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:
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:
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.
It’s important to be aware of inspiration that simply influences us versus inspiration that turns us into a copycat. Knowing the difference can help turn us into the type of creative worker we strive to be. As Evernote designer Joshua Taylor explains in this interview over at the InVision blog:
Researching and seeing what others are doing is important. I try not to do that too much though because I think there’s a subconscious tendency to copy as soon as you start looking at everyone else’s stuff. My advice is that if you are going to look at others’ work, look at a ton of them so that there’s enough influences and you can’t distinguish between them. Constantly looking at other people’s work has a huge impact on who you are…We are all products of our environments, so surround yourself with great things.
The right inspiration, at the right time (and in the right amount), can be just what we need to improve our own ideas and creative work. It’s when we catch ourselves looking for inspiration as a way to solve the task at hand or complete the work we’re doing that we know we’ve stumbled into possible copycat territory.
Instead, we must strive to constantly surround ourselves with a lot of varied and high caliber work.
Your business idea (be it for a design studio, an app, or consulting practice) has yet to become a success and you can’t figure out why. In an interview over at Entrepreneur with Scott D. Anthony, author of The First Mile: A Launch Manual for Getting Great Ideas Into the Market, the strategy and innovation consultant discusses the most common reasons why your business idea is stagnant:
One extreme is something called “paralysis by analysis,” where the business exists only in someone’s head. They’re trying to make the business plan perfect and remove all risk before taking the first step. The other extreme is “doing without thinking,” where you put something out into the market to see what happens. You can waste a lot of time and money learning things the world has already discovered.
Do either of these two scenarios look familiar? If so, it may be time to take some focused action to get your business off the ground. The real answer lies in between the two extremes: the best action is usually securing your first customer and then building upon that success.
Do you get pissed off whenever someone asks you to setup a “quick call” to chat? Gary Vaynerchuk bets that you do:
We have gotten to a place where everything happens on our time. You watch the TV show when you want to watch it, not because it airs on Wednesday at 8 (7 central). You text because you can respond to that person on your time.
To avoid the awkwardness around small-talk, try to outline what the topic of the conversation is going to be. It makes you feel less guilty for transitioning into the purpose of the call.
Use email to get your high-level thoughts communicated first, and then use a phone call to add a personal touch or to have a higher bandwidth conversation.
If your work requires phone calls, that’s understandable. But remember that more often than not, synchronous communication puts you in a reactionary state. Don’t feel obligated to answer the phone every time it rings; what’s urgent isn’t always important.
Editor-in-chief of Wired Magazine Scott Dadich says it’s time to start getting it wrong. In the field of technology design, we have figured out how to do it right. We have beautiful, sleek devices that are an ease to use – and it’s getting boring:
…once a certain maturity has been reached, someone comes along who decides to take a different route. Instead of trying to create an ever more polished and perfect artifact, this rebel actively seeks out imperfection—sticking a pole in the middle of his painting, intentionally adding grungy feedback to a guitar solo, deliberately photographing unpleasant subjects. Eventually some of these creative breakthroughs end up becoming the foundation of a new set of aesthetic rules, and the cycle begins again.
Dadich emphasizes that it’s not about throwing out design rules and starting from scratch. You need to master the rules so you can effectively break them. In his work for Wired Magazine, Dadich would apply his ‘Wrong Theory’ in small ways by only breaking one or two rules to regain visual interest. He would make large images small, overlap graphic and type and put headlines at the end of stories. Our future lies in failure as Dadich states, “…only by courting failure can we find new ways forward.”
Being shy or introverted doesn’t mean you can’t network like a pro at events. Over at Atomic Spin, Phil Kirkham gives us three tips on how to get the most from a conference or event. Our favorite is The Restroom Test, a way to check how well you’re doing at mixing and mingling with your fellow event-goers:
Take a walk to the restroom and back and see how many people that you did not know previously nod in recognition or say Hi. By the second day of the conference, I could count on getting at least 5 nods of recognition during my walk.
Even if you’re not overly shy, conferences can be intimidating thanks to the sheer number (and talents) of those around you. If at the end of the conference, you still find yourself among only strangers, it’s a good indicator that you’re not making the most of your time there. At the heart of it, Kirkham’s Restroom Test is a great way to not only help measure the number of new people you’re meeting during the event, but also to strengthen your memory of them.
Web designer and author Paul Jarvis wants you to find your “rat people.” These are the people who are passionate about the same things as you, in Jarvis’ case, that’s pet rats. Not everyone is going to have the same interests and that’s perfectly alright. However, stay away from those who insult you because of who you are.
The ones who think your work is useless or worse, disgusting don’t truly matter. Their dissension should fall on deaf ears because they’d never support you, pay you or join your secret club. When you give up trying to please everyone your work becomes much more focused and valuable to the people that matter.
Your rat people get what you do and love it. These are the people you should look for as clients, have on your mailing list and friend on social media. Too often we let the client decide if we are the right designer for them when we should be questioning if they are the right client for us. Jarvis reminds us, “for your creativity to support you, you need to find your 1%. Your rat people.”