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Ask Chris Black: What Do You Use to Stay Organized?

Photo: Christopher Fenimore

If you’re looking for the most powerful hair dryer or handiest chef’s knife, those things can be easy enough to find. Other objects of desire are a little more taste-based. What’s the next status water bottle or hand wash, for instance? Regular readers of the Strategist will know that we’ve previously turned to resident Cool Guy Chris Black (he’s a partner at brand consultancy Public Announcement) to help us answer both of those questions. For more of Chris’s advice, he’s now answering reader questions for us in a regular column. If you have a burning question about the next fanny pack or Noah rugby shirt, drop us an email with the subject line “Ask Chris” at

You seem to be a busy man. What stuff do you use to stay organized? I find that writing things down helps me remember them, so I prefer using planners or diaries or other physical things, but I’m open to anything that will help me better keep my life in order.

Unfortunately, my life is a mess! I digitally jot down ideas on my iPhone, and if they are longer, I will make a Voice Memo to painfully replay later. But I do own a classic black Moleskine, a timeless and well-designed notepad. I just don’t use it often. On the rare occasion that I do, it’s just to kind of get stuff down. Loose ideas, phrases, a doodle or two. All of my scheduling is done via Google Calendar. I cannot be bothered to do it by hand, even though I love the idea.

A few years ago, when I was “really going through it,” I was doing daily Morning Pages from The Artist’s Way (which I highly recommend). The exercise calls for jotting down three pages of longhand, stream-of-consciousness writing first thing in the morning; it’s meant to clear your head and lessen anxiety. During this time, I got very used to using a black-and-white composition book. Its simplicity and size made it the perfect place for keeping my highly personal (and often illegible) morning brain dumps.

Not surprisingly, I have always been seduced by a designer notebook. Sitting down in an important meeting and pulling out something beautiful to scribble notes in is a good look. A plain black version from Smythson would do the job, and not draw as much attention as the vintage Louis Vuitton logo notebook I have been eyeing. I need help.

I’m looking for a travel mug that’s different than the classic Yeti. I switch between hot and iced drinks, so I’d ideally want the ability to accommodate ice cubes when needed. What do you suggest?

A travel mug initially strikes me as a necessity for those commuting to a job they hate in a tertiary market. But, with environmental concerns becoming increasingly urgent, we all must do our part. The classic Yeti is perfect; I don’t know what your problem is! My mother uses it! But if you simply cannot

I have mentioned the Snowpeak Kanpai bottle before. Nothing looks better, or can better handle both hot and cold liquid with style and grace. It also comes with three lids, fam! Cooling, insulated, and one for drinking. If you’re not ready to splurge on the titanium model, there’s an equally sleek stainless-steel version (which also includes the three lids).

The only other one I can find that doesn’t look like something you carry while dropping your kids off at day care in a sad suburb is this stainless-steel model from S’well, that’s a little squatter than the brand’s standard bottles. Look, it’s basic as hell, but the logo is tonal, and it promises to keep cold beverages cool for up to 24 hours, and hot ones hot for 12. And it’s “wide mouth” looks wide enough to squeeze in your precious ice.

I just bought a new coffee table and am now looking for some books to go on top of it. What are your favorite art or other coffee-table books that look good on display, and don’t get boring to flip through? 

The coffee-table-book collection must be balanced. The perfect mix will show off your cultural superiority, casually letting your guests know you are smart, well-traveled, tasteful, and (just a tad bit) snobby. We are going to go a little deeper than Haring, Basquiat, and Murakami. Your more … simple friends can have those. This, dear readers, is MY SWEET SPOT.

A seminal portrayal of the American family. Initially published in 1992, the book expertly combines film stills from home movies, fragments of conversation, Sultan’s writings, and his signature color photographs to create something vibrant, striking, timeless — and perfect for the coffee table.

Picasso loved to challenge himself. His work with ceramics, like the 150 pieces featured in this book, is underappreciated IMO. The pieces are fun to look at and often whimsical, displaying motifs of animals, fauns, and women. Add to cart.

The cookbooks that are popular today look like a corny millennial restaurant — overdesigned. Madeleine Conway and Nancy Kirk’s classic volume (which was first published in the late ’70s), is spiral-bound, suggesting it is actually meant to be used in the kitchen. That said, as good as Dalí’s red salad, de Kooning’s seafood sauce, or Bourgeois’s French cucumber salad may taste, I think the recipes make even better dinner-party conversation. A note: Because the cookbook has been out of print for some time, Amazon’s stock (like that of most other internet retailers) is from third-party sellers.

One of my personal heroes, Lebowitz’s witty and sardonic essays on American life are more relevant than ever. But hers is a voice of reason that really stands out in any era. Still, your guests might only recognize her from Bill Maher (or the occasional magazine cover), so help them go more in depth. This is the cover art for the book’s first edition, but Lebowitz superfans might consider the reprint, which features her portrait staring back at you. Like the MoMA cookbook, Amazon’s stock of this book is sold by third parties.

This show and accompanying book blew me away. Dike Blair is an American artist whose photo-realist works collected here are painted from photos he’s taken. The cover, a painting of his studio door, is so simple, but it captures life in New York entirely. The works shown inside include a Dunkin’ (Donuts) bag, which even your annoying in-laws from Boston can appreciate.

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Ask Chris Black: What Do You Use to Stay Organized?