A Non-Zero Life

There is an idea about habits and routines that you always want a non-zero day.

A non-zero day means a day where you do something — just so long as you don’t do nothing: Do at least one push-up, floss at least one tooth, write for at least 1 minute, etc.

The value of a non-zero day is that it keeps your momentum always moving forward. As anyone who knows about building habits, long-term consistency is everything.

A few days ago, the thought occurred to me about having more than just a non-zero day — but rather, a Non-Zero Life.

A Non-Zero Life means building simple-but-healthy habits you can do every day that impact every area of your life: Your career, your health, your relationships, your money, your inner-personal life…

Don’t let one of these areas slip away.

This is kinda what the idea behind Hal Elrod’s book, Miracle Morning, is about. A Miracle Morning is when you do a little bit of everything all before 8am.

I also love Sarah Peck’s idea of having a daily recipe that consists of the few things that, if done, make for a good day.

One reason I like the idea behind a Non-Zero Life is that it keeps you from coasting in any area.

Coasting means you are not taking action. And, thus, you are, by nature: (a) going downhill; (b) living off the momentum of your past effort; or (c) being pulled / pushed along by someone else.

A Non-Zero Life

Thinking in Bets

Last week I began reading Annie Duke’s fantastic book, Thinking in Bets.

First takeaway so far is this:

Do not equate the quality of a decision with the result of that decision.

For example: If you decided to drive home drunk and you happen to make it home safely, nobody would say that the “positive outcome” means you made a “good decision” in that scenario.

Yet, we so often apply “hindsight bias” to our decisions: We look back at the decisions which resulted in a poor outcome as being bad decisions and the decisions with a positive outcome as being good decisions.

And so, start to separate the quality of your decisions with the results of those decisions. Then, learn how to get better at making good decisions more often.

Thinking in Bets

See It In Action (May’s TSS Workshop)

Sometimes, if you insist on using “The Best”, it can actually hold you back and slow you down.

For example…

Last fall my company switched project management tools.

We were Basecamp for years, and we switched to Notion.

Notion is on the complete other side of the spectrum compared to Basecamp.

It was not a simple move. And, of course, it took us some time to decide on Notion.

While trying to decide on which PM tool we’d would switch to, I spent a lot of time testing and tinkering with some of the other options (such as Asana, Jira, Monday, Trello, Todoist, et al.)

How did I decide?

The thing that helped the most with our decision to use Notion was when I could see how other people were using it.

Once I saw it in action through case studies and workflow videos of other users, that’s when I knew it would work for us.

(This is also how I was able to discover that Trello and Monday would NOT work for us.)

. . . . .

These days, I no longer try to find “The Best App No Matter What”.

Instead, I look for “The Best App to Help Me Get the Right Things Done”.

For example: Apple Notes. (Sigh.)

Is Apple Notes the best basic note taking app? No way. In fact, I’m really not a fan of Apple Notes.


When it comes to collaborating with my friends and family, it’s hard to beat Apple Notes.

And so, for that reason, I’m in.

. . . . .

I’ve spent the past decade researching and using “the best apps”, and then finding the best workflows and use-cases for those apps that I can. And I would love to help you save some and frustration in getting the right apps that work for you.

This Thursday (May 20th) I’ll be going through every critical app I use, how I use it, and why I use it.

At this LIVE workshop, the emphasis will be on my productivity apps and workflows for ideas, tasks, and time.

1. Ideas: Apps and workflows for creating and shipping work day in and day out

2. Tasks: Apps and workflows for handling the incoming tasks and the never-ending lists.

3. Time: Apps and workflows for scheduling time and staying focused.


This is one of our premium workshops (about 2 hours) where we’ll be going very in depth. And you’ll be able to ask questions to me or Mike about any of this stuff.

**Register Here** (plus check out all details)

See It In Action (May’s TSS Workshop)

Ray Dalio’s 5-Step Process for Making Progress on your Goals

In Ray Dalio’s book, Principles, he lists a 5-step process for how to make progress on your goals:

  1. Identify your goals.
  2. Encounter your problems.
  3. Diagnose the problems to get to their root cause.
  4. Design changes to get around the problems.
  5. Do what is needed.

In short, you must constantly measure your current outcomes against your desired outcomes and then take action.

You need to know what it is that you want, you need to know what is true right now, and then you need to decide what you are going to do about it.

Side note. Ray’s process of ownership, diagnosis, and action is almost identical to something my wife and I have been working on with our three younger boys. We are trying to teach them to take ownership of their own problems, consider cause and effect for various outcomes and solutions, and then make a choice and act.

Ray Dalio’s 5-Step Process for Making Progress on your Goals

Just for the fun of it

Shortly after my first son was born, I realized that I did not like the camera in my phone.

And so, in the fall of 2012, I bought my first “real” camera.

Which means it’s been eight years since I began photography as a hobby. And to be honest, I still feel like a huge noob.

I’ve shot tens of thousands of photos; my house is filled with framed images that I’ve taken; I’ve owned a handful of different cameras and lenses; I’ve paid for photography courses and I even made my own.

But yet… there is still so much for me to learn!

I am constantly finding inspiration in other people’s work and learning from other photographers.

And that is exactly what excites me…

Even though I’ve been making photos for the better part of a decade, I still have many more decades to go.

My grandfather was a prolific painter in his old age. It wasn’t until he was in his late 50s that he even began his painting hobby. And he continued on until his death just shortly after turning 100. And in fact, as he got older, he painted more and more.

There are many areas of my life where I need to ship, create, and perform at a certain level. Areas where I am intently focused on growth.

Photography, however, is one of those things where there is no pressure or expectation.

It’s exciting to think ahead, knowing I still have decades to continue learning and enjoying photography.

Just for the fun of it

Give Yourself Time

When I sit down to plan my week, I always write down the two or three most important projects I’m going to focus on.

Sometimes those projects are easy and obvious: fix this; build that; finish the thing.

But sometimes a project’s outcome is not obvious. Or, perhaps I don’t know if I will be able to finish it this week or not because I don’t yet know how much time is left to find the solution.

Instead of committing to a finish line that may not be possible yet, I simply commit to spending time working toward my desired outcome.

Not all goals need to have a specific outcome or milestone right now.

Sometimes my most important project for the week is to spend uninterrupted time working on a project so I can keep making progress.

Give Yourself Time

How to Plan Your Week Like a Boss

If you feel that your productivity has been hitting a slump, I highly recommend planning out your week ahead of time.

Getting clear about what you’ll be doing during the upcoming week will help you stay focused on those things that are most important to you.

Here’s how to plan your week:

  1. Start by writing down everything you need and want to get done this week. From the bigger projects all the way down to the smaller tasks.

  2. Now look over your “master list” and select the 3 most important things that you will actually focus on. This is how you will define success for your week.

  3. Bonus: For each of those 3 most important things, write a a few words about WHY that task or project matters. What is your motivation and reasoning for wanting to get it done? (This will help you follow through later on in the week when you’re not feeling it.)

  4. Lastly, look at your calendar for the week and schedule the various blocks of time that you will spend working on your 3 most important things. Or at least select the day(s) of the week that you will focus on each thing.

I do this process every week, usually on Sunday afternoon or Monday morning. It only takes me about 20 minutes, and it sets up my whole week for me.

I also plan each of my days in a similar fashion: listing out the day’s most important tasks and then scheduling it onto my calendar so that I have time blocks for my main tasks and activities.

Why take the time to do this? Two reasons:

  1. Clarity cures busywork.
  2. Your to-do list should exist on your calendar.

It is liberating to your schedule and your emotions when you know WHAT you will be doing and WHEN you will be doing it.

(That’s why I built weekly and daily planning templates right into the design of our iPad Digital Planner. It makes the above process faster and foolproof.)

How to Plan Your Week Like a Boss

Checking Out the Fuji X100V

“Sometimes the truth of a thing is not so much in the think of it, as in the feel of it.” — Stanley Kubrick

I rented a Fuji x100V for the next couple of weeks. And it arrived yesterday. I am wanting to shoot with it and compre it to my Leica Q that I’ve been shooting with for the past two years.

I’ve been super interested in the new X100V since it came out a few months ago. I’ve been waiting for some of my favorite photographers to write about it (and even compare it to the Q), but so far nobody’s really dug in. So I thought I’d rent one and see for myself.

If you were to compare the two cameras on paper, the Leica might seem to have some obvious advantages. The Leica is full frame versus the Fuji’s APS-C sensor. The Leica has a faster lens: f/1.7 versus f/2.0. The Leica is, well, a “Leica”.

Though, the Fuji has some pretty great advantages as well. It has USB-C, in-camera charging. It has weather sealing. It’s smaller, lighter, and 1/3 the price. It has some pretty great in-camera coloring to dissolve your post-processing workflow and let you just shoot.

Both of these cameras are great and capable of producing great photos. My aim isn’t to see which one is better. I simply wanted to try out the new X100V to see how it feels to use, and compare it to the Q in that regard. Again, it’s not in the think of a thing… but in the feel of it.

(Also, let’s be honest: I wanted to try out a different camera for the fun of it.)

Checking Out the Fuji X100V

5 Quick Links for the Weekend

How goes your quarantine life? Does the outside beckon? What new hobbies have you begun?

Me? In the past week I ordered a Costco-sized container of artisanal pickling spice and have begun to research kitchen knives. Let the reader understand.

Today I have for you a handful of links to some things I have found to be interesting, fun, and worthy of your inbox.

I’m only going to share 5 links today (don’t want to overwhelm). But at this rate I’ve already got more than 3 weeks worth of these types of “quick links” queued up. I recently set up a new folder inside of Ulysses solely for the purpose of collecting these quick links into one spot as I come across them and save them (which is a whole other workflow that probably I’ll share about one day).

I’m not yet sure how to best share these quick links more consistently. I might start sneaking them in to my Friday newsletter more often. Or perhaps begin posting them here to the site the way I used to circa 2007 – 2013. Or, perhaps something else entirely.

Anyway…. Enough with the overthinking. Enough with the dilly dally. On to the links!

. . . . . . .

Seth Godin hates being organized. And in this interview he shares about how you (and I) might be wasting time organizing instead of shipping.

Here’s a Twitter thread of artist’s desks covered with a whole bunch of stuff (books, papers, computer monitors, stacks of stuff…)

Four things that Sarah Peck is doing to claw back some sanity amidst quarantine life. Including working out in the afternoons, which is something I also have began doing and am a big fan of because it gives me more time in the morning to spend writing.

One Switch is a simple and beautiful menu bar app for your Mac that gives you quick access to a slew of helpful and clever settings. I installed it last week and it’s fantastic. Been using it regularly for things like getting my AirPods to connect and hiding my Desktop icons during a Webinar.

7 things that can help you make it through another week. Plus a list of some unhelpful things as well. Yay for new hobbies.

5 Quick Links for the Weekend

Avoiding the black hole, 5 minutes at a time

As has become my new norm over these past few weeks, I am sitting at my kitchen countertop spending the first hour of my day writing.

The coffee this morning is from Yes Plz.

My soundtrack is an early morning rain coming down outside. It’s heavy enough that it’s just a solid wall of sound on the roof, not a pitter patter. It’s creating a white noise of sorts to play in the background as I write.

Living life at home for 7+ weeks now my whole family’s routine has been disrupted.

We have zero obligations outside of work and school at home. Which means that we actually have more time than we normally used to in our previous life.

More time to be around and with my kids during the day.

More time to spend making and eating meals together.

More opportunity to focus on side projects and hobbies in the evenings.

We are not running to and fro with errands, pickups, dropoffs, hangouts, date nights, or anything like that. None of us are traveling anywhere. We are always at home.

And… as a result, I just have more small moments of down time during my day.

Basically, even though life is significantly different with its own set of new challenges — this new normal of life also contains more breathing room in some ways

I’ve noticed some good and bad tendencies arising for myself during these occasional moments of downtime that I have during my days and on the weekends.

Perhaps you also are noticing that, even though life is so different, you also have more breathing room at times.

Today I wanted to share how I am trying to be smarter and more intentional with that time. And what things I am doing which actually help my day to feel more calm and peaceful rather than frantic and gone before I know it.

Let’s dive in…

. . . . .

I believe there are two ways to spend the occasional moments of down time during the day.

  1. You can do something that will “slow down” time and creates a restful pause.
  2. You can do something that will speed time up. Something that gets you lost into a black hole where you emerge on the other side not knowing how long you were out of it.

Here are a few examples of each type.

Let’s start with the latter — these, to me, are the things which should be avoided when possible or at least kept to a maximum.

  • Scrolling social media
  • Checking email
  • Checking the news
  • Watching TV or a movie

I can easily spend 20-percent or more of my waking hours just perusing and triaging my inboxes and news feeds. And when I do that, my time gets sucked up like a black hole and I’m not sure what good was actually accomplished and it went by so fast I didn’t even realize it.

Additionally, I always find that I have less energy (creative and emotional energy) after I’ve spent time scrolling social media or checking my email. I don’t feel better or recharged at all. I don’t feel creative. I feel more bored. Ugh.

On the other hand, there are many things which help time to slow down. Things that create a true “pause” or a restful moment in my day. Things that will leave me feeling rested and recharged.

Some examples:

  • Sitting and thinking (or heck, just sitting)
  • Walking outside
  • Reading a printed book or a magazine
  • Listening to an audio book
  • Talking with a friend on the phone
  • Writing
  • Making photographs
  • Sketching or creating in some way
  • Cleaning or organizing a space
  • Playing cards or a board game
  • Making dinner

Having our whole family living inside these same 4 walls all day ever day, there are definitely moments where we all feel the need to escape — we each need moments to ourselves during the day.

Sometimes I have 5 or 10 minutes before the boys come inside for dinner. Sometimes it’s an hour before everyone wakes up. Or it’s half an hour before I go to bed.

In those moments, I’m trying to just be careful that I’m not always defaulting to spending that time on Twitter or email or news.

But of course, there is balance.

I haven’t abandoned all the mindless and fun things altogether. I don’t force myself to always do something that is “productive” or restful.

I am definitely okay with Netflix, Nintendo, YouTube, and RSS. I love these things! But I don’t want them to be the ever-present defaults for all my moments of down time.

I think it was Greg McKeown who I first heard suggest the following:

  • Have a minimum amount of time set aside for the good, the deep, and the essential things.

  • And a maximum amount of time set aside for those things which are shallow and not essential.

Yeah. I like that approach.

Side note for further reading: this piece I wrote about how I use time blocks and planning to identify work focus and rest focus each day.

Avoiding the black hole, 5 minutes at a time

Thank you for a great April

This April 2020 was our best April ever, and it was our 7th best month of all time in terms of net business revenue.

Thank you!

In these uncertain times, my team and I are incredibly grateful to have such amazing readers and customers like you who show up, share our work, buy our courses, and are enabling us to keep going with Tools & Toys, The Focus Course, and The Sweet Setup.

Because of your support we are able to continue focusing on what we know and do best. Which means we have a lot of new and exciting things in store for you…

Thank you for a great April

6am Magic

The 6am writing timeblock has been working well for me.

As I shared in my previous post, I have recently begun getting up around 6am to spend the first hour of my day writing in the kitchen with a cup of coffee, my iPad, and Ulysses.

By 7:15 all the boys are up, and so we have breakfast with the family.

Then, I head down to my home office around 8:30 to do more work. Followed by a workout before lunch. And then a few more hours of work before wrapping up around 4pm or so.

As I wrote a few weeks ago, this is a new writing routine for me that came out of my need to re-evaluate how I’ve been spending my work days.

I will admit that I fell out of this early morning writing routine a little bit last week because it was our sabbatical week. Last week I let myself sleep in that extra hour instead of getting up early to write, and I let myself stay up a bit later to do some woodworking in the garage — building a beautiful Quarantine Coffee Table that I will never forget.

But this morning… I was back at my early morning writing. And this time I had a new typing tool at my fingertips!

My iPad Magic keyboard arrived late last week.

On Thursday evening, to be exact. While I was out with my boys to get curbside pickup of BBQ from our favorite spot: Joe’s KC.

(Let’s just say that when we got back with our BBQ dinner ready to eat and I discovered an iPad Magic Keyboard sitting on the front porch ready to be unboxed… it was a dilemma. But I was hungry and so I was somehow able to let the keyboard wait until after the boys had gone to bed.)


Long-time readers of this website may be all-too familiar with some of my previous in-depth, winded, opinionated, articles about keyboards.

I love a good keyboard. And I love my iPad.

So you’d think that if Apple came out with an amazing keyboard for the iPad, it’d be my New Favorite Thing.

Well. I’m not entirely sure if it is my New Favorite Thing or not.

I’ve read the Magic Keyboard reviews. Watched the videos. And I have loved reading everyone’s opinion about this thing, because it’s a HUGE step forward for Apple (and the iPad) on many, many levels.

In 2018 we got the epic reinvention of the iPad Pro, followed by iPadOS in 2019, followed by amazing trackpad support last month, followed by this Magic Keyboard…

Apple is saying over and over again that the iPad has a bright, professional, awesome future.

But as for me and this Magic Keyboard…

I’m still not sure if I like it. Or, at least, I’m not sure how much I like it for day to day use around my house an in my home office.

But don’t read into things too much. Really. I’m 50/50 on this… it’s too early to tell.

Because I also have to say that now that I’ve been using the Magic Keyboard for several days I’m not sure I could go back to that Smart Keyboard Folio.

Today I spent just about my entire workday working from just the iPad and the Magic Keyboard. (Usually I spend about half my day on the iMac and half my day with the iPad.)

And the typing experience on the Magic Keyboard is far superior to that of the Smart Keyboard. I mean, of course it is. This is a real keyboard. With backlights. And it’s not some plastic-wrapped thingamajig. But with my 11-inch iPad, the keyboard does feel more cramped. I have typos galore, and I am having a hard time adjusting to the way that the iPad itself sort-of blocks access to the top row of number keys.

And the trackpad. This. This thing is quikly becoming so nice and useful and something I may never be able to go back to even though it is still early adoption within iPadOS and many of the apps. (Things 3 in particular really shines with it’s keyboard and trackpad support.)

I know there are many more iPad apps that will be supporting trackpad and keyboard support. And I bet we’re going to see an increase in professional-grade apps as well. So that’s another way this keyboard will be improving the iPad experience.

Down the road when our lives begin to return to some sort of normal, and travel is something that we can do again, the iPad Magic Keyboard will be the ideal travel accessory for the iPad Pro.

But for now, it’s stuck with me here at home. And I have more thoughts and specifics that I may get into later about exactly how this Magic Keyboard works for me at home.

But! At the very least, this keyboard will be my new 6am writing companion.

And if it can help me write and create more on a daily basis then that is a huge win.

6am Magic

6am Writing

This past week I have been trying something new in the mornings.

We have 3 boys at home. And if I ever write a book on parenting it will have one chapter. And in that one chapter it will have one sentence. And the one sentence would be this:

“Buy an OK-To-Wake Clock.”

That’s it. That’d be the whole parenting book.

So this week, as I said, I have been trying something new.

I still wake up a little after 6am, which is when I normally wake up anyway. And that means I get an entire hour to myself before the boys wake up. (Thanks to their ok-to-wake clocks, they all stay in their rooms, quiet, until 7:15am. Every single day. (I know, right!?))

And I have been spending the first quiet hour of my day writing.

I wake up. Put on sweats. Make a cup of coffee. Sit down at the kitchen counter. And write for 30 or 45 minutes.

I’m here right now. The house is quiet. The sun is just beginning to rise. And there is the dim early morning light warming up the windows. And I am writing.

During the past month, I’d been noticing that I was struggling with my morning writing time. There are not one but two articles I am supposed to have already written for The Sweet Setup that are still in my drafts folder. And so I knew something needed to change.

During my work day, I have been more distracted — doing more busywork — than normal. I had to create a separate task list that is just all the “busywork ideas” I have. It’s a list of the little things I suddenly want to do around my house and around my office now that I am just here all day every day. And they’re all good things to do, but they also are distractions from what I need to be doing. (Writing it down on its own list helps me to stay focused.)

So, in order to combat my newfound work-from-home distractions, I’m trying a new writing routine to help me be more focused on this single most important task of the day.

Of course, all the “distraction talk” is not to say that my whole day has gone to the birds.

We Blancs are on day 35 of life and work and school from home. We certainly have our good days and our bad days. And in the midst of everything — the inside monotony and outside pressures of life — our routines have become all the more important.

A few things I have stayed vigilant with are:

  • Protecting my time to rest and think during my day.

  • Using routines and systems to make things easier on myself.

In another article I’ll have to write up the nitty gritty things of my routines and systems that have helped keep my day on track.

But first I want to share a “bigger idea”. Which is the simple idea of having big chunks of your day blocked out.

Here. Check this out.

It’s a copy of Benjamin Franklin’s daily schedule.

This simple schedule of Benjamin Franklin’s has been an inspiration to me for years!

What I like is how open and simple it is. (And how he had “diversions” as part of his daily routine.)

If you look at it, you’ll see that he had only 6 blocks of time scheduled each day:

  1. Morning Routine: 3 hours for getting ready, shower, breakfast, personal study, and prepare for work
  2. Work: 4 hours
  3. Afternoon break: 2 hours for eating, reading, and admin
  4. Work: 4 hours
  5. Evening Routine: 4 hours for dinner, relaxing, diversions, and wrapping up the day
  6. Sleep: 7 hours

This, dear reader, is timeblocking. And it’s marvelously effective.

For my day, I have big “blocks” like what you see on Benjamin Franklin’s schedule. And I also will time block within those . . . mapping my day’s most important tasks to a time on my calendar.

Having a simple way to schedule your day can be especially important if you find yourself in the middle of a transition — such as trying to figure out how to work from home with additional distractions you wouldn’t have at the office.

Timeblocking can help you regain control of your day and make sure you are spending your time effectively on the things that are important.

I regularly come back to my own daily schedule to re-evaluate it and see if it is serving me as well as it should be.

Hence, this week’s early-morning writing experiment. I simply shifted around two blocks of time to see if it would improve my day. And it has!

Now, I don’t know if this is early wake and write will be my new normal. But it’s working right now and that is what matters.

6am Writing