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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 January 13, 2020

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

How to Make a Reminder Works for You

Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

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Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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