Choosing paper for your fancy new fountain pen

Choosing paper for your fancy new fountain pen

I’ve written before about fountain pens here. Once you’ve caught the fountain pen bug, it’s hard to go back to ordinary pens. The variety of ink colors, textures, and even scents; the ease of writing; the pleasure of the pens themselves- all of these things are why I’ve used fountain pens for more than a decade. However, using a fountain pen will be an optimal experience only if you use the right paper. A visit to a fountain pen store, or a website like Goulet Pens, my personal favorite, will reveal a somewhat bewildering range of choices.

What are you looking for in a paper? Let me help you decide.

There are a lot of factors involved in choosing the perfect paper. If you really catch the bug, you’ll probably end up with a lot of different kinds of paper! To start, though, I think it’s useful to consider a few questions:

  1. What are you using the paper for? If it’s a journal, you’ll probably want to consider a bound book of some sort. Are you taking notes for studying? You might be more flexible and a letter sized pad, spiral notebook or loose leaf paper might work better. Are you writing letters? Then you might want stationery.
  2. Are you left or right handed? Left-handed people CAN use fountain pens- I am left handed and almost never smear ink. However, there are things to think about if you’re left handed. Some notebooks are designed to be used from back to front, avoiding the spiral where your hand should go. Some papers are faster drying, and therefore might be better for left handed writers since they may smear less (though I write from below, and never really smear ink).
  3. What size paper do you want to work with? Many of the better quality papers use the European style numbering- A4, B5, etc.
  4. When you write, do you prefer blank, lined, graph or dotted paper? There’s even paper ruled to help you with handwriting (french ruled).

My recommendations.

My absolute favorites, in hardcover:

  1. The Rhodia Web notebook– a hardback that comes in several colors, with the smoothest, nicest paper ever. It has a paper pocket for small papers in the back, and an elastic band to keep it closed. Ink dries a little more slowly on this paper. Ink does not bleed through these pages! Comes in blank, lined and dotted varieties.
  2. The Leuchturm 1917: a hardback that comes in a ton of colors, and has an optional pen loop you can buy for a few dollars more (which could actually stick to any of these notebooks). It has nicely numbered pages, which many notebooks do not, and an index at the beginning. It closes with elastic as well. The paper dries faster, so is theoretically nicer for left handed people, but I am not as fond of the paper as I find some inks bleed through. Comes in blank, lined, dot grid, and graph. This is the journal of choice for the Bullet Journal.
  3. Shinola journals: Similar to the Rhodia, but with bookcloth covers instead, and a little harder to find. This is a brand from Detroit that has been re-vamped recently, and I am impressed.

Paperback journal favorites:

  1. Apica A4 journals:I actually think this is the best paper on the market. It is very smooth, no bleed through and a pleasure to write on. This is a bound paperback journal, and I like to write in these when I’m taking reading notes. It comes in a lot of other sizes, too.
  2. Shinola journals: these come in all different sizes and colors, but in paperback bookcloth instead of hardback, as above.
  3. Rhodia: Rhodia comes in every shape and size. You can get spiral bound, reverse bound, and stapled composition book sizes. I use the composition book sizes if I want something light to carry with me.
  4. Field notes: small, fits in your pocket, nice paper. Basic. I carry these around for random thoughts.
  5. Traveler’s notebook: a piece of leather that holds one or many small paper notebooks with a piece of elastic. There are planners, credit card holders, plane ticket holders, etc, as well as notebooks. I carry these when I’m, well, traveling. Cool in an Indiana-Jones kind of way.

Favorite letter writing paper:

  1. Rhodia A5 pads: smooth, plain, white paper. A very basic, inexpensive pad of paper that shows off ink nicely.
  2. Tomoe River: thin, dries VERY slowly, but shows ink with shimmer nicely.
  3. G. Lalo: beautiful, thick paper in several colors- perfect for a love letter or something weighty, like a condolence letter.

Another great way to try notebooks is with a variety pack. Companies like Goulet pens have reasonably priced variety packs that let you try several kinds of small notebooks to see what you like. I hope you explore writing by hand soon. Please let me know below if you have any favorites!

The Hybrid planner: What if digital and paper are both the answer?

The Hybrid planner: What if digital and paper are both the answer?

I am dedicated and steadfast in many areas of my life, except dark chocolate versus milk chocolate, tea versus coffee, and probably most costly, digital planning versus paper planning. I can see the value of both, and at certain times of my life, I really need one over the other. When I am managing multiple priorities, none of which I can really let go with good conscience(patient care, kids, spouse, etc), digital tends to work better for me, because I don’t have time to write and re-write things. However, it is clearly better for retention of material and prioritizing to use a paper planner -what better way to decide that something is important than to be willing to re-write it? Also, paper is a much more efficient way of gathering data- you can open your Field Notes notebook and jot something down much faster than you can unlock your phone, choose an appropriate app, and start typing.

For a long time, I switched back and forth between paper and digital. I think I’ve tried them all- Filofax, Franklin Covey, Circa from Levenger, various bound planners, the Midori Traveller’s Notebook…and in the digital world, I’ve used Outlook, iCal, Fantastical, Calendars 5, BusyCal, Informant, Sunrise, etc.

I’ve come to the conclusion that some form of written calendar AND digital calendar work best for me right now, at least until I find a good way to remind myself to look at my digital planner and task manager a few times a day.

My current method.

After using both Fantastical and Reedle’s Calendars 5, I have decided that I like Calendars 5 a little bit better on my iPhone and iPad. I already have Fantastical on my Mac, so I’ve been using that when I am using my laptop. Fantastical and Calendars 5 both have natural language event entry- “dinner with Sarah at 8 pm on Thursday” as opposed to tapping tiny drop down boxes to achieve the same thing. I haven’t noticed much difference between the two, and I like Calendars’ format better. Also, both have integration with my email app, Airmail, which is also important. I’m using a task manager -more about this in a different blog entry regularly. The paper part changes for me, and is less consequential since it is just a daily (or weekly, depending on my mood) reference while I’m at my desk working. I write down just that day’s (or week’s) events, and the big three things I need to do that day. I use it to write down incidental notes during my workday as well. Right now, I’m using a weekly Circa planner, but sometimes I use a daily planner sheet from Circa, or whatever strikes my fancy. I’m eyeing one of the on-sale Economist planners right now, partly to get my hands on the enhanced content (“How to write a CV,” anyone?). I’ve also used index cards to record this information- I even made my own version of a planner page on an index card, which are particularly nice to keep track of habits and expenditures.

There’s a hybrid for everyone!

I read a lot of productivity books and blogs, and listen to podcasts on my commute, and have heard of many different kinds of hybrid systems along the way. There are a few all-in-one systems. A few of these are Moleskine’s smart writing system and the Slice planner. I haven’t tried either of these, partly because I’m too cheap to pay $179 for just the Moleskine pen, and although I know some people love the circular timeline of the Slice planner, I just do not think that way. I would miss appointments all the time. I read reviews about these two systems, and they are somewhat mixed, but I’d be interested to hear what anyone with first-hand experience thinks.

There are also other kinds of smart pens, which generally require some kind of specific dotted paper, which our occupational therapists at work like for patients who have traumatic brain injury. I’m unsure if these are helpful or not since I haven’t seen anyone use them consistently. Other options could be a PDF planner in a program like Goodnote, with an Apple pencil on an iPad pro (or the new iPad that apparently uses the Apple Pencil).

Another configuration could be like Michael Hyatt uses: a digital calendar and task manager, with his own daily Free to Focus planner for daily essential information, which also helps with setting and achieving goals (see my previous Day One post). Something simpler, but also great is the “Medium method:” a digital planner and task manager, with a notebook that each day, has a post-it flagging the day with events and the top three important tasks on it. The page is used to write any notes or thoughts that need to be captured, and the post-it can move from a desk sized notebook, to a portable, Field Notes type journal if needed. Key to this method is sitting down at the end of the day, and transferring the notes that need to be in digital format: calendars, important notes (could go in Evernote, DayOne or One Note), and tasks.

Another option I can think of, if you’re at your computer all day would be a dedicated Trello board- each morning in a review of your task cards, you can add cards with times for appointments and meetings in a “Today” list. I’ve tried this out, and think it is great for when I am sitting at my desk, but not as favorable for when I am wandering the wards, visiting patients with residents much of the day. I think the Kanban method (post-it lists) via Trello works much better with more screen acreage than I get from an iPhone or even iPad.

How do you choose a method with so many choices?

I think the first thing to consider is how you personally have learned best in the past. Are you a kinesthetic, hands-on learner? You probably need some kind of written journal. What do you need in terms of portability? Are you at your desk all the time? You could probably use a desktop version of a digital planner or a large desk sized planner. I use public transportation, and for me, something light and portable is important. What do you want to record? Are you making a record of your days for posterity, with decoration? You might want paper, then. Do you use Mac at home, and a PC at work? Perhaps you will need to consider if your digital app comes in both a PC and a Mac version, or at least a web-based version. Do you need help sticking to your goals? Consider a method like Michael Hyatt, or one like mine, where the goal planning is done in DayOne, with an electronic component and a daily paper reminder system. Are you a little bit fickle like I am? A method like mine could be good, where the paper version can be whatever you want, since you’re not planning ahead at all on the paper, so there’s little commitment in terms of the paper version. Another nice option for the fickle planner geek could be the Traveler’s journal where you can swap out whatever planner, lined journal, blank book, etc, that you want, and it’s ultra portable. You could use a Filofax, and print out your own pages every week that suit that week’s fancy from Philofaxy for free.

I hope this has been a great introduction to the Hybrid planner. I would love to hear if anyone is doing something different that I haven’t heard of, in the comments below!

DayOne app: not just a journal!

DayOne app: not just a journal!

I get asked fairly frequently by people how I manage my morning ritual since I advocate for this as part of an overall lifestyle change for patients. A big part of my morning ritual- and life planning- involves the DayOne app. I use it on my Mac most often, but I also use it on the iPad, iPhone, and probably eventually, on the web version. There are people who use DayOne in a much more sophisticated way than I do, but I think it’s worth talking about how to use this app in a simple, but useful way that reduces the amount of paper I carry around, improves my ability to plan, and helps me keep the things that matter to me at the top of my list. So how am I using DayOne?

As a Journal.

I think DayOne shines as a journal. Yes, you can use OneNote just as easily. But to me, DayOne has a cleaner, nicer interface. There are more ways to get material into DayOne for me- or at least, they are more easily accessed. Locations and weather get added automatically.

I feel a little conflicted in general about digital journaling- for one, the recent security issues with multiple websites have made me a little more cautious about what I put on line, and made me think about how I interact with technology in general. Secondly, there are good studies that writing by hand is very different in terms of memory and processing information than typing is. On the other hand, I’m not studying a journal entry, and there’s no test at the end of the semester here. DayOne allows me to take a photo of something with my iPhone during my day (today, a huge meadow of spring daffodils I saw from the train window), and then write about it in the evening. I can save the best of photos from my kids, along with my journal entries, and then have the journals printed (DayOne has a handy book printing option) at the end of the year. I use public transportation, and traveling light is important to me- carrying a heavy hardback journal isn’t part of my plan right now.

As a planning tool.

I love Michael Hyatt’s Full Focus Planner ™. I also love the Panda Planner ™. If you’re looking for a bound, hardback or in the case of the Panda Planner, paperback planner, I can happily recommend these. What I really like about both of these planners (and other planners like these) is that they assist in the reflection and practical goal planning necessary to make progress. The idea of breaking goals down into practical steps, reviewing your progress daily, and making the next step clear, really helps me stay focused. Both of these paper planners excel at this. However, I work in a fast-paced medical environment, with multiple meetings, many of which repeat weekly. You might think that I would remember these repeating meetings that occur at the same time every week, but sadly, this is not what happens. I FREQUENTLY make plans for the exact same time as the meeting that occurs twice a week, at the same time every week. It helps me to have these on my calendar, so I literally cannot plan over them, even if it clutters up my calendar somewhat. Additionally, I don’t want to carry around a planner for the same reason I don’t really carry a journal- it’s inconvenient to have a written planner on rounds in the hospital, on the metro or bus, etc.

So, what I’ve done, is re-create these goal planning and monthly/weekly/daily planning worksheets electronically. I use a text expander program to create planning templates with just a few keystrokes, that focus my day. In the morning, I open a DayOne entry in my life planning journal, and type (tilda) 5m, which tells my text expander program to add my daily template to the journal. Here, I type what I am grateful for, what my three biggest goals for the day are, and what my meditation for the day is. In the evening, I come back to this entry, and at the evening portion of the daily template: what was successful that day, and what I could have done better.

I also have a weekly version of this that helps guide my weekly planning. I’ve referenced this in my blog post about Things 3 before, but not in detail. My weekly template, added to DayOne with “(tilda) week”, gives me a chance to reflect on how I did with my weekly goal, what I’ll change, and what my three biggest goals for the week will be. The Things 3 weekly review prompts the DayOne entry as part of the workflow- along with reviewing marginalia, my inbox in Evernote and email, Instapaper, etc, so that I keep on top of all my inboxes, and don’t get overwhelmed.

As a commonplace book.

Commonplace books used to be…well, common, among serious readers and students of life. All kinds of historical figures, including Thomas Jefferson, had one. They could include thoughts, quotes from books, etc, so they were available for quick reference. There are some nice articles about commonplace books online- Ryan Holliday seems to have revived the custom in the last few years with his article you can find HERE. I tried his index card method, and perhaps I’m still not done with experimenting with that method, but I read a LOT of articles, magazines, newspapers, and books digitally, and the idea of copying them down is a little daunting. I think the idea of improved retention of the material when it is hand written is more important here. However, if I’m never getting around to that because I’m busy as a physician, mom to little kids, etc, waiting until my life is less busy to copy down quotes from the eighty something books I read last year is probably not practical.

For that reason, I tried using One Note as a common place book, but I am not crazy about the interface- plus, I’m already paying for Evernote and DayOne, which are both potential options for common place books. I think either would be a really reasonable option. For now, I’m using DayOne, in essentially exactly the way that was detailed by Chris Bowler in the Sweet Setup Blog, which you can read HERE. He gives really nice instructions, in a three-part series, on how to set up your own Commonplace book in DayOne.

Other ideas.

I think there are a lot of other good ideas for DayOne, some of which they feature on their blog. Ways I have seen others use DayOne include a prayer or spiritual journal (using text expander to create templates for bible study), a wine tasting journal (just snap a photo of the label and tap a few impressions on the keyboard which you can expand later) and even a Tarot card reading journal (same idea as the wine tasting journal, essentially). I’ve even seen people use DayOne for time logging, though there might be dedicated apps that work better for this.

I’d love to hear how you use DayOne! Please comment using the form below- I’m always looking for new ideas to use a favorite program!