January 12, 2015
“Perpetual devotion to what a man calls his business, is only to be sustained by perpetual neglect of many other things.” — Robert Louis Stevenson
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Like many of you, no doubt, I spent some time thinking about personal goals and ideas for this upcoming year. The new year is always a good time to reflect, take stock of where we are, and make sure we’re still on course for where we want to be.
In a few months I will begin my 5th year of working from home and working for myself (thanks in no small part to you, dear readers). One of the most empowering lessons I have learned over these past 4 years has been regarding my own limitations. Not merely my limitations of time, but also of energy.
In any given day I have 2 maybe 3 hours of good writing time in me. A couple hours of reading. Hopefully an hour or two of researching, thinking, or decision making. And maybe an hour of admin and other busywork.
If I push my day to include more than that, I often find myself not making much progress. There is a point when the responsible and productive thing for me to do is leave my office and stop working altogether.
The workaholic in me wants to squeeze in a few more tasks. I have friends who can crank out hours upon hours of productive, creative work. Alas, I’m not one of those types. And so I’m trying to let myself quit while I’m ahead and go upstairs to be with my family, or go run errands, or just lie down and stare at the ceiling while I listen to what is going on in my imagination.
Although I have a regular work schedule, I take time to go for long walks on the beach so that I can listen to what is going on inside my head. If my work isn’t going well, I lie down in the middle of a workday and gaze at the ceiling while I listen and visualize what goes on in my imagination.
I’m an advocate of productivity as much as the next guy with a blog, but over my years of working from home, I feel that too much focus on productivity is to miss the forest for the trees.
Being productive is not what’s ultimately important. I want to do my best creative work and I want to have thriving relationships.
Time management, GTD, focus, diligence — these can help keep me on track. But they are not the end goal in and of themselves. I want to focus first on creativity. What do I need to do my best creative work?
Have I written today? Have I daydreamed? Have I been contemplative? Have I had an inspiring and encouraging conversation? Have I helped somebody? These acts are far more important than the progress I make against my to-do list.
When you work for yourself, there is an oceanic undercurrent that pulls you into the details of your job. The thousand responsibilities of administration and communication and infrastructure. These are important, to be sure, because without them your business would cease to be. But (at least in my case) these are the support structures at best. The foundation of my business is not the ancillary administration; it is the muse.
In The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann, there’s this great line: “Order and simplification are the first steps toward the mastery of a subject…”
Mann’s line carries the same truth as the quote by Robert Louis Stevenson which is at the beginning of this article. Our devotion to a subject can only be sustained by the neglect of many others. Finding something we want to do is the easy part. Now we must decide what we will neglect — we must simplify where we spend our energy.
In this new year, as our thoughts are on what we can do and what we want to do, perhaps we should first think about what we will not do. What tasks and pursuits will we give up or entrust to others?
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“A man is rich in proportion to the number of things which he can afford to let alone.” — Henry Thoreau
Speaking of uninterrupted work time, Paul Graham’s essay about how makers and managers use and schedule their time differently is always worth a read.
Who understands the compounding productivity interest earned with each consecutive uninterrupted minute of work? It is there in those hard to capture collective minutes where your best work is happening.
It’s not just a challenge to get uninterrupted work time when in an office environment. It’s also a challenge in the most isolated of work spaces. Because our minutes are interrupted from without (co-workers, incoming phone calls, and other notifications) as well as from within (our tendency to check twitter real quick or to keep our email app open in the background).
Friday, January 9
It’s been 90 days since the re-design of Tools & Toys went live, and when comparing the most recent numbers to the same quarter last year we saw a 3x growth in pageviews, unique visitors, and site revenue.
And so, on today’s episode of The Weekly Briefly I wanted to share more about why we decided to redesign the site, what our goals were, and what we think has contributed to the site’s growth (beyond just the new look).
Wednesday, January 7
Wow. This is a brilliant and fantastic new feature to Gumroad.
I use Gumroad to sell Delight is in the Details, and I couldn’t be happier with the service. As a seller, Gumroad is extremely affordable and very easy to set up. And the user experience for the buyer is just as great — I wouldn’t be selling with them if I thought otherwise.
With their new email workflow stuff, you can set up scheduled emails and automated email campaigns that go out to your customers. It can be as simple as a thank-you email after someone has bought your product, or a whole series of communications.
I’ve been use Zapier to connect Gumroad with Mailchimp to do something similar, but I’m paying $785/year for those two services. Gumroad now includes it for free. Though with Mailchimp I do get quite a bit more control of my email designs and flexibility as my email list grows with folks who are interested in my book but who haven’t yet bought it.
Sounds great, but… rollover data only carries over to the next billing cycle, and it’s only for those on the Mobile Share Value plans. And the Mobile Share Value plans only get their discounted pricing if you pay full price for your smart phone or have AT&T Next (where you “lease” your smartphone).
But it does sound like an awesome step in the right direction. Remember when mobile phone plans were all about how many minutes and how many text messages you got and data was unlimited (because who uses data?) Now that’s basically flip flopped.
And speaking of AT&T data usage, last week I was logging in to my AT&T account to update my billing info. Before making it to my account settings page, I was asked if I wanted to upgrade my plan from 10GBs of shared data/month to 30GBs. Below, in smaller print, was a link to see my average monthly data usage. So I clicked that only to discover that my wife and I use about 1.5 GBs of data per month. So instead I downgraded from our 10GB/month plan to the 3GB/month plan and we’re now saving $40 (!) a month.
Something we didn’t put to our 2015 Tech Resolutions article was to check in on and evaluate our cell phone plans. Mobile carriers are changing and reconfiguring their plans all the time; how many of us are on older plans that are charging us more than we need, but don’t know any different?
Tuesday, January 6
We just posted our latest app review over on The Sweet Setup, and it’s for desktop RSS readers. We tried out literally a dozen different apps and Reeder was clearly the best. It’s fast, it’s well-designed, it’s awesome.
Monday, January 5
Managing teams is hard. Imagine it’s Monday morning and your team doesn’t know what they’re working on for the week. Plans change and schedules change with them. Spreadsheets weren’t built for this.
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As new projects come in, you’ll know who’s available, and when to hire. Leave behind bloated spreadsheets and begin scheduling in Harvest Forecast with a free 30-day trial.
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My thanks to Harvest Forecast for sponsoring the site this week. Sponsorship by The Syndicate.
Great setup interview with Sebastian Green. And I love that The Sweet Setup now has its first Hackintosh featured:
When in my home office, I use what I call a Hackintosh Pro (Yes, you did read that correctly). Before I got bitten by the Apple bug about 10 years ago I used to build my own PCs, and for the past 3 or so years I have been itching to build one again. I had an old PowerMac G5 that finally died, so I decided to strip the case, convert it to fit an ATX motherboard, and build my own machine inside it. Building the machine was the easy part. Getting it to run OS X was the tricky part
Once you go “paperless” you can never go back. It’s great. For one, the lack of clutter is wonderful. Secondly, it’s ridiculously easy to set up some Hazel rules that will automagically sort your incoming document scans for you — making it a nearly-mindless task to file away all your paperwork, instead of sitting in front of your filing cabinet putting one piece of paper away at a time in different hanging file folders. Moreover, with all your documents scanned, it’s very very easy to find what you’re looking for.
All that to say, over on Tools & Toys we just put together a big update to our guide to going paperless. If you want to know which scanner to get, which shredder to get, and how to go about organizing your scans, check it out.
Saturday, January 3
I want to thank curbi for sponsoring all three sites this week.
Curbi offers parental controls for iOS devices, and it’s pretty incredible — especially if you’ve got a family of devices you’d like to help safeguard. Curbi is a way to monitor and restrict the apps and websites your kids use on their iOS devices.
You can flat-out block certain content content (such as porn), and you can set time-based restrictions on other content (like no Facebook during study-time hours), etc.
And curbi can be more than just for kids — you can set it up on your own device as well. Use curbi as an internet content blocker that actually works so you don’t accidentally get slimed with stuff you don’t want to see, and so you’re not constantly entering in a PIN to visit regular sites that iOS doesn’t need to block.
Curbi is free to use for 14 days, and then a monthly subscription is just $6.99 no matter how many devices are in your home.
Friday, January 2
On this week’s episode of The Weekly Briefly, I talk about the pursuit of “the best”.
Who doesn’t love finding the best tools, the best coffee, the best food, the best experiences? I know I do. But I realize that this can, at times, be an unhealthy pursuit. Too much focus on only ever doing and experiencing “the best” of something can lead to disappointment and complaining when we don’t have “the best”. Which is why being content — and making each unique experience “the best” — is a choice.
Welp, it convinced me to finally drop in a dynamic timestamp in all my sites’ footers.
Family Sharing is not ready for the Sparks family. I’ve spent way too much time trying to make this all work and this weekend I’m officially throwing in the towel on Family Sharing until it gets better.
There are just 3 iOS devices in the Blanc family: my iPhone, my wife’s iPhone, and my iPad. They’re signed in with the same Apple ID for the store, and with our own Apple ID for email and calendar. It works great… for now.
Over at The Sweet Setup, we laid out a few ideas for getting your setup up-to-date:
As Apple users, we generally take pride in our computing setup and technology. Technology is always moving forward, so you can’t go years without upgrading or maintaining your equipment. While resolutions generally deal with losing weight or finishing a project at home, our technology setups can also be part of our plan.
I think it’s wise to evaluate the tools we use. Sure, it can be easy to nerd-out a bit too much and be constantly over-evaluating our gear to the point where we never actually do any work. But that doesn’t mean we should never look things over. Are the services, software, and hardware tools we use day in and day out serving us well? Or have our workflow needs changed and would we be better served with a different set of tools? Or is there a newer / better / more-reliable way to do a job that would benefit us if we upgraded?
These are the sort of questions worth asking about once a year. Then, once we’ve solved them, put our heads down and get back to doing our best creative work every day.
Wednesday, December 31
With all these great technological advances swarming around me and an endless amount of information at my disposal, even when I’m sitting still it feels like I’m moving at a million miles an hour without still knowing who I am.
December 30, 2014
In more ways than one, I grew up in a fussy coffee home. My parents didn’t want me drinking coffee until I was 16 because they were concerned the caffeine would stunt my growth. Who knows.
My home was also fussy about coffee because my dad only ever brewed with a french press. I grew up thinking that brewing and drinking coffee was a special thing. I still think that.
I’m now 33, and have more than made up for the cups of coffee I missed out on the first half of my life. In my kitchen we have a cupboard dedicated entirely to coffee contraptions: a Mokapot; a stovetop espresso maker; an Espro brand french press, a classic Bodum french press, and a single-serving french press; a vacuum siphon coffee maker; two different styles of V60; the Clever Dripper; a Kalita Wave; an Able Kone system; and, of course, the AeroPress.
They’re all great — each one is unique in its own way and brew method. The vacuum siphon pot is a lot of fun to use on special occasions; the Espro makes a large pot of coffee for guests; Able’s Kone Brewing System looks cool; etc.
But the AeroPress is by far and away my favorite. And I know I’m not alone here.
The AeroPress has become this sort of cult classic, popular geeky way to brew coffee. Everyone with a Twitter account recommends it. There’s even an AeroPress world championship competition. And yet, while you can go to your local hipster coffee shop and buy a french press or a pourover, you’d be hard pressed to find a shop that sells (much less even uses) the AeroPress.
So for something that isn’t found in mainstream coffee shops (or even most “hipster” coffee shops), why all the hype? What makes the AeroPress so cool?
I’ve brewed over 1,000 cups of coffee with my AeroPress. Here’s what I think is the good (and the bad) of the the AeroPress.
It’s cheap to buy. If you’re getting in to fussy coffee (or if you lose or demolish your AeroPress), a brand new one is just $25.
It’s cheap to use. For one, filters are super cheap — a year’s supply of paper filters cost just $4. And secondly, most AeroPress brew methods call for just 16-18g of coffee to brew a cup. There is very little waste.
Clean-up is easy. The AeroPress basically cleans itself as you use it. When you’re done brewing a cup, you twist off the cap and pop the puck into the trash. Then rinse and let dry. (Though I will say that I don’t think clean AeroPress cleanup up is quite as easy as with the V60. With the V60 you just toss the filter with grounds into the trash and then rinse the thing out.)
The AeroPress is easy to use when you’re away from your nerdy home coffee tools. The markings on the side of the AeroPress are helpful for measuring out coffee and water. Obviously you won’t need the markings if you’re using a scale to measure. But I take my AeroPress camping and on vacation, so I’ll pre-grind some coffee to take with me, and I know just how much water to add to make a great cup of coffee without having to guess or eyeball it.
These are things you probably already know about. What really makes the AeroPress such a great coffee maker is just how versatile it is. There are a lot of ways you can use it.
For my cupboardfull of aforementioned coffee brewing contraptions, each one has only one best way to brew coffee. The AeroPress has at least three different ways to brew coffee: espresso-like, pourover-esque, and french press-ish. Each way is completely legitimate and delicious.
Now, the AeroPress does have some cons of its own. As I mentioned above, it’s not quite as easy to clean as the V60. Also, the AeroPress can’t brew a big pot of coffee — for that, I use my Espro Press (the Chemex is also a fine choice).
In short, the AeroPress hype is real. If you like variety then the AeroPress lets you mix it up. If you mostly prefer this or that type of coffee, you can find a great way to brew it with the AeroPress. Regardless of the coffee beans or the style of coffee you prefer, there’s a good way to brew it with the AeroPress.
Tuesday, December 30
Over on The Sweet Setup, we just updated our review of Pinboard apps for iOS. After iOS 8 came out many Pinboard apps took advantage of the new extensions and share sheets. And with the 3.0 update to Pinner, it’s become our new favorite.
The good news is, it was such a close call between Pinner and Pushpin that if you’re still using the latter, I honestly don’t think it’s worth switching. Or, if your a nerd like me and you’ve got both installed, you may prefer to use the extension from Pinner and the app of Pushpin (or vice versa).
Monday, December 29
curbi gives parents peace of mind; providing the best solution so the entire family can enjoy the online world as much as the real world.
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A huge thanks to curbi for sponsoring the site this week. curbi is pretty incredible, especially if you’ve got a family of devices you’d like to help safeguard.
And it’s more than just for kids. You can set it up on your own device as well, and use it as an internet content blocker that actually works — so you don’t accidentally get slimed with stuff you don’t want to see and so you’re not constantly entering in a PIN to visit regular sites that iOS doesn’t need to block.
If you run a small business — or are working to build your side-work into a full-time gig — this is an excellent map for how to evaluate this past year’s body of work and how to use those evaluations to better plan for the upcoming year.
This is milestone episode of Shawn Today / The Weekly Briefly. For one, this is my last podcast episode for the year. But, more than that, it’s episode 600 of Shawn Today. Wow.
On a personal note, can I just give a huge thanks to all of you who listen to this show each week? And especially to those of you who are subscribing members to the site and who’ve been a part of the 600 Shawn Today episodes over the past 4 years. You guys are awesome.
That said, today’s episode is a good one. It’s about planning for the upcoming year. And it’s not nearly as lame or tedious as it sounds. This is something my wife and I have done for the past 3 years and we look forward to it every year.
Brought to you by:
The Activité sounds pretty clever. It’s an old school analog watch with new school tech inside:
It’s one part standard wristwatch, one part fitness tracker. It tracks your sleep, steps, and activity. It costs $450. It’s beautiful: made of carefully machined sapphire, calf leather, and stainless steel. It looks like a watch in the most traditional sense.
Tuesday, December 23
If you’ll have some free time over the holiday and feel like relaxing with an awesome game on your iPad or iPhone, well, have we got a list for you.
Over on Tools & Toys, Josh Ginter wrote an excellent review of the Compass Stand for iPad. The Compass Stand is such an awesome iPad accessory, useful for all sorts of situations — I have a friend who keeps theirs in the kitchen for when they cook and for when they use the iPad to Airplay music in their upstairs living room.
Monday, December 22
Yosemite is a conference for Apple designers, developers, and enthusiasts. It will be held next Spring, in the heart of Yosemite National Park.
You’ll hear from some of the most-loved members of this awesome community—people such as Andy Ihnatko, Jim Dalrymple, Neven Mrgan, Serenity Caldwell, and Michael Lopp. You’ll also have opportunities to get out and enjoy the beauty and grandeur of the park. There will be guided hikes, a photo walk with TED photographer James Duncan Davidson, and a Breakpoint Jam with James Dempsey.
This is a once-in-a-lifetime event that will be talked about for years to come. Join us at Yosemite!
My thanks to Yosemite for sponsoring the site this week. This conference is going to be amazing; definitely worth attending.
Thursday, December 18
This is my last podcast episode before Christmas, and I wanted to give a challenge for everyone heading in to holiday time off: Rest well.
Wouldn’t it be awesome to come back from holiday vacation with energy and motivation to do your best creative work? Wouldn’t it be awesome to come back feeling fueled up and energized instead of tired and worn out? It’s easier said than done, to be sure.
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Wednesday, December 17
When you compress things down to a shareable size, you miss a lot. What you don’t see is the unglamorous parts: the sharpening of the chisels, the unclogging of your glue bottle, or the parts that don’t fit together. You don’t see the days where you are too tired or unmotivated to go down and work on anything at all, or those cases where life interferes and a ‘easy one weekend project’ ends up stretching to six or twelve months. […]
Any creative endeavor is highly non-linear, but the sharing of it almost always skips a lot of the actual work that goes into it. That’s ok; a clear progression makes for a good story that’s easy to tell. But don’t judge your reality against someone else’s compressed work.
Doing our best creative work is never easy. But when we live in a culture where instant gratification is celebrated and stories of “overnight success” are on every headline, it can lead to disillusionment regarding our own work and creative process. We see these compressed, linear stories like Noah is talking about, and we see those as the ideal for our own work. But, as Noah points out, there’s so much to the story we don’t see.
Tuesday, December 16
‹ Previously Recently ›
I sat down (via Skype, of course) with the folks at Tom Bihn for an interview about the (team)work that goes in to building and publishing Tools & Toys and The Sweet Setup.