Write Your Book in a Flash Book Review


Even if you have never thought about writing your own book, after reading this book, I believe you will begin writing one.  This book makes the whole process from start to end so simple that it is hard to get stuck.  The subtitle of the book “The Paint-By-Numbers System to Write the Book of your Dreams-Fast!” is a bit corny, but after you get into the system, it starts to make sense. Below is a personal review I have done on this book (which I received for free) and would like to share with you why this is a book worth reading.

The best part about this book is the layout and delivery method. Everything is broken up into short, easy to read, and quickly understand sub-sections. Short stories and examples help move the process along and after a brief intro into how the system works, the book begins actively engaging with you to help start you out.


The direction provided by Dan Janal is backed up by his work career starting with his being part of the initial AOL public relations team, followed up as an award winning journalist, and also from the thirteen books he has written on business and coaching. 


To help pick the topic of your book, Mr. Janal asks what format and style your book will have.  Will it be a summary of blog posts, or a large thought leadership novel? This helps set the stage that your book will stand on when you get into what the book topic will be.


Personally, I decided to use the ‘Blog Post’ book style, and to model the ‘How To’ genre. This was even before I knew what my topic was going to be! By picking these two options I was directed into topics that I knew about and have already written about to get moving forward. I have been working on a side project for a few years to make folios and notebooks. It has been a struggle to find US manufacturers that will work with startup companies, and I want to help other people locate and pitch their idea to manufacturers so they can start working on a prototype right away.


From here, the Mr. Janal helps take all the proper next steps to push you through writing out a great book.  The book itself even acts as an example for how something should look when it describes what you need to focus on.  If you ever get stuck, there are also lots of reference pages on the website www.writeyourbookinaflash.com/worksheets       


For my book, the chapter outline worksheet was the most exciting. I felt like I could start writing my book right away after I did this exercise. Mr. Janal recommends using 10 chapters to start with and name a theme for each one to get a solid working structure. His point in doing this is very clear,

Your book could have 10 chapters or 20 chapters. It could have 2,000 words or 65,000. So many choices! That’s where a lot of would-be authors get stalled. They don’t know how many words, how many chapters, or how many “anythings” they need to put in their books. They don’t even know when they are done!

One last item I will mention is that we have all heard of the importance of storytelling, with anything we write or talk about.  This book actually goes into the mechanics of becoming a storyteller so you don’t even need to be good at it.  This is a relief for me, as I have never thought of myself as a good storyteller and it is a great help to have this guidance.

 In summary, this book is short, it is only 175 pages, but it is a must have item if you ever need to write a book.  I highly recommend it and I have already decided that this year in November I plan on writing my book for National Novel Writing Month or NaNoWriMo.  I also have been hesitant in the past to write a book because of how few people actually read books.  The upside I recently discovered is that it is easier than ever to have self-published books turned into audio books.  On ACX.com and Upwork.com you can find professional readers, and they will do all the production work.  

I wish you the best of luck if you are planning on writing your own book and let me know if you have any questions!

I received this book free of charge from the kind folks at http://www.tckpublishing.com/ but all the above are my honest thoughts and hope they help.




Hoverpen Review


The perfectly balanced pen has arrived.

The team over at Shanpo have created an amazing pen set, and sent me a prototype to check out before they launch on Kickstarter. I also had an opportunity to ask them some direct questions on the design and their team.

Picture 4.jpg


Using magnets, the pen stand holds the Hoverpen perfectly vertical. The stand and pen are not as heavy as I expected them to be and the more I look at them, the more it feels like a trick. I feel like the pen should tip over at any minute. My kids still think it is magic, and even though I have experience working with neodymium and ceramic magnets, I kind of feel like that too!

I haven’t ever wanted a pen stand on my desk as I prefer a clean work surface, until now. This is one that I will always want beside me to play with and use. The pen cap clicks onto the base as a holding spot while I use the pen.

Smooth ballpoint feel and good line weight without any skipping.

Smooth ballpoint feel and good line weight without any skipping.


Built from only 4 parts (Cap, Body, Refill, and End Cap) the design is very simple. Only the refill is branded in the version I received so there are no visible names or markings on the exterior. The pen weighs a mere 0.53oz (with the cap) and is 5 1/4in long. The ballpoint pen lays down a very fine line and is almost a dark grey color which is rather unique. Anyone writing with a bit of pressure can get a darker line if needed, but the lightweight pen matches the line weight perfectly.

Further, the pen cap magnetically snaps back on with a satisfying “click” and the end cap slides on with such precision that it vacuum seals to hold the cap on tightly.

The version I received to test is similar to that of the aluminum on my apple laptop. From their website it appears there will be four different color choices.

Click the image to go to their Kickstarter project page.

Click the image to go to their Kickstarter project page.


1. How did you come up with the idea of the Hover Pen and how long have you been working on this?

The Founder of Shanpo, David Liang, majored in physics in university, and studied electromagnetism. To him, the electric field and magnetic field are twins. There're so many people put efforts in developing electronic products, but very less people put attention to the magnetic. To us,  we think that the pure magnetic fields are very "attractive" (pun intended) and with great potential to bring something new-amazing designs to life. Thus we've been thinking what we can do with magnetic forces. One midnight, it came to David's mind to combine magnets into our daily tool --- the pen. He wanted a very stylish and "attractive" way to stand on the desk. It had to be very stylish, so you can't help but want to pick it up and use it.

We soon made the first prototype of Hoverpen. The way to stand the pen, at that time, was too simple, and we found there was already the same type of pen in the market (horizontally). We didn't want to give up, so we spent a year making tons of prototype with various way to make the pen stand on its own. It wasn't easy, but finally, we cracked it. The Hoverpen was born. 

Now the latest Hoverpen allows you to spin it, it's easy to pick up, and the way the pen stands is stylish and unique. A must-have on one's desk. 


2. Who is working with you to help design and build the pen? 

Shanpo, our brand, was established initially by David Liang and his friend, Wei. Wei was David's classmate from kindergarten all the way to senior-high school, so they grew up together. Wei is an industrial designer. All the visual elements of our products and brand are designed by Wei. Our core value is to create unique products with whole new experiences for grown-ups.

3. What is your personal background in designing and why are you interested in creating this pen?

David majored in physics in university and studied business management in graduate school. Science always fascinated David. However, compared to academic study, he was more passionate about designing unique products that had a bit of mystery to them. He believes that the Hoverpen will amaze people with the magnetic, a natural force of nature. The fact that with the magnets, the Hoverpen can literally stand infinitely, without having to use electricity! David believes that the Hoverpen can literally "attract" people to write with pens again, instead of taking notes with electronic devices. 

Let's put down the phone and experience the enchantment of the Hoverpen!

4. Is this your first design project and first time using Kickstarter?

To be honest, this is our second Kickstarter Project. Our first product was a "Stereo Puzzle", a user-friendly DIY speaker series, bringing you fun and functionality. Although the project successfully funded, and was even selected as a "Project we love" by Kickstarter, we didn't put much focus in marketing so it did not raise as much funds as we would have hoped. Equipped with more preparation and more experience this time, we hope to have a much more successful project with the Hoverpen.

5. How long do you anticipate it to take for production and shipping?

After the quantity is confirmed, the estimated time to manufacturing time is 2 to 3 months, and we anticipate to take one months to pack and ship all the packages.


This is a great looking pen stand and is fun to play with while brainstorming. I am excited for the Kickstarter launch and believe this will be a big project. I looked into their first Kickstarter project (a DIY stereo puzzle) and was impressed with their product, but more importantly they have great communication with backers and good solid updates on production. While I didn’t back this, I would have liked to!

I look forward to backing their new project and wish them the best with their Kickstarter launch!




Cold Weather Pen Test


With the cold air temperatures rolling in, I decided it was time to test which of my pens will work outside, and also see what happens to fountain pen ink when subjected to the extreme cold overnight.

Part I


I tested 11 pens that i use on a regular basis and left them outside for 24 hours. The temperature when I put them out was 10 degrees and the low for the evening was 0 degrees.


The paper is a Clairefontaine ruled notebook and kept the paper the same for the before and after samples. The top line for each pen is the before freezing, and the second line is after the pen was left outside for 24hrs.

Every pen wrote perfectly!

Every pen wrote perfectly!

After being in the freezing temp all day I tested the pens and every single one wrote exactly the same! This was surprising as the ink in the fountain pens is water based and the gel inks should have been affected.

Looking closely at the TWSBI Go pen (blue pen in above picture) I thought it was frozen but perhaps it was just because it was full and didn’t look like it was moving.

The James Brand Benton Pen - Find it  here

The James Brand Benton Pen - Find it here

The pens didn’t even need any work to get them writing. I started writing as soon as they came inside and while they felt frozen, the ink flowed perfectly.

Going a bit further, I wanted to find the freezing temperature of the inks but came up short. If anyone knows where to find this I am all ears!

I know there are inks made specifically for cold temperatures like the Noodler’s Polar Inks that has a freezing point of -114 degrees. Find it here.

Polar Blue.png

Part II

After the first test of 11 pens, the weather dropped well below zero and I did a test with a mix of pens and fountain pen ink.


I left these pens and ink out for 72 hours that went through two snowstorms, and a low temperature of -20 degrees.

The result was fairly surprising once again….They all wrote very well after a little short ‘warm up’ period!


The one that took the longest to get warmed up was the TWSBI GO and you can see the ink had a hard time flowing consistently. The ink didn’t freeze inside the pen so I attribute this to the nib being so cold.


As for the ink sample, this was frozen solid as well as the Lamy cartridge.

So, thats it for the cold tests. Thanks for reading and let me know if I should test any other pens or ink this winter!



PS. In case you want to know which candy bar is best to pack on cold trips, the Butterfinger is your best bet. I learned this from my friend Sam that used to do this crazy race on the Canadian border called the Arrowhead 135. This is a race along the Canadian border in January that he needed to pack high caloric snacks with him. After lots of candy testing, the Butterfinger doesn’t freeze into a brick like a Snickers, FYI.


Willpower - Book Review

“One of the most common reasons for the self-control problem is overconfidence in willpower.”


Willpower is a resource that we need to spend time exercising and using wisely to avoid overwhelming ourselves and failing to achieve personal goals.  This book helps explain what willpower really is, what it can do for us, and the limits of willpower.  Supported by scientific studies and research, this is a self-help book without any of the fluff.

1. Willpower is a limited resource.  You only have one source of willpower for all the needs of the day and the willpower to resist sweets uses up the same reserve of willpower for dealing with annoying coworkers.  Each is using self-control and the studies outlined throughout the book show that these take a toll on us throughout the day. 

2. Our environment can either help or hurt our willpower.  After working hard to be patient and kind to everyone around us, it is vital to construct an environment that does not tempt us too much when our self-control is depleted.

You may not care if your bed is made or your room is clean, but these environmental cues subtly influence your brain and your behavior, making it ultimately less of a strain to maintain self-discipline.
— Page 252

3. Take on one big thing at a time. When trying to lose weight, it is best to focus your energy solely on this. This will require a lot of willpower and as this is a precious and limited resource, it will increase your odds of success.  Further, at the end of the year, be sure to only make one New Year’s resolution.

No-one has enough willpower for that list…Each time you try to follow one, you reduce your capacity for all the others.
— Page 38

4. Willpower is directly connected to Glucose levels.  If your body runs out of glucose it will affect your decision-making ability and cause you to make bad choices. Our bodies will crave sugary foods to replenish the glucose levels and will make it harder to stick with diet goals.

5. Avoid conflicting goals. For example, setting a goal to be promoted and spending more time playing golf will likely result in failure in one or both goals. There are three outcomes in conflicting goals as demonstrated in a study published in 1988:

1.     You worry a lot

2.     You get less done

3.     Your health suffers, physically as well as mentally

6. Willpower can be strengthened with exercise.  Like any muscle, the more you use it, the stronger it will get. By choosing things to exercise self control, like sitting up straight, overall willpower increases not only in posture, but in other tests as well. 

7. There is something called 'Decision Fatigue'. The more decisions we need to make in a day, the more it will affect how we make the choices at the end of the day. This concept is demonstrated through multiple studies but the main point is this, if you are forced to make a lot of decisions in a short time, be prepared for the fatigue that sets in and know that you will need to work harder to make positive choices. 

To learn more about this concept click Here.

8. Know your limits – We overestimate our ability to control ourselves.  The odds are against us, but we can proactively set ourselves up for a better outcome with a little planning.  (For this reason, I decided to use M&M's in the photo above rather than a donut!)

9. Pre-commitment is the ultimate offensive weapon for self-control. “Buy junk food in small packages or keep them out of the kitchen altogether. Plan meals by the week, rather than on the spur of the moment when it’s already past dinnertime and you’re starving.”

10. Self-control is the most underappreciated character trait.  After reading this book it is clear that we need to put a higher importance in controlling ourselves. As shown in the Values in Action Inventory of Strengths study, self-regulation is typically last place when personally rating the list of character strengths. 

Self-control is ultimately about much more than self-help. It’s essential for savoring your time on earth and sharing joy with the people you love.
— Page 260

In summary, I wouldn’t say this is a must read, but it is a must listen to.  The audio version is very well done with the intro done by the authors, and the main reader doesn’t add that typical self-help soft voice. You can find it Here.

Triggers Book Review

Trigger Cover

This book is perfect for anyone that wants to get their professional and personal life back on track. 

I first heard about this book from Myke Hurley and CGP Grey on the Cortex Podcast and they both gave it very positive reviews.  The author, Marshall Goldsmith is a professional coach and has a unique method of getting his message across.  He is also only paid after the people around the individual he is coaching agree that the subject has changed for the better.

Here he is in a TED Talk from 2005


There is so much to unpack in this book as it is full of useful examples so to keep this review short, I’ll focus on a few of the main topics as to why you should read it.


As the book’s name identifies, the first step in working to better yourself, is identify the triggers that are causing you to feel stressed, upset, regretful, and resentful.  The paragraph that I personally identified with was right at the beginning: 

Regret is the emotion we experience when we assess our own present circumstances and reconsider how we got here. We replay what we actually did against what we should have done-and find ourselves wanting in some way. Regret can hurt.

Once identifying the triggers that effect us, the book goes into how we react and process the impacts on us.

We seldom recognize that self-control is a limited resource. As we become tired our self-control begins to waiver and may eventually disappear.

By acknowledging we all have a mental “leader role’ in the morning, but by the afternoon we should take more of an ‘employee role’ and stick to what we set out to do by following a guiding system.  The system to use is laid out in the second section of the book.

II. The 6 Questions to Kick-Start Change

  1. Did I do my best to set clear goals?
  2. Did I do my best to make progress toward my goals?
  3. Did I do my best to find meaning?
  4. Did I do my best to be happy?
  5. Did I do my best to build positive relationships?
  6. Did I do my best to be fully engaged?

While these are all very general, this is only the starting point for the questions that matter the most to you and your goals.  Specific questions are encouraged once you identify what you want to work on, like eating fewer carbs.  The transformative substance of the book explains that focusing on effort, rather than results, is the main objective in the short term.  Each day if you asked yourself how well you tried, it makes you much more accountable.

The daily questions are scored on a number system 1-10 on how well you tried to do something.  Here are my own questions I came up with and so far after starting this program I have lost 5 lbs after 2 weeks.

Active Questions

III. Structure

For my personal goals, the structure is what I had been missing in the past.  Once you have the data from the daily questions, or that you already know you would like to improve, the structure is there to help. The examples in this section provide evidence to show that by setting up things for yourself ahead of time, you will be able to achieve the goals you set out for yourself.

This section also shows where you may suffer and how to get avoid failing. One of the main points made in this section deals with something called Emotional Depletion. 

Basically, all the natural urges we try to rein in during the day have the potential to rush toward center stage as the day progresses and our depletion increases. It doesn’t mean they will materialize, but they’re lurking within us, waiting for the right trigger.


I would say that this book is geared more to the professional life, but it has many personal aspects that make it a well rounded read.  You can find it on Amazon here.  I also recommend the audio book version as it is shorter than most books at about 6hrs.

Here is a longer list of questions to get you started.

Here is a longer list of questions to get you started.

To get you started on your own list of questions, I would like to host a giveaway for a free copy of Triggers, as well as a Leuchtturm1917 notebook with matching pen loop!  Simply comment on this blog or on the social site about one thing you are working on to better yourself or want to work on.  Drawing will be made on Friday, June 29 at 12pm EDT. Good Luck!


Tools for Accountants

I recently upgraded my work bag and it got me thinking about what other tools accountants use for work.  After asking around I came up with a short list of some of the essentials.

Peak Design Messenger Bag $250

Peak Design Messenger Bag $250


I ditched the old free laptop bag provided by my a firm as it was costing me in weight.  I have used many of these similar bags in the past and they are all made with the same heavy cordura material and packed full of pockets and zippers.  While we get these for free, they are simply not worth it in the long run due to the extra weight.  For example, the messenger bag I gave up weighed 4.5lbs before anything was put in it.  The Peak Design Messenger weights only 2 lb 12oz and has just as much room. 

Estimating that I would carry my bag 30 minutes each day to and from work, for 260 workdays a year, this small change saves 420 lbs over 130 hrs!

At $250 it is expensive, but is well built and versatile. 

If you are looking for a backpack, Peak Design also carries two sizes for $260 and $290.

Everyday Backpack.jpg


Any accountant knows that excel is the most used tool in our daily jobs.  To get up to speed quickly Excel Campus is the ticket for pivot tables, and vlookup.  Many other training videos are plagued with bad audio or amateur video editing so this is a good source to start with.



With hot-desking and open-space working, keeping your focus is tough when working long hours.  Music is essential. I assumed BOSE headphones were a dinosaur with the popular Beats and Skullcandy taking over the market, but after polling accountants, and finally using them myself, the Bose Noise Cancelling line is clearly the top choice.  The Quiet Comfort 25 is affordable at $170 but if you want the best the new 35 line will cost you $350 for the jump in performance.

BOSE Quiet Comfort 25 Noise-Canceling Headphones

BOSE Quiet Comfort 25 Noise-Canceling Headphones

10 KEY

If you are still using a calculator at your desk, I highly recommend you look at upgrading it to something that connects to excel.  Belkin has the best Bluetooth option and has a good clean ‘Apple’ design. 

Belkin 10 Key

Belkin 10 Key


This is the only book I recommend keeping at your desk as this works the best when doing tax research.  Each fact is footnoted to help with followup research to the primary sources.  Ditch the quickfinder and start with this.


If you are still carrying EXPO markers at your office, send this link to your office manager.  Idea Paint Markers leave a better line and are widely used among the top tech firms.  This company uses special paint to cover walls to act as dry erase boards. 

Alternatively the Quartet is a great runner up and the Chisel tip is a must have for clean, clear writing.

idea paint.jpg


There is a growing appreciation for paper organization systems and there is none better than the Bullet Journal developed by Ryder Carrol.  The system is easy to use, and adaptable to anything you may need.  I made a list of good notebooks to use with this system HERE.

For accountants, we are developing a notebook system of our own to help get organized all in one place.  It has six different layouts and includes a reference section that is a collection of websites, excel tips, formulas and benchmark data.  Find it HERE.

To Do Lists, Meeting Notes, Time Tracking and more...

To Do Lists, Meeting Notes, Time Tracking and more...


The three most popular accounting apps I have found are OmniFocus, Tiny Scanner, and a new one I have just started looking into, Jetpack.

OmniFocus - The ultimate work and personal task management system

Tiny Scanner - Great for client files and easy transfer to secure portals

Jetpack - Accounting firm workflow and management assistant



If you want the news without a lot of bias and editorial filler, this is the best choice.  

Latest article on accounting in The Economist

Latest article on accounting in The Economist


After putting up with clients and bosses all day, and if you're going to have a drink, this is a good way to avoid the calories during busy season.  Cheers!

Vodka Soda.jpg

Let me know if I missed anything and want to add it to the list.


2018 Busy Season Survival Guide

Making it though busy season is rough. 

Keeping your life together while working 70-80 hours a week seems impossible, but with a few tricks from some seasoned CPA’s you can get through without getting burned out.


Take the stairs

Finding time to exercise while working all day and night can be tough, so the best way to get the heart rate up throughout the day is take the stairs.  I worked with a couple people that swore by this and would race to the top.   They also claimed that going down stairs made them feel less stressed.


Reading Fiction

Clearing your mind at the end of the day is a great way to get some solid sleep.  Knowing that the cell phone isn’t great on your system at night, reading helps reduce stress by as much as 68% with only 6 minutes of reading as studied by Dr. David Lewis.



During my worst season I tried a higher caffeine coffee called Death Wish Coffee and loved it.  I keep this on hand for the roughest mornings and highly recommend it.  Falling into the category of personal investment, picking up some better quality tea or coffee can give you the chemical boost you need to keep going.

Death Wish Coffee.png

Dark Chocolate

Nurses that work the night-shift swear by this little treat as it helps to regulate your mood.  Dr. Diana Walcutt Ph.D. lists out all the great benefits of this dark gold and in moderation, it can be great during times of high stress.  

- Boosts brain levels of endorphins

- Increased serotonin, a mood-altering chemical on which many antidepressants act

- Includes resveratrol, an antioxidant (immune system booster)

Dark Chocolate.jpg

Get Organized

Creating a workflow system to help keep all your to-do lists is a must and this includes your work, as well as your personal items.  To find a good method, I wrote about a number of systems to consider in an early blog post here.

We can’t truly think about or attend to all these things at once, so our brains flit from one to the other, each time with a neurobiological switching cost.

Meal Prep

Sundays should be dedicated to getting laundry done, and planning your meals for the week.  This is a very common tactic and one I wish I had started many years ago.  Stock up on fruits and veggies to keep your mind and body healthy and avoid the unhealthy choices.  Also consider using help fresh or blue apron to have the ingredients delivered. 

Blue Apron.jpg

Side Projects

This was the hardest for me to accept as I always was working on new ventures on the side to help boost my creative spirit.  Accounting never quite filled the artistic side for me and I finally had to put my side work on hold for a few months. 

The result has been great and by choosing to do this, rather than running out of time, it has helped me feel in control of my life.  If too much is going on, I fall out of step and everything suffers.  Choose a few things to focus on at a time, and revisit it at the beginning of each month to plan ahead, rather than fall behind.


Classwork and Studying

If possible, avoid any big tests like the CPA exams during busy season. Build out a schedule for the year and put things on hold until you can dedicate the extra time. If you do the math, you may find some time, but this depends on your schedule:

Hours available in a week = 168

Less work hours - 70      

Less 7 hours sleep - 49

Less getting ready for work .5 hours – 3.5

Less commute time 1.5 hours – 10.5

Total personal hours = 35 (5 per day)

This does leave some time to add 2-3 hours of study, but this may add a level of stress that will quickly lead to burnout.


New Job

Keeping an eye on your future is the best method to keep a positive mental attitude.  If you feel stuck and overworked with no escape, the work can be depressing.  However, if you happen to answer one of the 100 recruiter calls during this time of year, give them a chance as it can be fun to see what else is out there. 

Also, keep an eye out within your own office to look for good managers and bosses to work for.  Hitching your wagon to someone that you look up to and that treat their subs well, can make all the difference even if you are doing the same amount of work. 

I am much more willing to work harder for someone that will help advance my career and show real appreciation for my work.


Staying Positive

All the above items are tools to help create a healthy outlook on work during the worst of times.  Hopefully you can use these to help stay positive, as this is the key to making it through the tough times.  Just know that there is an end to the busy time, and it will all pay off in the end. 

Best of luck to you and if you have any tricks or tips to pass on, please leave them in the comments below!

Mike Linn, CPA


P.S. Avoid this!

Complete TUL Pen Review

For anyone that has gone into an Office Max or Office Depot in the past few years, you likely have noticed the large TUL pen display with hundreds of pens.  I tried to ignore the shiny display of writing "tuls" but finally started trying them out and want to share my thoughts on the distinct writing/drawing experiences. 

TUL Pens

To begin, the name TUL is written with a macron over the 'u' making the vowel long so it is pronounced "tool."  I talked to the folks over at Office Max about these pens so you can find out more about the brand at the end of the review.

TUL vs tools


Currently, the pens offered are Ballpoint, Gel, and Rollerball, and each comes in Fine (0.5mm) and Medium (0.7mm) points.  They did have a marker pen in the past, but they did away with these. From time to time there are also limited edition colors available, and I’ll talk about these further down.  

Overall, all the pens write very wet.  Even the ballpoint lets out ink much faster than any pen I can compare it to.  If you like this characteristic, you will love the medium points as they put down a lot of ink, very quickly.  I found this was a nice benefit the faster I wrote, but can get a bit messy. 


The ballpoint pens come in the standard colors of black, blue and red. After using these pens to sketch for a while, I noticed the ink has occasionally created a small glob.  After looking at other reviews, this is not uncommon and may be created from the paper being used.  I tried it out on some smooth Rhodia paper, and didn’t have an issue.


The Gel pens come in a large range of colors and include some very bright color sets.  These are perfect for those that like to add color to their bullet journals and planners.  The ink is super smooth and the black ink lays down a very rich dark line. These are all retractable/click pens for easy transport and have sturdy clips.  The color packs come in 8 or 14 sets.

Gel ink color pack of eight.  See the Giveaway section below for a chance to win this set!

Gel ink color pack of eight.  See the Giveaway section below for a chance to win this set!

The gels also include a needle tip if you are going to use them with a ruler and both tip types are well constructed with no noticeable movement when writing. 

Needle point vs cone gel pens

Needle point vs cone gel pens


My favorite of the pens are the Rollerballs.  These have a great overall design appeal, as well as a larger barrel diameter that fits very well in my hand.  Again, they are quite wet even for a rollerball but the lines are still nice and clean if I write a touch slower.  There are not as many color choices like with the gel pens, but the black is a great dark rich ink, and the blue is nice and bright. 



Finally, the TUL line-up also includes the mechanical pencil in 0.7mm.  These have a solf rubber coating on the full length of the barrel and is a nice unique touch for pencils. The barrel is also slightly larger than typical pencils and fit well in my hand.  The pencils are now offered in several color choices like blue, purple, pink and black.

The really nice feature of these pencils is the 1 inch eraser built into the back of the pencil.  It unscrews as you need it and fits securely to the end.  The clip is the same as the pens and is solid.


The complete lineup of pens and pencil writing samples

Writing samples

Something I also love about these pens are the limited editions they put out roughly twice a year.  Currently, the "Bright's" color pens are offered, but there is a new one coming soon!  See below in the Q&A for the date.  A few of the previous limited editions are available on Ebay, and the rose gold pearl edition is getting quite expensive.  A set of 4 ballpoints are going for $47!  

Copper Metal Rollerball 2016 Limited Edition

Copper Metal Rollerball 2016 Limited Edition


I wanted to find out more about these pens and so I reached out to Office Depot and they were kind enough to share their thoughts on a few items:

How do you come up with the new limited edition colors?

We love our limited-edition colors because they allow us to showcase the pens our customers trust for outstanding performance in a unique way. Each limited-edition story and color palette is carefully selected by our in-house designers based on the anticipated trends of the season. We also recently introduced our exclusive line of TUL notebooks and accessories into these limited-edition collections.

Can we start to get excited about a new limited edition or new product coming out soon?

Earlier this year, we launched TUL Brights pens available in 14 vivid colors and note-taking system available in four bold limited-edition colors that TUL enthusiasts can purchase online or in store. Look out for our newest limited edition pen and notebook collection in stores and online in October – our most giftable TUL collection yet!

What is the meaning/history behind the name TUL?

TUL was developed by OfficeMax in 2006 as an exclusive writing brand that delivers affordable luxury to our customers. We strive to be the go-to tools for entrepreneurs and business leaders who are seeking products that inspire with design and are precision engineered for outstanding performance.

Can you share how these pens are made or a bit about the design process?

Each one of our TUL pens is precision engineered, hand assembled, and hand tested for outstanding performance. We take pride in ensuring our customers that our pens consistently deliver smooth, vibrant lines at first write. And, we believe the discipline and rigor behind the making of these products helps us deliver on that promise.

I highly recommend you check these pens out and if you go this week they have some great Back-to-School sales.  The clearance sections of the stores also have some good deals as well.  Amazon carries them, but without coupons and sales available, the prices are a bit too high for my taste.  

Also available under the TUL brand are the customizable notebook systems.  These are getting very popular due to the growing range of paper choices, cover colors, and sizes available.  I haven't used these yet, but I know from friends that they are really handy.  Check them out here.

The disks hold all types of page refills depending on your needs.

The disks hold all types of page refills depending on your needs.


TUL Colors

I picked up an extra set of gel color pens and want to give them away!  Please sign up for my newsletter below to enter.   Random drawing will be held this Friday at midnight for US residents.

Leuchtturm1917 Composition Size (7in x 10in) Notebook Review

Leuchtturm Composition Notebook

While looking for a notebook to fit in the new folio I designed, The Builder, I came across this size notebook (7in x 10in) and wanted to do a full review to share my thoughts as I didn't find many other reviews online.

Composition Size Notebook (7x10in) shown in orange, A5 size (5.75x8.3in) notebook in black.

Composition Size Notebook (7x10in) shown in orange, A5 size (5.75x8.3in) notebook in black.

The first thing to note is the price, at $22.95 this is a relatively expensive book for only having 121 pages.  Compared to the A5 size notebook also offered by Leuchtturm (5.75 x 8.3in) with 249 pages that costs $19.95, this starts off at a big question mark for me.  Why the additional cost for fewer pages?


While this paper is the standard weight of 80 g/m2, it is much smoother than the A5 notebook. This is a huge benefit as it works really well with the Pilot Hi Tec-C pen.  This is a pen that does not work well with scratchy paper and will make the ink skip due to the very small tip size.  

Leuchtturm Composition Notebook


While I mentioned that the fewer pages as a negative to start out, it also creates an unexpected benefit.  When writing on the lower half of the page, the thin notebook is a more comfortable for writing and allows the user to fill up the full page as it not as tall.

Page 35 comparison

Page 35 comparison

Using up the full page

Using up the full page


The white paper holds pens and pencil really well as is expected for Leuchtturm paper.  I didn't have any wide nib fountain pens to test the drying time, but everything I used below didn't smudge due to the Ink-Proof qualities of the paper.  

Leuchtturm1917 Notebook

Something that caught me by surprise is that this paper is about two shades whiter than the A5 size notebook (shown in Grid layout.)  This helps the pens and pencils really standout as this isn't mentioned in the marketing material and is a nice benefit.

Bright white pages in the Composition Notebook (A5 size notebook shown in square grid layout)

Bright white pages in the Composition Notebook (A5 size notebook shown in square grid layout)

Three title pages

Three title pages

Archive stickers

Archive stickers

Huge pocket in the back cover

Huge pocket in the back cover


  • 121 numbered pages
  • 8 perforated and detachable sheets
  • Gusseted pocket
  • Blank table of contents and numbered pages
  • 2 Page markers
  • Elastic enclosure band
  • Thread-bound book opens flat
  • Ink-proof paper (80 g/sqm)
  • Dimensions: 7in x 10in (178 x 254 mm)


What is lost in page numbers, the larger size notebook makes up for with other benefits that make this a really good notebook. This is now my standard go-to notebook for all my projects and I look forward to checking out the other colors! 

This Leuchtturm Composition Notebook is available in 11 colors and 3 page layouts; you can find them on Amazon here.

If you are interested in joining our mini-crowdfunding campaign we are currently taking pre-orders for The Builder. This is a notebook folio that holds your essential tools like tablets, pens/pencils, a small tool, business cards and a notebook.  Come check it out at a discounted price of $40 by clicking the image below.

Do we organize things to get more done, or does it just feel good?



I was recently playing trains with my son and naturally started sorting the cars by type so he could quickly find the ones he wanted.  It felt quite natural to start this way and it was enjoyable to get them all lined up.

This led me to wonder, is it really efficient to do something like this, or does it just feel good?


To start, it has been shown that the act of sorting and organizing things has been tied to the dopamine reward center in our brains.  This is why Tetris was/is so popular because our minds like to complete little tasks.  Dr Tom Stafford explored this theory a few years ago when Tetris turned 30 years old in his article in BBC Future:

"The game of tessellating bricks takes advantage of the mind’s basic pleasure in tidying up by feeding it with a world of perpetual uncompleted tasks."
Tetris Drawing

This is the same concept when we make To-Do lists and only work on the easy ones.  Or when making long lists of books to read, workouts to try, meals to make, or places to visit. Afterwards you feel productive and ready to start anything...only to realize you don't have time to get to them.  

To further support the theory that our minds like things to be organized, just look at some of the popular Instagram feeds of sorted objects to help make them feel less foreign.


Side Note: All the Blackwing pencils in my cover picture were purchased from  CW Pencils !

Side Note: All the Blackwing pencils in my cover picture were purchased from CW Pencils!

I could go on and on and entire Reddit subreddits have been made showing just how much people love to look at organized stuff called knolling. Okay, so in general, people like to sort and organize things.


The next step is to decide if there is a benefit to getting organized before starting a new project.

"As human beings, it is in our nature to seek order when we are presented with new information, in an attempt to sort and classify that information quickly.  The action is paramount to our understanding of what is being presented."  
- Amy Graver & Ben Jura, Best Practices for Graphic Designers
"Productivity and efficiency depend on systems that help us organize through categorization.  The drive to categorize developed in the prehistoric wiring of our brains, in specialized neural systems that create and maintain meaningful, coherent amalgamations of things-foods, animals, tools, tribe members-in coherent categories.  Fundamentally, categorization reduces mental effort and streamlines the flow of information."

- Dr. Daniel Levitin. The Organized Mind


Organized tool kit

"One of the magical effects of tidying is confidence in your decision-making capacity."

- Marie Kondo, The Life-Changing Magic of Tiding Up

Once you start getting projects done, you build your  Internal Locus of Control.

Once you start getting projects done, you build your Internal Locus of Control.

The Princeton Neuroscience Institute published a study in The Journal of Neuroscience addressing this question directly by studying what happens when someone tries to work in a visually stimulated environment.  The way we process visual information is a competitive system and therefore, we can gain a higher level of concentration when fewer visual items are competing for our attention.  

Keeping your desk organized and tidy helps with concentration and productivity.

Keeping your desk organized and tidy helps with concentration and productivity.


The benefits attributed to being organized are quite long and hard to ignore when they stand up to testing.  Here are just a few that I believe stand out:

  • Reducing stress and depression
  • Eating healthier
  • Exercising more and losing weight
  • Sleeping better

The above are taken from this article that goes into the science behind each benefit.


To answer the question, 'is getting organized a beneficial act, or just a way to feel better,' I believe the answer is...both. The science behind these ideas can't be ignored and I can see the benefits every time I work on a project.  

There are plenty of people who get a lot done without having a clean workspace, but the science suggests it is more taxing on the brain. (I wrote a whole blog post on this here) There are also levels of organization and all the different areas of life that impact how one can be 'organized' that I haven't addressed.  

Overall, I believe the case can be made that by getting organized it helps generate a positive feeling and helps to get more done.

I hope you enjoyed this post and please let me know if you agree!