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Why a Great Pen Makes All the Difference

Why a Great Pen Makes All the Difference

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    When I first got into the whole “systematic productivity” thing, I did a ton of reading on the subject. One of the things I kept coming across was people discussing which notebook and which pen they used in their own systems. I would read these, all holier-than-thou, and think something to the effect of, “a pen is a pen. Is a pen. Is a pen. Who cares?”

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    I was WRONG. Over the last few years, and particularly in the last few months, I’ve started to realize that the particular pen you use, or any given tool, really does make all the difference, and has a huge effect on how you feel about what you’re doing, and how well it gets done.

    We’ve all got our tools. We use computers, cars, coffee makers, and all manner of other tools to help us through just about every aspect of our day. For me, personally, the tools I see most are my computer, my iPod Touch, and my cell phone. Whatever they may be for you, think about this: how much do you enjoy your tools?

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    That changes everything. If you’ve got a tool or a system you genuinely like using, whether it’s for the fun of crossing things off lists, or the joy of moving the slider on the iPod Touch (that one might just be me…), it makes using it a whole lot easier.

    The converse is also true. For instance, my cell phone currently has an enormous scratch on its screen, that makes it really hard to see well in the light. This minor annoyance has made me far less likely to want to use my cell phone, and I’m more reticent to pull it out to enter information, because it’s just more difficult to use.

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    As we develop productivity systems or systems for getting things done, we often overlook the things we like for the things we find most useful. Here’s the catch, though: if we don’t like it, we won’t use it.

    This applies to Web applications, and technology in general, arguably more than anything else. For almost anything you could want to do on the Web, there are multiple options, each with its own quirks and differences. We often find and use the one others use, or think is the best one. Instead, use the one you actually want to use, and then find a way to make it work in your system. If it doesn’t work for you, it doesn’t work.

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    Systems only work when we can trust them not to forget something, and can trust that we’ll see what we need to see, when we need to see it. That’s only going to happen when we want to use our system. That’s why I stopped using paper-based productivity systems – they weren’t any fun. I like typing, I like logging in, I like seeing the Remember the Milk cow every time I log on.

    But that’s just me.  A system you like and want to use is far better than a perfect, up-to-code system that sits dormant because it’s boring and you have no desire to use it. Online or off, trust applications you can’t help but use, because they’re just too much fun – they’re the ones you’ll come back to.

    What do you think? How do you find systems and tools you want to use? What are they?

    Photo: sansanparrots

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    Last Updated on October 15, 2019

    Is Procrastination Bad? The Truth About Procrastination Revealed

    Is Procrastination Bad? The Truth About Procrastination Revealed

    Procrastination is very literally the opposite of productivity. To produce something is to pull it forward, while to procrastinate is to push it forward — to tomorrow, to next week, or ultimately to never.

    Procrastination fills us with shame — we curse ourselves for our laziness, our inability to focus on the task at hand, our tendency to be easily led into easier and more immediate gratifications. And with good reason: for the most part, time spent procrastinating is time spent not doing things that are, in some way or other, important to us.

    There is a positive side to procrastination, but it’s important not to confuse procrastination at its best with everyday garden-variety procrastination.

    Sometimes — sometimes! — procrastination gives us the time we need to sort through a thorny issue or to generate ideas. In those rare instances, we should embrace procrastination — even as we push it away the rest of the time.

    Why we procrastinate after all

    We procrastinate for a number of reasons, some better than others. One reason we procrastinate is that, while we know what we want to do, we need time to let the ideas “ferment” before we are ready to sit down and put them into action.

    Some might call this “creative faffing”; I call it, following copywriter Ray Del Savio’s lead, “concepting”.[1]

    Whatever you choose to call it, it’s the time spent dreaming up what you want to say or do, weighing ideas in your mind, following false leads and tearing off on mental wild goose chases, and generally thinking things through.

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    To the outside observer, concepting looks like… well, like nothing much at all. Maybe you’re leaning back in your chair, feet up, staring at the wall or ceiling, or laying in bed apparently dozing, or looking out over the skyline or feeding pigeons in the park or fiddling with the Japanese vinyl toys that stand watch over your desk.

    If ideas are the lifeblood of your work, you have to make time for concepting, and you have to overcome the sensation— often overpowering in our work-obsessed culture — that faffing, however creative, is not work.

    So, is procrastination bad?

    Yes it is.

    Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you’re “concepting” when in fact you’re just not sure what you’re supposed to be doing.

    Spending an hour staring at the wall while thinking up the perfect tagline for a marketing campaign is creative faffing; staring at the wall for an hour because you don’t know how to come up with a tagline, or don’t know the product you’re marketing well enough to come up with one, is just wasting time.

    Lack of definition is perhaps the biggest friend of your procrastination demons. When we’re not sure what to do — whether because we haven’t planned thoroughly enough, we haven’t specified the scope of what we hope to accomplish in the immediate present, or we lack important information, skills, or resources to get the job done.

    It’s easy to get distracted or to trick ourselves into spinning our wheels doing nothing. It takes our mind off the uncomfortable sensation of failing to make progress on something important.

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    The answer to this is in planning and scheduling. Rather than giving yourself an unspecified length of time to perform an unspecified task (“Let’s see, I guess I’ll work on that spreadsheet for a while”) give yourself a limited amount of time to work on a clearly defined task (“Now I’ll enter the figures from last months sales report into the spreadsheet for an hour”).

    Giving yourself a deadline, even an artificial one, helps build a sense of urgency and also offers the promise of time to “screw around” later, once more important things are done.

    For larger projects, planning plays a huge role in whether or not you’ll spend too much time procrastinating to reach the end reasonably quickly.

    A good plan not only lists the steps you have to take to reach the end, but takes into account the resources, knowledge and inputs from other people you’re going to need to perform those steps.

    Instead of futzing around doing nothing because you don’t have last month’s sales report, getting the report should be a step in the project.

    Otherwise, you’ll spend time cooling your heels, justifying your lack of action as necessary: you aren’t wasting time because you want to, but because you have to.

    How bad procrastination can be

    Our mind can often trick us into procrastinating, often to the point that we don’t realize we’re procrastinating at all.

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    After all, we have lots and lots of things to do; if we’re working on something, aren’t we being productive – even if the one big thing we need to work on doesn’t get done?

    One way this plays out is that we scan our to-do list, skipping over the big challenging projects in favor of the short, easy projects. At the end of the day, we feel very productive: we’ve crossed twelve things off our list!

    That big project we didn’t work on gets put onto the next day’s list, and when the same thing happens, it gets moved forward again. And again.

    Big tasks often present us with the problem above – we aren’t sure what to do exactly, so we look for other ways to occupy ourselves.

    In many cases too, big tasks aren’t really tasks at all; they’re aggregates of many smaller tasks. If something’s sitting on your list for a long time, each day getting skipped over in favor of more immediately doable tasks, it’s probably not very well thought out.

    You’re actively resisting it because you don’t really know what it is. Try to break it down into a set of small tasks, something more like the tasks you are doing in place of the one big task you aren’t doing.

    More consequences of procrastination can be found in this article:

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    8 Dreadful Effects of Procrastination That Can Destroy Your Life

    Procrastination, a technical failure

    Procrastination is, more often than not, a sign of a technical failure, not a moral failure.

    It’s not because we’re bad people that we procrastinate. Most times, procrastination serves as a symptom of something more fundamentally wrong with the tasks we’ve set ourselves.

    It’s important to keep an eye on our procrastinating tendencies, to ask ourselves whenever we notice ourselves pushing things forward what it is about the task we’ve set ourselves that simply isn’t working for us.

    Featured photo credit: chuttersnap via unsplash.com

    Reference

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