also wonderful for adults. This book vividly brought to life how the crawling compulsion of OCD feels. It was beautifully written and deserving of all the accolades and positive reviews heaped upon it. It’s great to see John Green publishing again after the phenomenal and crippling success of The Fault In Our Stars.

So there you have it. The best books I discovered in 2017 and why. Feel free to tell me others I really should have read in the comments section below so I can add them to my 2018 list.

Top 5 blogs of 2017 for creatives

I’ve got a few ‘top 5’ posts coming up to round off what has been an unusual and exciting year. One of the first subjects that came to mind was this one, the 5 blogs I have found most useful during 2017.

It was only as I started really thinking about what they were that I realised that actually, I’ve moved away from blogs as a resource. I’m not sure if this is a trend, or whether I’ve just had a change in circumstances. Instead of having favourite sites I return to time and time again, I’ve instead been more likely to search by subject and consume a variety of blogs I find. The chances of me returning to any specific site are slim.

Perhaps, unfortunately, it has something to do with how fake news (actual fake news, which is generally the polar opposite of what is being branded fake news) has got me second guessing everything. Instead of taking any one person or comapany’s view as truth anymore, I find myself always verifying sources. I suspect that 2018 will contain more of the same.

However, I did manage to find 5 blogs that I have returned to more than others. Unsurprisingly, these cover my main interests of writing, travel and how to stay productive and healthy.

 

The Creative Penn

Joanna Penn has quite the enterprise going now. There’s a lot of really useful information on the Creative Penn website and I find myself returning to it frequently. Bridging art and commerce, Joanna’s site is future thinking and always optimistic, no matter what craziness and uncertainty exists in the world. She’s making money from people wanting to be authors, but she’s up front about expecting money in exchange for valuable insights, rather than being a ‘get rich quick on kindle’ scammer.

Goins, Writer

Jeff Goins has made a career from writing about writing. When you look at his work about work it all sort of gets a bit meta, but there’s a lot of important takeaways included. The concept that actually, in today’s world we are moving away from a single-track career progression and into a varied career of diverse options, is something that has really resonated with me this year. As I look towards 2018 this site has been great at reminding me to keep my options open, embrace opportunities and ignore the imposter syndrome.

Chris The Freelancer

Admittedly I tend to watch Chris’s videos on YouTube more frequently than I visit his blog. He’s built quite the channel about working from a laptop while he travels the world. He was one of the first resources I came across while looking at the way the world is gradually turning towards a laptop, gig based economy. Unlike many digital nomad sources, he has a professional approach, steering away from the backpacker with a side-hustle content that forms much of the information out there.

Pick The Brain

The banners at the top of this site cover off all the things near and dear to my heart: motivation, productivity, health, self-improvement. It focuses on doing the things required to move you forward to a dream life, but isn’t all about the hustle. Productivity is great, but not as a way of doing even more so you can burn yourself out. Instead, a healthy momentum is the name of the game. Even when the information isn’t new to me, it always acts as a good reminder to stop and think.

Brain Pickings

Although it has a very similar title to the one above, it’s very different. With much longer pieces, it’s not full of snappy soundbites. There are no quick wins to take away here. Instead, the posts are more critical and philosophical. More academic, if you don’t mind me using that word. The insights are numerous, but you have to work for them. Honestly, in today’s world of short attention spans and instant gratification, I don’t think that’s a bad thing.

Moleskine vs Leuchtturm1917 Weekly Planner Review

For years, the Moleskine Planner in its various formats has been the ‘go to’ product for those wanting an analogue calendar/organiser. It was the brand I picked for 2017, because the layout worked great for me. The trade off, of course, came with the paper quality. You can check out the original review of the Moleskine Weekly Planner I did back at the beginning of the year.

Molekine top, Leuchtturm bottom

For 2018 I have chosen to go with the Leuchtturm1917 Weekly Planner instead. As the two are very similar, I thought it would be useful to do a direct comparison for those people who are interested in trying a different brand.*

Paper Quality

There’s no point avoiding the elephant in the room. If you want to write with fountain pens, the battle of Moleskine vs Leuchtturm in the planner selection is no different to the regular notebooks. Leuchtturm1917 paper wins hand down. Even gel pens show through worse on the Moleskine paper:

Moleskine paper

Leuchtturm1917 paper

Year Overview Sections

Moleskine bottom, Leuchtturm top

There is a difference in approach here. The Moleskine overview is closer to the project planner section in the Leuchtturm (more on that below). The ‘by day’ view in the Leuchtturm probably offers similar space, but is visually less useful to me:

Leuchtturm day overview

Weekly View

Both have the same format: days on the week on the left hand side, lined page for notes on the right hand size. Because of the extra width of the Leuchtturm, you get more writing space for both.

Leuchtturm top, Moleskine bottom

Blank Pages

Last year it really annoyed me that my Moleskine planner had four blank pages at the back. For a whole year? Impractical. Leuchtturm, by comparison, has ten. Still not a great number, but much more useful.

Bonus features

Leuchtturm has a project planner view of the month. For high level use, this is something I’m really looking forward to trying out.

My Moleskine planner is from 2017, but it no longer came with an address book. The Leuchtturm1917 planner for 2018 came with a separate address book (with a section at the front for listing birthdays perhaps?), as well as some stickers and a grid guide.

Leuchtturm – 2 bookmarks!

Bookmarks – Moleskine has one, Leuchtturm have two. I think two is significantly more useful, given the project plan feature. However, they are both a good length, rather than being less than an inch longer than the length of the book. Small thing, but it really bugs a lot of people when the bookmark is too short.

Moleskine comes with more information at the front. Flight durations, time zones, measurements and conversions. Useful in their own way perhaps, but I’ve not used them once, even when planning travel for the year.

On balance, I think the Leuchtturm1917 wins as a more functional planner. Better paper, more of it, two bookmarks and a project planner. However, you can’t downplay the form factor and brand recognition that comes with Moleskine.

 

*Not an affiliate link. As I’m in the UK I can get Leuchtturm1917 notebooks from Amazon, but in the US it seems harder. I’ve used Goulet for fountain pens though and they’re a great company to order from.