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

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.

Survey Says…

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.


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.

* * *

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

Rindle: Simplify Your Workflow (Sponsor)

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.

Last Call: The Awareness Building Class

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

What’s Your Biggest Challenge?

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?

* * *

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

Acuity Scheduling (Sponsor)

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.

* * *

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.

The Awareness Building Class

Speaking of podcasts, this is an awesome tip / app suggestion from Bradley Chambers this week over on The Sweet Setup.

If you’re like me and you come across one-off audio files that you want to listen to, but wish you could (a) easily get them onto your phone without side-loading them or dealing with Dropbox’s audio player (which doesn’t remember listening state); and (b) take advantage of your favorite podcast player’s Smart Speed features then this is the service for you.

How to create a personal podcast feed using Dropbox and JustCast

Coming Soon: The Awareness Building Class

About a month ago I came across this 99u video of Cal Newport talking about skill versus passion. What he had to say really struck home for me. Particularly his thoughts on what he calls Deep Work.

If you’ve read the book So Good They Can’t Ignore You, what Newport calls Deep Work in his 99u video he calls Intentional Practice in his book.

And, it’s not an entirely new idea. Deep Work / Intentional Practice is similar to what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls Flow.

What I love about Newport’s ideas on Deep Work is how he focuses it on the “knowledge worker”. I’ve read much about intentional practice and finding flow and most people discuss how it relates to athletes and musicians. But not many talk about how it relates to designers, writers, photographers, and entrepreneurs.

If you’re a writer, business owner, designer, freelancer, or podcaster, what does intentional practice look like for you?

Not sure? Don’t worry. You’re not alone…

In an article about Deep Work, Newport states that most knowledge workers are bad at working. Consider this…

Chess players know how to study chess, practice their skills, and systematically improve their game.

Musicians know how to study, practice, and systematically improve their skills with their instrument.

Athletes have a daily routine for systematic strength building and skill development.

But knowledge workers? Well, we spend most of our day checking email. D’oh!

* * *

As I mentioned above, there are a lot of folks who’ve written about the value of intentional practice / deep work. Not everyone uses the same language, but we’re all trying to solve the same issue…

You’ve got Csikszentmihalyi’s studies on Flow, Newport’s proposals for Deep Work, George Leonard’s keys to Mastery, Steven Pressfield’s writings about Resistance, Greg McKeown’s advice for Essentialism, Gary Keller’s action plan to focus on The One Thing, Charles Duhigg’s writings on habits, and Seth Godin’s advice to the Linchpins. To name a few.

In essence, the idea is that you need focused, uninterrupted time every day to do work that is both important and difficult.

Let’s say that again. You need…

Focused time.
Un-Interrupted Time.
Every Day.
Doing Important Work.
Doing Difficult Work.

If you spend all your day doing shallow work (meetings, emails, social networks, casual blog reading) then you’ll never build up your knowledge skill. You’ll never progress as a knowledge worker. You’ll never get breakthrough in your work.

As someone who writes for a living, I agree wholeheartedly.

By far and away, the most important time of my day is when I’m writing. And the most rewarding times of my day have been those when I am focused on an idea or topic and challenging myself to find a solution to a problem.

If I had to give one single piece of advice related to what I call Meaningful Productivity it would be this:

Make a routine of showing up every day to do your most important work.

It feels novel to focus on the “show up every day” part. But what about the “most important work” part?

Do you know what your most important work is?

What is the one thing that, if done today, will move the needle forward in an area of your life or business that matters deeply to you right now?

One of the most significant challenges when it comes to finding flow every day is knowing what to do. It’s one thing to show up. It’s another thing to make the most of your time.

If you have a plan for your Deep Work then it will remove a significant layer of activation energy.

This is why I always write out tomorrow’s most important task before I call it quits for the day. So that when I begin my day, the plan of action has already been established.

And this brings us to something I want to share with you…

Awareness Building Class

The Awareness Building Class

Next Tuesday, October 20th, my friend Mike Vardy and I are launching something awesome.

Mike is a good friend of mine. He is also a writer, speaker, and productivity strategist.

Mike was one of the small handful of people I personally reached out to when enlisting help and feedback as I was building The Focus Course earlier this year.

Since launching The Focus Course a few months ago, the feedback has been far beyond what I expected. And thus I have found myself putting more and more time and energy into making the course even better.

(For example, in a few weeks I’m going back to the studio to record 40 additional videos to accompany the course. I’m also in the process of developing a coaching curriculum based on the 40-day progression of the Course.)

Something else I’m doing to make the Course even better is what Mike and I have been working on…

The Awareness Building Class.

It’s a 5-part series of audio teachings filled with real-life stories and actionable advice to help you stop guessing and start going.

What’s nifty about The Awareness Building Class is that it’s been strategically designed to go side-by-side with The Focus Course.

All 5 of the Class sessions fit in line with the key themes of The Focus Course — such as clarity, action, integrity, productivity, and meaning.

And here’s what’s even MORE cool:

The Class will be available FOR FREE to everyone who signs up for The Focus Course before October 26.

After the 26th, the Awareness Building Class will be available as a standalone product for $79.

All of you who have already signed up for the Focus Course: you’ll also get the Awareness Building Class for free (I believe in treating yesterday’s customers just as good as today’s).

You can read more about the Awareness Building Class right here.

Coming Soon: The Awareness Building Class

The Apple Watch Apps I Use

Getting the Apple Watch, I didn’t know what to expect.

I’ve worn a watch for years. In part because I often want to know what time it is, but also because it’s one more “barrier” to keep me from pulling out my iPhone.

Do you ever do this? Do you pull your iPhone out of your pocket in order to check the time. But before you know it, you’ve already unlocked the thing and you’re half-way through your Twitter timeline before you realize what you’re doing? And then you don’t even remember what time it is (which was the whole reason you got your phone out in the first place)?

I used to (still often do, alas) do that all the time. And it drives me nuts. I want to be more intentional about when I’m going to mindlessly check twitter.

Earlier this spring, after having the Apple Watch for just a week, I wrote about how it was Just Smart Enough.

So, several months in with the Apple Watch. Do I still wear it? Is it still “just smart enough?” How do I use it? Has Apple Watch changed my life and will I ever be the same?

The short answer to those questions is that yes, I still wear my Watch every day, and I think it’s fantastic and convenient and helpful. But if I didn’t have it, I would still get by just fine.

The longer answer to those questions is below…

The Main Complications

The vast majority of how I use my watch is to tell time, check the current temperature, or set a timer.

In fact, being able to see the weather on my wrist at a glance is awesome. It sounds so simple, but, it’s the little things in life, you know?

The Apps I Don’t Use

I thought I’d start off by sharing the apps I don’t use.

The promise of being able to check email, calendars, and stocks, and to answer phone calls from your watch are cool. But for me, I don’t want the Watch to replace my iPhone. I want the Watch to help me stay connected in the ways that are important to me, and allow me to use my phone less frequently.

Some of the apps I don’t use include email, the phone, (tip) calculator, podcasts, the Camera, OmniFocus, and Twitter.

Of course, now that I’ve got the iPhone 6s Plus (a.k.a. the Airplane Wing), I may start putting my shopping list on my watch.

The Apps I Do Use

Aside from the timer and the weather apps/complications, these are the other apps I use on a regular basis:

  • Fitness + Activity: I’m embarrassed to say that I’ve gotten out of my running regimen. Ironically, building and launching The Focus Course, followed by a long vacation to Colorado, a trip to Atlanta, another to Dallas, and then the building and launching of a new product (announcement about that coming soon), has all accumulated into a wrench being thrown into my daily fitness routine.

  • Remote: The remote to our Apple TV just stopped working about one week before the new Apple TV was announced. Instead of replacing the remote, we’re waiting to replace the whole box. And in the meantime, the Remote app on my Apple Watch has gotten much more use.

  • Alarm: With “nightstand mode” in WatchOS 2.0, I started using the alarm on my Watch instead of my iPhone. And I discovered that the Watch’s alarm is night-and-day less obnoxious than the iPhone’s. So now I use the Watch alarm to wake in the morning instead.

  • Messages: Getting incoming text messages on the Watch is one of my favorite features. Not only does it serve as an additional reason not to get my phone out all the time, but it also means that I can leave my iPhone on the mantle in our kitchen and still be reachable via text / phone call.

This is great for two reasons: (1) the iPhone 6s Plus isn’t as pocketable as my previous phones have been; and (2) it means my boys see me using my iPhone less frequently.

  • Slack: I also get notifications on my Watch for Slack messages. Since this is how the Blanc Media team communicates, it’s important for me to be reachable through private messages or mentions.

  • Music remote control: When using the iPhone to play music through a bluetooth speaker or to my bluetooth earbuds, the watch makes a very convenient remote control.

  • Apple Pay: Once you’ve used your Watch to pay for something, it’s hard to go back. So easy, so quick, so awesome.

* * *

After five months, the Watch gets far less “nerdy” usage than I originally thought it would get. And yet, at the same time, it has proven to be far more useful — and fun! — than I expected.

It’s an expensive little gadget, but I think it’s worth it. I’m excited to see what the future holds for the Watch.

The Apple Watch Apps I Use

Thirteen Days With an iPhone 6s Plus

On iPhone pre-order day, I lost my mind for a few minutes and decided it would be a good idea to order the gargantuan iPhone known as the 6s Plus.

The iPhone 6s Plus

I named it Hercules, because, well, it’s a hoss.

My friends who also use a 6/6s Plus told me to give it at least a week or two. It’s been 13 days, and I’m still not sure about it.

There are some things which I love about the phone. Namely: the superior mechanics for photography and videography, and the bigger screen real-estate. But I am not yet convinced that the tradeoff for those things — having a device that is unwieldy at best when using it with one hand — is worth it.

That said, here are some miscellaneous thoughts and observations about the iPhone 6s Plus.

Battery Life

For me, at least, this isn’t an issue. But it’s not because the Plus has made it a non-issue, it’s just that battery life has never been an issue for me with any iPhone I’ve owned.

Maybe my old 3GS would get into the red sometimes, but honestly I can’t remember the last time I had an iPhone that I had to regularly keep charged throughout the day.

I know people who say their iPhone has a dead battery by lunchtime, but I just don’t have a grid for that. So, the advantage of the better battery life of the 6s Plus is (unfortunately?) wasted on me.

Image Stabilization

The in-body image stabilization is pretty awesome.

Maybe its placebo, maybe not, but in the week and a half I’ve had this new iPhone, it definitely seems to contain a noticeably superior camera to my iPhone 6.

Here are two cute photos I’ve taken on the 6s Plus:

At the park -- Shot with the iPhone 6s Plus

Story Time -- Shot with the iPhone 6s Plus

These don’t really show off just how great the camera of the 6s Plus is, but they are photos of my family so I think they’re awesome.

For a much better comparison of the in-body image stabilization, check out this video that shows a side-by-side comparison of shooting video with the image-stabilized 6s Plus and the non-stabilized 6s.

Screen Density

In addition to having a larger screen, the Plus also has a higher pixel density.

As for the pixel density, even when side-by-side with my iPhone 6 I can’t see the difference between the two phones. So while it’s a cool feature on paper that makes a good reason to get the bigger phone, it’s not actually relevant in day-to-day life. At least, not for me.

The larger screen is definitely nice for a lot of things. Such as editing photos in VSCO Cam, browsing the web in Mobile Safari, reading in Instapaper or Kindle or the News app, typing, and more.

The iPhone 6s Plus

3D Touch

This new tech is awesome. Apps that support 3D Touch from the Home screen are instantly more useful. OmniFocus’s “New Inbox Item” action is one of my favorites (aside from the Camera app’s Selfie shortcut, of course). As I was writing this, Fantastical just shipped an update to support 3D Touch. So now I’m just hoping Simplenote will add shortcuts for creating a new note and searching.

And then there’s Trackpad Mode. Which is awesome.

Here are John Gruber’s sentiments about the new feature:

This might be the single best new feature for text editing on the iPhone since the addition of selection and Copy/Paste in iOS 3 in 2009. In addition to moving the insertion point around, you can press again and switch to selection mode — like double-clicking the mouse button on a Mac. Trackpad mode is a once-you’ve-used-it-you-can’t-go-back addition to iOS.

Agreed. This is the thing you demo to your friends about why getting the new iPhone 6s is worth it.

The Home Button (Literally)

That’s what it’s always been called, but that is literally what it is now.

It used to be that if you clicked the Home button while the screen was off then you’d see the Lock screen. But Touch ID is so ridiculously fast now that clicking the Home button is simultaneous with unlocking the iPhone.

This is both awesome and frustrating.

It’s awesome because the added level of security that Touch ID brings is anything but a burden. In fact, it’s now faster and easier to unlock your iPhone using Touch ID than it is to swipe with no security passcode at all.

Think about that. Having a more secure phone is also more convenient in day-to-day use.

However, the frustrating part of Touch ID’s speed is, ironically, that it makes it harder to get to the Camera app.

There are two ways to get around this. One way is to press the Home button with a finger that’s not registered with Touch ID. The other way is to press the Lock / Wake button. Alas, both of these options leave you in a spot that’s not easy to slide up on the Camera app icon that’s down in the bottom-right-hand side of the screen. On the 6s this wouldn’t be as much of an issue because it’s easier to hit the Lock / Wake button while still holding the phone comfortably. But for me, my thumb literally can’t reach the Lock / Wake button while holding the 6s Plus comfortably with one hand.

The iPhone 6s Plus

That Super Cool Wallpaper is via the Super Cool Unsplash.
#### Daily usage
The iPhone 6s Plus works best when you’re in a calm and controlled environment. Such as the couch, or at your desk. Basically anywhere that you’re stationary and have both hands free. In this context the Plus is awesome.

It is extremely easy to hold and use with two hands. Typing on the larger-but-not-too-large keyboard is fantastic. And the bigger screen is an excellent size for Instapaper, Twitter, Instagram, Day One, VSCO Cam, the News, Safari, and more.

As many other iPhone 6 Plus users have said before, with the larger iPhone, there’s not a huge need for an iPad mini. Slowly, over time, you realize the Plus is big enough for most of situations when you would have used the smaller iPad, and so you actually don’t need both devices.

Lately I’ve been doing a lot of my writing on the iPad. And from time to time I enjoy reading comic books. For the evening reading and research that I often do with the iPad, while I could see the iPhone 6s Plus taking over that role, the iPad is still a bit better suited to it.

Where the iPhone 6s Plus does not shine is when you’re out and about. Walking through the grocery store, pushing a shopping cart, wrangling two toddler boys, and trying to check-off items on your shopping list app is not the ideal environment for using the 6s Plus with one hand. I’ve quickly learned how to push a shopping cart with just my elbows.

In short, for me, the 6s Plus is equal parts wonderful and terrible. There are some people who find the size to be just right, and so they have no sense of trade-offs with the device. But it is just too large for me to comfortably use as a hand-held phone.

The question is: Are the advantages of the Plus worth the disadvantages? A lot of people say absolutely. Some still say no way.

For me, I’m honestly still undecided. I’ll have to give it another 13 days.

Thirteen Days With an iPhone 6s Plus

What’s Your Minimum Effective Dose?

You’ve no-doubt heard of the Law of the Vital Few. It’s the 80/20 rule, which states that roughly 80-percent of the results come about from just 20-percent of the energy.

What if you took your 80-percent results and applied the 80/20 rule to them? And then one more time?


Click for full size.
What you end up with is the idea that your initial 1-percent of energy spent brings about the first 50-percent of results.

That 1-percent of energy spent reaps a dispraportionate result. Tim Ferris calls it the Minimum Effective Dose.

In his book, The One Thing, Gary Keller writes that “success is about doing the right thing, not about doing everything right.”

If there was one thing you could do that represented roughly 1-percent of your time and energy. And if that one thing was a cause for the intial half of the results you’re seeking. Then it’s safe to say that it’s a good idea to keep on doing that one thing.

Step back for a moment and take stock of one area of your life that you want to improve. Perhaps it’s your health, your inner personal life, your relationship with your spouse or kids, your job, your finances, or your free time.

Looking at that area, you probably see right away the 1,000 things you wish were different and that you know you should change. But when you’re staring 1,000 important things in the face, you’ve no idea which one to start with. It’s totally overwhelming.

Which is why you need that Minimum Effective Dose.

Think again about that area of your life where you’d love to see change. What is one thing you could do that would have a disproportionate result compared to anything else you did?

  • Want to get in shape? Try walking for 15 minutes per day.
  • Want to improve your marriage? Compliment your spouse every day.
  • Want to get out of debt? Focus on paying off your smallest debt first to get it out of the way.
  • Want to feel more recharged after the weekend? Read a book for 30 minutes before binge watching Netflix.
  • Want to advance your career? Find someone new to have lunch with every week and ask them what you can do to help them.

These things in and of themselves will not revolutionize your life over night. But the power is in their simplicity and their do-ability. And once these things get into place as part of your day-to-day lifestyle then they create a momentum that you can ride as you incorporate new activities. For example, you start out just walkling for 30 minutes. And then you begin to jog for a while at first and then walk the rest of the way. Until pretty soon you’re jogging the full half-hour, and more…

But that’s not all. The other advantage to defining a Minimum Effective Dose is the simplification it brings.

Knowing the single most important thing you can do is liberating.

It simplifies your life because you know what it is you need to do, every day. Which, in turn, helps you know what you don’t need to do. You have just one task, one activity, one way to spend your energy. Go do it. Because the value in small things done consistently over time cannot be underestimated.

* * *

For further reading

What’s Your Minimum Effective Dose?