Just a Question

Next week my family is moving to a new home about 5 minutes down the road.

Anna and I are expecting our third child this fall (!). So we are about to officially outgrow the small home we’ve lived in for the past 11 years.

I’ve been thinking about this massive life transition — selling our current home, moving to a new one, having our third child.

And I was also just thinking about the past few months.

2016 continues to march on, one day at a time.

What were your plans for 2016?

What was one of your goals? Was there a hint of an idea of something you wanted to do?

Three months into the year… how are things going?

Today, I don’t have any answers or advice for you.

Just a question…

If you’re not yet where you were expecting be, what are going to do about it?


* * *


Speaking of 2016, for those keeping track at home, in just a few days — on Monday, April 4 — it will be the 5-year anniversary (!) of when I quit my job to start blogging for a living.

(Some of you folks have been reading my dorky writing for 5 whole years (maybe even longer). Wow, thank you!)

As I look back at the creative work I’ve done over the past five years, I feel proud of it.

But I also envision so much more that I hope to do, and so much more ground to cover in my skills as a writer and business owner.

And so all this has made me think about what it is that helps us get from where we are to where we want to be.

Not just for my humble journey, but for all of us.

How can you, dear reader, get from where you are today to where you want to be in 5 years from now.

Next week, let’s talk about it. See you then.

Just a Question

Fantastic Friday: Coffee Paraphernalia

Unknown to both my wife and I, our coffee grinder was losing its edge.

Nearly four years ago, Anna bought me a Bodum Bistro Grinder for my birthday. It was an awesome little grinder for a great price.

I used it every single day. Until one day, it broke.

new grinder - baratza virtuoso

We replaced it with the king of the hill: a Baratza Virtuoso.

And wow. The first cup of coffee using our new grinder was a revelation.

Who knew a great coffee grinder was so important? I mean, I knew they were important, but seriously the difference was huge.

In addition to the new grinder, the other (somewhat recent) addition to my coffee arsenal is the Kalita Wave. We’ll get to it in a minute. But I have to say that the Wave has officially replaced the AeroPress as my daily brewer. What a time to be alive.

All that said, this week you get to peek into the four key components of my daily coffee. (Since I keep the list to just four things, one thing had to leave out was my kitchen scale.)


1. Crema.co

It all starts with beans. Freshly roasted coffee beans make all the difference.

Here in Kansas City, we have local coffee roasters coming out our ears. Such as PT’s, Broadway, Oddly Correct, Messenger Coffee, Roasterie, Thou Mayest, Parisi, Post, and Second Best. To name a few.

However, you may prefer to have freshly roasted beans delivered to your door. This is great for folks who don’t like going outside or for those who don’t have a great coffee roaster nearby where you can easily get access to freshly roasted coffee.

If you’re searching for a coffee delivery service, I highly recommend Crema.co.

Crema.co is like Netflix but for coffee. You add the coffees that you want to your list, and then you select how often you want a bag of coffee shipped to you.

This differs from coffee subscription services like Blue Bottle, because Crema lets you pick what you get. Where as with Blue Bottle, you get what they’re roasting.

I’ve gotten beans from Crema and I was very impressed. Great service, great pricing, great coffee.

2. Baratza Virtuoso Grinder

This is the grinder we went with, and it’s fantastic. Here at the Blanc household, we like to buy things for life. So we went with a grinder that is excellent at its job, but also should last us for quite a while.

3. Kalita Wave, Pour-over Coffee Maker

As I mentioned last week, this pour-over coffee maker has become my new favorite.

What I like about the Wave is that it can make a larger cup of coffee than my AeroPress (350g+ versus 250g), and I think the coffee it makes is much better than what you get from the v60.

I know everyone says that the AeroPress is super duper easy to clean. And it is, but I think a pour-over contraption like this is even easier to clean. You just dump the filter into the trash and rinse out the dripper itself. There are no moving parts, no lids, etc.


4. Double-Walled Glass Bottle

There are about 150 different variations of this glass bottle on Amazon. I’m pretty sure they’re all made at the same place, and everyone gets a turn putting their logo on the front.

What I like about my double-walled glass compared to my stainless-steel thermos is that the bottle is easier to clean in the dishwasher and it doesn’t fiddle with the flavor of my coffee.

Of course, the tradeoff is that the glass bottle doesn’t keep my coffee as hot for as long.

The glass bottle is also great for cold drinks, since the outside of it won’t sweat onto your desk.


* * *

What better to go with awesome coffee than something to read? I’ll be sharing some great quotes and articles in next week’s edition of Fantastic Friday.

Fantastic Friday: Coffee Paraphernalia

An Index of Ideas

About 18 months ago I stopped buying non-fiction books on Kindle.

At first, it was all about the money.

In my research for creating The Focus Course I was buying a slew of books. And used paperback books from Amazon are 50-75% cheaper than their Kindle counterparts.

Of course, it’s not just about the money. Used books also come with their own charm.

Getting a book with someone else’s highlights was a glimpse into what another person had gleaned from the same book I was now reading. Or, sometimes you knew the book had been given to someone because the first page had a note written from one friend to another. Some books were even signed by the author with a brief salutation to the reader — no doubt someone who had waited in line at a book signing.

In addition to the price and the history, buying physical books had another massive advantage:

Physical books are easier to read and digest quickly.

When reading for the sake of learning, it’s more efficient and more effective to have a physical book. For example, you can quickly skim through certain chapters if you want. Or you can jump forward and backward without losing context for where you are in the book.

I especially loved having a dozen books all spread out at once and pulling from different ones as I was working on different topics for The Focus Course.

Recently I picked up another trick for taking better notes within paper books…

An Alternate Index of Ideas

I learned this trick from Maria Popova during her podcast conversation with Tim Ferris. (The part of the conversation where they discuss note-taking begins just past 38-minutes, fyi.)

Your own index is something you put in the back of the book (or the front if you prefer). It’s a list of the book’s themes and topics that most resonate with you, and the pages which have the best quotes and ideas around those topics.

Your index doesn’t even have to fit perfectly in line with the main theme of the book you’re reading.

For example, my index for The Personal MBA includes a topic on Audience Building. Since, for me, that is a critical component to my business. However, there are no chapters or sections specifically about building an audience.

Here’s how to create your own index:

  1. Start reading the book.
  2. When you encounter a quote, phrase, statistic, or idea that stands out to you, highlight it.
  3. Now, think about what the theme or idea this highlight fits in to.
  4. Go to the back of the book where there will always be a few blank pages.
  5. Write down the name of the theme or idea.
  6. Write down the page number of your highlight.
  7. Return to your spot and continue reading.

Maria Popova says: “It’s an index based not on keywords, but on ideas.”

As I mentioned above, I’ve been working my way through Josh Kaufman’s fantastic book, The Personal MBA. (Speaking of, isn you’re interested at all in business and entrepreneurship, I can’t recommend The Personal MBA enough. It’s a bargain at 10x the price.)

Here’s a photograph of my Alternate Index so far from The Personal MBA:

The Personal MBA - My Alternate Index

You can see that so far, the main themes I’ve been taking away from the book are related to: (1) building an audience; (2) business in general; and (3) decision making.

The fourth index item you see — “B.L.” — stands for Beautiful Language.

Beautiful Language is just a catch-all for phrases or quotes that stand out to you but which may not necessarily fit into a particular category of your index.

Here are four phrases I’ve highlighted from The Personal MBA, categorized from my own index of the book:

On Audience Building:

“The more important you make [other people] feel, the more they’ll value their relationship with you. […] The more interest you take in other people, the more important they will feel. […] Make an effort to be present and curious.”

My takeaway: the best way to build an audience is to treat them with appreciation, courtesy, and respect.

On Business:

“Bootstrapping is the art of building and operating a business without funding. […] Having 100 percent ownership and control of a profitable, self-sustaining business is a beautiful thing.”

My takeaway: Building a business is fun and rewarding. It doesn’t have to be about the money. It can be about the work itself.

On Decision Making:

“If you’re a natural maximizer, it’s tempting to overanalyze every decision to make sure you’ve chosen the very best option available, which can easily go well past the point of diminishing returns. Don’t get bogged down with all of the options available — consider only what appear to be the best alternatives at the time of your decision.”

My takeaway: Action brings clarity. Make the best choice I can, then move on and know that I can adjust course and make additional choices in the future.

A great quote (beautiful language):

Your business does not have to bring in millions or billions of dollars to be successful. If you have enough profit to do the things you need to do to keep the business running and make it worth your time, you’re successful, no matter how much revenue your business brings in.

My takeaway: Don’t get so caught up in the building of a business that I lose sight of the bigger picture of living a life without regret, loving my family, and providing real value to others.

* * *

I’ve only recently begun using this Alternate Index approach in the past six months or so. But as I work my way through the queue of unread books on my shelf, I’ll be sure to share more ideas and quotes.

An Index of Ideas

Fantastic Friday: Newsletter Edition

Before we dive into this week’s top four links, I have a challenge for you.

It’s Friday. Which means the weekend is upon us. And then, in just a few short days it will be Monday.

What’s your general attitude toward Monday?

Me? I happen to love Monday. I have looked forward to Monday for years. Because it’s the first day of my work week. (Of course, I love the weekend, too. I love them both. The workweek and the weekend — they’re both favorites.)

There are so many folks who hate Mondays. If that’s you — if you’re not a Monday person — think about how you normally spend your weekend.

My challenge to you is this:

Take this weekend and do one thing that will help you feel rested, recharged, or energized. I call this “resting well”.

* * *

Now, on to this week’s Fantastic Friday links…

I’ve listed below four of my favorite email newsletters.

Each of the newsletters below are ones I read every week. I almost always find a helpful, interesting, or otherwise clever tidbit in each one. Enjoy.

— Shawn


1. For the Entrepreneur and Business-Minded Person →

Corbett Barr’s weekly email newsletter, Lifestyle Business Weekly, is a roundup of links relevant to the indie entrepreneur. Each week I find at least one or two articles in there that are interesting or helpful to me. Usually related to business growth, personal productivity, content marketing, or something similar.

+ And, speaking of Corbett Barr, I had the honor of interviewing him for my podcast a few weeks ago. We spoke about building an audience, building an online business, doing your best creative work over the long-run of a decades-long career, how to focus on doing the work, and more. You can find that podcast episode here.


2. For the Indie Creative →

Chris Bowler’s email, The Weekly Review, is a must read for me. It is, perhaps, the single most delightful thing to grace my inbox every week.

Chris is a clear thinker and a clear writer. Every issue of his newsletter contains easy-to-read and thought-provoking commentary on the creative life, online publishing, personal productivity, and more. He also includes a few sidebar sections with cool quotes, reviews of coffee or beer, and more.


3. For the Gadget and Gear Geek →

If you like office accessories, cool products, and the like, then check out The Modern Desk. It’s powered by my friend, Kai Brach, who is the one-man shop behind Offscreen Magazine.


4. For the Tech Savvy, Mac and iOS User →

I don’t know how they do it. MacStories Weekly is a feat in and of itself. If this was the only thing Federico and his team published each week, I’d be impressed. But no, they also publish an incredible website.

MacStories Weekly is a members-only newsletter. It’s $5/month to subscribe. It comes out every Friday (yay, Friday!) and is jam packed with app reviews, Q&A, tips and tricks, links, and more.


* * *

P.S. A couple of months ago, my trusty coffee grinder died. I replaced it. And, while I was at it, I figured I’d try out a new coffee brewing gadget as well. I’ll tell you all about it in next week’s edition of Fantastic Friday.

Fantastic Friday: Newsletter Edition

We’ve all come to expect the most from our athletic clothes. But for some reason, the clothes we wear to work – when we’ve got to perform at our best — still hold us back. In an age where clothing is getting more and more capable, our everyday wardrobe still feels stiff and constricting — as if it were designed for a static mannequin, with fabric and construction that hardly changed in decades. The time for change is now.

Spearheading the long-overdue reinvention? Ministry of Supply, a menswear brand that uses performance technology and real-life experience to create professional essentials – think dress shirts, slacks, and sweaters — that wick sweat, ventilate, and enable movement just like your gym clothes do, while still looking like traditional office wear.

Take their Aviator 2 Suit, for example. It’s designed to enable extreme movement without losing its formal structure, thanks to a special stretchy knit fabric that looks and feels like traditional woven material. To prove just how capable the suit is, Ministry of Supply co-founder Gihan Amarasiriwardena ran a half-marathon wearing the Aviator 2 (along with a dress shirt and dress socks from the brand), and broke the Guinness World record for fastest half-marathon time while wearing a suit.

Not only do the garments adapt to factors like body temperature and movement, but their classic, minimalist aesthetics and color palettes work for virtually any occasion, whether you add a tie for a big meeting or go untucked for weekend errands. Give Ministry of Supply a try for yourself — with 15% off first purchases, now’s the time. Use the code TOOLSTOYS16 for 15% off your first purchase.

* * *

My thanks to Ministry of Supply for sponsoring the site this week. Sponsorship by The Syndicate.

Clothes that Work as Hard as You Do (Sponsor)

Q&A: My Writing Workflow

You may remember a few weeks back when I shared my top four writing tools.

That article brought about some additional questions from folks regarding my writing workflows, etc. And so I’m going to answer those questions here.

If you have any additional questions you’d like to see in this article, just ping me on Twitter.


A Brief Aside About “Workflows”

Eleven years ago I bought my first Mac. And I also bought my first copy of Photoshop.

But those tools, in and of themselves, didn’t make me a designer. It took me a while to figure out what I was doing, and a little while longer to start doing any actual design work for clients.

The tools in and of themselves don’t make an artist.

Which is why, in some ways, talking about tools and workflows isn’t all that productive. Because it’s not about the tools we use.

Rather, it’s our tenacity to show up and do our best work every day. It’s that fight to stay creative that makes the difference.


I myself have gleaned so much from hearing about other people’s creative process. In part because hearing about someone else’s process helps remind me that we’re all just folks.

Moreover, I have improved many areas of my own workflows by hearing how someone else gets the job done. And so, hopefully, today I can give you some ideas and motivation of your own.


Q: When you started out, what was your hardest challenge when posting regularly?

The hardest challenge to posting regularly was knowing what to write about. I used to do it all wrong.

I would sit down in the morning with no plan about what to write about.

In part, this was because most of the things I wrote about were related to the current tech and design news cycle. But also, I just didn’t have a plan. I hardly ever thought ahead.

So, each day, I first had to observe what the latest happenings were in the news. Then, if anything cool was happening, I’d write about it or link to it.

Since I didn’t have a plan for what to write about, I also didn’t have a set time to write each day.

My approach since then has changed significantly.

For one, I no longer write about the latest in tech and design. I am still deeply interested in these topics (hence running two entirely other websites dedicated to them), but now, when I do write about them here on shawnblanc.net, it’s with a focus on doing our best creative work.

These days, my biggest challenge to writing regularly is the work at the beginning of the month to map out my editorial plan for the upcoming 3-4 weeks.

Some of the best — and most profitable — writing I’ve done has been a result of having an overarching theme and then showing up consistently to write about it.

For example, this is how Delight is in the Details came to be. It’s also how I created The Focus Course (I wrote the 75,000 words for the 40-day course in a span of 42 days).

My advice for those wanting to write regularly is simple:

  1. Have a plan for your topics in advance.
  2. Have a set time each day for when you will write. Thirty minutes is more than enough to get started.

With those two things in place, all that’s left is to show up and do the work.


Q: As you write The Note the night before, what’s your big picture for what to write about?

(Quick context for this question: as you may or may not know, at the end of my work day, I leave a note out for the topic I’m going to write about tomorrow.)

As I mentioned in the answer to the previous question, the big picture for the note comes from planning ahead.

For example, in January I spent several weeks on the topic of Margin. Over this period I wrote a slew of articles and podcast episodes.

But, before I began writing and publishing, I first sat down to plan it all out. This included figuring out what topics I wanted to cover, what order I wanted them to be published in, etc.

Then, once I had that plan in place, I just made sure I was writing each article ahead of time so it could be published according to my schedule.

For another example, over the past month I’ve been writing about workflows and time management. This topic was chosen in direct response to feedback I’ve received from my readers.

I asked members of The Focus Course and The Elements of Focus class what they were most challenged by. One of the most common areas of feedback was related to time management.

So I took that feedback and built a class just for them.

I also took several weeks to write publicly about the topics of distractions, meetings, procrastination, focus, workflows, scheduling, and more.

What’s great about this approach to writing is that it’s like writing with the lights on.

I’m not guessing about a topic. I’m not wondering if what I have to say is relevant to my readership. I know for a fact that I’m directly answering their questions and helping them as much as I possibly can.

It makes it easier for me, as a writer, because then I’m not pining for inspiration. And it makes my work more valuable to you, the reader, because I’m doing work in direct response to your challenges and interests.


Q: Where do you capture your ideas?

All of my ideas go into Simplenote.

I’ve been using Simplenote since the Stone Age. Back when the only other alternative was the iOS notes app that used IMAP syncing and its Legal-Paper-plus-Marker-Felt aesthetic.

This was back when there was no such thing as a Retina display. And the App Store was not yet packed to the rafters with markdown note-taking apps powered by Dropbox-sync. And dinosaurs still roamed the earth.

What I love about Simplenote is that it’s fast and reliable…

I have hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of notes. I’ve been using it for the better part of a decade. And I’ve never lost a single character of text.

Simplenote is ridiculously fast. Especially when it comes to searching for a past note. I can find just any note in about 5 seconds or less.

Now, as for the whole idea capture thing… in addition to Simplenote, I also use a Baron Fig notebook. Since so much of the work I do is with pixels, I love to have a pen and paper nearby as well (more on this in a bit).

But, perhaps ironically, I treat my digital notes as the “official” copy and my analog notes as the temporary one. Most ideas that I write into my Baron Fig get copied into Simplenote.

All this to say, when it comes to capturing ideas, the tools aren’t all that important.

What is important is that you’ve got a commitment to coming up with as many terrible ideas as possible. Beyond that, all you really need is somewhere to put them so you can get back to work.

(Side note: If you need some help with scheduling and time management, I’ve got just the thing.)


Q: How do you schedule your posts? What is the frequency of your posts?

With Tools & Toys and The Sweet Setup, we manage our editorial calendar in a shared iCal (do people still say iCal?) calendar.

For all the writing and podcasting I do on shawnblanc.net, my editorial calendar is a giant sheet of self-stick easel pad paper, with the month drawn out and then yellow sticky notes on the dates with the articles.

This sticky note calendar is a new change to my writing and publishing workflow. Because, at the beginning of this year, I hired my first full-time employee. Isaac and I work out of the same office, so we have the month’s calendar up on the wall.

Right now my posting frequency looks like this:

  • Monday: Sometimes I publish an article, not always.
  • Tuesday: Shawn Today podcast episode
  • Wednesdays: Newsletter (and corresponding article if nothing was published Monday)
  • Thursday: Shawn Today podcast episode
  • Friday: Fantastic Friday

For one, as long-time readers have observed, over the past year and a half, my publishing frequency has changed quite significantly. I write less frequently, but mostly publish articles (as opposed to articles and links).

Also, as a side-note, I’m beginning the work of making some massive changes to The Focus Course website. Instead of the website being home to only one course, we are working to expanding what the site can do and the types of content we publish there. But more on that another day…

All that to say, my editorial schedule seems to always be in flux. It’s an ongoing experiment in how to best balance the ideal output for myself with the ideal pacing and content topics for you, the reader.


Q: Does markdown help you write?


I write everything in Markdown. Even personal emails and text messages.

What’s great about Markdown is, as John Gruber said himself, it’s the feel of it, not the think of it.

Markdown is far faster to write than HTML and it’s easier to read.


Q: Do you shuffle Monument Valley every morning or listen straight through? Is it on repeat?

(A little bit of context to this question: I listen to the Monument Valley soundtrack every morning as my “writing music”.)

To answer the question, I listen to it straight through, on repeat. (It’s playing right now, in fact.)

Since I usually write for a couple hours each day, I probably listen to the soundtrack at least 2-3 times through. And (doing the math…) I’ve first began listening to this album in early 2015. So, gosh, I’ve probably heard this soundtrack well over 1,000 times.


Q: How do you use OmniFocus with a physical notebook?

The short answer is this:

  • OmniFocus is where I capture all of my to-do items, and it’s where I put everything with a due date in the future.
  • My notebook (a Baron Fig confidant) is where I write out my tasks and schedule for each day.

What that looks like in practice is that each morning I sit down with my notebook and OmniFocus.

First I write down my one or two most important tasks. Then I open up OmniFocus to see what (if anything) is due today. Then I schedule out every minute of my day.

I usually schedule a 30-60 minute window for doing “OF Admin” which is a time to work through the administrative or miscellaneous action items that are in my OmniFocus to-do list.


More Writing Resources

If you’re on the hunt for additional resources on writing, here are some recommendations:

  • My friend, Sean McCabe, has a course coming out soon. It’s called Supercharge Your Writing, and it’s for anyone who has a product or service they sell and wants to improve their writing chops in order to grow their business. (It’s the kind of course I wish I’d had put together first.)

  • Stephen King’s book, On Writing, is absolutely fantastic.

  • Also highly recommended is The War of Art by Steven Pressfield.

And, if you have any further questions beyond what’s here, just ping me on Twitter.

Q&A: My Writing Workflow

The Five-Minute Rule

The first five minutes are the hardest.

To prove it, I just set a timer for five minutes.

You see, I’ve been thinking about this article all day.

Yet, despite all the mental preparation I’ve done for what needs to be written, now that I’ve sat down to do the work, I’m very disappointed to discover that it’s still not writing iteslf.

So, as I said, I set my timer.

Five minutes.

I can muscle through.

Write anything and everything I want. Just keep writing for five minutes until I find a flow.

By the time my five minutes is up, the writing won’t be so hard. And then I’ll have the momentum I need to finish out the whole article.

You’re smart. And I bet you’ve figured out by now that the Five Minute Rule goes for so much more than writing.

Those five minutes it takes to crawl out of bed and into the car to drive to the gym…

The first five minutes of brainstorming for a new project…

The first five minutes of a new logo design…

You get the idea.

Any time we’re sitting down to focus on something other than the television, it takes time to warm-up to the task.

This warm-up time is also known as “activation energy”.

Activation Energy refers to the energy required to start a new task. Which, for the record, is always more than the energy required to maintain that task once we’re in the zone.

It’s not unlike sending a rocket up to the moon.

That rocket burns tons and tons of fuel just to get itself into orbit. But then, once that momentum is established, the amount of energy needed to stay on course is a fraction of what it took to get off the ground.

(And there’s my timer… Let’s keep going.)

What if you could set things up in advance so that you didn’t have to expend so much energy to get started?

If we know that the first five minutes are the most challenging, then the smart thing is to make those first few minutes a little less challenging.

You do this by reducing the activation energy.

Which is a nerdy, science-y way of saying:

Do something today that will make life easier later.

It’s right in line with the advice of my sweet and wise grandmother. “Don’t put off to tomorrow what you can do today,” she said.

My friends, this is also my single most important piece of advice to those of you wanting to get more control of your time and attention.

If you can get ahold of that concept then it will help you to be more proactive.

It will help you build up your personal integrity.

And it will make your day-to-day life’s work that much easier because you’re building your own momentum.

What is something you can do today that will make your life easier in the future?

* * *


P.S. Just a quick reminder that my class on time management is now available on demand.

The Five-Minute Rule

Fantastic Friday: Reading Edition

Hello, and welcome to this week’s edition of Fantastic Friday.

Life in Kansas City has been a bit busier than normal. For one, earlier this week we launched a new class on time management. The response so far has been awesome, and I’m so thankful to all of you who have signed up and help spread the word.

Also, I have some exciting personal projects happening right now. I’ll definitely share more info once things settle down, but it’s been quite time consuming to say the least.

That said, this week I wanted to share four books that I’ve been gleaning from lately.

But, before I share the book recs, I wanted to share this fun and related tidbit from Austin Kleon (who has a few excellent books of his own, btw) on how to read more:



1. The Four Disciplines of Execution

As you may know, I’ve been going through this book on my members-only podcast, Shawn Today. The Four Disciplines of Execution (a.k.a. 4DX) is about how to make significant and routine progress on your wildly important business goals. It’s designed for teams, and it outlines four “disciplines” that you incorporate into the way your company works in order to drive progress, reach goals, and boost morale.

2. The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up

As I mentioned above, my family has some exciting things going on. Let’s just say that this book is once again proving to be helpful. Even more so than when I first read it last year.


3. Getting Results the Agile Way

This book by J.D. Meier is fantastic and jam packed with ideas and practical systems for managing time and priorities. This book, combined with the ideas in The One Thing (see next book rec.) were both significant influences for what I put together in A Focus on Time.


4. The One Thing

This book by Gary Keller was one of the best books I read in 2015. It’s a very easy-to-read book with a massive takeaway about simplifying and focusing on the most impactful ways we can spend our time and energy.


* * *

In other news: Over on The Sweet Setup we refreshed our pick for the best general purpose weather app. Over on Tools & Toys we reviewed the Amazon Echo. And the early-bird pricing for the time management class ends on Monday.

Fantastic Friday: Reading Edition

My Grandmother’s Inspirational Quotes

My grandmother loved to print out inspirational quotes and phrases.

She’d either put them into the picture frames she bought at garage sales, or she’d just tape them up on the wall or refrigerator.

There was one printout in particular that I still remember well.

It had some of her values — the things she tried to live by.

They were short phrases:

“Be the first to say hello.”

“Compliment three people every day.”

“Live beneath your means.”

“Let the first thing you say brighten everyone’s day.”

“Always think the best of other people.”

“Don’t put off to tomorrow what you can do today.”

Lately I’ve been thinking about that last one…

“Don’t put off to tomorrow what you can do today.”

…and I think I may have had it wrong.

* * *

My grandmother knew that tomorrow would have enough craziness of its own. So her advice was to not put things off if you can do them today.

But I always thought of that in the context of work…

My grandparents started a new business in their late 50s. After they sold that one, they started another.

My grandfather — who lived to be 100 years old — told me that he tried to break a sweat every day.

If my grandparents had anything, it was work ethic.

But her advice wasn’t just about work and business.

I think it was also about relationships, finances, and more…

Don’t put off encouraging someone else if you can do it today.

Don’t put off living beneath your means if you can do it today.

Not that I’m going to print out an inspirational quote anytime soon.

…but I do need the occasional reminder to be proactive with my time and energy if there’s something I can do about it today.



* * *


P.S. If you also want to get better at doing what you can rather than putting it off, then I think this new class could help you tremendously.

My Grandmother’s Inspirational Quotes

A Focus on Time: Available Tomorrow (Here Are All the Details)

For the past couple months I have been putting together a class on time management. It will be available tomorrow.

The class was originally built in response to the feedback I’ve been receiving from those taking the Focus Course and the Elements of Focus. That, after completing the course, the topic people still wanted more training on was how to manage their time.

Since announcing the class a few weeks ago, we’ve received hundreds of emails from folks who are sharing their biggest challenges and struggles related to time management.

Because of the volume of feedback, the content of the class grew to more than double what I had originally planned.

There is a complete table of contents below, but some of the main themes addressed within the class include:

  • How to create a time management system that works.
  • How managing your time can empower a spontaneous and open schedule.
  • How to get breathing room in your day.
  • The importance of valuing relationships over efficiency.
  • Using your time to do work that matters and build your business, side project, etc.
  • Surviving in a meeting-loving, urgency-centric office culture.
  • And so much more…

The class consists of 30 MP3 lessons which add up to 5 hours worth of audio.

It also includes 7 PDF worksheets you can use for getting clarity about your time and scheduling your day.

* * *


Here is a complete breakdown of the class contents…

1. Introduction

A brief intro to the class and what to expect.

2. Meaningful Productivity

Any time I talk about focus, diligence, or productivity I have to lay the groundwork first. And so, before we dive into the nitty gritty, I give an overview of why it’s important to know what’s important to us in the first place.

3. Time Management Cliches and Myths

We all know that time management is a subject as old as… well… time. So let’s address some of the long-held cliches and myths head on.

4. Setting Goals and Priorities

As Benjamin Franklin said, “Do not squander time, for that’s the stuff life’s made of.”

Ultimately, managing your time is unto something — it’s a means to an end. And that end is the living of life. How we spend our time is, quite literally, how we are living our life.

Therefore, if we’re gong to focus on time, it helps to have an understanding of how to properly set goals and priorities.

5. Overcoming Specific Time Management Challenges and Struggles

Based on the hundreds of emails we received from readers interested in the class, we compiled the most common challenges and struggles and addressed them directly.

  • How to Make the Most of Our Time
  • How to Get a System That Works
  • How to Estimate How Much You Can Complete in a Given Timeframe
  • How to Keep From Overcommitting
  • How to Be On Time More Often
  • The Tyranny of the Urgent
  • How to Thrive with a Variable Schedule
  • How to Overcome Procrastination
  • How to Deal with Distractions and Interruptions
  • How to Create Margin for your Time
  • How to Keep Your Schedule
  • How to Be Productive at Home

6. Time Management Strategies and Tactics

In addition to addressing the above specific challenges, I share over a dozen specific strategies and tactics to help you with your own approach to time management.

The best Time Management system is one that empowers you to spend time doing the things you want and need. These strategies and tactics are practical advice you can use right now to get control of your time without having to memorize some sort of new-fangled, massively-complex productivity system.

  • Quick Wins, Strategies, and Tools for Time Management
  • Planning Long — and Short — Term
  • How to Create a Time Budget
  • The Note
  • Attention Charter
  • Pomodoro Technique
  • Themed Days
  • Media Consumption
  • Automation and Delegation
  • Accountability and Community
  • Cognitive Energy and Saving our Strength through the day
  • Better Defaults and Spending Down Time Smartly
  • Honesty, Clarity, and Action
  • Time Management: Recap (The Main Points)

Accompanying Schedules and Worksheets

  • Attention Charter
  • Annual Work Plan
  • Annual Family Plan
  • Monthly Plan
  • Weekly Schedule
  • Daily Rest and Work Focus
  • Daily Schedule

Available Tomorrow

Tomorrow (Tuesday, March 8), at 10am EST, the class will become available.

When you sign up, you’ll have access to all the MP3 and PDF files at once. You can go through them at your own pace in order, or listen to the individual lessons that are most relevant to you now.

Update: It’s available now.

A Focus on Time: Available Tomorrow (Here Are All the Details)

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* * *

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A System That Works (for You)

Everyone wants a time management system that works. One they can stick with. One that’s not a pain in the butt.

What does that even mean?

A system that works, looks like this:

  1. It empowers you to do the things you want and need to do.
  2. It aligns with your personality.

Without those two characteristics, your “system” will be little more than a burden.

That’s why I use paper. Even though it’s far more convenient and modern to use a digital system.

Keep this in mind:

  • Time management (and focus and diligence, et al.) is an ever-moving target. As seasons of life change, and as priorities change, it helps to make sure you’re still spending your time well.
  • There’s not a “one size fits all” system. What works for that girl over there may not work for you, and what works for you may not work for others.
  • Being focused with your time takes work. (If you’re looking for something that requires no maintenance, no thought, and zaps you into an organized, stress-free, productive individual let me know if you find it.)

The reason I use a pen and paper is because I enjoy it. The analog aspect adds a bit of joy, which, in and of itself, is enough grease for the skids to keep me on track with using my system.

I’m also stubborn enough that I stuck with my system long enough that it became a part of my day, and it’s no longer something I have to fiddle with. If you’re trying to incorporate something new into your life, it may be a few months before it takes root.

The details of how I manage my time, while they may be interesting, they aren’t all that important. It’s the underlying principles that inform my time management system. Ideas that can be used in any time management system no matter how busy or not someone is.

Diligence and focus are not personality types; they are skills that can be learned.

You have more power over your time than you think.

A System That Works (for You)

The Key to Success? Diligence.

As I mentioned yesterday, working from home brings a whole slew of unique challenges related to time management and focus.

We already know that busywork is a poor substitute for doing work that matters.

When you work for yourself it is so much easier to get caught up in the busywork.

I discovered this first hand about a year and a half ago just after our big relaunch of the new Tools & Toys website.

A couple of months after the relaunch I realized I was spending the best parts of my day checking traffic and affiliate stats. What a total waste of my time!

So I made some big changes to my day. I’m going to share some of them with you in a second.

But first…

My history with tasks and time

Lest you get the impression that I am a naturally organized and administrative person, I’m going to let you in on a little secret:

As a kid, my room was once so dirty that my parents literally brought in the snow shovel to help me clean up all the toys on my floor.

When I got older, I kept track of important things by writing them on my hand.

It wasn’t until I was in my early 20s that I even began to care about tidiness, organization, being reliable, etc.

I used to see a schedule like a jail cell. I considered schedules to be constricting and prohibiting. I thought a schedule would keep me from having fun or living a spontaneous and free life.

Actually, it’s the opposite.

Managing your time is liberating. (Just as a budget liberates your finances.)

A financial budget empowers you to spend your money on the things you want and need.

And a time budget — a.k.a. a schedule — empowers you to spend your time doing the things you want and need to do.

The key to success? Diligence.

It was five years ago that I quit my job to begin writing full time.

There are many things which have contributed to my ability to continue writing (as opposed to crashing and burning and having to go get a job at Starbucks).

But, by far and away, the most important component to building a business is diligence.

It’s more important than money, talent, relationships, audience, tools, or anything else.

Those resources and assets are all very important to be sure.

But unless you show up every day and give focused time on the most important work, you’re not actually building anything — you’re just shuffling the cards.

Without taking control of my time, there’s no way I’d still be here today, writing for you from my basement office.

There are many things that are part of my day-to-day life which help me to stay on track and show up every day.

But I think these are probably three of the most important “practices” which help me stay diligent with my writing.

  • I mostly ignore email. Just ask anyone who’s ever emailed me. I’m terrible at it. But I’m terrible on purpose. It’s something I’ve chosen not to give much time to so I can focus on writing and “creating” content.

  • The Note (a.k.a. my editorial calendar). This is something I’ve done for quite a while now and it helps tremendously with making sure that each day when I sit down to do my writing, I’ve already got a plan in place for how to spend my time.

  • Schedule every minute. Yep. I take about 5 minutes each morning and schedule out every minute of my day. This liberates my day and helps me make consistent and meaningful progress on projects without working wild hours or feeling anxious.

(I share much more detail about my approach to planning and scheduling over here.)

* * *

Something I’ve learned over time is that diligence and focus are not personality types. They are skills.

You can develop the skill of being diligent.

You can get better at showing up every day.

You can work that muscle of focusing your time and attention.

I’m still getting better at it myself. (I’m not longer writing my schedule out on my hand, thank goodness.)

Next I want to share with you some thoughts about getting a system that works… a system you can stick with… a system that helps you.

Continue to the next post »

The Key to Success? Diligence.