Lifehacker has a fantastically nerdy interview with This American Life host, Ira Glass. From tools, to schedule, to workflow, and more. As you’d expect, the thing is filled with interesting and funny tidbits.

What’s your best time-saving shortcut/life hack?

I’ve got nothing. Reading other people’s answers to this question on your website today made me realize I live my life like an ape. I eat the same breakfast and lunch everyday, both at my desk. I employ no time-saving tricks at all.

Though come to think of it, I guess my biggest life hack—and this is the very first time I’ve attempted to use the phrase “life hack” in a sentence—is that my wife and I decided to live just a few blocks from where I work. We did this because of our dog. Since I spend at least an hour every night walking the dog, I didn’t want to spend another 60 or 90 minutes a day commuting. I don’t have the time. Like lots of people, I work long hours.

And his workflow for how he organizes a big mess of interview tape into a structure and edits it down into a radio story is fascinating:

I find that the important first step to writing anything or editing anything (half of my day each day is editing) is just getting the possible building blocks of the story into your head so you can start thinking about how to manipulate it and cut it and move it.

Reminds me a lot of how Dustin Lance Black writes his screenplays.

Friday, July 25

On this week’s not-so-brief episode, I answer a several reader and listener questions related to the launch of Delight is in the Details.

Some of the questions include:

  • What was the moment in which you said “this is good enough”?
  • What advice would you give for preparing for a launch of a new product or service?
  • And how did the launch compare to your goals and expectations?
  • what factors contributed to the success of the version 2 launch?
  • How many cups of coffee did you drink?
  • What was your process for making the videos?
  • And more…
Wednesday, July 23

For the past several months I’ve been head down, working on a huge update to my book and interview series, Delight is in the Details.

My original plan was simple: fix a few typos that were in the first version of the book and have all the audio interviews transcribed. But now that it’s shipped, you’ll see the update includes quite a bit more than just fixed typos.

  • Two new chapters
  • Two new audio interviews
  • A Makers Q&A section
  • All the audio has been remastered
  • All the interviews have transcriptions
  • The Resource Index

Over these past several months as I’ve been working on the update, I’ve been thinking more and more about what it truly means to be creative. I wrote “Fighting to Stay Creative” about two months ago as part of this whole thought process.

The ideas and principles I shared in that blog post blossomed into what has become the preeminent topic that now concludes Delight is in the Details. Which is: how to stay creative and how to build delightful products.

Something that always bugged me about the first version of the book was that it didn’t offer any how-to guides for building a delightful product. Because, really, there isn’t a checklist for that sort of stuff. But in place of a checklist, we have experience and commitment.

Delight is a choice, not a checklist.

And but so, now that we know we want to do our best creative work, what does that look like? How do we inject delight into our photography, our writing, our music, our apps?

I believe I’ve answered those questions (at least to some degree). This version of the book is what the first version should have been.

The updated version is available now.

Do me a favor and set aside 9 minutes to watch this video I put together with the help of my friend, Joel Sorge.

The video is one of three that comes with Delight is in the Details. This one is so great — and I feel the message of it is so important — that I wanted to share it in its entirety.

Finding Your Fanatics

Building an audience

One component to building an audience, growing a customer base, and/or increasing word-of-mouth referrals is by sweating the details. Put delight in your work.

It’s the little things, the moments of delight and the unexpected quality in a product, that prove to our audience and our customers that we care.

When we sweat the details it shows. It’s proof we take our work seriously. And that builds trust with our audience our customers.

In the super-cool hand-drawn chart above, you can see that I’ve dissected what I believe to be the primary components related to building an audience. Seventy-five-percent of the work around building of your audience should be spent on the art itself — the content.

Your brand is also important. I’m not talking about logo marks here, I’m talking about your reputation. How do people perceive you (as professional or amateur; friendly or angsty; humble or self-centered; etc.)? What topic or subject people do people connect to you (design, development, typography, photography, etc.)?

Your content and your brand are summed up as being what you make and who you are. This is true for the individual, the small business, and the large corporation. And over time the two become deeply intertwined. What you make represents who you are, and who you are fuels what you make. Your brand and your content become one and the same.

If you are willing to sweat the details when it comes to all the things you make and all the expressions of your brand, then the overall result will be greater than the sum of its parts.

People notice when we take the time to build something great. They may not always be able to put their finger on exactly what it is, but they know they appreciate it. And they repay us with their accolades, attention, and money.

Thus leading to a healthy and mutually beneficial relationship between the maker and their customers.

The maker is happy because she is building something she’s proud of and is has the financial supported to sustain her work. And the customer is happy because she is buying something that was crafted with mindfulness and quality.

Committing to sweat the details is a commitment to the long game. It means not giving in to the tyranny of the urgent. It means focusing on quality from the start, and being willing to spend the extra time and resources to do it right and do it well.

In the moment, sweating the details often burns. But a month from now, a year from now, a decade from now, you and your customers will still be reaping the benefits.

* * *

P.S. This concept of building your audience and customer base through delight is from one of the new chapters in the update to Delight is in the Details that comes out this wednesday.

Monday, July 21

The first single from Weezer for their upcoming album. Dropped first on YouTube. It’ll be available on iTunes tomorrow, and they’re performing it on The Tonight Show this Wednesday.

Do you have a product, app, service, or company you’d like to promote directly to this site’s readership and visitors? Good news! This week’s sponsorship spot is available. If you’re interested, or have questions about it, email me and I’ll work you a deal.

Friday, July 18

On this week’s episode of my podcast, The Weekly Briefly, I share a lot about some of the most important ideas and values I’ve learned and written about while spending the past several months working on the update to my book, Delight is in the Details.

Sponsored by:

Update Coming to ‘Delight is in the Details’

Delight is in the Details

This coming Wednesday, July 23, 2014, is the launch date for the update to my book and interview series, Delight is in the Details.

I’ve been working on this update for the last couple of months, and the end is finally in sight. And so I wanted to share with you guys a sneak peek at what exactly is going to be included in the update.

  • Two new chapters: “How to Stay Creative and Build Delightful Products” — this is the preeminent chapter of the entire book. It’s the chapter that should have been in there when I first wrote the book, but I guess I needed another year to muse on this topic in order to discover the contents and focus of this chapter. This chapter is my best answer to the almost impossible questions: How do you do your best creative work every day? How do you make delightful products? I’ve also written a chapter on “Finding Your Fanatics”, that talks about how sweating the details in your work is one of the ways to grow your audience and/or customer base.

  • Three videos: These are short videos I made for this project. They cover (a) How To Stay Creative, (b) The Power of a Focused Life, and (c) In-House Design Teams. You can check out a teaser trailer for one of them here.

  • The audio tracks have all been re-mastered (this includes audio book and the audio interviews). I learned some Garage Band tricks since first producing the audio book, and I’ve found a website — Auphonic — hat does magic with the equalizing and volume boosting and leveling of spoken word audio tracks. I began using this on the Shawn Today podcasts a few months ago and the increased quality of the audio was instantly noticeable.

  • There are two new audio interviews: one with Matt Alexander and one with Jared Sinclair.

  • There are now transcripts of all the audio interviews. Perfect for those who prefer to read not listen. It also creates a searchable archive of the conversations if you ever want or need to reference them.

  • A new section: The Makers Q&A interviews featuring Tim Van Damme, Jeff Sheldon, Jane Portman, Sean McCabe, Kyle Steed, and more. Because great products are forged in the details, I reached out to a handful of my personal design heroes to ask them what it means to sweat the details, what delight in design looks like for their work, and how they spend their day to do their best creative work.

  • Updated book content with examples from the latest versions of iOS and OS X.

  • The Resource Index: a list of recommended websites, books, forums, and other resources that will help you find fresh inspiration, advance your current skill set, and/or get plugged into a community of peers.

* * *

This all started with little more than my intention fix a few typos, re-master the audio, and get the interview transcribed. It has instead turned into a massive update, and I’m extremely excited about it. This “2.0″ version of Delight is in the Details is what the 1.0 should have been.

With the updated content, this book and interview series feels much more complete now. It was predominately about making a case for sweating the details. But it now also gives you an understanding of what that actually looks like when done well, and, most importantly lays before you a roadmap for how you can change the mindset and habits of your own personal work life and even your company’s culture.

The new version comes out this Wednesday, July 23. I’m raising the price to $39, but on launch day it will be on sale for 25-percent off. Everyone who has already bought Delight is in the Details will get the update for free.

Marco Arment’s amazing new podcast playing app, Overcast, shipped on Wednesday and it’s awesome. I think it’s the best app design work Marco has done yet, and the smart speed feature is absolutely killer. Not only does it save you time without making the podcast hosts sound like the micro machines guy, but it also makes most average podcasts (like mine) sound professionally edited with tighter pacing.

Seth Godin:

What they’re actually saying is, “I don’t have any ideas that are guaranteed to work, and not only that, are guaranteed to cause no criticism or moments when I’m sure the whole thing is going to fall apart.”

A Brief Review of the Synology DS213j

Synology DiskStation DS213j

A few months ago, on one of the more nerdy episodes of Shawn Today episodes, I was discussing local backup solutions, my need for a better backup hard drive, and some of the research I was doing on Network Attached Storage drives (NAS) since that’s the direction I was leaning.

All the data in my house consists of:

  • Files I’m using right now
  • Files my wife is using right now
  • Files we want to keep, but don’t use often (if ever)
  • Media (photos, music, movies)
  • Backups of all of the above

The files we’re using now live on our computers, obviously. The rest should be kept on another drive. I, however, had the rest kept on 5 different drives. Ugh. There were two old USB drives with different folders of archived data; two USB drives that I used for my nightly super duper clones; and a Time Capsule that was used for our Time Machine backups, except it bit the dust about a year ago, I hadn’t set anything up to replace it until recently.

I wanted to consolidate all of that stuff into one backup and storage kit that had more functionality beyond being just an external drive and could be expanded if I needed it to. Plus, I wanted to have redundancy with all this stuff — to know that all my old files and all our media and everything else wasn’t just being stored, but was also being backed up here at home and to an off-site service.

And so, now you know why I was leaning towards a NAS, and not just a bigger USB drive.

Well, at first I was thinking of getting a refurbished Mac mini and a basic thunderbolt RAID to attach to it. I knew I’d be able to use it as a media server, a backup destination, and that I’d be able to log in remotely from my iOS devices or my Mac. And, I knew that I could put backup software on the Mac that would do local clones of the RAID and offsite backups of it as well. But I wasn’t ready to spend $1,500 for that setup.

I’d been hearing a lot of great things about Synology and their DiskStations (especially since the software that runs on them was updated about a year ago).

After doing more research it was clear that what I wanted was the Synology DS213j. It would be capable of handling everything I wanted from a Mac mini + RAID setup, but it was much more affordable ($200 plus the price of two drives ($125/ea.).

The Synology DS213j has a gigabit ethernet port and two USB ports. I have it plugged directly into my Google Fiber modem. Which means not only does the Synology have it’s own Gigabit connection to the World Wide Web, I have a gigabit connection to the Synology from within my home. But that’s just the start.

It’s that operating system that separates a Synology from your basic NAS or RAID. With DSM 5 (the software that runs on the Synology), you can install apps and services onto that let you do some pretty clever things with all the files you’re storing on there. And that’s a big part of what makes a Synology more than just a fancy external hard drive. It’s literally a file server. And, it get’s better: there is a whole suite of iOS apps as well. But more on that in a bit.

Setting up the Synology

A site member who was listening to my aforementioned Shawn Today episode had recently purchased a Synology DiskStation but was no longer using it. He emailed me and offered to send it at no charge. I, of course, gratefully accepted his generous gift.

That was 3 months ago. I’ve since been using the Synology quite a bit and it’s time I shared some of the cool things it can do and give a look at how I am using it in real life.

For starters, I put 2 of the 3 TB Western Digital Red drives in there. Between all our media and all our archived files, we only have about 700GB of unique data to store. And so a 3TB disc is plenty and the WD Reds are one of the drives that BackBlaze recommends.

Putting two WD Red drives into the Synology

Here’s a quick rundown of how I’m using my Synology:

  • Consolidated 2 old USB hard drives I had that were storing random, archived files (like design projects I did back in 2006).

  • Created a Time Machine partition for me and one for my wife’s MacBook Air.

  • Created a partition for cloning my MacBook Air with a browsable folder structure.

  • Offloaded my entire music library and photo library, freeing up some much needed disk space on my MacBook Air. If I want to listen to music in iTunes I can see the Synology as a shared library. Also, I simply moved the photos in my Lightroom library to the Synology’s Data drive, and I can see all the images from past years right there within Lightroom still.

    Synology and iTunes

    Synology and Lightroom

But that is all pretty standard stuff for a NAS or RAID. Here’s what I’m utilizing from the department of Things the Synology Does That Are Cool:

Synology’s automatic backups of itself

For local backup: I plugged in a Lacie USB drive to the back of the Synology and set it up to do nightly local backups of the Synology itself. This is fantastic. As any nerd will tell you, a RAID is not a backup — even though you’ve got 2 or more drives in the enclosure (helping ensure that if one of the drives dies, you don’t lose your data), if the enclosure itself were to suffer catastrophic failure (power surge, bug, freak accident of nature, whatever) then it’s possible that all the drives in the RAID could lose their data. So, really, you want to have a local backup of your RAID.

For off-site backup: I set up an automatic off-site backup to Google Drive. It can also back up to Amazon Glacier, Dropbox, and other services, but I went with Google Drive because I have 1TB of free space thanks to Google Fiber. My Synology only backs up the files that are specific to it, (meaning it doesn’t send the Time Machine partitions there).

Synology on iOS

Synology also makes a whole suite of 8 different iOS apps that are for basic things like accessing the files and media on your DiskStation to nerdy things like monitoring your DiskStation or viewing your network security cameras.

The Synology iOS Apps

(From left to right: DS file, DS photo+, and DS audio. The apps are universal and work on iPad, too.)

  • DS file: this gives you complete access to the entire file structure of your Synology. You can log in over the local network, or, if you have QuickConnect set up, you can access your Synology from anywhere in the world.

  • DS audio lets you stream (and download) all the audio files on your Synology. And, unlike the photo package, when you set up the Audio package, it auto-detects the MP3s on the Synology and is ready to go immediately.

  • DS photo+ lets you browse all the images on your Synology, as well as enable instant upload from your iPhone and iPad’s camera rolls. It’s basically your own Photo Stream replacement service, except that it’s not super easy to automatically upload photos in-to (that I know of).

    Another small gripe I have with the photo app is that, for whatever reason, after installing the Photo bundle on the Synology itself, you then have to manually import or move your photos out of the file structure of the Synology and into the Photo app (which exists as its own partition on the Synology). Once added to the Photos partition, the Synology has to convert those images (which I’m not even sure what it’s doing to confer them, and it takes a very long time). It’d be nice if it would just let me tell it where all my photos are and then it automagically does the rest.

    However, since the photos and photo albums exist simply as a hierarchy of folders, you can add photos through the Finder directly via the mounted Synology. I haven’t gotten this far yet, but I see some great options for automating the photo importing and structuring process using some Hazel rules. I should be able to automatically get my iOS photo stream images in there as well. We’ll see.

To get the iOS apps to work, you also need to install the corresponding packages (a.k.a. apps) onto the Synology itself. With the photo viewer, for example, it’s a separate web app that houses all the photos from your Synology. You start by manually uploading photos to the album and then once they are there, you can browse them from your Mac, the Web, or iOS devices. And anyone with the login info to that photo album can view the photos (so good news for families).

Read / Write Speeds

For the first two months I was connecting to the Synology over my 2.4Ghz Wi-Fi (because I’m an idiot), and the connection was pathetic at best: 2-3 MB/s read and write.

A few weeks ago I dropped a Gigabit port by my desk and ran CAT 6 from my router (which is in a different area of the house) to the port. I then got a Thunderbolt Ethernet port (that came with this awesome Belkin Thunderbolt Dock) for my MacBook Air so I could take full advantage of Google Fiber’s gigabit internet.

The advantage of the Gigabit drop is that I’m now also getting significantly better read/write speeds to the Synology (obviously). I can now read/write to the DiskStation at 85 MB/s and 45 MB/s respectively. Which is pretty great.

If I’m on my 5Ghz Wi-Fi connection I can read/write at 24 MB/s and 15MB/s respectively.

Wrap

Since the Synology is attached directly to my modem, it has its own connection to the Internet. But all NAS drives connect direct to the modem (usually). The Synology is cool because, since it has its own operating system, it doesn’t require a dedicated Mac in order for the files to be accessible from my home or from anywhere else in the world. While it’s not quite as powerful as a Headless Mac mini plus NAS setup would be, it is about $1,000 less expensive. And if you’re just wanting to dip your toe in the water with this stuff, from where I’m sitting, a Synology DiskStation is a great place to start.

So, in short, I’ve got a gigabit connected local hard drive that is smart enough to back itself automatically. And it also serves as my own personal media center, photo backup solution, and it just so happens to have a suite of iOS apps so I can access all the files and media from any of my computers or devices from anywhere in the world.

It’s wonderful.

Monday, July 14

The process for how Dustin Lance Black writes his screenplays is incredible. I don’t know how other movie writers do it, but Black’s process is not unlike the way I go about doing my long-form software reviews: Start with a closetful of research and other information miscellany, distill everything down, then put all the pieces together to form a narrative.

This week’s setup interview is with a new friend of mine, John Voorhees. I met John at WWDC this year, and we had some great chats about raising boys — I have two little guys; he has three older sons, one of whom has a portfolio of iOS apps.

TextExpander saves you time and effort by expanding short abbreviations into frequently-used text and pictures.

Whether it’s a simple email signature or several paragraphs of a standard response, you’ll love how easy it is to use TextExpander to avoid typing the same thing over and over.

Make customized, boilerplate replies fast and easy using fill-ins.

Create snippets from AppleScripts and shell scripts for powerful integrations.

Sync snippets via Dropbox and use them on multiple devices with TextExpander touch on iOS.

Learn more about TextExpander at: smilesoftware.com/shawn

TextExpander touch for iOS is available on the App Store.

* * *

My thanks to Smile Software for sponsoring the RSS feed this week. I’ve been using TextExpander since the beginning of 2011, and good gosh is it great. I use it for automating email signatures, speeding up podcast show notes, inserting affiliate tags into my links to Amazon or iTunes, fixing odd CamelCase spellings, and about a billion other things. One thing I didn’t use it for was to write this editor’s note — but I did use it in my email to Greg at Smile when I sent him the list of sponsorship assets.

On Working From Home and Running a Business

If you work for yourself, you don’t have the luxury of being passive when it comes to things like community, finances, and work/life boundaries. These things are not taken care of for you by someone else. You have to take intentional steps and do your due diligence to make sure you are on the path towards “health” in these areas. Speaking of health, if you work at a desk, sitting and stationary all day, that, too, is just not healthy.

I’ve been working from home for myself for 3.5 years, and this past month I’ve been thinking about all the important aspects related to having a “healthy lifestyle” in the context of being self-employed and working at a computer all day every day.

If you just coast through your days, the natural trajectory will be downward, not upward. There is nobody to tell you when to take a break and when to call it a day. There is nobody to bounce ideas off of or to chat with at the water cooler. And if you work from home and work for yourself, there is no company retirement plan already set up for you, and your taxes are not automatically withheld.

And so, for those of us who work from home (and especially those of us who also work for ourselves) there is an huge need to take proactive measures to ensure the long term health of our body, our finances, relationships, creativity, and more.

Below I want to share with you the things I do to try and keep myself healthy. In 20 years from now I hope to be doing even better creative work than I am today. But that means in the mean time I need to stay physically healthy, creatively energized, all while continuing to run a profitable business. The good news is: it’s totally doable.

Finances

Before I quit my day job to write for this website full-time, I was already making some money on the side. In 2010 (the year before I started writing here as my full-time gig) this site was earning about $1,000/month from ads, sponsorships, and Amazon links. All the money I made from the site was “extra” — we didn’t need it as part of our monthly living expenses, and so it’s what I used to pay for new gadgets and software and to cover hosting costs, etc. I didn’t spend anywhere near the $1,000/month of this semi-disposable income, and so we set aside the extra into a savings account.

In February 2011 I took the leap and began writing here as my full-time job. Thanks to the extreme generosity of this site’s subscribing members, I’ve been able continue writing here for over three years now.

But there’s more to the story than that. When shawnblanc.net became my job, it also meant the income from the site was now paying the mortgage instead of being semi-disposable income. And so the first thing I did was establish a budget for my business.

I cannot express enough just how absolutely critical it has been to have a budget — both for our company and for our personal household expenses.

Did you know that most of America’s millionaires are people who earn low-six-figure incomes? They have a high net worth (between $1 – $10 million) because they live simply and budget their money.

That is the same philosophy I’ve followed with my business (and personal) finances. I don’t have a business credit card; I’ve never taken a business loan. Everything I buy that’s business-related I have cash in the bank for. And as a result, my company has been profitable since day one.

My point here is that those of us who work for ourselves — freelancers, contractors, small-business owners, et al. — must learn to budget and manage our business finances. The long-term health of our business and our household income depends on it. And that also means our long-term ability to do our best creative work depends on it as well.

That said, here’s my practical approach to budgeting and finances:

  • Business Emergency Fund: Enough to cover 3 months of operating costs in case everything goes unexpectedly south one day. This also helps with cash flow. For example: when you have sponsors and advertisers who pay net 30 or 60, you don’t have to live on debt until those invoices come in. In short, the money I’m using today to run my business is money that was earned 3 months ago.

  • Personal Emergency Fund: Enough to cover 6-12 months of household living expenses (food, mortgage, utilities, insurance, etc) in case all the income from my websites were to dry up overnight.

  • Cash envelopes for personal expenses: This is old-school, but it really works. My wife and I have been doing a cash envelope system for several years and it has been so great for our finances. Yes, there are apps which can manage our personal budget for us and can even track “digital envelopes”, but we like the physicality of actually using cash. There is more of a connection to how much you are actually spending. And we have found that we spend far less and actually accomplish far more than when we just had a general fund for all our variable expenses and simply made sure not to overspend.

  • Giving: My business gives 11% of its annual gross income to charity. Giving to others is very important to Anna and I, and over our years of marriage we’ve found that we give away less if we wait until there is an obvious need presented to us. So we are very proactive in making sure we are giving away at least a certain percentage of all our income.

  • Taxes: Get a good CPA who you can talk to any time you have questions or problems with your taxes. It should be someone who you trust. Let them tell you how much to set aside for your taxes, and then do what they say.

  • Investing: After charity and taxes, we take 15% of the company’s net earnings and invest it. Most of this is earmarked for retirement, but some of it I keep for investing in new ideas, etc. For example: I hired a professional designer and developer to help me build The Sweet Setup. I treated that as an investment in a new business, and now that The Sweet Setup is up and running, I am paying my investment back.

All this financial stuff isn’t anything new. In fact, that’s what makes it so sound — it’s old, tried and true advice. Basically, get/stay out of debt, live beneath your means, save for a rainy day, invest for the future, and be generous to those in need.

Recommended books about money

For help getting out of debt, and getting off the ground with budgeting and investing, I highly recommend Total Money Makeover, The Intelligent Investor, If You Can, and Money for Something.

Mental / Spiritual / Emotional Health

This is actually more about staying creative than staying sane. Because, let’s be honest. To be a self-employed creative person, you kinda need a little bit of insanity.

Anyway, I think there are two important things when it comes to keeping our creative juices flowing and our minds sharp. We need problems that are exciting and engaging. And we need to keep learning and experimenting.

Recently I wrote an article about the fight to stay creative. There are things such as isolation, ambiguity, fear, anxiety, shame, doubt, comparison, and disillusionment that can hinder and stifle our creativity. And there are things such as community, clear goals, trust, experience, rest, and diligence that can help stimulate and encourage our creativity.

In short, it basically boils down to having fun and serving others (which looks different for everyone). And that’s why it’s important to recognize if and when you’re feeling angsty, depressed, dried up, and/or burnt out. And if so, talk to someone about it, get help, and give yourself permission to make changes that will bring fun and life back in to your work.

Physical Health

I love working at a desk all day. I’m a computer nerd, I love typing and reading, and this space is my little cockpit of creativity. But they say sitting for hours a day will kill you. Literally.

The default seems to be getting an “Executive Chair” from Office Max for $79, then having a bad sitting posture with hours of not moving. Followed up by spending the evening watching TV from the couch while eating chips and drinking beer. Sounds glorious and affordable. But I know what my mind and body will be like in 15 years from now if that’s the lifestyle routine I fall in to. And it’s just not worth it.

Hopefully, my best creative work is still ahead of me. And so I intend to be physically healthy and alert for the journey. What this looks like for me is four-fold: a standing desk, regular breaks to move around, regular exercise, and a healthy(-ish) diet. I say healthy-ish because I still like ice cream fried foods, but not every day.

When I first started working from home, I set up a standing desk. I stood for 6 months before I went back to sitting. It’s silly, but since I spend a lot of time doing creative writing all day, I never felt in the “creative mood” while standing. But now, three years later, I am seeing the negative effect of all the sitting I do. My metabolism has slowed down and my legs are often sore. So a few weeks ago I once again set up my standing desk. And, to have the best of both worlds, I went with this Jarvis Electronic Moving Desk Legs.

Though standing is better than sitting, you’re still relatively stationary. It’s important to move around regularly. You could get a treadmill to go under your desk, and maybe one day I’ll do that. But what I’ve been using for years is this BreakTime Mac app. When you begin working at your computer it starts timing. And then at an interval you determine (anywhere between 1 – 60 minutes) it will beep and remind you to get up and walk around for 3 minutes.

One of these alone is not enough. You really should consider standing. If you sit for more than a couple hours, get an ergonomic chair that encourages blood circulation and good posture. Move around every 30 – 45 minutes. Exercise. Eat well.

Work / Life Boundaries

One of the primary motivations behind me quitting my day job to work from home was that my wife and I wanted to have kids. And I wanted to be a very active and engaged dad. Having a thriving relationship with my two boys, my wife, and my friends and family is so important to me. And a lot of that just boils down to time. Put the phone away, Shawn. Turn off the computer, shut the office door, and go play trains with your boys.

I don’t think it’s about balance: equal parts work and non-work. But about boundaries. Giving each area the focus and attention it deserves.

What this looks like for me is that I have a daily schedule. The first half of my work day (7:30 am – 11:30 am) is spent working on the most important tasks of the day. This is when I do most of my writing and podcasting. Then I have lunch with my family, and work on less-important admin tasks in the afternoon. I also have a dedicated work space downstairs that is where I go to work.

Also: Thriving Professional Relationships

A life of long-term creativity doesn’t tend to happen in isolation — we need one another for input, advice, encouragement, ideas, and more. Which is why, hands down, one of the most challenging aspects that I have faced in my life of working from home has been the lack of face-to-face community.

Things still are not ideal — I would love to have a small team of comrades and co-workers that I meet for work every day, and hopefully one day things will reach that point — but I have some ways of staying connected and staying in community.

I’m in a few Group Me groups with some fellow nerds and we chat about life and stuff during the day; I talk with several friends over AIM / iMessage during the day; I go to a coworking space (though not as often as I used to); I get out and work from a coffee shop usually at least once or twice per week; I have lunch each week with a few friends; I go to local design/tech/small-business-owner meetups whenever possible; I go to design/tech conferences at least once or twice per year.

Also: Weekend Hobbies

Work with your head? Try resting with your hands. For one, I try to spend Saturday away from my computer. It’s our family day, and so we run errands, go to the park, hang out together, etc. Also, woodworking is my favorite hobby. One of my favorite ways to unwind from all the pixels is to build something with lumber and power tools.

Take Action

The hard part now is to actually do something about this. If you’re like me, it’s pretty easy to look at an area of my life and instantly recognize that it could be better.

What I’ve found is that each of these areas serves as doorway to the others. Meaning, once you tackle one area — say, budgeting, for instance — then that gives you the momentum to tackle another area, such as having and keeping a schedule. So my advice is to pick just one thing you’d like to focus on and spend a month just slowly working on it, giving yourself lots of leeway and grace as you figure things out.

I for one hope to still be doing awesome creative work 20 years from now. There are a lot of approaches and a lot of answers to the above problems. It’s all seems to be such a moving vehicle, and you figure things out as you go. Which is why what’s most important is to simply start and take action.

Thursday, July 10

Huge congrats to Maciej Cegłowski. Pinboard is awesome. If you’re not already using it, I wrote up this Beginner’s Guide a few months back. Also, if you’ve got an iPhone in your pocket and an iPad on your armchair, Pushpin is the best iOS app for Pinboard.

Wednesday, July 9

Yevgeny Yermakov is on track to interview 100 designers (mostly graphics folks) asking them each the same 5 questions. No surprise, I could get lost in this kind of stuff. Getting a peek into the values, habits, mistakes, and successes of other creative folks is incessantly fascinating to me. And it’s also helpful, I think. Another person’s biography can help remind us that we’re not phonies after all, and it can also give us ideas and inspiration for how better to live our own life.

Tuesday, July 8

Karen McGrane:

Not everything in our professional lives is a transaction, scrutinized and evaluated against how much it costs us, how much someone should pay. Not every teaching relationship must be formalized—a mentoring opportunity, a coach, an internship. Not every investment of time has to be “worth it.” Sometimes you just have a brief conversation with someone because—why not? You never know what will come of it.

A thousand times, yes.

In 2011, when I was on the cusp of quitting my job to take my website full time, there were a few smart folks who I knew from the internet that were willing to take time out of their day to give me some advice and answer my questions and calm my fears. Even now, 3 years later, I often re-visit the advice and perspective they gave me back in 2011.

And in the 3+ years since I began writing here full-time, I now often get requests from others for input and advice on things. I wish I could be more available than I am, and I know there are things I can do to get better at it. Such as scheduling an “open” work time each week (even if it’s just 30 minutes), and that time slot is reserved for giving back to others by answering emails, doing interviews, etc.

Monday, July 7

This week’s setup interview is with my pal, Chuck Skoda. I love this part of his answer to our question about which app he could not live without:

Focusing on my “can’t-live-without” apps feels like missing the forest for the trees though. The most powerful thing about my iPhone is the aggregate of possibilities I can bring with me wherever I go. If my phone was just Tweetbot or just the Camera app, would it still be with me 24 hours a day? Probably not, because the whole package is more than the sum of its parts. It’s hard to quantify how the iPhone has influenced day to day life over the last number of years, but I can’t imagine going back.

Jeff Sheldon:

The original idea for the bag started over 2 years ago but it was a long process to finally see the finished product through. Each new product is a learning process and brings on new challenges, but in the end it’s worth the work.

I’m a sucker for behind-the-scenes stories like this.

Wednesday, July 2

I’m publishing this week’s episode of The Weekly Briefly a bit early, because of the holiday weekend.

In this week’s episode I talk about some different expressions of what investing in quality looks like. Not just from the common standpoint of what we buy, but also investing in making quality products and cultivating quality relationships.

Sponsored By:

  • Bellroy: Slim your wallet.

  • Dropzone 3: improve drag and drop and boost productivity on your Mac. Download a free trial.

My pal Chris Gonzales pointed this out on Twitter and it was news to me: when you’re browsing a list of login items in 1Password on iOS, if you swipe from left-to-right on an item then you get the option to “Copy Password”. Delightful.

Tuesday, July 1

Slim Your Wallet — it’s easier than you think.

No one wants a brick wallet weighing down their back. Here are some easy tips to slim down.

  1. Differentiate between your most frequently used and least used cards. Store the less frequently used ones together. This reduces the bulk of leather between every item.
  2. Ditch your receipts. Take photos of them for tax and store in accounting apps like Evernote.
  3. Minimise coins. Sure you might need a few for parking, but do you really need a piggy bank in your pocket? Tip more!

For wallets designed to make the most of these tips, visit Bellroy.com.

* * *

My thanks to Bellroy for sponsoring the RSS feed this week. You can tell a lot about a man’s personality and taste based on the grill in his back yard and the wallet in his back pocket. I personally prefer the most slim and simple wallet possible, while also having some personality. I have one of Bellroy’s Note Sleeve wallets in my back pocket as I type this. I’ve had it for a couple of years now and I love it — the quality is top notch, and it’s full of personality. Highly recommended.

Speaking of July and summer, if you’re planning on grilling out this holiday weekend, I updated my backyard cooking just recently. It’s got a list of everything you need to make the best smoked ribs, beef brisket, hamburgers, and/or bbq chicken in town. That is, unless you live in my town. In which case you’ll be making the 2nd best, if you’re lucky.

Hello, July. Over on The Sweet Setup, we put together a short list of awesome apps that will help you get the most out of your summer.

Monday, June 30

By far and away, this week’s setup interview is one of my all-time favorites. For one, I’m a long-time fan of Jago’s illustrations (he’s the artist behind the Jesus Storybook Bible, which we love), so it’s awesome to see his setup on the site. But his interview is just fantastic — several great photos of his workspace and a lot of nerdy detail about the tools he uses and how he uses them.

But it’s not your typical use-case. Here’s just one example:

I couldn’t do without Dropbox. Through a combination of cunning and trickery, I currently have a 463Gb account, and I make good use of it.

Friday, June 27

As you know, Editorially (which was awesome), shut its doors recently. Over at The Sweet Setup, we used Editorially every single day — it was our ideal collaborative writing tool.

Jeff Abbott wrote an overview of what made Editorially so great and what some of the alternatives are. As he states, after trying just about every other alternative we could find, we’ve moved to Google Docs for our collaborative writing work.

‹ Previously Recently ›