Truly Productive Gift Guide 2015

There are so many gift guides out there this time of year, so I don’t like to add the the noise or piles of choices. The last thing the world needs is one more person pushing products in the spirit of commercial giving.

But this giving season is also an opportunity to offer something simple and thoughtful to someone we want to thank for being awesome, for being helpful, even just for being part of our life. And if we’re honest, sometimes it’s just a good excuse to treat ourselves to something a little special as a reward for our own achievements, or to help us accomplish our goals for the new year.

So in that spirit, and in the tradition of my first Truly Productive Gift Guide post from last year, I bring you a new recommendation for “one thing” that anyone who wants to be more productive should be giving or receiving this year.

My only criteria for this is that the gift be inexpensive, simple to use, and most importantly, that it be a tool that enables productive work. Ideally, it’s also well designed without being overly adorned. I like my tools to be useful and purposeful, with minimal decoration. Something that can develop a unique personality the more it is used.

Drawing on my own experiences over the past year, I’ve looked at all the tools that I have found the most useful on a daily basis, and realized that there was one tool that I’ve been using and loving every day more than anything else. This is something that’s almost been an extension of my brain ever since I picked it up, and I can’t think of a nicer gift for yourself or anyone else this year:

The Confidant Notebook (with blank pages) by Baron Fig is my gift of the year for productive humans.


It’s simple enough to not be fussy or disrupt how people use notebooks, yet elegant and thoughtfully designed. I love the durability of the thin cloth cover, the way it folds flat on a table without any awkward rings or staples in the binding.  The pages have a perfect thickness and balance, with a slightly creamy hue that’s not shiny or glaringly white like cheaper notebook paper can be. Writing with a favorite pen or pencil is equally fluid and just feels right.

I love just holding this notebook. The size and texture and weight and balance all just feel… right. And I love that there is no obnoxious branding or decoration almost anywhere on this, but for the small company name and info discreetly printed on the inside back cover. The color and shape and distinctive yellow bookmark ribbon are in themselves all the branding this notebook needs.

It’s so distinctive, I recognized the notebook the first time I saw one in the wild even before I bought my own. It was in the hands of a new friend, Jesse Lavery, when I met him at the 2014 HighEdWeb Association annual conference in Portland. He had a Confidant in hand and showed me how he was using it as his primary capture tool for most of the conference sessions. I think I was sold almost immediately.

I bought my own soon after that, and since then it’s become personalized and loved and hacked like no other notebook I’ve ever owned:

Now, I know that notebooks can be a very personal taste, and for good reason. We rely on them to keep our ideas and creations safe. We want them to last and to inspire. Austin Kleon and Michael Beirut have written thoughtfully about this, and I’ve personally been trying lots of different kinds of notebooks of various brands and sizes for years. I enjoy experimenting with the features that virtual note apps like Paper offer for digital creation, and I’m probably still going to have a Field Notes or Apprentice notebook in my back pocket every day for the rest of my life.

But I start every morning welcoming the blank pages of my Confidant. Almost everything I’ve written about on this blog or in my newsletter has started from ideas in that notebook. I’ve taken extensive notes on what I’m reading, built new ideas for talks and presentations, and generally figured out what it is I think and know about by writing in the pages of my Baron Fig:


(And before I wrap this up, let me be explicit that this is absolutely not a paid endorsement or sponsored post on behalf of Baron Fig, and I am not expecting or I seeking any reimbursement for this. I’m just a fan giving honest praise to a company and product I think are special.)

And it’s too bad we have to be explicit about these endorsements online nowadays. I know there is ethically shady stuff going on out there, but I feel confident (see what I did there?) that the people behind Baron Fig are running things in a smart way for the right reasons. I like the fact that their products are designed based on user needs to empower creativity, not just what will make profit for them. I like that they plant a tree for every notebook they sell. I love that a company co-founder is willing to respond to a customer with a hand-written note of appreciation regarding an order because they get that customer service is personal:


So this year, if you still need to offer something special to someone you want to see be creative and productive in 2016, give them a Confidant notebook or two, and tell them not to be afraid to start messing up the pretty pages. Maybe get one for yourself while you’re at it.

Great ideas and important tasks are central to our lives, but they disappear if we don’t get them out of our heads. Give them a nice place to live and grow, and see where the next blank page can take you.



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