Analog Tools

July 26, 2022
July 21, 2023

Sometimes, the most productive thing you can do is to detach from the digital and return to the simplicity that is analog. There's profoundness in the level of productivity you can experience with some things so primitive.

Below is a collection of analog tools that I use every day.

If there was a theme amongst all of the tools below, it would be accessibility. For writing tools, especially the analog ones, I define accessibility as being affordable, available, and unpretentious. There should be no pressure to use the tool. No regrets to use it to the very end. No second thoughts what's so ever. You can just focus on doing what you need to do.

Note: These products have been personally and meticulously researched, tested, and chosen based on years of use. There are no affiliate links.

Writing tools

Pens and pencils

Mechanical pencil - Bic. It's the quintessential pencil many of us had growing up. And the one that many of us still choose to use. Admittedly, it may not score the absolute highest in all review categories. However, these Bics are unbeatable in their price and availability. You don't need to be precious about them. They'll last a long time. You can replace them. That's what makes them great.

Lead - Pentel Ain. Unlike the pencil this lead accompanies (the Bic), this isn't the absolute cheapest lead you can buy - but it's pretty close. They write smoothly and don't break (unless you're really pushing it). The only tricky thing about them is the lid of the capsule. Twist, don't pull. (It took me a bit to figure that out).

Eraser - None. I don't erase (seriously). This is intentional and is part of my philosophy of honest self-expression and the ongoing practice of undoing perfectionism. As such, I almost exclusively write with something permanent. A pen or a marker (no white out or white tape). If I make a mistake, I scratch it out. My pages will not be perfect, but they will always be honest - leaving a trail of momentary and mental corrections captured in physical form.

Ballpoint pen - Bic Cristal, 1.6mm (Xtra bold). Another Bic! It doesn't get any more no-nonsense than the ubiquitous Bic Cristal. A prime example of something that "just works" - not to mention the most affordable and widely available pen in the world. Get the 1.6mm (extra bold) version if you can (slightly more difficult outside the US).

Gel pen - Pentel EnerGel 0.7mm. This is my primary writing tool. It writes smoothly. Goes zero to 100 the moment the pen tip touches paper. The ink goes on dark, doesn't bleed, and dries fast. Exactly what you're looking for in a gel pen. Pentel offers many varieties of EnerGel pen styles (known as "barrels"). Thankfully, they all use the same replacement cartridge. The model I recommend is the EnerGel Kuro (BL437R1) for its lightweight, uniformed rubber grip, and price. Folks in the US can get these very cheaply at Target.


Dry erase marker - Expo Chisel. The chisel's singular tip allows you to write both tiny and big. Its ink goes on dark (enough) and erases really well. For dry-erase board purposes, I only recommend black as coloured markers can leave ghostly smudges when erased (at least, on older boards).

Permanent marker - Sharpie. The quintessential permanent marker. The very first "indulgent" suggestion to make it on this list - get the retractable version. You'll no longer have to fiddle around with a lid again.

Highlighter/Annotator - Crayola fine point. Yes. The best highlighter/annotating tool I've ever used is a regular ol' grade school coloured Crayola marker. The tip allows you to make either fine or bold lines. Writes smoothly. Lasts a long time. Doesn't blend or bleed (not as much). Incredibly affordable. Works great.

Brush/felt tip marker - Tombow dual brush pen. As far as writing tools go, this is probably the most expensive one on the list. It's also not necessary. I primarily use this to quickly sketch UI designs as well as to label things.


Blank paper - Your standard 8.5x11". The most important part is that it needs to be printer paper. Other types of paper (e.g. sketchbook paper) may be more fibrous, which results in pen, pencils, and markers "catching" or "bleeding". For what it is, that being a blank sheet of paper, printer paper is the most affordable you can get. As for what brand, honestly, get whatever is on sale. At the moment, I'm working through my stack of printer papers I acquired years ago from Staples.

Manilla folders - Your standard letter-sized beige manilla folder. The most important part is that the folder is letter-sized (not legal-sized). This allows you to seamlessly file away your 8.5x11" papers. The purchasing rule printer papers apply to folders - Buy whatever is on sale. Buy in bulk. They'll last you a long while.

Notebook - Michael's Artist's Loft dot journal. I've tried many notebooks. From dollar store notebooks to the always recommended and expensive Moleskins/Leuchtturm 1917's. None of them come close to the shockingly affordable dot journal from Michael's. There are 3 things that I look for in a notebook. 1. Dot paper. 2. Folds flat. 3. Quality paper. The Artist's Loft ticks all of these boxes, and then some. The only downside is that the dimensions are non-standard at 6x8" vs. the traditional 5x8". If you can get over that, and I certainly have, then these will serve you very well.

Sticky notes - Post-it super sticky, canary yellow. You can't beat 3M when it comes to this type of product. They're so standard, that these types of products are almost always called "post-it notes". Get the "super sticky", 3x3", non-accordion version. They come in a variety of colours, but the most standard is "canary yellow". An alternative brighter and deeper yellow would be "Electric yellow".

Tape - Washi tape. Designed to work on paper. You can stick and peel washi tape from paper without worrying about damaging it. I use these to stick paper together, "bookmark" pages in a notebook, and for labelling. Unfortunately, the one I use has been discontinued (IKEA branded). However, there are a ton of different colours and styles you can find online or at your stationery store. Go with what speaks to your heart. As for me, I like plain coloured ones - mostly because I use them for labelling.


Stopwatch - Robic Oslo 1000W. This is my primary timer. Something unexpected that I learned about stopwatches is - all stopwatches have stopwatch timers, but not all of them have countdown timers. In other words, they all count from zero to something, but not all countdown from something to zero (a timer). This particular Robic has a timer. It also has a very clear ergonomic layout where I can use it without looking at it. I use it for my custom Pomodoro-inspired workflows, which are intervals of 20 minutes. It hangs around my neck during my entire work day.

Timer - Kitchen timers. These intentionally cheap "does one thing and does it well" timers can be found in restaurant kitchens all over (they were certainly there for the various kitchens I worked at). They typically come with a magnetic back (which I can't use at my desk) and/or a kickstand, which I can use. I use these to time-box, either for focus chunks or for meetings - those moments when someone "only has 4 minutes!". My kitchen timer complements my stopwatch, allowing me to quickly set arbitrary times in between my 20-minute intervals.

Watch - Casio W800H. After testing over a dozen watches (it's become a hobby of mine), this is the overall watch I'd recommend for features and wear (it will wear well on any wrist size). I became sick and tired of the ever-disruptive smartwatch, which had a battery that I had to babysit. In contrast, this watch has a 10-year battery life vs. a 2-day one. This particular model of Casio ticks all the boxes you'd need for a watch. Water resistance up to 100m. World time. Stopwatch. Timer. And its best feature... You can tell the time the nano-second you look at it. No flicking of the wrist to wake it up or any ceremonial gestures are required. What a time to be alive!


These are my everyday analogue tools. They're unpretentious non-nonsense things that just work. They've served me well for years, and I'm sure for many years to come. Best of all, I don't need WiFi or a power outlet to use any of them.