the Modern Monkey Mind

One man's exploration of simple living and yoga

5 Recommened Apps

Whether you have an iPhone or an Android in your pocket, there are way more apps available than anyone could possibly test out in a single human lifetime. With that in mind I thought I’d share some of the apps I’ve found useful and use regularly. I use a number of apps most people probably use, like social media clients, etc, so I’ve left those out, and limited myself to more unusual fare instead.

1: Headspace/Buddhify: Headspace is a great app to learn to meditate and get in the habit of doing it daily. Its a series of guided mindfulness meditation sessions that get progressively longer and more intricate as they go on. The app also has a mindfulness buzzer, which will pop up a notification anywhere from one to five times a day at random. There are great dedicated apps for this, the best and the one I’ve used off and on is simply called “Mindfulness Bell.” The advantage to the Headspace feature is the fact that it plays your alert sound, not a bell like the dedicated app, so its significantly less obtrusive. Headspace is free for the first ten days, then a subscription on a sliding scale afterwards.

Buddhify is a less structured app, being a collection of guided meditations focused on teaching mindfulness during everyday activities (ie the vast majority are intended to be used while your’e actually doing something else). This is a solid compliment to Headspace, though it could certainly be used on its own. It also has a dedicated meditation timer without audio, though its restricted to specific increments topping out at 60 minutes. If you’re looking for something more flexible I highly recommend Insight Timer, which I used for ages and continue to use on occasion. Buddhify is available for both iPhone and Android, and has a one time price-tag of less than $5.

2: Lastpass: This is quite possibly the greatest password management system ever conceived. It stores all your passwords behind a master password and lets you generate secure passwords that are just about as long as you want (some of my passwords are between twenty and fifty characters). It also monitors your accounts to let you know if any have the same password. While this is most useful when you first start using the app, it also warns you if an account is using your master password, which can be a major security risk.

3: Lookout: Do you have a smart phone? If you do, you need this app. Lookout is everything from a virus detection/deletion app to internet security, to theft protection. It’ll keep an eye on things when you’re online to let you know if something hinky is going on, and if you have a premium account and your phone gets stolen, you can have it do all sorts of fun things, like take a picture with the front facing camera if someone tries to unlock the phone too many times, show its location on a map on the software’s website, and even wipe the phone. Sure, there’s built in software that can do some of these things, but not all of them. Lookout is a subscription service, but for peace of mind its pretty darn cheap.

4: Circa: I went through a faze where I just ignored the news altogether. I still don’t bother with TV news, newspapers, or internet news sites for the most part, but Circa is an integral part of my morning routine. Basically the app gives you a daily briefing of the most important stories, and its actual news, as in the facts of the events without anything else. An actual no spin zone. A lot of the articles are crazy long, but the morning brief, called the Wire gives you about a paragraph summary of each story with the option to read more. One of my favorite features of this app is the ability to follow stories. Basically if you read a story you want to keep up with, you push a button that says “follow” and pops up a notification whenever there’s new developements in the story.

5: I told myself I wasn’t going to highlight any games, but had to give a shout out to INGRESS. The game is essentially about a battle between an evil organisation and a group trying to defeat them, but it uses GPS to interact with the real world, meaning that if you want to play the game, you have to be willing to be active and possibly look a bit goofy in public. Defintiely one of the more inventive games I’ve seen.


5 Tips to Make Life Easier

With all the health and well-being advice floating around, sometimes it can be hard to know what to do, and who to trust. If we took a minute to stop and think, however, there are a couple things I think we all know on some level we need to do to live better, healthier lives.

5 Simple Things to Make Life Easier:

  1. Get more sleep: Granted, getting too much sleep can actually be bad for you too, but let’s get real, how many people actually get more than eight hours?

  2. Turn off the news: The news really doesn’t have anything to do with keeping us informed anymore. Everyone from CNN to Fox airs the stories they do because thats what draws viewers. The doom and gloom has the unfortunate side-effect of twisting your world view in some pretty horrific ways. You’ll do yourself a huge favor by not exposing yourself to it. If you absolutely have to watch something, tune into your local nightly news broadcast, which tends to be not so negative and might actually be useful.

  3. Drink more water: Like sleep, most of us are actually walking around partially dehydrated. The human body is something like 70% water. Just about any process that takes place in the human body requires water. Most foods we eat are part water but not near enough to replenish the water lost through digestion, sweat, etc. Shoot for 4–6 32oz bottles of water a day (protip: invest in a good metal, glass, or BPA-free water bottle and memorise the locations of bathrooms in areas you frequent.) This is a lot of water, yes, but if you’re used to feeling sluggish, once you start keeping yourself hydrated, you’ll notice a definite difference.

  4. Get regular exercise: Having trouble getting to bed before midnight? Most of us are WAY too sedentary for our own good, myself included at times. This doesn’t have to be at the gym or necessarily “exercise” either. If you’re on a call, get up and walk a bit, start a body weight exercise routine in the morning get active in whatever way you can. The key here is to get outside. The body’s circadian, or sleep/awake rhythms are regulated by exposure to sunlight. Getting outside a couple times a day however you can will help regulate these rhythms.

  5. Clean up your diet: Seems there’s more and more evidence, both scientific and otherwise, that the Standard American Diet of fast food, tons of meat, soda and sweets is deadly. Going vegan isn’t necessary, but prioritise food in your budget, up the amount of leafy greens and fruits and veggies you eat, eat less meat, and feel the difference.

None of these tips rely on trusting scientific evidence. Anyone that does any one of these things will start to feel the difference for themselves. We overcomplicate everything so much these days that sometimes we forget there are plenty of simple, straightforward ways to improve our lives.

Clothes and the Man

“Know what the difference is between you and me? I make this look good.” – Agent J (Will Smith), Men in Black

As I’ve mentioned before, Steve Jobs was well known for (among other things) wearing a black turtleneck, jeans, and sneakers every day. Clothing can be a form of self expression, but having a basic outfit (or two) that you wear on a daily basis (your uniform) can be incredibly useful in terms of making getting dressed easier and knowing you look good regardless.

A uniform does three things: One it helps maintain a certain discipline about life. Most men’s wear, after all, evolved from military uniforms. The suit was based off the military dress uniform, the breast pockets on men’s shirts started as a place for Napoleonic era infantry to store ammunition. In one of the weirder developments in men’s wear, t-shirts are actually undershirts that became socially acceptable to wear on the outside. The second reason is, as I mentioned before, a matter of simplicity and style: knowing that you look good with a small wardrobe. Finally, third, it frees up mental energy to use for other things besides which shirt to wear.

So, what do I actually wear? My standard uniform is jeans with a leather belt, button-down collared shirt or long sleeve thermal t-shirt, brown leather boots. I also keep two or three solid color t-shirts and a pair of junker jeans that I mostly wear on weekends or when I’m doing yard or housework. Though it doesn’t happen often, there are still occasions when I need to dress up, so I have a couple pairs of light, medium, and dark khakis, a couple dress button down shirts and a french cuff shirt, as well as a pair of dark wash jeans, dress shoes and a dress belt. The only thing I feel I’m missing at this point for winter wear is a decent jacket that doesn’t look like I’m about to crest Everest, along with a sport coat, and a grey suit for formal wear. If you work in an office, you might want to weight things a bit more towards the dressy end of the spectrum. If you look at most mens’ magazines, you’ll probably come away thinking you need a ton of clothes, but the fact is its actually easier in some ways to look better without hundreds of clothing items. I wouldn’t be too worried about getting called out on wearing the same stuff constantly either. I’ve been dressing this way for about a month and no one has said anything.

I definitely recommend checking out this youtube video on maintaining a minimal wardrobe.

So, what should every guy have in their closet?

How to Stay on Track

As life goes on, we gain more and more responsibilities, and have more and more that needs to get done, and less ental energy to devote to it. Some method of mangement becomes necessary. Of course, there’s always paper and pencil, but there are some great digital options as well. Today I thought I’d share some of the apps and techniques I use to keep track of my life. You can go here to check out a post I wrote a while back about analog tools I use.

1 Todoist: This may well be my favorite task manager. Clean design, minimalist, gamification of productivity through karma points, and there are native clients for every tech device under the sun (including Galaxy Gear). This the to do list for the digital age. (I also recommend checking out Nozbe.)
2 Sunrise/Fantastical: Sunrise is without a doubt the best Google calendar client out there. It boasts a nice, clean minimalist interface, along with the fact that it integrates with EVERYTHING, most importantly Evernote and Todoist.
3 IFTTT: Recently renamed IF, this is a task automation program that I use for so much its not really funny anymore. If I miss a call it adds a task to Todoist to return the call, including caller ID information if available, it adds anything marked “watch later” on YouTube to Pocket, adds top TIME stories to pocket as well as a random post from Wikipedia, thats only scratching the surface, and I know I’m not using it to its full potential.
4 Buffer: A tool I use to autopost to various social media. I do manually post to Instagram and twitter, as well as Tumblr on occasion, but this service gives me the piece of mind of knowing I’ve got a steady stream of posts to social media going, instead of flooding my followers every morning with posts and tweets.
5 Electronic Pomodoro Timers: I use Tomighty on my computer, and Simple Pomodoro on my phone. These timers motivate me to get work done instead of goofing around, and I find that I get more higher quality work done when I have one of them ticking down.

action steps:
1 Take a look at your options: I’ve used a couple, and there are a number of different ones out there. Trello and Kanbanflow are good if you’re looking for something different than a tradiitonal todo list, simulating a board with columns that tasks are moved between. Workflowy is a sort of trippy combination of to-do list and outline that I still use for various things, but not my actual todo list at the moment.
2 Choose a taskmanager and calendar app and give them a shot forone to two weeks: This should be about the right amount of time to know if they’ll work for you or not.
3 Make it a habit: It’ll take a while, but train yourself to dump everything in there. Trust the system. No system in the world, as simple or intricate as it might be will help if you don’t use it.

A lot of this post appeared in rough form in my weekly newsletter. Want to check it out? Follow this link and see what you think.

How to Conquer Your Finances

Growing up I never thought about money. What kid does? As an adult, my monetary habits have been a semi-mess. Like it or not, as adults we can’t afford to act like money is a limitless resource, so I’m getting my act together.

Tips for monetary well-being:

  1. Don’t carry cards: They make spending too tempting. Limit or eliminate credit card use. Don’t carry one, and don’t set it up to be charged anywhere online. Set a monthly limit you can afford and pay it off monthly.
  2. Carry cash: Give yourself 40-60$ in pocket money a month, and withdraw it from your account at the beginning of the month. Save the change and deposit it into the short terms savings at the end of each month along with any remaining spending money.
  3. Have short and long term savings accounts: Use the first for large purchases. Have a goal for this money. The long term is an emergency fund. Make it hard hard to get to by opening it at a different bank. Its best if the long term account has a high interest rateand low minimum balance. Even if you manually deposit into the short term, the long term account should be an auto-deposit. Set it and forget it, you should be only marginally aware of this account until you actually need the money.
  4. Budget: Figure out how much you owe in bills. Assume it doesn’t exist when accounting for necessities and pocket money. I highly recommend learning about money management and finding a related podcast you enjoy. I’m a Dave Ramsey fan, but he might not float your boat. (he’s Christian and teaches biblically based finances. This doesn’t bother me, but it might not work for some people).
  5. Cancel services: Unless somehow necessary for your job, or a family activity, cancel as many subscriptions as you can. I kept Pocket, which helps me write my weekly newsletter, and Netflix, which I watch nightly with my parents, as well as Amazon, which I should probably cancel to limit temptation.

Take Aways:

  1. If its plastic and it has access to your money or credit, stop carrying it. Give yourself $40-60 in cash for pocket money each month. When this is gone, stop buying non-essentials.
  2. Set up long and short term savings accounts: Save the change, cash it in at the end of each month at a Coinstar and deposit the money directly into short term savings. Have a goal for this money. Open a long term savings account at a different bank with high interest and low minimum balance. Transfers will take a couple days to process and prevent impulse purchases.
  3. Set up a budget: Go to and set up an account. Alternately, look into Dave Ramsey’s envelope method. Stick to something like: Savings (maybe separate long and short term), Bills, Necessities, Pocket Money. Stick to the budget. Don’t give yourself any wiggle room. NONE.

Recommended Reading:

Rethinking Necessities on Mnmlist: What is necessary, really?

Consumerism VS Minimalism: An alternative to consumeristic overwhelm.

If You Had to Move, What Would You Take?: While not directly related, certainly worth thinking about.

Build Your Own EDC System

One of my favorite little voyeuristic activities is wandering around the gallery over at Every Day Carry (EDC). The assortment of things someone chooses to carry on a regular basis says a lot about them. Look at enough of these pictures though, and you can’t help but wonder about the logic behind the collection. The majority of the time its whats useful to the person on a regular basis (hence EDC) when you’re just starting to get a collection of tools together, where to start and what to prioritize can be a bit intimidating. What follows are my own thoughts on the subject, and some ideas about how to go about effectively accumulating your gear.

The “Naked Without” Tier:

As I mentioned last week, these are the things most people carry, and its where the focus should be at the beginning. These are the items most people would probably feel naked without: cell phone, keychain, wallet. Wristwatches seem to be less common than they used to be. A good hat is optional, but if you live somewhere where it rains a lot, like I do, or where its hot and sunny on a regular basis, it can be a good thing to have.

If you don’t have a watch, I highly recommend getting one. It looks a lot more professional to glance at a wrist than shove a hand in a pocket to dig out a phone. A good watch won’t actually set you back that much either. The Timex Weekender, my current EDC watch is about $30 on Amazon.

In terms of upgrading things in tier one for EDC gadgets, the most enjoyable place to start is the keyring. While its entirely possible to get the dreaded “prepare bulge” by loading all kinds of neat gadgets on, focusing on a small number can be incredibly useful. I bought myself a True Utility telescoping pen, Victorinox Classic SD, Leatherman Brewzer (glorified bottle opener), and True Utility Tiny Torch because I found myself needing these specific tools at some time or another when I didn’t have tier 2 with me. Considering upgrading the keychain itself can also be useful. A traditional split ring will do a number on your fingers trying to get tools like the Leatherman Brewzer on.

the Tool tier:

A good pen/pocket notebook as well as a full size pocket knife, folding blade knife, and multi-tool should have pride of place here. Using any or all of these tools is at least in part personal preference, but at least get your hands on a pen you like and a pocket notebook, as well as a pocket knife. All these items can be had for under $20 each and still be quality pieces, but you can also easily spend between $50-$100 for a good mid-range pocket knife or pen. While not technically a tool, a handkerchief or bandana can be useful for anything from something to blow your nose with to a tourniquet.

the Jacket:

Think of tier three as mid size items, things that would be too big to carry in your pants or shirt pocket, but could fit nicely in a jacket pocket. I carry a Kindle Paperwhite, as well as a mini maglite in tier three, and move my phone from my pants pocket to the inside pocket of my jacket. I’d carry the flashlight in tier 2 but its a bit big for a pocket carry flashlight and doesn’t have a pocket clip. Sometimes I put the office/tools kit from my backpack into a jacket pocket, but my jacket has nice big cargo pockets on the outside, so this might not work for everyone.

the EDC Backpack:

The last tier is the ever useful EDC backpack. I jokingly call it the real world bag of holding. Mine currently has a number of things including basic short term survival needs (shelter, water, food) in the form of a thin wind/rain proof shell, a reusable water bottle, and various energy bars. The idea isn’t to be a 72 hour survival cash, but a get through the day resource. After all, how often do you feel hungry or thirsty or get caught out in the weather during a normal day? This is the first thing that should be taken care of. I also carry a med kit, Dopp kit, and office/tools kit

A first aid kit can be a good resource to have on hand, and you can get a decent starter kit mostly of various bandaids at a dollar store. This’ll take care of most paper cuts and minor injuries, though anything beyond low-level office mayhem will need a sturdier kit, various options being available on Amazon.

One thing that can be incredibly useful is a tool kit. Mine is held in a Vanquest Personal Pocket Maximizer and includes a collection of items: a blank pocket notebook, various mechanical pencils, pens, and highlighters, and a glasses cloth tucked into the outside pocket. I chose the Vanquest organizer over the Maxpedition EDC Pocket Organizer, my original choice, after watching this video where Urban Prepper drags both behind his SUV and the Vanquest comes out basically unscathed while the Maxpedition is shredded.

Though it might seem weird, I also carry my Dopp kit with me on a regular basis. If I get a cold I’ve always got cough drops and zinc lozenges with me, and if I get something in my teeth I’ve got a way to get it out (in addition to either of the tooth picks in my Victorinox Classic SD and Spartan II pocket knives). The pack really is my EVERY Day Carry, which means it functions as one of two carry ons when I travel. All I need to do to pack is put some clothes in a duffel bag and I’m good to go.

I try not to overload the pack because I like having the main compartment available for a backpack’s traditional use of carrying stuff, and I walk and ride the bus everywhere, so it gets heavy fast. If I go grocery shopping or wander a store I almost never get a bag these days and just stuff whatever items I buy in the pack.


When putting a collection of EDC gear together, definitely start with tiers one and two. Focus on at least getting something at first over getting the perfect thing. After all, its better to have a serviceable tool than not have your perfect dream tool. Focus first on getting tools to address needs you already have or discover before expanding out to get your hands on, for example, a multitool, which isn’t as important as making sure you have a pen, so invest in a keychain backup pen before spending money on a Leatherman. After you get squared away with the three survival basics for a backpack, I highly recommend assembling a Dopp kit and a tool kit. Remember, the point of EDC is to make life easier, so focus on tools that will actually be of use in your day to day activities before springing for a $200 Leatherman.

Recommended Apps

It is hardly understating things to only semi-jokingly refer to a smart phone as the modern pocket knife. This one device can do any number of jobs above and beyond texting and making phone calls. That said, there are so many different apps out there that it can be hard to separate the good stuff from the junk. These are apps that I use on a regular basis and have gotten great benefit from.

Evernote: This one app is slowly taking over my life, and I love it. Useful as anything from a photo album to a notebook to a word processor, you can even use it to store files. I’m certainly not the first to sing the praises of Evernote, but I doubt I’ll be the last.

OneBusAway: If you use public transit, you need this app.Uses your phone’s GPS to show your position on a map and all the bus stops in the area. You can tap on any of them and see what buses stop there and when. It alseo live updates so you know if a bus is running late or early. (note: I don’t know if this works everywhere)

Stitcher: I’ve slowly become addicted to podcasts, and after getting fed up with Podbay crashing for the umpteenth time, went ahead and checked out Stitcher. Maybe the best podcast listening app out there. Any podcast currently in production is probably available, in addition to dozens of talk radio stations and major news sources. I do have some gripes, like there being a noticeable couple second delay when you try to bring up the currently playing window, and its locked up on me once or twice, but over all highly recommended.

Instapaper: I’ve gone back and forth between instapaper and readability over the years. Both are online services that allow you to save material from the web to look at later. Instapaper has the added features of being able to save video, and mark up saved articles using a highlight feature. Using the highlighter more than three or four times a month requires a small subscription of less than five dollars though.

Google Calendar: While I use a paper planner, I pair it with a digital one. I like to plan out my days and I usually get up early, so this allows me to plan things before 8am. If someone knows of a paper planner that goes back to five or six am let me know what it is in the comments.

For fellow preppers out there:

Scanner Radio: This little app lets you listen to local police/fire/emergency response and weather band radio signals. The audio is provided by volunteers, so you might not have anything available if you’re in a small town, and the feeds aren’t up 24/7. Still, it can be fun and informative to listen to.

Disaster Alert: Shows a world map with icons showing the location and type of event.

First Aid: Instructions including videos on how to handle a wide variety of injuries and other health problems from allergies to seizures to broken bones. Probably not the best thing to be using when actually administering first aid, but a great learning aid.

Every Day Carry

“Be prepared.”
-Boy Scout motto

Granted, I never made it to Eagle Scout, but that was more thanks to factors outside of my control than anything. Either way, this is probably the best two word definition of the increasingly popular idea of EDC, or Every Day Carry: having an assortment of items that you carry on a daily basis for various reasons. Not that this is that new of an idea.

We all carry any number of items around with us on a daily basis, yet there seems to be this idea that a minimalist spends his days with empty pockets. While this image has a certain poetry to it, at least for me its very much not the case. I find there are a number of items I carry on a daily basis that are worth stuffing in various pockets:

the “Naked Without” Tier:
These are all items that I have on me throughout the day. I doubt many will be foreign to most people. As the Urban Prepper over on YouTube says, I’d feel naked without these five items

-Samsung Galaxy S5 & Bluetooth headphones: I know, I know. A minimalist that carries a smartphone? Heresy! I’m a geek and a technophile, and I love this thing. Shoot me. I’ll be putting a post of app recommendations up later, but this is one pocket occupant that gets regular usage. If I really wanted to, I could probably get rid of at least a couple other items that duplicate functions the phone does, but I choose not to because I love me some old school analog goodness. I love the headphones because, well, cords drive me nuts. I have been asked why I’m wearing a stethoscope though.

-Victorinox Spartan II pocket knife/keychain: For a while I had an Acura fob on my keychain, but then I noticed my pocket knife had a keychain loop on it and, well, the rest is history. The Spartan II is a standard size pocket knife, so this might not be ideal for some people. I also have a Boker Quartet that I carry on occasion, though I’ve found myself in need of a bottle opener often enough that the pen knife just wasn’t doing it for me as my EDC knife anymore.

-Big Skinny wallet: I carried a leather billfold for ages, but I’ve gotta say I love this wallet. it’s made form recycled bicycle tubing, and has a coin pouch on the side, which, if you use cash and having change loose in your pocket bugs you like it does me, is really nice. I’ve had a couple different wallets, mostly leather since I was a tween, and I prefer this one over all of them.

the Tool Tier:
While I don’t have these items on me all the time, if I’m in street clothes, I more than likely do

-pocket notebook & pen: A Field Notes notebook, and Zebra F-701 pen, have taken up permanent residence in my breast pocket. I use my phone for a similar purpose and if necessary I could leave this bit of analog tech at home, but often its just easier to flip the notebook open and scribble a note than fiddle with Evernote. I used to carry a Cross that had my name engraved on it. It was a gift from an aunt and I love that pen. However, when I saw this video, I pretty much immediately bought an F-701 and a Fisher Space Pen refill and haven’t looked back since. This might just be the best entry level EDC pen ever conceived.

-glasses cloth & handkercheif: My eyesight has been horrid since I was little. I’ve worn glasses since I was a toddler, but up until recently, for some reason I didn’t carry a glasses cloth and my glasses ended up being, well, gross on a regular basis. Now not only can I see, but the person I’m talking to can see my eyes, which, psychologically and socially is a big plus. If you wear (sun)glasses you really should carry one.

This’ll probably get me disgusted looks, but a handkercheif is pretty darn useful, and I don’t carry the same one every day. If it gets used I toss it in the dirty clothes and grab a new one in the morning.. Decent handkerchiefs aren’t that expensive, a pack of thirteen is $14 on Amazon. Disposable tissues are incredibly wasteful, and I’ve actually had a lot more exposure to mucus and other bodily secretions thanks to bleed through using them than I have using a cloth handkerchief. I know some people think hankies are germ ridden, but they’re only gross if you use the same one all the time and don’t wash it.

the EDC Backpack:
When I’m out and about during the day I’ll carry a backpack with the following in it. Many of these end up in jacket pockets instead if its cold:

-Kindle Paperwhite/paper book: Being a voracious reader, I love my Kindle. Not the easiest thing to carry around on a regular basis except that my favorite medium weight winter coat has a pair of inside pockets that are the perfect size for my Kindle and Galaxy. That said, in the summer I could easily leave it at home and use the app on my phone instead. More and more, however, I find I enjoy carrying a physical book, since I read like I breath. When I do, it usually goes in my backpack.

-Planner: I described my organizational set up last week, and while I don’t carry my commonplace or logbook around with me, I do carry my planner. These days I don’t really have many commitments beyond the same work session with my best friend/editor, farmer’s market visit, etc, each week, but I do have doctor and other appointments, plus its just best to get in the habit of carrying it around.

-extra handkerchief in a ziplock: On the off chance I run into someone in need its nice to be able to offer a clean hanky.

-Light hooded jacket: I live in the Northwest, where it can rain at a second’s notice, so I like having this with me. It rolls up into a nice little roll and gets stuffed into the bottom of my pack.

-iPal charger & flashlight: I’ve been wanting one of these for a while and finally sprang for one. I have yet to test out its recharge capabilities, but its got a great flashlight in it.

-Maglite flashlight: My current primary EDC flashlight. I could probably use this thing as a weapon for self defense in a pinch.

-Junker pen & Sharpie: I’m definitely not loaning out my Frankenzebra, so I carry a disposable in case someone needs one. I’m kind of tempted to replace this with a Frankenzebra, but its kind of expensive for a give-away. I’ve been considering getting one of the metal sharpies, but for now the disposable kind works just fine.

-ziploc with moleskine brand pencil sharpener & eraser: My planner has a wooden pencil clipped to it, so I need a sharpener (though I could probably use my pocket knife if I really wanted to) and since there’s no eraser on the end of it, I like to have a separate one with me.

I suspect that some of these items seem a bit retro, but I kind of like being retro. Of course, maybe I’m not as unusual as I think.

My Organizational System

Like it or not, our brains aren’t that great at remembering everything we need or want them to. Bards in Medieval Europe might have memorized ballads and recited them from memory, but these were works of a lifetime, the people who did it devoted their lives to it. Especially in the 21st century with the barrage of input we encounter every day, its necessary to have some way to keep everything organized and recorded outside of just our own fallible minds. What follows is my personal organizational system borrowed in part from other people, and significantly simpler than say David Allen’s “Getting Things Done,” but it does what I need it to do, and when it doesn’t, I’ll rework it. Feel free to use any, all, or none of what follows. Find what works for you and use it.


Before Moleskine got popular and carrying a pocket notebook became hip, men from farmers to businesspeople and most anyone in between carried one of these. I’ve found it to be incredibly useful and one of the things I carry around on a daily basis, even if I don’t have anything else but a book with me.

How you use these little notebooks is highly personal. Different people have used them for all different sorts of reasons. Personally I use Field Notes or Evernote Moleskines and write in them from front to back and back to front. Going back to front is a To-Do list, and front to back is a collection point for most everything else. Ideas for writing projects, quotes, quips, jokes, and all manner of other information that will likely eventually find its way into my commonplace. I suppose you could do this electronically. Evernote is basically a modern day pocket notebook/Commonplace, and I love and use it, but there’s something special, almost sacred about doing these by hand. There’s also scientific evidence that writing by hand is actually beneficial in ways typing isn’t. Plus, I can leave physical items behind instead of a list of usernames and passwords to various cloud based services and that just gives me the warm fuzzies (I know, I’m weird).


Like pocket notebooks, the creation and maintenance of a Commonplace Book has a long and storied history that Evernote doesn’t really do justice to. These books became popular during the European Renaissance among scholars and students as a way to keep a record of all manner of information. Plenty of well known people have kept such records including HP Lovecraft, and more recently Ronald Reagan (incidentally, if anyone finds a similar published collection from Lovecraft’s commonplace book, shoot me a link). My system, like Reagan’s, can’t really be called a book. It’s the same system used by Ryan Holiday who learned it from his mentor Robert Greene.

Instead of a blank journal, the system is based around index cards and file boxes. Any bit of information is transcribed onto a 4×6 index card, by hand or typed for longer items, marked with a subject in the upper right hand corner, and filed into a small red plastic folder. Holiday uses giant boxes designed to hold photos, but I haven’t been doing this for almost a decade, so have significantly less material to deal with.

Where does the content come from? Put simply, everywhere! Bits from books I’ve read, quotes from movies, TV, internet videos, conversations, my own ideas. In a sense the commonplace, like the pocket notebook, serves as an external memory.


Among my New Years resolutions was to make a habit of keeping a diary, something I’ve continually tried and failed to do with any regularity, and I bet I’m not the only one. This time, however, I think I’ve found a better method. Austin Kleon calls it a logbook. Its also essentially the same system Leo Babauta uses. I also happen to use and love the same moleskine daily planner as Austin.

The log book is kept in an actual diary, not a blank notebook. These are the blank books that actually have the day and date printed on each page. Pre-printed dates are nice for two reasons: One, you don’t have to look up the date. The second is a bit more pragmatic. If you miss a couple days you have to flip past a bunch of blank pages to get to the current date instead of just starting the next entry right where the last one left off. This is a little thing called negative reinforcement and it can go a long way to encouraging the habit.

So what actually gets written down? Bullet points of things that I actually did. Finished a book? Put the title in there. Start or complete a project at work? Write an article for a side hustle? yet another thing that can be included. The bullet points don’t have to be complete sentences either. Actually its probably better if they’re not, as long as a reasonably intelligent person can tell what an entry says. I tend to include everything, even getting coffee in the morning from the local coffee shop. I also doodle something in the corner for the weather and actually doodle all over the page. If I spend money, I’ll put a “$” next to the entry. If I see a movie, I’ll doodle a projector. The logbook and planner are meant to work in tandem as compliments. The planner tracks appointments, commitments, things that I’m planning to do, etc. The logbook is a record of what I actually did.


Speaking of planners, I use a relatively simple, direct system that is not much different than what most kids are taught to use in school with one or two little tweaks. The planner I use is an Evernote moleskine weekly planner. These are great because they have a week on a page. The facing page for each week is a blank lined page for notes. This gets used for various things, the most important of which is noting future commitments. When I’m scheduling something farther away than the current week. Most importantly, I keep the entire thing in pencil because, well, life is fluid and changes almost inevitably need to be made.

I also use Google Calendar. I do this because I tend to schedule out my days more completely than just appointments. I’d love to use a paper planner, but I have yet to find one that starts before 8am. This helps maintain sense of discipline and productivity, though I still manage to goof off more than I probably should. If there’s interest I can write a post about how this works, though my system isn’t really any different from the one Brett McKay lays out in this video.


Though this system is pretty intentionally analog, I use and love Evernote as well (hence the Evernote Moleskine planner). I take pictures of my planner pages to keep a backup record (this has the added advantage that if I check a little box on a day in the planner Evernote automatically sets a reminder for that day). I photograph basically anything I want to have a backup/record of, including commonplace cards, logbook pages, receipts, sticky notes, etc. Speaking of receipts, I have any receipt sent to my email that I can, and then forward it into Evernote, because I know how likely I am to actually keep that little slip of paper and not recycle it. Evernote is also slowly becoming my primary word processor as well. Every post you’ve read since the New Year has been written and edited in Evernote before being copy pasted to WordPress.

So the question becomes how do I organize all this? If you’re familiar with the program, you’ll probably think notebooks. Basically a notebook is the equivalent of a real world notebook, and notes are pages in it. However, this really isn’t a great way to organize things. If you look at my account I only have two notebooks and a stack of another three. Everything else is organized using tags. The notebooks I use are: @inbox, cabinet, and a stack called External Brain, which contains “pocket notebook”, “planner”, and “logbook”, which are digital backups of the analog systems discussed above. “@inbox” is precisely what it sounds like. Everything that gets put in my account goes here first to get sorted and filed. Cabinet is essentially storage of everything thats not currently being used. I have a range of tags that are currently in flux but include, for example, “read later” for articles that have been saved to my Instapaper account, and “receipt” for images of receipts.


The above system took me a while to figure out, and is still being fine tuned and played with, but its what works for me. The pairing of the planner and logbook let me keep track of whats been going on in my life and whether I’m actually doing anything worthwhile, and the pocket notebook and commonplace help me remember things and keep track of everything that need to get done as well as be more engaged with what I’m doing. Evernote while not used for everything directly works as a back up to keep a record of everything, including writing projects so its all sorted in a central location. How do you stay organized? Does any or all of the above system sound useful to you? Do you have a different system that works for you? Head on down to the comments and share if you like.

Discipline is Freedom

Steve Jobs wore the same turtleneck and jeans combo for years. He also lead Apple out of near failure to being one of the most beloved and successful technology companies. It could be argued that, while one didn’t directly lead to the other, not having to think about what to wear freed Jobs up to spend his energy in other more worthwhile areas.

Discipline is freedom, defining freedom as understanding an individual’s abilities within a constrained environment. Epictetus offers perhaps the best definition of freedom in his book the Enchiridion: “Freedom isn’t the right or ability to do whatever you please. Freedom comes from understanding the limits of our own power and the natural limits put in place by divine providence.”

Discipline is defined by the lack of freedom, isn’t it? Well yes, the above quote makes that pretty clear, but this is how a child defines freedom. Looking back at what Epictetus says, there is an explicit acknowledgement that true freedom includes restriction. This is because freedom in this sense is the freedom not to be dragged around or controlled by momentary whim. You can still enjoy having coffee with a friend (I’m doing exactly that as I write this) but you can also engage in things that speak to something larger, like the article I’m writing. Yes, there is a certain kind of enjoyment of the creative act of writing, but unlike, say, the cup of tea I have sitting next to me, there’s more to the work I’m doing than the simple momentary pleasure of creation. It takes a certain level of discipline to stick with something that won’t give immediate rewards and may never beyond the simple act of creation. In a sense this is what it means to be an adult as well, the ability to enjoy momentary pleasure yes, but the ability to focus and engage in activity that may or may not be enjoyable in the moment, but will contribute something lasting as well. The freedom I’m urging us towards is the freedom to pursue wisdom, not things, contribution, creation, not just consumption.

Discipline is the practice of using habits and external systems rather than relying solely on willpower to direct your life or just drifting and doing whatever you feel like in the moment. Though this may not be true for everyone, not having these systems can lead us down the easy street of sitting around doing nothing, especially in a generation which, according to a NY Times article from June of last year has seen nine of ten people in their 20’s and 30’s return home after college. You can look at anyone who has accomplished something and see the lie that you can do anything you want for what it is.

Just about any person you can think of has used discipline to get where they are. Discipline frees up precious mental willpower so instead of pondering what to wear today, we can be thinking about that great line from Seneca, or Montaigne, or the Heart of the Sea (or Harry Potter for that matter) and how it might apply to our lives, or brainstorming ideas for our next project. Knowing whats next on our schedule frees us up to focus on other more important things.

Discipline has gotten a bad wrap the past couple years that it doesn’t particularly deserve. From a certain perspective, it can be extremely freeing. Its how some of the most accomplished people in history and today have done what they did, so there must be something to it, right?

The underpinnings of this blog are founded on one such system thats been time tested and proven by everyone from ex-slaves to emperors and entrepreneurs for the last couple thousand years, Stoicism. Look for a quick and dirty intro to this Philosophy of Life sometime in the next couple weeks. For now, we’re going to get nice and concrete. Next week I’ll be publishing an article outlining my own organizational system as a suggested real world implementation of discipline.