I Buy More Books Than I Read

And I don’t care.

A quick survey of my Amazon order history for 2016 shows me that I’ve bought 30 books so far this year. Which is about one new book every week.

While I’d love to say that I also read about one book per week, the truth is that I only finish about one or two books per month.

But that does’t stop me from buying books. Because…

The First Rule of buying books is to not be a wimp about it

Here is my criteria for if I should buy a book or not:

  • If a book sounds interesting at all, then I buy it. (If it sounds interesting then it’s a topic I’m hungry to learn more about.)

  • If there are a lot of folks I follow who are all talking about the same book, then I buy it. (What do they know that I don’t know?)

  • If someone I know recommends a book to me, then I buy it. (They read a book and it made them think of me. So what’s in that book that can I glean from in order to to better refine my own message and thinking?)

Basically, I don’t debate over if I should buy a book or not. I just buy it.

And I feel no guilt whatsoever about buying books and not reading them. Because…

The Second Rule of Buying Books is to not care about reading them cover to cover

Once I’ve got the book, if its content and writing grab me then I read the whole thing. But if not, then no big deal. If I lose interest half-way through, then I just move on.

All I care about is getting one good idea or story from that book.

If I get that, then it’s worth it to me.

Chances are good that that single idea will impact my personal life as well as my business.

A life- and business-changing idea for $10 or less? Sold.

However, as a human, I don’t have a very good memory. So sometimes these ideas don’t stick too well. Which is why…

The Third Rule of Buying Books is to make notes and mark up the margins

I try to only ever buy physical copies of books.

Why? Lots of reasons, actually.

A physical book is easier to grab right off my book shelf. It’s more approachable than a digital book. It’s easier to thumb through and skim quickly. I can skim around to any chapter that sounds interesting to me and read a few pages.

Moreover, it’s nothing to have 3 or 4 physical books all open at once, spread out on the floor or my desk. Something I find so very helpful when doing research and getting lost in a topic.

I also love leaving sticky notes in my books. And highlighting them. And writing notes in the margins. And dog-earing the corners.

I also create my own alternate index on the back pages.

Then, once you’ve got all those ideas and notes and highlights…

The Fourth Rule of Buying Books is to share what you know

Here goes…

I recently bought The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp, and I haven’t yet read all the way through. But it has already impacted me significantly.

On page 14 Twyla Tharp tells about her routine of going to the gym every morning. The “extent” of her workout routine is to get dressed, walk outside to hail a cab, and then tell the driver which gym to take her to. After that, her routine is complete.

This hit me at just the right time.

After hurting my ankle in Colorado last fall, I completely fell off the running wagon and hadn’t been running regularly for about 9 months. I read Twyla’s story and realized that I could at least put my running clothes on and drive to the gym. If, by the time I got there, I didn’t want to run, then I could go to the coffee shop instead.

That was well over a month ago and I haven’t missed a day at the gym since. Not bad for a used $7 paperback. And there is still the whole rest of the book left to read!

Other ways to share what you’re learning:

  • At dinner with friends, bring up something you just read in a book.

  • Summarize your favorite books into 3 sentences or less.

  • Start a book club and invite your friends to join…

I’m Starting a Book Club. Join In.

If you’d like to get my personal book recommendations along with my notes about that book, then sign up for the book club.

Sign up Here (it’s free!)

Once a month I’ll send you an email letting you know what that month’s book is and why it’s so great.

How to Get Time For Your Projects

Between ideas, time, and focus, which do you have the most of?

Ideas, right?

We all have more ideas than time. Myself included.

A few years ago I wrote about how I would often find myself wrestling with the tension of having more ideas than time: “There are many great things I want to do and build and ship and start, but I just don’t have the time to do them.”

And I still feel that tension. In fact, hopefully I will always feel the tension of having more ideas than time because ideas are, and should be, a commodity.

Here’s the thing: it’s not about the balance between time and ideas.

The trouble comes when we have a lack of focus. When we have more time than focus.

Or, put another way, if we have more time than focus it means there is time that we are wasting.

Does this mean you should spend all of your time being “focused” on work? Not at all. I don’t have the energy for that. And neither do you. Besides, there is so much more to living a focused life than just being productive in the office.

Having more focus than time means you’re proactive and intentional about how you spend your minutes. It means thinking ahead and establishing some awesome default behaviors to fall back on when your focus and energy run out during the day.

* * *

This week, as we continue discussing The Creative Life, I’m going to answer some questions I’ve received regarding how to make time for your creative project.

Florian H. says:

My biggest challenge is to be consistent in working on the different projects I’m currently involved in and want to drive forward. I have two professions, a side project, and lots of ideas. I’m also a father of two daughters. :)

Julian S.:

My biggest struggle to move forward is to actually block the time necessary to invest into my creative endeavors. Because there’s always a ton of stuff to do relating to the business that pays my bills. Every day that I don’t reserve some time on my calendar to do it (and honor this appointment with myself!) it’ll be another day I didn’t move forward.

Marianne C.:

By far my biggest challenge is saying no to the other things that take all my time or at least figuring out ways to schedule high quality work time while still dealing with the endless minutiae of life and business.

To sum these questions up:

How can you make time (and follow through) in order to work on important projects and areas of responsibility when life is already so full?

This is a “category” of question that I get frequently. So much so, in fact, that I created an entire class that dives deep on time management.

As Benjamin Franklin said, “Do not squander time, for that’s the stuff life’s made of.”

Ultimately, managing your time is unto something. And that “something” is the living of life. How we spend our time is, quite literally, how we are living our life.

The good news is that diligence and focus are not personality types; they are skills you can learn.

In just a moment I’m going to share some ideas, perspectives, and practical suggestions that can help. But if there is one thing to take away, it’s this:

You have more control over your time than you think.

If you’re not happy with where things are at right now regarding your time and attention, then make a change.

There are some mindset changes you need (which I’ll get to in just a minute).

And there are some practical things you can do in order to improve your likelihood of success. And whereby “success” I mean “spending your time and energy the way you want to”.

Let’s dive in…

Start With Your Personal Integrity

Personal Integrity is defined as doing what you’ve said to yourself that you will do.

So many of us are good at following through with the commitments we make to others. But we are not so good at following through with the commitments we make to ourselves.

Without a deep amount of personal integrity, it will always be difficult for you to make changes in your life. Not that change is ever easy, but it is especially challenging when you have a history of not following through on your own commitments.

The best thing to do here is start small with something simple…

Such as putting your shoes away in the same spot every day when you come home. Make that the first thing you do when you arrive home, no matter what shoes you are wearing or what the weather was like outside, etc.

Do that every single day for a month, and you will begin building your personal integrity. You’ll be following through with a commitment and proving to yourself that you can see a task through to the end.

You Have to Make Time

You don’t find time. You make it.

I know it’s semantics. But it’s also a huge mindset change and it’s one worth musing on for a moment.

Sure, if we were being philosophical and direct about it we would all agree that, yes, of course, you don’t find time the way you might find a dollar bill on the sidewalk.

But how often do we truly act that way in our lives?

Many of us act as if we are trying to find the time. We are looking around, hoping there may be an hour or two just lying there not being spent.

Say No

You make time by saying no to a lot of things — other interests, hobbies, time-sucks, etc.

You also need boundaries for yourself so that you know when to say no to other people and opportunities. Your creative ideas and the side projects you’re working on are valuable.

Find Your Pockets

Something we do in The Focus Course, is take a week and track all the time we are spending. Literally we try to map out every minute of the day for a whole week and then see what our schedule actually looks like. It brings clarity about how we are truly spending our time.

And most folks (myself included) always discover there are pockets of time here and there that we didn’t realize where there.

I know it doesn’t feel as if there is any time in the day. Every minute of your day is spent on something — you’ve got something that you’re doing.

But we all do.

Every single one of us is spending every minute of our day. Right now, for example, you’re spending your time reading this article. (Thank you!)

What happens when you take a week to track your movements, you discover those pockets. And the pockets aren’t spots where you’re doing nothing at all. They’re spots where you realize you could spend less no time on a particular task.

Reduce your activation energy

Oftentimes, the real challenge is not in the making of time…

It’s getting started in the moment.

I have had so many conversations with folks who tell me how they don’t have time in their day. But when they come home from work, they watch TV for a few hours before going to bed.

If you were to take a whole week and track how you spend every minute, you would discover that you have pockets in your day that you could adjust to make time for other things. The trouble is that it’s not always easy to turn those pockets of time into creatively productive time.

Thus, the more you can do to reduce your activation energy, the better.

It’s the idea of helping your future self. And it was a revelation to me a few years ago.

Yes, you can change your schedule around. Yes, you can make some time. You can wake up earlier. You can skip your lunch break. You can dictate into a microphone while driving to work or write while on the bus. Etc…

But when you finally those precious minutes to do your creative work, the truth is you just don’t want to. You’re tired, your distracted, you’re not sure where to start.

Getting started is the hardest part.

Take heart: It’s that way for everyone. You’re not the only one.

There are some articles I’ve already written about this, that can help you, and I’ll list them out in a second.

But first, it boils down to this:

What is something you can do today that will help you make things easier to get started on your creative work tomorrow?

For further reading on reducing your activation energy, check out these additional articles:

Change your schedule for just a short season

My friend, Sean McCabe, took the month of July to write a book. It was a sprint, and then he returned to his regular schedule.

About a month ago, I took one week and spent it getting up an hour earlier in order to write first thing in the morning. I enjoyed it so much I gave it a shot for another week. And then another. And another. And now I’ve been doing it for 4 straight weeks. But it started as a 5-day experiment.

Buy back your time

Are there things you can delegate or automate? Such as mowing the lawn or cleaning the bathrooms?

They say time is money, but time is worth infinitely more than money. You can always earn another dollar, but you never get back another minute.

If you can spend a few dollars to give yourself a few hours, and then use that time doing something you love, that’s a bargain!

If the idea seem preposterous to you, try saving up to pay for a service for just one month. And then commit to yourself that by the end of the month you will have created something you can sell.

Think Outside the Box

What about your commute? Could you negotiate with your boss to work from home one day a week, and then use the time you save on your commute to work on your side project?

Accountability & Social Support

By far and away, one of the best ways to help yourself show up every day is to be accountable to that task.

If you have a small measure of accountability in place, where you’ve got to report back to someone about your progress, you are far more likely to complete it.

As part of the Focus Club, we’ve been doing daily stand-ups in our members-only chat. Every morning at 10am people can check in with what they’re working on.

As I’ve written about before, social support is your single greatest asset when it comes to success in nearly every single area of your life.

Start with 20 minutes.

If you know how you want to spend your time, but the struggle is to make the time, start with 20 minutes. For sure you have 20 minutes somewhere in your day.

Break it down like this:

  1. Set a timer for 15 minutes (yes, 15). Spend those first 15 minutes working on your project.
  2. Then, spend the remaining 5 minutes leaving a breadcrumb trail for yourself so that tomorrow you know exactly where to pick up where you left off.

Find Your Creative Focus

If you don’t yet know how to spend your time, or what to focus your creative energy on, this workbook can guide you through that.

My Own Story

I’ve been writing and publishing regularly for over a decade. A few of the milestones along that journey include:

  • Jan 2006: Started my first blog on Blogger
  • Jul 2006: Bought my own domain and started publishing more regularly
  • Jul 2007: Started shawnblanc.net
  • Oct 2010: Started selling sponsorships
  • Feb 2011: Announced the Shawn Today membership
  • Apr 2011: Quit my job and to write full time
  • Aug 2011: Built and launched Tools & Toys
  • Feb 2012: My first son, Noah, was born
  • Jul 2012: Wrote my first book, Delight is in the Details
  • Sep 2013: My second son, Giovanni, was born
  • Nov 2013: Launched The Sweet Setup
  • Jul 2014: Updated my book with new chapters and interviews
  • Feb 2015: Started my email newsletter
  • Jun 2015: Launched The Focus Course
  • Dec 2015: Created The Elements of Focus
  • Jan 2016: Updated The Focus Course
  • Jan 2016: Hired a full-time employee
  • Mar 2016: Launched a Time Management class
  • Jun 2016: Hosted Focus Camp
  • Aug 2016: Started The Focus Club

Now, let me share a bit of behind-the-scenes backstory to those milestones…

For those first few years of writing in 2006 and 2007, I was a young married dude and was traveling. I had plenty of free time and writing for my website was perhaps my singular biggest focus. I loved it.

In early 2008 I took a new job that required roughly 70-80 hours a week. I did that job for 3 years: from 2008 – 2011. But I continued to write on the side and build an audience.

In fact, during those three years of writing on the side, I was able to build enough relational equity with my readership that I was able to quit my job and go full-time writing my website thanks primarily to the generous monthly support of readers like you.

Then, just one year after going full-time with my website, my wife and I had our first son.

After her maternity leave, she returned to do part-time work with our church. For about a year my wife’s schedule was extremely varied. Some days she would be gone in the morning, and some days in the afternoons. I was a part-time writer and a part-time stay at home dad who didn’t have any regularity to my day-to-day routine.

After our second son was born 3 years ago, my wife changed her schedule to something more regular. I now have my whole day every day to focus on the work.

And yet, even now, I write for a living, and yet I’m waking up at 6am — before the kids, before the neighbors, before I want to — so I can get a solid hour of writing in as the very first thing to I do in my day.

Sure, I will do more writing during the day, but not like I do first thing in the morning. This early morning session is for me to write what matters. This is the time I write new articles and do the work of fleshing out ideas and topics.

In all of the aforementioned seasons it was a challenge to make the time to write. It has always been a challenge to show up and do the work, and I know that it will continue to be so.

Here is More Stuff on Time Management

I’ve been writing about creative focus and time management for years. It’s one of my favorite subjects.

Here are a few of my best resources on the subject. Some are completely free and some you can buy.

Also, check out our membership community, the Focus Club. It’s brand new and it’s awesome. You can connect with like-minded folks every day, keep accountable to your most important work, join in on our live coaching calls (hosted by yours truly), and more.

Taking Your Personal Project Full-Time

As I mentioned yesterday, I’ve been asking folks what their biggest challenge is right now related to doing their best creative work.

By far and away, there are two very common themes:

  1. The first theme is along the lines of not feeling in control of the hours in your day.

  2. And the second them is along the lines of not having the clarity you need for where to focus your energy and what priorities to set for yourself.

(FYI: For both of these two themes I’ve already put together some resources: Both the Time Management Class and The Focus Course respectively.)

But there are also quite a few more specific questions I’ve been getting. And over the coming weeks, I’m going to be diving in and answering them.

Let’s get started…

* * *

Here’s a question I received from reader, Ross Kimes. He says:

“I would like to see tips for taking a personal project that you do on nights and weekends to a full-time job.”

The first thing that comes to my mind is what you all know: There is no single path to success. Even Seth Godin attributes quite a bit of his own success to chance and luck.

See also this video of Kevin Kelly’s fantastic talk from XOXO 2014.

So my point is that you’ve got to love the process and the journey. You must love doing the work. And you’ve got to be delighted with having just a teeny-tiny amount of impact.

This is crucial for a few reasons.

For one, as you know, it’s not a sure bet that you can turn a personal project into a full-time gig. If the only reason you’re in this racket is to make it big, you might not make it. And so, then what?

Now, I know that’s not you. You wouldn’t be showing up to do the work on the nights and weekends if you didn’t love it already. Which is why there is another reason you’ve got to love the process…

The bigger reason you’ve got to love the work is because the work never gets easier. Every single day you choose to show up, it’s another choice. If you don’t love the work now, when it’s on the side, you won’t love it then when it’s something you have to do.

* * *

Going from amateur to pro is as simple as getting a sustainable business model.

In order to do that, you need customers and clients, a valuable skill-set and/or a valuable product, the right mindsets, and more.

Thus, the road from amateur to pro is jam packed with micro-adjustments as you learn and mature and adapt.

Here’s the great news: you can do it. I know you can.

There has never been a better time in the history of history to take your personal project that you do on nights and weekends and turn it into your full-time job.

You’re not too late. You haven’t missed your opportunity. It just takes a TON of hard work. It won’t happen over night.

* * *

Lastly, here are some unordered thoughts from my own experience of writing on the side for several years before going full-time, and then growing my business over the past 5 years.

Show up every day for a few years years

There are so many reasons why it’s vital for you to show up every day. The main ones are that (a) you need a creative habit; (b) you need to prove to yourself you’re in it for the long run (remember that thing about loving the work); and (c) you need to build your audience.

Showing up every day is the best thing you can do for your business, your creativity, and your platform.

  • Establishing a creative habit means “making stuff” becomes part of your every day routine. If you can’t make the time when you have other life responsibilities, you will struggle to make the time to do it when you go full-time, too.

    Once you take your personal project full time, you’ll be surprised how difficult it is to keep showing up. You’ll find that there is a stronger pressure to show up and deliver (which, ironically, can make it more difficult to keep showing up). You will also have a hundred new things you didn’t have to do before, like bookkeeping.

  • Show up every day to prove to yourself that you can do it. When it comes to the creative work itself, the grass won’t be any greener on the other side. If you don’t enjoy it now, you won’t enjoy it then either.

  • Show up every day in order to build your audience, your reputation, and your “brand”. The internet thrives on regular cycles and people get used to looking forward to things in daily / weekly doses. So you need to make sure you’re a part of your audience’s daily / weekly routine even now while it’s still your personal project you do on the nights and weekends.

Understand the Rule of Reciprocity

In a nut, the rule of reciprocity looks like this: if you buy someone coffee, they will feel indebted to you. They will want to buy you lunch.

So, in the world of marketing / business, this idea translates into a focus on giving and then asking.

Do people take advantage of this idea? Yes, absolutely. Do they do things that are annoying or sleazy? Yes.

But you’re not other people.

You need to give, give, give. Then give some more. Be the first one to provide value, every time all the time. Make the life of your audience better than you found it, every single time you interact with them.

Be willing to give if there’s nothing else next. (That’s why you’ve got to love the work, remember?)

If you give enough, then you earn the right to ask. But, of course, that’s not the point.

The point is: are you willing to give if that’s all there was to it?

Now, of course, you have to pay the bills and feed your kids. I do, too. We all do.

So you absolutely need to ask, and that does not make you a sell out or a shady person.

Give and ask. Don’t focus on just one or the other. You need to do both to survive and to serve.

Make sure you are always out-giving your audience. Always give more; always over deliver; always surprise and delight.

You need to be seen as the most trusted advisor, and not just as a conveyor of yet another commodity. As Jay Abraham says, the competition and the consumer are both trying to commoditize you. Don’t let them. Don’t surrender.

You have to establish yourself as the only viable solution to a challenge or opportunity in your client’s life. You want to always be guiding them to make the right decision — which doesn’t mean only ever doing business with you. Because you want to make your relationship a permanent one.

Start selling something soon

You need to practice making money.

Get into a cycle of shipping so you get used to the innate fear related to putting your work out there.

You learn so much by selling. You begin to normalize price points (which price-points do you want to play in?), you learn how to serve your clients/customers better, you get familiar with doing business and developing your business plan, and so much more.

Diversify Your Income

Personally, I’m a fan of having multiple streams of income through multiple products and services.

Not only does this minimize the risk that your entire business model goes away over night (because you don’t have all your eggs in just one basket), but it also means you can serve different people in different markets and at different price points.

At Blanc Media, we have a little over 11 unique streams of income: sponsorships; display advertising; affiliate sales via iTunes, Amazon, and others; my Shawn Today membership; Delight is in the Details; Day One in Depth; The Focus Course; Time Management Class; Awareness Building Class; The Focus Club; coaching and consulting.

Have a Minimum of 3 Months Financial Runway

Three months is the minimum. I’d aim for six if you can. Six months worth of expenses saved up, and sitting in the bank as your financial margin.

How much you save can depend on how at risk you are to losing all your income at once.

When you are taking your personal project full-time, you want to be free from financial burden. Get out of debt.

It’s going to be financially stressful enough as it is as you work to get your revenue streams regular and sustainable. But also, you want to be able to take as much of your income as you can and invest it right back into your business to help you grow while staying debt-free.

In short, Change careers like Tarzan.

Get around a community

Doing the independent creative entrepreneur thing is super lonely. All the more a reason why social support is your single greatest asset.

Find a mentor or a coach. Get around a community of like-minded folks. Go to conferences. Never eat alone.

Build your email list

It’s the only way you can own your platform. It’s the most profitable way to sell your products.

And, most of all, it’s the most direct way to serve and connect directly with your audience. It’s a fantastic way to develop open feedback loops with your readership as you serve and nurture your audience.

In short, your email list allows you to do many things. But, most of all, it allows you to focus on relevancy rather than recency.

What else is great about building your email list is that as your business grows, you can begin to automate your processes and emails.

ABL (Always Be Learning)

I have definitely learned some things from the internet, but the things that have most impacted my business mindset have come from the printed page.

Here are a few recommended books:

More Thoughts on Creativity and Entrepreneurship

Earlier this year I wrote a 7-article series on creativity and entrepreneurship. Here are those articles.

  1. Five (Years)
  2. Creativity and Entrepreneurship
  3. Consistency and Honesty
  4. Family Balance
  5. Thoughts on Risk
  6. Creative Goals
  7. Quality is a Probabilistic Function of Quantity
  8. Bonus: Why You Should Show Up Every Day

Why I Announced My Next Course Way Ahead of Time

Yes, I’m working on a new course. It’s about showing up every day, doing your best creative work, finding and serving your audience, and making money.

The Creative Life course has been on my mind for quite some time. I’ve got notes and ideas about it that go back several years.

Another time I’ll share more about why I’m creating this course. First I want to share my reasoning behind the early announcement.

Even though it’s still many months away, there are two reasons I’ve announced the upcoming course:

  • Accountability
  • Anticipation

Accountability

By putting up a page that says this course is now in the works, I’m making a declaration that it’s time to focus my time and energy on this course.

Saying it out loud can be so helpful.

For one, I am now publicly accountable to you guys to follow through on my commitment.

Moreover, there is an increase in clarity and motivation that comes with that decisiveness.

If you have an idea that won’t let go, but that you’re also struggling to turn into something real, start with the easiest first step. Make a decision about something and start moving forward. Your action will bring the clarity you need to keep going.

Anticipation

Secondly, by announcing this course ahead of time, it brings you, the reader, into the storyline. Which is great.

  • It opens up a dialog: This is so valuable and important. As you guys have been signing up to be notified about the upcoming course, I’ve been asking them about the challenges they face related to doing their best creative work. And the feedback you’re sending in about those challenges is so helpful because it gives me insight into the big-picture themes and also into the specific hurdles. I am, in turn, able to make sure that I address the topics and challenges which are most prevalent to you, the reader.

  • It rallies an audience: Between now and when the course comes out there will be many people who will sign up to stay in the loop. If I were to hold this new course close to my chest, and then do a big reveal at the last minute, there would be far less people around for me to offer it to.

  • It gives visibility into the process: One of our core values as a company is transparency. I want to teach everything I know — sharing not just the what but also the why. Therefore, it means sharing the process and showing my work as I go. And, I can’t keep things a secret while simultaneously sharing the process.

  • It builds anticipation: As my friend, Sean McCabe says, people don’t notice announcements, they notice consistency.

    To be candid, there is a marketing and sales advantage that comes with announcing the course ahead of time. It takes time for people to become aware of what we’re working on and to get an understanding of what it’s all about.

    By announcing the course early, I’m giving myself a runway to build anticipation for the course that will translate into an increase in sales once we open up registration.

How to Regain Lost Momentum

Do you know that feeling of returning from vacation and the challenge of getting back into your daily routine?

It can be a challenge even if just returning from a long weekend. Or it doesn’t even have to be a vacation. It could be anything that pulled you out of your day-to-day routine for a while. And as you begin to get back into the swing of things, it’s just not that easy.

That’s me as I type these very words.

They say that showing up every day is about making little but surely progress on things. Which is deeply true. But there is something else as well.

That something else is called Momentum.

Doing your best creative work can be a real fight. And showing up every day is the best way to keep showing every day.

But we all take breaks. We all have unexpected interruptions. We all lose a bit of momentum at some point. What’s the best way to gain it back?

* * *

Yesterday evening, Sunday, I was up far past my bedtime. I had to finish reading 11/22/63. It was the last day of our family “staycation”, and I couldn’t help but marathon through the last few hundred pages of the book.

Today is Monday. And it was a fight to get out of bed this morning. I will be candid with you. I struck the snooze button when that alarm first went off, and I seriously considered striking it again. My mind and my body wanted to continue vacationing.

When you’ve been out of your day-to-day routine for a while, those creative muscles atrophy. To build them up again, you must show back up and return to the work.

For me, it was only 3 days that I took off. For 72 hours I didn’t look at email or scroll Twitter. I didn’t read a single business book. I didn’t write a single word. We had a fantastic time as a family. I wouldn’t have even stepped into my home office at all if I hadn’t forgotten to make the fall tuition payment for my son’s preschool.

Three days isn’t long. But even after 3 days, I can feel myself losing a bit of creative momentum. I’m sure you can relate.

It’s not quite so easy to sit down in the chair and start writing. (Technically I’m standing at my desk, but that’s details.)

To regain the momentum there is no trick. No secret. You have to simply show up.

But try this: set your bar of success a few notches lower. Don’t hold yourself to a standard that is so high you will only feel the pangs of shame at not succeeding right away.

Instead, hold your creative output to a lower standard than normal. Especially for your first few days back. For me, this morning, my goal was to write for just 30 minutes instead of my usual 90 or more.

The point is to merely punch the card that says you were here. You showed up. Now give yourself a high-five, and go make another cup of coffee.

Doing your best creative work is already a fight. Don’t make it harder on yourself than it has to be. You’ll return again tomorrow. And before you know it your creative output will be right back to where it was.

Ah ha!

As I type this, I’m looking at a few pages from my notebook.

The pages in the notebook contain notes I took from two very important conversations I had six months ago.

These conversations took place in January, just after I had “re-launched” The Focus Course 2.0. I was thinking about what project to do next.

I knew I wanted to build a membership community.), and I knew I wanted to build a course that focused on creativity and business.

My initial plan for these things was to build them as their own, new, unique brands on their own websites. And the only thing tying them all together would be me — the “Shawn Blanc brand” (whatever that is).

During each of my two aforementioned conversations, I asked my friends for their input about what my next steps should be.

I told them that: (a) I wanted to start a new community membership; and (b) I wanted to build a business course.

And then I asked for their candid feedback and input. Was I on the right track, what potential pitfalls did they see, what wild ideas did they have that I hadn’t even considered, etc?

I’ll share their feedback with you in just a moment.

But first, I wanted to share something from my new favorite book…

As you probably know, a couple weeks ago I rented a car, drove 4 hours to Tulsa, bought a new (to me) family car that I’d found on Craigslist, and drove it back.

For the road trip, I loaded up the audiobook version of Creativity Inc..

There is so much gold in this book.

One particular tidbit that stuck out to me from the chapter on Honesty and Candor.

People who take on complicated creative projects become lost at some point in the process. It is the nature of things — in order to create, you must internalize and almost become the project for a while, and that near-fusing with the project is an essential part of its emergence. But it is also confusing. Where once a movie’s writer/director had perspective, he or she loses it. Where once he or she could see a forest, now there are only trees. The details converge to obscure the whole, and that makes it difficult to move forward substantially in any one direction. The experience can be overwhelming.

If you’ve ever begun working a new project, learning a new skill, or the like, and you get into it and feel completely overwhelmed, lost, and confused — don’t freak out.

As Ed Catmull says, it is the nature of things.

How do you press through that feeling of overwhelm?

For one, you keep going. You keep showing up every day, making choices, and doing the work. With patience, you will find clarity.

Secondly, you need community. People who can give candid advice, encouragement, and feedback. People who will level with you and keep you accountable to your goals.

* * *

My friends didn’t know it, but I was desperate for their feedback.

While I was excited to begin working on my new projects, I was also feeling very overwhelmed, lost, and confused.

I was in need of candid feedback from friends who would level with me.

Here are some of the notes I took during the two conversations:

  • A community needs a regular gathering point.
  • A community needs a regular experience of simple value downloads, where you’re putting things in front of them and not requiring homework or burdens.
  • Anchor the membership to The Focus Course. Because the Focus Course is my strongest brand right now, and it’s too early to move on to something else. There needs to be a broader range of both free and paid products around the course.
  • Most podcasts get to a point where you have to either stop doing them or re-boot them.
  • Spend your time on what makes money and where the people are. For me this means building out The Focus Course brand (that’s what’s making money) and starting a podcast (that’s where the people are).
  • If you build your new courses under one brand (“Focus”), they’ll be much bigger. And if you want to move on you’ll have to stop building the “personal brand”.

The feedback from these conversations gave me so much clarity. I knew what to do.

I ended that day with several “Ah ha!” moments, and as a result, I felt confident about the next steps to take. I knew what to do and how to do it.

The candid feedback from someone who has a clear, outside perspective was incredibly valuable.

Something Ed Catmull says time and time again in his book is just how important community and candor are to doing our best creative work.

How many of us have that as a regular part of our creative life?

If you don’t have it, you need it. Because, as I wrote yesterday, social support is your single greatest asset.

My goal for all Focus Club members, is that they’ll get that opportunity.

Here are a few things we value in the Focus Club:

  • Showing up every day.
  • Giving yourself permission to stink.
  • Having an action plan.
  • Building meaningful relationships.
  • Always being honest and sincere.
  • Not taking ourselves too seriously.
  • Trusting our gut.
  • Taking risks.
  • Leaving it all on the table.
  • Having fun.

At least once a month, I want to make sure you have an “Ah ha!” moment of clarity or breakthrough. Perhaps it will come from a conversation in our members-only chat, or perhaps it will come from one of our monthly coaching calls.

(I also have more things in mind that I think will be pretty amazing, but I don’t want to get ahead of myself…)

And, on top of the moments of clarity, I want you to constantly have that feeling of “I can do this.”

So: Clarity and Momentum.

If there are two more powerful forces for showing up every day and doing your best creative work, I don’t know what they are.

We have opened the doors for Focus Club, and are accepting Pilot Members.

My question to you is: will you be joining us? I hope so!

You can learn more here.

I hope to see you inside.

— Shawn

Your Single Greatest Asset

It’s social support.

You can only go so far by yourself.

In The Focus Course, the second-to-last day is all about Community.

The micro-assignment for Day 39 is one with two parts: To give and to receive.

You have to give by encouraging, helping, supporting, or teaching someone. But you also have to receive by asking someone for advice, feedback, support, or accountability.

Both giving and receiving are acts of selflessness. They both get you out of your little bubble of self.

Because by giving you are serving others. And by receiving you are admitting that you don’t have all the answers, and you can’t figure it all out on your own.

From your personal integrity and creative energy, to your lifestyle habits and routines, to all the areas of your life — all of it is enhanced through relationship.

Your life is enhanced through relationships.

* * *

In his book, The Happiness Advantage, Shawn Achor writes that social support is our single greatest asset when it comes to success in “nearly every domain of our lives, including marriage, health, friendship, community involvement, creativity, and in particular, our jobs, careers, and business.”

Let’s read that again, because wow…

Social support is your single greatest asset when it comes to success in nearly every single area of your life.

Relationships and networks are critical to your career and to your ability to do (and ship, and sell) your best creative work.

There are two proverbial statements about this. These two are cliché at this point, but all the truest ones are these days:

“It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.”

“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

To again quote Shawn Achor, he writes:

When we have a community of people we can count on — spouses, family, friends, colleagues — we multiply our emotional, intellectual, and physical resources. We bounce back from setbacks faster, accomplish more, and feel a greater sense of purpose. Furthermore, the effect on our happiness, and therefore on our ability to profit from the Happiness Advantage, is both immediate and long-lasting.

Not only is our social network helpful for success in every area of our lives, so too does it help us feel confident, happy, and motivated. Having social relationships is virtually as important as food and water.

If success was just about tactics, you would have already achieved it.

But it takes more than just knowing the tactics…

It takes changes in your mindset.

It takes a commitment to show up every day and do the work.

And it requires the help of others.

* * *

Long-time readers know me well enough to know that I’m not into hype or hyperbole.

I care deeply about getting to the root issues that hold us back from doing our best creative work every day.

And when I know something in my life is holding me back, I seek to find out what it is and then do something about it.

What about you?

Are you wanting to improve where things are at?

Then you’ve got to simplify the complex, and then get to work.

As Mark Twain said:

The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking your complex, overwhelming tasks into small, manageable tasks, and then starting on the first one.

What is one thing you could do today that would move you forward in your goals?

For me, I realized I had a need for more community in my life.

Not personal friendships… I have a few close friends whom I meet every week for lunch, a small group of family friends that gets together once a month, and a small Bible study that meets every Tuesday evening.

For me, the area I find community lacking the most was related to the business-side of my life.

Being the calm and slow-moving person that I am, there are four things I’ve done in the past month to help expand my community:

  1. We have finally set up regular Blanc Media team video calls on the calendar. We went from meeting occasionally when it was necessary, to meeting regularly to stay better connected.
  2. I hired a business coach, to not only help with moving things forward, but also as someone to dialog with about the specifics of my business.
  3. I am organizing a small mastermind group with a few other peers in the industry.
  4. I am kicking off Focus Club.

What about you?

What’s one thing you could do today that would move you forward in your goals?

Cash is King

Last week I was driving down to Tulsa to buy a new family car.

We got a 2006 Lexus GX470, and it is awesome.

lexus-gx470

My favorite part of the trip was leaving the bank with the keys and title in hand after the previous owner signed it over and got his lien release…

And the previous owner asks me: “What sort of interest rate did you get on your car loan?”

“None.” I told him. “I paid with cash.”

Now, if you’ve read my Focus Course launch case studies, you may be thinking, that’s fine for Shawn.

But here’s the thing, I would have paid cash for our car even if The Focus Course had not done 6 figures in 7 days.

Here’s how:

  • My wife and I have been driving a 1994 Chevy Cavalier Wagon for over 11 years. The thing is ugly, but it’s reliable and very inexpensive to own and maintain.

  • Five years ago we bought a 2001 Jeep Cherokee (paid cash then, too). And since then we have made “car payments” to ourselves. We knew that one day we would have to replace our car. So, we started saving, and now, 5 years later, we had the cash saved up ready to use for our next car.

  • Lastly, is the challenge of keeping a frugal mindset and finding the best car we could that was within our budget to buy with cash. I spent months looking for a car that was in good shape, low miles, that had been garaged, and would last us for the next 5-10 years without troubles.

* * *

The way you live beneath your means is by living beneath your means.

It’s a choice.

It’s not always an easy one (I have never liked that white-on-rust Chevy Cavalier). But I was happy to hang on to it because it allowed us the financial margin we needed to stay ahead and stay debt free.

Books On My Shelf

Books on my Shelf

My next course is about showing up every day, doing your best creative work, building an audience, and earning an income.

Right now the working title of the course is “The Creative Life”.

Because ultimately, this course is about developing the mindset, habits, and resources you need to do your best creative work.

But more on all of that another time…

When putting together a course or a book or a class, I have two huge components that underpin all the content and training:

  1. My own experience, stories, and wisdom.
  2. The experiences, stories, and wisdom of others.

At best, I have only a very small glimpse and perspective. So I lean on the wisdom and perspective of others.

Here are a few of the books that have helped me show up every day, do my best creative work, build an audience, and earn an income.

Tuesday, July 26

Transform your home.

Avea transforms any place with beautiful dynamic light moods. Control your ambience from your phone, iPad, or Apple Watch, and unwind in one of these carefully crafted settings with subtly changing light:

  • Magic Hour
  • Northern Glow
  • Mountain Breeze
  • Cozy Flames
  • Sunny Field
  • Fairy Woods
  • Caribbean Sea
  • Candy Land
  • Calm Provence
  • Cherry Blossom

With Avea Flare, bring dynamic light moods anywhere. The battery-powered, wirelessly charged LED lamp illuminates any place for more than 8 hours on a single charge. And the best: with IP65 water resistance, your home atmosphere can now extend to the outside, too.

Smart technology.

Avea connects directly to your iPhone, iPad or Android phone using Bluetooth Smart technology, without requiring additional gateways or bridges. But it doesn’t stop there: once you have chosen a light scene, the smart LED lightbulb will take care of the rest, not requiring a constant connection to your phone or iPad.

Wrist-controlled.

Avea on Apple Watch makes it easier than ever to pick the perfect lighting for your mood. Simply raise your wrist to view the current status of Avea at a glance, and effortlessly transform your home with a simple tap.

Get Avea Flare now and enjoy an immersive atmosphere.

* * *

My thanks to elgato for sponsoring the site this week. Sponsorship by The Syndicate.

Creativity, Confusion, and Community

This past weekend I rented a car, drove 4 hours to Tulsa, bought a new (to me) family car that I’d found on Craigslist, and drove it back.

To accompany me on the road trip, I loaded up the audiobook version of Creativity Inc..

creativity inc on audiobook

I began reading it on Kindle about a year ago, but only made it to chapter 5. I’ve been wanting to dive back in, and this was a great opportunity.

There is so much gold in this book.

One particular tidbit that stuck out to me from the chapter on Honesty and Candor.

People who take on complicated creative projects become lost at some point in the process. It is the nature of things — in order to create, you must internalize and almost become the project for a while, and that near-fusing with the project is an essential part of its emergence. But it is also confusing. Where once a movie’s writer/director had perspective, he or she loses it. Where once he or she could see a forest, now there are only trees. The details converge to obscure the whole, and that makes it difficult to move forward substantially in any one direction. The experience can be overwhelming.

If you’ve ever begun working a new project, learning a new skill, or the like, and you get into it and feel completely overwhelmed, lost, and confused — don’t freak out.

As Ed Catmull says, it is the nature of things.

How do you press through that feeling of overwhelm?

For one you keep going. You keep showing up every day, making choices, and doing the work. With patience, you will find clarity.

Secondly, you need community. People who can give candid advice, encouragement, and feedback. People who will level with you and keep you accountable to your goals.

Take it Apart, and Put it Back Together Again

show-up-white-board

What you’re looking at here is some white board scribbling that represents the first module of my next course.

The white board is so messy and random, you might think this was our very first whiteboard session for Module One.

Actually, this is the fourth whiteboard session we’ve had like this in the past two weeks.

This is our process of taking things apart and putting them back together again.

I’m working on a new course that’s about doing your best creative work, moving from hobbyist to pro, building and caring for an audience, and making a few dollars from your creative work.

Right now the course outline consists of more than 90 individual sessions within 6 modules. Plus worksheets. Plus interviews. Plus easter eggs.

That is a massive amount of content. It’s too much.

Who has the time to work their way through all of that?

That’s why we’re trying to distill the outline down to what is most essential.

And it starts by taking apart each module and asking: What is the single most important takeaway here?

  • What is the single most important lesson for someone who wants to do their best creative work?
  • What is the single most important lesson for someone who wants to move from hobby to pro?
  • What is the single most important lesson for someone who wants to define and build their audience?
  • What is the single most important lesson for someone who wants to steward their audience and give provide value?
  • What is the single most important lesson for someone who wants to make an income from their creative work?
  • What is the single most important lesson for someone who wants to build and sell their products?

For us, we’re still in the preparation phase on all of these modules. We know all the surrounding ideas, mindsets, tactics, and tools. I’ve been writing about this stuff for years.

The aim right now is to get the outline clear so we can get to work on putting the pieces in place.

How do you edit an outline?

You take it apart and put it back together again.

You question your assumptions and hypothesis.

You try writing it out in a way that makes sense to your grandparents.

Then try writing it so it makes sense to your neighbor across the street.

Then you re-write again with your ideal customer in mind.

You make sure you’re answering all the questions and challenges your ideal customer is facing.

* * *

The above photo represents the fourth time we’ve taken apart this outline and put it back together again.

First we started with sticky notes on the whiteboard.

Then we moved the sticky notes onto posters on the wall. (We needed the whiteboard back.)

Then I re-wrote it all onto note cards.

Then we went back to white board drawings, which you see above.

We keep taking apart all the pieces, looking at them, asking why they’re there, and then putting the whole thing back together again.

Each pass we make at the outline things become a bit more clear.

Once we start taking it apart and putting it back together the same way, then it’ll be time to start writing.

If you’re interested in going behind-the-scenes at the creation of this course, and getting early access to the content, we’re looking for pilot course members.

There are some pretty great benefits, which I’ll share later.

Sign up over here to get on the list, and I’ll let you know once we open the doors.

Monday, July 18

Wouldn’t it be great to have a personal task management app that integrates with the tools you already use, allowing you to seamlessly view all of your tasks on one screen? Rindle does this and more, making it easier than ever to keep your day organized.

Your tasks are everywhere: email, to-do apps, project management apps, and collaboration tools… to name a few. Many people are using multiple tools for their personal tasks and projects, which wastes time and complicates their day. Rindle brings all of your tasks together into one place, helping you to simplify your personal workflow.

Leverage the tools you already use to centralize your information into one easy location. If you use apps like Gmail, Slack, Trello, Basecamp, Todoist and Github, you’re going to love how you can aggregate all of your tasks into a single screen, providing some zen to your hectic day.

If you are jumping between tabs in your browser to track down work, or sifting through email to remember something you had to get done, then you are wasting precious time each day. Let Rindle keep everything in one central location for you. Get instant access to our private beta today.

* * *

My thanks to Rindle for sponsoring the site this week. Sponsorship by The Syndicate.

Tuesday, July 12

Amazon is a great place to shop, but it’s not the best place to discover new, beautiful things.

Canopy brings a more curated, community-driven experience to shopping on Amazon – with an organized catalog of beautiful products recommended by experts and people with great taste.

You can see what’s new and trending, shop by category or brand, or even shop for gifts by personality type. Community members can save products, organize them into collections, and follow their favorite curators to receive personalized recommendations.

Also, to celebrate Amazon Prime Day, the Canopy team has been working around the clock to hand pick all the best products from the promotion.

Check it out on desktop, iOS or Android.

* * *

My thanks to Canopy for sponsoring the site this week. Sponsorship by The Syndicate

The Challenge of Showing Your Work

Right now I’m wrapping up the second article in my Focus Course Case Study. (The first article, that’s all about the launch of the course is here).

As I’m working on this next article, something I’ve realized is that I have two modes of work:

  1. Monk Mode
  2. Publishing Mode

(Well, there is also the “Super Distracted Mode” and “Ugh, Bookkeeping Mode”…)

Long-time readers of this site have seen my Monk and Publishing modes first hand. I really went into “monk mode” early last year in the months leading up to the Focus Course launch. My days began to get very full with “deep work”. I was working longer-than-normal days and also usually working a few hours on the weekends as well.

All those hours were spent in research, reading, and writing for the course. Pretty much the only thing I was publishing was my once-a-week articles — a huge difference in publishing output compared to the first several years of this site when I was posting links and articles every single day.

What I’ve discovered is that when I’m in Monk Mode, I kinda go dark to the outside world. I spend all of my working hours with my keyboard, some books, my team, and a whiteboard. I don’t publish much to the site, my podcast episodes get sparse, I don’t update Twitter or Instagram all that much.

But when I’m in “Publishing Mode” then it’s the opposite. Most of my working hours are spent publishing things to my site, tweeting, etc. But I’m not focusing on any particular project or product.

A goal of mine right now is to get better at operating in both of these modes simultaneously.

I’m a huge advocate of showing up every day. But that coin has two sides: you’ve got to show up and do the work, but you’ve also got to share that work. You have to show up every day and do something, but you also have to show up every day and share something.

Lately I’m great at the former, not so great at the latter.

To peel the curtain back, I am in search of a work environment and rhythm that supports (a) deep work and creating huge pillar products while also (b) frequent publishing of articles, podcasts, ideas, links, inspiration, etc.

I’d like to get better at sharing artifacts from my daily work and opening the door to my creative process while also keeping my ability to stay in “Monk Mode” on a regular basis, focusing on building big projects.

And!… I want to do it all while working reasonable hours and maintaining margin in my day-to-day life. Piece of cake, right?

Austin Kleon has a fantastic book about this. And one bit of advice Austin gives is to build a daily dispatch into your routine:

Once a day, after you’ve done your day’s work, go back to your documentation and find one little piece of your process that you can share.

I’m now beginning work on my next big course, that will be all about content creation and building an audience. And as part of the creative process for this course, I’m also committing to share more of my work as I go. It’s with the understanding that the process of doing our best creative work every day is a messy one — it’s a fight to stay creative.

Unordered Thoughts on Life at 35

Tomorrow is my birthday. And every year around this time I open up Day One and jot down an unordered list of reflections and thoughts on life.

It’s a chance for me to give advice to my future self. What are the things I’m learning and observing in this season of life that I may need to be reminded of in a year from now?

Here are a few from previous years:

  • Serving others always has a reward.
  • Generosity is never regretted.
  • It’s worth it to sweat the details and do work you’re proud of.
  • Don’t be afraid to take a risk – the biggest “risks” I’ve ever made, such as proposing to my wife, starting a business, moving to another state, they have all proven to be some of the most important life changes and have been so positive.
  • Life is almost entirely a series of small, almost inconsequential choices and moments. All the little things that you do (and don’t do) are actually what paint the picture of your life. If you want a different life, make a small change to one thing and stick with it. Then change something else. Then something else.

And here are a few from this year:

  • Never underestimate the power of having a plan and keeping accountable to your progress. Because it’s far too easy to confuse activity with progress. I’m really good at “being active” but it takes much more intentionality to make sure that what I’m doing each day is putting one foot in front of the other.

  • Reading (learning) is becoming a competitive advantage in today’s knowledge worker / creative entrepreneurial landscape.

  • Be more cautious not to squander a few minutes here and there throughout my day. Stay on top of batch processing my Instapaper / Safari Tabs / Email / etc. Take more frequent breaks away from the desk in order to make space for longer hours of focused work.

Wednesday, June 29

We spent a lot of time putting together this behind-the-scenes case study that shares all the details about The Focus Course launch. (Which, as a matter of fact, was exactly one year ago. Waddayaknow?)

Over the years, as I’ve been working to build this small corner of the internet into a thriving business, I have gleaned so much from others who have been transparent with their numbers and processes.

Thus, my hope in sharing all these numbers is that I can be of help to those of you who are also trying to build an audience-based business — one that values showing up every day, doing your best creative work, and genuinely caring for your audience.

Monday, June 27

Beautifully simple. Showcasing your creativity is easy with Portfolio.

When your creative work is your life’s work, nothing is more important than having a beautiful portfolio website. With Portfolio – which comes free with any Adobe Creative Cloud plan – you can quickly and simply build a website to showcase your creative work, so you can get back to doing what you do best.

Flexible Custom Design: Our layouts are the foundation to build your own unique Portfolio. Pick one as a starting point, and then customize it to create a tailor-made website. Your work looks beautiful and polished in Portfolio, whether you choose an “off-the-shelf” layout, or prefer to customize.

Responsive Design: Ensure your work looks great across devices with a responsive layout optimized for all screen sizes. Preview your website on desktop, tablet, and mobile as you edit.

Painless Customization: Our editor is designed to take the pain out of editing and creating your website. Focus on what you’re creating with a distraction-free editor, and see your creative vision come to life in just a few clicks.

Live Editing

Watch your changes as you make them, using the simple editing remote. Anything you can see, you can customize.

* * *

My thanks to Adobe for sponsoring the site this week! Sponsorship by The Syndicate.

On Community

Once you’ve committed to do your best creative work, you may find that it can get lonely.

Sometimes it’s lonely by default…

You’re in “monk mode”. You’re disappearing to your cave for hours at a time to get some serious work done.

Or it’s lonely because the project is top of mind — it’s all you’re thinking about. Except it’s still the early stages of the project, and so you’re not yet clear enough on things to have any sort of coherent conversation about it. Your words just come out as fragmented ramblings while your conversation partner stares back blankly, trying desperately to follow along.

Showing up every day is hard enough work by itself. And because of how natural it can be to do the work in isolation, community becomes all the more valuable.

Last summer, a few weeks after I launched The Focus Course, my wife and I hosted a backyard BBQ party to celebrate.

I had just spent the better part of my past year working on it, and the vast majority of that time I spent alone. But it’s not a project I could have done completely alone.

There were so many people who were involved, those who helped with the project itself and those friends who encouraged me along the way.

So we invited anyone and everyone who had been involved at all with the building of the course. We served BBQ, played games, and told them thank you.

Building something can often be isolating and lonely. Especially for the independent creative entrepreneur.

You put in hours and hours and hours of work while sitting alone in your cave. Don’t let that work stay isolated.

Don’t let yourself experience your failures and successes alone.

Share them with others, invite your friends and family into what you’re doing. They need you just as much as you need them.

What Do You Want to Know About The Focus Course Launch?

This coming Thursday, June 23, it will be exactly one-year since The Focus Course launched.

For those of you who have built and launched something, you know first hand just how much work goes in to it. Especially if you’re a perfectionist and need everything to be just right.

So yeah, building and launching the course was a massive amount of work. And what made things even harder is that, at virtually every step of the way, I had no idea what I was doing.

So many things about The Focus Course were new for me; I was hesitant and unsure about so many aspects. I wrestled with every decision about how to validate, market, price, build, and launch the course…

For each step, I was desperate for any help I could find.

Some of the places I found the most help were from friends and peers who had gone before me and shared the details of their experiences — including actual numbers.

I would like to pay that forward by doing an in-depth case study, sharing all that has happened behind-the-scenes with launching and building The Focus Course over the past year.

I’m going to share everything about the course launch

Over the next few weeks I’ll be posting a series of articles detailing all the stories, strategies, and takeaways I’ve learned during this past year.

  • How much revenue the course made during its launch week, and how much it has made in the year since.
  • Why I gutted my 17,000-word book and made an online course instead.
  • My workflow and tools used for building the course.
  • How I ran the pilot test group.
  • My entire marketing and launch sequence.
  • How I iterated on the course after launch.
  • Why I offer a 60-day money-back guarantee.
  • My approach to joint-venture launches and partnerships in a way that adds value to past and new members alike.
  • How and why I re-invested money back into the course after it launched.
  • All the software and services we now use to keep the course running day-to-day.
  • What I would do the same and what I would do differently.

Like I said, I’m going to share everything.

I hope my experiences and the lessons I’ve learned can be of help to you.

(I’m also posting this information here for my future self. I have an all-new course in the works for this fall, and I plan to build and launch it very similarly to how I did The Focus Course last year.)

What questions do you have?

So, before we get started, I wanted to open up the floor for any questions from you guys.

Do you have a product you’re working on or that you’re already selling? Are you trying to build an audience? Just curious about something in particular?

If there is anything you would like to know about the launch of The Focus Course, just ask.

You can ping me on Twitter or send me an email with your questions.

I’ll try to answer as many of your questions as I can in the upcoming articles.

Monday, June 20

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Growth Automation creates interaction points used to onboard new users, engage active users and resurrect users in attrition, automatically driven by behavioral intelligence, milestones and key user actions.

* * *

My thanks to Pyze for sponsoring the site this week. Sponsorship by The Syndicate.

This interview with MetaFilter founder, Matt Haughey, has made the rounds. It’s an excellent read, a difficult story, and is filled with a ton of business lessons.

My two biggest takeaways from it were regarding (a) the importance of income diversification and (b) the importance of an business operations savings fund that holds at least 6 months of operating expenses.

While these two principles have always been a part of how I run my business, reading Matt’s story about MetaFilter reminded me not to get lazy about them at all.

I also was thinking about how the fine line it is between running a bootstrapped business that has plenty of savings in the bank but that also doesn’t operate with a scarcity mindset, and becoming fearful or anxious about cashflow.

The key there, I believe, is having the long-game in mind. It’s not wise to hoard all your cash, but neither is it wise to spend too quickly. Once you have that healthy amount in savings, then stop saving and start investing more aggressively.

Related reading and wisdom:

Defining Work / Life Balance

As you may know, there are nearly 600 folks — including yours truly — who are going through The Focus Course right now.

We’re a few days in, and our Focus Course assignment for today entailed listing out my life values.

Two of the values I listed may not really count as “values”. But oh well, I listed them anyway. One value was Business Savvy and another was Work / Life Balance.

Then, for each value I listed, I also had to write a description of how I express that value in my life.

Now, the tricky part here is that the descriptions have to be written as if I already live it out exactly as I would want to. Which, to be honest, is a challenge. Because, at least for me, I see my faults all too well.

Nevertheless, I wrote my descriptions for what what the value of Business Savvy looks like and what the value of Work / Life Balance looks like for me.

And as I was writing my description out, it dawned on me that so often we pit work and life against one another. As if work is bad and life is good. And that is a completely wrong mindset.

That said, I wanted to share with you how I defined Work / Life Balance for my own life.

Work / Life Balance

I have a strong drive to do my best creative work and to build a business that matters. I also have a deep love for my family and friends and living a healthy and full life.

These two things are not mutually exclusive. And so I don’t feel guilty about the time I spend working, and neither do I feel anxiety when taking time off of work.

My work responsibilities and goals are very important, but I don’t let them dominate my entire day as they are wont to do. I refuse to look back on my career and feel regret about spending too much time working and not enough time with my friends and family. But I also refuse to shy away from doing my best work every single day.

I understand the time I spend away from the work is just as important as the time I spend doing the work.

And so I refuse to live a life that’s driven by an addiction to the urgent. I know what healthy boundaries are, and I know that there will always be “one more thing” to do when it comes to my work. With that in mind, I don’t let the “seemingly urgent” tasks of my work dictate my schedule.

Thursday, June 16

Corbett Barr:

We know what needs to be done. The strategy part is almost laughably simple. But the execution… the execution phase is the graveyard of good intentions.

Showing up day after day after day, to do repeatedly do something, requires incredible self-discipline and focus.

Notebooks, Business Models, and Solutions

We meet again for another Fantastic Friday.

Under normal circumstances, right now I’d be packing for WWDC. I’ve been to the conference in 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015.

Alas, this year, I won’t be attending. The main reason being that I have two trips already scheduled for this fall, and felt that was enough travel for the year.

(Side note, come join me for seanwes conference and hear me speak.)

Secondly, we’ve just kicked off Focus Camp, and I wanted to be available to devote my full energy to that.

So, I’ll be watching the WWDC keynote from my basement instead of a hotel room at Parc 55. And I’ll be making my coffee at home instead of standing in line at Blue Bottle. Those of you headed out, don’t have too much fun without me!

— Shawn

And here are some of this week’s best links and items of note.

  • The Baron Fig Vanguard: These new notebooks from my favorite notebook maker are stellar. For me, the vanguard is not a full-on replacement for the Confidant, but I’m putting them to work as a single-purpose notebook. Using a Charcoal, Flagship, Dot Grid Vanguard (whew!) as my dedicated notebook while I work through the courses in Digital Commerce Academy.

  • Ugmonk 2.0: My friend, Jeff Sheldon, makes the coolest t-shirts and mouse pads you’ve ever seen. And he just launched a massive update to his brand and website. I also highly recommend you subscribe to the Ugmonk Journal. Jeff is a guy who walks the walk, and he’s going to be sharing a lot of the behind-the-scenes info of how he runs his business.

  • You Need a Business Model: Fantastic article from Jessica Abel. To make a living doing your creative work you need (a) skill at your creative endeavor, (b) systems for making constant progress, and (c) a business model so you can actually make a few bucks. What’s awesome is that all three of these things can be learned.

  • Quote of the week: “Success is not delivering a feature; success is learning how to solve the customer’s problem.” — Mark Cook, as quoted in The Lean Startup.

    In a world where we value shipping early and shipping often, we can often loose sight of the purpose of shipping. If you’re trying to build a business, grow an audience, and provide value to others, then what you ship should serve that goal.

    And I believe this sits in harmony with the idea of “scratching your own itch”. Because if what you’re shipping is a solution to a problem you face, then chances are very likely it’s a problem other people face as well.

    That’s a pretty wonderful place to be in. Where you’re simultaneously solving your audience’s problems and also building products you love and are proud of.

    If you’ve ever received an email from me where I asked you about your biggest challenge, now you know why. My aim is to get an understanding of what obstacles you’re facing and what tools I have in my tool belt that I can share with you to help you overcome those obstacles.

Four Lifestyle Practices

This week for Fantastic Friday I want to peel back the curtain a bit and share some personal notes.

I didn’t fully realize it until this week when it really hit me, but for the past several weeks (at least) I’ve been living with quite a bit of stress.

This morning I sat down and journaled out all the big projects going on right now.

Seeing each one listed out next to the others was eye opening.

The first thing I said to myself was: “Shawn, what were you thinking!?”

Now, people tell me that I write a lot about living a focused life. And so, in lieu of those topics, I think it’s important for me to share both sides of the coin: the things I do well and the things that I don’t.

(That’s why I shared about my own laziness.)

And so, today, for Fantastic Friday, I want to share with you a few of the small things I do to help keep my laziness in check.

Moreover, what I love about these things is that they also help during seasons of stress.

When you’re dealing with overwhelm, there are two responses. You either need to reclaim some margin back into your life, or you’ve just got to press on until you get the breakthrough.

If the latter, it’s helpful to have a few “lifestyle practices” to help keep you on track. Below are a few of mine.

Thanks, and enjoy your weekend!

— Shawn


1. Reading Daily

I read quite a bit during the work day, but also in the evenings. My routine is that every evening between 7 and 8pm I do something useful or productive. Such as reading, spending time with friends or family, or doing handy work around the house. That hour isn’t for cramming in yet more office work, but neither is it for zoning out.

(Side note: Right now I’m re-reading The Lean Startup. Highly recommended if you find yourself in the position of trying to build something of value while in the midst of extreme uncertainty.)


2. Writing Daily

When I start my work day, I make myself write before I do anything else.


3. Family Time and Weekly Date Night

As a type-A creative entrepreneur, it can be so easy for me to have work on the brain at all times. And combine that with a to-do list is literally never ending, and there’s always a reason to work long hours.

But I refuse to look back in 5-10 years from now and wish I would have spent more time with my family. Having boundaries around my work time and family time is a pretty no-brainer way of making sure work life doesn’t take over family life.


4. Journaling

I journal for the sake of recognizing and celebrating progress. It’s one of the best ways to build and keep momentum in your life.


* * *

Okay, one more tidbit…

Here are two quotes I use often throughout The Focus Course:

People do not decide their futures, they decide their habits and their habits decide their futures.” — F.M. Alexander

You will never change your life until you change something you do daily. The secret of your success is found in your daily routine.” — John C. Maxwell

By far and away, the best way to keep the needle moving forward in life is to have smarter “defaults” for how to spend your time and energy.

If you choose the right actions and attitudes long enough, they begin to choose you back. And you find yourself naturally gravitating toward the behaviors you want to do as a lifestyle rather than the things you feel like doing in the moment.

You can get clarity about your own “lifestyle practices” by going through the Focus Course. There’s a group (including yours truly) that are going through it together this summer. I hope you’ll join us.

A Confession

I’m lazy.

And I’ll tell you why in a minute.

If you recall, last Wednesday I wrote about why you should show up every day.

And then on Friday, I shared some thoughts on Hustle.

(As a side note, I received more feedback from last Friday’s article about hustle than on any other article in recent memory.)

Which is why today, and over the coming weeks, if you’ll permit me, I’d like to continue on in this conversation…

There are three projects in the works right now. All of which are designed to help you show up every day.

  1. Focus Camp: A group of hundreds of folks who’ll all be going through The Focus Course together.

  2. A special project I’ve been working on with my friend Brett Kelly (of Evernote Essentials fame) that we’ll be giving away for free to everyone that signs up for Focus Camp.

  3. Something else that I’m not ready to announce just yet.

* * *

Now, as I said, I’m lazy.

And I’m not being hyperbolic.

Every evening after my two boys go to bed all I want to do is eat ice cream and watch Netflix.

Or, in the morning, when I sit down to my desk with coffee in hand, ready to work. So often I’d prefer to browse the Internet until lunchtime.

But if I spent the first half of my work day surfing the web, I’d never get around to writing.

Which is why diligence is so critical to living a focused life and doing our best creative work.

Now…

What if I told you that you could “automate” hustle?

Or, in less nerdy terms…

What if showing up every day was a natural part of your routine?

Good news: it can be.

It’s hard at first because inertia is working against you. But it gets easier as you build momentum.

Diligence is a muscle you can strengthen. It’s a skill you can learn. A character trait you can cultivate.

If you choose something long enough, eventually it will choose you back.

On Friday I’ll share with you a few of the small things I do to help keep my laziness in check so that showing up every day is simply a part of my routine.

* * *

By the way, getting clarity and diligence is what The Focus Course is all about.

If you go through the course with a group of people I promise you it’ll be way more fun and it will be much harder to quit.

Please join me and several hundred more folks as we go through the course together starting June 8th.

Hustle Friday

You can’t throw a rock at the internet without hitting a webpage where someone is talking about hustle.

Ask Gary Vaynerchuk how he defines hustle and he’ll tell you it’s “maximizing the energy you put into what you are passionate about.”

In his book, he says that hustle is the one tangible thing people can do to change the direction of there lives.

If you want to turn up the hustle, you just have to spend more time doing whatever it is that takes you where you want to go.”

I’ve been thinking about this a lot.

And, well… I simultaneously do and don’t agree with Gary’s definition of hustle.

Yes, I’m all for showing up every day and I adore focusing on that which that matters.

Because the term hustle also carries with it a bit of baggage and the idea that sleep and rest are the enemy. So I gravitate toward the word diligence, even though, really, I see diligence and hustle as close to synonymous.

The truth is, we only have (at best) a capacity of 3-4 hours per day that we can spend on deep and focused work.

And so, in order to maximize the energy we put into what we are passionate about, we need to live a healthy (a.k.a. balanced) life so that the time which we dedicate to our work is as efficient and impactful as possible.

In a nut: checking email 30 times per day is not “hustling”.

For me, to make every minute count, means:

To make every minute count you’ve got to make every future minute count also.

And that means living a life today that won’t leave you burnt out and broke in 5 or 10 years.

— Shawn



Greg McKeown on Working Smarter, Not Harder

From his book, Essentialism:

What is the obstacle that is keeping you back from achieving what really matters to you? By systematically identifying and removing this “constraint” you’ll be able to significantly reduce the friction seeing you from executing what is essential.

Before we just try to throw more hours at something, consider first what obstacles may be keeping us back?

For example, if someone is watching 5 hours of TV every night, there’s a pretty huge opportunity for reclaiming that time to spend it on more valuable things.



Fizzle Show: Anti-Hustle →

The crew at Fizzle recently put out an excellent podcast episode regarding “why hustle hurts you”. It’s a balanced and thoughtful discussion about the value of resting well and being okay with not-yet-breakthrough results in our business or side project.



Why Srinivas Rao writes 1,000 words every day →

In short: momentum. But that’s just one of the plethora of benefits of having a deep work activity that you show up every day for.



Your’s Truly, Regarding Goals

This little tidbit is adapted from one of the days in Module Two of The Focus Course.

There are two “camps” when it comes to goal setting.

  1. On one side are those who champion for clear goal setting with a very intense, daily system for tracking your progress. This can be extremely helpful for the professional athlete, but it’s not always practical for everyone.

  2. On the other side are those who champion for little to no goal setting at all. The mantra here is that it’s all about the joy in the journey.

There is value and truth in both of these camps. When we have a clear goal, it’s a way to define what the fruit of our life’s values and vision may look like, and this gives us something to be motivated toward and work for. That motivated state helps us make progress toward the things that are important in life.

If you spin the phrases of “qualitative” and “quantitative”, you get this dual-sided approach to goal setting.

By defining your goals you’re giving yourself something quantitative to attain. And then you can build a quality-of-life-centric lifestyle that is based on the foundation of your vision and values.

In short, you’re not only moving forward in the aim of attaining a tangible goal, but you’re also finding joy in the process.

It works like this: Decisiveness brings motivation for action; action brings clarity; clarity helps us make future decisions.

To me, this is what hustle is all about. Working hard to reach for a goal while also taking great joy in the process. Casting off as many distractions as possible and living a focused (and healthy) life.

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