Hey, it’s Thomas. I spent this two weekends ago down two rabbit holes, one of which was gardening research, specifically gardening tools. I got a DM encouraging me to check out Manufactum, a German e-commerce site that sells beautifully designed garden tools, amongst many other items, such as notebooks. I’d never seen anything like these beautiful notebooks by O-Check Design Graphics, and they instantly inspired me to start writing. The timing of this discovery couldn’t have been more perfect, as I had recently started making an effort to capture every to-do, note, and necessary follow-up with pencil and paper vs. capturing them digitally, or, even worse, trying to use my memory.
When I commit to putting my thoughts on paper, I’ve noticed drastic improvements in four really important parts of my work:
DEEPER CREATIVITY: I find that I’m most creative when I conduct my initial brainstorming with pencil and paper. When I’m writing or even scribbling down my to-dos, I try to close my computer and find quiet space. I let the pencil take over and become directly connected to the flowing ideas.
Increased productivity: When I sit down at my desk, I have my computer and I have my large desk pad with a pencil and sharpener–it’s a true productivity-enhanced workstation. I spend the first few minutes of the day starting a fresh to-do list by reviewing to-do lists from previous days and carrying over things I didn’t finish. Then, I add all of the things I know I have to do at the beginning of the day. Before 9 A.M. I try to get as much completed as possible (with a preference for tasks that require little distraction) because I know that as soon as the workday starts, emails, Slack messages, and in-person conversations will inevitably add more tasks to my list. When adding items to your list, feed your list more detail. Write “Email Julia back regarding the GMGC photoshoot – 10 minutes” instead of “Email Julia.” Your to-do list items should kick start you straight into action–as soon as you read them, you’ll know just what to do.
GREATER ACCOUNTABILITY: I find that when I take notes in meetings or calls, I’m more likely to comprehend the discussion and follow up. Digital screens are flawed by default, as there are a billion and one possibilities of what you can have on your screen, which creates distractions from what you should be working on. I also find that on laptops in particular, the screens are too small for your work and to-do list to share the screen at the same time. If you’re using a secondary device like iPad or iPhone for your to-do list, those screens turn off when not in use, so as soon I finish one task, I have to wake my screen, which often just leads me to a session of reading the news or scrolling Instagram.
IMPROVED MENTAL STATE: When I’m feeling creative, productive, and accountable, it does wonders for my mental state. I have more confidence and higher motivation to keep the pace. Most importantly, I find that I have noticeably lower levels of anxiety when it comes to thinking about my day or a big project I’m working on. I believe that so much anxiety is caused by a mind-racing feeling of all of the things we have to do, coupled with the lack of resources (time, money, help from others) we have to get those things done. Simply putting everything onto paper, we can identify what we know, what we don’t yet know, and the questions we should ask to get where we need to be.
Below are some of the writing instruments, notebooks, desk pads and planners that have caught my eye.
My family is in the pencil business, so needless to say, I’m extremely picky about what I write with. Everyone has different preferences, but the products below are my tried and true favorites. I’ve tested countless options over the years, but once I landed on my ideal pencils, pens, and mechanical pencils, I keep those well stocked. The Blackwing is my absolute favorite writing instrument to use, though I admit I’m biased as my family owns the business that makes them.
I prefer desk pads over notebooks when working–for me, the bigger, the better. I’ve been really happy with this desk pad over the last few months. I had tested the smaller size previously and felt that I couldn’t fit both to-dos and notes, follow-ups, and action items all on the same pad, but the bigger size has worked well for me. I use the left half for my to-do list and the right side for capturing notes throughout the day. If I had to pick a type of paper, my number one favorite is dot grid. I like the ability to easily create tidy sections with the dot grid and it keeps my handwriting small and straight.
When I’m writing notes rather than making to-do lists, I prefer to use a notebook for capturing my thoughts. In general, I love slim, soft-cover notebooks like this and this, since they are small and easy to hold open. I mentioned my preference for desk pads for everyday task management, but if I’m seeking more privacy (aka something that can close), I’ll turn to a spiral-bound notebook, preferably with landscape orientation so that the spirals don’t get in the way when I’m writing. If I’m running around from meeting to meeting without a bag, I like to bring this notebook. It’s more travel-friendly and has a pencil holster so I never have to wonder if I have a pencil nearby.
I don’t use a paper day planner at the moment, but I do enjoy experimenting with different paper products that address specific topics. For example, I love the Migoals Goals Desk Pad for organizing my goals and the steps to I need to take to make them happen. Intentional goal setting is a crucial part of achieving your dreams, and this desk pad keeps your action steps at the forefront of your mind, every time you sit down to work. For a more in-depth goal tracker, a similar layout and prompts are available in hardcover journal format here.