The Best School Supplies

From thewirecutter.com

From thewirecutter.com

Even if you’re not heading back to college or putting your own kids on a school bus this fall, there’s something about September that brings out an itch for new office supplies. But with thousands of options out there, and a high-price not always equaling a higher value, how do you know what’s the best bang for your buck? You ask The Wirecutter, whose writers tested everything (with “over 50 hours spent on fresh research”) to compile a detailed list of the best pens and notebooks, to dorm life products like eye masks and shower caddies, to tablets and USB battery packs. A few of our favorites include the best pen:

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The 0.7 mm uni-ball Jetstream is the top everyday pick of several widely-read pen aficionados—including our own Tim Barribeau, who wrote our guide—and costs only $9 for a three-pack. It’s “widely lauded for being super smooth to use, extremely fine, and requiring very little pressure to use,” Tim says. Every expert he’s spoken to so far has recommended it, and Amazon reviewers, who have given it 4.5 stars over 49 reviews, like its good color and constant flow, saying it’s a good pick for left-handed writers, too.

And the best travel mug is a great pick as well:

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If you want to carry your coffee around, the $32 Zojirushi Stainless Mug will keep it hot all day. In our testing, it beat out six other models, keeping coffee at least 20 degrees hotter after eight hours than its closest competitor. You can drink out of it one-handed—no fumbling for the lid latch here—and it still locks easily and efficiently, meaning it won’t spill in your bag on the way to class.
We also love that you can use it for cold liquids, too; no, that’s not the intended use, but when we tested it with cold liquids, the temperature rose only 4 degrees, the best performance of any of the models we looked at.

Others we love include their choice for best USB battery pack, headphones, and portable coffee maker.

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Matthew Weiner: Finding Success from Failed Projects

MattWeiner

Matthew Weiner, writer for Mad Men and The Sopranos, speaks about the confidence gained by the simple act of creating something independently, even if it’s something no one else will ever see.

Anyway, once I got out of film school I said, they will not let me fly the plane. So I’m going to build my own airport. I shot my first movie, What Do You Do All Day?, in twelve days, in 1995. It cost twelve thousand dollars. Anybody can raise twelve thousand dollars—now it would probably be even cheaper, because there was no digital then.

Even though the movie didn’t go anywhere, Weiner says it still changed his life. He went from feeling frustrated and bitter about having no control over his life to feeling a sense of grandeur. So when his friend asked him to sit in at the writer’s table of a new sitcom and pitch jokes, he had no problem:

And I drove onto the Warner Brothers lot and sat down at the table with all these professional writers and had no trouble talking and telling jokes. Not just because I’m an extrovert, but because I’d just made this movie and I knew it was funny.

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Stop Dirty Networking: Make Friends, Not Contacts

Matilda by Danny DeVito

Matilda by Danny DeVito

Research has found that people who engage in “instrumental networking,” where the goal is career advancement, made people actually feel physically dirty. So dirty, in fact, that they thought about showering and brushing their teeth! 

As creative professionals, it’s understood that for the sake of our careers, we must constantly expand our networks of potential partners and clients. But how can we do that without repulsing people? Keith Ferrazzi, author of Never Eat Alone, suggests ditching traditional networking altogether:

Those who are best at it don’t network – they make friends.

. . .

Business is a human enterprise, driven and determined by people…When you help someone through a health issue, positively impact someone’s personal wealth, or take a sincere interest in their children, you engender life-bonding loyalty.

Opt for spontaneous networking, where the goal is the simply the pursuit of emotional connections and friendship

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Keep a No List to Show Time Saved

Rejected designed by Yazmin Alanis from the Noun Project

Rejected designed by Yazmin Alanis from the Noun Project

When you say “no” to something, you’re choosing how to spend your time. Over at her blog, Bobulate, NPR creative director Liz Danzico describes what would happen if we focused on keeping a No List, and the surprising benefits of doing so:

When I say no (e.g., conference talk invites, ‘pick my brain’ invitations, jury solicitations), I immediately add my regret to the No List. I nurture this growing list of no-things, adding category data like dates events would have happened, themes, and date turned down.

Too much yes, I quickly found, is unsustainable and unhealthy. What could I make from no? So I started a list. Instances of saying no… Suddenly, I’m making list of cities not seen, airplanes not embarked, and time saved, rather than time taken away. Several months later, I have a made a substantial something. It’s how I’ve marked time.

To keep a No List means simply writing down any time you say “no” to something. By tracking everything you decline, you are not only saving time by focusing your efforts on the most important things, you’re also refocusing your attention onto the things you’re truly passionate about.

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Open Thread: Do You Involve Customers In Your Creative Process?

Collaborative-Learning designed by Duke Innovation Co-Lab for the Noun Project

Collaborative-Learning designed by Duke Innovation Co-Lab for the Noun Project

That’s right. Clients don’t have to just be on the receiving end of our work. Patrick Hanlon at Inc. explores the ways that clients can become collaborators. He writes:

Today, consumers aren’t just your buyers, they can also be your collaborators. They can help you design, build, promote, and sometimes even distribute your products or services.

He pulls an example from the business world about working with customers at the onset:

First, collaborating with customers during the product innovation and design phase helps marketers understand real need states.  P&G, GE, Yum! brands, and others bring consumers into early stages of design and development.

Hanlon stopped short of really answering the question, so let’s discuss it ourselves. How can we collaborate with our clients to enhance our work and processes? How can we use them to gather invaluable feedback to make sure what we’re doing – whether it is building a product, developing a new service or executing new promotional ideas – is actually effective? How can we then turn clients into fierce ambassadors invested in our work, of which they feel ownership in?

Let us know in the comments what your experience is with customers as collaborators.

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When Is Something “Good Enough” to Ship?

Envelope by Ana María Lora Macias from The Noun Project

Envelope by Ana María Lora Macias from The Noun Project

No one really cares that you’re an overachiever. As creative professionals, we’re seldom satisfied with our output because it’s seldom perfect. But more often than not, good enough is perfect. Head of Creative & Design at HubSpot, Keith Frankel, shared a simple guide to recognizing when a deliverable can be considered “good enough.”

  1. It successfully solves the problem, addresses the need, or conveys the message intended.
  2. It is clearly and distinctly on brand.
  3. The quality of work is consistent with or above the level of previous work.
  4. It has been thoroughly yet objectively scrutinized by other qualified individuals.
  5. The final decision of preference had been left in the hands of the creator.

According to Ayelet Gneezy, Associate Professor at the University of California in San Diego’s Rady School of Management, “You really, really want to keep a promise, and anything beyond that is marginal, if anything…Don’t kill yourself trying to over deliver.”

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James Victore’s Tricks and Treats for Getting Motivated

If you’re struggling to feel motivated, using tricks or treats may be all you need to get the momentum going again. Illustrator James Victore swears by the unique approach to getting unstuck:

The first step of getting motivated: identify the type of motivation problem you’re having. Are you not motivated by the work itself (such as it doesn’t excite you) or are you lacking internal motivation (like a lack of energy because you didn’t sleep well last night)?

Once you know the type of motivation problem you’re having, you can motivate yourself with tricks like forcing yourself to work for one hour by using a stop watch, or promising a co-worker or peer that you’ll get something done in the next 30 minutes. Anything that can “trick” you into getting started on the work.

Alternatively, the treats approach is just that — a literal treat. If you make progress on (or finish) the work, reward yourself with something you’ve been wanting for a long time.

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