Tag Archives: productivity

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 legacy of Roger Bannister

Although it seems a particularly inappropriate time to say it, over the past few years I grew sick of hearing about Roger Bannister. Working in personal and corporate development, it seemed like every book or PowerPoint presentation wasn’t complete without a reference to the four minute mile.

As if getting someone in a suit to reach inbox zero was on par with breaking a time /distance record that had held since man developed accurate timepieces.

That record lasted less than 50 days before it was broken by someone else. The commonly held perspective is that once someone had proven it was possible, others could finally believe it and do it themselves. This is, of course, somewhat simplistic, as a group of runners were all hitting around that mark, but the story does have a nice ring to it.

For me, the real lesson to take away from Roger Bannister’s four minute mile was that he was an amateur. It’s hard to imagine in today’s world of professional athletes, where running or kicking a ball is a career in itself. That famous four minute mile run almost never happened because of bad weather. Harder to imagine is that Bannister came to do it after going to work that day and the success built on a training regime of sneaking in a mere forty-five minutes daily.

It’s not so much about proving something so others can do it. Instead, it’s having the grit and determination to do something yourself, even if it’s not your main priority in life.

 

January Monthly Review: Fear Setting

January is a strange month. Everyone starts out with a higher level of enthusiasm which then fizzles out faster the the New Year’s Eve fireworks.

Now we stand on the cusp of February and it’s easy to wonder where the past month went. For most of us, the lofty goals we had in mind when the calendar ticked over have already fallen by the wayside. That doesn’t mean we should abandon them completely.

Technique One – Monthly Review

Regardless of whether you abandoned your goals back in week one or if you’ve been grinding away on them the whole way through, a monthly review is an essential technique for staying on track.

Before you begin – no judgement. Don’t beat yourself up for not doing as well as you’d hoped, you’re only human. The fact you are taking the time to do a review at all puts you ahead of the rest of the pack.

Look back over January with an honest pair of eyes. Were you realistic about what you wanted to achieve to begin with, or were you just flush with optimism for the future? Do you even still care about those goals you set? If you don’t, then there is nothing wrong with abandoning them and moving onto something else. The real value is progress on what matters, not for progress’ sake itself.

The final question to ask is what you did right / wrong when it came to working on your goals and plans for the month. Learn the lessons so you don’t make the same mistake again. Improve on your strengths to get even more value from them.

Now set yourself up for a great February. It doesn’t matter about January anymore. Let it go. Instead, focus on how you can gain the momentum that will carry you forward for the rest of the year.

Technique Two – Fear Setting

Tim Ferriss did a great Ted Talk explaining fear setting better than I can. It’s a great technique you can use if you’re not making progress because something is holding you back. If you’ve struggled to really commit to your goals, then this is a reversal of the process. Instead, you define your fears.

For most people, thinking about their fears is counter-intuitive. Why would you spend so much time and energy thinking about the things that induce anxiety and discomfort? Isn’t that the exact opposite of what we are told to do for a happy life? Mindfulness is a hot topic for a reason.

Fear setting is hard, but by going the extra mile and breaking down those fears, you take away their power. Fear is often a series of unanswered ‘but what if?’ questions. They spiral and debilitate. The power comes in getting to those answers.

Like a monthly review, the process is quite simple. You just follow a series of questions and steps to get to a place where you are able to action the right things.

Firstly, you have to define those fears in the extreme. What is the very worst thing that could happen. Be as detailed as you dare.

This is the point where most people stop in life. This is the anxious point. But what could you do to prevent those things from happening? This is the second question Tim asks as part of the technique and it’s amazing how easy it is to come up with answers. Pre-empting the worst case scenario often prevents it.

But what if that bad thing holding you back actually happened anyway? Before it does, take the final step of working out all the things you could do to get out of the hole. It’s amazing how resourceful you can be. That’s because by doing it up front, the pressure is off. When you’re in that place, the fear is the stronger emotion and it stifles ingenuity and creativity. By fear setting up front, you’ll already have the answers should the worst happen.

So by combining the two, you can guarantee yourself a better February, no matter how the year has gone so far.

Need more help? The Realist’s Guide To Resolutions is a practical approach to goal achievement, no matter what time of year.

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

Personal Post: The Year That Was 2017

Is it a sign I’m getting older that my first thought is about how quickly the year has gone? Probably. But here we are on the cusp on 2018 and I find myself at that point in the year when I look back and see what I can learn before moving forward.

Lesson 1 – The best laid plans…

I spent the early part of 2017 setting up my life so I could become entirely location independent. Armed with a laptop, all I needed was a decent wifi connection and I was good to go. I got to spend months in the sun, living the dream and writing. Then, happily but ironically, circumstances have changed so that for the next two years I have virtually no choice but to be tied to that place called home.

Lesson 2 – Marketing makes no sense…

Never trust anyone who promises you a fool-proof system to fame or money. Whether it’s sales, platform building, advertising models or social media, no one has all the answers. In a world that is rapidly transitioning towards entrepreneurs and gig economies, there are more scammers out there than there are genuine business minds.

Lesson 3 – It’s all about helping others…

I’ve done some amazing things this year. But the thing that has given me the most satisfaction is hearing from people who have found The Realist’s Guide To Sugar Free useful. Some of the Amazon reviews have been amazing and I am so very grateful. It was because of this I wrote The Realist’s Guide To Resolutions. There are so many self-help achievement books out there that are really boring for the vast majority of readers. I happen to love them. So, once again, I studied, distilled and made a light and fun read for other people to get the benefits without having to wade through books that are, ultimately, trying to get business people to buy consulting services.

Looking forward…

I’ve come to realise that the main thing is about being happy with what matters to you. It’s not about being what other people expect you to be. If I can continue to stay true to myself in 2018, help others along the way and take it some spectacular sunsets, then I’ll be fine.

Whatever you want from 2018, I wish you every success.

The Realist’s Guide To Resolutions – How To Set Goals and Stay Motivated In The Real World

If you want to stop smoking, lose weight, get fitter, improve your career prospects or simply finish a project that’s been hanging around on your to do list for the past ten years, this book will give you the kick up the backside you’ve been looking for.

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.