It’s Christmas Eve. And as I write this I’m in Colorado with my family.

Which is why today’s Elements of Focus video is all about community.

For those of you who’ve been taking the free class, you’ll know that everything we’ve covered so far — strengthening personal integrity, spending time on what’s most important, recognizing the progress we make and celebrating it, living a focused life, staying healthy when life is super busy, etc. — it is all enhanced through meaningful relationships.

Your whole life is enhanced through relationships.

So here we are. In the midst of the holiday season, where they say it’s better to give than receive. Which is true. But we still need to receive. Relationships are a two-way street, and you need comrades, input, and help. We all do.

Most of us like the idea of giving and providing value. In our work place, in our side-gig, in our down time. We love to help and serve. But what can be hard is asking for help… we don’t naturally seek out mentorship, assistance, and accountability.

That’s what today’s video is about.

I hope you’ll take a few minutes to watch it. Then make a moment to give to someone else by encouraging, helping, supporting, or teaching them. But don’t stop there — I hope you’ll also ask someone for advice, feedback, support, or accountability in an area you need social support in.

Monday, December 21

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking I should link to another podcast episode.

Well, today’s your day. Because Katie Floyd and David Sparks were kind enough to invite me back on to their incredible podcast, Mac Power Users.

In the show we talked about all sorts of life-centric stuff related to living a focused life. And, of course, it wouldn’t be an episode of MPU if we didn’t also talk about nerdy topics such as workflows, favorite software, and more.

Wednesday, December 16

Speaking of podcasts that are speaking of success, there’s an episode of the EntreLeadership podcast with Shawn Achor that’s quite excellent.

Shawn Achor’s studies and teachings on what he calls the Happiness Advantage are fantastic. If you haven’t read his book or watched his TED talk, you should definitely check them out. I used a lot of his research and findings within The Focus Course.

So, a few weeks ago, Shawn was a guest on the EntreLeadership podcast. He basically gave a crash course overview on what fuels happiness in our lives and how critical that is to actually attaining success.

Tuesday, December 15

If you’re an entrepreneur (just starting out or seasoned), you’ll love The Fizzle Show podcast.

I’ve long been a fan of the Fizzle Show (they even had me on the show once).

When I was creating The Focus Course earlier this year, I went through a ton of the Fizzle podcasts related creating an online course, building an audience, selling a product. Those shows were instrumental in helping me to build something that was both awesome and profitable. Lately (as in the past few dozen episodes) they’ve just been on fire.

This latest episode of the Fizzle Show is absolutely fantastic. The discussion and advice given by the Fizzle team can literally change your life.

Though the Fizzle Show is usually aimed at the Indie Entrepreneur, this episode on defining success is required listening for just about anybody and everybody.

In the show, Corbett Barr says this:

The more I work on closing that gap between who I am and who I want to be, the more important I realize systems are.

I couldn’t agree more.

If you’ve watched the trailer video I made for The Power of a Focused Life, then you know my stance on the difference between passive living and intentional living. In short, the dreams of our heart (a.k.a. our definition of success) won’t come about by just wishing and wanting. They’re built from the ground up, one day at a time.

And, the best way to make sure you’re making progress, day by day, on the things that are most important to you, is to know what your vision and values are and then keep short accounts with how you’re spending your time and energy.

Friday, December 11

As you may already know, I’m doing a free class. It’s called The Elements of Focus and it starts now.

There are 16 videos I recorded just for this. Each one is fun and personal. We’ll be covering a handful of topics that I believe are most important to meaningful productivity and doing our best creative work.

Moreover, something we’ll be diving into is how to gain traction in your business or side project. As people have been signing up for the class, I’ve heard from hundreds of registrants saying that one of their biggest challenges right now is something related to their career: either trying to build up their new gig, build up a side-project, or considering a career move.

So there are definitely going to be days where I discuss how to gain traction and momentum on your business or side project.

I realize it’s right over the holiday, which is why each day’s video is less than 5 minutes. Plus, if you’re like me, you enjoy taking some of your time off as an opportunity to learn something new and work on a side-project.

Also, while the class is happening, I’ll be working on putting together a significant update to The Focus Course. Registration for the Focus Course itself will re-open on December 29 when all the updates go live!

All that said, check out the free class and sign up. It begins on today (though you can jump in anytime). It’s going to be superfun! I hope you join me.

What is Uuni?

  • It heats up to 840°F (450°C) in less than 10 minutes.
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  • It burns wood for an authentic flavour.

Uuni is super fast to assemble — less than ten minutes. It’s easy to adjust the temperature with its clever hopper system. Uuni is made of beautiful brushed stainless steel so it can take any weather you throw at it (we’re based in Scotland so we know!). Check it out, and make sure to read some of the reviews our customers have left — we’re very proud of them.

Food. Fire. Uuni.

$20 off your Uuni 2? Please use the code toolsandtoys

* * *

A huge thanks to Uuni for again sponsoring the site this week. I’ve got an Uuni here at my place and I can tell you that it is awesome.

Introduction to Margin (Part 2)

A quick note: This is the second of a 2-part series on Margin. You can read Part 1 here.

In January, we’ll be going much more in-depth on this topic. There will be podcast interviews, resource recommendations, articles, and more.

That said, let’s talk about Margin…

* * *

Though they are related, Margin and Stress are not the same thing. A lack of margin can (and usually will) cause stress. Being overloaded and overwhelmed is usually what can lead to the pain of stress.

For example, when our schedule is filled beyond capacity, we feel the pain of our overloaded responsibilities, and we get stressed out trying to manage everything. When we are living beyond our financial means, we feel the pain of an unhealthy financial state, and we get stressed about money.

As I wrote in Part One of this introduction to Margin, when you’re feeling the pain of overwhelm, listen to it.

There can be two reasons for the stress you feel:

  1. It may be that life is telling you you’re margin-less.
  2. Or, sometimes that feeling of overwhelm is because you’re in a season of transition — you’re close to a breakthrough.

When it’s the former, you need to dial down and create some margin. So often, when we are in desperate need of margin in our lives, it has to be explained to us or by us. It’s not instinctual. So, if you’re feeling the pain of a margin-less life, make sure you’ve got some things in place so you can stay sane and healthy.

If, however, it’s the latter — if you’re on your way toward a breakthrough in your skills — you need help and the perseverance to press through.

Today, let’s talk about these two things. How to dial down when you’re overloaded, as well as how to persevere when you’re on the cusp of a breakthrough.

Dial Down and Get Yourself Some Margin

In his book, Margin, Richard Swenson writes that “to be healthy, we require margin in at least four areas: emotional energy, physical energy, time, and finances.”

If you’re feeling overloaded, I bet you could get one or two “quick wins” for your emotional energy, physical energy, time, or finances — little ways to give yourself some breathing room.

Start by taking inventory of where you’re spending the bulk of your time, money, and energy. (Not where you wish you were spending it, but where you’re actually spending it.)

What can be subtracted?

What can you do to give your schedule, your emotions, your mind, your body, and/or your finances some breathing room?

The low-hanging fruit and Quick Wins

Here are some suggestions for quick wins for you. These can help stop the bleeding. And, with a small victory, you can begin to get some momentum going in the direction you need.

Physical Energy

There are some very simple ways to help get your body active if you’re feeling underachieved and not physically strong. Get enough sleep at night (which probably means going to bed on time). Take a 30-minute walk most days. Eat less sugar.

Not to sound like your mother, but these things are easy to give up when life gets crazy. I know that for me, my daily workout is usually the first thing to go when I’m feeling overloaded. So I certainly need the reminder about just how important physical health is to doing my best creative work.

Emotional Energy

You need social support (community). And you probably could do with less Screen Time.

For the former, ask a friend or family member for support. Even if it’s just to let them know you’re feeling overloaded and you need to talk about it. Also, take a moment to give to someone by encouraging, helping, or supporting them.

For the latter, next time you feel the urge to check your Social Network of Choice when you have a down moment, consider opening up your journal or notes app instead and writing down something you’re thankful for.

See also this recent Tim Ferris podcast episode, The Magic of Mindfulness, the EntreLeadership podcast episode with Shawn Achor, and this article I put together on dialing down.

Time

You’re smart enough to know that you’ll never “find” time. You have to make it. If your schedule is full, the only option is to begin saying no to things. I’d start with television if you haven’t already. Then I’d start with taking an hour or two at the beginning of your week to plan how you’ll be spending your time over the next 7 days.

Finances

Cut something small and simple out of your budget. Start making coffee at home; stop ordering drinks and dessert at restaurants; sell your car to get rid of the payments and buy something less fancy for cash. These types of changes aren’t easy to make, but they’re a way of taking charge of your finances and learning to live within your means.

I’d also highly recommend you set up a rainy day fund if you don’t have one already. Save $1,000 as fast as you can. Figure out how to get an extra $34/day and you’ll have that $1,000 in less than a month.

See also this article I wrote last summer about working from home and running a business. In it I talk some more about financial health, physical health, and relational health for the creative entrepreneur.

Staying Sane In the Midst of a Busy or Challenging Season

If you’re in a particularly busy or challenging season of life, what you need is the ability to press through. If you’re on the edge of a breakthrough, keep going and get yourself to the other side of the complexity.

What do I mean by “on the edge of a breakthrough?”

When you’re learning something new or transitioning to a different season of life, you have to “break through” from where you were to get to where you’re going.

Perhaps it’s that you’re starting a new business. Or you’re learning PHP. Or you want to get better at budgeting. Or you’re writing a book. When you’re first starting out and you’re at the very outside of that new skill set, it doesn’t seem quite so scary. But then, once you begin making a little bit of progress, you realize just how much you don’t know, and that state can be overwhelming.

It feels overwhelming because you suddenly begin to see so many open ideas, moving parts, and hazy concepts. You can see everything moving around, but it’s all in a fog and doesn’t make sense yet. You have a ton of unanswered questions, and you don’t even know who to go to for help or what you would even ask them.

Basically, you’re in the midst of a heightened season of “deep work,” and it’s not easy.

Instead of quitting, keep on learning. Keep pushing through. Eventually, the fog will lift, the dots will connect, and you’ll get that breakthrough.

A few weeks ago, I wrote an article on how I stay sane when life is extra busy.

You want to make sure that as you’re persevering in your busy or challenging season, it’s not to the detriment your health and relationships.

Why take out all the fun of learning a new skill or starting a new business? It’s hard enough as it is without letting yourself become habitually sleep deprived and neglecting your closest relationships.

By all means, keep your sanity and your health! This will actually help you. It will give you more energy and strength to learn, and it will expedite the crazy season, and even make it more enjoyable.

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, it’s all the more important to be overly diligent and intentional with how you spend your time. 

Here are the ways I stay focused during especially busy or challenging seasons of life (such as the one I’m in right now, as a matter of fact):

  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. This is why I’ve been spending even less time than usual on email and Twitter…

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

  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’s sleep, a diet that gives you energy, and some regular out-and-about exercise is so good for you.

  6. Date night, family time, and lunches with friends: Social support is one of the main ways to keep a healthy emotional state. It’s also one of the best ways to increase your baseline level of happiness and to help ensure a successful and satisfying career.

    For me, when things get extra busy, the thing that next goes out the window is my time with friends. I’ll find myself wanting to cancel my standing lunches with friends, work late and infringe on family time, and even skip date night with my wife. All so I can work more hours.

    While there are occasions here and there when I truly do need to work extra, they need to be the exception to the rule and not the default.

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

* * *

Thanks for reading! As I said, we’ll be diving more into this topic in January. In the mean time, I hope you’ll sign up for the free class I’m teaching. It starts in just a few days, and it’s going to be awesome!

And, in closing, here’s one more quote from Dr. Swenson:

Let’s stay busy to be sure. But together let’s also develop the necessary theological underpinnings for margin that will allow us to accept its importance without guilt. For just as we need to eat and sleep, so we also need to breathe.

Introduction to Margin (Part 1)

In a word or two, how would you describe your average day?

Busy?
Overwhelming?
Relaxing?
Pointless?
Productive?
Boring?
Stressful?
Fulfilling?

For me, in this season of life, I’d say that my average day is a mixed bag. While most days are productive on paper, they feel a little bit too busy and a little bit too stressed.1

As a small-business owner, sometimes my responsibilities have me pulled in a half-dozen directions. Between Tools & Toys, The Sweet Setup, The Focus Course, shawnblanc.net, my Shawn Today podcast, and The Fight Spot newsletter… well, life can feel frazzled at times.

But I’m not alone here, am I? You’re busy, too. We all are.

From the rising of the sun until long after it sets, how quickly our days get filled with things to do. Important responsibilities. Urgent issues. Helping and serving the people who depend on us.

While my current, average day sometimes feels too busy and too stressed, what would my ideal day look like?

My ideal day would be fulfilling, with times that are both relaxing and productive.

I’m about as “Type A” as they come. I’ve always got more ideas than time and I feel most energized when I’m working on a project. The downside is that means it can be hard for me to stop working and even to stop thinking about work.

* * *

In his book, Margin, Richard Swenson, M.D., starts out with this statement:

The conditions of modern-day living devour margin. If you are homeless, we send you to a shelter. If you are penniless, we offer you food stamps. If you are breathless, we connect you to oxygen. But if you are marginless, we give you yet one more thing to do.

Not only are we given one more thing to do, many of us are even seeking out more to do — perhaps intentionally, but most likely unintentionally — simply because we struggle to say ‘no’ to requests of our time and attention and thus are busy beyond capacity. When we do have a spare moment, we fill it quickly without thinking by checking the news, social media, and email, almost as if by habit.

“No matter how busy life gets,” writes Jessica Turner in her book The Fringe Hours, “I’m here to tell you that you not only can but must make time to do things that matter to you.”

When you think of margin in your life, think of health. Physical health, emotional health, mental health, relational health, financial health, creative health.

  • Margin in your finances means you’re living within your means and even have a rainy day fund.
  • Margin in your schedule means you have time to do the things you need to do as well as the things you want to do.
  • Margin in your emotions means you don’t live constantly on the edge — losing your temper or your patience at the drop of a hat.
  • Margin for your thoughts means you have the wherewithal to make clear decisions and focus on your most important work.

All of these areas overlap with one another — they’re not isolated. Which is why, when a household lacks margin in its finances it can erode at margin in the marriage. Or when we lack margin in our schedule, it can erode the margin in our emotions.

Why is margin important?

We need margin. You need it. And so do I.

Without margin in our finances, we fall deeper in debt every time the car breaks down. Without margin in our schedule, we have no time to rest, recharge, or serve others. And without margin for our thoughts, we lack creative energy to make progress on our most important work.

Though, not always, oftentimes our lack of margin is self-inflicted.

We would love to have a rainy day fund, but when we see a bigger television for a cheaper price, we buy the TV instead of setting that money aside. We would love to have time at the end of the day to read a good book, but when we come home from work we instinctively turn on said television. We would love to make progress on our side-project, but when we have a break, we spend it check our social media timelines.

It’s like Paul wrote in the Bible: “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate… I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.”

Listening to Overwhelm

Again, Swenson writes:

No one likes pain. We all want to get rid of it as soon as possible. But physical pains are usually there for a reason, to tell us something is wrong and needs to be fixed. Emotional, relational, and societal pains, too, are often indicators that all is not well. As such, they serve a valuable purpose — they help us focus.

Modern-day living, however, opposes focusing. Surrounded by frenzy and interruptions, we have no time for anything…

Do You Need a Change or Are You On the Verge of a Breakthrough?

When you’re feeling the pain of overwhelm, listen to it.

There can be two reasons for the stress you feel:

  • It may be that life is telling you you’re marginless.
  • Or, sometimes that feeling of overwhelm is because you’re in a season of transition — you’re close to a breakthrough.

When it’s the former, you need to dial down and create some margin. Make sure you’ve got some things in place so you can stay sane and healthy.

However, when it’s the latter — when you’re on your way toward a breakthrough in your skills — you need help and the perseverance to press through.

Part Two…

In a couple days, we’ll hit on some of the simple ways you can quickly restore margin in your life.

Also, we’ll be hitting on this topic (and more) in the free Elements of Focus class that begins in less than a week! If you haven’t yet signed up, you definitely should.

Update: Part two has been published. You can read it here.


  1. Over the years, I think I’ve gotten pretty good at making sure my time is spent only on the most important and necessary work. Obviously, there is wiggle in there because I’m just a regular person. But, so far as I can tell, just about as much of my time as I have is spent doing the things I want and need to be doing in order to keep things moving forward. The problem for me, it seems, is not in cutting back and dialing down even more, but that I clearly have things for which it is time to delegate. More on that another day.
Thursday, December 3

Last Christmas I was given a Col. Littleton No. 1 Grip weekender bag. It was an epic gift. It’s beautiful.

Then, last week I came across this episode of the EntreLeadership podcast where they interviewed Col. Littleton himself, and he is the man.

I love the part when he goes off on how all the people who copy his bags make things that are cheaper and of less quality — nobody is copying Col. Littleton bag and making it better and more expensive (reminds me of this awesome video by Saddleback Leather on how to knock off their most popular bag).

He also has some awesome thoughts on how to treat your customers / audience, and how to always do more work than what you’re paid for.

There are so many great nuggets in this conversation, you’ve got to give it a listen.

Wednesday, December 2

A couple of weeks ago I recorded 60 videos over the span of 5 days.

(It was much less crazy and much more fun than it sounds.)

41 of the videos are for a major update to The Focus Course that will be going live at the end of this month. And 19 of the videos are for this free class I’m doing, starting on December 13.

Here’s a picture of me looking serious, when what I’m actually doing is wrangling the world’s most annoying teleprompter app.

I just got back all the videos for the upcoming free class, The Elements of Focus. And, one of them got cut from the final class schedule.

So… I thought it’d be fun to share it with you. Because, why not?

The idea behind this video is based on the quote from Dave Ramsey where the says, “If you will live like no one else, later you can live like no one else.”

Living like nobody else is a curious and difficult metric.

It’s pointless (not to mention rude) to look around at folks and assume they are or are not on track to attain their goals. However, statistically speaking, the majority of people will not actually reach their goals.

We know this because one of the most common regrets of the dying is that they worked too hard and neglected their relationships, values, and even their own happiness. And yet, despite all that hard work, the average retiree at age 65 has only enough in savings to pay for less than 2 years worth of living expenses.

Add on top the fact that we live in an unprecedented “Age of Distraction” where we never have to be bored. In our pocket we carry around instant access to an incessant stream of real-time news and entertainment.

In short, if we want to have any hope of accomplishing our goals and living out our life vision, we need to be intentional and proactive.

But sometimes we don’t know where to start.

So, I humbly suggest that perhaps we should simply start by living differently than most people…

All that said, check out the video. And then, don’t forget to sign up for the free class (if you haven’t already).

Monday, November 30

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As a reader of shawnblanc.net, you get a 10% discount on your purchase from Lecharl. Use the code shawn10 when you checkout — and remember that we always offer free, worldwide shipping.

We invite you to visit us at www.lecharl.com. We would also be glad if you want to connect with us on Instagram under @lecharlwatches.

* * *

My thanks to Lecharl Watches for sponsoring the site this week. Don’t forget to use the code shawn10 at checkout to save 10-percent.

Thoughts on Meaningful Productivity

It’s the end of the day.

I work downstairs, so for me, closing up the office is as simple as stepping away from my desk and walking up the half-flight of stairs.

I’ve had this 30-second commute since 2011, which is when I quit my job to focus full-time on writing here at shawnblanc.net.

Despite the complete autonomy for how I spend my time, doing my best creative work is still a daily practice.

There have been seasons in my life when, at the end of my day, I walk up that half-flight of steps with a feeling that my day was a waste. I just spent hours at work, yet feel completely unsatisfied.

Usually this it’s because I got caught up in the seemingly urgent and pressing issues of the day. Things didn’t go as well as I’d hoped they would. I tried to make progress on a meaningful task but just kept hitting a wall.

It’s now been nearly five years since I began working for myself and working from home. And over the years, it has become ever more important to me that spend my time well. I’ve learned a bit about how I work (and how I should best be spending my time) so I have fewer “wasted days”.

For me, spending my time well means spending my time creating.

But that’s easier said than done.

Since I work for myself, I’m also in charge of all the budgeting and bookkeeping, server admin, customer support, marketing, income projections, content strategy, and more. Not to mention, you know, actually doing the work of writing and publishing.

I could spend hours and hours every day on email and other admin tasks. Or, I could spend hours every day making something.

This is not news, of course. You’re in the same position.

It’s the age-old conundrum of “urgent versus important”, right? We want to spend our time on work that’s important, not just work that’s all shiny right now but won’t matter one lick tomorrow.

Where everything changed for me was the day I realized that I alone was in charge of how I spent my time.

It’s I who has to choose how to spend my time. I can spend it on silly things or I can spend it on awesome things.

Sometimes, silly and awesome intersect (such as here).

But usually, when doing my most important work, it’s, well, it’s work.

Which is why it can be so easy to become desensitized to shallow work. All the email and admin tasks are easy to do, and I fool myself into thinking that checking email throughout the day is a totally fine thing to do — I’m being “productive”.

Below are some thoughts on what I call “Meaningful Productivity” — what it is, what it isn’t, and why it matters.

Productivity Isn’t Just for Business-y Stuff

Is the stay-at-home dad who spends most of his day changing diapers and cleaning up messes any less productive than his wife who is the CEO of a charity organization?

Of course not. Each is productive in his or her area of responsibility.

Productivity tends to be defined by how well we use our task management systems, how organized our calendar app is, how fast we can blaze through a pile of emails, and how fluidly we flow from one meeting to the next.

But those metrics skew toward rewarding effective busywork while giving little dignity to meaningful work.

Which is why I want to define productivity differently. With less of a focus on our party trick of balancing many plates at once, and more of a focus on our ability to consistently give our time and attention to the things which are most important.

Productivity is Not Primarily About Efficiency

Productivity, in and of itself, is just a metric for efficiency.

Yes, efficiency is awesome. But what’s more awesome is spending your time on the right things. Things of substance and value.

Besides. Even though productivity measures efficiency, it’s a sliding scale.

How fast you can get something done is not always the proper metric. Sometimes I spend 30 minutes or more on a single email. Because it needs to be worded just right. Sometimes I can fire off a reply in less than a minute.

Speed alone doesn’t matter. What matters was if I communicated the best I could.

While there is obviously no point in spending 30 minutes on a single email that could just as easily be written in 1. It’s equally poor form to spend just 1 minute on an email that requires more time and thought than that.

My point being: rather than concerning ourselves mostly with tips and tricks, we should make sure we’re actually spending our time well in the first place. Tips and tricks can help (and they’re fun), but they aren’t the main topic.

Meaningful Productivity Thrives on Deep Work, Focused Attention, and Relationships

More often than not, our best work is accomplished during times when we are in the zone. Or as Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi says, when we are in a state of flow.

Focused Work, looks like an hour or more of single tasking. Practicing a musical instrument. Practicing a physical activity. Writing. Painting. Planning and architecting. Coding. Designing. Etc.

Shallow work, looks like “multitasking”. Email correspondence. Checking our social network timelines. Browsing the news. Etc.

We can’t pit deep work and shallow work against one another. Because they’re both important in their own right.

However, neither should we replace the former with the latter.

Sure, there are some people whose most important work is to live in their email inbox — communicating with others. For most of us, if all we did was check email we’d be out of a job.

And yet, when most of us sit down to “work” the first thing we do is open our email program.

Why do we open up our email? Because we don’t know what else to do.

It’s one thing to show up and set aside a few hours for focused work. It’s another thing to know what to work on during that time.

When you realize that you’re in control of your time and attention, you’ll see that you have two roles: boss and worker.

You are both the planner and the executer. The thinker and the doer.

Don’t try to do both of these jobs at the same time. Have planning, thinking, strategizing time. And then, later, have working and doing time.

For example, if you’re going to write something, don’t sit down when it’s time to write and ask yourself, “what shall I write about now?”

Know ahead of time what your writing topic will be. This way, when you sit down to write you have just one task: to write.

Meaningful Productivity is a Byproduct of Clarity

You can’t spend your time doing work that matters if you don’t know what matters in the first place.

Productivity hacks, daily routines, automation tools, and the like are all great. But they are a means for optimizing how you’re already spending your time. They’re just faster horses.

And what good is a faster horse if you’re on the wrong road, headed to the wrong place?

We need clarity about who we are, what our values are, our vision for life, what’s important, and what we can do every day to stay steady in our aim of doing our best creative work.

You Have to Start With Meaning

If true (Meaningful) Productivity is doing that which is most important, then it means that productivity is not ultimately based on efficiency, but rather vision and values.

This is why having a life vision and life goals is so powerful. With them, you can define what it looks like to actually be productive (not just busy).

It is in the area of work that this fight to be meaningfully productive is perhaps the most difficult. Our offices, workflows, managers, reports, and meetings all center around the act of being busy with little in place to recognize or reward meaningful productivity.

Productivity “hacks” and “tricks” that promise real and lasting change apart from a foundation of personal values, vision, and integrity are merely skin deep.

The foundation of meaningful productivity is having values (or purpose), vision (or priorities), and the personal integrity to walk them out.

Ask yourself this:

  • What is most important to you in life?
  • What are your most valuable relationships?
  • What are the values you most want to impart to others?

Answer those questions and you’ve got a strong foundation to direct how you spend your time and energy. Because now you can measure your tasks against your vision and values and use them to define meaningful productivity for your life.

* * *

Speaking of… If this topic interests you, then you should sign up for the free class I’m hosting in a few weeks. You can find out more here.

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 amazingribs.com 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

Announcing The Elements of Focus (A Free Video Class)

I’m doing something crazy. And it’s going to be a lot of fun…

With the new year just around the corner, you’re thinking about what you want to do better in 2016. As you should. You have incredible things to create. You have something valuable to share with the world. You have friends and family.

Your best work, your best ideas, and your best relationships are all still ahead of you.

And that’s where The Elements of Focus comes in.

The Elements of Focus is a free video class that begins on December 13, 2015.

It will be fun, personal, and to the point. No hype and no tricks. Just a handful of topics (16 to be exact) that I believe are most important to meaningful productivity and doing our best creative work.

You should absolutely sign up for the class. And tell your friends to sign up too!

Check out the website for the class and sign up for free, right here:

thefocuscourse.com/freeclass

“The Fight To Stay Creative” (Video of My Talk from Circles Conference)

This is my talk from the 2015 Circles Conference in Dallas, Texas.

Circles is an absolutely fantastic event, and it was such an honor to go. I was fortunate enough to be the very first speaker. Which meant two things: Getting to go first meant that once my talk was done, I was free to enjoy the rest of the conference without any pre-talk nerves or jitters.

It also meant that I had the unique privilege of setting the tone for the event. I spent months and months thinking about the one thing I wanted to convey to this audience of creative professionals. If I were in their seats, what would be the most helpful and encouraging takeaway?

My talk was titled “The Fight to Stay Creative”, and it was a modified and improved (if I do say so myself) version of this blog post.

In my short talk I share my story of how I quit my job to blog for a living; the fears and challenges I’ve faced in launching a half-dozen websites and products over the past 5 years; and what I believe are the most important factors that help us to do our best creative work every day.

I am extremely happy with the talk. It feels like this is a summation of my “message” — the convergence of diligence and focus with creativity and fun.

It’s all about doing our best creative work. And, as you learn in the video, doing our best creative work is a fight.

* * *

If you found value in this video, may I humbly suggest you check out my free class on creativity and productivity?

It’s called The Elements of Focus, and thousands of others have been through it.

You can learn more about the class, and sign up for free right here.

Tuesday, November 10

As you may have noticed from yesterday’s link, myself and the team over at The Sweet Setup have been working on a brand new iBook. It’s called Day One In Depth, and it’s available now on iBooks.

This book is the most detailed and extensive guide to Day One available today. Featuring in-depth reviews that cover every function and feature found within Day One, our handbook goes line by line showing you how to make the most of this award-winning journaling app.

I’ve long been a fan and user of Day One, which is why this app was our first choice for a deep dive guide. Not only do I use this app all the time (and have for years), but it’s the sort of app I know YOU could benefit from using as well. Thus, our new comprehensive guide.

Monday, November 9

This morning, over on The Sweet Setup, is an article from yours truly about how and why I use the awesome Day One journaling app.

As I mention in the article, what’s special about Day One is how well designed and full of thoughtful details it is. The app is so versatile, you could use it for just about anything — certainly more than a humble journal.

On Dialing Down, Saying “No”, and Making Time

In addition to my own efforts to dial down and re-focus on doing the things which are most important and most enjoyable to me, I’ve come across a handful of other folks doing the same.

Below are a few links and quotes I hope you find useful.

CGP Grey, in his article “Dialing Down”:

“I have less to do. Why do I still feel overwhelmed? Why is it taking me longer to get less done?” I paused and listened and found another kind of background noise in my brain that had been increasing, ever so slowly, since I became self-employed a few years ago. For lack of a better term, I’ll call it ‘The Internet’ but it’s a broader than that: it’s the rise of all the digital vectors of information delivery pointed at me.

As a result, Grey is taking a month off from podcast listening, RSS, YouTube subscriptions, Hacker News, and more.

I love this line:

I firmly believe that boredom is good for brain health, and I’m banishing podcasts for the month from my phone to bring boredom back into my life.

* * *

Tim Ferriss is on a similar “attention vacation”. He is giving up VC investing so he can focus more on writing. Just like with Grey’s article above, it’s encouraging to learn about the “why” behind the choice.

There are a lot of nuggets of wisdom in Ferriss’ article. Such as:

Are you fooling yourself with a plan for moderation?

The first principle is that you must not fool yourself and you are the easiest person to fool. – Richard P. Feynman

Where in your life are you good at moderation? Where are you an all-or-nothing type? Where do you lack a shut-off switch? It pays to know thyself.

And:

If you’re suffering from a feeling of overwhelm, it might be useful to ask yourself two questions:

  • In the midst of overwhelm, is life not showing me exactly what I should subtract?
  • Am I having a breakdown or a breakthrough?

* * *

Third, is Cal Newport — always the advocate for being intentional about doing work that matters. In Newport’s article, he simply shares about how he spends a few hours per week organizing the rest of his week:

It’s hard work figuring out how to make a productive schedule come together: a goal that requires protecting long stretches of speculative deep thinking while keeping progress alive on long term projects and dispatching the small things fast enough to avoid trouble (but not so fast that the deep stretches fragment).

It’s true that many people approach their days with flexibility, perhaps hunkering down when an immediate deadline looms, but otherwise letting their reactions to input drive the agenda. But I want to emphasize that there’s another group of us who take our time really seriously, and aren’t afraid to spend hours figuring out how best to invest it.

* * *

One last thought on the importance of dialing down. Below is an adapted excerpt from part of Day 37 of The focus Course where we talk about finding boredom and creating margin for thought.

I’ve had an iPhone since the beginning. It’s my favorite gadget of all time. And for the past 8 years this thing has pretty much never been more than an arm’s distance away.

It’s not so easy to be bored anymore. You have to choose to be bored. It used to be that boredom chose you — you were somewhere and you were waiting and there was nothing to do and you were bored. Now, you’re never bored. You can see pictures of some stranger surfing on the other side of the world, or get a live video stream of someone’s hike over Tokyo. This stuff is amazing.

But it means we have to be proactive about our boredom and down time. It means we have to be intentional about creating margin for thought. If 100% of our down time is filled with passive entertainment and bits of information, then when does our mind have a chance to be calm? When do we have a moment to think without needing to think?

As we talked about during Day 5, the little moments of mental down time can do wonders for our long-term ability to create, problem solve, and do great work. Yet, so often we run from boredom at every turn and fill up every spare moment with some sort of pacifier. We need chunks of time where our minds can rest.

In my day, when I’m feeling restless or I find myself bouncing around between inboxes, I just stop and decide that it’s time for a break. I get up and go walk around for a bit. Or I lay down on my couch and listen to what my mind and imagination have to say.

My mind needs space. Your mind needs space, too. This space to think and breath could also be called margin.

In his book, Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial, and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives, Richard Swenson M.D., describes margin as this:

Margin is the space between our load and our limits. It is the amount allowed beyond that which is needed. It is something held in reserve for contingencies or unanticipated situations. Margin is the gap between rest and exhaustion, the space between breathing freely and suffocating.

Margin is the opposite of overload. If we are overloaded we have no margin. Most people are not quite sure when they pass from margin to overload. Threshold points are not easily measurable and are also different for different people in different circumstances. We don’t want to be under-achievers (heaven forbid!), so we fill our schedules uncritically. Options are as attractive as they are numerous, and we overbook.

Swenson is mostly talking about time-management. However, the idea of margin for our thoughts is prevalent as well — our minds need space to breathe and room to think.

* * *

As I mentioned in yesterday’s article: take ownership of your time and attention. When you do, so much changes for the better.

Thursday, November 5

In 2011, Evan Calkins had an idea to help minimize the cost of custom letterpress printing by launching a tiny one page website called Hoban Cards. It leveraged pre designed calling card templates to streamline the printing process while still introducing something beautiful and unique. Evan is now proud to announce a more mature website and marketplace – the third iteration of Hoban Cards.

The new Hoban Cards features two new calling card layouts called The Detective and The Requisite Card. Also, they’ve introduced a new line of letterpress printed note cards and stationery sets.

Use promo code tools during checkout to get $5 off your order.

* * *

My thanks to Hoban Cards for sponsoring the site this week. I had my own business calling cards printed through Hoban Cards a while ago and the quality is absolutely top-notch. Highly recommended.

It’s the first week of November, which means our annual Tools & Toys Christmas Catalog is here. Wow!

As fun and playful as Tools & Toys is, I also like to toss in a dash of thoughtfulness whenever possible. And our holiday gift guide is an ideal spot:

A gift is more than just an item to fill a box so it can be wrapped up in red and green paper and placed under a tree. When you buy a gift this year, don’t give out of obligation, but rather give out of thankfulness and gratitude.

There is another side to this idea of intentional giving as well. It’s the idea that intentional giving means getting something awesome. Which, is actually easier than it may seem. With just a little bit of forethought and inspirational assistance, you too can move past the black hole of terrible gift giving that is filled with fruit cakes and generic gift certificates.

Instead, give a gift that will be well received. A gift that shows how savvy and clever you are.

We’ve got 16 stellar items picked out for you (I’d like the Dopp Kit and the Bonavita coffee brewer, please).

While you’re there, please take a chance to check out our recommended non-profits. We always give 11% of our gross earnings to charity throughout the year, and for November and December we’ll be donating that money specifically to St. Jude, Operation Christmas Child, and App Camp for Girls. When you follow our links to buy stuff on Amazon this year, that’s where a portion of our earnings will go.

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 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 shawnblanc.net 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 shawnblanc.net 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.)

* * *

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 shawnblanc.net 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 shawnblanc.net and putting together certain posts and articles into a series around specific topics (such as writing, creativity, productivity, workflows, etc.)
  • Using the awesomeness of ConvertKit 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.

* * *

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 The Fight Spot newsletter.

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Just punch in your info below to get on the list.

And as my way of saying thank you, I’ll send you my popular ebook, The Procrastinator’s Guide to Progress, for free.

Survey Says…

Last week I asked you what your biggest challenge was.

The question was in the form of a very simple, 4-option survey where you just clicked the statement that sounded most true right now.

The statements were:

  • “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 response to this “survey” surprised me. Though it probably shouldn’t have.

Long-time readers of the site no doubt remember when I primarily wrote about the latest apps and gadgets.

However, over the past year I’ve been primarily writing and podcasting about focus.

In fact, that shift happened on July 28, 2014. That’s the day I began a new topical series on my podcast, Shawn Today. The topics were components of a focused life, getting a life vision, planning your day, making lifestyle changes to support your goals, having deep personal integrity related to your own commitments, the tyranny of the urgent, and more.

Those podcast episodes were the beginning of my work to build The Focus Course. And their content overflowed into the writing and podcasting I’ve been doing on the Weekly Briefly and here on on shawnblanc.net.

I guess it should have come as no surprise that when I asked you what your biggest challenge is right now, the overwhelming response was this:

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

Here’s a chart showing the breakdown of responses to the survey:

survey results

  • 12-percent of you are interested in audience building.
  • 18-percent of you want to improve your tools and workflows.
  • 23-percent of you want to do better creative work.
  • 46-percent of you want to be more focused with your time and energy.

These results are exciting to me because the challenge of being more focused with our time and energy is something I’m extremely passionate about.

However, it’s also clear to me that I could be doing a MUCH better job helping you find solutions and make meaningful progress in these areas.

That said, I already have several things in mind for exactly how to better help you with focus (aside from the obvious solution of The Focus Course itself). Alas, the new ideas still need some ground work, so that is something which will have to wait for a future post.

Tuesday, October 27

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

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

Rindle

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

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

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

Monday, October 26

Last week, my pal Mike Vardy and I launched something pretty great: The Awareness Building Class.

It’s a 5-part audio class with accompanying PDF workbook and transcripts. We designed it to go hand-in-hand with The Focus Course. And, therefore, we’ve been giving it away for the past week to anyone and everyone who signs up for The Focus Course.

But that offer ends tonight.

So, if you sign up for the Focus Course tonight, you’ll get the Awareness Building Class for FREE. But if you wait, the class will cost you an additional $79.

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

Wednesday, October 21

Meet Settled, the hot new payment feature from Acuity Scheduling that lets customers pay & tip online …without the awkward.

For the business owner, it helps you get paid automatically and awesomely, just like Uber does, without having to swipe another credit card again. For the customer, it helps you breeze in and breeze out of your appointments without having to wait in line, wonder how much tip to give, or suffer through a thousand good-byes.

Why settle for less when you can get Settled online?

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My thanks to Acutiy Scheduling for sponsoring the site this week.

The Awareness Building Class

Awareness Building Class

My friend Mike Vardy and I just released a new product we’ve been working on for the past several weeks: The Awareness Building Class

In short, The Awareness Building Class is a 5-part series of audio teachings filled with real-life stories and actionable advice to help you stop guessing and start going.

Mike and I designed the class to go hand-in-hand with The Focus Course. All 5 of the Class modules fit in line with the key themes of The Focus Course, such as clarity, action, integrity, productivity, and meaning.

Listening to the Awareness Building Class and going through its workbook will complement the work you do in The Focus Course by giving you an additional layer of context and real-life examples from Mike and I related to the content and the assignments found within the Focus Course.

The Awareness Building Class includes

  • 5 Audio sessions (each between 30–45 minutes) on the topics of Clarity, Confidence, Integrity, Self-Awareness, and Harmony.
  • A PDF workbook for each session with highlights, key takeaways, and action items.
  • Professionally edited transcriptions of all the audio.

The Class Topics

Clarity: What it is, how it relates to your work, your personal life, your hobbies, your time, your finances, and more.

Confidence: How Confidence relates to productivity, why it’s critical for doing your best work, how a lack of confidence is a form of Resistance, and more.

Integrity: A personal favorite, for this session we discuss Integrity’s vital role related to motivation and procrastination.

Self-Awareness: Self-Awareness is about understanding our Vision, Values, Most important relationships, Priorities, Goals (the why behind them), our Capacity, and our Default behaviors.

Harmony: Re-defining the idea of “work/life balance” and bringing all the areas of our life together into something where the sum is greater than the individual parts.

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Because the Awareness Building Class has been designed to go hand-in-hand with The Focus Course, the class is available for FREE to everyone who signs up for The Focus Course between now and October 26. (Afterward, the class will only be available as a $79 stand-alone product.)

P.S. For those of you who are already Focus Course members: check your email. I believe in treating new customers and past customers equally awesome-ly. So everyone who is already a Focus Course member gets the class for free as well.

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