Special thanks to Bastion for believing in Primer's mission of more thoughtful doing and partnering with us on this post. Primer readers can save 20% with code PRMR20.
A few years ago I picked up a solid brass pencil sharpener. It’s small, heavy, with two razor blades and two sharpening holes depending on the size of your pencil. If you asked me how often I actually write with a pencil, I’d say not much, but see, that isn’t the point (no pun intended).
When I do write with a pencil (preferably a Ticonderoga), I get out my brass sharpener and roll it around in my hand a few times while I process what I’m going to write. I like the weight. I like its primitive, yet unfailing, design, the profundity in its simplicity. I sharpen, and I write intentionally. There’s an ethereal balance between that which is fancy and that which is functionally handsome. My pencil sharpener is the latter: it sharpens well and it looks good, and it’s these items which can turn a routine, like jotting down a note or sketch, into a ritual.
In the wide world of men’s gear, we talk about everyday carry (EDC). These are goods and gadgets that a man carries with him on the daily in order to survive the elements and be prepared in an emergency. Pocket knife, capsule lighter, cash stash, pry bar, these all qualify.
But what if instead of the field, you’re heading to the office? In that case, you need EDC that’s ultimately geared towards productivity. Here are a few pieces to consider adding to your organizational arsenal.
Bastion Bolt-Action Stainless Steel Pen
Bastion Bolt-Action Pen $29.99 – Save 20% with code PRMR20
Bastion Pens started in 2012 with a simple ambition: design high-quality gear and provide excellent customer service. Today Bastion offers pens in stainless steel, brass, copper, titanium, aluminum, and carbon fiber. While they offer pencils and fountain pens, their crown jewel is their bolt-action pen, introduced in 2017 on Kickstarter.
The bolt-action pen opens and retracts using a bolt mechanism like the kind on your grandad’s hunting rifle. And while the selection of metals is excellent, I have to say I’m partial to the original stainless steel model. The stainless pen has a heft that balances well in the hand and makes you feel as though whatever you’re writing carries gravity and magnitude.
Because the bolt action offers a healthy resistance, you don’t have to worry about the pen deploying in your pocket and ruining your favorite khakis (or in my case, the chest pocket of my blazer). The pen comes with a black ballpoint cartridge, but if that’s not your brand of bourbon, they have blue, red, and gel ink as well.
When I got my Bastion pen, my first thought was damn, this is a nice box (it took me a minute to figure out that the box is magnetic), which led to my second thought: I should get one of these for my brother and my dad as easy gifts. I quickly realized that as much as I enjoyed writing with it, I had no idea how to actually change out the ink cartridge (Not that I needed to. I just like knowing how stuff works). I jumped on Bastion’s website and saw that the tip of the pen screws off: the finish on the stainless is so smooth that I literally couldn’t see the seam. Well done, Bastion.
Ok, but my notes app on my iPhone works just as well, and it’s a hell of a lot faster than handwriting. True, but writing notes by hand has benefits beyond the chic aesthetic and smooth stroke of a great pen. A 2017 study showed that handwritten notes, especially those coupled with little visuals like arrows and shapes, resulted in greater brain stimulation than simply using a keyboard. Translation: If you want to unlock a little extra creativity and learning power, pick up a pen and do some writing by hand.
Time Box Daily Time Blocking Pad
If you’re like me, you get in bed after a long day of work, and you immediately start thinking about everything you need to get done tomorrow. Some years ago, one of my friends told me to start keeping a pen and paper on my nightstand. He said, “The second you think it, write it down. Let the paper worry about it until tomorrow, so you can sleep.” Great advice. This planner tablet takes it a step further by letting you jot down your to-do list for the next day and decide priorities, how to block off your time, and it gives you a spot to write down those random thoughts that creep in.
Time blocking is one of the great secrets of the super-productive including the likes of Musk and Gates. The idea is simple: Plan what time, in advance, when you’re going to actually work on the items from your to-do list. Cal Newport, computer science professor and New York Times bestselling author of Deep Work (and others) explains his devotion to the tactic:
“Sometimes people ask why I bother with such a detailed level of planning. My answer is simple: it generates a massive amount of productivity. A 40 hour time-blocked work week, I estimate, produces the same amount of output as a 60+ hour work week pursued without structure.”
If your immediate reaction was resistance because such a plan wouldn’t allow for necessary flexibility or the ebb and flow of your work day, Newport concurs, “Our goal is not to stick to a given schedule at all costs: it’s instead to maintain, at all times, a thoughtful say in what you’re doing with your time going forward — even if these decisions are reworked again and again as the day unfolds.”
Flip to Start Time Cube
I’m a task oriented person: I want to start this job, finish it, and then move on to the next. The problem is that in the real world, that isn’t always realistic. It never fails that I’ll start grading papers, and then I realize that I have four emails waiting for a response, oh and I have to make those copies for third period. The way I maintain my sanity is by allotting myself a predetermined amount of time to be off-task (because I’m working on another task).
The TimeCube is a clever desk gadget to give yourself the time that you need. Turn it on its side to display a number, and the TimeCube starts a countdown with that many minutes. Sidetracked by an email? Flip the TimeCube to 5 and allow yourself five minutes to respond and get back to the task at hand.
Having trouble getting started on a new project? Flip the TimeCube and give yourself three minutes to do what I do: swear under my breath, stare into space, and take two sips of my coffee. Time’s up, let’s get to it. Need a mental break? Ensure you don’t fall down a Reddit rabbithole by flipping the cube to 5 so you can quickly get back to it.
There are a number of companies that make versions of the device, we like this one because it also offers a silent mode that will simply flash when the time is up.
Durable Notebook Worthy of Your Thoughts
I have more notebooks than I’d like to admit. There’s something about having paper ready on the spot that makes me feel like nothing is going to escape my mind.
Leuchtturm means lighthouse in German, which somehow just makes sense considering how lovely these notebooks are. This 100+ year-old company focuses on the small details (like the double bookmark strings) and promotes the idea that we should think through our hands. Available in every color, every size, and every page design (dots, grid, lines, blank), there’s a notebook for everyone’s taste. Oh, and the pages are numbered, which is a feature you don’t know you need until you have it.
Eight years ago I bought a Du Kraft leather notebook. Brass rivets, pebbled leather, vintage-inspired paper. I love it. The day I found out I was going to be a dad, I wrote my new baby a letter. When I found out it was a girl, I wrote her another letter. My oldest is seven now, and I’ve written her a letter in this notebook every few months. I’m still working on the right occasion, but someday I’ll give it to her.
No one needs a leather notebook that’s handmade in France, but if you want to drop a few extra dollars, I think it’s worth the reach. The notebook is refillable, and the leather only gets softer with age (and on occasion lederbalsam).
While Andrew prefers Leuchtturm, my daily driver is the Moleskin Cahier. You get three in a pack, and I probably have 15 sitting in my living room credenza because everytime I see a pack, I feel the need to buy them. They’re flexible, thin, and fit perfectly in the back pocket of your jeans. I like the kraft brown because the covers get soft over time and take on a paper patina (if there is such a thing).
Some people need background music to get work done. Honestly, I’ve never understood this. I need silence, minimal sensory stimulation, so I can get into my zone and be productive. A great place to start is with noise-cancelling earbuds or headphones.
I always try to tell myself that Apple products are overrated…and they are…but they just work so damn well. The AirPod Pros are sweat-resistant, adapt the sound to the shape of your ear, and they charge right in the case, which charges wirelessly on Qi chargers.
These headphones aren’t cheap, but when it comes to AV tech, Sony is hard to beat. These headphones offer 30 hours of listening on a charge; they automatically pause your music when you take them off; they have a built-in mic for calls, and they work with Alexa. Oh, and the sound quality is outstanding.
StayFocusd is an extension for Chrome and Microsoft Edge (so it’s free) that allows you to decide which website you need blocked in order to make sure you stay productive. You can block entire websites, or you can block specific pages and paths to make sure you can still access what you need to for work purposes. If you’re the kind of guy who sits down at 8 to finish that report, and next thing you know you’re two hours into a YouTube rabbit hole, you may want to give this a try.