Life in Full Color

Blanc Media Core Values

When you’re living a focused life, it’s your personal vision and values that serve as the foundation for how you spend your time and energy.

Start with what’s important to you, and then use that to direct where you spend your time, energy, and attention. (Many people do it backwards, and they allow their time and energy to be spent on things that are important to other people.)

When you have core values as a business, they too can help drive the choices you make as you grow.

As you know, there are so many options for how you can grow your business or side-project…

Do you focus on awareness, traffic, conversions, subscribers, followers, opt-ins, downloads, customer lifetime value, customer satisfatcion, membership churn, new products, networking, hiring, or something else altogether?

And since there is no singular path to success, it’s not a cut and dry roadmap. Each business or side-project is unique in terms of why it exists and what stage of growth it’s in right now.

When you’re not sure what to do in a situation, your business’s core values can help.

Moreover, as your business grows, new opportunites will present themselves. Your core values can help you choose what to say yes to and what to decline so that your success doesn’t end up leading you to failure.

Our Core Values

Until recently, we didn’t have Blanc Media’s core values written down or articulated. Now that we do, I wanted to share them with you.

Practice Integrity

We follow through on our commitments. We put our audience and customers first and condisder it our responsibility to take care of them on an ongoing basis.

Be Transparent

We are honest. We teach what we know in order to help others who are on a similar path. We do not overhype or overexagerate our work, but neither do we downplay or undervalue it. By being transparent we hope to earn the trust of our audience and build customers for life.

Pursue Generosity

In business we always seek to provide value first and foremost, without expectation of return. We also seek to increase charitable donations every year so our giving grows along with our business.

Build Community

We create opportunities for people to connect in a vibrant community where they can connect with one another by sharing their challenges, opportunities, and successes; building a creative career is challenging, and a strong community can help mitigate the fears that go along with that. We are also building an internal team of employees and contributors who practice integrity and pursue generosity in order to create something greater than the sum of their individual abilities.


Last week my wife and I had our third (!) boy. His name is Benson, and he’s awesome.

Benson Blanc

Everyone is doing well, and there is much excitement here at the Blanc house. Benson’s older brothers love having this little guy around. We are all feeling full of love and thankful for this life we’ve been given.

You’ll find me sharing kid pics on Instagram and Twitter.


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

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.


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.

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.

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.

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.

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.


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.

Thoughts on Risk (Part 5)

risky doggy

Creativity and business are both packed to the rafters with risk. If you’re trying to do your best creative work or if you’re building a business, then you’re going to have to take risks.

But they don’t have to be wild, all-in bets. And, you can have fun in the process.

* * *

Risk is part of creativity

Have you ever found yourself staring down the barrel of a project, and you say:

This might not work.”

Hopefully that’s a common phrase for you. Because when you’re not sure if something will work, that’s when you know you’re on to something.

Perhaps the idea or the project itself won’t prove to be successful, but that’s okay. Merely trying something out that may or may not prove to be great is worth the effort.

Ernest Hemingway’s advice was to “write drunk, edit sober.”

Create without inhibition. Create without fear of failure; without mind for other people’s opinions; without fear of rejection; without feeling like an impostor.

Have fun.

As Derek Sivers writes in his book, Anything You Want:

Business is as creative as the fine arts. You can be as unconventional, unique, and quirky as you want. A business is a reflection of the creator. Pay close attention to what excites you and what drains you. Pay close attention to when you’re being the real you and when you’re trying to impress an invisible jury.

Risk will always be a part of the creative process. Because creativity is not a science — it’s filled with objectivity that changes from within and without based on the weather.

There’s no sure fire way to make something awesome. There’s no proven formula to go viral. There’s no such thing as literal overnight success.

Get comfortable with risk. When you know that risk is just part of the game, it helps you in your fight to stay creative.

Moreover, if you can be comfortable with risk in your creative work, you will, in turn, be more comfortable with risk in your business.

That’s important because…

Risk is Part of Business

Five years ago, when I quit my job and began working for myself, I took the “leap” to writing full time.

It’s called a “leap” for a reason.

Going full-time with my writing was a risk.

I was standing at the edge of a cliff. There was a gap, and there was another cliff across from me. I had to leap from not-full-time and hope made it across to the other side.

Standing at the edge, there was no bridge that was going to come build itself. I had gone as far as I could with the time and the resources I had available to me. I could either remain there in that spot, or I could take a leap and hope to make it to the other side.

So many people get get to that same spot. That spot where they’ve gone as far as they can with the time and resources available to them. But then, once they’re there, they stop and wait.

Who knows what they’re waiting for. More time? More resources?

It’s (probably) not time or money that’s the biggest issue holding them back. I think it’s fear.

However, that’s not to say you should throw caution to the wind. When I took the leap into my full-time writing gig, I most certainly did my due diligence and was prepared financially. (Which is a topic worthy of its own book.)

You’ve got to make sure you…

Minimize Financial Risk

When I quit my job, I had:

  • No kids, no debt, an emergency fund saved up, my wife had a part-time income.
  • My website was already making some money ($1,000 / month).
  • I also had a plan to front-load 90-days worth of income by having the membership subscription charge people quarterly instead of monthly.

The best-case scenario was obviously that I would be able to earn enough revenue to pay all our bills and keep writing full-time. Fortunately, that’s how things have turned out so far.

But the worst-case scenario really wouldn’t have been that terrible. If, after having given the writing gig my full-time attention for 90 full days without seeing any traction, I would have gone to get a part-time job somewhere and then returned to the drawing board.

Basically, if the membership model hadn’t worked out, it would have been embarrassing but not catastrophic.

Over the years, as I’ve slowly built a business around writing and publishing, I’ve continued to minimize financial risk by doing things like staying out of debt and moving at the speed of cash and saving up a business emergency fund.

But there is more at risk than just the financials themselves. You also want to make sure what it is you’re creating is actually of value to others. You want your creative endeavors to fly.

How can you do that?

Minimize the Risk of Failure

There are so many ways you can minimize the risk of your project failing. The way I know best is through consistently writing.

Writing helps you get your thoughts out onto paper. It helps you get your ideas in order. And it gives you assets you can use for your business and creative endeavors.

It’s also what you have to do first before you publish anything. Writing an article, a podcast outline, a video outline, etc. You’ve got to write if you want to publish content.

And, quite frankly, publishing content is one of the best things you can do to minimize the risk of your next big project being a flop.

By writing and publishing, you’re doing three huge things:

  1. Opening a feedback loop between you and your audience (the people who will buy from you, spread the word about your work, etc.).
  2. Giving away value and helping others.
  3. Establishing yourself as someone who is credible and who cares.

And so, yes, you minimize the risk of failure by showing up every day. It’s not about numbers, it’s about connections.

As Jeffery Feldman says (quoted from Austin Kleon in in Show your work!):

What you want is to follow and be followed by human beings who care about issues you care about. This thing we make together. This thing is about hearts and minds, not eyeballs.

Showing up every day, teaching what you know, and connecting with your audience by being honest is how you actually connect with folks.

Now that you’re comfortable with risk, it’s time to…

Celebrate Your Progress

When you’ve taken a risk, give yourself a high five. 🙌

Keep track of what you create, what you ship, what you sell, what you were expecting to happen, what actually happened, what worked, what didn’t work, etc.

I do this by journaling in Day One.

Celebrating progress keeps up your intrinsic motivation. It’s also an excellent way to keep track of your growth and lessons learned.

Because in a few months time, you’ll have forgotten all about that risk you just took because you’ll be on to the next one.

Which is why next week I want to share about how to set creative goals and actually make progress.

The risk part is just one big step. But then, after you’ve taken that initial leap — the first big risky move — what comes next is all the hard work of iteration.

Setting creative goals is also critical because you’ve got 100 ideas for inspiration. You need a goal so you know what to focus your time and energy on. Without creative goals, you’re like a wave in the ocean, being tossed to and fro with the wind.

* * *

This was part five in a series of articles I’ve been writing about creativity and entrepreneurship lessons learned after five years as a full-time self-employed writer. You can find the previous four articles here:

  1. Five
  2. Creativity and Entrepreneurship
  3. Consistency and Honesty
  4. Family Balance

Family Balance (Part 4)

Perpetual devotion to what a man calls his business, is only to be sustained by perpetual neglect of many other things.”

That’s Robert Louis Stevenson.

I love that quote for two reasons. Not only is it good life advice, but it’s also a word of warning.

To be perpetually devoted to something does require perpetual neglect of many other things. This is one of the huge themes throughout The Focus Course: finding clarity about what to focus and also what to let alone. (In the words of David Allen, you can do anything, but you can’t do everything.)

Stevenson’s quote is also a cautionary one. Among the most common regrets of the dying is having worked too hard and, in turn, neglecting relationships, values, and even their own happiness.

May devotion to our business not be sustained by neglect of our health, relationships, values, and even our own happiness.

* * *

I’ve got an “all in” type of personality.

When I’m working on a project or an idea Iget very single minded. I focus in on that project and I can hardly think about anything else.

It’s why I spent an inordinate amount of time trying out clickey keyboards.

It’s why I took 10 days off of work to move my family into a new home.

And, since building a business is a project in an of itself, I discovered early on that because of my “all in” personality my business had the potential to take over every other area of my life.

I want my business to add to the quality of my life. Not only is it something I’m building with long-term goals in mind, but it’s also something I enjoy working on today — right now.

While I’m a firm believer in the importance of showing up every day to do the work, after so many hours worked in the day there is a point where time spent at work is pretty much just wasted time.

How pitiful and ironic would it be if our creative work took over our time and attention so much that it suffocated the creativity right out of us?

* * *

For the past few years on my birthday, I have been writing down a retrospective of sorts into my Day One journal.

I write down what highlights I remember from the past year, what projects and events I was proud of, what things I regret having done (or regret having not done), and more. I also write down what I want to do more of in the future.

Examples of things from the past year I’m glad I did:

These are just a few things. And they remind me that the day-to-day minutia of running a business is necessary, but it’s not nearly as urgent as it often feels. And that I’m happiest when I’m on a memorable trip or event or else creating something of substance with a long-term shelf life.

Choosing something until it chooses you back

Last July, on my birthday, I wrote this in my Day One:

Life is almost entirely a series of small, nearly-inconsequential choices and moments. All the little things that I do (and don’t do) are what paint the picture of my life. If I want a different life, make a small change to sone thing and stick with it.

It’s a choice to live a life with healthy boundaries. It’s a choice to give our time and attention to the things that matter most.

And, probably the best way to learn how you best balance work and life is through trial and error.

Life will zig and zag. It will ebb and flow.

Something I can’t unpack right now is the idea that margin in your work schedule can actually give you the strength to take risks and have fun in the process.

Don’t let the boundaries between your work and family life be dictated by social expectations. Rather by authenticity to your goals, visions, and values.

P.S. The podcast interview I did with Havilah Cunnington was awesome. We discussed balancing family with creative entrepreneurship.

We Moved

As I type this, I’m surrounded by cardboard boxes.

My desk is temporarily crammed here in the corner of the guest room.

The Monument Valley soundtrack is playing (as always), but this time it’s via my iMac’s not-so-great, built-in speakers.

You see, we just moved.

tools, bin, life

I feel like the above photo sums up my life pretty well right now: a bunch of stuff packed into a bin; mostly construction tools plus my Baron Fig notebook and trusty pen.

Here in my “office” (a.k.a. the guest room), I see boxes of kids toys and books we haven’t yet unpacked. There are all of our picture frames and paintings leaning against the wall. Even a couple of lamps sitting on the floor.

To my right: more boxes! Pretty much my entire office is in those boxes. Cables, podcasting gear, even the books I’m currently reading (or at least was reading before we packed them up two weeks ago).

And all this is after I spent the past 3 days ruthlessly unpacking what was in this room. It’s a miracle we’ve slimmed it down to just the 10 boxes here right now. (Whatever you do, don’t look in the garage.)

* * *

It was a little less than 12 weeks ago that my wife, Anna, and I first had a conversation about moving. Now, three months later, we’ve sold our old house, bought a new one, and are moved in (ish).

It was a sprint. But we also had incredible fortune along every step of the way…

The first day we went out looking for houses with our realtor, we found the home we wanted. A few days later we put in our offer, and, despite it being a seller’s market here in Kansas City we were able to buy our new home for less than market value.

To sell our old home, the only fixing up we had to do was refinish the hardwood floors. When we listed it, we got 3 offers the first day and sold it for asking price in less than 24 hours after putting it on the market.

Despite everything going so smoothly, the process itself of moving has still been incredibly time consuming.

I completely underestimated how much time it would take to move.

I also underestimated how many boxes we’d need, how much would be left over to pack up or throw away after we got the obvious stuff taken care of, and how much time it would take to unpack.

Friends warned me about all of that. And I thought I had a pretty good grasp on the scope of work. But I was wrong.

And, the way things landed, we closed on our new on April 4th. The very same day as the 5-year anniversary of when I began writing at full-time.

I had a series of articles I had written out for that week to share what I’d learned after 5 years of being an indie writer and running a small business.

But the events surrounding our closing completely took over my time.

Our scheduled closing on the new house was delayed by 72 hours.

And the delay in closing had a whole slew of challenges that came with it, and it ate up all the margin I had in my work schedule.

I had to choose to take some unexpected time off of work in order to focus on moving and being as present as I could with my family during the transition.

Though I had planned ahead for my writing schedule, I clearly didn’t plan ahead enough. I ended up not writing for 10 days in a row. Which is why it’s been silent here for so long.

My apologies for the extended period of silence.

This morning is the first time I’ve been able to sit down and write in almost two weeks time. It feels great to be writing again.

Now that we’re past the craziness and things are slowly returning to normal, so too will my writing and podcasting schedule.

This week I’ll be picking back up where I left of with my series about creativity and entrepreneurship. You can catch the first three articles here, here, and here. And the timing is actually pretty great — on Wednesday I’ll be sharing about work-life balance and always keeping family first. Something I literally just walked through.

* * *


Also, on the nerdy side, I’ll soon be posting an update to my Sweet Mac Setup. Right now we’re still in the middle of building out my office space here at the new house. Though it won’t quite be my dream workspace, it will certainly the best so far.

Consistency and Honesty (Part 3)

A few days ago I asked this question:

Is there a path to creative success?

As I’m sure you know, the answer is yes.

Now, the definition of success varies wildly. But I like to define creative success like this:

The ability to do creative work we’re proud of and to keep doing that work.

By that measure, most of you reading this are already creatively successful. You just might not know it yet.

If there is a path to creative success, what is it?

Here’s part of it: Consistency.

Choosing to show up ever day.

Choosing to do the hard and frightful work, day in and day out. Not waiting for permission. Not waiting for inspiration. Not waiting for a faster, fancier, more expensive gizmogadget.

Whatever it is you want to do with your art, you have to show up every day and make something. Failing to do this will be your single biggest roadblock to doing your best creative work.

As you know, I’ve been at this full-time writing racket for 5 years now. And still, day after day, for 5 years, one of the biggest challenges is to get my butt in the chair and write.

Once I’m here, typing, the second biggest challenge is to be honest.

Because — as I mentioned yesterday — when it comes to creativity and entrepreneurship, I consider the most important advice I to be this: focus on consistency and honesty.

Consistency and honesty are, I believe, the backbone for how you can make a living as a creative entrepreneur / artist.

Consistency is important for two reasons:

  • First off, the internet thrives on patterns and regularity; showing up every day lets people know they can rely on you to be there. It also keeps things moving and is the “machine” you use to build your business assets and stock and flow content.

  • Secondly, even if you’re a talentless dweeb like me, writing (or doing anything) every day will help you become better at that craft.

Honesty is important because it’s how you build trust with others. (Obviously.)

Do you want to earn the respect and long-term attention of your audience? Be honest. Always seek to provide at least 51% of the value between you and your readership.

Regardless of how you serve your audience, always give as much as possible. It’s not about you, it’s about them.

Do this and you’ll be signing up to play the long game. By building trust and providing “preeminent” value, you’re proving to folks that you’re the real deal and you have something to offer.

Five years ago, when I first announced that I was quitting my job to write here for a living, I asked people to sign up for a subscribing membership at $3/month.

400 of you signed up the first day.

As much as I like to think you signed up because my sales pitch was awesome and heart-felt, the truth is that it was awesome and heart-felt… No, seriously, those of you signed up for a membership back in 2011 did so because I’d been writing consistently on my site for several years. Over those years I built up trust you guys — with my readership — and so when I asked for your direct support, it was an easy decision for hundreds of you.

A few years later, when I launched The Focus Course, 600 of you signed up in that first week. And it wasn’t because The Focus Course has an awesome landing page (Though it certainly does. Thanks, Pat!). It’s because I’d been writing about focus for so long that you guys trusted the course was not just snake oil.

* * *

To sum this all up:

  • People want to connect to the artist as much as (if not even more than) they want to connect to the art. That’s why a signed book is so much more valuable than the Kindle version; a live concert more memorable than listening to an album on iTunes.

  • Consistency means relationship building. Remember from 1,000 True Fans? This is where you connect with your readership, audience, customers, and provide ongoing value to them.

  • Consistency is also means doing the work every day. Never wait until you’re inspired to do the work because quantity leads to quality. (Which is a whole other topic we’ll dive into later.)

  • Honesty means making the choice to be transparent and genuine. Have fun.

Showing up to do the work every day isn’t easy. And there’s more to it than just putting your butt in the chair and writing for an hour.

You’ve also got to think about how you’re spending your time and energy when you’re not in the chair. Up next, I’ll be sharing about keeping life in balance.

Creativity and Entrepreneurship (Part 2)

Quitting my job to blog for a living was so embarrassing.

It didn’t seem like a “real job”.

People would always ask me questions like: “So what exactly is it that you do?” And I never knew how to answer them.

(Actually, I still don’t know how to answer that question.)

It’s been five years now, and I’m so glad I took that dorky risk.

As I reflect on these past five years and share what I’ve learned, my default is to focus on the creativity aspect. I love talking about how to show up every day or how to build an audience of awesome and smart people. I want to dive in to to the topic of doing our best creative work.

But over these past five years I’ve also learned about bootstrapping and running a business. I’ve learn the ins and outs of starting and building a business through experience, trial, success, and error.

There is so much involved with being an independent creative entrepreneur.

For one, you have to have the creativity side. This includes:

  • Finding own vision and voice for your creative work;
  • Showing up every day to do that work;
  • Being focused with your time and energy;
  • Staying inspired;
  • Having fun.

Creativity is critical. And, as we’ll get to another time, it’s so important to show up every day to do the hard, creative work.

But just as important as creativity is the entrepreneurial side…

  • You’ve can’t be so romantic about making money that you never get around to earning a dollar.
  • You have to be willing to take risks and experiment with new ideas.
  • You have to get good at making money.
  • You have to learn how to budget, project, save, invest, make a return, and live well beneath your means. Otherwise your business will never get the financial root system it needs in order to thrive.

Creativity and business chops. You need both.

Later this week I’ll be sure to share some of the things I’ve done over the past five years to make money. But first…

Knowing that both the creative aspect and the business aspect are so important, I want to dive into what’s I think is needed to write on the internet for a living.

(This could go for just about anything, really. Writing is what I know best, but this stuff goes for podcasts, newsletters, photography, etc.)

Basically, if I were brand new and starting out fresh… if I were giving advice to my past self… these would be the highlights of that conversation.

  • Show up every day: I’m going to touch on this more, but showing up every day is vital. This is how you strengthen your own creative muscle, it’s how you improve your skills, and it’s also how you build your audience. (Recommended reading: Show Your Work.)

  • Plan ahead: It took me years to figure this one out. You’ll do better work in less time with less stress if you know where you’re going. (Not sure how to have a plan for your creative work, The Focus Course will get you there.)

  • Invest in mentorship, learning, and courses: Because you don’t have all the answers, you have blind spots, and you need someone to cheerlead for you and help you figure things out.

  • Celebrate your progress: When you’re able to recognize that you’re making progress in your work, it helps you stay motivated. Also, journaling about your business and creative endeavors as you go through them today is an asset you can use in down the road as a sort of “advice to your future self”.

  • Sell stuff: You get good at making money the same way you get good at anything else: practice. So, sell early and sell often. This will help you learn about pricing, sales, and providing value to others. It also helps you to get comfortable with charging money for the work you do. Something many of us aren’t naturally comfortable with.

  • Automate / eliminate / delegate as much as possible: It seems everyone know says they waited too long before learning to delegate. This is a great way to break your broken workflow habits and free yourself up to spend your time better. And it’s not just for the sake of being more “productive” at work — it’s also so you can have more down time to rest, think, and be with friends and family.

  • The tools you have are almost certainly good enough: This one applies to the nerds in the room. I’m an incessant tinkerer. While it’s fun to always be looking for the next best thing, it’s also a huge distraction. Maybe it’s my old age, but I’m far more content with the tools I have today that I ever have been. If it works well and helps me do what’s important, then I’m not going to try and replace it just for the sake of change.

  • Always be honest and sincere: This is critical because the best way to build an audience is through trust. Being genuine and telling your story is how you build trust.

  • Work hard, but don’t work nonstop: Easier said than done for many of us. The ideas and action items are never-ending. That’s why I schedule my time off and even plan ahead for how I’ll spend that down time. Otherwise my tendency is to work on just one more thing.

  • Have an ideal reader / customer / client / fan: When I first began writing, there were two specific people who I wrote for. I would always gauge my articles and topics through their eyes, making sure I was writing something that would be interesting and helpful to them.

    Now that I’m working on building The Focus Course website, we’ve spent a ton of time defining what our ideal customer looks like. We’re using surveys, personal emails and conversations, and more. It’s a much different approach than just guessing or making stuff up, and it means we’re actually able to help people with what’s most important to them.

  • Take risks: Every time I’ve felt out on a ledge, not sure if something would work, it turned out pretty great in the end. This is not an advocation to be reckless, but it is permission to try something new.

  • Trust your gut: I don’t know about you, but I spend a lot of time second guessing myself. I question if I’m doing things right; if I’m missing something; if I’m even making progress. Other people can give advice and input, but to do your best creative work you’ve got to follow the dream in your heart.

    Not to go all Mr. Rogers here, but it’s true. If you’ve got an idea or a hunch that just won’t let go, then focus on it.

Which is why, if I had to boil it all down to what I consider to be the most important advice I have for creative entrepreneurship, it would be this: focus on consistency and honesty.

We’ll dive more into that one tomorrow.

Five (Part 1)

It was Monday morning.

My first day on the job. And I was completely underprepared with no idea what to write about.

I felt terrible.

That was exactly five years ago today.

What I did end up writing about has turned into a piece I return to often:

“Writing should be about standing behind your work and truly caring about what it is you have to say,” I wrote. “If you happen to be good with words then congratulations. Dispassionate beautiful prose, however, is still dispassionate. Or, as Anatole France put it, ‘a tale without love is like beef without mustard: insipid.'”

It has always been a challenge for me to write with honesty and passion.

When you put your heart into something and then get criticized for it, that hurts. And so, in a way, we shy back a bit and put just enough transparency into our writing to give it a hint of breath and no more.

To make it worse, once the economic success of this site hinged in no small part on the continued growth of a strong membership base, there was a sudden pressure to write for everyone all at once.

Not only did I feel a great expectation on my work, I had no clue what I would publish on that first day. Or what would come the next day or the next.

(I’ve learned that this is just one of the who-knows-how-many roadblocks there are to doing your best creative work. And that’s something we’ll definitely dive into more later this week because it’s so important.)

In that article from 5 years ago, I shared that though the pressures and expectations were new, I was intent on staying steady in my writing pursuits. I planned to continue doing the same writing with the same focus that had brought me the opportunity to write full-time in the first place.

Five years of that day-in-and-day-out work, here we are today. And things certainly look different.

Back then it was just me with just one website: Now there is a small team of us and a small network of websites:, Tools & Toys, The Sweet Setup, and The Focus Course. (Hi, Bradley, Chris, Stephen, Jeff, Josh, and Isaac!)

Yes, the scope of the writing has certainly grown. But I believe the focus of the writing has not.

That focus is still two-fold:

  1. To help you, the reader.
  2. To have fun in the creative process.

If you care about doing your best creative work, you’re in the right place.

I continue to look forward to iterating, improving, and generally upping the overall awesomeness of our humble network of websites.

Perhaps you’ve been here since the very first post. Or perhaps you are brand new to this site. Thank you! I am grateful that you’ve chosen to show up, sign up, and be part of this journey.

This week and next I’m going to be sharing stories and more about the past five years. We’re going to talk about the creative side as well as the business side.

After being in this racket for 5 years, I want to share what I see as the most important things about writing on the internet for a living. How to improve your craft. How to balance work life and family life when your work life is tied to the internet that’s in your pocket.

And, the elusive question I’ve been wondering about most for the past half-decade: Is there a path to creative success?

Just a Question

Next week my family is moving to a new home about 5 minutes down the road.

Anna and I are expecting our third child this fall (!). So we are about to officially outgrow the small home we’ve lived in for the past 11 years.

I’ve been thinking about this massive life transition — selling our current home, moving to a new one, having our third child.

And I was also just thinking about the past few months.

2016 continues to march on, one day at a time.

What were your plans for 2016?

What was one of your goals? Was there a hint of an idea of something you wanted to do?

Three months into the year… how are things going?

Today, I don’t have any answers or advice for you.

Just a question…

If you’re not yet where you were expecting be, what are going to do about it?

* * *

Speaking of 2016, for those keeping track at home, in just a few days — on Monday, April 4 — it will be the 5-year anniversary (!) of when I quit my job to start blogging for a living.

(Some of you folks have been reading my dorky writing for 5 whole years (maybe even longer). Wow, thank you!)

As I look back at the creative work I’ve done over the past five years, I feel proud of it.

But I also envision so much more that I hope to do, and so much more ground to cover in my skills as a writer and business owner.

And so all this has made me think about what it is that helps us get from where we are to where we want to be.

Not just for my humble journey, but for all of us.

How can you, dear reader, get from where you are today to where you want to be in 5 years from now.

Next week, let’s talk about it. See you then.

Dodging Meetings Like It’s My Job

Yesterday I shared with you about how I ended up as the marketing and creative director for a large Christian ministry.

In that role I had complete autonomy of my schedule. And I learned quickly that I had to set priorities and boundaries for my time, and choose how my time needed to be spent. If I didn’t then I would literally fail at my job.

Today, as promised, I want to share about some of the things I did to protect my time and stay in control when I was in the midst of a very busy office culture.

Tomorrow, I’m going to share about some of the things I do now to protect my time as a self-employed, work-from-home dad.

First, an aside about meetings…

What’s the deal with meetings?

Just about everyone I know seems to have a strong dislike of meetings.

Even the word… “meeting”… it sounds like “meatloaf” — another thing that many people have a strong dislike of.

I recently received an email from a reader who said one of her biggest challenges related to managing her time was dealing with the deluge of meetings:

I work on a team where there are meetings to prep for the meeting, and then meetings that come from meetings with follow up meetings for action items from the meetings. If you were to look at my outlook calendar you would see I rarely have blocks of time for focused work. It’s more like 30-60 minutes before the next meeting…

When I was the marketing director and leading the in-house design team, I was so afraid of having too many meetings. I treated meetings like fire. I knew they were necessary, but I didn’t want them to get out of control.

I also had to be careful about which meetings I allowed myself to attend. So often I’d spend an hour or two in a meeting with no outcome whatsoever. A literal waste of time. (I quickly learned how to spot time-waster meetings and began avoiding them at all costs.)

But meetings in and of themselves aren’t bad. (Same goes for meatloaf, too, actually. My wife has a meatloaf recipe that’s to die for.)

Meetings can be an invaluable tool for making forward progress.

The problem is that most meetings don’t result in progress.

Or, the forward progress is disproportionate to the length of the meeting.

Or the number of people in the meeting is 5x what it should be.

If you can relate, consider if there is something you can do about it. I’m serious.

What can you do in order to take control of your time at work?

You have a job to do. Are meetings and interruptions standing in the way of doing that job?

As I mentioned yesterday, when I took over as the marketing director, I had to get proactive with my time. That meant doing some crazy things to protect my schedule. And I’ll share those in just a minute.

But the reason it’s so important for you to have control of your schedule is that if you don’t, you’re not doing your job.

If your job is to work on a certain project but you’re also in meetings all the time, respectfully and honestly ask your managers which they’d prefer you do.

You can’t be a maker while working in a manager’s schedule.

Protecting Your Time is Always Applicable

After three years working as the marketing director, I quit that job in 2011 to work from my basement as a writer.

I’ve been writing full time for 5 years now. And so much of what I learned then about protecting my time still applies today.

Except these days, instead of protecting my time from meetings and interruptions, I have to protect it from shiny object syndrome and the incessant tug to peruse Twitter.

The things I learned also apply to my home life. So much of what I learned about being productive in the midst of a busy job also helped me with being productive once I became a dad. (Which, by the way, is something I talk about at length in the Time Management class.)

If you can get hold of a few basic skills for protecting and managing your time then you can use them in all sorts of seasons of life.

A Few Tricks

As promised, here a few of the tricks I used as the marketing director to thrive in the midst of that wild and crazy job position.

  • I would (politely) turn down meeting requests, even with people who were my superiors. When I was invited to a meeting I always tried to find out what it was about. And sometimes I’d ask to be excused if I felt that my presence there wouldn’t be valuable to the group nor to my own job.

  • I got one of those super-dorky bluetooth earpieces so I could call my mom more often. We had three different campuses. My office was at campus C but most meetings were at campus A. I drove back and forth often. And, in order to make the most of that 15 minute drive, I got a bluetooth earpiece so I could more easily have conversations while commuting. It was an excellent way to “meet” with someone over the phone. And it was great for catching up with my folks on a regular basis.

  • I’d schedule meetings with nobody. This was a trick I learned from someone wise. He would schedule meetings with nobody. What I mean is that he was always getting meeting requests. So, on his weekly schedule were two blocks of open time set aside for meetings. When someone would ask to meet, they would get slotted into the next available time.

  • I even scheduled meetings with myself. I needed at least 2 hours every day to work without distraction. So… I scheduled it. Then, if someone wanted to meet with me during that time I could tell them I already had something booked (because I did).

  • I worked from home on Fridays. Not only did I need 2 hours a day of uninterrupted time, I also needed one whole day of deep work. This was when I would do the sort of tasks such as planning, strategizing, etc. that should take a couple of hours minimum to really make meaningful progress.

    It seems like a pompous thing to say “I’m taking the whole day on Friday to work from home. Nobody call me.” But, it was the right thing to do. It was necessary.

    If I hadn’t taken time to focus on things such as planning and budgeting then my department would have ended up in big trouble and I’d have been out of a job.

    I had to take that time so I could focus on the important work and plan for our long-term goals and objectives.

When it comes to office culture and meetings, there’s this sense that if you’re not in the meeting your missing out. We think people who skip out on meetings are slacking off. When, for all we know, maybe they’re actually getting real work done. 😳

After I took the role as marketing director, I decided early on that I wanted the results of my work and the culture of my team to speak for my ability rather than my meeting attendance record.

Looking busy and being seen is a mighty poor substitute for doing work that matters.

Sadly, meetings and busywork are what so much of our corporate culture values these days. Because it’s what’s easiest to quantify in the short term.

* * *

Now that I work for myself, I have new tactics. But the ideas behind my tactics are still the same.

Next, I want to share with you what I do nowadays to keep in control of my time.


It was April of 2008. My wife, Anna, and I were driving to St. Louis from Kansas City.

Somewhere in the middle of nowheresville on I-70, I got a phone call.

There are a few moments in my life that I look back to as being keystone moments. Small events that signified and connected to something big.

This phone call was one of those.

Before I continue, let me give a little bit of context…

Just a few weeks earlier, my boss at the time had informally offered me her job as the Marketing Director for a large Christian ministry. We had met in her office where she told me she was quitting and asked me if I was interested in taking over her job.

The chance to be a leader? The chance to have my own office? The chance to pick my own hours!? You bet I was interested.

However, before I could “officially” be offered the job I had to be vetted and interviewed.

The vetting process took about a week. They had me come to a meeting where they asked me lots of questions. And they had a meeting without me but where they talked about me and the job I was up for.

I had no clue if they would actually offer me the job or not.

I was just a kid. Or at least I felt like one. I was a mere 27 years old. Everyone in those meetings had at least 10 or 20 years on me. Plus, I was a college drop out — I had quit after my freshman year to go play drums instead.

The final interview meeting was at the same time I was driving to St. Louis. They said they’d call me. And that’s the phone call I got.

I was ready. If they offered me the job, I knew I wanted to accept.

Though the job would mean more work, more hours, more responsibility, and more unknowns, I knew it would be a ton of fun. I knew it would be a huge opportunity to learn.

Well, they did offer me the job.

For the next three years I served in that role as the marketing director.

It was a trial by fire, and I loved it. The job, the team I was privileged to work with, the work we did — I’m so proud of it all.

I learned so much during those three years. I learned about management, team dynamics, budgeting, leadership, communication, marketing, audience building, and more.

But what I learned about most was time management and decision making.

I had to learn the hard way how to get good at spending my time.

I discovered very quickly that I alone had to be the one to take ownership of my time and attention.

I’d spent the previous 27 years of my life being told how to spend my time. From childhood, going to school, having a job — everywhere I went there was someone telling me when to show up, what to do, when to take lunch, when to go home, when to go to bed, etc.

But suddenly, in my new job as the marketing director, I had complete autonomy of my schedule.

I quickly learned that I had to set the priorities, the boundaries, and choose how my time needed to be spent. If I didn’t then I would literally fail at my job.

I’ll say that again:

If I hadn’t been proactive about taking control of my time, then I would have failed at my job.

This meant I did crazy things to protect my time.

And now that I work for myself, I have to be even more proactive with my time (though not quite as crazy).

I’ll share more about all of that tomorrow.

For now, think about this: Being in control of our time is a lot like keeping a clean house. A few hours of hard work over the weekend can transform a cluttered home into a peaceful space. The challenge is in keeping the home tidy on a daily basis (especially if you’ve got kids).

So too with how we spend our time. Once we get that initial grasp of control, the challenge becomes how to stay in control (again, especially if you’ve got kids). Staying ahead of the whirlwind. Keeping the time to do meaningful work even though our entire office culture seems to thrive on incessant meetings.

Next, I want to share some of the tricks I used as the marketing director to thrive in the midst of that wild and crazy job position.

How to Have an Awesome Holiday

pumpkin pie

1. Be Thankful

This seems like a no-brainer, right? But it’s not. At least, not for me.

When you’ve got time off from work, your family is in town, and you’re in a good mood, it can be easy to feel thankful. Which is awesome. So why not express that? Say it out loud.

Tell your family how awesome they are. Tell your spouse and kids how thankful you are for your family and this season of life.

2. Ask Your Spouse What is Most Important For Them This Week

I think we all know that a few days with a ton of food and a ton of family isn’t always a recipe for joy. Sometimes the holiday vacation is actually more work than regular life.

So, try this before you and your family head in to an action-packed holiday. Ask your spouse what it is that’s important for them this week. Then, no matter how busy or crazy the holiday may be, you and your spouse can fight for each other to make sure you each get to experience something that’s most important to you.

3. Use This Pumpkin Pie recipe

Seriously. It’s fantastic.

And, don’t tell anyone, but if you don’t want to use actual pumpkin glop from the pumpkin, canned pumpkin will usually do just fine.

4. Do Whatever Meathead Says

Want to make the most incredible turkey you’ve ever made? Just to go and do what Meathead says.

5. Read a Fiction Book

You know what else makes for a good holiday? A good book. Most days I’m reading non-fiction, but when I’m on vacation I read fiction.

I’m totally a fan of Tom Clancy and other good spy-thriller types of novels. (What?) Over the weekend I began reading Transfer of Power, by Vince Flynn.

I’m not yet sure if I like it. The book’s opening paragraph felt a bit overwritten to me (a fine line to walk with books like this where details and nuance not only set the scene but can play a huge role in plot development.) However, by the end of the first chapter I already felt connected with two of the main characters.

A few other favorite reads:

6. Get Your Christmas Jams From Pandora

If you think it’s too early for christmas music, you’re weird.

For the best stream of Christmas music that doesn’t suck, start a new Pandora radio station built on the classic 1965 album, A Charlie Brown Christmas.

Where Vince Guaraldi and his trio do some great Christmas songs. From there Pandora does the rest, and you get hours and hours of instrumental, jazzy Christmas tunes.

* * *

P.S. Thank You, Dear Reader

As I look ahead to the remaining weeks of 2015 and on in to the next year, I feel extremely excited. For one, the free class we’re doing next month is going to be fantastic, and my gut tells me that 2016 is going to be a lot of fun.

I’ve been at this full-time blogging racket for almost five years now. And that is thanks entirely to you, dear reader.

So, please allow me to take my own advice (see #1 above), and say out loud what it is that I’m thankful for: You.

And I mean it!

I am incredibly thankful that you would show up and read my dorky articles and my half-formed ideas. Some of you have been reading this site for years. Amazing! And not only that, you are generous enough to support my work so I can keep on writing dorky articles — something I do not take lightly.

Have a very happy Thanksgiving!

— Shawn

How I Stay Sane When Life Feels Extra Busy

Fall is by far and away my favorite time of year. There’s awesome about the combination of crisp weather, a lit candle, a hot drink, and a blank page to write on.

And here we are. It’s November! Except I’m not ready for it.

I feel as if I’m standing at the entrance to a tunnel and I can see 2016 coming down the track. But it’s moving too quickly for me and I feel unprepared and, honestly, a little bit anxious.

Between Thanksgiving and Christmas, the holiday season is busy enough in its own right. My wife and I will be hosting family here in Kansas City for the former, and we’ll be driving to Colorado for the latter. I can’t wait.

But, in addition to the holidays and family time, November and December are the two biggest months of the year for Tools & Toys and The Sweet Setup. Our website traffic and revenue during these months will be roughly 3 times that of any other month of the year. And we’re doing all we can to make the most of it. Over on Tools & Toys we just put up our annual Christmas Catalog post, and we also have a massive photography guide that is coming out soon. And over on The Sweet Setup we’re just finishing up a new ebook that we expect to publish in a week from now.

On top of that, I am making some huge improvements to The Focus Course for a “re-launch” of the course that will go live on January 1. Later this month I’m going back to the studio to record 50 new videos. 40 of them are for the Focus Course and 10 of them will be for a new training series I’m working on — kind of like an introduction to the Focus Course.

I’m sharing all this because you probably feel in a similar situation.

  • You’ve got several work-related projects (all of which are important).
  • You’ve got some personal projects (all of which you really want to make progress on).
  • You’ve got several books you want to read (all of which look awesome).
  • And you want to spend as much time with your spouse and kids as possible (especially with the holidays coming up).

You feel the tug of wanting to work on too many things at once and not knowing which to choose. This in and of itself can be stressful. It also can lead to procrastination and paralysis due to uncertainty and indecisiveness, which just compounds the issue even further.

“How am I supposed to get all this done?” You’re asking.

That is a great question. And you’re not the only one asking it.

By far and away, one of the most common challenges I hear from people is their challenge of having too much to do. Too many spinning plates. Too many important tasks. Too many areas of responsibility.

For me, I know that this current November and December are going to be an intense couple of months. It’s a perfect storm of holidays, family, and business opportunities. I don’t mind putting in extra hours to get all the work done now, because I know that this is not the norm for me. Come January and February, my workload will return to normal. This is the ebb and flow of work.

Sometimes, however, the overwhelming business is a sign that something’s broken. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, ask yourself if it’s because you’re on the edge of doing something awesome or is it life showing you that something needs to be cut out.

  • If the latter — you’re overwhelmed and you know something’s got to give — then do this: Take inventory of where you’re spending the bulk of your time and energy (not where you wish you were spending it, but where you’re actually spending it). Now ask yourself what can be subtracted to give your calendar, your mind, and your emotions some breathing room.

  • If the former — if you’re on the edge of breakthrough in a project — then sometimes the answer is to keep working and just hold on and persevere for the season. But don’t persevere to the detriment your health and relationships.

When you’re in an intense and busy season, what’s important is to keep your sanity and health. This way you ensure that you are actually making progress every day and not just suffering under the weight of being busy. This will also help ensure that when the busy season is over, you don’t hit a wall and get sick or depressed.

When life is at its busiest, is when it’s all the more important to be overly diligent and intentional with how you spend your time.

That said, here’s how I’m staying focused in my busy season of life:

  1. Making sure my day is filled with intentional work. Step one is knowing what to do and having a plan of when I’m going to do it. This is so important, that I’ve actually been spending more time managing my time. The days can so quickly get away from me that I’m upping my intentionality to make sure my daily and weekly schedule is providing me with the time I need to do the most important work.

    If I’m mostly in a reactive state — giving my attention primarily to the incoming inboxes of email and Twitter — then chances are I’m wasting time. Which is why I’ve been spending even less time than usual on email and Twitter…

  2. Dialing back on Twitter usage. I love Twitter. It’s a great place for conversations, dialog, and finding cool stuff. But it’s not where I do my aforementioned most important work.

    Which is why, for the past month, I’ve been using Buffer and Edgar as tools to help me post to Twitter. And then I’ve been setting aside time to jump in and reply to any conversations or questions. So far it’s been working out well as a way for me to stay engaged and active on Twitter while not getting too easily sucked in to the Black hole of the real time web and YouTube fail compilations.

    For me, this is just about the only “noisy and distracting area” that I have left to dial back. I don’t read the news. I don’t have Facebook. And I’ve hit pause on my RSS reading while I work my way through my current stack of books (which now includes 3 more since I took that picture).

  3. My “Now” Page. This is something I picked up from Derek Sivers, who created a page on his website, simply titled “Now”. On there he listed out the few things he is most focused on. Not just work-things, but life, hobbies, etc. It serves as a personal reminder to him about where he wants to be focusing his time as well as a public statement to others about what he’s doing (and what he’s not doing).

    I love this idea. I’m a big proponent of what I call meaningful productivity. Which just means you’re actually spending your time doing the things that you want to do. The problem is that most of us spend our time doing what we don’t want to do — usually just by default. We forget, we’re tired, or whatever, and so we just default into something (such as mindless email checking) that is not on our “now” list. The Now page can serve as a plumb line for you.

    And the other cool thing about having a publicly available “Now” page is that it gives a sense of accountability. You’ve told the world what’s important to you and how you’re spending your time, and now you need to keep that commitment.

  4. Recognizing progress. This is huge. When you’re down in the thick of it, one of the best ways to keep your momentum going is to recognize and celebrate the progress you make each day. I use Day One because it’s awesome. And at the end of the day I’ll write down the small wins from my day.

  5. Health. This is the one that goes out the window the fastest for me. Which is unfortunate, because it’s also the one that matters the most. A good night sleep, a diet that gives you energy, and some regular out-and-about exercise is so good for you.

All these things come together to help give space to think, to breath, and to focus on doing what’s most important.

But there’s more to it than just another listicle of tips and tricks and hacks for being awesome.

It ultimately comes down to taking ownership of your time and attention.

If you regularly find that you’re not able to do your best work in this season of life, ask yourself whose fault that is. Sometimes things are outside of our control. But more often than not, there is something we can do about it.

The person who is frustrated at how long it’s taking to write their book, yet is watching a few hours of television every day, may want to reconsider how they’re spending their evening.

When you take ownership of your time and attention, everything changes. It’s not easy, but it’s worth it.

* * *

And I would be remiss if I didn’t take a chance to mention just how helpful and powerful The Focus Course can be in this area.

I designed the Focus Course to guide you along a simple path that starts out fun and easy and then builds into something resulting in deep and lasting change. The course enables you to experience deep satisfaction in work and in life by making meaningful progress every day to accomplish that which is most important.

If what I’ve written about today hits home for you, but you don’t know where to start… then start here.

Relevancy vs. Recency

My friend, Sean McCabe, recently published a podcast episode talking about how to send valuable and relevant emails.

But the show was about much more than just email.

For me, the most valuable takeaway from Sean’s podcast was this:

“Relevancy is more important than recency.”

The context was that with email, what makes it so powerful is not the ability to send a recent message to 1,000 people right now. Rather, that you can send one single relevant message to one person at just the right time.

Sean posted his show almost a month ago, and I’ve been thinking about it ever since.

It pairs perfectly with another idea I’ve been chewing on: a business model that (surprise!) is based on providing the most amount of value to the most amount of people.

Which begs the question: What’s more valuable for your content: relevancy or recency?

Put another way, is the relevance of your content based on the content itself or the timestamp?

The Bias Toward “Fresh”

Be careful when you presuppose that the newer something is, the more relevant it is. While it’s true for many news sources, it’s not true of all content. Not even all the content published on the Web.

Our bias toward fresh content is a huge part of why we prefer Twitter over books, and TL;DR over long-form.

The real-time web is awesome, but it’s not the only source of information. Especially not so if we’re seeking to gain a deep understanding of a topic and expand our knowledge in an area.

Twitter is fine in its own right, but it’s a mighty bloodless substitute for learning.

Relevancy vs Recency for you, the reader

Last month I read Cal Newport’s book, So Good They Can’t Ignore You.

The book is not new — it’s three years old. But the contents in it were exactly what I needed to hear right now.

There were two huge takeaways from the book that gave me some clarity and insight into the exact challenges I’m facing right now in my business. Despite the fact that the contents of the book were not new, they were still very relevant.

For a book, we don’t really think too much about new-ness equating to relevancy. In fact, a three-year-old book is still pretty new. But for the (real-time) web, three years sounds like an eternity. When we go to a website, we want to know what is fresh and new — we assume that the newer it is the more relevant it is.

Obviously for a news website such as CNN, et al., the newest content is almost always the most relevant. But what about for the millions of other sites that don’t publish news? That are writing and publishing things without a shelf life?

hen you recommend a book, you don’t say “it’s old, but still good”. Yet, if you recommend an old website article (and by old I mean anything not written in the pas 12 months), it’s not uncommon to mention that it wasn’t written in the past 24 hours.

We have so many people writing incredible things on the web — it’s time to stop using the time stamp as the primary qualifier for relevancy.

And, for those of us who are creating great content for the web, it’s time to think more about how we can keep that content relevant for months and years to come.

Relevancy vs Recency for you, the writer

Long-time readers of will know that my pattern for writing has long been about “recency.”

The long-form software and hardware reviews I used to write were primarily valuable because of how “fresh” they were. And while many of those reviews still stand today, it’s only because they’re interesting and they can serve as a point of reference. They are’t exactly helping solve any problems or challenges you’re facing right now (that is, unless you’re considering buying a used G4 PowerBook.)

One down side to a Recency-Over-Relevancy mindset when it comes to content production is that it means much of what you create has a very short shelf life.

Consider if the content model you’re building on is focused on “new-ness.” If so, then it means that if you don’t have something recent, you don’t have anything at all.

I know this because it’s exactly how I approached the writing here on for the first six years. This website started in 2007 as a place where I could write about technology news.

But I’ve realized that “new-ness” is not the long-term game I want to play here. Even on Tools & Toys and The Sweet Setup, we are working to build a content strategy that’s not primarily dependent on “new-ness”. (But I’ll share more bout that another day.)

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The question I continue to re-visit is this: What can I do that will be the most helpful and provide the most value to you, the reader?

To peel the curtain back just al little bit, I know that the answer to that question is something far beyond some weekly emails, podcast episodes, and blog posts.

While the regular writing and podcasting I’m doing here is a critical component that keeps things moving, there are a LOT of past articles I’ve written and podcast episodes I’ve recorded that are still immensely valuable. Yet they’re buried underneath that reverse waterfall.

Someone new to this site is probably interested in what’s happening right now, but they are also likely to find immense value in the articles I’ve already written. Such as the those from earlier this summer regarding productivity and diligence, or the ones from last year about sweating the details in our work.

While I don’t have anything firmly in the works, yet, I do have a few ideas about what I could do to improve the relevancy of my content in a way that doesn’t put recency as the primary metric.

Some ideas include:

  • A redesign of the website that puts less emphasis on the reverse-waterfall blog and more emphasis on the most valuable content I’ve produced, regardless of when it was published.
  • Going through the archives here on and putting together certain posts and articles into a series around specific topics (such as writing, creativity, productivity, entrepreneurship, workflows, etc.)
  • Using the awesomeness of Active Campaign to offer training and relevant content on-boarding via email.

Basically, I’m looking at better ways of packaging and presenting all of my writing and podcasting into products and training materials (both free and paid) that can be as valuable as possible to you regardless of if you’ve been a long-time reader or this is the first article you’ve read of mine.

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To wrap this up, I want to thank all of you who support this site, show up to read, listen to the podcast, and share your thoughts and feedback. Many of you are brand new. (Welcome!) And many more of you have been around for months and years.

Thanks for reading. And thanks for letting me learn and iterate in public. I think it’s more fun that way, and I hope you do, too.

You are awesome.

— Shawn

P.S. If you want to stay in the loop with what I’m working on, you should join newsletter.

Just punch in your info below to get on the list. Every week I send out a short list of links to the best articles related to creativity, entrepreneurship, and the internet.

What’s Your Biggest Challenge?

I have a quick question for you:

What’s one of the biggest challenges you’re facing right now?

You can answer by clicking the link that feels most important to you right now:

“I want to do better creative work.”

“I’m trying to be more focused with my time and energy.”

“I’m trying to build and serve my audience.”

“I want to improve my tools and workflows.”

The reason I ask is because I want to help provide the resources, momentum, and courage you need to make meaningful progress in the areas of life that matter.

If you’re curious, I’m tracking the click-throughs on the links above. The way you “vote” for your biggest challenge is by clicking on it. Your feedback will give me insight about what to focus on in order to best help you.

Plus… As my way of saying thank you, once you click through you’ll discover that I’ve already hand-picked a couple of resources I believe can help you right now with the respective challenge you’re facing.

So don’t be chicken; click on one of the options up above.

And as always, thanks for reading and thanks for being awesome!

— Shawn

Concerning the Ebb and Flow of “Work”

As I write this, I’m preparing to spend a week in the mountains. And, in fact, by the time you read this I’ll already be in the mountains.

Up until this point, the entirety of 2015 I spent working on The Focus Course. Now that it has shipped, I’m taking some time away from work.

When you rest well, it should leave you feeling recharged and re-energized, ready to get back to work. I love to work. I love creating things and connecting with people. But work needs and ebb and and a flow.

I’ve discovered that I work best with seasons where my focus is solely on the idea and task at hand. Where I eat, sleep, and breath one particular project. And then, I need time away from work. To give my mind space to breath.

Perhaps you can relate, or perhaps you think I’m crazy, but taking time off isn’t easy for me. My tendency is to work, work, work.

Though I don’t let my work time come before my family time, I do have to remind myself that even my working hours aren’t all about “creating”. It took me several years before I realized it was just as important for me to read, study, and learn as it was for me to write, make, and ship.

In this short and sweet interview with Cameron Moll, he shares about his work and life as a designer and the founder of Authentic Jobs. I love this quote:

I was always building stuff with my hands growing up. Like always. Wood projects, go-karts, radio-controlled airplanes, that sort of thing. I think we underestimate sometimes just how much those kinds of activities, the ones that seem completely unrelated to our careers, play a vital role in shaping who we become and what we do with our working lives. The tools I use now in business are totally different from those I used in my garage twenty years ago, but in the end they’re all the same. They’re just tools that facilitate synthesis and creativity. And ten or twenty years from now, those tools will be totally different again. Mastery of creation and composition is much more important than mastery of tools.

I love that sentiment: “Mastery of creation and composition is much more important than mastery of tools.”

Here, Cameron is talking about the tools we use to build things. But I believe that this could also be applied to our workflows and our lifestyles as well. That mastery of creation is much more important than mastery of workflows.

We often ask people about the tools they use to get the job done. We’re curious about their work routines, their schedule, their priorities, etc.

But we rarely ask them what they are doing to stay sharp. What do they do in their off time? What hobbies to they keep? What does their family life look like? How do they spend their free time?

Who we are and what we do when we are away from our most important work is just as important as the energy and focus we give to doing that work. Because we are who we are, everywhere we are. Eating a healthy meal, having a good night’s sleep, telling our spouses that we love them — all these things impact the quality of the work we produce.

The lines between work and life are much more blurry than we like to imagine.

Another article I read just recently is this story about how William Dalrymple writes his books.

It takes Dalrymple 3-4 years to write a book. The first 2-3 years are spent reading, researching traveling. Then, the final year is spent writing.

Dalrymple shares about how his writing year is “completely different from the others”. He stops going out much. He gets up at 5:30 every morning to write. He works out in his back shed where there is no internet connection. He doesn’t look at his cell phone or email until after lunch.

In the final year I go from a rambling individual to almost autocratically, fixatedly hardworking and focused and that is the one discipline of being a writer. One year in four or five you are completely eaten up by the book. If it’s working, you’re really dreaming it, it’s not a figure of speech, it’s a literal thing. You’re harnessing the power of your subconscious.

As artists we so often hear about these seasons of other artists’ lives: the intense, focused, eat-sleep-work seasons. And we think that this is what life is like all the time.

But it can’t be. Dalrymple couldn’t spend a year focused on his writing without the preceding 2-3 years of reading, researching, and traveling.

You have to be inspired first before you can create.

You have to learn before you can teach.

You have to experience before you can share.

There is no shame in taking time “off” of your work, in order to learn something, experience something, and be inspired.

This is the ebb and flow of work. This is having multi-year cycles where we grow in our mastery of creation beyond just mastery of tools and workflows. This is why resting well is so valuable and why learning, thinking, and discovering cannot be underrated.

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P.S. Just a side note to mention that the challenges of work-life balance, fighting a sense of overwhelm, and giving ourselves space to think and margin for thought are all foundational topics to The Focus Course. If this article hits home for you, I bet you would find immense value in taking 40 days to work your way through the course.

Monday, July 13

Speaking of zigging and zagging, Kyle Steed wrote an excellent article to accompany an equally amazing mural he illustrated.

Go Big and Go Home - Kyle Steed

We can’t have it all. This is true. At one point or another we must all decide what is more important in life. But I believe there does exist a balance in life whereby we can create amazing things and still create an amazing life at home. […]

I have seen firsthand the examples of how success can intersect with family and there’s no looking back.

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