Before we dive into this week’s top four links, I have a challenge for you.
It’s Friday. Which means the weekend is upon us. And then, in just a few short days it will be Monday.
What’s your general attitude toward Monday?
Me? I happen to love Monday. I have looked forward to Monday for years. Because it’s the first day of my work week. (Of course, I love the weekend, too. I love them both. The workweek and the weekend — they’re both favorites.)
There are so many folks who hate Mondays. If that’s you — if you’re not a Monday person — think about how you normally spend your weekend.
My challenge to you is this:
Take this weekend and do one thing that will help you feel rested, recharged, or energized. I call this “resting well”.
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Now, on to this week’s Fantastic Friday links…
I’ve listed below four of my favorite email newsletters.
Each of the newsletters below are ones I read every week. I almost always find a helpful, interesting, or otherwise clever tidbit in each one. Enjoy.
Corbett Barr’s weekly email newsletter, Lifestyle Business Weekly, is a roundup of links relevant to the indie entrepreneur. Each week I find at least one or two articles in there that are interesting or helpful to me. Usually related to business growth, personal productivity, content marketing, or something similar.
+ And, speaking of Corbett Barr, I had the honor of interviewing him for my podcast a few weeks ago. We spoke about building an audience, building an online business, doing your best creative work over the long-run of a decades-long career, how to focus on doing the work, and more. You can find that podcast episode here.
Chris Bowler’s email, The Weekly Review, is a must read for me. It is, perhaps, the single most delightful thing to grace my inbox every week.
Chris is a clear thinker and a clear writer. Every issue of his newsletter contains easy-to-read and thought-provoking commentary on the creative life, online publishing, personal productivity, and more. He also includes a few sidebar sections with cool quotes, reviews of coffee or beer, and more.
I don’t know how they do it. MacStories Weekly is a feat in and of itself. If this was the only thing Federico and his team published each week, I’d be impressed. But no, they also publish an incredible website.
MacStories Weekly is a members-only newsletter. It’s $5/month to subscribe. It comes out every Friday (yay, Friday!) and is jam packed with app reviews, Q&A, tips and tricks, links, and more.
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P.S. A couple of months ago, my trusty coffee grinder died. I replaced it. And, while I was at it, I figured I’d try out a new coffee brewing gadget as well. I’ll tell you all about it in next week’s edition of Fantastic Friday.
You may remember a few weeks back when I shared my top four writing tools.
That article brought about some additional questions from folks regarding my writing workflows, etc. And so I’m going to answer those questions here.
If you have any additional questions you’d like to see in this article, just ping me on Twitter.
A Brief Aside About “Workflows”
Eleven years ago I bought my first Mac. And I also bought my first copy of Photoshop.
But those tools, in and of themselves, didn’t make me a designer. It took me a while to figure out what I was doing, and a little while longer to start doing any actual design work for clients.
The tools in and of themselves don’t make an artist.
Which is why, in some ways, talking about tools and workflows isn’t all that productive. Because it’s not about the tools we use.
Rather, it’s our tenacity to show up and do our best work every day. It’s that fight to stay creative that makes the difference.
I myself have gleaned so much from hearing about other people’s creative process. In part because hearing about someone else’s process helps remind me that we’re all just folks.
Moreover, I have improved many areas of my own workflows by hearing how someone else gets the job done. And so, hopefully, today I can give you some ideas and motivation of your own.
Q: When you started out, what was your hardest challenge when posting regularly?
The hardest challenge to posting regularly was knowing what to write about. I used to do it all wrong.
I would sit down in the morning with no plan about what to write about.
In part, this was because most of the things I wrote about were related to the current tech and design news cycle. But also, I just didn’t have a plan. I hardly ever thought ahead.
So, each day, I first had to observe what the latest happenings were in the news. Then, if anything cool was happening, I’d write about it or link to it.
Since I didn’t have a plan for what to write about, I also didn’t have a set time to write each day.
My approach since then has changed significantly.
For one, I no longer write about the latest in tech and design. I am still deeply interested in these topics (hence running two entirely other websites dedicated to them), but now, when I do write about them here on shawnblanc.net, it’s with a focus on doing our best creative work.
These days, my biggest challenge to writing regularly is the work at the beginning of the month to map out my editorial plan for the upcoming 3-4 weeks.
Some of the best — and most profitable — writing I’ve done has been a result of having an overarching theme and then showing up consistently to write about it.
My advice for those wanting to write regularly is simple:
- Have a plan for your topics in advance.
- Have a set time each day for when you will write. Thirty minutes is more than enough to get started.
With those two things in place, all that’s left is to show up and do the work.
Q: As you write The Note the night before, what’s your big picture for what to write about?
(Quick context for this question: as you may or may not know, at the end of my work day, I leave a note out for the topic I’m going to write about tomorrow.)
As I mentioned in the answer to the previous question, the big picture for the note comes from planning ahead.
For example, in January I spent several weeks on the topic of Margin. Over this period I wrote a slew of articles and podcast episodes.
But, before I began writing and publishing, I first sat down to plan it all out. This included figuring out what topics I wanted to cover, what order I wanted them to be published in, etc.
Then, once I had that plan in place, I just made sure I was writing each article ahead of time so it could be published according to my schedule.
For another example, over the past month I’ve been writing about workflows and time management. This topic was chosen in direct response to feedback I’ve received from my readers.
I asked members of The Focus Course and The Elements of Focus class what they were most challenged by. One of the most common areas of feedback was related to time management.
So I took that feedback and built a class just for them.
What’s great about this approach to writing is that it’s like writing with the lights on.
I’m not guessing about a topic. I’m not wondering if what I have to say is relevant to my readership. I know for a fact that I’m directly answering their questions and helping them as much as I possibly can.
It makes it easier for me, as a writer, because then I’m not pining for inspiration. And it makes my work more valuable to you, the reader, because I’m doing work in direct response to your challenges and interests.
Q: Where do you capture your ideas?
All of my ideas go into Simplenote.
I’ve been using Simplenote since the Stone Age. Back when the only other alternative was the iOS notes app that used IMAP syncing and it’s Legal Paper plus Marker Felt aesthetic.
This was back when dinosaurs still roamed free. There was no such thing as a Retina display. And the App Store was not yet packed to the rafters with markdown note-taking apps powered by Dropbox-sync.
What I love about Simplenote is that it’s fast and reliable.
I have hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of notes. I’ve been using it for the better part of a decade. And I’ve never lost a single character of text.
Simplenote is ridiculously fast. Especially when it comes to searching for a past note. I can find just any note in about 5 seconds or less.
Now, as for the whole idea capture thing… in addition to Simplenote, I also use a Baron Fig notebook. Since so much of the work I do is with pixels, I love to have a pen and paper nearby as well (more on this in a bit).
But, perhaps ironically, I treat my digital notes as the “official” copy and my analog notes as the temporary one. Most ideas that I write into my Baron Fig get copied into Simplenote.
All this to say, when it comes to capturing ideas, the tools aren’t all that important.
What is important is that you’ve got a commitment to coming up with as many terrible ideas as possible. Beyond that, all you really need is somewhere to put them so you can get back to work.
(Side note: If you need some help with scheduling and time management, I’ve got just the thing.)
Q: How do you schedule your posts? What is the frequency of your posts?
With Tools & Toys and The Sweet Setup, we manage our editorial calendar in a shared iCal (do people still say iCal?) calendar.
For all the writing and podcasting I do on shawnblanc.net, my editorial calendar is a giant sheet of self-stick easel pad paper, with the month drawn out and then yellow sticky notes on the dates with the articles.
This sticky note calendar is a new change to my writing and publishing workflow. Because, at the beginning of this year, I hired my first full-time employee. Isaac and I work out of the same office, so we have the month’s calendar up on the wall.
Right now my posting frequency looks like this:
- Monday: Sometimes I publish an article, not always.
- Tuesday: Shawn Today podcast episode
- Wednesdays: Newsletter (and corresponding article if nothing was published Monday)
- Thursday: Shawn Today podcast episode
- Friday: Fantastic Friday
For one, as long-time readers have observed, over the past year and a half, my publishing frequency has changed quite significantly. I write less frequently, but mostly publish articles (as opposed to articles and links).
Also, as a side-note, I’m beginning the work of making some massive changes to The Focus Course website. Instead of the website being home to only one course, we are working to expanding what the site can do and the types of content we publish there. But more on that another day…
All that to say, my editorial schedule seems to always be in flux. It’s an ongoing experiment in how to best balance the ideal output for myself with the ideal pacing and content topics for you, the reader.
Q: Does markdown help you write?
I write everything in Markdown. Even personal emails and text messages.
What’s great about Markdown is, as John Gruber said himself, it’s the feel of it, not the think of it.
Markdown is far faster to write than HTML and it’s easier to read.
Q: Do you shuffle Monument Valley every morning or listen straight through? Is it on repeat?
(A little bit of context to this question: I listen to the Monument Valley soundtrack every morning as my “writing music”.)
To answer the question, I listen to it straight through, on repeat. (It’s playing right now, in fact.)
Since I usually write for a couple hours each day, I probably listen to the soundtrack at least 2-3 times through. And (doing the math…) I’ve first began listening to this album in early 2015. So, gosh, I’ve probably heard this soundtrack well over 1,000 times.
Q: How do you use OmniFocus with a physical notebook?
The short answer is this:
- OmniFocus is where I capture all of my to-do items, and it’s where I put everything with a due date in the future.
- My notebook (a Baron Fig confidant) is where I write out my tasks and schedule for each day.
What that looks like in practice is that each morning I sit down with my notebook and OmniFocus.
First I write down my one or two most important tasks. Then I open up OmniFocus to see what (if anything) is due today. Then I schedule out every minute of my day.
I usually schedule a 30-60 minute window for doing “OF Admin” which is a time to work through the administrative or miscellaneous action items that are in my OmniFocus to-do list.
More Writing Resources
If you’re on the hunt for additional resources on writing, here are some recommendations:
My friend, Sean McCabe, has a course coming out soon. It’s called Supercharge Your Writing, and it’s for anyone who has a product or service they sell and wants to improve their writing chops in order to grow their business. (It’s the kind of course I wish I’d had put together first.)
Stephen King’s book, On Writing, is absolutely fantastic.
Also highly recommended is The War of Art by Steven Pressfield.
And, if you have any further questions beyond what’s here, just ping me on Twitter.
The first five minutes are the hardest.
To prove it, I just set a timer for five minutes.
You see, I’ve been thinking about this article all day.
Yet, despite all the mental preparation I’ve done for what needs to be written, now that I’ve sat down to do the work, I’m very disappointed to discover that it’s still not writing iteslf.
So, as I said, I set my timer.
I can muscle through.
Write anything and everything I want. Just keep writing for five minutes until I find a flow.
By the time my five minutes is up, the writing won’t be so hard. And then I’ll have the momentum I need to finish out the whole article.
You’re smart. And I bet you’ve figured out by now that the Five Minute Rule goes for so much more than writing.
Those five minutes it takes to crawl out of bed and into the car to drive to the gym…
The first five minutes of brainstorming for a new project…
The first five minutes of a new logo design…
You get the idea.
Any time we’re sitting down to focus on something other than the television, it takes time to warm-up to the task.
This warm-up time is also known as “activation energy”.
Activation Energy refers to the energy required to start a new task. Which, for the record, is always more than the energy required to maintain that task once we’re in the zone.
It’s not unlike sending a rocket up to the moon.
That rocket burns tons and tons of fuel just to get itself into orbit. But then, once that momentum is established, the amount of energy needed to stay on course is a fraction of what it took to get off the ground.
(And there’s my timer… Let’s keep going.)
What if you could set things up in advance so that you didn’t have to expend so much energy to get started?
If we know that the first five minutes are the most challenging, then the smart thing is to make those first few minutes a little less challenging.
You do this by reducing the activation energy.
Which is a nerdy, science-y way of saying:
Do something today that will make life easier later.
It’s right in line with the advice of my sweet and wise grandmother. “Don’t put off to tomorrow what you can do today,” she said.
My friends, this is also my single most important piece of advice to those of you wanting to get more control of your time and attention.
If you can get ahold of that concept then it will help you to be more proactive.
It will help you build up your personal integrity.
And it will make your day-to-day life’s work that much easier because you’re building your own momentum.
What is something you can do today that will make your life easier in the future?
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P.S. Just a quick reminder that my class on time management is now available on demand.
Hello, and welcome to this week’s edition of Fantastic Friday.
Life in Kansas City has been a bit busier than normal. For one, earlier this week we launched a new class on time management. The response so far has been awesome, and I’m so thankful to all of you who have signed up and help spread the word.
Also, I have some exciting personal projects happening right now. I’ll definitely share more info once things settle down, but it’s been quite time consuming to say the least.
That said, this week I wanted to share four books that I’ve been gleaning from lately.
As you may know, I’ve been going through this book on my members-only podcast, Shawn Today. The Four Disciplines of Execution (a.k.a. 4DX) is about how to make significant and routine progress on your wildly important business goals. It’s designed for teams, and it outlines four “disciplines” that you incorporate into the way your company works in order to drive progress, reach goals, and boost morale.
As I mentioned above, my family has some exciting things going on. Let’s just say that this book is once again proving to be helpful. Even more so than when I first read it last year.
This book by J.D. Meier is fantastic and jam packed with ideas and practical systems for managing time and priorities. This book, combined with the ideas in The One Thing (see next book rec.) were both significant influences for what I put together in A Focus on Time.
This book by Gary Keller was one of the best books I read in 2015. It’s a very easy-to-read book with a massive takeaway about simplifying and focusing on the most impactful ways we can spend our time and energy.
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In other news: Over on The Sweet Setup we refreshed our pick for the best general purpose weather app. Over on Tools & Toys we reviewed the Amazon Echo. And the early-bird pricing for the time management class ends on Monday.
My grandmother loved to print out inspirational quotes and phrases.
She’d either put them into the picture frames she bought at garage sales, or she’d just tape them up on the wall or refrigerator.
There was one printout in particular that I still remember well.
It had some of her values — the things she tried to live by.
They were short phrases:
“Be the first to say hello.”
“Compliment three people every day.”
“Live beneath your means.”
“Let the first thing you say brighten everyone’s day.”
“Always think the best of other people.”
“Don’t put off to tomorrow what you can do today.”
Lately I’ve been thinking about that last one…
“Don’t put off to tomorrow what you can do today.”
…and I think I may have had it wrong.
* * *
My grandmother knew that tomorrow would have enough craziness of its own. So her advice was to not put things off if you can do them today.
But I always thought of that in the context of work…
My grandparents started a new business in their late 50s. After they sold that one, they started another.
My grandfather — who lived to be 100 years old — told me that he tried to break a sweat every day.
If my grandparents had anything, it was work ethic.
But her advice wasn’t just about work and business.
I think it was also about relationships, finances, and more…
Don’t put off encouraging someone else if you can do it today.
Don’t put off living beneath your means if you can do it today.
Not that I’m going to print out an inspirational quote anytime soon.
…but I do need the occasional reminder to be proactive with my time and energy if there’s something I can do about it today.
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P.S. If you also want to get better at doing what you can rather than putting it off, then I think this new class could help you tremendously.
And I have something awesome for you.
My brand new class on time management is here.
This is not your typical “nerdy schedule party” type of class.
Because, the thing with managing time is that… you can’t.
You can only ever spend it.
For the past couple months I have been putting together a class on time management. It will be available tomorrow.
The class was originally built in response to the feedback I’ve been receiving from those taking the Focus Course and the Elements of Focus. That, after completing the course, the topic people still wanted more training on was how to manage their time.
Since announcing the class a few weeks ago, we’ve received hundreds of emails from folks who are sharing their biggest challenges and struggles related to time management.
Because of the volume of feedback, the content of the class grew to more than double what I had originally planned.
There is a complete table of contents below, but some of the main themes addressed within the class include:
- How to create a time management system that works.
- How managing your time can empower a spontaneous and open schedule.
- How to get breathing room in your day.
- The importance of valuing relationships over efficiency.
- Using your time to do work that matters and build your business, side project, etc.
- Surviving in a meeting-loving, urgency-centric office culture.
- And so much more…
The class consists of 30 MP3 lessons which add up to 5 hours worth of audio.
It also includes 7 PDF worksheets you can use for getting clarity about your time and scheduling your day.
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Here is a complete breakdown of the class contents…
A brief intro to the class and what to expect.
2. Meaningful Productivity
Any time I talk about focus, diligence, or productivity I have to lay the groundwork first. And so, before we dive into the nitty gritty, I give an overview of why it’s important to know what’s important to us in the first place.
3. Time Management Cliches and Myths
We all know that time management is a subject as old as… well… time. So let’s address some of the long-held cliches and myths head on.
4. Setting Goals and Priorities
As Benjamin Franklin said, “Do not squander time, for that’s the stuff life’s made of.”
Ultimately, managing your time is unto something — it’s a means to an end. And that end is the living of life. How we spend our time is, quite literally, how we are living our life.
Therefore, if we’re gong to focus on time, it helps to have an understanding of how to properly set goals and priorities.
5. Overcoming Specific Time Management Challenges and Struggles
Based on the hundreds of emails we received from readers interested in the class, we compiled the most common challenges and struggles and addressed them directly.
- How to Make the Most of Our Time
- How to Get a System That Works
- How to Estimate How Much You Can Complete in a Given Timeframe
- How to Keep From Overcommitting
- How to Be On Time More Often
- The Tyranny of the Urgent
- How to Thrive with a Variable Schedule
- How to Overcome Procrastination
- How to Deal with Distractions and Interruptions
- How to Create Margin for your Time
- How to Keep Your Schedule
- How to Be Productive at Home
6. Time Management Strategies and Tactics
In addition to addressing the above specific challenges, I share over a dozen specific strategies and tactics to help you with your own approach to time management.
The best Time Management system is one that empowers you to spend time doing the things you want and need. These strategies and tactics are practical advice you can use right now to get control of your time without having to memorize some sort of new-fangled, massively-complex productivity system.
- Quick Wins, Strategies, and Tools for Time Management
- Planning Long — and Short — Term
- How to Create a Time Budget
- The Note
- Attention Charter
- Pomodoro Technique
- Themed Days
- Media Consumption
- Automation and Delegation
- Accountability and Community
- Cognitive Energy and Saving our Strength through the day
- Better Defaults and Spending Down Time Smartly
- Honesty, Clarity, and Action
- Time Management: Recap (The Main Points)
Accompanying Schedules and Worksheets
- Attention Charter
- Annual Work Plan
- Annual Family Plan
- Monthly Plan
- Weekly Schedule
- Daily Rest and Work Focus
- Daily Schedule
Tomorrow (Tuesday, March 8), at 10am EST, the class will become available.
When you sign up, you’ll have access to all the MP3 and PDF files at once. You can go through them at your own pace in order, or listen to the individual lessons that are most relevant to you now.
Update: It’s available now.
Everyone wants a time management system that works. One they can stick with. One that’s not a pain in the butt.
What does that even mean?
A system that works, looks like this:
- It empowers you to do the things you want and need to do.
- It aligns with your personality.
Without those two characteristics, your “system” will be little more than a burden.
That’s why I use paper. Even though it’s far more convenient and modern to use a digital system.
Keep this in mind:
- Time management (and focus and diligence, et al.) is an ever-moving target. As seasons of life change, and as priorities change, it helps to make sure you’re still spending your time well.
- There’s not a “one size fits all” system. What works for that girl over there may not work for you, and what works for you may not work for others.
- Being focused with your time takes work. (If you’re looking for something that requires no maintenance, no thought, and zaps you into an organized, stress-free, productive individual let me know if you find it.)
The reason I use a pen and paper is because I enjoy it. The analog aspect adds a bit of joy, which, in and of itself, is enough grease for the skids to keep me on track with using my system.
I’m also stubborn enough that I stuck with my system long enough that it became a part of my day, and it’s no longer something I have to fiddle with. If you’re trying to incorporate something new into your life, it may be a few months before it takes root.
The details of how I manage my time, while they may be interesting, they aren’t all that important. It’s the underlying principles that inform my time management system. Ideas that can be used in any time management system no matter how busy or not someone is.
Diligence and focus are not personality types; they are skills that can be learned.
As I mentioned yesterday, working from home brings a whole slew of unique challenges related to time management and focus.
We already know that busywork is a poor substitute for doing work that matters.
When you work for yourself it is so much easier to get caught up in the busywork.
I discovered this first hand about a year and a half ago just after our big relaunch of the new Tools & Toys website.
A couple of months after the relaunch I realized I was spending the best parts of my day checking traffic and affiliate stats. What a total waste of my time!
So I made some big changes to my day. I’m going to share some of them with you in a second.
My history with tasks and time
Lest you get the impression that I am a naturally organized and administrative person, I’m going to let you in on a little secret:
As a kid, my room was once so dirty that my parents literally brought in the snow shovel to help me clean up all the toys on my floor.
When I got older, I kept track of important things by writing them on my hand.
It wasn’t until I was in my early 20s that I even began to care about tidiness, organization, being reliable, etc.
I used to see a schedule like a jail cell. I considered schedules to be constricting and prohibiting. I thought a schedule would keep me from having fun or living a spontaneous and free life.
Actually, it’s the opposite.
Managing your time is liberating. (Just as a budget liberates your finances.)
A financial budget empowers you to spend your money on the things you want and need.
And a time budget — a.k.a. a schedule — empowers you to spend your time doing the things you want and need to do.
The key to success? Diligence.
It was five years ago that I quit my job to begin writing full time.
There are many things which have contributed to my ability to continue writing (as opposed to crashing and burning and having to go get a job at Starbucks).
But, by far and away, the most important component to building a business is diligence.
It’s more important than money, talent, relationships, audience, tools, or anything else.
Those resources and assets are all very important to be sure.
But unless you show up every day and give focused time on the most important work, you’re not actually building anything — you’re just shuffling the cards.
Without taking control of my time, there’s no way I’d still be here today, writing for you from my basement office.
But I think these are probably three of the most important “practices” which help me stay diligent with my writing.
I mostly ignore email. Just ask anyone who’s ever emailed me. I’m terrible at it. But I’m terrible on purpose. It’s something I’ve chosen not to give much time to so I can focus on writing and “creating” content.
The Note (a.k.a. my editorial calendar). This is something I’ve done for quite a while now and it helps tremendously with making sure that each day when I sit down to do my writing, I’ve already got a plan in place for how to spend my time.
Schedule every minute. Yep. I take about 5 minutes each morning and schedule out every minute of my day. This liberates my day and helps me make consistent and meaningful progress on projects without working wild hours or feeling anxious.
(I share much more detail about my approach to planning and scheduling over here.)
* * *
Something I’ve learned over time is that diligence and focus are not personality types. They are skills.
You can develop the skill of being diligent.
You can get better at showing up every day.
I’m still getting better at it myself. (I’m not longer writing my schedule out on my hand, thank goodness.)
Next I want to share with you some thoughts about getting a system that works… a system you can stick with… a system that helps you.
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.
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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.
In the past week I’ve gotten literally hundreds of emails from folks regarding time management.
As people are signing up for the time management class that launches next week, I’ve been asking them about their biggest frustrations in terms of managing and scheduling their time.
By far and away one of the biggest challenges I’m hearing from people is that of distractions and interruptions.
In light of that, I wanted to share with you a quick and simple activity you can do to help with those distractions.
Take a sheet of paper, and draw a line down the middle from top to bottom.
At the top of the left-hand column, write “Distractions and Interruptions”.
Above the right-hand column, write “Solutions”.
Now, list out as many distractions and interruptions you can think of. Anything and everything that stands in the way of you doing what it is you want to do.
Then, next to each one, list a possible way for how you can remove that distraction or interruption.
This is a play straight out of The Focus Course, and the idea is 2-fold:
For one, you won’t be able to implement a solution for every single distraction and interruption on your list. But I bet you can solve at least a few of them. And every little bit helps.
Secondly, and most importantly, this gets you in the driver’s seat. It’s a way for you to be proactive when it comes to those external distractions that get in the way of doing your focused work.
It’s Friday! I was recently asked by a reader about what podcasts I’d recommend.
While I don’t listen to podcasts frequently, I do listen regularly. Since I work from home, I don’t have much of a commute (unless half-a-flight of stairs counts). But whenever I’m in the car on errands I’ve got a podcast going.
And so, since I only listen to a couple of podcast episodes each week, I’m very particular about which episodes I listen to. Trying to choose only the ones that look the most interesting or relevant to me.
Which is why, as I’ve mentioned before, my number one feature request for Overcast would be a custom playlist that works like a “listen later” queue. I’d love to flag individual episodes from within Overcast and have them show up in a playlist and I could just work my way through that list.
But, that’s just details.
I mostly listen to business-centric podcasts these days. Below are are my four current favorite shows.
As always, thanks for reading. Have a great weekend.
I just discovered the Entreleadership podcast about six months ago, and have listened to nearly every episode since. It’s an excellent combination of tight editing with candid conversation.
The episodes are short (usually 30 minutes or less) and usually feature 2-3 different segments and conversations.
Some recommended episodes:
- Jim Collins — How to Build an Enduring, Great Company
- Seth Godin — How to Make Change Happen
- Shawn Achor — How Happiness Fuels Your Success
No surprise here. I’ve long been encouraging folks to listen to the Fizzle Show. It’s equal parts fun and helpful. From the practicals of starting and sustaining a business to the emotional ups and downs of entrepreneurship, these guys know their stuff.
Some recommended episodes:
- How to Grow — The 2 Types of Growth
- How We Deal With the Cesspool of Self Doubt
- How to Create Your Own Definition of Success
The unsung star of the seanwes podcast is actually Sean’s co-host, Ben. Being a co-host is not an easy job and Ben does an excellent job! The seanwes podcast covers a broad range of topics, primarily centered around building an audience-based business.
Sean is an excellent communicator and his show is always filled with excellent advice.
Some recent and excellent episodes:
- Get More Time in a Day, Increase Your Focus, and Accomplish All of Your Goals
- How to Build Business Assets the Smart Way
- The Long Game
I mostly pick and choose which episodes of the Tim Ferris Show I listen to. They’re usually 2 hours long, but they tend to be jam packed with incredibly fascinating and helpful information.
Some of the best episodes:
- Maria Popova on Being Interesting, Creating More Time in a Day, And How to Start A Successful Blog (I learned a fascinating technique from Maria in this episode about how to best take notes when reading a paperback book for research.)
- Tony Robbins on Morning Routines, Peak Performance, and Mastering Money
- Derek Sivers Part 1 and part 2 (absolutely must-listens!)
- How Seth Godin Manages His Life — Rules, Principles, and Obsessions
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In other news: Shawn Today continues with its series on 4DX. I announced my new class on time management. On Tools & Toys we reviewed an awesome pocket knife. And over on the Sweet Setup we picked the best 3rd-party email app for iOS: Microsoft Outlook.
That’s a copy of Benjamin Franklin’s daily schedule. I’ve written about this before, but (for obvious reasons) I wanted to return to it today.
What I love about his schedule is how open and simple it is. Though it was a routine, it was very forgiving for all the nuances and variables that each day’s tasks and priorities seem to bring.
He had only six blocks of time scheduled each day:
- Getting ready for the day: shower, breakfast, personal study, and prepare for work (3 hours)
- Morning work (4 hours)
- Review of current projects and to eat lunch (2 hours)
- Afternoon work (4 hours)
- Dinner and rest and wrapping up the day (4 hours)
- Sleep (7 hours)
So simple yet still structured and helpful.
From time to time I take a look at my own daily schedule to make sure it’s serving me as well as it should be. Because I want to be the one who sets my schedule just like I am the one budgeting my finances.
A schedule, just like a financial budget, is there for the purpose of serving my goals. A schedule makes sure the minutes don’t get away from me. It helps me keep from squandering my time.
As a creative person, I’ve found the structure of a schedule is extremely empowering.
I used to think the opposite. Many folks still do think the opposite. They think “time budgets” are oppressive and that a schedule is something only prickly people do. Well, that’s silly.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again:
There’s no good reason a creative person should live without any sort of routine, discipline, or accountability.
What is margin if not a constraint that keeps us from overflowing our borders? It is by living with constraint that we are enabled to do our best creative work.
If you’re struggling to get a simple yet helpful schedule in place, maybe there’s something from Ben Franklin’s day that could inspire you.
Consider setting a block of time each day for something that’s important to you.
A Focus on Time
Speaking of time management — you don’t have to be (or live like) a founding father of the United States to get the most of your time each day.
I like to schedule every minute of my day, but that doesn’t mean you have to.
While you may be feeling bummed out at your current approach to time management (or lack thereof) the good news is this:
Diligence, focus, and deep work are all skills that can be learned.
As I announced yesterday, in a little less than two weeks I’m launching something that will help you tremendously. It’s a class on time management.
It’s a class for people who dislike schedules just as much as it is for those who love them.
(Go ahead and read that last sentence again.)
Now, if you’re asking how that is possible, let me tell you…
It’s possible because taking ownership of your time and attention is different than merely implementing a few quick tips for how to rock a Day Runner.™
Focus, priorities, time management, etc. are important because they’re about loving life. Again — not for prickly people, but for all people.
Which is why A Focus On Time promises to be equally relevant for those who adore spontaneity as well as those who thrive in administrative.
This is a class for those who want to get the most of their time — their life — every day.
Go here to find out all about the class and sign up to be notified for when it comes out. You’ll get first dibs at early-bird pricing, and I’ve got an updated version of my PDF ebook about procrastination that I want to send you as my way of saying thanks.
Things like diligence, focus, priorities, saying no, time management, and the like are important. But why?
This quote by Benjamin Franklin pretty much sums it up for me:
“Dost thou love life? Then do not squander time, for that’s the stuff life is made of.”
Focus, priorities, time management, etc… These are important because they’re about loving life.
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It’s been about 9 months since The Focus Course came out. And a few months ago I also began offering the free Elements of Focus class.
Between Focus Course members and those who’ve gone through the free class, the number one area of feedback has been a request for additional training on time management.
Therefore, I’m putting together exactly that:
This is a brand new class by yours truly, focused on scheduling, prioritizing, and time management. It launches in two weeks.
Click here to find out more about the class, and sign up to be notified when it launches.
After breakfast, I sit down and schedule out the rest of my day.
I literally schedule every single minute.
An activity that takes no more than five minutes.
Scheduling my day used to take 10 or 15 minutes, but I’ve gotten better at it over time. And even if it took 15 minutes, it’d be worth it — time spent scheduling is not time wasted.
When I’ve got that plan for how I’m going to spend my time, and what I’m going to do when, I get more done during the day, and my day is significantly less stressful.
I used to think a schedule meant I’d never get to have fun. Because if you’re scheduling your time then you should only put Super Duper Important things on your schedule.
Well, I do only schedule Super Duper Important things. I just have a smarter definition of Super Duper Important.
Did you know I schedule time to watch Netflix? I schedule time for a mid-day nap if I want. Time to read for an hour and a half in the middle of the afternoon. Time to take my wife out for dinner once a week. Time to go running at the gym. Time to play trains with my kids. Time to have lunch with a friend. Time to help my wife with dinner. Time to write for as long as I can handle in the morning.
In fact, by scheduling every minute of my day, I help make sure I do all the things I want to do — for work and for play.
I’m not here to talk about the how and why of scheduling every minute (I’ll do more of that in a few weeks over here).
The Week’s Wildly Important Goals
What makes it easy for me to schedule every minute of my day is this: I already know what I want and need to do that day.
I get this because on Sundays, usually in the late afternoon, I sit down and list all the big things I want to accomplish over the next 7 days.
In 4DX terminology, this is me listing out what the Wildly Important Goals are for my week.
For a recent example, here are the outcomes I listed out for the week of February 1st:
- Build the Elements of Focus class into something that people could sign up for at any time.
- Finish migrating all of our email lists to our new email service provider.
- Work with my developer to finalize the plan and timeline for our next buildout and addition to the Focus Course website.
- Finish reading The Four Disciplines of Execution
- Outline the content for the Time Management online class we’re doing next month.
- Publish my two podcast interviews with Cal Newport and Havilah Cunnington.
Knowing what my desired outcomes are for the week means I can assign some time to them.
By assigning time I know when I will be doing the things that are important. This is far more effective (and stress free) than just having a list of things I want to do and hoping that I’ll get around to doing them.
Planning the Week’s Focus
With my week’s goals listed out, I then sit down and plan the main things I’ll be focusing on each day for my Monday – Friday.
For this, I have two areas of focus: work and rest.
Deep Work Focus: I have capacity for about 3 hours of deep work each day — 2 hours in the morning and 1 hour in the early afternoon.
Thefore, for each day of the week (M-F) I list out what my one or two areas of “Deep Work Focus” are going to be.
Rest Focus: I know I’ll have down time in my day because, as I mentioned above, I schedule it. And so I also choose ahead of time how I am going to spend that time.
For me, it’s important not to spend every spare moment I have checking Twitter, email, or watching TV. Having a few pre-chosen activities for how I’m going to spend my down time goes a long way in helping make sure my down time actually leaves me feeling more rested and re-charged.
(This is what I was getting at when I wrote about some alternatives to the just checks.)
For example, during the week of February 1, my down time was spent reading 4DX.
Other: Of course, you don’t have to stop at work and rest. You could also define a family and relationships focus, a health focus, and a personal inner-life focus. (For those who’ve gone through The Focus Course, this is exactly what we address in Modules Three and Five)
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Being proactive with your time and focus is liberating.
Trying to plan ahead like this can be difficult at first. We are so used to being reactive and responding to the tyranny of the urgent. Or we are afraid of “boxing ourselves in” by making a choice ahead of time.
But the effort is worth it. In no time you’ll be able to whip up a plan in just a few minutes. And the freedom it will bring to your day-to-day life is awesome.
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P.S. You may be interested to know that I’ve put together a time management class that is as relevant to those who thrive on spontaneity as it is to those who love to nerd out over administrativia.
Everything I know and practice about time management, scheduling, and prioritization is in this class.
This week’s Fantastic Friday comes to you from the Colorado Front Range. My wife and boys and I have been out here for the past week enjoying the unexpected warm weather and spending time with family.
And so, appropriately, this week’s four fantastic links are articles (and a video) straight from the best of my recent Instapaper queue. Enjoy.
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What a review. What a camera.
I believe that in hindsight — and I realize this sounds kind of crazy, as if I’ve binge-inhaled all of the Leica Kool-Aid at once — the Leica Q will be seen as one of the greatest fixed-prime-lens travel photography kits of all time.
Cal Newport, of course:
I find that the occasions when I most despair about the tattered state of my schedule are almost always the result of the accumulation of a dozen yeses that each made perfect sense in isolation.
Though I don’t have a formal attention charter, having some pre-defined limits for external requests on my time and attention is something I’ve done since 2008.
In my days as a marketing and creative director for an in-house design team, I received constant requests for meetings. And so, I simply had on my schedule “open meeting time” twice a week. When someone needed to meet with me, I’d let them know of my next available time. Not only did this remove a ton of mental energy to “find a spot in my schedule” but it also kept my unexpected meetings to a minimum.
These days, I have some similar limits. For example, I only accept speaking gigs to events I want to attend anyway (and, this year, at least, I’m keeping my speaking to just 2 events). I also flat-out ignore almost all incoming requests for product reviews across all of our websites — I have no doubt that we get some awesome pitches, but most of the time they are bulk email requests, and so I don’t try to separate the wheat from the chaff.
If I were giving a motivational speech, I’d say that, if you want to be successful and make a real contribution to the world, you have to be intrinsically motivated by the work you do, and you have to feel good about spending your days on it. Love might grow — and it’s a wonderful thing if it does — but you don’t need it up front. You can succeed just by wanting something to exist that doesn’t already.
Related viewing: This 99U talk by Cal Newport about why it’s bad advice to follow your passion, and this Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee episode with president Obama.
This is an absolutely amazing video from Jeremy Cowart. My wife and I had the privilege of seeing Jeremy perform this live last fall and, along with probably everyone in the room, we were deeply moved.
Wallpaper via Unspalsh.
The First home screen is a peculiar spot. You want it populated only with the most frequently-used apps. But, what happens when there are but a few apps that you often?
My first Home screen has a few “classifications” of apps:
- Those I use several times per day: Slack, Tweetbot, Weather Line, Fanastical, OmniFocus, Safari, Simplenote, Messages, and Music.
- Those I use several times per week: Overcast, Day One, Google Maps, and Instapaper.
- Those I use often enough that I like to know exactly where they are: such as VSCO, 1Password, Pcalc. I also a couple of folders with some miscellaneous apps related to work and life.
Just a little over two years ago, I wrote about all the iPhone apps I used at the time. Since then, things have changed quite a bit for me. Not only have I consolidated the amount of iOS apps I use now compared to then, but I’m also trying to use my iPhone less often.
Another big change (pun intended) is that I’m currently rocking the iPhone 6s Plus, which is just altogether a different device than the iPhones of yesteryear. As I’ll get to in a second, because the iPhone 6s Plus is a two-handed device, it lets me get away with having less apps on my first home screen. Since 95-percent of the time I’m using two hands, I don’t usually need to have the apps reachable by thumb when holding the device with just one hand.
If you’re wondering, I’m not nearly as thoughtful with my second, third, fourth, and fifth (!) Home screens. Those screens are basically no-man’s land. One of my email apps is over there; there are apps I’ve downloaded to try out that are now just floating around; some games; and other miscellany.
A Brief Aside About the iPhone 6s Plus
Last fall, I went big. I bought the iPhone 6s Plus, named it Hercules, and decided to give it a shot. It has definitely taken some time to get used to, but I think I’ve certainly acclimated.
The tipping point was when I no longer tried to treat the Plus as a one-handed device. For years and years my iPhone was something that could be used with one hand. The Plus? Not so much.
But, once it became natural for me to use both hands when dealing with the Plus, it stopped being an awkward device and the advantages of the larger phone — namely the larger screen and superior battery life — are absolutely wonderful.
With the battery life, I often forget just how spectacular it is. I can’t remember the last time my iPhone’s battery was in the red.
Another thing with the iPhone 6s Plus is that it somehow managed to take over the spot my iPad used to hold. It was such a sly move I never saw it coming. But somehow, over the course of a few months, I just stopped using my iPad for reading and note taking.
In part, I think it’s the speed. My 6s Plus is quite a bit faster than my 2nd generation iPad mini. But also, it’s that the iPhone is just big enough that it’s not worth bringing along and using another iOS device for the purposes of reading, researching, and note taking.
Perhaps I’ll get a new iPad when it eventually comes time to replace my 5-year-old MacBook Air, but I’m not sure. I’m pretty happy with my iMac in the office and my iPhone everywhere else. And, for when I’m on the road and need to work, my Mac Book Air still gets the job done.
That said, today’s article is all about the apps. So let’s dive in…
My iOS Apps and Workflows
This will almost certainly be far less nerdy than it sounds.
Today I mostly just want to share a bit about the iPhone apps I rely on the most, why I use them, and how they fit in to the day-to-day rhythm of my life.
We’ll start with Simplenote because if I had to pick just one single app to have on my phone this would be it.
There are many, many, many apps that allow you to create notes and sync them to your iPad and Mac. And most of those apps are far more feature-rich than Simplenote is. But I don’t mind.
I’ve never been let down by Simplenote’s speed, reliability, or search. It handles these features with flying colors and to me they are the most important features of all.
With Simplenote I have the ability to find any note I’m looking for within a matter of seconds, I’ve never lost a note, and I’ve never felt that I’m using the app wrong.
In a future post I’ll write more about my writing routine, what I do with all my bad ideas, and the like. But for now I’ll just say that Simplenote is pretty much at the heart of it all.
If I could have just two apps on my iPhone, the second would be Messages. Because I like to text with my friends and family. Who doesn’t?
First, a moment of silence for Rdio…
While Apple Music has a lot going for it, it is without its charms. But, nevertheless, I use it every day.
My home office is downstairs. And directly above it are hardwood floors and two toddler boys. Which means I wear headphones almost all morning.
The first thing I do when beginning my work day is to put on those headphones and hit play on the Monument Valley soundtrack and listen to that music for an hour or two while I write.
The best app there is for calendaring and remindering on iOS.
I’ve been a hard and fast OmniFocus user for more than half-a-decade. Something I’ve always liked about the app is that it can be flexible to work the way you work best.
When I first began using OmniFocus I was managing an in-house design team. At any given time we had roughly 45 active projects. It was crazy. And OmniFocus helped me keep everything moving forward.
Nowadays, I have about 3 or 4 active projects at a time. I’m managing far less action items. And in both situations OmniFocus could be as powerful or as simple as I need it.
I should say, however, that I’m considering a move to Wunderlist. At the beginning of this year Blanc Media hired it’s first full-time employee, and so now I’m looking at getting a task management system that allows for group collaboration.
Probably my favorite 1st-party app on iOS (Trailers is a pretty stellar second) and, if you count in all the in-app browsers that use Safari, this is surely the app I use the most on my iPhone.
For checking the Twitter, of course.
Every night before I go to bed, I set out my clothes for the next day. And so I’ll check what tomorrow’s weather is going to be so I can dress accordingly.
Yep. I can’t every post a picture of my iPhone Home screen without getting comments about how I use Pcalc Lite. Well, it’s not. I have the full version of PCalc via in-app purchase, but went with the “Lite” app because I prefer the looks of the orange icon over the blue one.
Who’s not using Slack these days? This is the app we use to communicate about and basically run Tools & Toys, The Sweet Setup, and The Focus Course.
This is the app I use to take photos of business expense receipts when I’m out and about. It does OCR on the receipt and uploads it to my “Receipts” folder in Dropbox.
Of course. Thanks to iCloud Keychain I don’t need to open up 1Password on my iPhone all that often, but it’s still a critical app.
While I still use Instapaper every day (to send things to it) I only read about a half-dozen articles in a week (if that).
Nearly all of my reading is with physical dead-tree books now a days. It started over a year ago when I ordered a whole slew of books off Amazon while researching for The Focus Course. It was far cheaper to order used books from Amazon than to by the Kindle versions. And then I just got hooked on how much easier and faster it was to read a paper book.
Speaking of reading, savvy readers may have noticed a lack of an RSS reader in my list. Since all the reading I do these days is with physical books, I haven’t check in on my RSS feeds in at least a year.
This is the app I use for listening to podcasts whenever I’m in the car. Which, since I work from home, isn’t all that often.
Even though I’m subscribed to a few dozen podcasts, I only listen to about 1-2 episodes per week. And so I’m very particular about which episodes I listen to, choosing only the ones that look the most interesting or relevant to me.
Which is why my number one feature request for Overcast would be a custom playlist that works like a “listen later” queue. I’d love to be able to flag individual episodes and have them show up in a list and I could just work my way through that list.
Though I use Day One all the time, it’s not always from my iPhone. I also do a fair amount of my writing from the Mac. But what I love most about the iPhone version is how I can quickly snap a photo and create a new journal entry with that photo, add in a brief caption, and the location data is automatically placed. Between a picture, the geo-tagged location, and a brief explanation, it’s pretty easy to have a robust journal entry in a few seconds.
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When I first started writing this article a few days ago, my home screen had one more row of apps than it does now. But the process of writing about the apps helped me realized that I had more apps than I wanted. So, thanks to a couple folders on the Home screen and the ability to search for an app from any Home screen, I’ve simplified things a bit.
As I wrote last week, the apps and workflows we use need an audit from time to time. For me, just the process of writing this article caused me to think again about if the apps that were on my Home screen were the apps I still wanted there.
It’s another fantastic Friday!
As I’m sure you’re already aware, the Denver Broncos won the Super Bowl! I remember when Denver won in Super Bowls 32 and 33. My friends and I ran down to the main street of our little town in Castle Rock, Colorado. We had our Broncos flags and air horns and just ran up and down the street waving at people. It was so fun.
And while I didn’t go running through any streets this past Sunday, it was so great to see the orange and blue get the win. Especially since this is most certainly Payton Manning’s final season.
Okay, I’m done talking about sports for the foreseeable future.
Today’s edition of Fantastic Friday is all about writing. As I mentioned in Wednesday’s article, the next few week’s I’ll be sharing about my own tools and workflows.
Today, I’m sharing with you the four most important elements of my writing routine.
Yesterday on Twitter I asked if anyone had any questions or topics for today’s article. I’ve tried to answer a few of those questions here, but there are more questions that I’ll aim to answer in a future post.
As always, thanks for reading!
1. A Very Clicky Keyboard
Remember a few years ago when I went hyper-nerd in search of an awesome clicky keyboard? My motivation was two-fold: (a) I’d only ever been typing on the standard-issue keyboard that came with the computers I owned; and (b) as a writer, it would behoove me to have the best possible keyboard.
Ultimately, the keyboard that really clicked with me (ha!) was the Filco Ninja.
If I were to replace my current keyboard, I’d get a CODE keyboard in either Blue or Green switches. What’s awesome about the CODE is the backlighting.
Monument Valley is an splendidly beautiful game for iOS. It also has an incredible soundtrack.
I’ve probably listened to the soundtrack close to 1,000 times. Even now, as I write this very sentence, I’m listening to it. It’s what I listen to when I write.
I began listening to this album over a year ago when I drastically changed my morning routine to favor writing above all else as the most important part of my work day.
The soundtrack is awesome, to be sure. But, another reason I continue to play it every day is that there’s some cool science behind this routine. After a few weeks of having this soundtrack on while writing, it become Pavlovian.
Getting into the flow of writing is hard. It’s always been hard, and I suspect it will continue to be so. By having a routine that surrounds my writing time it helps me to get in the zone faster and to stay focused for longer.
Lately, iA Writer has become my text editor of choice. Especially for one-off articles like this one.
I’m also a fan of Ulysses — and turn to it when I’m working on bigger projects that involve chapters / sections / etc. But I’ve found that (a) the sync between Ulysses on Mac and iPad is pretty slow; and (b) I rarely ever use my iPad these days.
Lastly is “The Note”. This is, by far and away, the single most important component to my writing routine.
For years I used to sit down at my computer in the morning and ask myself what I would be writing about today. Now, I decide topics far in advance.
Not only have I begun keeping an editorial calendar so I know what is being published and when over the next 4-6 weeks, but I also plan out what my writing topic will be each day.
The Note is what I use for planning out each day’s writing topic. It’s just something simple that I leave out for myself at the end of each work day, where, on the note I have written down the topic for tomorrow’s writing time. Then, the next morning, when it’s time to write, all I have to do is hit play on Monument Valley and put the clicky keyboard to good use.
+ Nerdy aside: For my “note” I write it in my Baron Fig Confidant notebook and a Uni-ball Signo DX 0.38mm pen. The same tools I use for my daily to-do list and schedule (something we’ll get into later).
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P.S. For more info regarding my writing workflow, check out this Q&A. »
Question: What does your car, your house, your coffee grinder, your budget, your work routines, and even your marriage all have in common?
Answer: They all require maintenance.
Pretty much anything and everything of importance requires our intentional and proactive care.
However, I find that the older I get, the more “set in my ways” I am.
Somewhere I read that after the age of 35 or so, people stop being excited about new technology. And they even begin to look at new technological inventions and advancements with a critical and negative eye.
If we’re weary to get the latest cell phone, how much more so are we prone to keep doing things the way we’ve always done them?
That stubbornness can be good and bad.
It’s good insofar as it keeps us on track to show up every day and do the work.
But that stubbornness does not serve us well if it keeps us from learning, maturing, and adapting. Our workflows, tools, and routines all need a good old-fashioned audit once in a while.
Auditing Your Workflow
It used to be that when a new operating system would ship for my Mac, then I would do my most serious tinkering. I would do a clean install of OS X and be forced to re-evaluate which apps I wanted re-install.
But nowadays updating OS X is about as easy as updating an app. And though I have made some significant changes to my daily writing routine, I haven’t preformed a good workflow audit in nearly a year and a half (since I bought this Retina iMac).
For the next couple of articles I’m going to be writing about my own workflows and tools in hopes to show you why it’s important (and fun!) take time out for a workflow audit.
As you’re getting to work on your goals and projects for the year, now is as good a time as any to reassess the tools you’re using and how you’re using them.
Maybe it’s time to find a more advanced tool. Or, maybe it’s time to switch to something more basic. How can your processes be enhanced? How can they be simplified? Does something need to be added? Can something be removed?
There’s no right or wrong answer so long as you’re at least asking the questions. (Put that on a stock photo and Pin it).
So, when I do a major workflow audit like the one I’ll be doing this month, there are several things I consider:
On my Mac and iPhone I consider what software I no longer use or need; what files can I archive away onto a backup drive; and what files can I delete?
In my schedule I consider how I’m spending my time over the course of a week; what would I like to add or remove to my routines; is my time being spent how I want it to be spent; at the end of a week do I feel a sense of accomplishment and contentment in the areas that matter?
With my team I look at how to remove bottlenecks and friction as well as ways to empower them, give them more autonomy, and increase overall team morale.
For my own day-to-day activities, I consider how I plan my day; how manage and accomplish my to-do list; how I deal with email; how I write, record, and publish articles and podcasts; how I read and study; and how I make consistent progress on big projects.
Because everything above interacts and interweaves with the others, a look at the entire workflow is needed on occasion. It’s valuable to just take a moment, look at the big picture, and ask if everything is running well.
Our lives are ever-changing. As are our interests, priorities, and availability. It’s worth the effort to take a look at our systems and tools to make sure they are still the ones serving us and not the other way around.
And then, as they advise in 4DX, if every other area of my operation remained at its current level of performance, what is the one area where change would have the greatest impact?
First off, you know I have to say it: In just a few short days the Denver Broncos will be on the world’s stage. I’ve been drinking out of my lucky Denver Broncos coffee mug every day this week. Here’s hoping Manning can go out in style.
Secondly, we are officially wrapped up with Margin Month. I thought this “themed” month was a great idea and it turned out so well. The three most popular posts were the one on time management, the one on creative energy, and the interview with Cal Newport.
I’m going to be diving back into all the material and compiling it into a single resource. Also, because I received so much feedback about schedules and time management stuff, I’ve begun putting together a new teaching resource on time management. I’ll be sharing more on that in the coming weeks.
That said, enjoy the links below and have an awesome weekend. Go Broncos!
P.S. Did you know there’s a Super Bowl 50 app for any and every one of your Apple devices (including Apple TV). Awesome!
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Or 4DX for short. I’m reading this book right now and it’s awesome. Next week, as we kick-off “Workflow Month” on the site, I’ll be going through this book on the Shawn Today podcast.
The Four Disciplines of Execution is an excellent book, and I highly recommend it. If you want to go through it over the next month and follow along in the podcast book club (oh my nerd), grab a copy and sign up for membership access to the show.
The Long Game
This is a 3-part video series about showing up every day to do the work. It’s fantastic. (Hat tip to Sean McCabe, of course.)
You can watch all three videos back-to-back in just under 21 minutes. They’re masterfully done and the message is one we all need to hear in our pursuit to do our best creative work.
I realize we’re already in to February. For me, now that the momentum of January’s new projects is underway, it’s a great time to audit the tools and workflows I use.
As I mentioned earlier, over the next few weeks I’m going to be writing about the tools and workflows I use to get the job done.
The New Day One is Here
Over on The Sweet Setup we’ve updated our review of the app.
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In other news: This week I wrapped up Margin Month with two podcast interviews: one with Cal Newport and one with Havilah Cunnington. And this coming Monday we’re kicking off the next month’s theme: Workflows. I’ll be writing about tools, workflows, and more. If you’ve got something specific you’d like to see me discuss, get in touch.
Today’s podcast episode wraps up our focus on Margin. And I’ve saved the best for last.
Over the past several weeks we’ve covered so much ground: what margin is; why it’s important; how to get margin in our schedule, in our finances, in our creative energy, and so much more.
For today’s podcast, I wanted to talk with someone I deeply respect: Havilah Cunnington.
Havilah and her husband, Ben, are two of Anna’s and my dearest friends. We’ve known them for over a decade (Ben and I used to be roommates).
The four of us often connect to talk about life, kids, family, entrepreneurship, building an audience, and more.
Havilah is the founder of Truth to Table, an online Bible study platform. Fun fact: I totally stole inspiration from Havilah’s training videos when designing the “look” of my Focus Course videos.
On the show, we talk about how to do your best creative work when you’re also raising kids, how to build an audience, how to keep a healthy work and personal life, and more.
Speaking of, if you enjoy this podcast with Havilay, you should check out my free class: The Elements of Focus. It’s a 10-day video class where we’ll talk about making time, finding clarity, and gaining traction in your business or side project.
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Havilah’s approach to building an audience was to start with tons of free training and resources. She knew that she had to build a brand people trusted. Her first training series, Radical Growth, was several short training sessions that were sharable and didn’t have any “homework” attached to them. This helped that training series gain momentum early on.
While some people (myself included) advocate the idea of showing up every day and putting out regular content, Havilah has found success in going “dark” for a season in-between her online teaching events. She takes a season of time (a few months) to muse, write, and create her next product. Then, she comes back strong with something big and new.
The challenge of balancing a busy traveling schedule with building a personal brand: When you’re on the road all the time, it’s hard to build your own brand. It’s difficult to build momentum with your own audience when you are putting most of your energy into serving someone else’s platform. This isn’t to say that serving other platforms is bad, but it you can’t always do both.
One of the ways you learn how to balance work and life is through trial and error. You have to listen to the season of life your in right now and go all in with the one or two things that are most important.
Parenting little kids is just a season of life. Aim to parent from a place of authenticity rather than social expectations.
You’ve got to have a few core values and boundaries that keep your life healthy.
Advice to overwhelmed moms and dads who want to build something: Stay inspired.
Do this by: (1) having a coach, mentor, podcast, book, album, or whatever that you can turn to in order to find and build motivation when times are challenging; and (2) look to those who are ahead of you and gain strength and motivation from the work they are doing.
Give yourself permission to be creative. Take ownership for your life and the space you need to do your best creative work. This usually requires that you challenge the assumptions of what’s normal and find what works best for you.
In today’s episode of Shawn Today I have the honor of talking with Cal Newport.
Cal Newport is one of my favorite writers and thinkers. His book, So Good They Can’t Ignore You, was one of the most impactful books I read in 2015. And his brand new book, Deep Work, is equally fantastic.
The hypothesis behind Deep Work is this:
The ability to perform deep work is becoming increasingly rare at exactly the same time it is becoming increasingly valuable in our economy. As a consequence, the few who cultivate this skill, and then make it the core of their working life, will thrive.
In our conversation, Cal and I talk about time management, how to develop a lifestyle where you are consistently able to spend time in your day on the things that matter most, how it’s a skill to be able to do deep work and focus and how to develop that skill, and more.
This podcast continues in the series on Margin that I’ve been writing about for the past month. Check out this page for the central repository with I’m keeping updated with links to each article and podcast.
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There are so many components to doing your best creative work, but the very foundational one is the creative work itself. If you’re not showing up every day and practicing, then you’ll never reach your potential — you’ll never do your absolute best.
Deep Work, Deliberate/Intentional Practice, The Craftsman Mindset, Finding Flow — all of these are synonyms for showing up every day.
But they go beyond just showing up. Showing up and working hard isn’t enough. You need to make sure that the time you spend in deep work is productive time.
In So Good They Can’t Ignore You, Cal writes that people will hit a performance plateau beyond which they fail to get any better. And his newest book, Deep Work is all about how to push through that plateau. Deep Work is about what to do when you do show up, and how to turn all of it into a part of your lifestyle.
In short, to do your best creative work, you need to hone the skill of being able to focus.
And that is exactly what we talk about on this podcast.
Key Takeaways, Etc.
Deep work and focus are skills; not personality types. To develop the “skill” of deep work you have to: (1) control and protect your time; (2) slowly spend time training yourself to focus without giving in to distractions; and (3) make lifestyle changes so that even in your down time you aren’t
To have an effective deep work session, you need to: (1) schedule the time; (2) have an expected outcome that you are aiming to accomplish during that time; (3) realize that you’re working the “focus muscle” and that it takes practice and time.
Deep work is not a natural activity. When it comes to doing important work and improving our skills, our mind and instincts can’t be trusted.
Schedule every minute of your day. This takes the guesswork out of where you should be focusing on, and all you have left to do is show up and do what you’ve planned to do.
If you work with your head, then rest with your hands. For the knowledge worker, a good down-time hobby could be woodworking, gardening, yard work, etc.
Reduce the amount of “novel stimuli” that you let in to your day-to-day life. When you have a strong baseline level of noise in all the little moments of your life, it makes it more difficult to focus on the task at hand when you’re doing deep work. Because you’re training your brain that boredom is bad.
By reducing the baseline level of noise, it helps us to focus for extended periods of time. It also helps your mind to rest as it should during your down time.
Quote from Deep Work: “To succeed with deep work you must rewire your brain to be comfortable resisting distracting stimuli.”
There are four styles of deep work:
- Monastic: “This philosophy attempts to maximize deep efforts by eliminating or radically minimizing shallow obligations.” (Think seclusion somewhere)
- Bimodal: “This philosophy asks that you divide your time, dedicating some clearly defined stretches to deep pursuits and leaving the rest open to everything else.”
- Rhythmic: “This philosophy argues that the easiest way to consistently start deep work sessions is to transform them into a simple regular habit.”
- Journalistic: “in which you fit deep work wherever you can into your schedule.”
Don’t let busyness be a proxy for productivity. For many of us, we put an emphasis on efficiency rather than effectiveness. We see time spent as being more valuable than the results themselves.
We can change that mindset and change our paradigm about what it means to be effective. First we have to challenge the culture that values “crushing it” — that says only those who are super busy are the ones who are super hungry. Realize that you can work effectively, and you can be focused without overworking yourself. There is a division between being out-of-control busy and being a hard worker.
Doing deep work in our everyday lives is important for several reasons: It increases our happiness, it helps us to learn new skills, it gives us a focus on effectiveness, it’s where we do our best creative work, it’s how we make progress.
If you want to do more deep work, but you’re not sure where to start, do this: (1) look at your calendar and block out 5 hours on your schedule over the next two weeks; (2) put your phone away when you get home so that you don’t get distracted; (3) find a balanced ratio of shallow work and deep work.
Shallow work and deep work are both necessary. The former is doing the things that need to be done for the sake of today. The latter is doing the things that need to be done for the sake of the future. Put another way: Shallow work keeps you from getting fired; deep work gets you promoted.
As mentioned earlier, this podcast episode is part of a series on Margin that I’ve been writing about for the past month. Check out this page for the central repository with I’m keeping updated with links to each article and podcast.
Download here. (01:15:32)
A week ago it was snowing outside and I had no idea what the outcome of the Denver Broncos game would be. And here we are, the Broncos are going to the Super Bowl (sorry, not sorry, Chris) and tomorrow it’s going to be 65 degrees in Kansas City.
This morning I had the honor of speaking to a crew of 100 creative entrepreneurs here in Kansas City. The monthly KC Coffee and Design meet-up is one of my favorite things. This morning we had a workshop entitled “Finding Your Creative Focus”. Here’s a picture (Thanks, Cherish!).
A huge thanks to everyone who came out for the workshop this morning. I had a blast!
Now, normally I like these Friday emails to be focused on the outgoing. But there is so much awesome and cool stuff happening with shawnblanc.net and The Focus Course right now that I wanted to take a chance to highlight it.
As always, thanks for reading.
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Several thousand folks went through the Elements of Focus this past December, and the feedback I received was fantastic.
Now that January is coming to a close — if you’re needing a fresh jolt of motivation, ideas, clarity, help, etc. Then this, my friend, is the class for you.
It’s 10 days, with a video for each day, delivered via email. The videos are on demand, so you can watch them at the time of day best for you. And they are shot (just 5 minutes).
Click here to sign up or learn more about the class. The next class begins on February 8th.
Speaking of, earlier this week I had the privilege of sharing with the Lean OmniFocus community about my OmniFocus workflow. Spoiler: I’m not nearly the OmniFocus nerd I used to be. But I still had a lot to share about time and task management and, of course, meaningful productivity.
It boils down to decision making fatigue. And if you can make some basic changes to help alleviate all the little inconsequential decisions you make throughout the day, it leaves much space for making the bigger decisions.
Two Awesome Podcasts coming up next week
If you enjoyed this week’s podcast with Corbett Barr, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. I’ve got two more fantastic guest shows lined for next week as we wrap up this month’s focus on Margin. Check back in on Monday for the first podcast, and Wednesday for the second.