Most of the time I write about high-tech business tools, but I also appreciate useful low-tech items.
Let's start with pens.
You can spend hundreds of dollars on a pen, but I wouldn't dream of doing that because I'd lose it in a day.
You don't have to spend a lot of money to get a pen that feels good in your hand. The $5.99 Pilot DR Grip and the $4.99 Sanford PhD ballpoint pens are hefty writing instruments that are easy to grip. Papermate's Dynagrip ballpoint pens ($3.99) are ergonomically pleasing, and Pentel, Bic, Pilot and Sanford all offer low-cost roller-ball pens that are more pleasant to use than your average ballpoint.
I may lose pens that I carry around in my pocket, but I never misplace the pen at my desk. That's because I use Slencil pens, available at office supply stores for about $6.95. They never get lost because they're attached to your desk by a plastic coil. Both basic models attach to surfaces with a strip of adhesive. One model is designed to go on top of the desk, while the other can go below it. I have one near my computer, another by the copier and one by each phone. The pens take standard refills. You can save some money by getting the Eversharp Stick-Tite Chain Pen ($2.99), which comes with a 24-inch chain, but they take special refills that cost $1.89 each.
Speaking of losing things, have you ever noticed how staplers, scissors and other office tools tend to wander off? I don't know of any that come with Slencil-like cords, but tying them down with string helps keep them handy. Another option is to attach a telephone handset cord to the device and to the desk. I have a TV in my office (in my profession it's a business tool) and, to avoid misplacing the remote, I've even attached a wire to my wireless remote control.
Resealable plastic bags can also be handy office tools. I encounter a lot of products that include odd-sized inserts and documentation. I store them in a gallon-size heavy duty freezer bag. It keeps them together, and it's just big enough to hold standard 8 1/2-by-11 sheets of paper. I also use the bags to store extension cords, phone cords, power supplies, printer cables and other miscellaneous wires that I have around my office.
Another handy use of these bags is for expensive inkjet or laser paper stock that I use for special projects such as photos or labels. Once I open the package, I keep the leftover sheets in a resealable bag so they stay clean and handy. I then stick a gummed label on the bag that identifies what's in it.
Call me weird, but I've always enjoyed walking around office supply stores. I recently spent a couple of hours at a local store and was impressed by all the cool low-tech things I found, such as a $3.99 clear acrylic clipboard from Rogers or a $34.99 heavy-duty three-hole puncher that can handle up to 32 sheets at a time. Visit your local office supply stores or, if you prefer to browse on the Web, you can check out OfficeMax at http://www.officemax.com.
Three-ring binders are very handy for organizing bits of paper or for presenting proposals to customers and clients. There are a ton on the market, but I like the ones that have a plastic sleeve on the cover, which allows you to slip in your own cover and side sheet.
Keeping the inside of the binders looking good is also easy thanks to Avery, which makes a variety of index tabs and dividers, including some that have labels you can print on a laser or inkjet printer. You can use your word processing program to print on the labels, though it can be tricky to get them lined up properly.
If you do a lot of presentations and reports, you might want to consider a binding tool, such as the Ibico Kombo Binding Machine ($300) or the smaller Home/Office Binding machine ($149). Both provide professional-looking spiral-bound documents. Earlier this year I spent about $120 for a 12-inch laminator for my home office and am surprised at how often I use it for signs, luggage tags and to protect documents that get passed around the office.
Velcro can also be a useful office product. You can buy it on rolls or in 2-inch-wide strips and use it to keep things in place that might otherwise slide around.
Everything I've written about so far is pretty utilitarian. If your tastes run toward the more elegant, check out the Levenger Catalog ( 544-0880 or http://www.levenger.com) for reasonably priced yet beautiful desks, chairs, filing systems, pens, storage systems and reading lamps.
Finally, I've found a product that no respectable small-business person should be without. For only $49.99 you can own a Fellowes PS30 5-page-per-minute paper shredder. Now all you need are some secret documents to shred.
You can e-mail Lawrence J. Magid at firstname.lastname@example.org and visit his Web site at http://www.larrysworld.com. On AOL, use keyword "LarryMagid."