Creativity / Productivity System 2021


Happy World Stationery Day, fellow stationery fans! This Stationery Day I thought it might be fun to share my current productivity / creativity setup, and the tools I use to keep myself motivated and on the ball. My interest (read obsession) with stationery has been lifelong so I have experimented a lot with different stationery and productivity tools. The focus has mostly been to organise and facilitate my creative work, but sometimes it is just an irresistible urge to *own all the stationery*. As I have become more conscious about having an ethical lifestyle, it has been important to me that the items that I own are items that I love, purchased intentionally and meet my current needs. My needs tend to change depending on what I am working on and how my brain is working on a particular day. If there's a lot to process, it can help to have different ways to visualise information and that is why you will see what may seem like an excessive amount of varying formats in my processing system.


It is incredibly interesting to find out how the brain processes information based on the format of information management you're using. As I enjoy making as well as using stationery, it's also important for me to understand how effective different organisational systems are for processing and understanding information. I want to know which systems and formats are best for different kinds of tasks so that I can create useful solutions in my own work. Because of this I am often experimenting with various types of notebooks, planners and apps, and planning systems such as The Bullet Journal Method® or Getting Things Done®. I find it fascinating to learn about how other people organise their lives, and often elements of various systems like these get incorporated into my personal methodology. However, here I will focus on my current favourite tools and methods, and may go into more detail in future posts if there is an interest. The process is ever-evolving, sometimes overwhelming but more often clarifying - I hope this brief insight into my work in progress is useful. I'm not sponsored or paid by anyone to mention any brands, this is all just stuff I do and use. Links are provided for stationery that I have made myself.



Review & Plan


I have got into the habit of regularly reviewing what has happened so that I can better plan what I will do next. It's working really well so far. Journalling and reviewing is a great way to keep track of the past and learn from it. My memory is really bad. Without scheduled reviews every week and month, I would be a bit stuck when it came to my quarterly and annual reviews which I have found essential in planning for my creative business and personal wellbeing.


It all starts with my digital daily journal. I love writing on paper, and my previous paper journals are full of memorabilia, photos, receipts and tickets - wonderful for flipping through and there's something about the physicality of doing so that brings memories flooding back. I used to go out a lot more, collect more physical items on my travels, and took photos with my Fujifilm instax mini when possible. Now I'm a hermit that mostly works on a laptop, lives on the internet and takes digital photos when needed. It's not totally as sad as it sounds but in any case, it is much more convenient to transfer content straight into a digital file. Daily journalling can take up a lot of physical or digital space very quickly, if you're like me and can't bear the thought of parting from the memories your brain apparently didn't deem important enough to store. Digital plain text files are great for this as you can build a well organised hoard of entries that can be searched through easily and backed up onto hard drives.


When I first started keeping an online journal, I built the habit in the app Notion by creating a template for journal entries, displaying entries in a gallery style that was enticing to browse and add to, and setting a daily reminder in case I hadn't gotten around to journalling before bedtime. The wiki style linking feature was brilliant for connecting information throughout my databases, and was one of the main features I was looking for when I decided to look for a more secure, reliable app that stored files locally on my computer rather than in the cloud (somehow having my most personal information floating in the ether did not instil comfort in my soul). I chose FSNotes which is like an updated Notational Velocity or nvALT. It's easy to search, take quick notes, and you can see image previews in the note lists which is not as gorgeous as Notion's galleries but is good enough for a quick reference to that note's contents. I create simple text file templates for frequently used document types, which I can easily copy and paste into blank text files when I write daily notes and reviews.


Not only is FSNotes useful for managing daily journal entries but it is also pretty good for long form writing and reference files as you can create links between documents like you would in a wiki. If you're interested in the zettelkasten methodology, this type of app may interest you. It is difficult to recreate this function with paper but you can get close to that level of organisation with discbound notebooks.



Mindmaps


When I think about a big project it can sometimes seem daunting. Too many things to think about, and my brain will shut down. If Professional Procrastinator was a career, I would have got the job. It was impossible to plan anything major or too far in the future unless I was told what to do next (and I'm not very good at that either). Needless to say, this way of existing is not ideal for anyone that considers themselves an independent creative professional!


The solution now seems obvious. Break it down to small tasks. Still unsure, confused or overwhelmed? Break it down even smaller until the first task feels manageable or even easy... Get a few easy tasks out of the way and you'll be wondering what the big deal was.


Get a big bit of paper, a sheet that you're not precious about. This may get messy. Map out everything related to your project. The subprojects, tasks, resources, responsibilities. Are there things you need to learn or obtain or stop doing to get this project started? If sketches or diagrams help you make sense of it all, do that. Make note of questions that come up, that you can look up later. Doing this on paper is helpful because you can draw out the information in a way that isn't necessarily linear: you can play around with different methods that visualise how your brain makes connections and you can do it relatively quickly. The physical action of writing or drawing is creative in itself which, for me, gets my creative juices flowing in a way that is very different to looking at a screen and all the distractions that come with that.


I like to store physical collections of notes and drawings in discbound notebooks. It's easy to rearrange the discbound papers and keep related information together. If I need to reference information for a later project, I'll just peel a page out and re-file when I'm done with that page. The convenience of a ring binder with the elegance of a notebook is just the best thing since sliced bread, in my opinion. I have an A4 discbound book in a landscape orientation, for big picture project planning. My A5 discbound notebooks are collections of notes, drafts, reference material and layout experiments. I mix and match Novel refills depending on what kind of information I'm working with and what I need that information to show. The top-bound Novel pocket notebook is perfect for quick notes and daily to-do lists. The size is just right for listing the day's priorities or a shopping list.


If I'm working on something that eventually needs to be published, shared or linked to my digital reference material, then I will edit what I've created on paper so that it is suitable for the purpose in a digital format. However, the drafting on paper is an essential part of a lot of my work including brainstorming, drafting graphic designs and other creative work.



Braindumps


Another way I have learned to keep my mind clear and able to focus on the task at hand is to do 'braindumps'. A blank page is just waiting to be filled with every task and idea in your head so it's best not to disappoint. Write down every task you can think of. You can organise them later but the point for now is to get rid of those nagging thoughts that keep disrupting your creative flow. A blank page is so inviting that I do look forward to this process. If you find a blank page intimidating, try less fancy paper and you might feel more inclined to scribble your heart out all over it. A good quality recycled 80-100gsm sheet can be nice to write on without the scary vibes.


When I'm working on my laptop I like using the app Ticktick to submit quick notes via a shortcut. All the tasks and ideas get swept away to my Ticktick inbox without disrupting my workflow. In the app I can sort the tasks by priority. They are visible in a dropdown in my menu bar and my task lists sync to a widget on my phone too. It's pretty convenient if I'm working online all day, and mostly working with digital files, apps and emails. If I'm working offline all of that can be a distraction. Using my trusty notebooks is a much more meditative and enjoyable experience, which is sometimes just what is needed to create something great whilst being fully engaged in the creative process.



Tools


Having discussed some of my methods for inspiring and maintaining creativity and productivity, here are my current favourite tools. I'm set with these for now and will likely stick with them unless research or suggestions unearth items that provide an exceptional improvement on my current process, and are also vegan, eco-friendly alternatives. Although my heart seeks the excitement of the shiny new pens, I have to have some faith that my years of searching for the right kinds of items were not for nothing. I know what I like and these products (for now) provide that for me. Some of these items I did not spend ages researching, but they have functioned well for so long that I consider them accidentally excellent finds and will continue to enjoy the good fortune of landing them in my current creative arsenal.




Markmaking


I've gone through a lot of pens. What I've discovered is that there are different pens for different tasks but when I write, what I am looking for is a pen that writes smoothly, doesn't make a mess, and leaves a nice solid mark. I don't want to worry about being heavy-handed with my pen - the quicker I can get my ideas down, the better. Fineliners and fibre tips are fine but the tips are easily ruined. Gel pens are often smudgy and streaky. I don't have time for fountain pens, although I can appreciate them as fabulous artistic tools. My favourite pens are ballpoints. A good quality ballpoint is no-fuss, always ready to go and easy to use. You know what you're getting with a ballpoint.


Once I had come to terms with the idea that I was always going to reach for a ballpoint for my regular notetaking, and 'pen peace' might almost be upon me, I decided to get myself a good quality refillable pen that will hopefully last me for years to come. It had to be comfortable to hold regardless of the awkward, ungainly but overly confident grip I tend to have. It needed to have a solid, reliable line. This was a priority so I first researched pen refills and decided on the Schmidt Easyflow 9000 which as the name suggests, has an excellent ink flow. I then looked for pens that would hold Parker-style refills such as the Easyflow. I opted for the Rotring Tikky ballpoint which does have a plastic body but feels super sturdy, as do the metal pen clip, clicker and tip. The main draw for me was the rubberised grip at the bottom section of the pen which prevents my hand from slipping, and reduces discomfort whilst writing or sketching. There is also an interesting triangular form to the barrel at the top of the pen which transitions to cylindrical further down the pen.


I think I would actually enjoy a fully prism-shaped pen barrel, as I do very much enjoy the Faber Castell Grip pencils which are distinctly triangular in their profile. I use these for sketching and short notes, switching between the Faber Castell removable erasers (that fit comfortably on the end of any standard pencil) and Caran D'Ache triangle eraser for larger areas. I think I'm noticing a theme...


Non-triangular stationery supplies include the Uni Kuru Toga mechanical pencil which rotates the pencil lead for you so that it gets more equal wear as you write and therefore a more consistent line weight. I do love a consistent line! Pilot Frixion Light erasable highlighters are not the most consistent or bold but they have made life a lot easier when it comes to planning on paper, writing study notes or book notes. You can highlight the areas of text that are useful in that moment, and erase the highlight when it is no longer needed. Another favourite for me is paint pens. They provide opaque colour and are perfect for the kind of art that I like to make. Uni POSCA is a reliable brand with great quality paint pens, but unfortunately they are not designed to be refillable which is unsustainable and wasteful in the long run. Molotow brand makes refilling a selling point of their pens and also provides excellent quality products, so I have been investing more in those recently.


If I want a consistent mark sometimes I need to draw a straight line. I use a Helix non-slip metal ruler. It has some pretty deep scalpel marks from when the scalpel slipped but the ruler didn't, so I can say it does do it's job but either I have very sharp scalpels or the metal is a little soft. Luckily for my fingers it also has an indented centre ridge that helps to provide a non slip grip on the ruler, and keeps fingertips away from sharp blades.



Paper


Both a paper product used for its aesthetic qualities, and a functional tape, washi tape could have fit in the previous category. I use washi tape for marking and delineating pages, labelling, decorating and masking. Wrapped around some sturdy old business cards, it's always handy for paper planning and notetaking, or whatever other purpose I discover for my small collection. I avoid buying more than I can use, but it does hurt me that certain brands keep producing cute designs when they know what it does to us.


Unlike the beautiful but unnecessary tapes, I don't feel wasteful when using my discbound notebooks. The covers are made from 100% post-consumer recycled material. The environmentally friendly aluminium binding discs are custom made locally by skilled manufacturers that operate under UK regulations. They are designed to last for years and to be reused. You can refill and disassemble your notebooks as many times as you like, reorganise your notes and projects, customise your notebooks. No matter how many notebooks I try, after a while I end up wishing they were discbound. There are no wasted pages, because I add as many pages as I need and can remove the ones I don't. I can choose the paper I use in my notebooks which is a huge plus if you're regularly switching between different types of notebooks for drawing and writing and planning - now it can all be in one place if you need it to be. To use up the other types of notebooks that I have, I've been dismantling the covers from the paper and punching the sheets to fit into my discbound notebooks. I might even use some of the nicer covers to make new discbound notebooks!




Tech


Lastly, the place where my digital files live: a Macbook Pro synced to an iPhone. Apple have a track record of operating unethically and unsustainably as do many tech companies, so I do not want to support them directly. All my tech products are bought refurbished and second hand, and tend to last me around 5 years on average if I replace the batteries and chargers. If you are considering doing this, I recommend researching reputable retailers and refurbishers so that you can get an idea of the standard of any repairs. Read reviews from previous customers about the service and returns policies. Additionally, have your tech tools repaired if possible. If there are replaceable parts, services like iFixit can be helpful in sourcing parts and providing tutorials for repairs. If you're not comfortable with doing it yourself, paying a professional to fix your gear can work out a lot cheaper than buying new items. Unfortunately a lot of modern devices are designed to be tossed out and replaced, and it can be difficult to find devices that can be repaired to last longer, protect the environment and save you money. That's why it is important to support advocates for the right to repair who campaign against the production of irreparable technology.


Buying from ethical companies and supporting ethical practices whenever possible is crucial not only to keep ethical products on the market, but also to show exploitative businesses that customers value ethically produced goods. In an ideal world we would be able to buy tools that are not created through exploitation of living beings and the planet, we would be able to expect high quality and longevity, be able to adapt and fix what doesn't work. At the moment it is a privilege to be able to support businesses and individuals that work towards this ideal, while the competition is able to exponentially grow from the exploitation of modern slave labour and the Earth's natural resources. If we have the privilege of choice, we can choose a different way.


I'm always trying to improve my workflow and the way I use my tools to achieve my goals. Unfortunately I don't always have access to the perfect supplies, but we work with what we have and try to improve our way of working over time. Wouldn't it be great if the perfect ethical supplies were always easily accessible?! It's partly why I love making my own notebooks, and would love for them to be accessible to others too. What are your favourite stationery supplies, and why? Which items should I replace from my collection, when they eventually can't be used any more, and what should I replace them with? Have you found stationery that fits in with your ethical lifestyle and works really well for your creative / productivity system?





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