Tag Archives: journaling

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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Five ways to create a flexible planning system

As you may have noticed, there haven’t been many new posts here lately. It would be so easy to say that life got ‘busy’. In reality, life changed and the systems I had in place weren’t flexible enough to handle it.

Is your productivity system flexible enough to handle change?

Many people from a GTD background spend years getting their system to work just the way they want it to. One of the major strengths of the Getting Things Done system is that it is inherently flexible. There is no preferred tool and you can customise the set up to suit your needs and circumstances.

But once we find a way of doing things that feels right to us, humans develop an overwhelming resistance to change. The system might be flexible, but we become inflexible. Without realising it, I had found myself in this trap. Setting aside the time for creative thinking and writing of posts fell through the cracks as a result.

So how do we make sure that our systems are flexible enough that changes don’t bring everything to a grinding halt?

Don’t be wholly reliant on a system that isn’t transferable.

Whilst we all have our favourite tools (both digital and analogue), there is an inherent danger in being completely tied into one. It may have the best features in the world right now, but when it stops being supported and you can’t export your tasks and projects, you’re in big trouble. Frictionless access to your next actions is vital.

Separate life and work

For many years, people argued that when it came to life and work, it was all one and therefore only one system was needed. Whilst in some ways this is true, ‘work’ changes at a much faster rate now than when GTD was originally published back in 2001. Not only do we change employers much more frequently, many of us now have developed side hustles to cope with a crazy economy in a crazy world. If your system is all nicely integrated to your day job but that changes every few years or even months, then it can be a painful process to routinely unpick it all. With constant data breaches, companies are getting more and more antsy about accessing different tools on their systems.

Letting go is not the same as giving up

We can become deeply wedded to an idea of something we want – or think we should want – to do. When circumstances change, it may no longer be relevant. Sometimes it can hurt to let something go, or feel a sense of failure for not completing it. The end result is a system full of junk that you once wanted to accomplish, but now have no real intention of taking action on. Over time, this clutter can slow everything down until you stop noticing the things that remain important even once life settles down again.

Attractive tools that are easy to use

It’s a simple fact that the more you want to play with your toys, the more time you’ll spend with them. A task management system you don’t like will be a task management system you ignore. The same applies when things change. It might be that your app worked fantastically with email input at a time when most of your tasks appeared that way. But if it is cumbersome when you have to add a task manually and that becomes your new normal, you’re going to stop looking at and updating the tool pretty quickly.

Don’t be a chronic-optimist

When your circumstances change, the new tasks you need to complete take their toll on other items, even if they are seemingly unrelated. Learning new things and using your day in different ways tires you out in the beginning. This means a task you have been completing in 30 minutes at 6pm for years can suddenly take double that amount of time when you’re forced to push it back to 8pm and your brain is extra tired. Before you know it, you’re in backlog with tasks that you haven’t got round to. Like writing this post, for example…

So, after nearly six weeks of tweaking my system after my third major change in two years, I think I’ve made it slightly more adaptable.

Only time will tell.

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

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.

NaNoWriMo Prep: 30 days of staying healthy

As a significant number of people are about to launch into the writing insanity of National Novel Writing Month, I thought I would do a post not on writing, but on health.

As someone who has been doing NaNoWriMo for a long time (over fifteen years!), I’ve learnt some hard lessons along the way. So I thought I’d wrap them up into a single post so you can learn from my mistakes rather than making them yourselves.

Preparation

 

The best way to have a comfortable and healthy month is to prepare for it. Take the time to plan your novel (if you’re a planner rather than a pantser) but also take the time to prepare your writing environment. Your wrists and neck are going to be under some strain during November, so make your set up as ergonomic as possible. If you’ve only ever written 300 words a day before, then don’t expect to write 3000 and not feel a twinge or two the following day.

Clear your calendar of other events if you can, so you don’t end up with too many competing priorities.

Diet

Writing can be an absorbing pastime. You get lost in the world you’re creating. It can be fun to get to know your characters. So much fun that you look up and it’s a lot later than you realised. Time to grab a coffee and a quick snack and keep going, right?

Wrong.

Eating a proper diet and avoiding quick and easy junk food will give you enough energy to keep going long term. Don’t make November the month of sugar highs and carb crashes. Simple, healthy meals can be planned for in advance so they don’t cut into you writing time.

Hydration

No, I don’t mean drinking endless pots of coffee. Much as I love the stuff, don’t chug it to get you through that all night writing session. Drink plenty of water and other uncaffeinated, sugar-free beverages to stay sufficiently hydrated. I’ve found this is especially important if you’re doing an early morning session as it clears the fog of sleepiness very effectively.

Sleep

Talking of sleep, make sure you get some. Finding the time to write 50,000 words means finding a lot more hours during your day. Sacrifice TV and Facebook time, not sleep. Tiredness will make the whole process of writing slower and begin a vicious cycle of struggling to hit your daily word count. Try not to deviate too much from your existing pattern and if you know that’s currently a terrible one, then don’t allow NaNo to make it worse.

Exercise and rest breaks

As well as sleep, make sure to build in some exercise time and rest breaks. Not only will your wrists appreciate it, but your eyes will too. There have also been several studies highlighting the dangers of prolonged sitting, so make sure you get up and walk around. Set a timer or alarm if you have to. It might not seem easy to stop mid-flow, but it’s better than sitting for an extended period and risking blood clots and heart attacks in later life (a bit dramatic, I know).

Mental health

Doing NaNo can be hard on your physical health, but it’s not a walk in the park for your mental health either. The pressure to finish (often self-inflicted) can lead to some serious burn out. This is often exacerbated if you haven’t done the things above to work on your physical well-being. Remember, at the end of the day, NaNoWriMo is meant to be a fun and inspiring writing experience. It’s not meant to be soul destroying. Don’t win the month, only to never want to write again.

If you start to feel upset, frustrated or unhappy, then step away from the computer. Take a break. You can come back tomorrow, the next day or not at all. It doesn’t matter. Life is too short to be made miserable by an internet competition where the only prize is to be able to say you’ve done it…

Writer Tools: Field Notes Dime Edition Review

One of the most difficult parts of being self-employed is constant self-motivation. As a writer, the easiest way for me to do this is to use tools that inspire me to pick them up. I’ve done some of my best work when I’m having the most fun just playing with my toys.

Field Notes Dime Novel Edition

The Field Notes Dime Novel Edition is a perfect, quirky writer’s tool. Inspired by the American Dime Novel (much like the British Penny Dreadfuls back in the day), it is a departure from the standard pocket notebook Field Notes is known for. I love that, despite being iconic in the notebook world, they continue to mix it up with their quarterly releases and not play it safe.

Instead of the usual 48 pages, there are 72 plain pages bound as three signatures. This creates a completely different look and feel to the standard ones, as well as giving more space to write:

Interestingly, the Dime Novel Edition has numbered pages, another departure from the usual Field Notes functionality:

Given the explosion of Bullet Journaling, more and more companies are incorporating the numbered pages into their notebooks. Even though I’ve been using a modified bullet journal method for years and would normally be super excited about this feature, for once it isn’t important because…

What will I be doing with mine?

I’ll be doing exactly what it says on the tin. There’s not quite enough space for a novel, but I intend to write out a short story in each of them. In one, I intend to use my coveted Blackwing 24 (The Steinbeck Edition). In the other, I plan to use one of my fountain pens loaded with J. Herbin Lie De Thé – a beautiful sepia toned ink that fits the aged theme perfectly.

As much as I appreciate the opportunities that the world of self-publishing has given me, it’s nice to be reminded that writing doesn’t always need to have an audience. It doesn’t have to be a book churn efficiency. Writing can be – and should be – fun first. I can’t wait to pen these stories for myself, written by hand in the cold winter mornings.

Main images in the post are courtesy of Field Notes Brand. Check them out.