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10 Affordable Pens Geeks Love

10 Affordable Pens Geeks Love

Look in the pocket or bag of any self-respecting geek and you’ll find a pen. Or two. Or 12. I have about 40 pens within a 3′ stretch of me where I’m writing this.

Of course, I don’t use all of them. They’re the detritus of years of experimentation, checking out new pens all the time, in my ever-present quest to find The Perfect Pen – or at least my next one.

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The right pen is important, as Lifehack contributor David Pierce recently told us. As with all tools, the better it feels to use a pen, the more likely you are to do so.

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And pens have personalities. Some pens might make you feel creative and free, while others make you feel formal and official — which explains why I take roll in my classes with a different pen from the one clipped to my Moleskine.

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Now, it’s easy to spend a fortune on a pen — $200 is chicken feed in the world of premium pens, a world far beyond this poor writer’s means. But there are plenty of affordable pens out there that have gotten the “seal of approval” (signed with a flourish, of course) from pen geeks everywhere. Here, then, are ten decently-priced pens that bring a flush to the cheeks of even the snobbiest geeks.

(Note: All prices in US dollars.)

  1. Pilot G2: Cheap, comfortable, and wonderful to write with, the Pilot G2 is especially favored by Moleskine enthusiasts because its gel ink flows nicely on the notebook’s ultra-smooth pages and it doesn’t soak through to the other side. The G2 sells for about $2.00 each in black and comes in three thicknesses (0.5mm, 0.7mm, and 1mm) and a variety of colors (colored pens cost a little more). They’re even refillable! A variety of Pilot pens use the same refills, including models with much thicker barrels, metal barrels, and the G2 mini which is a little over half the size of the standard G2.
  2. Staedtler Pigment Liners: Often sold in the technical drawing section of the office supply or art store, pigment pens are fiber-tipped pens with archival-quality liquid ink. They’re available in a variety of widths, from 1mm all the way down to 0.05mm for incredibly detailed work. Preferred by artists and drafters, pigment pens are also great for things like writing “cheat sheets” of information onto index cards or Post-Its. They’re sold individually for a few bucks each, but are commonly available in sets of 4 sizes for under $10.
  3. Zebra Telescopic Brights: A comfortable pen with a wolid-feeling metal barrel, Zebra’s telescoping pens collapse to about half their length, making them great for keeping in a pocket or wallet. They’re refillable, come in 6 colors, and cost under $5 for a 2-pack.
  4. Lamy Logo Multi-Color Ballpoint: Most multi-color pens look like kids toys, but not the Lamy Multi-Color Ballpoint. Lamy pens are the height of style, and the Logo Multi-Color is no exception — it fits black, red, and blue ink cartridges into a barrel no wider than most single-color pens. It’s a tad pricey at $35, making itthe most expensive on this list, but Lamy pens are well-made and a joy to write with — a lot of cheaper multi-color pens (or multi-function pens, for that matter) feel cheap, even when they’re not.
  5. Inka: For people who don’t like to keep pens in their pockets, the Inka’s got you covered. This collapsible pen has a keyring at one end so you always have it with you. The two-piece design screws together to form a typical-length pen, with a pressurized ink cartridge that will write upside-down and on wet surfaces. The pen closes sexcurely (so the pen won’t fall out ofthe cap when notin use) and is even waterproof. Inka pens run $20.
  6. Fisher Space Bullet: Is there anything cooler than using the same pen that astronauts use? Designed to write in any conditions, the Fisher Space Pen’s pressurized cartridge write upside-down, across wet or greasy surfaces, and in extreme cold — perfect if you ever find yourself needing to add a “next action” while in orbit. The Bullet pen closes to about 3″ long, with round ends, so you can keep it in your pocket easily. Fisher makes other pens that use their special ink cartridges — I have a 4-function pen my brother gave me for my birthday last year — but the $22 Space Bullet is the classic.
  7. Sharpie Pen: Not just for packing labels and toilet stall graffiti anymore, Sharpie’s new line of pens get almost everything right. The ink doesn’t bleed (it’s not the same ink you find in Sharpie permanent markers), the barrels are not too thick nor too thin, and the fiber-tip draws a line that’s fine but not invisible. And they’re cheap — $6 or $7 for a pack of 4. The only drawback is that the writing on the barrel chips off if you keep it in your pocket for months. (Obviously not enough of a problem to keep me from keeping one in my pocket for months…)
  8. Flair: Often overlooked in favor of newer, fancier markers, Flair pens are great for tasks like mind-mapping and taking notes where several colors are useful. As always, they have that funky-feeling grooved body and quick-drying fiber tip that squashes flat over time. But if you treat them nice, they’ll treat you nice in return. A little over a buck a pop, the thing to do is to buy sets of 12 colors for around $15 and keep a handful in your bag all the time.
  9. Rotring Expandable Pen: The official GTD pen, this one is discontinued but is available exclusively through David Allen’s store. Like the Zebra pen above, but classy — a brass barrel with lacquered finish gives it that substantial feeling that I love. Rotring is a premium brand, but these can be had for $19.
  10. Pilot Varsity: I started with a Pilot pen and I’ll finish with a Pilot pen: the Varsity. This is a strange beast — a disposable fountain pen. Ilove fountain pens, but cheap ones tend not to write very nicely and and expensive ones are, well, expensive. Plus, nearly every fountain pen I’ve ever had has blackened my fingers something fierce — except the Varsity. For only a bit above $3 apiece, these little plastic pens write nicely (and the ink flows immediately every time) and don’t leak. Used normally, the line is about 1 mm, but you can flip it over and use the tippy-tip (I’m sure there’s a technical name for it…) for a great fine line, too. Be careful, especially if you’re left-handed – fountain pen ink smudges.

What are your favorite pens? Feel free to share your own favorites, and the reasons why, in the comments — like I said, I’m always on the lookout for a new great pen.

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Last Updated on April 8, 2019

22 Tips for Effective Deadlines

22 Tips for Effective Deadlines

Unless you’re infinitely rich or prepared to rack up major debt, you need to budget your income. Setting limits on how much you are willing to spend helps control expenses. But what about your time? Do you budget your time or spend it carelessly?

Deadlines are the chronological equivalent of a budget. By setting aside a portion of time to complete a task, goal or project in advance you avoid over-spending. Deadlines can be helpful but they can also be a source of frustration if set improperly. Here are some tips for making deadlines work:

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  1. Use Parkinson’s Law – Parkinson’s Law states that tasks expand to fill the time given to them. By setting a strict deadline in advance you can cut off this expansion and focus on what is most important.
  2. Timebox – Set small deadlines of 60-90 minutes to work on a specific task. After the time is up you finish. This cuts procrastinating and forces you to use your time wisely.
  3. 80/20 – The Pareto Principle suggests that 80% of the value is contained in 20% of the input. Apply this rule to projects to focus on that critical 20% first and fill out the other 80% if you still have time.
  4. Project VS Deadline – The more flexible your project, the stricter your deadline. If a task has relatively little flexibility in completion a softer deadline will keep you sane. If the task can grow easily, keep a tight deadline to prevent waste.
  5. Break it Down – Any deadline over one day should be broken down into smaller units. Long deadlines fail to motivate if they aren’t applied to manageable units.
  6. Hofstadter’s Law – Basically this law states that it always takes longer than you think. A rule I’ve heard in software development is to double the time you think you need. Then add six months. Be patient and give yourself ample time for complex projects.
  7. Backwards Planning – Set the deadline first and then decide how you will achieve it. This approach is great when choices are abundant and projects could go on indefinitely.
  8. Prototype – If you are attempting something new, test out smaller versions of a project to help you decide on a final deadline. Write a 10 page e-book before your 300 page novel or try to increase your income by 10% before aiming to double it.
  9. Find the Weak Link – Figure out what could ruin your plans and accomplish it first. Knowing the unknown can help you format your deadlines.
  10. No Robot Deadlines – Robots can work without sleep, relaxation or distractions. You aren’t a robot. Don’t schedule your deadline with the expectation you can work sixteen hour days to complete it. Deathmarches aren’t healthy.
  11. Get Feedback – Get a realistic picture from people working with you. Giving impossible deadlines to contractors or employees will only build resentment.
  12. Continuous Planning – If you use a backwards planning model, you need to constantly be updating plans to fit your deadline. This means making cuts, additions or refinements so the project will fit into the expected timeframe.
  13. Mark Excess Baggage – Identify areas of a task or project that will be ignored if time grows short. What e-mails will you have to delete if it takes too long to empty your inbox? What features will your product lack if you need a rapid finish?
  14. Review – For deadlines over a month long take a weekly review to track your progress. This will help you identify methods you can use to speed up work and help you plan more efficiently for the future.
  15. Find Shortcuts – Almost any task or project has shortcuts you can use to save time. Is there a premade library you can use instead of building your own functions? An autoresponder to answer similar e-mails? An expert you can call to help solve a problem?
  16. Churn then Polish – Set a strict deadline for basic completion and then set a more comfortable deadline to enhance and polish afterwards. Often churning out the basics of a task quickly will require no more polishing afterwards than doing it slowly.
  17. Reminders – Post reminders of your deadlines everywhere. Creating a sense of urgency with your deadlines is necessary to keep them from getting pushed aside by distractions.
  18. Forward Planning – Not mutually exclusive with backwards planning, this involves planning the details of a project out before setting a deadline. Great for achieving clarity about what you are trying to accomplish before making arbitrary time limits.
  19. Set a Timer – Get one that beeps. Somehow the countdown of a timer appears more realistic for a ninety minute timebox than just glancing at your clock.
  20. Write them Down – Any deadline over a few hours needs to be written down. Otherwise it is an inclination not a goal. Having written deadlines makes them more tangible than internal decisions alone.
  21. Cheap/Fast/Good – Ben Casnocha in My Start Up Life mentions that you can have only have two of the three. Pick two of the cheap/fast/good dimensions before starting a project to help you prioritize.
  22. Be Patient – Using a deadline may seem to be the complete opposite of patience. But being patient with inflexible tasks is necessary to focus on their completion. The paradox is that the more patient you are, the more you can focus. The more you can focus the quicker the results will come!

Featured photo credit: Estée Janssens via unsplash.com

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