In November 2017 I went to a business convention in Washington DC, and while there I stumbled upon a tiny stationery store that had some Retro 51’s for sale. I liked the red colour of this pen, and some (not all) of the cat illustrations on it, and so I bought it. It was an utterly unreasonable impulse buy, because at the time I already knew that the Schmidt refill rendered my Retros virtually unusable for me, and I was years from finding a suitable replacement refill. The pen gathered dust in a pen cup on my desk for the past two years, until this week.
As part of my decision to use my Retro 51s more, I replaced the (dried out) Schmidt refill in this pen with an Ohto FlashDry gel ink one, and I’ve been using it pretty regularly for the past few days. It’s a bright and cheerful pen that writes like a dream now, even though in a quiet room you can definitely hear the tip rattle a bit as you write.
There’s no texture to this pen, the rescue cats are just printing on it, and I wish Lucy Kinsley had drawn them. So I’m not yet sure if this pen stays with me or I’m going to gift it to a cat loving friend, but for now I’m enjoying giving it a spin.
Near the end of one year and the beginning of another various articles and podcasts about New Year resolutions start popping up. They either give tips on how to make resolutions, debunk resolutions in favour of something else, and almost all of them try to sell you something.
This post is about how I create yearly goals (i.e. resolutions), using things that I already have, in a way that has worked for me since 2015.
I wrote about the way I do “New Years Resolutions” in the past. I call them that because I like the non-business ring of “resolution” over the “business-jargon” sounding goal. My “resolutions” are, however, S.M.A.R.T. goals: specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound. I manage them using the least used notebook that I had lying around (a Baron Fig Confidant), and whichever pen I have at hand. They aren’t made for instagram, rather I use my plain ugly handwriting, and what marking are on the page are there because they’re useful. Over the past five years I’ve attained about 90% of what I set out to achieve, with even an annus horribilis like 2018 not putting me too much off track. My goals are tiered, much like Kickstarter stretch goals, with most goals having a fairly easily attainable first tier, just in case life decides to kick me in a tender place.
I’m going to go over this year’s goals, and last year’s goals (apart from a few that I’ve censored for privacy’s sake). I know that February is usually the month when people give up on their resolutions. I hope that this post will help and inspire people to give yearly goals or resolutions a chance.
Above you can see my 2020 resolutions. A lot of them are things that appear in almost every year. The professional goals are all new (I didn’t manage my professional goals with my personal goals until this year, and even now only a small part of my professional goals are here).
Every goal at this point only has the basic, first tier goals set beside it. The first three goals for example, all reading related, will eventually have stretch goals. They’re interesting to note here because back in 2016 I only had one reading goal: read 24 books. Once I got back into the habit of reading, I started to challenge myself with longer and more challenging books. These are all my base reading goals. I usually stretch them to around 50 books a year.
Why don’t I start with 50 books then? Because the point of these goals is to build myself up for success. The basic goals are the “even if I have a horrible year I should be able to reach these” goals. They are there to remind me that there’s a tomorrow, and something I can and should do about that tomorrow, even if a family member is hospitalized (or worse). The stretch goals are then built in small increments, reaching to my my final goal for the year.
Why don’t I write my stretch goals down from the start? Because the point is to keep myself focused on the next small step. That’s why things are broken down to the smallest increment that makes sense: one book, 10k, one month.
There’s a reason for each goal on this spread. I won’t go into each one specifically, but they all fall into the following general categories:
Write more (my writing goals are censored, because if I publish them, I won’t do them. I know myself well enough by now).
Use the stuff I own.
Challenge myself to get out of my comfort zone.
Social goals (partly censored).
Health goals (running, cross-training, bloodwork, dentist visits).
Professional goals (partial list).
Everything has to fit in on a two page spread, or I lose track of things. That’s why I spill over to other pages in the same notebook to track some of the details of my goals:
Here are my 2019 resolutions. A pink check mark means that the basic goal is finished. You can see the increments things grow by (my stretch goals):
You may have noticed that the “fill triggers” goal isn’t filled up at all. This is the “relevant” part of the S.M.A.R.T. goals. I used the trigger system from Marshal Goldsmith’s “Triggers” book for a few months in 2018, and I decided at the beginning of 2019 to not continue with it. It was a conscious decision, and so I just ignored that goal.
Here are my 2019 “spill” pages, just to get an idea of how the whole thing works together:
Here are pencils, fountain pens, notebooks and races tracking:
And my largest tracking list, books:
The Baron Fig Confidant that holds this list has a bright cover and sits right in front of me, on my desk, at all times. I set up my goals that at every day or two I crack the notebook open and update the lists. Once there, I scan everything and check if there’s something that I can do to get it done. The point is to have this list on the top of my mind as much as possible, or else I’ll just forget about it, or it becomes something that I avoid checking out.
This is a system that supports me every day, giving my goals and aspirations much needed structure. I hope that this will help you build a personal system of this kind for yourself.
This is an unusual Moleskine limited edition notebook, and I wasn’t planning on reviewing it, but I just finished my Moleskine Moria journal and my hand just reached for this one as my next Moleskine, so here we are.
The Bradley Theodore limited edition Moleskine came out in 2017 as part of Moleskine’s lineup for the Milan Design Week. As far as I can tell the notebooks where designed primarily as a giveaway for the Moleskine’s and Bradley Theodore’s bag collection, and for some reason the three notebook designs somehow landed in the Moleskine UK physical stores. That’s where I found this fellow, languishing on a high shelf in the Moleskine Covent Garden shop, nestled above the Bradley designed bags. The design was bold enough to make me interested.
This notebook is just that front cover, and in this case it’s enough. If I remember correctly it was priced like a regular edition Moleskine, and considering the amount of work that went into the design, I think that it’s a fair price. I don’t like reviewing products that are out of stock, but you may be able to find one on eBay or Amazon marketplace, and there’s a point to this review, trust me.
The ribbon, elastic band and the back pocket hinges are a shade of pink that matches the graffiti design on the cover:
Bradley Theodore’s signature is on the left side of the front endpaper:
And that’s it. The back cover is plain black, there are no stickers/add-ons/cute side-B of the paper band, and there is no real design on the front or back endpapers. It’s probably the cheapest limited edition that Moleskine could make, which brings me to my point:
This notebook is an outlier. It actually surprised me when I opened it up, how little there was here. That made me appreciate even more just how much design work goes into a “regular” Moleskine limited edition notebook.
I’m “moving into” this notebook tomorrow, but it already has one entry that I slipped in from October, and a cool promotional postcard that I stuck inside, plus my “In case of loss” all filled in. If you’re looking for tips on how to start a new journal, I recommend reading the end of this post.
This week I celebrated two years of daily journaling. While I’ve been keeping journals for years, until the last two years I’ve only done so sporadically. Journaling was something that I did only when things got really rough, to keep myself going, or when I was travelling, to preserve the memories of my trip. I used pocket notebooks for my sporadic journals, as it was more important for me to capture things than to reflect on them. It was a utilitarian process, not an enjoyable one. I knew that once I decided to really start a journaling habit, that would have to change.
So the first thing I did was pick a notebook that I knew I’d want to use, and use daily. The only rules were that it had to make me happy, and that it had to be large enough for me to be able to actually write in it, not just jot things down. I wasn’t looking for the best notebook with the best paper in the best format (I don’t think that exists, actually, but for us stationery geeks the search is always on), just a good enough notebook for me.
I also decided very early on that I couldn’t use a fountain pen for this, because I wanted a pen that I could write with even not under the most ideal circumstances. I was also planning for both the notebook and the pen to bash around freely in my bag. These were going to be used and look used.
I chose Moleskine large ruled hardcover notebooks as my notebook of choice, and the uni-ball Signo RT 0.5 gel ink pen as my pen/refill (UMR-85N) of choice. I wanted a sturdy lined notebook that I’d enjoy using and looking at once it was done, and after years of neglecting the Moleskine for other notebooks I came back to it because of some of their limited edition designs. I knew that I was going to use the uni-ball Signo RT 0.5 as my pen or refill of choice (inside a BigiDesign Ti Arto or Ti Arto EDC), so I didn’t need fountain pen friendly paper. I had decided to pick up the steady journaling habit by starting with a travel journal, which I already had some experience with, and then carrying on from there. On the first evening of a trip to London I happened to walk by the Moleskine store in Covent Garden, and I decided to go in and check out what they had. There was a beautifully designed Batman limited edition notebook in exactly the kind of format I was looking for, and it was only available for sale at the Moleskine stores. I bought it, unwrapped and stamped it with the Moleskine Covent Garden stamps, and I haven’t looked back.
That pen and notebook combo has hardly changed over the years. What has changed is the format I use to journal, and the amount of daily journaling I do. When I started out I was used to only jotting a few lines down here and there when I journaled, so I knew I couldn’t expect to write 4-5 pages per day right from day one. Starting with just a paragraph to half a page a day, I pretty quickly moved to one page per day of just writing.
Then I saw a Neistat Brothers video on Youtube and realized that I could use my journal as a visual capturing device as well, and anything could go in it, so long as it made me remember a moment or a place.
That’s when the notebooks really started to get bloated. From clothing labels to business cards and ticket stubs, if I can put glue on it and it’s visually appealing or evocative, it goes in. I almost always also write a little note for future me, to remind myself what I’m looking at and why it’s there. That change really made these notebooks a kind of personal artifact for me, and I can’t say how precious they’ve all become.
At a certain point I started getting ambitious, moving from writing one page a day to two pages, then four pages, then six. That’s when I had to take a step back and make sure that I wasn’t burning out on journaling for all the wrong reasons. I enjoy writing and I enjoy journaling, but I’m also trying to write fiction, and my journal can’t become something that consumes that, an excuse for not writing. It’s also easy to get carried away and want to finish the notebook as fast as possible just so you can open a fresh one, or brag (even if it’s only to yourself) that you’ve finished a notebook. Nowadays I write one or two pages a day for most days, moving up to more pages only if I really have something special to write about.
Life also happens, and oftentimes it’s scary and ugly, a black hole that threatens to consume all that is good in your life, including journaling. My mom got unexpectedly and very seriously ill last year, and we’ve been struggling with her disease ever since. When she was in hospital I couldn’t bring myself to journal. I backlogged those (thankfully few) dark days, and I realized that I would have to accept that as much as journaling is important to me, family comes first, so backlogging is going to have to become acceptable. I try to backlog as little as possible, but some days just demand that.
I also draw a little in my notebook, tiny thumbnails of things that I want to remember later, or that I just feel like drawing. These are usually food doodles, as I don’t really like to photograph my food.
If you’re looking for some journaling tips, I wrote two posts on that subject here and here. If there’s one thing I can leave you with it’s that if you want to journal, you need to figure out a way to it make it work for you, and be ready to adapt as your life changes over time. There is no perfect journaling system, or perfect journaling notebook, there’s only what works for you.
“Frodo gave a cry, and there was, fallen upon his knees at the chasm’s edge. But Gollum, dancing like a mad thing, held aloft the ring, a finger still thrust within its circle.
“Precious, precious, precious!” Gollum cried. “My Precious! O my Precious!” And with that, even as his eyes were lifted up to gloat on his prize, he stepped too far, toppled, wavered for a moment on the brink, and then with a shriek he fell. Out of the depths came his last wail precious, and he was gone.”
― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King
The Mount Doom Moleskine limited edition is the most dramatic of the Lord of the Rings themed notebooks to come out this year, and justifiably so. The red and black provide eye catching high contrast that are in complete opposition to the grey on grey Moria notebook.
This notebook will pop out the moment you see it on the store shelf.
Sauron’s eye gazes upon you. Notice the use of the LotR typeface, and Elven script, on the paper band.
The front cover shows Mount Doom in all its Tolkien illustrated glory, with Frodo and Samwise as little golden dots against its grey and red horror.
The design continues on the spine, with Tolkien’s sign on embossed in red at the top.
The back cover, with the edge of mount doom and Sauron’s all seeing eye in red.
The choice of red elastic closure and a black cover is perfect for this notebook, and the gold embossing of the date, the scene and Frodo and Samwise really pops.
The front end page with Tolkien’s pencil drawings of an aerial view of Mordor. The drawing is very nice, but it does make the “In case of loss” pretty obscure. You can either go extra bold here, or try to blend in and hope that someone will notice.
The aerial map of Mordor continues on the back end page. As usual, but still worth noting, the map is completely aligned with the back pocket.
The extra with this edition is the Cirith alphabet booklet.
The red and black theme continues here.
A closeup on the back pocket, with its red sides and the map that continues into the back pocket.
This is a ruled notebook, and it comes with a red ribbon bookmark. Unless you use inks like Noodler’s bulletproof black, it isn’t fountain pen friendly. Then again, it isn’t marketed as such (Moleskine has other notebooks for that).
The B-side of the paper band details Frodo and Sam’s journey.
I love these Lord of the Rings limited editions (I’m using the Moria one as my daily journal). The mount Doom edition is befitting of the dramatic climax of The Lord of Rings trilogy. If you’re a LotR fan this is definitely a must buy, and probably the best designed notebook of this edition.