Choosing the right planner, part III: the schedule-based options

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If you read the first article in the series, about a way to organize your thinking about planners and your time (find it here), you know whether you’re a task or a schedule-based planner. The task-based options were the subject of my last post. This week, we’ll talk about the schedule-based options.

Paper-based options:

You can practically insert any paper planner with hours of the day delineated here. However, there are a few that I particularly like:

  1. Ring-bound planners (Filofax, FranklinPlanner, etc): these are super easy to rearrange, beautiful, and pretty easy to customize your own inserts, especially if you pick an A5 one. If you’ve never visited Philofaxy, have I got a treat for you. This site is all things ring-binders, and has really nice printables for free for your shiny new binder. I like Filofax binders, partly because of the history behind them (did you know they were issued to students at the UK’s military academy first?) but the pagers from Franklin Planner are generally more useful in my opinion.
  2. Disc bound (Circa, Arc): I talked about the disc bound system in the last blog in this series, but Levenger makes a really strong planner system that you can put into your disc-bound system. They have great paper that is fountain pen friendly, too.
  3. Proprietary planners (Panda planner, Free to Focus, Best Self, etc): these three bound planners are not super customizable, but if you’re just learning to set goals and plan, it’s probably work picking one of these up, and sticking with it for three months. These planners get you through the system of setting goals, the daily review, the weekly review, and planning very effectively.
  4. Traveler’s system: I’ve talked about the Traveler’s system before as well, and this is still one of my favorites. They have a monthly planner, weekly in two different formats, and undated daily pages. These also come in a small, passport size, and a proprietary larger size. I use these frequently because of the flexibility, and because it reminds me of Indiana Jones. Just kidding.
  5. The Jibun Techo: I’m going to write a blog on this on its own soon. I’ve just bought one and started using it, and am really impressed with the ability to keep track of a lot of data. Look for my blog on this!

Electronic options:

You could always use the calendar on your phone, but there are better options.

  1. PC users: Microsoft Outlook is what I recommend, but most people don’t use half of the features. Find a good tutorial, and learn how to use Outlook to its full potential.
  2. Mac users: I like Fantastical on the Mac. Some people really like Busy Cal, but I found it a little cluttered. Also, Fantastical has native language entry. The implication of this is MUCH faster data entry. For example, if you want to have lunch with Mark tomorrow at noon, in a conventional program, you would need to type in “Lunch with Mark” then use a drop down box to choose the date, and then the time. With native language entry, you can just type “lunch with Mark tomorrow at noon” and the app automatically recognizes this and correctly adds it to your schedule.
  3. iOS users: I like Fantastical (also has Mac versions, see above) and Calendars 5, both of which have native language support.

Hybrid Users:

  1. Electronic calendar, tasks, and a notebook for daily notes (needs to be transferred at the end of the day). There’s a great article about this, that I discuss in my article about Hybrid planning here.
  2. Disc bound system- keep schedule on computer, and print calendars to add to disc bound system. Easy! The Levenger Circa system is standard letter size, or half a sheet of letter size paper, so it’s very convenient.
  3. Moleskine smartpen and planner, others similar on Kickstarter: these are pretty expensive options, and I haven’t seen many reviews of them. I can’t recommend for or against since I haven’t seen them in action.
  4. PDF planner pages, tablet and smart pen (GoodNotes, OneNote): there’s a whole community of people you never even knew using on their iPad pro with the app GoodNotes. Here’s a good video on it from Bohoberry.

I hope this gave you some good ideas! Are you using a different schedule-based planner and loving it? Feedback for me? I’d love to hear from you- use the comment form below, and I’ll respond to you!

 

 

A Review of Warby Parker: Spoiler, I love them!

A Review of Warby Parker: Spoiler, I love them!

Buying glasses is a pain sometimes. Besides the distraction of a million different pairs of glasses, which a good optometry technician can help narrow down, there are a bunch of choices to make: frames, lens materials, coating, etc. Warby Parker (who didn’t sponsor this post or reimburse me in anyway) can make this a little easier. I’ve recently discovered that my days of contact lenses are probably limited, and I’ve been liking all the hip spectacles I’ve been seeing around town. I decided to expand my eyeglass wardrobe, through both a conventional optician (via Groupon) and Warby Parker.

The process

First, I obtained a new prescription, including pupil distance, from my optometrist, and scanned it into my document manager, keeping the paper version to give to the place I bought glasses.

Process at a conventional optometrist: This took about an hour. I went to the optometrist after buying a Groupon for $75 for a $225 voucher for eyeglasses. The optometry technician tried narrowing down glasses for me, bringing many glasses for me to see. By seeing what I liked, she was able to narrow down my choices, as there were a TON of glasses I did not like (Napolean Dynamite, anyone?). However, I have no idea whether she was “upselling” me glasses by bringing me incredibly expensive glasses or not. What I do know is that the glasses I saw in the end were Oliver Peoples, Fendi, Prada, etc. I picked some glasses out that I liked- Oliver Peoples, in an unusual bold cat-eye style. She computed the price, subtracted the voucher, and voila- “$550.” What?! Add the charge for ordering the glasses, labor, multiple coatings, high density lenses, etc. Plus, to be fair, I ended up with a really nice brand of glasses. However, she seemed perplexed that I did not want all these upgrades, and upon hearing that I was a.) in a hurry to leave since I’d been there 45 minutes already and b.) leaving since I wasn’t spending $550 that day in glasses, some of the things that were necessary were suddenly expendable, and they were able to reduce the glasses to $300. It took a few weeks for the glasses to come in, which seemed like a long time. I had to return to the store, and no adjustments were made at that time, so I could have had them mailed to my house rather than drive out to the optometrist. They didn’t have Oliver Peoples cases by that time, so I ended up with a velvet Tom Ford case. However, I love the glasses, and they are perfect.

Process at Warby Parker: My experience may be slightly different, since we have a physical Warby Parker in our town. Choosing glasses from Warby Parker is pretty easy. I walked into the store in Bethesda, MD, which was pretty crowded with people of all ages and demographics but had nice displays of well-curated eye glasses in their own brand. There were relatively few frames to choose from in comparison to the optometrist, but I really liked the ones I saw. Because they were crowded, there was no one to help me or suggest frames, but I tried several pairs on, which rapidly helped me narrow down the shape I liked. I had also done a little research before going to the store, so I was familiar with many of the styles, though not all of them were available to try on in the store. I found one I liked, went to the counter, where someone was immediately able to help me. He ordered my glasses, the “Upton” in “Sea Smoke Turquoise” on a portable device (I emailed him my prescription), with slightly upgraded high density lenses to make them lighter because I am SO blind I require coke-bottle lenses. The spectacles were $95, including lenses, but the high density lenses were $40 extra, bringing my total to $135. I received the glasses in under a week via mail, in a high quality case (nicer quality than the case from the traditional optometrist), along with a cloth to keep the lenses clean. Also, because of their “buy a pair, give a pair” program, a pair of glasses was given to someone in need. Hurray!

Had I ordered from the website, I could have either chosen a pair directly off the website, or chosen from a selection, of which five would be delivered to my house to try on. I make a choice and return the glasses- they mail me the ones I chose with the correct prescription. Easy!

What I like about Warby Parker…

  1. Well curated, stylish glasses for a reasonable price
  2. No hidden costs -what you see is what you pay!
  3. A pair goes to someone in need!
  4. Convenient
  5. High quality glasses and accessories
  6. Quick, polite service

What I think they could do better…

  1. The quiz to help you determine what glasses might look good on you is a little generic. If you don’t know what kind of glasses look good on your face shape, choosing glasses by whether the spectacles are round, square, rectangular, or cat eye isn’t going to help you. If you’re ordering on line, you’re really relying on their quiz to help you figure out what to order!
  2. All glasses look nice on J. Crew models. Ok, I might be exaggerating here- maybe they’re Gap models. But if the glasses look good on them, I’m SURE they will look perfect on me. Not really. You can see what they look like on customers, I’m assuming, by pressing the “more photos” link at the bottom of the page, but not all glasses have extra photos to look at.
  3. More people to help at the stores? I think the business model is on-line, so I’m guessing the physical locations are more for publicity and concept, but I thought the employees might have suggested frames I wouldn’t ordinarily have tried on.

The Verdict: I love Warby Parker!

I would definitely shop at Warby Parker again- I’m considering a set of translucent rose-colored frames that I think would be perfect for summer. And maybe a set of prescription sunglasses! In fact, they make wearing my glasses much more fun, and I would recommend them to anyone!

Greg McKeown’s Essentialism: useful, educational, but needs an editor

Essentialism by Greg McKeown
I picked up the book, Essentialism, based on a few good reviews that I read. The idea of pursuing less and accomplishing more appeals to me- I have so many hobbies and interests, that I often have lost interest in something by the time I gather all the items needed to pursue the hobby! College, something I really enjoyed, took me twice as long, because I took classes I was interested in rather than focus on a goal. Even now, I have more magazines and books than I can read in a lifetime. So, the byline of the book, “the disciplined pursuit of less” was quite meaningful to me!

I’ve recently started using index cards for taking reading notes, from Ryan Holliday’s article about keeping a commonplace book. One indicator of the relative value of a book is how many cards you make for each book (20 cards or so, is a book with a lot of personal meaning!). For Essentialism, I took 32 cards’ worth of ideas and quotations!

The book is divided into four parts- explaining the fundamentals of the philosophy, applying the fundamentals to your own life, weaning down the excess of your own life to the essential, and then following a minimalist lifestyle. There were a few chapters in each section that I found particularly helpful. I’m already pretty good at saying no to things that I don’t think add value to my life, but the ideas of weeding out things that aren’t 100% of what you want, and editing as a way of creating something better were new to me.

I think this would be a great book for someone who feels they aren’t effective in their life, or someone who is wanting to embrace minimalism. The book helps with the inner process of minimalism- to me, the external condition of a clean, simple environment is the result of the inner work. This book should help with the inner work. The book is a quick read- just 246 pages. The one fault I found with this book- I think it could have been shorter. There were a lot of concepts that were repeated over and over! I think the author may have been trying to reinforce the important concepts but at some point, I wondered if the book had been written as independent essays rather than a cohesive whole.

Less, many times: A book review of “The Abundance of Less: Lessons in Simple Living from Rural Japan,” by Andy Couturier

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I picked this book up at Kramerbooks in D.C. (if you haven’t been there, it’s a fun bookstore- not as much fun as my beloved Politics and Prose, but still great), partly because, like many people with too many first world problems, I’m trying to scale down. How lucky we are, those of us following the minimalist ideas of less stuff, simpler lives, to even have this choice!

I loved this book. Well, if I’m honest with myself, the first half of this book. The idea of the book is to explore the lifestyle and thought process of rural Japanese people, mostly elderly people, and how we might learn from them. The book reflects their lives- poetic, quiet, honest and humble. Many of the people are nuclear power protesters, and the book I picked up is a revised edition, with an update on the lives of these people post-Fukushima disaster. All of these people have opted to step out of the frenetic lifestyle of working, attending school, etc., from sun up to sun down in relentless pursuit of some external goal, for different, probably more authentic goals: time, family, connection with community, art, and slow living. While this is stepping outside the box in America, it’s REALLY stepping outside the box in Japan, and many of these individuals reported strong disapproval from their families. I admired them.

The problem for me was, halfway through the book, starting a new chapter, I started to dread the story: the individual as a young person, protested nuclear power/landfill/environmental problems, and decides to go against their families’ advice to:

  • travel to Tibet/India/Nepal to
  • study traditional weaving/traditional calligraphy/traditional religious texts/traditional music,
  • then decided to come back when Tibet/India/Nepal became too modernized, and
  • lived in the mountains in Japan where they
  • raise their own food/work the land/play music/do aforementioned traditional craft in Japan.

In the end, I felt that I could probably read half the book, and get the same story, only half as many times- is there an editor in the house??

I think there’s a way to read this without getting burned out with the similarity of the stories: don’t read it the way I did. Read the book a chapter at a time, savor their story, and then give the book a rest. By the time you come back to it in a few weeks or months, you won’t recall that the last person had almost exactly the same story, and you’ll feel the same way about the book when I started it: inspired by the peace, quiet, and rough edges of the simplicity of these lives.

If you’re interested in reading this book, I’ve attached the affiliate link to Amazon below.

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What’s so great about fountain pens?

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Quick, what magazine just wrote a feature about the old-fashioned fountain pen? Victoria magazine? The Paris Review? Writer’s Digest? You might be surprised to hear it was Wired Magazine!

Fountain pens are making a comeback. Why? I believe it is because it is satisfying to see the strong, smooth line of a fountain pen on paper, easier to write with after some practice, and elegant. There is something lasting and romantic about fountain pens. We have so many “virtual” experiences today, that I believe that we are craving the real, honest experiences of life- hence the current obsession with hygge (see my previous post HERE). Also, fountain pens make less waste- you may only ever throw away empty cartridges, and possibly not even that if you use a converter). However, many people are intimidated by them. The most common things I hear from people when they see me writing with a fountain pen, after, “you have such nice handwriting for someone who is left handed” is:

  • Aren’t fountain pens messy?
  • Aren’t fountain pens hard to use?
  • Where do you even find fountain pens any more?
  • Aren’t fountain pens expensive?

I’ll answer these questions, and try to point beginners towards a few good pens and companies to choose from. Fountain pens are available a lot of places, including Amazon, but my favorite place is www.gouletpens.com. This is an independent, family owned website, staffed by people who really know pens. Each order is custom wrapped with a little note and a piece of candy. The owners are extremely knowledgeable and their videos are really helpful.

  • Fountain pens CAN be a little messier than a regular ball point pen. Filling them takes a little practice (though not a lot), but you can minimize this using cartridges, or getting good at filling converters (like an empty, refillable cartridge) from a bottle. You also have to rinse a pen if you’re refilling it with a different color, since different inks can have chemical reactions and gum up your pen. I find that a bulb, like you use for babies’ ears, is good for this. However, the trade off is an amazing variety of colors not available in your regular gel-pen or roller ball. You can find any color under the sun of ink, as well as scented inks (I sometimes use violet scented ink, which is supremely soothing as the scent subtly rises off the paper as I write), inks with gorgeous gold and silver flecks, etc.
  • Fountain pens are not particularly hard to use. You need to keep the pen at an angle to the paper, but this takes a minimum of practice. Your handwriting will look nicer with a fountain pen because you take your time. You do need to not press too hard or you can get the dreaded “railroading” (two thin parallel lines, since the nib spreads when you press too hard). However, I think this is a benefit, because you can write for a longer time without getting fatigued since fountain pens require a minimum of pressure.
  • Fountain pens can be as little as a few dollars, and as much as thousands of dollars.

Here are some starter pens that I really like.

  • Pilot Metropolitan ($15, find it HERE): This pen comes in a ton of colors and patterns; in fine, medium point (called “nibs”) and is a reliable, smooth writing pen. I often carry this one with me. It does require pilot brand cartridges, or you can buy converter and use whatever fountain pen ink (never india ink) that you want.
  • Lamy Safari ($29, find it here): This one is a classic of design, comes in a ton of colors, and has limited edition colors every year. It also requires their own brand of cartridges (some companies make pens that use a standard size, which is nice, but not Lamy), but again, you can skip this by getting a converter. It has a uniquely shaped grip that some people love and some people don’t. These are very reliable as well. I have left one in my bag for a month, and it didn’t dry out.
  • Jinhao 159 ($12, find it here): This pen is truly a starter pen. It’s extremely inexpensive, comes in a few colors, and has a satisfying heft to the pen. The nib (the part you write with that touches the paper) is not my favorite. However, you can make a GREAT pen, by replacing the nib, which is really easy. I didn’t need a video- I just unscrewed the nib, and slipped the new nib in, and screwed it back together, but here’s a video if you’re interested. I bought a new nib for $15 from Goulet pens here, and it’s one of my favorite pens to write with now. I have pens that are ten times the cost that don’t write as nicely. I think it’s reasonable to try out a Jinhao, and if you like it, but would like it EVEN more if it wrote more smoothly, consider changing the nib.

Does anyone else use a fountain pen? What is your favorite?

  • I didn’t receive any compensation for this post- Goulet pens just happens to be my favorite online pen resource.

“Get Some Headspace” – a nice accompaniment or first book for meditation

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I’ve written about meditation apps before and why meditation is a good idea from the scientific standpoint. I had been using the Meditation Studio app, but after receiving a coupon that discounted Headspace (not in conjunction with this blog- I received it as part of their regular New Year’s Promotion via email) for three months, I decided to take the jump and bought a year’s worth of the service. I’ll probably write more about the app itself in a few weeks. I’m in the third series of classes, and would like to try more of the single classes and other series before I comment. If anyone else is using Headspace, I’d love to be Headspace friends- leave me a comment below!

I have enjoyed the experience of meditation a lot more this time than I did 20 years ago, when I could not settle down. Still, I wanted to read more about the Headspace method of guided meditation, so I picked up Get Some Headspace: How Mindfulness can Change Your Life in Ten Minutes a Day, by Andy Puddicombe. He is also the person who narrates the guided meditations.

The book has several parts: an introduction and discussion of mindfulness, how to practice (the Take Ten method, which is the basis the parts of the app I have used so far), a section on integration, and the nuts and bolts of a day to day meditation practice. The end of the book is concerned with having a more mindful mindset (gratitude, etc), and a few case studies, as well as a journal, which is less useful on the Kindle version.

I think this book works well as either an accompaniment to practice on Headspace, or as a first time book on meditation and mindfulness. Since I am more than halfway through the introductory classes on meditation, it has given me some background on what I am doing in the classes. I have more insight for why I am doing a body scan in the beginning of the guided meditation, or why I am counting breaths at the end. In the meditations, he suggests that the mind is like a clear blue sky, and our thoughts are the clouds obscuring it- every once in awhile, we get a view of the sky, our mind, as it really is. In the book, he describes our mind as a pool of water, and we can see the bottom only when we remain still enough to stop the turbulence at the surface of water. I find both metaphors to be useful at different times in meditation.

He also gives enough practical advice to be useful day to day. What kind of chair (or not) should you sit in? What behaviors support meditation?  How long should you meditate for? What time of day should you meditate for?

I also liked the chapter of integration of mindfulness into every day life- this is something that Thich Nhat Hanh, the well-known Vietnamese Zen monk, stresses. What good is meditation if you do not bring it into the world and positively affect others? To this end, Mr. Puddicombe talks about walking, and running meditations- teaching one to be mindful during those activities. If this is your focus, mindfulness at every moment, I actually suggest a supplemental book: Present Moment, Wonderful Moment: Mindfulness Verses for Daily Living, by Thich Nhat Hanh. This book is filled with useful gathas (short mindfulness verses) that remind us to live and experience every moment, good or bad (using washing the dishes, or the phone ringing, as a mindfulness experience).

A last thought- in the reviews on Amazon, I saw a lot of good reviews, but also some complaining that the book was too simplistic. I did not find this to be true. I know that in my own case, sometimes I will read more and more books about a topic, in increasing levels of complication, rather than actually put down the book and try something. I suggest that this is often the case in meditation. The concept is quite simple, the practice is not. I have come back to reading some books which are quite simple on the surface, over and over, and gain something new every time. I would challenge someone who complains that the language or message of a book on meditation is too simple- sit down and meditate. Then go back, and see what you learn from the books again.

I’m really interested to hear what you think about this, or any related topic! Please don’t hesitate to comment below. Also, I still need some Headspace friends!

“The Cozy Life: Rediscover the Joy of the Simple Things Through the Danish Concept of Hygge”: a book review…

relaxing-1979674_1920Hygge (hew-gah) is a popular topic these days, despite having an unattractive name- just do a search on Amazon, and there are at least 10 new books on the topic! The idea is simple cozy living at home for life satisfaction- similar to mindfulness, I guess. I first read about this concept in the book “The Year of Living Danishly” by Helen Russell.  She moved to Denmark with her significant other to learn why Denmark is consistently rated as the world’s happiest country. I thought that book was quite informative, and I was intrigued by the concept of Hygge, so I picked up “The Cozy Life” by Pia Edberg to learn more. Though I finished the book, I can’t say that I learned anymore from this book about Hygge than I did from Helen Russell’s book,  a recent New Yorker article that you can find for free here and a recent New York Times article that you can find here. If you have NEVER read anything about Hygge, the graphic above essentially gives you an idea of what it is. I guess the book would be essentially best for someone who wants a light introduction to the subject, and some inspiration to the topic. I didn’t think the advice such as to light spice or vanilla scented candles for a cozy atmosphere was worth the price of the book.