If you work with your head, rest with your hands

It’s amazing how much intentional destruction you can do to a piece of hardwood when you’ve got some 60-grit sandpaper and an orbital sander.

I have been spending my weekends in my garage workshop, bulding two new woodworking projects.

Last weekend I built my first picture frame for a painting that my sister made. While I definitely made some rookie mistakes along the way, it turned out pretty great in the end.

The photos here are ones I took last night after sanding down a new coffee table I am making for the downstairs.

I am spending hours each day, staring at a screen, having meetings, and making decisions about how to best navigate my business through this season. It is refreshing to step away from all of that and into the workshop, put on my gloves, and get to work.

These photos were taken on my Leica Q and edited on my iPad.

If you work with your head, rest with your hands

For anyone and everyone who is working from home, schooling their kids from home, and just generally feeling a bit overwhelmed at the moment…

We are giving away our flagship Time Management Course.

This course has several lessons that are specifically relevant to work-from-home creative folks as well as full-time, stay-at-home parents.

Right now the entire course is available for anyone to sign up at no charge. It will remain free at least through the end of March 2020.

The response to this has been astonishing.

Yesterday afternoon I posted about this on Twitter. In the 24 hours since then, more than 1,400 people have signed up for the course. That’s more than $345,000 worth of courses!

Here is a blog post with more details as well as direct, public links to some of the video lessons.

Or, you can sign up here and use the coupon code WFH to get access at no charge.

Free Access to the Time Management Course

Music for Working From Home

Good music is instrumental (ha!) for me to do focused work. Especially when I am working at home with kids in the house.

I almost always have a single, go-to album that I put on when it is time to work. This helps quite a bit as part of my routine for getting into the zone.

It can be difficult to transition from feeling at home to feeling at work. But, by having the same playlist or album that I put on when it is time to work, then that music becomes pavlovian — it tells my brain “now it’s time to work”.

And, over time, as I become used to the music, it turns into background noise that is so familiar it is not distracting at all.

Another reason I like having one specific album that is my go-to for background music is that it removes the decision of what do I want to listen to right now?

The less choices I can make before starting my work day the better. I prefer to save as much of that mental energy as I can for actually doing the work.

Anyway! Enough chit-chat…

Here are a few fantastic albums and playlists for helping drown out the background noise so you can do some work. Enjoy!

  • Imagine Gold, by Frameworks is my current favorite. His other albums, Tides and Kings have all been on repeat pretty much ever since I discovered them a few months ago.

  • The Pure Focus playlist in Apple Music is excellent. It is updated regularly, and I often find new artists there.

  • The Monument Valley Soundtrack has long been my go-to. I have listened to this album well over 1,000 times. Possibly a few thousand times.

  • For additional good jams for deep, focused work. Check out this roundup over on The Focus Course blog.

And, of course, for when you are done with work and it’s time to wind down for the day, may I recommend the BEATsrumental playlist? I love to turn this one up while making dinner.

Music for Working From Home

Photos From Indoors

Here in Kansas City, we have a rainy season every spring and it is my favorite thing about living here.

During the rainy season we’ll get massive thunderstorms with huge downpours. It seems like they always happen in the middle of the night (why is that?) — but we do also get them in the late evenings or early mornings.

And I love to lie in bed and just listen to the rain and watch the sky light up with the lighting.

It’s still early in the season right now and so we haven’t yet had any major storms. But we have been getting some rain over the past week.

These photos were made around my house during a recent rainy day. And, of course, I edited them and published them from home as well.

Heck. You’re probably reading this from your home right now. Good for you.

In some ways, it may feel as if every day is a rainy day.

But we are all in this together.

For most of us alive today, there has never been a time like this in our lives when every person on the planet was being impacted and touched by the same issue all at the same time.

In the midst of this crisis, one thing I am witnessing are so many people who are going above and beyond to be generous and kind.

Now is a fantastic time to create. People are sharing more, giving more, and connecting more.

From famous Italian musicians playing live music for their neighbors, to designers making stay-at-home coloring books for kids who aren’t in school, to companies giving away money to creators in need, and so much more.

Even in the midst of the quarantines, the isolation, and the trauma — there is still community. There is hope and light.

Photos From Indoors

Three Things for Right Now

The past few days I have been spending a lot more time than normal reading the news and checking social media. (Pretty sure we all have!)

There is so much happening so fast.

While I don’t personally feel any fear or panicked anxiety about the COVID-19 virus and its implications, I do feel very drawn to social media, the news, and to watch what is happening through these live feeds.

A few things that I am focusing on in light of the current events:

  1. Batch processing news and social media to avoid becoming anxious or paralyzed from the firehose.
  2. Prepare for the worst and begin to take action now.
  3. Create and publish more.

. . . . .

As we all step toward physical isolation, a lot of my social feeds and group text threads have become alive and active in a new way and I am so thankful for the connectedness that we all are able to participate in.

Which is why I feel an an increased focus to create, make, and share more — even though it may feel trite in context to the crisis in our midst.

Yes, it is difficult to focus on just about anything else right now.

But…

I believe creating and doing what you do best has two positive byproducts:

For one, creating and making will help you stay positive.

Moreover, what you create and share will be helpful for all of us who are around you. We need your art, your ideas, and your thoughts now more than ever.

Right now we are feeling just how small the world is and how connected we all are to one another.

That feeling of connectedness is a wonderful thing (even though it is being driven by a global crisis).

So, instead of shying away from creating because it doesn’t seem right, I believe it is all the more necessary that we create and share.

One way I am going to start is simply by trying to share more of my photography and more stories here on my personal website. What about you?

Three Things for Right Now

Our Emergency Food List

For years, my wife and I have kept a 5-day emergency supply of non-perishable food items in our home.

We recently expanded those reserves to a 3-week supply of non-perishables that our family could survive on (with a rationed change to our diet of course).

The reason we are stocked up is so that we can avoid any unnecessary trips to the store in the weeks or months to come. And so we can be prepared in case shopping becomes dangerous or even restricted.

We know things are about to get bad, but we don’t know how bad.

Which is why we want to take as much action now so we can be as prepared as possible.

Anyway…

If, like me, you’re curious about what things people are stocking up on, here are the items we have in our storage closet or freezer:

Coffee (duh!), rice, beans, protein bars, canned soups, lentils, pasta, mayonnaise, oatmeal, canned tuna, frozen fruits and vegetables, frozen meat, dried mango, almond milk, bottled water, chicken broth, and, of course, chocolate.

Our Emergency Food List

Is time on your side?

It was shortly after my first son was born that I began to get seriously interested in photography.

I had all these photos of him, but they had been taken on my iPhone 4. And honestly, they were not good photos.

So in the fall of 2012 I bought an Olympus M43 camera, and began learning more about photography.

In the 7.5 years since then, my excitement and love for photography has only grown. In fact, these days I often find myself thinking more about photo-related creativity rather than writing-related creativity.

Our home is full of original photos that I have taken. They are printed and framed in pretty much every room. But I am eager to learn more, to practice, and to make more photos.

I know that as I pursue this craft and this hobby over the coming years, I have so much more to learn and so many more opportunities to do my best work. I have no doubt that my best photographs have not yet been taken.

. . .

Whatever your craft — the good news is that the best is yet to come.

Whatever it is that you are pursuing, the best days of it are still to come.

But it’s not guaranteed.

You need habits and routines that will move you forward.

I like to call these “lifestyle practices”.

With good lifestyle practices then, as my friend James Clear says, time becomes your ally.

With Finances: For example, with a good financial practice of living within your means while saving and investing, then over time your financial position will improve. Time becomes your ally in wealth building.

With health: If you have a healthy diet and consistent workout routine, then over time your physical health will continue to improve. You will grow stronger, and stay healthy. Time becomes your ally in living a healthy life.

The same is true in your career, your relationships, your side-hobbies, and your inner-personal life.

Take again my example of photography. By having a regular routine of taking photos, editing them, sharing them, printing them… it means that over time I will grow as a photographer. Time becomes my ally in doing creative work.

And that is why your best work — be it design, songwriting, books, videos, business, et al. — it is still ahead of you. Because with good lifestyle practices, time is your ally.

Is time on your side?

Broadway Coffee

Kansas City has a ton of great coffee shops.

(If you are ever visiting, let me know and I’ll recommend some spots to you.)

Broadway is one of the oldest and most wonderful.

I’ve been visiting Broadway Cafe for nearly 20 years. I always order an americano with steamed breve, and it’s always fantastic.

There used to be a Starbucks right next door to Broadway Coffee. But the Starbucks came and went — nobody went there when they could go to Broadway instead. Someone told me it was the first Starbucks to go in next to a local coffee shop and then go out of business. Normally, it would have been the other way around.

I made these two photos about a year ago when Anna and I were out on a date for the day.

We went down to Westport for lunch and to walk around. We passed by Broadway, though we didn’t go in for an espresso because we’d just had tea at a different spot around the corner.

The above photos were shot on the Leica Q and edited in Lightroom on the iPad.


Speaking for Broadway Coffee, here’s a shot I made back in 2014. This is of the inside of the cafe, shot with my Olympus E-M10 and the Summilux 25/1.4 lens.

Broadway Coffee

Erin Brooks is one of my favorite photographers.

She is constantly capturing amazing, candid shots of her two daughters. Her iPhone photos have been featured by Apple. And she has a style to her photos that is really unique.

The reason Erin has been an inspiration to me is because of how well she tells stories and stays vulnerable in her photography. Not to mention the fact that she is constantly finding new and creative ways to make amazing photos right in her own home.

Last year, Erin wrote a guide for The Sweet Setup on how to take great holiday photos. I have definitely been taking her advice and finding inspiration in the photos that she shares.

Here are a few of my own holiday photos from the past couple of years…

(Looks like my photo skills still have a long ways to go!)


As we head into Thanksgiving, I asked Erin if she would update her guide for 2019. She added some new ideas and tactics, plus new photos as well.

Here are a few tips and tricks for how you can take better photos of your family. Happy holidays, and happy shooting!

How to Take Great Holiday Photos

A Blank iPhone First Home Screen

About a week ago I moved all the icons off my iPhone’s first Home screen.

Basically I moved everything over by one screen. So the first Home screen became the second, the second became third, etc. Now, my iPhone’s first Home screen is blank.

I just finished the book Make Time, by Jake Knapp and John Zeratsky. And one of their suggestions for reclaiming time in your day and improving your focus is to remove all the apps from your first Home screen.

In the same way that a small little meteor rock can strike the earth and create a huge crater — so too can small little interactions with our phones end up creating huge craters of time in our day.

In terms of absolute efficiency, a blank Home screen is not exactly the most efficient Home screen. By moving everything away from the first Home screen, it means my most-used apps — aside from those 3 in the Dock — are now one additional swipe away.

But I’m okay with that added bit of friction. It ensures that I’m being a bit more mindful and intentional when using my phone. I don’t know how many times I have unlocked my iPhone to do something, but then forgot what that thing was the moment I was at the Home screen. Over the past week, when I’m presented with that blank Home screen it helps me stay on track with what I’m on my phone for.

Secondly, I think the blank Home screen looks pretty great.

Lastly, I’ve found that the blank Home screen makes it easier to stop using my iPhone when I’m done with a task.

I always swipe up and up in order to exit out of the app I’m using and then exit back to my first Home screen. And so now when I do that, I end up back at the empty Home screen. And for some reason, that brings a sense of closure.


Side note: moving all my apps was a giant pain in the app. I had to move each folder one by one, from screen to screen. You can tap-and-hold to get into wiggly-app mode, and then once you’ve selected one app you can tap on other apps to select a whole bunch and move them all at once. It took me about 15 minutes — but it was actually a bit cathartic, and I deleted / rearranged some apps in the process.

A Blank iPhone First Home Screen

At a Westport Bookstore

My wife and I recently went on a date downtown near Westport. And there is a cozy, local bookstore that I love to stop in whenever I’m nearby. We walked around for a while, perusing the new and old books that lined the shelves. I love how places like this have books falling out of their ears.

At a Westport Bookstore

Sneak Peek at This Week’s Project

This week was my deadline for wrapping up the final version of a very special, very new project. And then, today, we recorded a bunch of videos for our upcoming 2020 Plan Your Year update.

That’s why, unfortunately, I didn’t quite keep up with publishing very day this week. But now that everything has been wrapped up, the NaNoBlogMo can continue!

Here’s a little sneak peek at what I’ve been designing and building all week…

Sneak Peek at This Week’s Project

Speaking of book lists, my production manager, Isaac Smith, put together a short list of excellent historical stories over on The Focus Course blog:

With the overwhelming noise we’re faced with on a daily basis, I’ve found more than ever the need for high quality content.

And by “high quality” I mean content that has been thoroughly and thoughtfully constructed. (Usually not found on Twitter.)

While there are a few mediums that would qualify, physical books are my preferred format. The ideas presented in a book must stand the test of rigorous rounds of scrutiny and editing, whereas the waterfall of commotion found on Twitter could be anything from angry rants of some poor soul stuck in rush hour traffic or an original idea whilst sitting on the throne of glory.

The bottom line is social feeds most generally present fast food ideas, while books offer well-prepared meals.

Isaac Smith’s List of Books Worth Reading

In his fantastic review of the iPhone 11 Pro camera, Austin dropped in this nugget:

We MUST understand our tools in order to successfully move through the creative process. If we don’t know about our cameras’ strengths and weaknesses and why they’re there, it’s really hard to solve problems and achieve our vision.

The more you understand your tools and how they work, then more capable those tools become in your hands as you use them to solve creative problems and do your best work.

Think about this beyond just cameras. Think about the apps you use; the team workflows you all rely on; the physical gear you employ. Do you understand them? Are they helping you solve problems and achieve the vision you have for your work?

Austin Mann on Tools and Creativity