If you work with your head, rest with your hands

It’s amazing how much intentional destruction you can do to a piece of hardwood when you’ve got some 60-grit sandpaper and an orbital sander.

I have been spending my weekends in my garage workshop, bulding two new woodworking projects.

Last weekend I built my first picture frame for a painting that my sister made. While I definitely made some rookie mistakes along the way, it turned out pretty great in the end.

The photos here are ones I took last night after sanding down a new coffee table I am making for the downstairs.

I am spending hours each day, staring at a screen, having meetings, and making decisions about how to best navigate my business through this season. It is refreshing to step away from all of that and into the workshop, put on my gloves, and get to work.

These photos were taken on my Leica Q and edited on my iPad.

If you work with your head, rest with your hands

Music for Working From Home

Good music is instrumental (ha!) for me to do focused work. Especially when I am working at home with kids in the house.

I almost always have a single, go-to album that I put on when it is time to work. This helps quite a bit as part of my routine for getting into the zone.

It can be difficult to transition from feeling at home to feeling at work. But, by having the same playlist or album that I put on when it is time to work, then that music becomes pavlovian — it tells my brain “now it’s time to work”.

And, over time, as I become used to the music, it turns into background noise that is so familiar it is not distracting at all.

Another reason I like having one specific album that is my go-to for background music is that it removes the decision of what do I want to listen to right now?

The less choices I can make before starting my work day the better. I prefer to save as much of that mental energy as I can for actually doing the work.

Anyway! Enough chit-chat…

Here are a few fantastic albums and playlists for helping drown out the background noise so you can do some work. Enjoy!

  • Imagine Gold, by Frameworks is my current favorite. His other albums, Tides and Kings have all been on repeat pretty much ever since I discovered them a few months ago.

  • The Pure Focus playlist in Apple Music is excellent. It is updated regularly, and I often find new artists there.

  • The Monument Valley Soundtrack has long been my go-to. I have listened to this album well over 1,000 times. Possibly a few thousand times.

  • For additional good jams for deep, focused work. Check out this roundup over on The Focus Course blog.

And, of course, for when you are done with work and it’s time to wind down for the day, may I recommend the BEATsrumental playlist? I love to turn this one up while making dinner.

Music for Working From Home

Photos From Indoors

Here in Kansas City, we have a rainy season every spring and it is my favorite thing about living here.

During the rainy season we’ll get massive thunderstorms with huge downpours. It seems like they always happen in the middle of the night (why is that?) — but we do also get them in the late evenings or early mornings.

And I love to lie in bed and just listen to the rain and watch the sky light up with the lighting.

It’s still early in the season right now and so we haven’t yet had any major storms. But we have been getting some rain over the past week.

These photos were made around my house during a recent rainy day. And, of course, I edited them and published them from home as well.

Heck. You’re probably reading this from your home right now. Good for you.

In some ways, it may feel as if every day is a rainy day.

But we are all in this together.

For most of us alive today, there has never been a time like this in our lives when every person on the planet was being impacted and touched by the same issue all at the same time.

In the midst of this crisis, one thing I am witnessing are so many people who are going above and beyond to be generous and kind.

Now is a fantastic time to create. People are sharing more, giving more, and connecting more.

From famous Italian musicians playing live music for their neighbors, to designers making stay-at-home coloring books for kids who aren’t in school, to companies giving away money to creators in need, and so much more.

Even in the midst of the quarantines, the isolation, and the trauma — there is still community. There is hope and light.

Photos From Indoors

Three Things for Right Now

The past few days I have been spending a lot more time than normal reading the news and checking social media. (Pretty sure we all have!)

There is so much happening so fast.

While I don’t personally feel any fear or panicked anxiety about the COVID-19 virus and its implications, I do feel very drawn to social media, the news, and to watch what is happening through these live feeds.

A few things that I am focusing on in light of the current events:

  1. Batch processing news and social media to avoid becoming anxious or paralyzed from the firehose.
  2. Prepare for the worst and begin to take action now.
  3. Create and publish more.

. . . . .

As we all step toward physical isolation, a lot of my social feeds and group text threads have become alive and active in a new way and I am so thankful for the connectedness that we all are able to participate in.

Which is why I feel an an increased focus to create, make, and share more — even though it may feel trite in context to the crisis in our midst.

Yes, it is difficult to focus on just about anything else right now.

But…

I believe creating and doing what you do best has two positive byproducts:

For one, creating and making will help you stay positive.

Moreover, what you create and share will be helpful for all of us who are around you. We need your art, your ideas, and your thoughts now more than ever.

Right now we are feeling just how small the world is and how connected we all are to one another.

That feeling of connectedness is a wonderful thing (even though it is being driven by a global crisis).

So, instead of shying away from creating because it doesn’t seem right, I believe it is all the more necessary that we create and share.

One way I am going to start is simply by trying to share more of my photography and more stories here on my personal website. What about you?

Three Things for Right Now

Our Emergency Food List

For years, my wife and I have kept a 5-day emergency supply of non-perishable food items in our home.

We recently expanded those reserves to a 3-week supply of non-perishables that our family could survive on (with a rationed change to our diet of course).

The reason we are stocked up is so that we can avoid any unnecessary trips to the store in the weeks or months to come. And so we can be prepared in case shopping becomes dangerous or even restricted.

We know things are about to get bad, but we don’t know how bad.

Which is why we want to take as much action now so we can be as prepared as possible.

Anyway…

If, like me, you’re curious about what things people are stocking up on, here are the items we have in our storage closet or freezer:

Coffee (duh!), rice, beans, protein bars, canned soups, lentils, pasta, mayonnaise, oatmeal, canned tuna, frozen fruits and vegetables, frozen meat, dried mango, almond milk, bottled water, chicken broth, and, of course, chocolate.

Our Emergency Food List

Is time on your side?

It was shortly after my first son was born that I began to get seriously interested in photography.

I had all these photos of him, but they had been taken on my iPhone 4. And honestly, they were not good photos.

So in the fall of 2012 I bought an Olympus M43 camera, and began learning more about photography.

In the 7.5 years since then, my excitement and love for photography has only grown. In fact, these days I often find myself thinking more about photo-related creativity rather than writing-related creativity.

Our home is full of original photos that I have taken. They are printed and framed in pretty much every room. But I am eager to learn more, to practice, and to make more photos.

I know that as I pursue this craft and this hobby over the coming years, I have so much more to learn and so many more opportunities to do my best work. I have no doubt that my best photographs have not yet been taken.

. . .

Whatever your craft — the good news is that the best is yet to come.

Whatever it is that you are pursuing, the best days of it are still to come.

But it’s not guaranteed.

You need habits and routines that will move you forward.

I like to call these “lifestyle practices”.

With good lifestyle practices then, as my friend James Clear says, time becomes your ally.

With Finances: For example, with a good financial practice of living within your means while saving and investing, then over time your financial position will improve. Time becomes your ally in wealth building.

With health: If you have a healthy diet and consistent workout routine, then over time your physical health will continue to improve. You will grow stronger, and stay healthy. Time becomes your ally in living a healthy life.

The same is true in your career, your relationships, your side-hobbies, and your inner-personal life.

Take again my example of photography. By having a regular routine of taking photos, editing them, sharing them, printing them… it means that over time I will grow as a photographer. Time becomes my ally in doing creative work.

And that is why your best work — be it design, songwriting, books, videos, business, et al. — it is still ahead of you. Because with good lifestyle practices, time is your ally.

Is time on your side?

Broadway Coffee

Kansas City has a ton of great coffee shops.

(If you are ever visiting, let me know and I’ll recommend some spots to you.)

Broadway is one of the oldest and most wonderful.

I’ve been visiting Broadway Cafe for nearly 20 years. I always order an americano with steamed breve, and it’s always fantastic.

There used to be a Starbucks right next door to Broadway Coffee. But the Starbucks came and went — nobody went there when they could go to Broadway instead. Someone told me it was the first Starbucks to go in next to a local coffee shop and then go out of business. Normally, it would have been the other way around.

I made these two photos about a year ago when Anna and I were out on a date for the day.

We went down to Westport for lunch and to walk around. We passed by Broadway, though we didn’t go in for an espresso because we’d just had tea at a different spot around the corner.

The above photos were shot on the Leica Q and edited in Lightroom on the iPad.


Speaking for Broadway Coffee, here’s a shot I made back in 2014. This is of the inside of the cafe, shot with my Olympus E-M10 and the Summilux 25/1.4 lens.

Broadway Coffee

A Blank iPhone First Home Screen

About a week ago I moved all the icons off my iPhone’s first Home screen.

Basically I moved everything over by one screen. So the first Home screen became the second, the second became third, etc. Now, my iPhone’s first Home screen is blank.

I just finished the book Make Time, by Jake Knapp and John Zeratsky. And one of their suggestions for reclaiming time in your day and improving your focus is to remove all the apps from your first Home screen.

In the same way that a small little meteor rock can strike the earth and create a huge crater — so too can small little interactions with our phones end up creating huge craters of time in our day.

In terms of absolute efficiency, a blank Home screen is not exactly the most efficient Home screen. By moving everything away from the first Home screen, it means my most-used apps — aside from those 3 in the Dock — are now one additional swipe away.

But I’m okay with that added bit of friction. It ensures that I’m being a bit more mindful and intentional when using my phone. I don’t know how many times I have unlocked my iPhone to do something, but then forgot what that thing was the moment I was at the Home screen. Over the past week, when I’m presented with that blank Home screen it helps me stay on track with what I’m on my phone for.

Secondly, I think the blank Home screen looks pretty great.

Lastly, I’ve found that the blank Home screen makes it easier to stop using my iPhone when I’m done with a task.

I always swipe up and up in order to exit out of the app I’m using and then exit back to my first Home screen. And so now when I do that, I end up back at the empty Home screen. And for some reason, that brings a sense of closure.


Side note: moving all my apps was a giant pain in the app. I had to move each folder one by one, from screen to screen. You can tap-and-hold to get into wiggly-app mode, and then once you’ve selected one app you can tap on other apps to select a whole bunch and move them all at once. It took me about 15 minutes — but it was actually a bit cathartic, and I deleted / rearranged some apps in the process.

A Blank iPhone First Home Screen

At a Westport Bookstore

My wife and I recently went on a date downtown near Westport. And there is a cozy, local bookstore that I love to stop in whenever I’m nearby. We walked around for a while, perusing the new and old books that lined the shelves. I love how places like this have books falling out of their ears.

At a Westport Bookstore

Sneak Peek at This Week’s Project

This week was my deadline for wrapping up the final version of a very special, very new project. And then, today, we recorded a bunch of videos for our upcoming 2020 Plan Your Year update.

That’s why, unfortunately, I didn’t quite keep up with publishing very day this week. But now that everything has been wrapped up, the NaNoBlogMo can continue!

Here’s a little sneak peek at what I’ve been designing and building all week…

Sneak Peek at This Week’s Project

Some Good Fiction to Read (During the Holidays)

One of my favorite things to do over the holidays is read in the corner while everyone else is doing something else.

Holidays or not, it has always been difficult for me to fully enjoy my down time without getting stir crazy. I almost always need to be doing. Something. For instance, on my most recent sabbatical week, I installed recessed lighting and smart light switches in our basement.

But there is something I’ve discovered about myself over the years: when I am with family I don’t feel the need to be actively productive. It’s as if being around family is the productive thing I am doing. Which I think is the reason for why I feel more at ease to just rest and relax during times of family-get-togethers.

Here are a few books I’ve read that I’d heartily recommend if you’re looking for some good fiction. As I was compiling the list, I realized that they’re all on the sci-fi end of the spectrum. Hope you enjoy!

Past Faves

Here are a few books that I just can’t stop recommending. When I read Black Matter, I literally didn’t do any work for 2 days; I just read it straight through until I finished.

Current Faves

Apparently 2019 has been the year of dystopian future, science fiction books for me.

Wool, by Hugh Howey. I grabbed the first Silo Trilogy book at a Barnes and Noble in January before a long-weekend staycation with Anna. I could barely put the book down. I bought the second book in the series — Shift — but only made it about 1/3 through before slowing down and moving on to something else. Though I’ve heard from many folks that I am missing out by not finishing it, and that the whole trilogy is worth it. So I plan to pick it back up once I’m done with what I’m currently reading…

(Side-note: There is a recent podcast interview with Silo author, Hugh Howey, and Shane Parish that is excellent. They talk about creative habits, self-publishing, and more.)

The Red Rising Series, by Pierce Brown. It seemed as if everyone was talking about this series on Twitter earlier this year. So I bought the first book — Red Rising — to see for myself. I could barely put it down. I have been plowing through whole series since the summer. (Currently about 20% through book 4, Iron Gold, and it feels like it may be the best book yet.)

Future Faves (I Hope)

There are few things both better and worse than finishing a great book. Having another great book in the waiting can help ease the pain. Here are some of the books in my nonfiction queue that I’m looking forward to reading.

Some Good Fiction to Read (During the Holidays)

An Unexpected Google Search Trick

I’m not sure if it’s the changing weather, or something else, but whatever the reason may be, my personal interest in photography feels like it has been exploding over the past few months.

And so, much of my free time at home has been spent reading through reviews of the Leica Q (and Q2) to get some inspiration for how others are using my same camera.

Also, of course I have been itching to get out more than normal to take some shots. And as I think about what 2020 looks like, I’m considering a personal goal of traveling to at least 2 unique destinations for the sole purpose of making some photos. So if you have any suggestions, please do let me know.

Anyway, as I’ve been reading, there is an interesting “trick” I employed for the Google search results as I have been searching for camera reviews and stories….

Most of the best camera and photography reviews that I have found are on pages 3 and 4 of the Google search results.

You see, I wanted to get some real life, normal-person, story-based reviews of the camera — as opposed to the sterile, press-release regurgitation articles that are on so many of the high-ranking websites that appear on page 1 of Google results.

And so, in order to get to the good stuff — the articles that were written by normal folks with normal blogs who had been using the camera for a while before they wrote their review — I had to skip past the first page.

Whodathunkit?

An Unexpected Google Search Trick

Review: The New Tiki Fire Pit

Tiki Fire Pit

A few weeks ago, a giant, heavy box arrived on my front porch. Inside was the new fire pit made by the folks at Tiki.

My 3-year-old and I set it up in about 10 minutes. And when I say set it up I mean that he ran around with the fire poker while I attached the main basin to the legs while trying not to get stabbed in the head.

Tiki Fire Pit

Tiki Fire Pit

Everything about the Tiki fire pit is heavy duty and high-quality.

The basin itself is heavy. It’s sturdy, thick, and built to last. But it’s not so heavy that it’s difficult to move around — you can easily carry it by an edge around the top ring of the basin.

I wanted to fire it up and test it on my back deck. But after skimming the included instructions, I saw that Tiki recommends a 15-foot clearance on all sides.

Since I was literally playing with fire, I decided that for the initial test run I would light it up in the yard instead of on the wood deck. And I’m glad I did. The Wood Pack (which I’ll explain in a minute) produces a significant bonfire. And it is this 2-part combo of the fire pit plus the wood packs that make the Tiki Fire Pit unique.

The way it works is that there is a removable cone which you can set inside the fire pit. You then balance the Wood Pack bag on top of the cone, light the 4 corners of the bag, and you’re done.

Inside the bag are about 5 pounds worth of wood pellets. These are a special kind of wood pellets that have been mixed with a bit of lighter fluid, so they easily light right up. (Which also means that you won’t want to cook any food or roast any marshmallows over the Wood Pack flame.)

As the bag burns, the pellets fall out, and — thanks to the cone in the center — they get evenly distributed around the internal ring of the fire pit.

Tiki Fire Pit

Tiki Fire Pit

Tiki Fire Pit

Within a few minutes you’ve got a huge fire going. The pellets will burn for about a half hour. You can drop in another Wood Pack bag to keep the fire going or place some normal wood logs logs into the flame.

We had the fire pit going on a nice evening earlier this month, so my wife and all three of our boys were outside enjoying the fire. We kept it burning by adding some logs of Christmas trees past that we keep stored next to the shed.

And it is worth mentioning that you do not have to use the Wood Pack bags. You can also build a traditional wood-log fire in there if you’d like. But I love the idea of having a stash of the Wood Pack bags in my shed, ready to go at a moment’s notice.

Tiki Fire Pit

I am extremely impressed with everything about the Tiki Fire Pit.

The build quality is fantastic. The details are all considered. The overall design of the Fire Pit is one of the best I’ve seen — it just looks cool (no anti-pun intended). And the Wood Pack bags make it very easy to get a real fire going with no effort at all.

Moreover, the slotted drum-style design of the Tiki Fire Pit helps to reduce smoke and collect the ash in a tray that sits below the basin. (Somewhat similar to the popular, but not nearly as handsome, Solo Stove.)

Tiki Fire Pit

As of this review, you can back the Fire Pit on Kickstarter for $305 (and trust me — you will want to back the “Extended Burn Package” so you can get those additional 5 Wood Pack bags).

I was told that once the Fire Pit and Wood Packs become publicly available, the Wood Pack bags will be available for purchase in sets of 4 or 6 for $31 and $40 respectively. That’s about $7 / each, which is a little more than 2x the price of a Duraflame log. And while the Duraflame log is great for getting a fire started super easily, it isn’t going to give you that huge bonfire like the Wood Pack bags.

So, yes, even at its discounted Kickstarter price, the Tiki Fire Pit is definitely on the high end of the fire pit price spectrum. But that’s because you are purchasing a high-end product. The build quality, the design, and the ease of use are all there. This thing is top-of-the line and it shows.

Tiki Fire Pit

. . . .

For years, my wife and I have had a cheap fire pit hiding in the corner of our back yard. It’s basically just a metal bowl on legs that we bought at Home Depot 10 years ago. And I can’t remember the last time we had a fire out there.

Being outdoors, sitting around a fire, is an excellent way to spend an evening — alone or with friends.

Sadly, my review unit only came with one Wood Pack bag. Otherwise I would have used the Fire Pit several more times by now.

You can check out the Tiki Fire Pit on Kickstarter. If you back it now, they’ll be shipping just in time for early spring — which is right at the beginning of when you’ll want to be using it.

Review: The New Tiki Fire Pit

On Quiet, Undistracted Alone Time

A few days ago Mike Schmitz wrote our pick on The Sweet Setup for the best meditation app.

I have long been a proponent and practitioner of regular, quiet, alone time — it is something that has (mostly) been part of my normal day for more than 20 years. (Even as someone who is 100% on the extrovert scale.)

If you read my article from yesterday, I shared about how to have an Apple Watch recovery day by using the Mind & Body workout type on the Apple Watch.

And, as I hinted at in that article, there is additional reason I like the Mind & Body workout type beyond using it as a recovery day workout.

I also like the Mind & Body workout type as a way to help me purposefully set aside 15 – 30 minutes of my day for some device-free, undistracted, quite alone time.

Now, of course, you don’t need an Apple Watch or a meditation app in order to set aside and have some quite, undistracted alone time. But if either of those are tools that can help you, then by all means you should take advantage of them.

. . . . .

Back in 2014 I recorded a podcast and wrote an article about something I call “The Just Checks”.

The Just Checks is about the habit of checking our inboxes: Twitter, Instagram, Email, Facebook, et al.

And the problem behind the The Just Checks is that they rob us of our ability to focus and do deep work (by training our brains to resort to inboxes when we are bored, or challenged). And this habit robs us of any quiet alone time. Why?

Because checking Twitter does not qualify as quiet alone time.

Though we may be physically alone, we are distracted and are not alone with our own thoughts — we’re scrolling other people’s thoughts, stories, inputs, ideas, opinions, etc.

And so, if our moments of down time are filled with inboxes and social media, then we’re never actually being alone. And over time this lack of solitude — “Solitude Deprivation” — can be a serious issue that can lead to stress, anxiety, and depression.

My challenge to you this week: Set aside 15 minutes sometime this week to have some quiet, undistracted, alone time.


P.S. On my shelf are two recent books on the matter: Digital Minimalist by Cal Newport and Stillness is the Key by Ryan Holiday. To be honest, I haven’t yet read these books. But they are in my queue.

On Quiet, Undistracted Alone Time