Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Preparedness and Organization: A Tea Wonk's Satchel

There was a trend a while back on Gakwer Media's Lifehacker Blog where they got the writer's talking about their "go bag", which really meant their every day carry bag. The concept of a carry bag is nothing new to people who like to get out of their house on occasion or who have work that requirest a certain amount of mobility, and after re-reading them to figure out what to do with spare flash drives (I have a dirth of them lately), I've decided to do one of my own.

Now, my bag is nothing special - a messenger bag from Zeller's that I've already forgotten the make on. It's actually not ideal for my purposes by any stretch of the imagination, but it's the trusty-rusty alternate and until it shows signs of breaking down I'm probably going to keep using it. The contents, as always, are more fun than the bag, so let's talk about those.


After years of being nagged for never seeming to have my phone on me, I've finally managed to find a way to make sure I usually do: it has its own pocket on my bag. Sure, it frequently winds up in my pants pocket once I've left the house, but it is supposed to live in the bag and it's certainly a handy gadget to have on me. I use an HTC Raider running Ice Cream Sandwich.

The HTC raider is an Android device that uses HTC's "Sense" interface overlay. For the most part, I use the stock android apps: calendar, notebook, clock, weather, calculator, social feeds, music, contacts, and a few handy shortcuts being the ones that live on my home page. I use Dropbox to sync a few key spreadsheets tracking work performance data and my spending to "the cloud" so that I can access the same information easily from my computer at work. I also have the blogger app installed, but, to be honest, I'm more likely to wait until I'm home to put anything together.

The main accessories for my phone are all peripheral. I use a clear plastic screen protector that keeps the worst of my fingerprints off the screen. I have a rather nice pair of Skullcandy headphones that live in the pocket with the phone. I also tend to keep my charger cable with me. Like most HTC devices, the Raider's charger cable is really just a USB cable with a wall adapter, which is also handy for those rare moments I need to download a larger file while I'm not home, because I can then download it through any internet connection using passthrough, without draining the battery on wifi.

Writing Utensils and Stationary

Getting it All Down: Paper
Right up until a month or so ago, I didn't have a phone with a particularly usable notes application or a particularly user-friendly calendar application, so I actually used a DayTimer Agenda (I prefer the 2-page-per-day format). Even though I don't carry the agenda any more, I still prefer paper for a lot of note-taking applications, particularly when it comes to planning just about anything. For that, I have a legal pad in a black faux-leather padfoilio, partly to protect the paper (I hate crinkles!), and partly because the folder has a pocket for its own pen (as it becomes frequently separate from my pack) and partly for the pocket that protects other paperwork, which isn't exactly absent in retail!

I also carry a few other paper products: a small box of note-cards (this season it seems to be Peacock designs) which serve as catch-all greetings cards for unimportant but still nice things, and a stack of index cards held together by a binder clip for when I REALLY need a throwaway note.

The Wide World of Pens
I like nice pens. I like nice notebooks, too, but they don't often make it to my day bag - they get used around the house. Until rather recently I was using a Shaeffer Prelude (black and nickel, fountain tip) that I'd had engraved with my initials. I still have the pen, but it's suffering from some kind of a faulty seal which means it hemmorages ink like curses from a drunken sailor and that doesn't really make it that useful. I hope to get it repaired, but in the meantime I'm using an el cheapo rollerball that writes well enough. Though, with the trepedatious feeling that repairing the pen might cost nearly as much as I paid for it originally, I might find a different fountain to replace it.

Even a nice rollerball won't write on everything or in every condition, and unfortunately, I find more and more often that "make marks on paper" isn't the type of writing I need to do. While my work provides me with a great many ways to write on plastic, and opportunities to do them, the law of diminishing returns rears its ugly head as time wears on and more and more pens become... less than useful.

You can't really go wrong with a Sharpie. While other makes of indelible pen exist, the Sharpie is a special favourite of just about anyone and the standard felt-tip in black seems to do the trick for me whether I'm writing on a label, disk, plastic cup lid, or just need something bolder than the marks made by my pen (often the case with file folders or note headings). A sharpie gets good mileage and the standard form-factor ones fit comfortably anywhere you'd keep a pen. For those times when indellible markings aren't as desirable, I also carry a dry erase with the same style tip - right now it's a nice shade of green. One of my favourite tricks is to use laminated cards as re-usable checklists or data-cards by setting up the fields with permanent marker and then using the dry erase for the data that changes. I don't carry a laminator in my bag, though.

I also have what I'm told is called a "powder" highlighter, but which I just call a highlighter. Pink, which is the only colour of highlighter I've encountered that seems to be visible in the menus at work, and there's no point in having more than one highlighter.

Other Tools of the Trade
I'd be lying if I said I carried white out, but I do keep a sheet (actually, a strip off of a roll) of labels in my bag. They do for tape in a pinch, but more importantly they're just the right size to cover up my writing most of the time, allowing me to add a new label over top of old ones written directly on folders.

Other Stuff

When I have them, I try to throw a granola bar in my bag, and of course whatever I chose to make for lunch winds up in the bag as well. As a rule I no longer carry a tumbler because I have extraordinary bad luck in leaving them behind, seeing them destroyed, and so on. I'd like to get something like the Tea Voyager set from work at some point and probably will.

Some old habits die hard and while I'm no longer so Type-A about preparedness as to carry a swiss army knife, I do have an Altoids Tin First Aid Kit (mostly just gauze, a bit of tape, adhesive bandages and a pair of tweezers). I used to have a disenfectant wipe and a couple anti-inflammitories in there too but those are always the first casualties.

Last, of course, just as no desk is complete without binder clips, I always try and have at least two on me at any given time. I also have what's left of my tin of Lee Valley book darts in case I'm reading something and I want to flag it.

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