My Essential Analogue Tools

As computer workers, of course many of our tools are digital. We look at digital task lists and project management systems. We put all our notes in a digital file cabinet.

We often eschew pens and paper because they just aren’t cool and new enough. We don’t evaluate their true efficacy in our lives because they’re analogue and thus less effective than what we can do now with computers.

But that’s all wrong. Analogue tools have a place in your workflow. Not only that, but for many of us they have a very crucial place in our workflow and without them we’d barely get anywhere.

Today I’m going to go over three of the analogue tools I use daily to help keep me focused.

Pocket Notebook

Where once Evernote took over my life I’ve now become more measured in its use. Evernote still holds all my client files and serves as long-term storage for things but it no longer acts as my scratch pad for things that come up.

The friction with Evernote started with it on iOS. Entering a note on iOS simply takes much longer than simply pulling out my pocket notebook. To get to a note through iOS, you must:

  1. Pull iPhone out of pocket
  2. Unlock iPhone
  3. Open Evernote
  4. Wait a few seconds for Evernote
  5. Click the quick note widget/icon/thing
  6. Wait a few seconds for Evernote
  7. Tack out the note on a thumb keyboard

Compare that to the steps for a pocket notebook and a pen or pencil:

  1. Get out pocket notebook
  2. Open pocket notebook
  3. Get out pen
  4. Write in pocket notebook

Not only did that take three fewer steps, but there was no wait time.

While at my old job in the next town over, the biggest problem in my daily commute came in the summer. Long weekends were the worst. The highway on a Friday night was like an obstacle course full of campers, and trucks, and cars piled high with stuff in precariously stacked towers you hoped were well secured.

Toss in the inevitable quick brake that ripples down the full highway, causing people 1 km back to come to a complete stop, and 2 km back to sit in a traffic jam. Or throw in the person that was in too much of a rush and either didn’t let someone in or jammed onto the highway when they weren’t being let in.

This scene would mean a simple 30-km commute on a lightly trafficked highway (normally) turned into a 90-minute ordeal of traffic, some of it stop-and-go, just for good measure.

For me, the frustration was more about the wait in traffic than the overall commute time. I’d usually end up taking all the back-back roads that few knew about. That route rarely saved me any time but meant I wasn’t sitting in traffic — stopped, going nowhere.

I experience that same frustration waiting for Evernote on my 5s. I’m primed to input stuff and…can do nothing while I wait for UI to load.

Using a pocket notebook means that this doesn’t happen. The only processing time with this method is when I’m either getting the notebook out, or writing in it.

My current notebook of convenience (because I could just walk in and purchase it at Staples) is a 3-pack of Moleskine Pocket Cahier (Amazon.ca). It does its job but they barely hold up for the 2-3 weeks one ends up in my pocket.

Fisher Space Pen

To go with my pocket notebook I need a pen that I can just carry without any worry. It needs to not leak and needs to write well. It needs to fit in a pocket and of course it must have black ink.

Enter the Fisher Space Pen (Amazon.ca) which I’m sure many of you have heard of.

This little pen writes from –30°F to +250°F. It writes in the rain, under water, and upside down (due to its pressurized ink cartridge). Capped and stowed it measures 3.75 inches and easily clips to the edge of a pocket without getting in the way. With the cap on the back it measures a respectable 5.25 inches and is about the size of a normal pen, which means it just feels normal writing.

Even without the cap posted to the back of the pen it’s just big enough to write with.

For me, this pen writes nice enough that I’ll be slowly purchasing more of them to go in all my bags. That way if/when I lose one I have another at the ready.

The only drawback to the pen is its cost, at $18 (USD) or almost $40 up here in the great white north. Even with exchange, that price difference isn’t explained so I just purchase mine via Amazon.com, ship them over the border and take a bike ride to pick them up.

Daily Journal

My final daily analogue tool is my daily journal. A bit of everything goes into this book. After CrossFit I write down the workout and how I did and how I felt.

When I take a hike with the kids, I write down the distance/route and notes on the hike. At the end of the day I write down things about my day. When I have thoughts on a subject I take the time to write a little essay in the book.

I sketch in it, and put in my daily tasks copied out of Todoist.

I write in this book every day of the week, throughout the day, and then I sit down for at least a few minutes at the end of the day to make sure I covered the things that I thought were important.

Now I haven’t always been a daily journal writer. I’ve started and stopped and started again many times. 2015 has been my most successful year in journaling, with about 140 entries starting at the end of January.

What do I get out of a journal? I think that Eugène Delacroix said it much more eloquently than I currently can so I’ll refer to his journal and say:

I have hurriedly re-read the whole of my Journal. I regret the gaps. I feel as though I were still master of the days I have recorded, even though they are past, whereas those not mentioned in the pages are as though they had never been. The Journal of Eugène Delacroix

My current journal of choice is a Leuchtturm1917 Medium (Amazon.ca) which has a hardcover. My previous attempts at journaling were done with some Moleskine softcover books that simply never held up.

The Leuchtturm also has numbered pages and an index in the front you can fill out. I could of course just number all the pages on any notebook and then leave the first two pages blank for an index, but I like the refined look/feel of having it already done for me.

Second, this journal comes with ‘archival stickers’ which means they have stickers you can put on the spine and front for labeling your notebook. I do look forward to the future where I have a stack of notebooks lined up on a shelf and can dig into them to see what I was thinking the five years prior.

If you want to read more about creatives and daily journals check this article out at Brain Pickings.

Enter a bit of digital

Now I know we’re talking about analogue tools but I have a rule.

If it only exists in one place it doesn’t exist.

That means that each day I take a picture of the journaling from the day before and put it in Evernote. When I finish a pocket notebook I label it as the last day I used it and take pictures of each spread and put it in Evernote in my ‘journal’ notebook.

Despite keeping digital copies, I keep the actual notebooks as well. Maybe someday 10 years in the future all the pocket notebooks will take up enough space that I just don’t need them anymore, but that day is not today.

Are you using any analogue tools that the rest of us could benefit from?

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