I’ve been using my MacBook charger wrong

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Holy shit, you guys.

I was packing up my laptop today, coiling my power cable to fit into my cable bag, and the man next to me leant over and said, “Would you like to know a better way to do that?”

I had no idea what he was talking about, but I slowly nodded (on alert in case this was some kind of scam). He took my power cable from me, untangled its already-mobius-esque length, and did this.

Mind. Fucking. Blown. I had no idea those flaps folded out!

Makeup planner

Nine years after conception, I just found out this is a thing. Make up artist and Home Shopping Networker Trish McEvoy produces seasonal “makeup planners”: ringbinder cases for cosmetics.

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They come in seasonal colors like Kalahari Sky, Gold, Azure, Magenta Croc, White Sand, or Classic Black Quilted.

Screenshot 2017-04-25 15.07.32.pngThey’re sized in Petite, Medium or Large, and you can buy one pre-filled, or get it empty for USD $78 – $85 and build your own with refills, which McEvoy calls “makeup wardrobing pages.”

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Although the filled planners are pricey – USD $185 to $350 – for the amount of product you get I don’t actually think they’re too bad. And I admire the heck out of McEvoy for implementing the idea. I can see a big crossover market between the planner community and makeup buyers.

There’s something about the organization that comes with planners that makes part of me deeply content. I also get a huge sense of peace associated with completion and preparedness that comes with buying complete sets of things. (This may stem from an Erma Bombeck piece about a coordinated travel wardrobe I read when I was seven.)

I see these and just want to own one and play with it, to be like Eeyore taking things out and putting them back in again. Although I’m not a Trish McEvoy kind of person, in another lifetime I think I’d love to be.

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Dave Seah’s Emergent Task Planner (with free downloads)

Designer Dave Seah has a kick-ass range of free downloadable time management templates. They’re called the Emergent Task Planner range, and I love these suckers.

There’s space for your top 3 tasks and 6 additional tasks, each with four hours worth of 15-min time trackers so you can record how long you actually spend on the work. The left holds an open time scale in 15 minute increments. At the bottom is scratch paper space, or room to write new tasks as they, well, emerge.

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This graphic is from Seah’s website and you should totally go there immediately and download the planners for free and try them out, and, if you like them, pay him $12 for the dated 2017 version. Seah also has a whole range of free productivity downloads you can find here (including a concrete goals tracker and a NaNoWriMo word count tracker)

You can also buy ready-to-go printed versions on Amazon. There’s an undated 3-month spiral-bound notebook, an A5 spiral-bound version, and an unbound version you can punch for your own Franklin Monarch etc. I’m annoyed at myself for not needing the 3-month bound book because I want one.

But I did buy a couple of packs of the Stickypad ETP.

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These 4″ x 6″ sticky notes fit into an A6 notebook, or on a larger planner page. The stickies  – and the A5 version – don’t include the time tracking boxes and I wish they did, although I can easily add in boxes by hand for the purpose.

Even when you don’t need a tightly scheduled planner, there are always those days where tasks, appointments, and meetings collide, and you end up with a jammed day. These planner sheets are perfect for that. You can print one off just when you need one, or add a single sticky to your regular everyday carry notebook.

Kanmido personal Kanban board

This will surprise exactly no-one who reads this blog, but when I’m letting my fear keep me from writing, I waste money on planning supplies. Here’s my new entirely unnecessary toy: the Kanmido 10 Min Work Life Balance Planning Board aka a personal Kanban board.

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Kanban was designed as an information tracking system for lean/just-in-time manufacturing, but it’s also super useful for keeping track of multiple writing projects simultaneously. I have a big whiteboard on my wall behind my desk I use as a Kanban board. I have columns for first conception, drafting, editing, cover commission, proofreading, and release. Each project gets one sticky note, and as the project goes into different phases the sticky advances across the board. Or, alternatively, the sticky stays exactly where it is for two years. This latter is more frequent. But the system does help me keep track of what’s where, what I have to do next, and why I absolutely cannot take on any new projects until 2022.

The Kanmido board is a variation on the idea. You’ve got columns for Today, This Week, and This Month, although of course you could change these to whatever you like. You use stickies for your tasks/appointments, and advance them across the columns – from right to left, like manga – as each becomes your priority. And unlike a whiteboard, you can tuck the board into your planner/notebook and take it to the cafe/office/meeting with you.

The back of the board has spaces for “whole life” tasks. No idea what these might be. Recreation? Apparently other people have lives outside of working. I haven’t got the hang of that yet. Maybe in my second half-century.

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Kanmido intends you to use yellow stickies for must-do tasks, pink for want-to-do tasks, and blue for appointments. Handily, the stickies are built in to the bottom of the board, and refills can be found, but a) not easily, and b) they’re pricey. Hell, the whole board is pricey. Should this speak to you, definitely shop around: prices on ebay vary by over 100%.

I tried Hobonichi Coco Fusen refills in the Kanmido board, but they’re so much shorter they don’t really work. When you remove a sticky the end of the stack falls out of the board at the back.

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Kanmido sticky on the top, two colors of Hobonichi sticky at the bottom
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Spot the interloper.

The boards come in A6 (105 x 148 mm / 4.1 x 5.8 inches) and B6 (125 x 176 mm / 4.9 x 6.9 inches). They’re 2mm thin. The A6 fits perfectly inside an A6 notebook like a Stalogy or Hobonichi Planner/Original. The B6 is smaller than A5, so it easily fits inside a Leuchtturm large, Moleskine large, or Hobonichi Cousin.

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B6 in a Hobonichi Cousin
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Can you see it inside my Cousin?

The Kanmido board comes with a weird paperclip thing, with which to fasten it into your main planner, by using a tiny clear plastic loop attached to each top edge of the board. This kind of works. It does stop it falling out of your planner if you’re walking around, but the lower edge of the board is still free to slip out of place.

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So, should you buy one of these?

Hell, no.

The process of tracking tasks/project status is great, but seriously, this is expensive for what it is. You can DIY this. Cut a piece of card to size and laminate it. Here’s one I made in sixty seconds with an unused divider and a sharpie, which fits the cheaper, larger, and more common 3M post-it flags.

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This column system won’t work for you if you find the process of writing your to-do list out each day helps sift through what you can safely forget. But if you have a lot of tasks to complete in series it can feel fucking good to pull them along the columns and see the progress you’re making.

Still, I have two annoyances with the Kanmido To-Do Board.

  1. It’s hard to find pens to write on the stickies. A Pilot Twin Marker works the best, because that sucker will write on anything up to and including window glass. Frixion pens also work, but all the rollerballs I’ve tried smudge easily, or the ink pools and won’t form letters at all.
  2. Because stickies only have adhesive on one end, once you write past half way the free end starts flapping around and it’s hard to write neatly. I have to try to hold the end down to hold it steady. The stickies are tiny. My hands are not.

Something else to consider, generic paper post-it flags don’t seem to stick well enough; they peel off within 30 minutes. You really need to use more expensive film stickies.

Disappointingly – but entirely predictably – the Kanmido doesn’t add value to my life. Because I spent money on it I’m going to force myself to use it for the rest of the month and see if I can make it work for me. Maybe I can use it for all those mosquito tasks that never make it onto my actual to-do list, and I can pick one to work on each day. That might work. I’ll update in March. If you try the Kanmido, or if you hack your own, please let me know how it goes for you.

 

Go Kokuyo part 2: Jibun Techo cover review

In part 1 of this post I looked at the Jibun Techo by Kokuyo, a simpler and more compact competitor to Hobonichi planner.

Kokuyo also make a pretty ingenious trifold A5 cover, which not only will work for the Jibun Techo but also a Hobonichi Cousin, Moleskine, MD Midori A5, Seven Seas, Taroko journal, or any other A5 or A5 slim notebook. The cover is vegan leather (aka plastic) and polyester canvas (aka a different kind of plastic). It has three riveted ribbon bookmarks and closes with an elasticated band. There are outside pockets in both front and back, big enough to store my A5 shitajiki as you can see. One thing I appreciate is that the elastic band is so firm when it’s unfastened it doesn’t flop around, it sits nice and tight against the back of the cover (see right pic).

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The trifold design allows for easy carrying of the Jibun Techo 3 book system. In the photos I actually have a Hobonichi Cousin A5 notebook, not the Jibun Idea book. You can see how well it fits.

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The planner slips into the cover just like a Hobonichi cover. The Life book nestles next to it in the back cover. The Idea book or other notebook attaches via a clever split plastic sleeve, which swings out to give you the trifold. The same plastic sleeve design sits in front, although that one doesn’t swing out.

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The inside back cover has three horizontal slots for business cards/credit cards/sticky note holders, and there’s one more vertical one in the foldout sleeve.

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Hobonichi Cousin A5 notebook attached to the foldout sleeve.

Bonus: the cover comes with a free spiral bound notebook, and the paper in it is surprisingly good.

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One big advantage of this split sleeve system is you can insert either a spine-bound notebook or a top-bound jotter pad/note pad into the space.

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Rhodia jotter in Kokuyo cover

The whole thing makes a slim package convenient to carry or throw in your bag. The pen loop is elastic, and amply big enough for a Lamy Al-Star or even chunkier pen.

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Even with the Rhodia jotter pad in it, it’s very manageable.

But not only the Jibun Techo set will fit in it. Look! This sucker will hold a large Moleskine plus a notebook, a Hobonichi Cousin with a Hobonichi notebook, or a Taroko Enigma by itself (just), meaning it will also hold a Seven Seas Writer/Crossfield by itself.

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Hobonichi Cousin
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Taroko Enigma

One thing I see a lot is people saying they love the design of the Safari, but dislike the khaki color of the A5. The Kokuyo A5 cover comes in four appropriately sober and businesslike color options.

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I got my cover, including the notebook, on eBay for about USD$35. Shipping was free. Compare that to USD$118 for the Safari A5, plus another $20 for shipping and handling. My experience with this seller was fantastic. The cover arrived in New Zealand from Japan in a week (and remember, that was with free shipping).

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Hobonichi Safari Cousin cover

Yes, the Safari is better quality, with more pockets, and arguably will last longer. It’s more elegant, although the Khaki color is not to everyone’s liking. But you can’t argue against that price difference. If you’re looking for a sturdy, practical, well-designed and non-precious journal cover you should definitely consider the Kokuyo.

Go Kokuyo part 1: Jibun Techo & accessories review

Japanese stationery brand Kokuyo is an up and coming competitor to Hobonichi. You guys know I love Hobonichi, and treasure my Safari cover as my everyday carry, but the Hobonichi planner isn’t the right choice for everyone. Many people find the daily layout offers more space than they need. And the universe knows, white space waiting to be filled with brilliance causes anxiety at the best of times.

If you relate to this, the Kokuyo Jibun Techo might be a better choice for you. The full Jibun Techo “3 in 1 Life Log Diary” is a set of three books: a yearly planner, a ‘Life’ book to record personal details and events, and a ‘Idea’ book – a thin gridded notebook made from Tomoe River paper.

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The planner offers only a monthly and weekly view (plus personal info pages), on beautiful fountain-pen friendly paper. There’s a regular edition, with color pages, and a monochromatic Biz edition. It has two built-in ribbon bookmarks, in black and red.

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The Shiba Inu bookmarks up top are by the artist A Cloud is Born, from Hobonichi

The Jibun Techo comes in A5 slim or B6 slim. The A5 slim is 17mm (2/3 inch) narrower than full A5. It’s a compact size, great for an everyday carry. You can buy each book separately, but if you get the set it comes in a handy clear plastic cover with two outside document pockets and six slots for business cards/sticky notes/accessories.

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The set also comes with a shitakiji which has a riveted elastic band to hold the whole lot neatly together inside the closed cover.

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If you don’t care for the idea of the elastic Kokuyo also make a separate shitajiki to use as a ‘Today’ bookmark.

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A5 slim Jibun Techo (left) shitajiki photographed next to a Taroko Shop A5 for size comparison

Kokuyo makes sticky notes to fit into their boxes, but the Hobonichi ones work fine too. You would have to be pretty darn OCD to mind the 2mm overhang. They also make index stickers to add to your pages and make navigation easier.

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Belle Beth Cooper has done an extensive walkthrough of the Jibun Techo, and the Kokuyo website lists all the pages in the Yearly Planner and the Life book, with good images. Currently the Kokuyo website is only in Japanese, which makes ordering scary. There are some showing up on eBay and Etsy now, although the seller markup makes them pretty damn expensive. Do not worry about what cover color you buy: this is simply a trimmed piece of A4 (letter) paper slipped inside the clear cover. You can easily print and make your own.

Currently I’m trialling the Jibun Techo as a daily log, recording how I actually spend my time: all my time. Sometimes I don’t know where the hours go. Five days of recording down to the minute already tells me where I need to improve.

In part 2 of this post I review the Kokuyo A5 notebook cover, a well-designed and price-conscious choice which also works for a Hobonichi Cousin, Moleskine, Seven Seas, or Taroko journal.

My top 3 writing productivity apps

Productivity apps can be an energy suck. You spend so much time getting organized and setting up systems you don’t move on to the “producing stuff” stage. Many apps don’t add enough value to be worth it. Here are my top three low-setup apps. These have genuinely helped me improve how much and how frequently I write, with no learning curve or extensive workflow system development required *cough* OmniFocus *cough*. I’m on Mac, so Your Milage May Vary.

1. Brain FM

BrainFM plays frequency- & amplitude-modulated music. The channel I use sounds like EDM with a weird, trippy bass. I cannot explain why BrainFM works. As far as I know, it’s magic. Kidding. It’s science. All I know is I turn it on and the ADD part of my brain goes all quiet and happy, tucking itself into a corner of my skull and tapping its toes happily, and leaves the rest of me free to write. It’s kind of absurd how well it works for me. I can set it for 30 minutes, an hour, two hours, or infinity. There’s a wide choice of music/sound types to pick from, and themes for focus, relaxation. or sleep. Best of all there’s no setup required. Put your earbuds in. Push Focus. Work.

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BrainFM asks you to rate your sessions and then tracks your progress. It costs USD $6.95 a month for a month-by-month account. I love it so much I splashed out in December for a discount $39.00 lifetime sub through BoingBoing: this is still on offer for another 5 days (or 1 year for $19; 2 years for $29). I’ve tried other focus music options like Focus@Will. This is also effective, but not to the same extent. BrainFM is the one for me. I’m hooked.

2. Vitamin R

Vitamin R is a flexible pomodoro app: it times you for the duration of a focused work session. The differences between Vitamin R and a plain Pomodoro timer are:

a) Before you start a focus session the app asks you to define your specific objective for this work session. This helps me stop focusing on “working” and start focusing on “completing X task in this project.” The app remembers your objectives, so when you pick up the next day you can easily see where you got to yesterday.

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b) The app then asks which other apps you’d like to close to minimize your distractions. It will remember your choices, and offer these as the default next time.

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c) Then you define your own session length, from 5 minutes to an hour. The app tells you when your time slice will finish, and also links to your google calendar/iCal to let you know what other appointments/plans are in your day view. When you feel like hell, but have to work anyway, it’s useful to just do a five-minute slice. Achieve progress, no matter how tiny. When it’s your prime creative time and you’re energized and alert, crank it up to an hour.

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d) As you work there’s an intermittent tick-tick sound (you can toggle this off) to remind you to stay on task. The idea might sounds annoying, unless, like me, you’re prone to distraction. Then not only will you understand, you’ll love it. The tick acts like the bell in meditation; it reminds me to get back on task (I can get sidetracked easily, just by the birds outside the window). There’s also popups/voice overs to count down your time slice, e.g. “ten minutes left.” Again, you can toggle these off if you hate them.

e) The app tracks your time slices. Over weeks you get to see more clearly when long slices work, and when you’re fed up and short slices work better. This helps me plan my tasks. My gut tells me I work best in the evening. My stats tell me I’m wrong: if I haven’t done it by 6pm, I’ll struggle.

There’s also a notepad, but it takes two seperate clicks to open it while writing and I find that annoying. Using Notes – or a scrap of paper – works more efficiently for me.

3. Day One

I have a problem with fear. My productivity is low because I’m terrified of being judged for my inexorable imperfection. 2015 was a sucky fucking year for productivity for me. In the months of April to November inclusive I wrote only 26,336 words. In February, June, and October I wrote nothing. On 29 November 2015 I started journaling, inspired by my friend Chris (I do not attempt the arty stuff she does). In December 2015 I wrote 34,976 words. In January 2016 I wrote 61,547. In two months, that’s more than three times the word count achieved in the previous eight.

I have a paper journal too of course, but for my writing productivity, I use Day One. The interface is super-clean and extremely simple. When I sit down to write one of those Vitamin R time slices I feel the fear well up inside me every fucking time. Who the hell am I kidding. I can’t write. My books are terrible and no one wants to read them anyway. I’m a joke. When I try, and inevitably fail, everyone will unfriend me.

Before I start writing, I can click open Day One and write all this shit down. Get it out of me, like carving out envenomated flesh. I tell myself it’s all right to fail. I am nothing special, and that is what’s important. We’re all just flailing around , tiny whirlpools in the great energy of life. I can write because I don’t know what I’m doing, not in spite of it.

I can also write through plot issues, when I’m stuck or not sure what happens, or how it happens, or how a character will react. Here’s where Day One beats a paper journal: if I come up with something good I can just cut and paste it, or tag it to find later. I can easily add photos, drawings, and pics of book covers. The Day One interface on Mac couldn’t be simpler: click the + and write, click Done when finished. You can keep multiple journals if you want, and sync between Mac, iPhone and iPad.

The down side? Day One is crazy expensive: currently USD $49.95 I believe (NZ$59.95 = ouch!). It’s definitely a luxury. If you have Evernote you can use that for digital journaling. You shouldn’t need to double up. I own Evernote. I shouldn’t need Day One. But for me, it works, and it’s worth it.

I’m still working on overcoming my fear. It’s deep-seated and will take time. This is my number one priority for 2017, hand in hand with producing many more books.

 

So, these apps helped me. If you find any useful, or if you’re aware of cool features I’ve missed, shout out in the comments and let me know. And tell me, what’s your favorite productivity app?