Productivity

Moleskine, Field Notes & The Midori Travelers Notebook

NotebooksI am an analog snob. I have tried going digital on several occasions and every time I find myself grabbing a notebook and pen as I walk out the door. I’ve been quite particular about my analog tools the way some are particular about the car they drive or the PC they buy. I’ve had this issue for years, I remember getting ahold of a PaperMate fine point stick pen that I’ve never been able to find since the fifth grade. My search isn’t over either.

I’ve upgraded my choices since the Mrs. Kauffman’s class but, the passion remains. Currently I am writing with either a Lamy Safari fountain pen with an Extra-Fine nib or a Retro 51 Tornado – Lincoln edition rollerball pen. This lineup will soon be changing. I am going to try the Lamy rollerball pen, which will house the same refill as my Retro 51 but, will weigh less and is a special edition CopperOrange colored aluminum pen. I’m stoked about it.

What I’d like to really dive into is paper. Working for a Fortune 500 company has its positives and also its negatives. A major, turn my nose up at, moment I experienced was opening the supply closet to find the worst paper products sold. Not only is it Saran Wrap thin, it also allows my ink to bleed through as if I were using gauze to fix a busted copper pipe. I nevertheless shut the closet doors turned to the “Keeper of the Keys” and thanked her for the time. I would use my own materials for work.

I’ve carried the same notebook system since 2009. Having carried around a Franklin Planner for years I gave it up a in 2006. I bounced around different systems, many self created, until in late 2009 I came across the blog Scription by Patrick Ng and was inspired to go with a minimal system called the Midori Traveler’s Notebook (MTN).Midori Traveler's Notebook

The MTN is a simple and minimal approach, a leather cover with an elastic band in the spine to hold a blank, lined or grid notebook specifically made for the MTN system and an elastic band around the middle to hold it closed. With the addition of a second band inside, you can add two more notebooks to the interior and carry multiple notebooks. I carry a personal journal, a work notebook and a reading notebook in mine. Researching online revealed a number of systems one could come up with but, with me being a struggling practitioner of minimalism I find this a near perfect system.

The Midori notebooks are made with a thicker paper that accepts rollerball and fountain pen ink alike. There is little to no bleed through and because of the size (11 x 21 cm) there is enough room for me to really write. Staple bound with a simple Kraft paper stock cover the notebooks are quality notebooks for the price, just under $6 a notebook.

The initial expense of the Midori Traveler’s Notebook can be a turn off for some. The notebooks themselves can be purchased relatively cheap however the leather cover is a one time purchase that some people have a difficult time swallowing. It sells for roughly $57.00 and depending on where you live is only available online. I get a lot of interest in my MTN when out and typically after I’ve explained this to someone I get the question, “wouldn’t those black notebooks you see in Target or Barnes & Noble do?”

MoleskinesThose “black notebooks” happen to be the ever popularly marketed Moleskine resurrected from days gone by. The same notebooks used by the likes of Ernest Hemingway and Bruce Chatwin. The once French – made pocket notebooks were brought back to life in 1997 by a Milanese company and have become one of the most popular notebooks around. I have a love/hate relationship with the Moleskine. I think what the company has done with these once basic notebooks is impressive. Originally only found in a pocket size version these notebooks have grown in variety not only in size but color and design. Today you can see the images of the Peanuts, Star Wars, and even Batman grace the covers of the notebooks adding a certain flair and individuality to them.

I’ve owned and continue to own them for various purposes. The tiny Volant series notebooks are perfect to track my mileage and car repairs in. In between the Franklin Planner and my MTN I was using Moleskine exclusively. They are readily available within and in an assortment of colors and sizes, hard bound and soft bound. The convenience makes it difficult not to pick the up if you are someone who writes regularly.

Functionally speaking the notebooks are well manufactured. I’ve never had any issues with binding or loose pages. They are structurally sound, however, my problem lies with the paper. I cannot write in them using my most often carried pens. The ink bleeds through and makes writing on the opposite side annoying at best. In the interest of frugality, last month I cut a Moleskine down to fit in my MTN and have been eagerly waiting for the time the notebook is finally full and can be replaced by a new one. The experience is just that annoying. I am a self admitted paper snob, just as any Apple loyalist would be if you asked them to use a Droid.

If Moleskine would change the paper they use in these notebooks I would, in all likelihood go back to them exclusively. I really like the look and feel of them and as of late am getting annoyed with the multiple notebook’d Midori. Writing in my personal journal is a minor wrestling match holding back the top notebook while at the same time writing. and, because there are several notebooks in the system I am never writing on a flat surface. I’ve gotten to the point where I am once again looking for something new.

Field Notes Cherry WoodI am for a while going to try the Field Notes brand of notebooks. I have tried these in the past but was unhappy with the edition I had purchased. Field Notes come in a standard edition with a brown Kraft paper cover and a seasonal edition which come in and unknown color scheme. The ever changing seasonal editions are some of the most coveted notebooks on the planet to a group called the Field Nuts, selling for as much as $300 on eBay for three notebooks.

FieldNotes are small pocket notebooks that are quick and convenient. I can carry one in my pocket without even knowing it’s there. Measuring only 3.5″ x 5.5″ with only 48 pages within they are what I call a working notebook. A Field Notes is not going to be used as a commonplace book, nor would you want to use as a journal. They are just too small for such writing. But, everyday notes, lists, thoughts, measurements, these are the perfect size. The paper is good and they are priced well at $9.95 for a sack of three notebooks.

Well, whatever the size that is right for you there is probably a notebook out there. Notebooks like most things are a matter of choice. Moleskin just happen to have the market currently and thus their popularity. I don’t think analog tools in the US has enough of a draw to get many of the other big names pushing the marketing of their paper, yet! I think with the likes of Brad Dowdy (The Pen Addict), Ed Jelley (edjelley.com), Mike Dudek (The Clicky Post), the folks at The Field Notes and countless others are having an impact on the analog tools we know and love, will help ignite the passion these tools once had in our cultures’ lives.

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Philosophy, Productivity

Century Gothic, the new Helvetica!!

Fonts copyI’ve been on a quest for nearly a year or so to change the opinions of many to change their default font to Century Gothic. I am not sure what the appeal of this simple font is to me but, prefer it to any other font in the library. The smooth curves of the letters and the simple straight forward design of each downstroke is appealing to me in a minimalist way. I believe the no-nonsense way the letters are displayed, the minimalist, no frills purpose each letter exudes when put to page (or screen) gives this font a characteristic that stands apart from it’s brethren and thus my appeal.

I first came upon the font only a couple of years ago when putting together a presentation for work. The company has the standard font of Arial Black, ugh. Not putting it down or anything but, Arial Black (though simple in its own right) is just bulky and seems, well bloated. I was not a fan of the script I was seeing on the slides I was creating for presentation, so I decided to play around a bit and began my quest for the better font.>

I had read about Steve Job’s obsession with fonts, which began in a college calligraphy class he had sat in on. This passion bled through to the fonts of the Mac and later onto all of Apple’s devices, much to my pleasure. Steve broke the boundaries of an industry steeped in stuffiness and “tradition”. He entered a world of the white shirt, blue tie arena with a pair of ragged jeans, t-shirt and well for the most part…that was it. Shoes were option if not neglected and well ties were not even a concept…though that changed once Apple gained notoriety and publicity but, that is another story.

Steve’s passion for perfection broke the molds of the industry. Helvetica, the most popular font at the time and most widely used was a saturation in the market. It was so widely used that a change was immediately seen. That change led to the realization that perhaps doing things as they’ve always been done need not apply. I believe Apple became the computer for the artistic partially in part because Steve Jobs refused to allow Apple to become ordinary. Apple began as a unique company and has remained so mainly in part because of Steve Jobs’ guidance.

Apple has gone so far as to even creat their own fonts for their products specifically for the reasons I was looking at Arial Black with disdain and irreverence. There was something so ordinary and plain about the font that I yearned for change. When I would write a paragraph in the font Arial Black I would often times find myself having to re-read certain sections of the text because the letters would often blend together and become blurs. Everything would become a fuzzy black streak across the page. I don’t have this problem with Century Gothic. The kerning as it is called (the space between letters) is too small compared to the width of the letters themselves and thus causes me, who speed reads, to blur the words.

Century Gothic does not enable this issue. The width of the letters in conjunction with the kerning provides a smooth flow across the page. I was quite turned on to Century Gothic after I saw it on the big screen during my presentation and a comment afterwards was made in private regarding my font choice. The facility manager came up to me to point out that he had noticed the change in font and that he’d been looking at the same font for the past twenty years and the change was nice. It had given the presentation an upbeat appearance and added youth to the presentation.

That alone was not enough to seal my commitment to the font though. It was after a conversation with my wife that bound us together, for better or worse. We were coming home from a wrestling match one late Saturday afternoon…(sidenote: we have a two wrestlers in the house a 9 & 8 year old and much of November through March is spent dedicated to the sport…our Saturday’s are spent traveling to matches & tournaments and so we usually have a good bit of time to talk about weird stuff like font choices…back to our regularly scheduled program)…and got on the subject of presentations.

My wife was trained in high school to give presentations and had gone so far as to regularly given presentations of various subjects to school and government officials at the youthful age of 17 so she was quite aware of everything that went into preparing a presentation. Though rarely did she use something like PowerPoint she is quite knowledgeable in font choices. So, I was talking at great length about changing the corporate font to Century Gothic and he face lit up. Not understanding this I further questioned her to find out that for quite some time she too had been using the font in her everyday job. She found the font easier to read and determined it a better font. That was the moment I knew forever more, Century Gothic was my font.

Thus far I have spread my passion for this font further into the company I work for with hopes to one day change the standard Arial Black to Century Gothic with the marketing department and guidelines. The font is a gives a good contrast to the page allowing just enough white space to show while at the same time enabling a person to read quickly the text provided. This is my plea to the world to give Century Gothic a try and let it into your daily writing.

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Lean, Philosophy

Lean & Minimalism

CA Beach 2014 - oct copy

Minimalism is a concept that has taken like wild fire, from minimal lifestyles to shoes to wardrobes, the term proliferates the web.  I first learned of Minimalism from Joshua Fields Millburn & Ryan Nicodemus from the blog The Minimalists.  I, having studied Buddhism and in particular Zen, was intrigued by the site initially only to find my self returning daily for more.  The concept, Minimalism, was new to me but, deep down it wasn’t.  My years of Eastern study had ingrained the concept within me but, was being buried by my Western consumerism.  Their story changed things for me.

I no longer looked at “my stuff” as treasures but, as functional items.  I began to pick random items up and ask, “do you belong here?”.  I found myself putting items aside to test whether it had a need in my life.  Eventually, I realized I had a lot of things sitting aside but, now they had congregated together for nearly three years and hadn’t moved.  The concept, so appealing as it is, was met with such resistance that I never committed and continued to accumulate “stuff”.

Lean seems to suffer a similar fate many times.  I have seen too many deployments met with the same enthusiasm only to end up in the same spot at the end of the year.  There is resistance and not enough force [commitment] to push through the “what if’s” and just flipping do it.  I am currently watching this happen and have no ability to help, which annoys the shit out of me.  Some people just don’t get it!

I’ve been contemplating the whole “deployment” subject and how to make the transition into a Lean environment more palatable.  The concept, introduced to me by Joshua and Ryan, better known as Minimalism is where I need to start.

Take a fresh deployment, you start off by training and moving into 5S and creating value stream maps and then coming up with kaizen events to hold and then you can start using all these cool tools you were trained about initially.  No one ever bothers to ask, “Do you really know how to use the tools in your tool box?”  “When to use them?”  How to match tools together to create a tag team like Shaq & Kobe?”  That is stuff only a few can answer.  There are few if any on hand during an initial deployment that can answer those questions.  Good Practitioners take for granted that the masses will understand the depth and meaning of Lean.

Lean, like Ulysses or Shakespeare, cannot be understood fully (let alone mastered) the first time through.  Lean is a hands on, elbow deep, dirty philosophy to “get”.  I hope I’m not painting a horrible picture here.  Yes, you may get a little dirt on you.  Yes, dealing with naysayers is tough at times.   In the end Lean, when embraced by all, works to create an ever evolving, ever improving business.

I believe Lean deployments are like opening a fire hydrant to get a drink of water; too much, too soon.  We overload the masses with new terms, ideas, the cool tools and start putting pressure to change the culture.  Instead perhaps we should start teaching the philosophy that enables Lean to be synonymous with continuous improvement.

Slowly, I don’t mean over the course of several years (though many Lean deployments I’ve seen take longer than a few years just to get started) but, over the course of several months begin to digest the principles behind Lean.  Subtly ease 5S into the workplace without even mentioning it’s name.  Under the guise of learning the business and team building create a value stream map that is easy to read and easy to digest.  There is honestly no need to need an engineer, database expert and a mathematician present to be able to translate the value stream map.  And, above all else, do not start out with setting quantifiable goals to gauge how Lean you are.

Treat it like kindergarten baseball, no one keeps score; play for fun!  Too often competition gets the best of people and getting to the next level becomes more of a priority than actually embodying the essence.  I was fortunate to work for a Fortune 100 company early in my career.  In the near ten years I was there the word Lean was never mentioned or alluded to.  Years later I compare how they ran their business and Lean and the parallels are amazing.  I had learned the essence of Lean without ever being taught Lean and it wasn’t until I truly understood and grasped Lean that I was able to put two and two together.
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