If Time Were No Object

A common meme lately, especially as advice to young people wondering what to do with their lives, is to ask “If money were no object, what would you be doing?” The answer is what one should be doing because it’s what they truly desire.

It’s a good question, and a great way to think about how you’re spending your life.

But, what if I ask myself a different question…

“If time were no object, what would I want to get done every week?”

How many things do I wish I could have down but didn’t? How many could I have done, if I’d just done them instead of worrying about if I had the time?

So, I jotted down the things I’d like to do on a weekly basis. Maybe more than a few times a week, but I figured a week was a good measure.

Here’s my list:

  • Go on a date with my wife
  • Build something in the workshop – furniture, stationery cases, or whatever
  • Network with people – stay in touch, write some letters
  • Draw/sketch/paint
  • Play with the kids
  • Grocery shopping
  • Write great content for the blog
  • Read – finish one book per week
  • Run (at least 3 times)
  • Write – on the various projects I have going
  • Practice guitar or tin whistle

So I put down estimates of how much time each one would reasonably require in a week. Then I totaled the time required for sleeping, work, overhead (eating, showering, etc.) and subtracted it all from the 168 hours in a week.

To my surprise, there was time left over.

So…how is it I’m not getting to all of the things I want to get done because I feel like I don’t have time, but I have enough time?

Clearly I’m spending time on things that aren’t on the list, and I need to manage my time better.

What would be on your list?

It Must Be Letter Writing Season

It must be letter writing season. The days are short, it’s cold, and I feel like writing letters.

The problem is that writing someone a letter has fallen so far out of fashion that writing one not only has no guarantee of a reply, but a reply, if received, is actually more remarkable an act than the original letter.

There’s one exception: Legislators. If I send a letter to a legislator, I will get a reply eventually. Even the President responds, although it takes longer.

For everyone else it seems that receiving a letter from someone is a little like seeing them drunk and doing something a bit silly. They’re wary and don’t know what to make of it.

“Yeah, I, uh, got your letter. So are you ok?” they’ll say, in a phone call later, or maybe an email.

The good news is that the handwritten letter has retained all of it’s power to convey a message with seriousness. The bad news is that’s all it has retained, apparently. Oh, well, the search for a reliable pen pal continues.

There are still places to go to find people to exchange letters with and I’ve given that a try. Exchanging letters with someone just to exchange letters is artificial, and it always seems to run out of gas. That or spring comes and letter writing season ends.

During letter writing season there’s more time to write and less demand on time from the yard (for some, anyway) and it’s not that hard to keep up with fairly significant traffic. Then spring comes and all of a sudden there’s extra cleaning, mowing, and myriad other activities. Letters go unanswered, and who’s to blame someone for not following an unanswered letter with another?

Another pen pal lost, and in the fall the cycle begins again.

At least there is enough going on in our world to give me plenty of reasons to write to legislators. It’s not the same as writing to family & friends, but getting a letter from the capitol has its own reward. For a moment I feel like an important message has arrived and I’m conducting critical business with our nation’s leaders.

Basic Bookbinding Tools

Do you really need to have the right tools for stitching together basic pamplets to fill a notebook? The improvised items I’ve used in the past seemed to work, but as a technical person I know having the right tool for the job often makes a huge difference.

With the idea in my head that I will be making lots of refills for my traveler’s notebook, I decided to get the “proper” tools and supplies from a bookbinding supplier. It was about $30 total from www.JohnNealBooks.com, and they should last for many, many pamphlets.


The awl was not really necessary, but a more comfortable tool than the alternative I using. I do find that this model makes a bigger hole, which makes the sewing a lot easier.

The needle could have been bought at a local fabric store, and it seems identical to the fattest one in a Singer assortment I bought eons ago. I notice the eye of the needle is quite large, and I think I might invest in a version with a smaller eye.

The bone folder burnishes the paper more than the steel folder I ground out of an old planer blade while waiting for my order to arrive but grinding one’s own folder isn’t very practical. For $6 this is worth the money as anything else doesn’t work quite as well. Using a folder to crease paper is a lot faster and more accurate than using a finger nail.

The 18-3 (bigger number = smaller twine) linen twine is another win. It is a lot thicker than the carpet thread I was using, and once it’s been run through a small block of bee’s wax it takes knots very well. Paired with a larger needle it’s a lot easier to use than the darning needle/thread combo I was using. Ironically, this was the most expensive item in the order – $12 or so – but there’s more than 100 yards in the roll, with less than a yard required for a book.

If I was going to do it again, I’d probably stick with my home made folder, and choose different needles, but otherwise I believe the notebooks I’ve stitched with these items are superior to my earlier efforts. If you’ve been toying with sewing your own books, consider ordering the right tools.

Review: The New Word Notebook

I got some notebooks to try from the Word notebook people. They have an interesting idea. To be clear, the books were sent free of charge, but these words are, as always, my own.


After realizing their notebooks were filled mainly with lists and bullets, they made a special format to facilitate that kind of usage. They added a symbol to the left end of each line (the book has 1/4″ ruling) that is two concentric circles.

Inside the front cover there’s a legend that explains how the symbol might be used to show the state of entries:

At first sight I thought it was a little silly, but having given it a try I’m not sure if I’ve changed my mind. I’m trying it out as a sort of master next action list, with each page having it’s own context. I like that it’s got lots of space, and I can invent a new context when needed. Not sure how well having it all in a book is working yet.

The paper is thicker than the stuff they use in Field Notes. It’s pretty smooth, and pleasant enough to write on. I don’t think the book is targeted at fountain pen users, and I found that it took ink ok but resting the pen in one spot or letting ink pool yielded bleeding for me:

I wouldn’t hesitate to use a fountain pen on this paper, but those who are using nibbed fire hoses might want to steer clear.

The cover is thick stock as well, and has useful information inside. The front has the usual fields for who to contact if lost, date, name, etc. Blessedly they didn’t include the presumptuous reward offer. The back cover has a few interesting quotes on the inside, mainly of the bizarre-fact variety, but it’s a nice touch. Overall the book is maybe 20-25% thicker than a Field Notes, which could be an advantage to durability.

They also didn’t ruin any of the pages with perforations, something all too many notebook companies leap to do these days. The ruling is 1/4″, a bit broad but in keeping with the book’s purpose, and light enough that it doesn’t compete with what you’ve written.

There will be more to follow after I’ve had a chance to fill one and use it for a while, but I think this is a worthwhile idea. If you find that most of what fills the little notebooks in your life, the features of this book should be useful.

The Crane Computation Book

I bought the Crane’s computation book at Broadway Paper here in Milwaukee, back when that store focused less on gifts and greeting cards, and was in a rickety old space. I found it on a shelf, by itself, and while its blue pages put me off a little, being an engineer the word “computation” on the front made buying it an imperative.

Of course I don’t think it was aimed at engineers or anyone else doing computations, as the blue paper makes for pretty low contrast. It was a nice idea though. I contacted Crane and they say it hasn’t been available for 6 or 7 years.

I actually used mine for computations, for a small engineering project I did for a friend. Despite there being several alternatives in similar formats, I like the 100% cotton paper, no pages wasted by perforations, and no silly pocket in the back. Maybe Fieldnotes or someone else will make a suitable replacement.


A Vote For Ballpoint

So I’ve ended up using a gel pen lately. It’s because the inserts I made to use my new leather notebook cover have Atlas Bond in them. Nice paper, but unlike most notebook papers it doesn’t take ballpoint ink very well, so I tend to gravitate to fountain pens or gel pens.

So I’ve been using the TUL pens and a Zebra Sarasa.

While I really like the line density, they don’t very long. I figure I’ll get a month out of the Sarasa vs. at least 6 months for a Fisher refill and more than a year for a Caran d’Ache Goliath.

Living With A Traveler’s Notebook

I’ve written about the Midori traveler’s notebook before, and I’ve been resisting buying one of these notebooks for a long time. I’ve been perfectly happy with my very large Leuchtturm1917 master dots notebook, but the simple leather lifestyle is very compelling. As I saw reference after reference to the growing cult group of Traveler’s Notebook aficionados, not to mention their Flickr feed, I got this growing feeling that I was missing something and started to crack.

I’d made some leather covers in the past – the poor man’s Midori – but they didn’t captivate me. I made them a different size, and I started thinking that maybe part of the Midori Magic is the size.

Still not willing to spend $60 on less than a square foot of leather, I decided I’d order some refills and make a cover to fit them. So on a Thursday I ordered three refills from mymaido.com, and I received them on Saturday – pretty darn fast service considering they were shipped via regular mail.

In the mean time I made a cover to fit the correct width, but letter height (it’s only a 1/4 inch more than A4), and sewed a few pamphlets to go inside. Also, sometime in there I found Patrick Ng’s awesome photos, and they stoked the flames a bit as well.

So despite that I love my Leuchtturm1917 Master Dots notebook, I’ve decided to try to live the Traveler’s Notebook Lifestyle for a while. Here’s my observations so far:

  • It fits in a jacket pocket. I’ve been using not-jacket sized books for so long that I’d forgotten how nice it is to have a book that fits.

  • It’s nice to have multiple books in one cover. I like to keep work separate from personal, and I’ve replaced the pocket weekly planner from Moleskine with this Midori insert.
  • I haven’t gotten into all the embellishments. It’s a little girly for me and the people I work with. But I might crack yet.
  • I haven’t traveled with the book yet, but on my recent trip to Russia my latest Midori clone got used because it fit on the airline tray table where the Master sized book would barely fit closed.

  • Two inserts is fine, three still works, four starts to become a problem for the first or last one in terms of being able to write comfortably. BUT, for having a past journal in for reference, the first position would be fine.
  • I cannot imagine having both card sleeves and the zip pocket in a book with multiple inserts.
  • I never got into the paper planner habit. By the time I needed a calendar, I was using outlook, and it’s been the standard for me ever since. That might inhibit my adoption of this system.
  • The idea of the leather aging, and becoming a symbol of experience, wisdom, and adventure is like a narcotic. I can see why people are addicted to these and other leather books. I’ve actually become a little obsessive about it. I put wax or oil on the first several covers I’ve made, but on the latest one I used just a little conditioner, to get more honest aging. It doesn’t take much wax to make leather quite scuff resistant. On the other hand, raw vegetable tanned leather is not a very attractive color, and it can take a while to lose that flesh tone.
    I want the dark brown color, but I haven’t a good experience with dye so far.
    The refillable nature of the notebook just enhances the idea of it becoming this indestructible and reliable old friend.
  • I put four ribbon bookmarks in the book and at first they looked silly. Now I’m thinking they’re awesome, and I’m thinking about using four colors instead of two.

  • The Midori sketchbook is a bit thick. I love the paper, but it adds a lot of bulk.I ultimately decided to give it the boot.


  • Making one’s own refills has a great air of self sufficiency and individualism – I’ve even ordered some bookbinding needles and thread to do a better job at it. It remains to be seen if it’s worth the expense and hassle, if the exact paper used isn’t an issue.
  • This kind of system is like a filofax – it’s supposed to become the center of one’s life. that means carrying it everywhere. Nice for sketching and jotting ideas, but a bit of a pain. The narrow format fits in coat pockets, but the thickness makes it look like I’m Dirty Harry packing a hogleg.
  • I used ~3mm leather for the cover I’m using, because that’s what I had. It’ll probably take a while to get limber.
  • It doesn’t lay flat, but it sort of does. It depends on which book in the stack you’re at, how the cover is sitting, and how limber the paper is. The thin-paper refill from Midori lays pretty flat. The sketchbook is at the other end of the spectrum.

The Leuchtturm and the Midor clone may live together. The new book has already replaced my old Moleskine planner that I use for tracking weight & exercise, and has enough space for some other things I’d like to add. That plus a sketchbook would be a useful combination. But for the time being I’ll leave it in the current configuration: Work notebook, journal, planner.