Some Thoughts on Productivity Systems

In the beginning of the month I started working in a new team, in a new career path, in a new technical job, under new circumstances. After working for two and a half months from home, I now work half a week at home and half a week at work, in a pretty empty office. I haven’t met all my team members, as we work in separate “capsules,” ensuring that if one of us got sick at least 50% of us would remain unaffected and capable of working. After 17 years of being a Mainframe system programmer, I’m now a DevOps engineer. I’ve been training for the past six months for it, and I love the work, but it’s still not the easiest switch to make. I have a new set of managers, with a new management style, and my old job keeps calling on me, which results in some wild context switching.

And meanwhile the world is burning, as incredible stupid leaders worldwide decide that their pockets are worth more than other people’s lives.

I’m not a huge fan of change, and so my productivity systems tend to stay around with me for years. During the early days of the pandemic, when I just started working from home, I thought that this was temporary. On the second week I realized that the mess of notes in whatever writing pad was around would need to change. And my mindset would need to change.

I wasn’t in Kansas anymore.

I tried to replicate my old work setup at first (a large Moleskine squared hardcover with only the daily todo part of bullet journalling), keeping my home setup intact (a Field Notes with a running todo, lists, trackers etc). That held until I realized that I was starting a new job in a place that moved at a completely different pace than what I was used to. I was also no longer a manager, so the focus of my work was different. I needed to tear everything down and start over again.

I went back to digital task management. I’d tried OmniFocus for a while two years ago and didn’t like its complexity. I had used Things for a good long while before that but stopped and change back to a paper notebook once I decided that I had to have a physical barrier between work and home to have any balance in my life. Those were wild times, and I’m glad that I made that choice, but now it was time to bring Things back into my life. I’ve been using it since the 1st of June, and while it isn’t yet 100% set up to perfection, it’s working well so far.

I’m now managing both work and home from Things, because I can’t handle the added hassle of remembering to lug which notebook where every day, especially now, when I’m not yet set up in my new place. I also don’t realistically think that I could have kept track of my work in a paper notebook right now. I’ve “outgrown” it.

The issue is that I still love paper notebooks, and I still love writing with pen and pencil on a piece of paper. I still keep a pad next to me when I work and scribble ideas on it, but this switch has dwindled down my daily stationery use significantly.

As I was clearing my old desk I found physical evidence of all my years of work there: notebooks full of todos, meeting notes, project notes, ideas and problem solving pointers. I could see the work that I’ve put in. My new system is searchable, but it’s still an amorphous pile of bits somewhere in the Cloud.

I don’t recommend this eraser. It’s just one that makes me smile.

When I went into quarantine I had an inexplicable yearning to get back to the first ever real productivity system I used, the PigPogPDA. I loved my Moleskine pocket plain reporter notebooks, set up just right, full of all the important information that I might ever need. I had shopping lists, trackers, drawings, story ideas, directions, packing lists, cheat sheets in those notebooks: they were my everything at the time. I also remember how terribly expensive they were for me, and how difficult to obtain. Every page was precious, and I had to be careful not to waste any. I used the Hi-Tec-C and the Staedler Mars technico lead holder for that, and these little notebooks lasted for ages and travelled the world with me. Only in the past three years have I stopped using them, replacing them with a much simpler system in Field Notes pocket notebooks. Out of nostalgia I brought one back to life. It has done a lot to cheer me up and give me a sense of stability during these hectic times. Yes, I know it’s just a notebook. Sometimes “just a notebook” is all it takes.

If I have any advice to offer it’s this: be kind to yourself and pick whichever system works for you, and doesn’t make you work for it. Pick something that you’ll enjoy using. If it’s a sleek app, let it be a sleek app. You’ll find use for the notebooks in your cupboard eventually. If it’s notebooks, then make them entirely your own. That’s the joy of using paper planning anyway. And don’t be shy of saying: “This doesn’t work for me anymore”.

So I’m back to digital planning, and I’m going to find a way to have fun with my pens and paper somehow (I still journal and draw and write after all). This is something that’s likely to change as the times do, my work and my life circumstances do. So long as I don’t fall into the trap of Productivity Pr0n and forget what all this is in service of, I’m fine.

I’m fine.

Some Thoughts on Productivity Systems

Moleskine Limited Edition Sakura

In early 2019 I found out that Moleskine had come out with a Sakura Limited Edition that they were selling originally only in Japan. This is not the dark pink/light pink limited edition Sakura that is available as part of their 2020 spring catalog, but a smaller run of notebooks that came out before that. The edition garnered enough interest that it started appearing outside of Japan in Moleskine stores near the end of 2019. After searching for this notebook online with no success, I was surprised to find it in a Moleskine store on Oxford street, London. I try not to buy notebooks abroad, because they can very quickly weigh down your luggage, but I couldn’t pass these by. There were two versions of Limited Edition Sakura in large format, and two pocket ones. I showed some restraint and “only” bought the large ones.

I just finished one journalling notebook and I was casting for the next one to use, when I decided to go for this Sakura one. It was difficult to acquire and expensive, so there was a risk that it would stay in its wrapper forever, but I decided that if anything would cheer me up as I journal through these difficult times it’s this notebook.

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Front cover with wrapper. Notice how the wrapper design matches the fabric print.

The Moleskine Sakura is a cloth covered notebook, with an utterly unique design. There’s an imprint of cherry blossoms over the slightly shimmering pink fabric, and the imprint looks like it’s floating over the fabric cover. The result is a stunning and tactile notebook that looks extremely luxurious. It’s almost too pretty to use.

Back cover. 

The fabric is clearly synthetic, and it has some shimmer to it because of that. The imprint on top has part of the fabric’s texture, and I’d venture to say that it was screen printed, but I’m not a screen printing expert so I could very well be wrong. It’s hard to capture how the covers look in person, but it’s as if there’s an invisible layer between the floral print and the fabric cover. The flowers appear to be floating in the air.

The print. Nobody does fabric covered notebooks as well as Moleskine does.

Inside the covers the endpapers feature the same print but in monochrome pink and white.

Here are the back endpapers, and Moleskine again gets full points for prints matching perfectly on the back pocket and the back cover.

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The back pocket edges are in purple fabric, much like the elastic closure and the bookmark.

The bookmark features a slightly lighter purple than the elastic closure and back pocket.

Like most limited edition Moleskines the Sakura comes with a sticker sheet. This one is of cherry blossoms in white and various shades of pink. It’s a beautiful sheet of stickers, and the washi-like design of the bottom half of the sheet is a very nice touch.

Like all the Moleskines in recent years the paper wrapper features a “side-B” that you can reuse. This one is meant to be a bookmark, and design on it was so fetching, I actually cut it out and faced it with card-stock to make a bookmark that I’m now using.

My completed bookmark:

The Moleskine Sakura is one of the most stunning designs Moleskine has produced in recent years. I’m glad that they’re making a version of this design more widely available, and I really hope to see them utilizing this printing technique for other designs in the future.

Moleskine Limited Edition Sakura

Journaling: The Last Page

A handwritten journal is an artifact in a way that an app can never be. It’s tactile, endlessly flexible, there to be used and customized in every way possible. Tear out pages, glue stuff in, doodle, scribble, sketch and write whatever you wish however you wish. There’s no autocorrect, nothing editing or censuring your words. Analogue journalling is about freedom, flow and pure creativity.

This is my last day journaling in this journal, and tomorrow I’ll write up the last page and start a new one for the thoughts of that day.

Every time I finish a journal, I use the last two pages to summarize what that journal contains and means to me. Analogue journals are fantastic, but they do make searching for old entries a bit of a chore. Luckily I don’t find myself looking for an old entry that often, and if I do the last two pages help me narrow it down to the specific journal, and the dates and titles to the specific entry.

I also like taking the last few pages as a chance to reflect on the time the journal covers and how things have changed (and I have changed) as the time has gone by. There’s usually about three months in each journal, sometimes more, so that’s a good chuck of time to look back on: short enough to make it simple to summarize and contextualize, and yet long enough to have some impact and meaning. This journal contains two trips abroad, my decision to move into a new career path, and a pandemic that wrecked havoc on everyone I know (including me, of course). That’s quite a lot, even for a journal that covers a relatively long span of time (almost 6 months).

It’s also full of bits and pieces that I stuck in, to make the page come to life. So here’s part of the Diamine Inkvent packaging that I glued in after I opened the last window and before I tossed out the box:

I just ripped out a panel that I liked. This journal is for me, not Instagram, and it can be as messy as I need it to be.

Cool clothing tags also sometimes make it in, especially if it’s from a piece of clothing that I really like:

This tag came of one of my favourite sweatshirts.

I got a lot of Star Wars themedvinyl stickers as a gift near the end of last year and a lot of them ended in my journal:

Even the silliest of things can be used to brighten up a page:

See that bleedthrough? It’s fountain pen bleedthrough. I don’t give a damn. If I wanted to write with a Sharpie in here, I’d write with a Sharpie. Use what makes you feel good.

There are little drawings and illustrations everywhere:

Messy, messy handwriting. 

And bits and pieces of washi tape that were leftover from other projects:

The point is, tomorrow I finish another journal, a small analogue memory artifact that is entirely mine. I created it for me and me only, and it was worth every minute I put into it.

If there’s one habit that you can pick up during your time at home these days, pick journaling. You’ll end up getting quite a treasure in the end, and I’d be truly surprised if you won’t enjoy the process.

Journaling: The Last Page

Moleskine Spring-Summer 2020 Catalog

Moleskine’s Spring-Summer 2020 catalog is finally available online, and as usual, it’s chock full of new products and updates to existing ones. I recommend that you go spelunking in this massive tome (173 pages!), as you’re bound to find something in it that speaks to you. I’m going to try to cover most of the main changes, but this post is far from a comprehensive review of all that Moleskine Spring-Summer catalog has to offer.

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Classic Notebooks Expanded are getting two new colours (their first): Scarlet Red and Sapphire Blue. I’m assuming that this means that they have been a success, although judging by the choice to keep the squared and dotted rulings only in black, some options have likely been more successful than others.

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Classic Notebooks Hardcover get two new seasonal colours (Hydrangea Blue and Lemon Green), as has been Moleskine’s custom in recent years. I’m guessing that Hydrangea Blue is going to be as big a hit as Reef Blue was, but I’m still disappointed to see them limit the new colours to their most popular rulings only: ruled and plain. In other news, the Classic XXL has been discontinued, which isn’t really surprising as the A4 size has largely gone on to replace it. The strange thing is that in the Classic Notebooks Softcover lineup the opposite has happened: the XXL is staying on and the A4 is no longer available. Why? Looking over the rest of the catalog there appears to be a major and bewilderingly inconsistent reshuffling going on in the larger sized Moleskines. Some lines kept the XXL, some kept the A4 (the XXL is smaller than the A4), and I’m guessing that the only thing guiding Moleskine’s decision is which size gets purchased more per each line. In any case, if you’re a fan of the larger notebooks I recommend looking over the catalog to make sure that your favourite notebook isn’t getting discontinued. It takes a while for stores to run out of stock, so if you love the Classic XXL for instance, you still have time to stockpile a few while they’re still out there.

On that note I’m still disappointed that the squared reporter notebooks haven’t returned. I was in Porto, Portugal last year and I found a shop that not only had large squared reporter notebooks, but also the Moleskine Van Gogh notebooks that started their whole limited edition lineup, so I filled half my suitcase with those.

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Moleskine is fully embracing its phenomenally good fabric cover skills with the addition of the Blend collection as part of its regular lineup. There are two notebooks on offer, both in new colours (Harringbone Purple and Harringbone Blue), in ruled and dotted (!) options. The Blend covers are some of the best that Moleskine has produced in recent years, but they photograph pretty poorly. These are notebooks to see (and feel) in person, and I have no idea what the colour of the Harringbone Purple really is. Even if you’re not a Moleskine fan I recommend getting one of their fabric covered notebooks (the Two-Go notebooks for instance are also fountain pen friendly and have a cool blank on one side lined on the other side setup), just to see how good fabric covered notebooks can be when done properly.

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Planners are a giant chunk of the catalog, but I’m not going to go over them because that’s where madness lies. I’ll just point out that the 2021 limited edition planners are Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Peanuts, Little Prince (which were all featured in previous years), and the brand new Maneki-Neko. This is the first glimpse in the catalog of the growing Japanese influences on the Moleksine lineup this year (and over the last year or two), a theme that will repeat itself in the limited edition notebook lineup. Also, this is the first year in a while that hasn’t featured Star Wars planners, although the fall catalog may yet rectify that.

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This brings us to the most interesting part of the catalog for me, the limited edition notebooks. Here is where Moleksine flexes its design prowess, and the results are always unique, and oftentimes stunning. This year they’ve completed their Harry Potter limited edition lineup, with each HP book getting its own notebook design. You’d be shocked to know that these were super popular and so last year’s four notebooks are hard to find at reasonable prices. I expect this year’s three to sell just as quickly.

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That leaves four other limited editions for this year, with only one not having direct Japanese ties:

The Wizard of Oz – These are four large notebooks, two ruled (the green and the red), two plain (the blue and the yellow). They each come with a set of themed stickers, and I love their design. These four and the Sakura are a must buy for me, if I can get my hands on them (thank you, Book Depository, for messing up my Harry Potter pre-order. You’re the best). They feature original artwork from W.W. Denslow and the title of a chapter on the cover, and it looks like they are fabric covered, which is excellent news.

Sakura – this is the second time that Moleskine has come out with Sakura themed notebooks, and the previous round was stunning. I think that this edition is a little plainer, but again, fabric covered notebook in still a lovely design, so I’m probably going to get these, at least in the large size. These come in large and pocket, both ruled and plain, and they include a set of themed stickers.

The Legend of Zelda – in the video game/geeky part of the limited edition notebooks, it’s Nintendo’s Legend of Zelda that gets the Moleskine treatment this time. Again, themed stickers included, but no fabric cover. There is embossing on the cover, and nostalgic, pixalated graphics throughout. This edition also features a numbered (4,999 copies) box, and two large, ruled notebooks. This would have been a great edition for a squared ruling, but Moleskine will be Moleskine, I guess.

One Piece – a manga themed edition of two large notebooks, both ruled, with designs that are really difficult to see properly in the catalog. It comes with a set of themed stickers, and they appear to have gone for wildly different designs with these two notebooks. One appears to have a bold rendering of the Jolly Roger flag, and another is very subtly embossed on a peach cover.

Maneki-Neko – there’s just one notebook here, maybe because the cat of good fortune got its own planner lineup. This appears to be the least imaginative edition of the lot, in the least imaginative ruling (ruled, of course, what else?). There are stickers included here too.

And there’s a fifth limited edition that Moleskine claims is a spring launch, but as I purchased it from a Moleskine store in September, I beg to differ. It is gorgeous though, so I’ll give it a mention anyway:

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I am New York – the city themed limited edition notebooks that Moleskine has been issuing in recent years (and at first were only available in Moleskine stores) are some of their best designed notebooks, and that’s saying something. The graphics on the outer cover, the central park scene on the back endpaper and the new your breakfast on the front endpaper are just perfect. I plan on writing a review of this edition later this year, but I can already say that it’s one of my all time favourites (did I mention that it has a fabric cover?).

Now on to the Pro selection of the catalog:

A4 Pro Notebooks are discontinued, but the new Pro Project Planners range comes with Large, X-Large and A4 size and not the XXL. Again, not sure what the thinking is here. As for the Pro Project Planners themselves, these aren’t planners in the traditional sense of the word, but rather planners that have various productivity bits stuck in (there’s brainstorming, project tracking, structured note taking and to do list sections, as well as labeling stickers, goal pages and more). These are clearly business oriented, which explains Moleskine’s choice to produce them only with black covers.

Others:

The City Notebooks Pocket Box is no longer available. I imagine that it wasn’t popular enough for them to keep stocking it.

There are a few additions to the Smart Writing System notebooks. I don’t plan on buying into the system, so I’m not going to cover it here.

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Discontinued Go Click Ballpens

The Classic Cap Roller Pens and Classic Click Ballpen in white, tide green, and charcoal grey are being discontinued. The Go Click Ballpen in Pattern Cyan, Magenta Green and Yellow are also being discontinued. These are among the best looking Moleskine Go pens, so that’s a real shame. What’s worse is that Moleskine is discontinuing all of its roller gel (and ballpoint) refills. Their gel refill is Parker size and pretty great, so I really wish they would continue producing it. As it is I’m planning to buy one or two to keep around while I still can (they aren’t cheap).

I personally am a bit disappointed in Moleksine’s Spring-Summer lineup this year compared to their previous Fall-Winter one, but that’s just a matter of taste. There are some real lookers here, and the choice of seasonal colours for their notebook lineup (Hydrangea Blue and Lemon Green) is great. There are a lot of options that are getting discontinued, hopefully to be replaced by others in the future, so it’s worth taking some time to make sure that your favourite combo hasn’t been axed. Old stock of discontinued items will stick around for a while, but if there’s something that you really can’t do without and it’s marked as “no longer available” or “while stocks last” then it’s worth stocking up on it while you still can.

 

 

Moleskine Spring-Summer 2020 Catalog

Bradley Theodore Limited Edition Moleskine Review

This is an unusual Moleskine limited edition notebook, and I wasn’t planning on reviewing it, but I just finished my Moleskine Moria journal and my hand just reached for this one as my next Moleskine, so here we are.

The Bradley Theodore limited edition Moleskine came out in 2017 as part of Moleskine’s lineup for the Milan Design Week. As far as I can tell the notebooks where designed primarily as a giveaway for the Moleskine’s and Bradley Theodore’s bag collection, and for some reason the three notebook designs somehow landed in the Moleskine UK physical stores. That’s where I found this fellow, languishing on a high shelf in the Moleskine Covent Garden shop, nestled above the Bradley designed bags. The design was bold enough to make me interested.

Will you look at that?

This notebook is just that front cover, and in this case it’s enough. If I remember correctly it was priced like a regular edition Moleskine, and considering the amount of work that went into the design, I think that it’s a fair price. I don’t like reviewing products that are out of stock, but you may be able to find one on eBay or Amazon marketplace, and there’s a point to this review, trust me.

The ribbon, elastic band and the back pocket hinges are a shade of pink that matches the graffiti design on the cover:

Bradley Theodore’s signature is on the left side of the front endpaper:

And that’s it. The back cover is plain black, there are no stickers/add-ons/cute side-B of the paper band, and there is no real design on the front or back endpapers. It’s probably the cheapest limited edition that Moleskine could make, which brings me to my point:

This notebook is an outlier. It actually surprised me when I opened it up, how little there was here. That made me appreciate even more just how much design work goes into a “regular” Moleskine limited edition notebook.

I’m “moving into” this notebook tomorrow, but it already has one entry that I slipped in from October, and a cool promotional postcard that I stuck inside, plus my “In case of loss” all filled in. If you’re looking for tips on how to start a new journal, I recommend reading the end of this post.

Bradley Theodore Limited Edition Moleskine Review

Moleskine Star Wars Pocket Weekly 2020 Planner Review

Every year Moleskine comes up with new designs for its planners, and 2020 was no different. On the one hand, it’s great that every year there’s something fresh, on the other  hand, if you happened to really love one of their previous designs you are going to be disappointed.

I was planning on being disappointed.

For the past three years I’ve been using the Moleskine pocket weekly notebook to get an idea of how my week looks like (I also use Fantastical as my digital calendar/reminders app), and every year I’ve bought the latest limited edition. Last year’s denim edition was so beautiful and popular I had some hope that it would return in some version or other this year.

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Battered but beautiful.

So when Moleskine came out with Star Wars themed limited edition planners, I was slightly disappointed, I admit. That disappointment faded away when the new planner arrived.

The design of the cover of this planner is phenomenal. The colour choice, the overlay, the way that it looks like someone stamped or screen printed the design – very ’70s retro, and really well done.

Moleskine’s choice of elastic band colour and the quote on the cover are also great. A red band would have been too much, I think, and the quote is inspirational and makes me smile.

The branding on the back is subtle. It’s a Star Wars planner before it’s a Moleskine planner.

Continuing the retro vibe, the front and back endpapers are excellent (although the stickers do stick out, somewhat ruining the effect.

Sticker page sticks out of the back pocket, because it’s too large.

The sticker page itself is cool, but not really planner themed.

The planner itself is in the usual pocket weekly format, with a ton of pages for your information, monthly and yearly planning calendars, and general information (maps, international holidays, etc). Then the actual planner, which is a week on one page, with a notes page opposite it. The paper is thin, which makes the planner thin and light, but there’s going to be show through with everything, and it’s not fountain pen or rollerball friendly. Gel ink, ballpoint and pencil are what works best with it.

Look at that pretty ribbon bookmark!

There’s not a lot of writing space for each day, but after trying several other formats over the years, this is the one that works for me. It’s just enough to give me a feel for what the week is like, without tempting me to dump everything from my calendar and to-do list on the thing. Only what must go in the planner (appointments, running meets, races, trips, meetings with friends and other events that don’t generally move) gets written down, and so I have a way of seeing exactly how much time I have for various projects during the week. It’s a way for me to make fluid time more concrete and managed.

As usual, there’s a cool B-side to the paper slip around the cover, and this one shows how to make an origami X-Wing.

From previous years’ experience these little notebooks can take a beating, and even though the cover on this planner is white, I expect nothing less from it. If you’re looking for a weekly planner that is lightweight, durable, and well designed, the Moleskine Star Wars 2020 Weekly Planner is worth checking out.

Moleskine Star Wars Pocket Weekly 2020 Planner Review