How and when do I carve out time to read distraction free?

September and October have been good to us readers this year. I have a pile of brand-new books that I can’t wait to dive into.

Yesterday I tweeted about how if you’re also diving into a new book (or 5) then you might be interested in how to build your own, alternate index of notes and ideas. Having your own index is, to me, a game-changing strategy for reading and studying any non-fiction book. (See also: My approach to learning and taking action.)

In response to my above tweet, I was asked how and when I’m able to carve out time to read.

Well, the way to make time for reading is the same way you make time for anything else. You pick a time (schedule it) and then you show up.

  • I wake up an hour before my kids in order to make time for my workout and to read.
  • After the kids go to bed and I have tidied up the house, I try to read for at least 15 minutes before doing anything like watching a show or working on other projects.
  • Before going to bed I read for 20 – 30 minutes. This is usually fiction (if I read non-fiction business or finance books, then my brain gets going and I can’t wind down for sleep).
  • Saturday and Sunday afternoons we (usually) have quiet time during my youngest son’s nap. While my older two are doing their quiet activity, I will usually read for a bit.

To be candid, I don’t read nearly as much as I’d like to. And I have two things I want to adjust in my daily rhythm to make more time for reading and studying. One of them is to switch to audio books rather than podcasts when I’m driving in the car. The other is to make more space for reading at the start of my work day and in the afternoon. I’d like to at least double the amount of time I spend reading each day.

However… right now I am focused primarily on a new workout routine (which is something I hope to write about soon), and I have about three more weeks to go before I feel that my new workout habits will begin to settle in and become easier to follow through with.

I try to only focus on one big area of change in my life at a time. And since I’m focusing on my health right now, I’m not worried about changing my reading habits just yet. I will wait until I’ve hit a stride with my new workout routine and thus can give my energy to focus on building a new reading routine.

How and when do I carve out time to read distraction free?

The Very Definition of Overwhelm

Have you ever looked up the dictionary definition of “overwhelm”? It’s pretty intense, actually.

  • bury or drown beneath a huge mass
  • defeat completely
  • give too much of a thing to someone

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, then perhaps you feel as though you have been given too much. In fact, you’ve been given so much that you’re to the point of feeling buried and drown beneath a huge mass of stuff — from urgent issues, undone tasks, incoming requests of your time and energy, and more. And as a result you feel overpowered and defeated.

When you’re overwhelmed with too many priorities, it can feel impossible to find the time you need to get everything done.

Even worse is when everything is important.

How can you possibly put aside 99% of your responsibilities for a few hours in order to focus on just one thing?

I don’t know about you, but I used to feel guilty at neglecting all the other important things I wasn’t doing, when I would try to focus on at least one thing that was important.

It’s nonsensical that you can work on everything all at the same time. But who says we humans are rational, sensical people?

How to Make Sense of Things When You’re Feeling Overwhelmed

Do this. Make a note or a list or just mentally take inventory of the following:

  • What urgent issues do you have right now?
  • What areas of responsibility are you managing?
  • What projects are you working on?
  • What things do you feel that you should be doing but you’re not?

Now, take that list and put each item into the proper box from this matrix:

  • Box 1: Things you enjoy that ONLY YOU can do
  • Box 2: Things you enjoy that ANYBODY could do
  • Box 3: Things you dislike that ANYBODY could do
  • Box 4: Things you dislike that ONLY YOU can do

Now, looking at those boxes, how does it make you feel?

For reference, here’s what my matrix looks like (for the sake of brevity I focused only on high-level areas of responsibility and the tasks that fall under those domains):

Looking back at your own matrix, consider this:

  • The items in boxes 1 and 4 are things which you must choose to take personal ownership of and prioritize into your life. 

  • What things are in Box 2? It’s awesome that these are things which you love, but make sure they’re not keeping you from the things in Box 1.

  • What things are in Box 3? These need to go! Delegate them to someone else. Get assistance, learn how to automate the process of that work, ask your boss if you can be relieved of those duties, etc.

Looking again at my matrix above, let me share a few insights.

You’ll see that I put writing and project management in Box 2. The truth is, my job within my company as a writer, designer, and project manager is totally replaceable. Even though those activities are critical to what we do, I could train someone else to do that work.

But what’s NOT replaceable within the company is my leadership as the owner. My taste, values, and vision for the work we do are unique.

Therefore, if the work I’m doing in Box 2 begins to interfere with my responsibilities in Box 1, then guess what? Time to make a change.

I love looking at the things in my life that ONLY I can do, and nobody else can do for me.

  • Only I can be a husband to my wife.
  • Only I can be a father to my kids.
  • Only I can take care of my health by eating well and staying active.
  • Only I can lead my business in the direction I want it to go.
  • Only I can take responsibility of my personal development through reading, learning, and living a focused life.

It’s liberating to know exactly what I’m in charge of.

When you’re feeling buried under a mass of so much stuff, it can feel as if you’re responsible for everything in the whole world.

But it can be liberating when you step back and get clarity about the things that ONLY YOU can do.

By the way… those things in Box 4? The the things you don’t like, but that only you can do?

Here’s a tip: Put systems in place that help you automate those things. Habits and routines help keep important areas of your life on track even when you can’t — or don’t want to — give those areas your full attention.

(This is something I’ll be sharing more about in the coming weeks, and it’s something that I cover in a ton more detail within The Focus Course.)

The Very Definition of Overwhelm

Apple Watch Series 4

Apple Watch Series 4

Last Friday, an Apple Watch Series 4 was delivered to my house around 8:45 in the evening.

I’ve been wearing an Apple Watch every day since the spring of 2015 when they first came out. My first watch was an original, Series 0. Then, after holding out for a while, I upgraded to a Series 3 with LTE and was totally blown away by both the huge speed increases and the usefulness of cellular service and being able to leave my iPhone at home.

The Series 4 is, without a doubt, the nicest Apple Watch to date.

Apple Watch Series 4

I went with the larger, 44mm size so I could keep using all of my watch bands that were from my previous 42mm Watches. The larger screen is wonderful — it has a higher pixel density and (at least to me) seems noticeably brighter. The slightly larger casing compared to the previous generations fits me just fine.

There are so many things about using an Apple Watch that I love. It has helped me tremendously in my personal health and fitness goals as I track my workouts (the gamification of closing the rings is a gimmicky yet real motivator).

But perhaps what I love most is how Watch has allowed me to decouple from my iPhone far more often.

My Apple Watch is, more or less, my “dumb phone”…

It allows me to leave my smartphone at home but still be reachable by text or phone (and I can still stream music to my bluetooth AirPods if I’m at the gym or driving the CJ), but I don’t have the entire Internet in my pocket. And there is just something liberating about being out and about without having email, Twitter, Instagram, and the like at my fingertips.

Apple Watch Series 4

Two Months With the Leica Q

Leica Q

It’s now been two months since my used Leica Q arrived from eBay, and gosh am I smitten.

I am still struggling to describe how awesome and delightful this camera is.

While I feel as if I am taking the same shots that I always take — like my shooting and editing style has not changed significantly over the past 2 months — yet the photos that are coming out of the Leica are vastly superior to what I’m used to from my M4/3 gear. (Surprise, surprise.)

Now, I know that “tools do not an artist make”. But I also know that when you reach certain points in your skills, using a better tool will bring about a better end result. Tools and gear may not matter the most, but they do matter.

My Leica Q has become a part of my Every Day Carry. After it arrived on June 26th, I made a commitment to shoot with it every single day. Even if I’m going somewhere that I don’t expect to take a photo — such as out to lunch with my dad — I still choose to take the Leica and I still choose to find and take a photo.

And would you believe it, but I haven’t yet edited a single photo on my iMac. Yep… every photo I’ve take in the past two months has been edited on my iPad or iPhone using either VSCO or Priime.

I’ll get more into the details of my photography workflow in an article next week. For now I just wanted to finally get some of these photos posted onto the site and to share this quick update that, yes, after two months with the Leica Q it awesome.

All that said, here are 14 of my favorite photos that I’ve taken over the past two months with the Leica Q.

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For more photos, I’ve been posting daily on Instagram

Two Months With the Leica Q

Lake at Sunrise (Wallpaper Image)

If you’ve been following me on Instagram the past few weeks then you probably know my family and I were in Colorado for the month of July.

While I was there I made a commitment to take my Leica Q everywhere I went and to shoot at least a couple of photos each day. I’ve only had the Q for a month now, and I’m still getting comfortable with it. And the only way I know to get confident and familiar with it is to just keep shooting. So that’s what I’ve been doing. And, I have to say, the more I use it — and the more accustomed I get with the wide, 28mm lens — the more I like the camera. But now I am getting ahead of myself.

Every evening I would import the day’s photos onto my iPad, pick out my favorites, edit them in either Priime or VSCO (which is another story for another day), and then post one of them to Instagram.

I’ll be sharing more of those images over the coming days here on the site.

To kick things off, one of my favorite photos so far is the lake photo above. This image was taken around six in the morning at Arapaho Reservoir while my brothers and I were fishing.

The Leica Q shoots images at 6000×4000 resolution — which is big enough even for the Retina 5k iMac.

Thus, this image is my current iMac wallpaper, and I thought you might like it as well. And, of course, you can also put it on your phone, iPad, et al.

Download the full-size version here. »

Lake at Sunrise (Wallpaper Image)

Giving Up Control at Work

Earlier this year I became aware that, in my business, though I was focused on things that were important, I was too focused on things that were not essential for ME to be doing.

It’s not that I was working too many hours. I am pretty focused with my work time. The issue is that I was taking on too much control; I wasn’t delegating or trusting enough.

As a result, it was eroding the mental and emotional margin in my work life. It was also holding back the creativity of my own team because I wasn’t giving them as much autonomy as they deserved.

In his his awesome book, Essentialism, Greg McKeown writes:

Many capable people are kept from getting to the next level of contribution because they can’t let go of the belief that everything is important.

I think I was pretty good at knowing what was and was not important. But, as I said, I was doing things that I should have delegated instead.

And so, about 4 months ago I began intentionally focusing on ways to let go of things in my life and business that are are non-essential so I can more diligently focus on what is most important for me.

My process for focus was an odd one, and it’s something that I felt embarrassed to talk about in public.

But what I did was this: I cut my work week in half. I limited my working hours to only 20 per week — roughly 4 hours per day.

By giving myself half the normal amount of time to get my work done, I was forced to do the things that only I could do. Everything else had to be delegated or else eliminated.

The results so far from this focused time have been great. I’m experiencing a calmer work life with less stress and anxiety. I’ve spent more time with my family and in personal development. I’ve delegated more to my team, and as a result we’re even seeing an increase in our creative output and business profits.

Giving Up Control at Work

Another Way to Lead by Example

When you think of “leading by example” what does that mean to you?

Does it mean doing more, being more, and giving more than those around you? Being the first to show up and the last to leave? Never asking someone to do more than you’re doing yourself?

There is, undoubtedly, a noble work-ethic tied to this approach to leadership. Plus, it is instantly quantifiable — if you get into a kerfuffle with those you’re leading you can just point to your time card and prove to them that you care more because you’re working more.

But something I’ve been thinking on for the past several months is this:

Are there other ways to lead by example?

At what point do you stop doing more, being more, and giving more?

At what point do you draw the line to say that you’re doing enough, being enough, and giving enough?

Consider this….

As a leader: What do you need in order to be around for the long run?

What are the things that ONLY YOU can do?

I believe leading by example should mean prioritizing your life without apology. It should mean you’re courageous enough to choose to do what you know to be right instead of doing what the peer pressure and/or company culture is.

Lead by example of how to work SMARTER, not harder.

What’s difficult about this type of “servant leadership” is that it’s less quantifiable. It’s not so easy for people to see you leading by example of your healthy balance between family, health, and office hours. (All they see is that you’re not working on the weekends and you clock out at a normal hour.)

But this type of leadership style plays to the long game. It takes time time to see the rewards of the choices you are making now to keep your work life from swallowing your personal life.

It’s easier to lead by the example of doing more because everyone can see you doing more. It’s not so easy to lead by example of doing “less” or “different” because those things are more internal, personal, and far less quantifiable.

What’s great about this alternative of leading by example is this…

It dignifies those around you.


When you choose to live a healthy life, to have boundaries, and to “work smarter” rather than “harder” then the byproduct is that your co-workers and your team feel trusted.

When you treat yourself with respect, you will also treat those around you the same — as the smart, valuable, and self-motivated adults that they are.

Another Way to Lead by Example

24 Hours with the Leica Q

For years and years I’ve been shooting primarily with my Olympus micro four-thirds gear. The E-M10 is an excellent camera setup: inexpensive, high quality, easy to use, compact.

But a few weeks ago when I was in San Jose for WWDC, my friend Drew Coffman let me borrow his Leica Q for a few hours and I instantly fell in love with it.

After getting back from California, I found a used Leica Q on eBay. And it just showed up yesterday. It’s an incredible camera that’s just delightful to hold and carry around.

Now… I’ve only had it for 24 hours, so I’m still figuring this thing out. It’s a wholly different camera from my E-M10 and the 50mm lens that I’ve been using for the past several years.

All that to say, here are a few of the photos after the first day of wondering around with the Q. (I realize it’s quite the spread of photos — they all look different in style, scene, and editing. But I’m still experimenting and learning.)

(All of the photos were shot on the Leica Q and then edited on my iPad with the Priime RAW app.)

24 Hours with the Leica Q

My iPad Home Screen

Gosh, it’s been about a year now since the 10.5” iPad Pro came out. I bought one right away, and it has become one of my favorite gadgets of all time.

I’ve had an iPad since the very beginning. I stood in line on that Saturday morning in April 2010 to buy the original iPad. And since then I’ve also owned an iPad 2, iPad 3, a 2nd-gen iPad mini, a 9.7” iPad Pro, and now, of course, the 10.5” iPad Pro.

The iPad Pro (with iOS 11) is not like the other iPads. In fact, it feels to me like what the iPad was meant to be all along: Fun, powerful, versatile, and not annoying.

It’s the “not annoying” part that has finally come around. The iPads of the past have always been fun and versatile and powerful to an extent. But they also have always had certain limitations that brought about frustrations at times.

Thanks mostly to iOS 11, the iPad is fun, powerful, and versatile. Full stop.

Shawn Blanc iPad Pro

As you may know, on Monday Apple is kicking off their annual conference: WWDC.

I’ll be out there in San Jose for a few days going to live podcast events and meeting up with my fellow Apple nerd friends. And, needless to say, I’m excited about what Apple will announce on Monday at their big keynote event.

In conjunction with the jumbo-sized Baron Fig notebook, my iPad has become a regular part of my every day creativity and productivity.

Even though I have an iMac with a fun and clicky keyboard at my desk, I find myself doing nearly as much work from the iPad as from my Mac. This is thanks entirely to a few things that, up until last year, really didn’t exist on the iPad.

Obviously, there is iOS 11 (“The iPad Release”) with its side-by-side app views, drag and drop, and, of course, the Files app itself with its system-wide integration which has been a huge game changer. (I’ve got a whole other story about how Dropbox has basically become obsolete for me, but we’ll save that for another time.)

And then, there are the apps I use most: Ulysses and Things. Both of which are world-class on the iPad (especially so with the most recent updates to Things 3.6 and Ulysses 13.)

All that said, today I wanted to share a bit about my current iPad setup so that if anything changes next week, there’d be a benchmark to compare against.

Shawn Blanc iPad Pro Home screen

Hardware-wise, I use one of Apple’s smart keyboard covers with my iPad. It’s a pretty great keyboard — it’s just fine to use for typing, and I love that it can also fold back behind itself to prop up the iPad, and it easily pops off the side if I want to use the iPad strictly as a tablet.

As for apps, here’s a list of all the apps I use on my iPad the most (not including Ulysses or Things which I already mentioned above).

  • Basecamp: This has become command central for the whole Blanc Media team. We run everything in and through Basecamp. (No more Dropbox, Slack, or email.)

  • Bear: Some day I’ll write more in depth about the differences of how I use Bear versus Ulysses. But, in short, Bear is for all the simple and temporary stuff like shopping lists, travel plans, or research for buying and installing Jeep parts, etc.

  • Day One: My biggest use for Day One on the iPad is when I do my weekly reviews on Sunday afternoons.

  • Music: For listening to jams when writing and working.

  • Paper: For doing the occasional sketch to accompany an article (like this one).

  • Safari: My web browser of choice. It’s fast, native, and I use iCloud tabs quite a bit as I love the ability to get to any web pages I have open on my other devices.

  • 1Password: Despite the prevalence of iCloud Keychain, 1Password is still a must-have app. I use it constantly, and even keep it in my iPad’s dock for quick access.

  • Mail: While it certainly leaves a lot to be desired in terms of search and integrating with 3rd-party apps, I still appreciate its simple clean design. 

  • CropSize: This is an iOS app that lets you crop and resize images and export them for the web. You can even save particular “workflows” and simply apply that saved process to one or multiple photos with just a few taps.

I can’t wait to see what Apple has up their sleeve on Monday for iOS 12. One thing I’d love to see would be keyboard shortcuts for the share sheet (which is something that Michael Rockwell mentioned about a week ago). It’d mean being able to save a web page to Instapaper or add a URL to Things through a keyboard shortcut rather than through a few taps.

At some point the thought does become: why not just use a laptop?

There are a few things here and there that would be awesome on an iPad. But what is also so great about the iPad is how you can pop off the keyboard and use the device like a tablet. Rotate it into portrait mode and read from it. Draw on the screen. Drag and drop things. Build-in internet connection anywhere.

It’s all of those touch-screen-tablet-specific-abilities that make the iPad so great and versatile. It’s not about making the iPad more Mac-like, rather it’s about making the iPad easier to use.

My iPad Home Screen

My Number One Productivity Tip

“What’s your number one productivity tip, Shawn?”

I get asked this question all the time. And I have a somewhat bizarre answer. When people first hear it they give me a weird look. And then as I explain it, everything clicks.

The tip is this:

Tonight, before you go to bed, set out your clothes for tomorrow.

See? I can already tell that you’re thinking to yourself: What? Shawn has lost it.

Here’s why this matters:

  1. You’re helping your future self.
  2. You’re setting an easy goal that you can win at (which helps you to win when you set harder goals).
  3. You’re learning how to plan ahead and keep your word to yourself.

Who would have thought there would be SO MANY NUANCES to something as dorky as setting out tomorrow’s underwear?

This idea of helping my future self and following through on my own commitments is something I use all over my life. Not least of which is my weekly review.

(If you’ve been through our best-selling productivity course then you are already familiar with how and why I do my daily and weekly planning. So I won’t go into all the details here.)

A Brief Overview of What My Weekly Review Looks Like

On Sunday afternoons, I sit down for about an hour to review my past week and to plan for my upcoming week. The two apps I use for this are Things and Day One.

The times of my life when I am most productive and relaxed can pretty much be exactly correlated with the times of my life I have maintained this habit.

By taking time to review the past week and plan the next one, it helps me spend my entire week better. And not just with work-related stuff — it helps immensely with personal and family life as well.

What I do is I review the past week’s wins and losses, and make notes of all the highlights and lowlights of the week. As I mentioned, I do this for my work and my personal life. I look through my Baron Fig notebook and also my Things Logbook to glance briefly at all the tasks and goals I accomplished (or didn’t). I also jot down any events or memories or parenting fails.

This retrospective takes a total of about 15 or 20 minutes.

Then I take just a few minutes to review what big goals I’m focused on right now (which are always crystal clear, thanks to our focused, 8-week work cycles). This helps me stay on track with what is most important and to ensure I’m focused on the next steps I need to take.

With that done, I then take another 15 or 20 minutes to plan my upcoming week. I write down the week’s 3 Most Important Goals, along with any other miscellany that I want to see happen. (Again, I go into all of this is a LOT of nerdy detail in All the Things.)

Why A Weekly Review?

It’s not easy to coach yourself. Part of moving from Unconscious Incompetence to (un)conscious competence requires feedback loops. Having a coach or mentor can help with this, but so too can it help to keep short accounts with yourself to track and monitor your progress.

In short, this habit helps me stay creative, productive, and focused.

Just like setting out tomorrow’s socks, the weekly review and planning time is a way for me to help my future self. With my plan in place it means that for the whole rest of the week all I have left to do is follow through with the plan. And that makes things so much easier!

As my friend, James Clear, says, highly focused people limit their options. If you commit to nothing, you’ll be distracted by everything.
 Moreover, with the weekly retrospective, I am capturing the “smaller” moments in life — things that don’t really seem like a big deal right now, but often times are a big deal in aggregate especially when looking back.

This is critical to skill development, personal development, and more.

If you’re interested in getting a more detailed look at how I use Day One, as well as my full checklist of all the weekly (and monthly) review questions I work through, check out our brand new course: Day One in Depth.

My Number One Productivity Tip

Apps and Gear I Use When Traveling

Last week I was in Atlanta visiting some friends and talking about business-y stuff. And I thought it’d be interesting to share a few of the apps and other gear that I take with me when traveling.

As far as physical gear goes, my main staples include:

  • iPad Pro (who needs a “real” computer?)
  • Baron Fig notebook (don’t leave home without it)
  • B&O Headphones (for listening to books, podcasts, or movies on the plane)
  • AirPods (for when going on a run)
  • Goruck GR1 bag (the best backpack ever)

When flying, I’m just not all that productive. So I may try to listen to a podcast or audio book, but sometimes I just want to watch a show. (Yay for both the Netflix app and Apple’s TV app that allow you easily download movies and shows that you’re tracking with.) Thus, I always make sure I’ve got a few TV episodes downloaded to my iPad (so I can watch on the plane) and also a few podcast episodes downloaded in Overcast.

As listed above, when on the road I work from just my iPad. A few must-have apps I utilize are (a.k.a. Cloak), Ulysses, and Instapaper.

On my iPhone, I use Tweetbot and Instagram to stay social. I toss any travel-relevant notes into Bear. And I use Lyft to get around.

Perhaps the best part of my “travel setup” is the “standard packing list” note that I keep in the Apple Notes app. I use Apple Notes because it’s easy to share the note with my wife. And it’s easy to toggle the list by selecting all items and then tapping the “checkbox icon” in order to uncheck them in one fell swoop so I can start over with the list.

Having a pre-populated packing list is one of the greatest “travel hacks” I’ve ever done. It takes all the guesswork out of packing, and it saves me quite a bit of time as well. I just follow the list and I’m done and I don’t have to worry if I forgot about anything.

Apps and Gear I Use When Traveling

My Approach to Learning New Things and Taking Action

This morning I was tidying up the books on my dresser and realized I had about 8 different books related to finances that I’d recently been studying. And that got me thinking about my general approach to learning new things and taking action on them.

Thus, here are some unordered thoughts on how I keep a pattern of learning new things and then applying those to my life.

Follow Rabbit Trails

Yesterday I was in the car listening to a podcast about budgeting (because YOLO). In the podcast episode, the guy mentioned a book he likes regarding finances. And so, as soon as I got home I bought the book on Amazon.

When there is someone whose lifestyle and/or opinions you respect around a specific topic, and they mention a source of inspiration, then follow that trail. Some of the most impactful books I’ve read were discovered thanks to the casual mention of them by someone whom I respect.

Also, when you are reading a book, what are the books the author mentions?

Because I always try to follow these rabbit trails, I end up buying way more books than I read. And, most books that I buy, I don’t read cover to cover. I aim to seek out the key ideas and areas of interest. If the book pulls me in, then I gladly read it. But if not, who cares? There are many, many more books out there to dive into.

Follow the Inspiration

I’m a huge fan of just-in-time learning. When I get interested in a topic, or when I have a specific need in my business, then I dive in as much as possible. I don’t (usually) force myself to learn things I’m not interested in or motivated to learn about.

Intrinsic motivation is an excellent way to learn new things quickly. When you are hungry to learn then you are naturally seeking out the information.

Also, this means I am usually only diving into on one or two issues at a time. Thus, it allows for more immersion on a topic. And when you’re immersed in something, you’re able to pick it up quicker, connect more dots, and more quickly translate your new information into working knowledge.

Make Learning a “Habit”

This may seem contradictory to what I just said, but I also make sure that learning is a part of my regular life. My normal day-to-day routine includes time for reading, study, and note taking.

For example, my morning routine involves personal reading and study. And whenever I’m in the car I have an audiobook or podcast going.

Now, there have been times when I’m just not all that motivated to read because I’d much rather binge watch a show on Netflix. Sometimes I’ll tell myself I have to read for 15 minutes before I start a show. This way I keep the habit of reading active even when I’m not into it.

Buy Physical Books

It is far easier for me to take in new information when it’s in a physical book compared to digital. While there are a lot of conveniences about digital, for me, it’s easier to focus with a physical book. Moreover, it’s also far easier for me to take notes and refer back to my ideas, takeaways, and etc.

I also find that having a physical pile of books is more inviting compared a digital shelf or list on my iPad or Kindle. With physical books you can pick them up and hold them, thumb through the pages, scan the chapter titles, and then start reading the one that grabs your attention.

Take Notes (and Review Them)

Just taking in new material (reading it, listening to it) is not enough. I will lose most of that information if I don’t write down notes.

It’s critical for me to write down ideas, takeaways, highlights, quick wins, action items, and more. This is something I have to make myself do. Because in the moment as I’m reading a book or listening to a podcast, when I come across something exciting I always feel like I’ve got it.

But the details and takeaways will get forgotten if I don’t write them down.

Almost all of my notes I put into Ulysses. If there is a specific project I am researching for, then that project gets its own folder; if it’s just general notes on a topic then my notes go into a single document in my general, simple notes folder.

Take Action

As Herbert Spencer said, the great aim of education is not knowledge, but action.

What good is all of that learning if I’m not going to use it to improve my life and the lives of those around me?

By learning about investing, saving, and budgeting then I can improve how I manage the finances of my business and my home.

Or by learning about how my CJ-7 works, I can better troubleshoot its issues and work on it in my garage with confidence.

To be candid, when it comes to taking I have two propensities that are wont to hold me back:

  • I have a knack for researching something to death, and never letting myself get to the point of taking action. I’ll just keep doing a little bit more research, and a little bit more. Always wanting just a bit more information before making a decision about something and taking action.

  • My other propensity is to live vicariously through my research. Basically, I will feel that by learning about something is the same as actually doing it. It’s one thing to read a lot of books on how to invest my money, but that head knowledge alone does not make me an investor. I have to actually put my money into an investment account.

Therefore, when it comes to taking action, there are two pieces of advice that have helped me to overcome my above obstacles.

  • Make the best choice you can, with the information you have. There will be a point where you have done enough research and enough learning, and it’s time to take action. And so, take comfort in the fact that all you can do — all anyone can do — is to make the best decision at the time with the information you have available to you. Get over the fact that there is no such thing as a “perfect” decision. There is what seems right and best at the time.

  • Secondly, when it comes to taking action, use the idea of the minimum effective dose. What is the one thing you can do now that will make everything else easier? Do that one thing.

Journal About It

In addition to taking notes and taking action, I also find that it’s helpful to journal through the process of learning and applying something new. (I write all of this in Day One, of course.)

Why am I motivated to learn this information? What am I doing about it? How’s it going? What are the results I’m getting? Etc.

It can be helpful to just write down answers to some of these questions. Moreover, it’s giving advice to your future self. Seasons of life are cyclical. And during a time of learning something new and implementing it, write down your motivations and worries and lessons learned. Your why and your what will serve as guidance some day in the future as you wrestle through related issues again.

Teach What You Know

When you learn something new, share it with others. In fact, if you’ve just learned something new and applied it to your life, you have some real-world wisdom that is very fresh and relevant.

If you have a newborn at home, the best person to ask for advice is someone with a toddler or two because they are fresh at just having figured out how to raise a little baby and survive. Don’t ask someone who’s kids are out of the house — they’re too far removed from what life is like with a newborn.

When I am interested in a topic — for whatever reason — I try to immerse myself in books, podcasts, and online forums. I take notes, write down takeaways and ideas and action items. Then I make sure that all of that information is leading to something so I can take action on it.

We’re grown ups. We don’t have to go to school anymore. So learning should be exciting and exhilarating. Don’t learn something because you feel guilty and think you should — learn it because you want to.

What are some of your approaches to learning new things? Hit me up on Twitter and let me know.

My Approach to Learning New Things and Taking Action

Money First, Then Exercise

True story: One of the best things I ever did for my health was to get my finances onto a budget.

Yep. Several years ago my wife and I started doing a cash envelope system for our monthly expenses. We started being very focused and intentional about budgeting.

It took us a little over a year to really get our budget dialed in. But then, we were on a roll!

Once I had mastered focus with my finances, it was easy to use that momentum for the next thing.

I chose to focus on my health. Again, it took me a little while to get things dialed in, but I began eating better and exercising regularly and have continued to do so for years.

As much as we would love to, we can’t bring our entire life into focus at once…

But! Here is what you CAN do: start small in one area and allow that to lead to the next and to the next.

A lot of people roll their eyes at this truth. They despise small beginnings; if they can’t have it all right NOW then they opt for nothing. To be blunt, their attitude is the height of immaturity and shortsightedness. Check back in on those people in one year from now you’ll find their life to be exactly the same.

You only have the mental energy to focus on one, maybe two, areas of your life at time. So embrace it and leverage it to your advantage.

Money First, Then Exercise

Thoughts After One Year of Focused, 8-Week Work Cycles

As you probably know, a little over a year ago we started experimenting with an 8-week work cycle here at Blanc Media HQ.

They look like this:

(You can read all about the what and why in this detailed article here if you want.)

We are just now wrapping up our first work cycle of 2018. Today — Friday, March 2nd — is the last day of our Sabbatical week, and this coming Monday we will kick off next Focused Work Cycle.

After more than a year of doing this — we’ve done 7 or 8 of them now — I wanted to share a few brief thoughts on the the advantages I’ve found in having a focused, six-week work cycle project followed by time to review and prepare, and then time to rest.

Working in Monk Mode is Awesome

For our 6-week, Focused Work Cycles I usually have just one main project that I am focusing on. Last cycle it was All the Things. And that’s why we were able to go from idea to launched in just 5 weeks.

Having one primary project to focus on allows me to go heads down and work for hours a day without distraction. I call this “Monk Mode”.

When you’re in Monk Mode then all sorts of things become inspiration and ideas for the work. You can keep the whole project in “RAM” in your brain and that makes it much easier to connect ideas.

The result is that projects get done faster and the overall end-result is of a higher caliber.

Not to mention the fact that it means the work is just more fun. Most days I am “finding flow” and seeing regular, tangible progress. The value of this fruit alone cannot be overemphasized.

You Probably Don’t Need as Much Time as You Think You Need

I’ve tried working a 4×10 schedule (where you do 10 hours per day, 4 days a week and then take a 3-day weekend). And while I loved the 3-day weekend, I found that I was less productive overall. Those additional 2 hours per day were usually not very productive for me because I was tired.

I have found that it is much easier to compress 8 weeks worth of work into 6 or 7 weeks than it is to compress 5 days of work into 4 days.

We still work a normal 40-hour work week. But by being focused and intentional with our work (see below), we are simply not wasting time. We are working with intention in order to be done on time.

When I first learned about these types of focused work cycles from Jason Fried, he said that work will take as long as you give it. If you give a project six months then it will take six months; give it six weeks and it will take six weeks.

Resting and Recovering Should Not Be Optional

It used to be that I took time off when I had the time. But I never had the time. There was always more work to be done.

Now, we schedule in our break week to make it mandatory time off. And thus I am actually able to let my mind and emotions recover from the work. Recovery time is critical for sustaining high performance (and even improving performance) without burning out or injuring yourself.

Focus Only on Wildly Important

When you’ve got just 6 weeks to work on something, you are somewhat forced to pick something that will have the highest impact and the lowest effort.

And then, when other ideas come around in the middle of a work cycle, you simply don’t have time to give in to them. And this is liberating. I know of so many places where there is no limit to the amount of active projects a team can have. (I have one good friend who currently is managing 25 active client projects for his company.)

By setting boundaries around what we are currently focusing on and working on, we are able to say no to new ideas while we are currently in the midst of active projects.

As my friend, James Clear, says, highly focused people (and companies) limit their options.

Highly focused people do not leave their options open. They make choices. If you commit to nothing, you’ll be distracted by everything.

The great irony of this is that by limiting your options and remaining focused until you master a skill, you actually expand your options in the long run. Life-changing optionality is a byproduct of providing great value, which can only be achieved through focus.

You can read more about the what and why behind our 8-week work cycles here. And you can also read my notes from the Basecamp workshop I went to where a lot of these ideas came from.

Thoughts After One Year of Focused, 8-Week Work Cycles