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Work Behind Scenes

For associates and business starters, the modern work space is a constant shuffle: the place people work from X times a week, the tasks and meetings they need to knock out, and the new and old school tools available at hand. No entry-leveled rookie or well-experienced pro is exempt from asking the why-who-how-what-when-where questions that determine how well they adapt, get caught up and find rhythm.

As an ’80s baby, raised in the ’90s and ’00s and exposed to the techno-side of business, sports and marketing side in this decade, I’m wired to believe the sweet spot’s in the middle: not gripping the past too tightly and not giving in to the future (or what’s hot today) too willingly. A mix-it-up approach balanced of the classics and values, even more useful and relevant than in the past, with the high-potential afforded by a few, not all, digital devices & applications. With trial and error, you can personalize a spread of essentials that suits your preferences and helps your business step forward in a timely and relevant way.

I started CheckBall full-time 5 weeks ago and listed are essentials I’ve had fun dabbling with and plan to weave in my regular routine.

The Basics

PaperI need to use it for almost everything that comes out of my head and hand: brain dumping, free writing, doodling, sketching, calculations, wireframes, notes, outlines, rough drafts, task lists, budgeting.

All these business activities that starters need to dabble in to get things going. Finding clarity and simplicity in each task that arises starts on paper and might end in electronics. Some tasks are simple and quick enough and only digital but most of them, like even filing taxes, can be started without a distracting screen that might otherwise split your focus on multiple tabs.

Notebooks, notepads, loose-leaf paper, copy paper, colored paper, Dunder Mifflin paper – I stock and play around with all of these to see which is most useful, on-hand and affordable. Most of the paper types don’t matter I’ve learned, as much as simply having paper to scratch at any given time: at home, on the road at cafes, united centers, local libraries. I’ve tried Evernote for almost 5 years now and the habit to take down ideas and events on it still hasn’t formed.

Calendar. A calendar when used deliberately within whatever system best suits your daily, weekly and monthly objectives can guardrail from wasting your and other people’s time and keep your entire schedule lighter and within view, keeping you balanced and preventing overwhelm.

I use this Chicago Datebook and my phone calendar (strugglingly). Nonetheless, I’m learning that a adding both structure and leaving room for flexibility in my schedule is just as important as pushing product and earning revenue at the start.

Pens. The job requires me to write hundreds of words and numbers a day, so using pens that print legible ink, pens that don’t get overly dry or wet of ink release, pens with soft rubber grip, pens with sharp points that create an enjoyable hand-writing experience play a big factor in how much work I get done daily. The more I write, the less I need to be on a computer, which means less distractions and barriers to get through to finish the actual work.

I tried a box of each the BIC Big Grip Rollers and BIC Triumph Rollerball Pens for a few months now; fun to write with, but the ink dries too quick. I plan to mess with different points, blacks and blues and hopefully smaller, local brands until I settle on one.

OrganizersTo stay organized and access all tasks, drafts, schedules and other timely documents in one place, try any combination of organizers and accessories found in school or office supplies aisles: trapper keepers, binder clips, dividers, folders, etc.

I started with this fun pad holder. It keeps my stuff organized and the cover is the same pebbled-leather as the official Spalding game ball, which keeps reminding me that basketball is just as much work as it is play. And if I’m to sustain that belief in the long run, then I need to exercise the right habit and mindset for the appropriate times. The touch and feel of this binder and the simple memory of buying it from the Hoop Hall of Fame on a recent trip to Boston, makes this dull office supply item that much more of a simple good.

Books. Audio, e- and hard flippety books. I always keep at least a few at reach for any time that I need to step away from work and to just zone in on some (non)fiction. Books, music and phone calls are great alternatives for energy drains resulting from infinite scroll pages and addictive phone apps but definitely books have the most versatile all-around benefits to life, business and everything else. Audible audio books make long drives shorter. Hard books help calm the mind, is easy on the eyes and transmit good vibes at every finger-flipped page.

Headphones. Your favorite tunes can kickstart or speed your effort into rhythm and help you get more done if it’s the type of music that you like and is appropriate for the activity. At the gym, hip hop lyrics and beats are perfect because typically, workouts or shootarounds don’t require as much cognitive focus as for when you’re trying to write or design anything creative in nature. In this setting, an app like Focus@Will or wordless music in general, keeps pushing me w/out interruption.

In either setting, a reliable, comfortable and crisp-sounding pair of headphones are essential. Just like the difference between regular pens and above-average pens, the marginal difference between good and great headphones can create the type of vibe and rhythm you need to operate in to get your most crucial work done. Noise-cancellation plays a factor but the $300 Boses and Beats by Dres take you farther from reality than necessary.

I’ve tried over a dozen headphones and earbuds in recent years and I found these Audio BT66 to fit me best. They’re wireless Bluetooth with crisp sound even 50-75 feet away from your phone, they snuggly wrap around ears and necks so I don’t lose them at home, office or gym as much as I have previous pairs, and last but not least, they’re not as big, expensive or pretentious as $300 Beats.

Gym Equipment. A few different basketballs, gym clothes, basketball/running shoes, deodorant, swimming pool stuff, etc. All the essentials for the types of workouts and subsequent showers you carve into your routine.

Bags. Laptop bags, backpacks or gym duffel bags can keep all your organizers and equipment organized and easily accessible in cars, office spaces and at home. Wherever you need to work from with whatever you need to stock with, a decent bag carries the essentials you need to maintain your daily routines on point. It prevents those ‘oh shit, I need to get home and grab my…’ instances which occur over a silly little thing like a laptop charger, a pair of gym shoes, and other excuses to skip sessions.

Spares. On a similar note of preventing excuse situations: stock up on chargers, pens, notebooks, books, headphones, basketballs, gym shoes and gym clothes.

Before starting this business full-time, my car was always jampacked and I struggled to consistently keep it clean. Now that I operate out of a number of Chicago and suburb spots and have different projects/goals as a business starter, this new routine effectively forces me to stay organized, it leaves less room for excuses and errors and it frees more time to do the harder value-creating handiwork. My car and home office now get a weekly spot check to remove junk and re-up raw material. Any time I see a need for a new essential that will actually solve a felt problem, I’ll update and refresh this list too. (More for my own accounting than for readers.)

If you’ve read this far, thank you and I hope that this writing helps spark ideas about how different tools, supplies and equipment, through habit, can serve as your personal and professional load balancers. For business starters, thinking thru and creating this process right from the get-go can pay off solid long-term returns. With way less effort.

If you work purely in an office setting, check out and check off this list of office supply basics.

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