Solve Those Distractions

In the past week I’ve gotten literally hundreds of emails from folks regarding time management.

As people are signing up for the time management class that launches next week, I’ve been asking them about their biggest frustrations in terms of managing and scheduling their time.

By far and away one of the biggest challenges I’m hearing from people is that of distractions and interruptions.

In light of that, I wanted to share with you a quick and simple activity you can do to help with those distractions.

Try this:

  • Take a sheet of paper, and draw a line down the middle from top to bottom.

  • At the top of the left-hand column, write “Distractions and Interruptions”.

  • Above the right-hand column, write “Solutions”.

  • Now, list out as many distractions and interruptions you can think of. Anything and everything that stands in the way of you doing what it is you want to do.

  • Then, next to each one, list a possible way for how you can remove that distraction or interruption.

This is a play straight out of The Focus Course, and the idea is 2-fold:

  1. For one, you won’t be able to implement a solution for every single distraction and interruption on your list. But I bet you can solve at least a few of them. And every little bit helps.

  2. Secondly, and most importantly, this gets you in the driver’s seat. It’s a way for you to be proactive when it comes to those external distractions that get in the way of doing your focused work.

Solve Those Distractions

As your company grows, so does your need for technology to support it. Even with a small number of iPads, iPhones, or Macs, it becomes time consuming to individually configure settings. It can be challenging determining which apps to download, how to distribute them, and who’s Apple ID should be associated with the app. Modifying even a single setting requires a user to manually update each device. This job often gets pushed to one or two people taking them away from their primary job function.

This is why we created Bushel — to help eliminate these manual tasks with an easy-to-use tool that requires little investment of time or money. Say goodbye to the manual configuration process of yesterday. By offering Bushel for free for the first three devices, we make over the air device management easy and affordable for organizations of any size. Additional devices are only $2/month with no contracts or commitments.

Save time and money all while keeping your company Apple devices secure. Sign up for free and try Bushel today.

* * *

My thanks to Bushel for sponsoring the RSS feed this week. Sponsorship by The Syndicate.

​Bushel — Easy Apple Device Management (Sponsor)

Fantastic Friday: Podcast Edition

Hello friends,

It’s Friday! I was recently asked by a reader about what podcasts I’d recommend.

While I don’t listen to podcasts frequently, I do listen regularly. Since I work from home, I don’t have much of a commute (unless half-a-flight of stairs counts). But whenever I’m in the car on errands I’ve got a podcast going.

And so, since I only listen to a couple of podcast episodes each week, I’m very particular about which episodes I listen to. Trying to choose only the ones that look the most interesting or relevant to me.

Which is why, as I’ve mentioned before, my number one feature request for Overcast would be a custom playlist that works like a “listen later” queue. I’d love to flag individual episodes from within Overcast and have them show up in a playlist and I could just work my way through that list.

But, that’s just details.

I mostly listen to business-centric podcasts these days. Below are are my four current favorite shows.

As always, thanks for reading. Have a great weekend.

— Shawn


1. Entreleadership

I just discovered the Entreleadership podcast about six months ago, and have listened to nearly every episode since. It’s an excellent combination of tight editing with candid conversation.

The episodes are short (usually 30 minutes or less) and usually feature 2-3 different segments and conversations.

Some recommended episodes:


2. The Fizzle Show

No surprise here. I’ve long been encouraging folks to listen to the Fizzle Show. It’s equal parts fun and helpful. From the practicals of starting and sustaining a business to the emotional ups and downs of entrepreneurship, these guys know their stuff.

Some recommended episodes:

3. seanwes podcast

The unsung star of the seanwes podcast is actually Sean’s co-host, Ben. Being a co-host is not an easy job and Ben does an excellent job! The seanwes podcast covers a broad range of topics, primarily centered around building an audience-based business.

Sean is an excellent communicator and his show is always filled with excellent advice.

Some recent and excellent episodes:


4. Tim Ferris Show

I mostly pick and choose which episodes of the Tim Ferris Show I listen to. They’re usually 2 hours long, but they tend to be jam packed with incredibly fascinating and helpful information.

Some of the best episodes:


* * *

In other news: Shawn Today continues with its series on 4DX. I announced my new class on time management. On Tools & Toys we reviewed an awesome pocket knife. And over on the Sweet Setup we picked the best 3rd-party email app for iOS: Microsoft Outlook.

Fantastic Friday: Podcast Edition

Benjamin Franklin’s Daily Schedule

Ben Franklin Daily Schedule

That’s a copy of Benjamin Franklin’s daily schedule. I’ve written about this before, but (for obvious reasons) I wanted to return to it today.

What I love about his schedule is how open and simple it is. Though it was a routine, it was very forgiving for all the nuances and variables that each day’s tasks and priorities seem to bring.

He had only six blocks of time scheduled each day:

  • Getting ready for the day: shower, breakfast, personal study, and prepare for work (3 hours)
  • Morning work (4 hours)
  • Review of current projects and to eat lunch (2 hours)
  • Afternoon work (4 hours)
  • Dinner and rest and wrapping up the day (4 hours)
  • Sleep (7 hours)

So simple yet still structured and helpful.

From time to time I take a look at my own daily schedule to make sure it’s serving me as well as it should be. Because I want to be the one who sets my schedule just like I am the one budgeting my finances.

A schedule, just like a financial budget, is there for the purpose of serving my goals. A schedule makes sure the minutes don’t get away from me. It helps me keep from squandering my time.

As a creative person, I’ve found the structure of a schedule is extremely empowering.

I used to think the opposite. Many folks still do think the opposite. They think “time budgets” are oppressive and that a schedule is something only prickly people do. Well, that’s silly.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again:

There’s no good reason a creative person should live without any sort of routine, discipline, or accountability.

What is margin if not a constraint that keeps us from overflowing our borders? It is by living with constraint that we are enabled to do our best creative work.

If you’re struggling to get a simple yet helpful schedule in place, maybe there’s something from Ben Franklin’s day that could inspire you.

Consider setting a block of time each day for something that’s important to you.

A Focus on Time

Speaking of time management — you don’t have to be (or live like) a founding father of the United States to get the most of your time each day.

I like to schedule every minute of my day, but that doesn’t mean you have to.

While you may be feeling bummed out at your current approach to time management (or lack thereof) the good news is this:

Diligence, focus, and deep work are all skills that can be learned.

As I announced yesterday, in a little less than two weeks I’m launching something that will help you tremendously. It’s a class on time management.

It’s a class for people who dislike schedules just as much as it is for those who love them.

(Go ahead and read that last sentence again.)

Now, if you’re asking how that is possible, let me tell you…

It’s possible because taking ownership of your time and attention is different than merely implementing a few quick tips for how to rock a Day Runner.™

Focus, priorities, time management, etc. are important because they’re about loving life. Again — not for prickly people, but for all people.

Which is why A Focus On Time promises to be equally relevant for those who adore spontaneity as well as those who thrive in administrative.

This is a class for those who want to get the most of their time — their life — every day.

Go here to find out all about the class and sign up to be notified for when it comes out. You’ll get first dibs at early-bird pricing, and I’ve got an updated version of my PDF ebook about procrastination that I want to send you as my way of saying thanks.

Benjamin Franklin’s Daily Schedule

A Focus on Time

A Focus on Time

Things like diligence, focus, priorities, saying no, time management, and the like are important. But why?

This quote by Benjamin Franklin pretty much sums it up for me:

“Dost thou love life? Then do not squander time, for that’s the stuff life is made of.”

Focus, priorities, time management, etc… These are important because they’re about loving life.

* * *

It’s been about 9 months since The Focus Course came out. And a few months ago I also began offering the free Elements of Focus class.

Between Focus Course members and those who’ve gone through the free class, the number one area of feedback has been a request for additional training on time management.

Therefore, I’m putting together exactly that:

A Focus on Time

This is a brand new class by yours truly, focused on scheduling, prioritizing, and time management. It launches in two weeks.

Click here to find out more about the class, and sign up to be notified when it launches.

A Focus on Time

Work Focus; Rest Focus

After breakfast, I sit down and schedule out the rest of my day.

I literally schedule every single minute.

scheduled minutes

An activity that takes no more than five minutes.

Scheduling my day used to take 10 or 15 minutes, but I’ve gotten better at it over time. And even if it took 15 minutes, it’d be worth it — time spent scheduling is not time wasted.

When I’ve got that plan for how I’m going to spend my time, and what I’m going to do when, I get more done during the day, and my day is significantly less stressful.

I used to think a schedule meant I’d never get to have fun. Because if you’re scheduling your time then you should only put Super Duper Important things on your schedule.

Well, I do only schedule Super Duper Important things. I just have a smarter definition of Super Duper Important.

Did you know I schedule time to watch Netflix? I schedule time for a mid-day nap if I want. Time to read for an hour and a half in the middle of the afternoon. Time to take my wife out for dinner once a week. Time to go running at the gym. Time to play trains with my kids. Time to have lunch with a friend. Time to help my wife with dinner. Time to write for as long as I can handle in the morning.

In fact, by scheduling every minute of my day, I help make sure I do all the things I want to do — for work and for play.


I’m not here to talk about the how and why of scheduling every minute (I’ll do more of that in a few weeks over here).

The Week’s Wildly Important Goals

What makes it easy for me to schedule every minute of my day is this: I already know what I want and need to do that day.

I get this because on Sundays, usually in the late afternoon, I sit down and list all the big things I want to accomplish over the next 7 days.

In 4DX terminology, this is me listing out what the Wildly Important Goals are for my week.

For a recent example, here are the outcomes I listed out for the week of February 1st:

Knowing what my desired outcomes are for the week means I can assign some time to them.

By assigning time I know when I will be doing the things that are important. This is far more effective (and stress free) than just having a list of things I want to do and hoping that I’ll get around to doing them.

Planning the Week’s Focus

With my week’s goals listed out, I then sit down and plan the main things I’ll be focusing on each day for my Monday – Friday.

For this, I have two areas of focus: work and rest.

  • Deep Work Focus: I have capacity for about 3 hours of deep work each day — 2 hours in the morning and 1 hour in the early afternoon.

Thefore, for each day of the week (M-F) I list out what my one or two areas of “Deep Work Focus” are going to be.

  • Rest Focus: I know I’ll have down time in my day because, as I mentioned above, I schedule it. And so I also choose ahead of time how I am going to spend that time.

For me, it’s important not to spend every spare moment I have checking Twitter, email, or watching TV. Having a few pre-chosen activities for how I’m going to spend my down time goes a long way in helping make sure my down time actually leaves me feeling more rested and re-charged.

(This is what I was getting at when I wrote about some alternatives to the just checks.)

For example, during the week of February 1, my down time was spent reading 4DX.

  • Other: Of course, you don’t have to stop at work and rest. You could also define a family and relationships focus, a health focus, and a personal inner-life focus. (For those who’ve gone through The Focus Course, this is exactly what we address in Modules Three and Five)

* * *

Being proactive with your time and focus is liberating.

Trying to plan ahead like this can be difficult at first. We are so used to being reactive and responding to the tyranny of the urgent. Or we are afraid of “boxing ourselves in” by making a choice ahead of time.

But the effort is worth it. In no time you’ll be able to whip up a plan in just a few minutes. And the freedom it will bring to your day-to-day life is awesome.

* * *

P.S. You may be interested to know that I’ve put together a time management class that is as relevant to those who thrive on spontaneity as it is to those who love to nerd out over administrativia.

Everything I know and practice about time management, scheduling, and prioritization is in this class.

Find out more right here »

Work Focus; Rest Focus

Fantastic Friday: Instapaper’d

Hello friends,

This week’s Fantastic Friday comes to you from the Colorado Front Range. My wife and boys and I have been out here for the past week enjoying the unexpected warm weather and spending time with family.

And so, appropriately, this week’s four fantastic links are articles (and a video) straight from the best of my recent Instapaper queue. Enjoy.

— Shawn

* * *


Craig Mod’s Review of the Leica Q

What a review. What a camera.

I believe that in hindsight — and I realize this sounds kind of crazy, as if I’ve binge-inhaled all of the Leica Kool-Aid at once — the Leica Q will be seen as one of the greatest fixed-prime-lens travel photography kits of all time.


The Attention Charter

Cal Newport, of course:

I find that the occasions when I most despair about the tattered state of my schedule are almost always the result of the accumulation of a dozen yeses that each made perfect sense in isolation.

Though I don’t have a formal attention charter, having some pre-defined limits for external requests on my time and attention is something I’ve done since 2008.

In my days as a marketing and creative director for an in-house design team, I received constant requests for meetings. And so, I simply had on my schedule “open meeting time” twice a week. When someone needed to meet with me, I’d let them know of my next available time. Not only did this remove a ton of mental energy to “find a spot in my schedule” but it also kept my unexpected meetings to a minimum.

These days, I have some similar limits. For example, I only accept speaking gigs to events I want to attend anyway (and, this year, at least, I’m keeping my speaking to just 2 events). I also flat-out ignore almost all incoming requests for product reviews across all of our websites — I have no doubt that we get some awesome pitches, but most of the time they are bulk email requests, and so I don’t try to separate the wheat from the chaff.


Do You Have to Love What You Do?

Jason Fried:

If I were giving a motivational speech, I’d say that, if you want to be successful and make a real contribution to the world, you have to be intrinsically motivated by the work you do, and you have to feel good about spending your days on it. Love might grow — and it’s a wonderful thing if it does — but you don’t need it up front. You can succeed just by wanting something to exist that doesn’t already.

Related viewing: This 99U talk by Cal Newport about why it’s bad advice to follow your passion, and this Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee episode with president Obama.

I’m Possible

This is an absolutely amazing video from Jeremy Cowart. My wife and I had the privilege of seeing Jeremy perform this live last fall and, along with probably everyone in the room, we were deeply moved.

Fantastic Friday: Instapaper’d

This coming March 14-17, the organizers of CocoaConf will be holding a special event in the heart of Yosemite National Park. It’s called Yosemite, and it’s a conference for Apple developers, designers, and enthusiasts.

Speakers this year include Andy Ihnatko, Serenity Caldwell, Jonathan Mann, Neven and Christa Mrgan, Jean MacDonald, and Jim Dalrymple. The conference also features two photo walks led by TED photographer James Duncan Davidson, and a Breakpoint Jam with James Dempsey of James Dempsey and the Breakpoints.

Use code “BLANC” to save 20% on your tickets when registering at

* * *

My thanks to CocoaConf for sponsoring the site this week.

Yosemite 2016 (Sponsor)

Apps and Workflows: iPhone (6s Plus) Edition

Shawn Blanc iPhone Home screen 2016-02-15

Wallpaper via Unspalsh.

The First home screen is a peculiar spot. You want it populated only with the most frequently-used apps. But, what happens when there are but a few apps that you often?

My first Home screen has a few “classifications” of apps:

  • Those I use several times per day: Slack, Tweetbot, Weather Line, Fanastical, OmniFocus, Safari, Simplenote, Messages, and Music.
  • Those I use several times per week: Overcast, Day One, Google Maps, and Instapaper.
  • Those I use often enough that I like to know exactly where they are: such as VSCO, 1Password, Pcalc. I also a couple of folders with some miscellaneous apps related to work and life.

Just a little over two years ago, I wrote about all the iPhone apps I used at the time. Since then, things have changed quite a bit for me. Not only have I consolidated the amount of iOS apps I use now compared to then, but I’m also trying to use my iPhone less often.

Another big change (pun intended) is that I’m currently rocking the iPhone 6s Plus, which is just altogether a different device than the iPhones of yesteryear. As I’ll get to in a second, because the iPhone 6s Plus is a two-handed device, it lets me get away with having less apps on my first home screen. Since 95-percent of the time I’m using two hands, I don’t usually need to have the apps reachable by thumb when holding the device with just one hand.

If you’re wondering, I’m not nearly as thoughtful with my second, third, fourth, and fifth (!) Home screens. Those screens are basically no-man’s land. One of my email apps is over there; there are apps I’ve downloaded to try out that are now just floating around; some games; and other miscellany.

A Brief Aside About the iPhone 6s Plus

Last fall, I went big. I bought the iPhone 6s Plus, named it Hercules, and decided to give it a shot. It has definitely taken some time to get used to, but I think I’ve certainly acclimated.

The tipping point was when I no longer tried to treat the Plus as a one-handed device. For years and years my iPhone was something that could be used with one hand. The Plus? Not so much.

But, once it became natural for me to use both hands when dealing with the Plus, it stopped being an awkward device and the advantages of the larger phone — namely the larger screen and superior battery life — are absolutely wonderful.

With the battery life, I often forget just how spectacular it is. I can’t remember the last time my iPhone’s battery was in the red.

Another thing with the iPhone 6s Plus is that it somehow managed to take over the spot my iPad used to hold. It was such a sly move I never saw it coming. But somehow, over the course of a few months, I just stopped using my iPad for reading and note taking.

In part, I think it’s the speed. My 6s Plus is quite a bit faster than my 2nd generation iPad mini. But also, it’s that the iPhone is just big enough that it’s not worth bringing along and using another iOS device for the purposes of reading, researching, and note taking.

Perhaps I’ll get a new iPad when it eventually comes time to replace my 5-year-old MacBook Air, but I’m not sure. I’m pretty happy with my iMac in the office and my iPhone everywhere else. And, for when I’m on the road and need to work, my Mac Book Air still gets the job done.

That said, today’s article is all about the apps. So let’s dive in…

My iOS Apps and Workflows

This will almost certainly be far less nerdy than it sounds.

Today I mostly just want to share a bit about the iPhone apps I rely on the most, why I use them, and how they fit in to the day-to-day rhythm of my life.


We’ll start with Simplenote because if I had to pick just one single app to have on my phone this would be it.

There are many, many, many apps that allow you to create notes and sync them to your iPad and Mac. And most of those apps are far more feature-rich than Simplenote is. But I don’t mind.

I’ve never been let down by Simplenote’s speed, reliability, or search. It handles these features with flying colors and to me they are the most important features of all.

With Simplenote I have the ability to find any note I’m looking for within a matter of seconds, I’ve never lost a note, and I’ve never felt that I’m using the app wrong.

In a future post I’ll write more about my writing routine, what I do with all my bad ideas, and the like. But for now I’ll just say that Simplenote is pretty much at the heart of it all.


If I could have just two apps on my iPhone, the second would be Messages. Because I like to text with my friends and family. Who doesn’t?

Apple Music

First, a moment of silence for Rdio…

While Apple Music has a lot going for it, it is without its charms. But, nevertheless, I use it every day.

My home office is downstairs. And directly above it are hardwood floors and two toddler boys. Which means I wear headphones almost all morning.

The first thing I do when beginning my work day is to put on those headphones and hit play on the Monument Valley soundtrack and listen to that music for an hour or two while I write.


The best app there is for calendaring and remindering on iOS.


I’ve been a hard and fast OmniFocus user for more than half-a-decade. Something I’ve always liked about the app is that it can be flexible to work the way you work best.

When I first began using OmniFocus I was managing an in-house design team. At any given time we had roughly 45 active projects. It was crazy. And OmniFocus helped me keep everything moving forward.

Nowadays, I have about 3 or 4 active projects at a time. I’m managing far less action items. And in both situations OmniFocus could be as powerful or as simple as I need it.

I should say, however, that I’m considering a move to Wunderlist. At the beginning of this year Blanc Media hired it’s first full-time employee, and so now I’m looking at getting a task management system that allows for group collaboration.


Probably my favorite 1st-party app on iOS (Trailers is a pretty stellar second) and, if you count in all the in-app browsers that use Safari, this is surely the app I use the most on my iPhone.


For checking the Twitter, of course.

Weather Line

Every night before I go to bed, I set out my clothes for the next day. And so I’ll check what tomorrow’s weather is going to be so I can dress accordingly.

PCalc Lite

Yep. I can’t every post a picture of my iPhone Home screen without getting comments about how I use Pcalc Lite. Well, it’s not. I have the full version of PCalc via in-app purchase, but went with the “Lite” app because I prefer the looks of the orange icon over the blue one.


Who’s not using Slack these days? This is the app we use to communicate about and basically run Tools & Toys, The Sweet Setup, and The Focus Course.


This is the app I use to take photos of business expense receipts when I’m out and about. It does OCR on the receipt and uploads it to my “Receipts” folder in Dropbox.


Of course. Thanks to iCloud Keychain I don’t need to open up 1Password on my iPhone all that often, but it’s still a critical app.


While I still use Instapaper every day (to send things to it) I only read about a half-dozen articles in a week (if that).

Nearly all of my reading is with physical dead-tree books now a days. It started over a year ago when I ordered a whole slew of books off Amazon while researching for The Focus Course. It was far cheaper to order used books from Amazon than to by the Kindle versions. And then I just got hooked on how much easier and faster it was to read a paper book.

Speaking of reading, savvy readers may have noticed a lack of an RSS reader in my list. Since all the reading I do these days is with physical books, I haven’t check in on my RSS feeds in at least a year.


This is the app I use for listening to podcasts whenever I’m in the car. Which, since I work from home, isn’t all that often.

Even though I’m subscribed to a few dozen podcasts, I only listen to about 1-2 episodes per week. And so I’m very particular about which episodes I listen to, choosing only the ones that look the most interesting or relevant to me.

Which is why my number one feature request for Overcast would be a custom playlist that works like a “listen later” queue. I’d love to be able to flag individual episodes and have them show up in a list and I could just work my way through that list.

Day One

Though I use Day One all the time, it’s not always from my iPhone. I also do a fair amount of my writing from the Mac. But what I love most about the iPhone version is how I can quickly snap a photo and create a new journal entry with that photo, add in a brief caption, and the location data is automatically placed. Between a picture, the geo-tagged location, and a brief explanation, it’s pretty easy to have a robust journal entry in a few seconds.

* * *

When I first started writing this article a few days ago, my home screen had one more row of apps than it does now. But the process of writing about the apps helped me realized that I had more apps than I wanted. So, thanks to a couple folders on the Home screen and the ability to search for an app from any Home screen, I’ve simplified things a bit.

As I wrote last week, the apps and workflows we use need an audit from time to time. For me, just the process of writing this article caused me to think again about if the apps that were on my Home screen were the apps I still wanted there.

Apps and Workflows: iPhone (6s Plus) Edition

Fantastic Friday: Writing Edition

Hello friends,

It’s another fantastic Friday!

As I’m sure you’re already aware, the Denver Broncos won the Super Bowl! I remember when Denver won in Super Bowls 32 and 33. My friends and I ran down to the main street of our little town in Castle Rock, Colorado. We had our Broncos flags and air horns and just ran up and down the street waving at people. It was so fun.

And while I didn’t go running through any streets this past Sunday, it was so great to see the orange and blue get the win. Especially since this is most certainly Payton Manning’s final season.

Okay, I’m done talking about sports for the foreseeable future.

Today’s edition of Fantastic Friday is all about writing. As I mentioned in Wednesday’s article, the next few week’s I’ll be sharing about my own tools and workflows.

Today, I’m sharing with you the four most important elements of my writing routine.

Yesterday on Twitter I asked if anyone had any questions or topics for today’s article. I’ve tried to answer a few of those questions here, but there are more questions that I’ll aim to answer in a future post.

As always, thanks for reading!

— Shawn


1. A Very Clicky Keyboard

Remember a few years ago when I went hyper-nerd in search of an awesome clicky keyboard? My motivation was two-fold: (a) I’d only ever been typing on the standard-issue keyboard that came with the computers I owned; and (b) as a writer, it would behoove me to have the best possible keyboard.

So I bought a half-dozen keyboards and spent an inordinate amount of time typing on them. You can read all about it here and here.

Ultimately, the keyboard that really clicked with me (ha!) was the Filco Ninja.

If I were to replace my current keyboard, I’d get a CODE keyboard in either Blue or Green switches. What’s awesome about the CODE is the backlighting.


2. ‘Monument Valley’ Soundtrack

Monument Valley is an splendidly beautiful game for iOS. It also has an incredible soundtrack.

I’ve probably listened to the soundtrack close to 1,000 times. Even now, as I write this very sentence, I’m listening to it. It’s what I listen to when I write.

I began listening to this album over a year ago when I drastically changed my morning routine to favor writing above all else as the most important part of my work day.

The soundtrack is awesome, to be sure. But, another reason I continue to play it every day is that there’s some cool science behind this routine. After a few weeks of having this soundtrack on while writing, it become Pavlovian.

Getting into the flow of writing is hard. It’s always been hard, and I suspect it will continue to be so. By having a routine that surrounds my writing time it helps me to get in the zone faster and to stay focused for longer.

+ Nerdy side note: I use the B&O H7 wireless headphones and Apple Music.


3. iA Writer

Lately, iA Writer has become my text editor of choice. Especially for one-off articles like this one.

I’m also a fan of Ulysses — and turn to it when I’m working on bigger projects that involve chapters / sections / etc.

As much as I’d love to do all of my writing in Ulysses exclusively (it has some super awesome features), there is just something about the bold simplicity of iA Writer that has kept it as my go-to daily writing tool.


4. The Note

Lastly is “The Note”. This is, by far and away, the single most important component to my writing routine.

For years I used to sit down at my computer in the morning and ask myself what I would be writing about today. Now, I decide topics far in advance.

Not only have I begun keeping an editorial calendar so I know what is being published and when over the next 4-6 weeks, but I also plan out what my writing topic will be each day.

The Note is what I use for planning out each day’s writing topic. It’s just something simple that I leave out for myself at the end of each work day, where, on the note I have written down the topic for tomorrow’s writing time. Then, the next morning, when it’s time to write, all I have to do is hit play on Monument Valley and put the clicky keyboard to good use.

+ Nerdy aside: For my “note” I write it in my Baron Fig Confidant notebook and a Uni-ball Signo DX 0.38mm pen. The same tools I use for my daily to-do list and schedule (something we’ll get into later).

* * *

P.S. For more info regarding my writing workflow, check out this Q&A. »

Fantastic Friday: Writing Edition

How to Audit Your Workflow

Question: What does your car, your house, your coffee grinder, your budget, your work routines, and even your marriage all have in common?

Answer: They all require maintenance.

Pretty much anything and everything of importance requires our intentional and proactive care.

However, I find that the older I get, the more “set in my ways” I am.

Somewhere I read that after the age of 35 or so, people stop being excited about new technology. And they even begin to look at new technological inventions and advancements with a critical and negative eye.

If we’re weary to get the latest cell phone, how much more so are we prone to keep doing things the way we’ve always done them?

That stubbornness can be good and bad.

It’s good insofar as it keeps us on track to show up every day and do the work.

But that stubbornness does not serve us well if it keeps us from learning, maturing, and adapting. Our workflows, tools, and routines all need a good old-fashioned audit once in a while.

Auditing Your Workflow

It used to be that when a new operating system would ship for my Mac, then I would do my most serious tinkering. I would do a clean install of OS X and be forced to re-evaluate which apps I wanted re-install.

But nowadays updating OS X is about as easy as updating an app. And though I have made some significant changes to my daily writing routine, I haven’t preformed a good workflow audit in nearly a year and a half (since I bought this Retina iMac).

For the next couple of articles I’m going to be writing about my own workflows and tools in hopes to show you why it’s important (and fun!) take time out for a workflow audit.

As you’re getting to work on your goals and projects for the year, now is as good a time as any to reassess the tools you’re using and how you’re using them.

Maybe it’s time to find a more advanced tool. Or, maybe it’s time to switch to something more basic. How can your processes be enhanced? How can they be simplified? Does something need to be added? Can something be removed?

There’s no right or wrong answer so long as you’re at least asking the questions. (Put that on a stock photo and Pin it).

So, when I do a major workflow audit like the one I’ll be doing this month, there are several things I consider:

  • On my Mac and iPhone I consider what software I no longer use or need; what files can I archive away onto a backup drive; and what files can I delete?

  • In my schedule I consider how I’m spending my time over the course of a week; what would I like to add or remove to my routines; is my time being spent how I want it to be spent; at the end of a week do I feel a sense of accomplishment and contentment in the areas that matter?

  • With my team I look at how to remove bottlenecks and friction as well as ways to empower them, give them more autonomy, and increase overall team morale.

  • For my own day-to-day activities, I consider how I plan my day; how manage and accomplish my to-do list; how I deal with email; how I write, record, and publish articles and podcasts; how I read and study; and how I make consistent progress on big projects.

Because everything above interacts and interweaves with the others, a look at the entire workflow is needed on occasion. It’s valuable to just take a moment, look at the big picture, and ask if everything is running well.

Our lives are ever-changing. As are our interests, priorities, and availability. It’s worth the effort to take a look at our systems and tools to make sure they are still the ones serving us and not the other way around.

And then, as they advise in 4DX, if every other area of my operation remained at its current level of performance, what is the one area where change would have the greatest impact?

How to Audit Your Workflow

Fantastic Friday: 4DX and The Long Game

Hello friends.

First off, you know I have to say it: In just a few short days the Denver Broncos will be on the world’s stage. I’ve been drinking out of my lucky Denver Broncos coffee mug every day this week. Here’s hoping Manning can go out in style.

Secondly, we are officially wrapped up with Margin Month. I thought this “themed” month was a great idea and it turned out so well. The three most popular posts were the one on time management, the one on creative energy, and the interview with Cal Newport.

I’m going to be diving back into all the material and compiling it into a single resource. Also, because I received so much feedback about schedules and time management stuff, I’ve begun putting together a new teaching resource on time management. I’ll be sharing more on that in the coming weeks.

That said, enjoy the links below and have an awesome weekend. Go Broncos!

— Shawn

P.S. Did you know there’s a Super Bowl 50 app for any and every one of your Apple devices (including Apple TV). Awesome!

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The Four Disciplines of Execution →

Or 4DX for short. I’m reading this book right now and it’s awesome. Next week, as we kick-off “Workflow Month” on the site, I’ll be going through this book on the Shawn Today podcast.

The Four Disciplines of Execution is an excellent book, and I highly recommend it. If you want to go through it over the next month and follow along in the podcast book club (oh my nerd), grab a copy and sign up for membership access to the show.


The Long Game

This is a 3-part video series about showing up every day to do the work. It’s fantastic. (Hat tip to Sean McCabe, of course.)

You can watch all three videos back-to-back in just under 21 minutes. They’re masterfully done and the message is one we all need to hear in our pursuit to do our best creative work.

Related material: the book Talent is Overrated and this 99U talk by Cal Newport.


Technology Resolutions for 2016 →

I realize we’re already in to February. For me, now that the momentum of January’s new projects is underway, it’s a great time to audit the tools and workflows I use.

As I mentioned earlier, over the next few weeks I’m going to be writing about the tools and workflows I use to get the job done.


The New Day One is Here

Speaking of tools and workflows, the new version of Day One is here, and it’s so great. Day One is certainly one of my favorite apps, and I love the updates that have come out for iOS and Mac.

Over on The Sweet Setup we’ve updated our review of the app.

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In other news: This week I wrapped up Margin Month with two podcast interviews: one with Cal Newport and one with Havilah Cunnington. And this coming Monday we’re kicking off the next month’s theme: Workflows. I’ll be writing about tools, workflows, and more. If you’ve got something specific you’d like to see me discuss, get in touch.

Fantastic Friday: 4DX and The Long Game

Permission to be Creative — With Special Guest, Havilah Cunnington

Today’s podcast episode wraps up our focus on Margin. And I’ve saved the best for last.

Over the past several weeks we’ve covered so much ground: what margin is; why it’s important; how to get margin in our schedule, in our finances, in our creative energy, and so much more.

For today’s podcast, I wanted to talk with someone I deeply respect: Havilah Cunnington.

Havilah and her husband, Ben, are two of Anna’s and my dearest friends. We’ve known them for over a decade (Ben and I used to be roommates).

The four of us often connect to talk about life, kids, family, entrepreneurship, building an audience, and more.

Havilah is the founder of Truth to Table, an online Bible study platform. Fun fact: I totally stole inspiration from Havilah’s training videos when designing the “look” of my Focus Course videos.

On the show, we talk about how to do your best creative work when you’re also raising kids, how to build an audience, how to keep a healthy work and personal life, and more.

Speaking of, if you enjoy this podcast with Havilay, you should check out my free class: The Elements of Focus. It’s a 10-day video class where we’ll talk about making time, finding clarity, and gaining traction in your business or side project.

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Episode Highlights

  • Havilah’s approach to building an audience was to start with tons of free training and resources. She knew that she had to build a brand people trusted. Her first training series, Radical Growth, was several short training sessions that were sharable and didn’t have any “homework” attached to them. This helped that training series gain momentum early on.

  • While some people (myself included) advocate the idea of showing up every day and putting out regular content, Havilah has found success in going “dark” for a season in-between her online teaching events. She takes a season of time (a few months) to muse, write, and create her next product. Then, she comes back strong with something big and new.

  • The challenge of balancing a busy traveling schedule with building a personal brand: When you’re on the road all the time, it’s hard to build your own brand. It’s difficult to build momentum with your own audience when you are putting most of your energy into serving someone else’s platform. This isn’t to say that serving other platforms is bad, but it you can’t always do both.

  • One of the ways you learn how to balance work and life is through trial and error. You have to listen to the season of life your in right now and go all in with the one or two things that are most important.

  • Parenting little kids is just a season of life. Aim to parent from a place of authenticity rather than social expectations.

  • You’ve got to have a few core values and boundaries that keep your life healthy.

  • Advice to overwhelmed moms and dads who want to build something: Stay inspired.

Do this by: (1) having a coach, mentor, podcast, book, album, or whatever that you can turn to in order to find and build motivation when times are challenging; and (2) look to those who are ahead of you and gain strength and motivation from the work they are doing.

  • Give yourself permission to be creative. Take ownership for your life and the space you need to do your best creative work. This usually requires that you challenge the assumptions of what’s normal and find what works best for you.

Show Links

Permission to be Creative — With Special Guest, Havilah Cunnington

Deep Work and Focus — With Special Guest, Cal Newport


In today’s episode of Shawn Today I have the honor of talking with Cal Newport.

Cal Newport is one of my favorite writers and thinkers. His book, So Good They Can’t Ignore You, was one of the most impactful books I read in 2015. And his brand new book, Deep Work, is equally fantastic.

The hypothesis behind Deep Work is this:

The ability to perform deep work is becoming increasingly rare at exactly the same time it is becoming increasingly valuable in our economy. As a consequence, the few who cultivate this skill, and then make it the core of their working life, will thrive.

In our conversation, Cal and I talk about time management, how to develop a lifestyle where you are consistently able to spend time in your day on the things that matter most, how it’s a skill to be able to do deep work and focus and how to develop that skill, and more.

This podcast continues in the series on Margin that I’ve been writing about for the past month. Check out this page for the central repository with I’m keeping updated with links to each article and podcast.

* * *

There are so many components to doing your best creative work, but the very foundational one is the creative work itself. If you’re not showing up every day and practicing, then you’ll never reach your potential — you’ll never do your absolute best.

Deep Work, Deliberate/Intentional Practice, The Craftsman Mindset, Finding Flow — all of these are synonyms for showing up every day.

But they go beyond just showing up. Showing up and working hard isn’t enough. You need to make sure that the time you spend in deep work is productive time.

In So Good They Can’t Ignore You, Cal writes that people will hit a performance plateau beyond which they fail to get any better. And his newest book, Deep Work is all about how to push through that plateau. Deep Work is about what to do when you do show up, and how to turn all of it into a part of your lifestyle.

In short, to do your best creative work, you need to hone the skill of being able to focus.

And that is exactly what we talk about on this podcast.

Key Takeaways, Etc.

  • Deep work and focus are skills; not personality types. To develop the “skill” of deep work you have to: (1) control and protect your time; (2) slowly spend time training yourself to focus without giving in to distractions; and (3) make lifestyle changes so that even in your down time you aren’t

  • To have an effective deep work session, you need to: (1) schedule the time; (2) have an expected outcome that you are aiming to accomplish during that time; (3) realize that you’re working the “focus muscle” and that it takes practice and time.

  • Deep work is not a natural activity. When it comes to doing important work and improving our skills, our mind and instincts can’t be trusted.

  • Schedule every minute of your day. This takes the guesswork out of where you should be focusing on, and all you have left to do is show up and do what you’ve planned to do.

  • If you work with your head, then rest with your hands. For the knowledge worker, a good down-time hobby could be woodworking, gardening, yard work, etc.

  • Reduce the amount of “novel stimuli” that you let in to your day-to-day life. When you have a strong baseline level of noise in all the little moments of your life, it makes it more difficult to focus on the task at hand when you’re doing deep work. Because you’re training your brain that boredom is bad.

By reducing the baseline level of noise, it helps us to focus for extended periods of time. It also helps your mind to rest as it should during your down time.

  • Quote from Deep Work: “To succeed with deep work you must rewire your brain to be comfortable resisting distracting stimuli.”

  • There are four styles of deep work:

  1. Monastic: “This philosophy attempts to maximize deep efforts by eliminating or radically minimizing shallow obligations.” (Think seclusion somewhere)
  2. Bimodal: “This philosophy asks that you divide your time, dedicating some clearly defined stretches to deep pursuits and leaving the rest open to everything else.”
  3. Rhythmic: “This philosophy argues that the easiest way to consistently start deep work sessions is to transform them into a simple regular habit.”
  4. Journalistic: “in which you fit deep work wherever you can into your schedule.”
  • Don’t let busyness be a proxy for productivity. For many of us, we put an emphasis on efficiency rather than effectiveness. We see time spent as being more valuable than the results themselves.

We can change that mindset and change our paradigm about what it means to be effective. First we have to challenge the culture that values “crushing it” — that says only those who are super busy are the ones who are super hungry. Realize that you can work effectively, and you can be focused without overworking yourself. There is a division between being out-of-control busy and being a hard worker.

  • Doing deep work in our everyday lives is important for several reasons: It increases our happiness, it helps us to learn new skills, it gives us a focus on effectiveness, it’s where we do our best creative work, it’s how we make progress.

  • If you want to do more deep work, but you’re not sure where to start, do this: (1) look at your calendar and block out 5 hours on your schedule over the next two weeks; (2) put your phone away when you get home so that you don’t get distracted; (3) find a balanced ratio of shallow work and deep work.

  • Shallow work and deep work are both necessary. The former is doing the things that need to be done for the sake of today. The latter is doing the things that need to be done for the sake of the future. Put another way: Shallow work keeps you from getting fired; deep work gets you promoted.

Further Reading


Download here. (01:15:32)

Deep Work and Focus — With Special Guest, Cal Newport