On Constraints for Creating

In his response to my post from yesterday, my friend, CJ Chilvers, made this fantastic comment:

I’ve always stressed constraints in creating art, not necessarily sharing art.

This instantly makes me think about the challenge between creating the work and sharing the work…. a topic I could write about all day long. Because, well, as someone who creates things for a living and then puts them out there, I kinda need to nail it when it comes to both creating and sharing.

Earlier this year for my book club, we read through Show Your Work, by Austin Kleon. And in that article I wrote about how I have two modes of work: Monk Mode and Publishing Mode.

When I’m in Monk Mode, I have a tendency to go dark to the outside world. All of my working hours are spent with my keyboard, some books, my team, and a whiteboard. I don’t publish much to my websites, nor do I update Twitter or Instagram all that much.

But when I’m in “Publishing Mode” then it’s somewhat the opposite. Most of my working hours are spent publishing things to my sites, tweeting, etc. But I’m not focusing on any particular project or product.

A goal of mine has been to operate in both of these modes simultaneously. And, to be candid, it’s a huge challenge.

You’ve no doubt noticed that for the past few weeks I’ve been publishing here every day. Which I have loved (and I will share more about it next year). But this “publishing mode” has been, in part, made possible because I am not head down in “monk mode”.


Relatedly, Austin Kleon recently wrote an article about “how to hide and still be found”.

In which he states that his book — Show Your Work — was “for people who were great at hiding, but not so great at being findable.”

So but what about for those on the other side? The side that needs help hiding?

Austin doesn’t have the answer (yet?), but he does write this:

We seem to have being out there nailed. We’re all of us, it seems, out there. Maybe we need some help learning how to hide again?

For me, that’s what this year has been about: Learning how to hide and still be found. How to stay connected overall, but how to disconnect in crucial ways that allow me to recover some calm, some privacy, some inner sense of self, so that I can make great things to share. Because if you don’t hide, at least a little bit, it’s hard to make something worth being found.


As I wrote about back in August, I was in search of a workflow and rhythm that supported (a) doing deep work and creating huge pillar products while also (b) frequently publishing articles, podcasts, ideas, links, inspiration, etc.

It’s now December and I’m not there yet. But I think a big piece of the puzzle is what CJ said, and what I quoted at the beginning of this post…

Use constraints when creating, not when sharing.

On Constraints for Creating

Removing Obstacles to Prioritize Output

I never got into Tumblr, but I loved the idea behind it.

Tumbler encouraged you to post anything and everything: quotes, links, conversations with friends, photos, videos, articles, etc.

On the one hand, this led to tons of Tumblrs being the online equivalent of an angsty teenager’s messy bedroom. But on the other hand it also encouraged folks to put stuff out there day after day.

For the most part, I am an advocate for the idea that constraint breeds creativity. But sometimes the constraints need to be removed so you can just get unstuck.

And that’s something Tumblr got absolutely right. Because Tumblr had all sorts of various post types, there was no right or wrong thing to publish. You could share anything you found to be interesting or special or unique or funny or helpful, no matter the format. It all counted. You didn’t even need to have a title.

Contrast that with WordPress where, for a long time, the only post format was written text. Which meant that if you didn’t have something to say via written text, then you didn’t really have anything valid to publish.

And but so, if you find your output slowing down — or dammed up altogether — what can you do to get unstuck?

Remove whatever (false) constraints may be holding you back. Find a new outlet. Maybe just choose to get started again.

Daily creative output is inconvenient — no doubt about it. It’s messy. It’s up and down. That’s just the way it is.

The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.

Removing Obstacles to Prioritize Output

Thoughts on Camera Gear

Soon after my first son was born I wanted a better camera than my iPhone.

That was five years ago. Long-time readers may remember that I dove deep into the world of mirrorless cameras. (I’ve put links to all those past articles at the end of the post.)

To make a long story short, in the Fall of 2012 I purchased an Olympus E-PL5. And it proved to be surprisingly awesome. Though it lacked a bunch of the knobs and dials that a more advanced photographer would want, the E-PL5 was capable of taking some incredible images.

After using that camera constantly for about 18 months, I upgraded to the Olympus E-M10. The E-M10 had all the upgrades I wanted.

Life After the E-M10

After buying the E-M10 in the spring of 2014, I pretty much stopped paying attention to all new camera gear.

Instead of following the latest gear trends, I wanted to use what I had and push it to the limits. If I hit a point where I was using my camera all the time and wasn’t satisfied with my results, then I would allow myself to look into other options. But that never happened.

Five years later, and I am still using my Olympus gear regularly (though the iPhone X is certainly giving it a run for its money) and I’m still very happy with the results.

Recently, however, I was curious what new gear there was. I started searching online and found that the Olympus and Micro 4/3 landscape is mostly unchanged from when I stopped paying attention back in 2014.

There have been steady and incremental updates to all the versions of all the Olympus flagship cameras, and there are some cool new Panasonic and Olympus lenses, but nothing significantly new or mind blowing. At least, not for me.

Now, please don’t read this as me griping or complaining against Olympus or Panasonic. There’s nothing at all bad about incremental progress. If anything, I’m bragging about the opposite side of the coin: the camera and lenses I purchased back in 2013 and 2014 are just as great as they were when I bought them.

And this is something that I’ve discovered to be true about photography gear: it doesn’t become obsolete the way other technologies do.

My iPhone, iPad, and iMac will all, eventually, become obsolete and will need to be updated.

A good camera will only become obsolete if you neglect it or else outgrow it.

* * *

I have no doubt I’ll upgrade my camera gear one day.

I’d love to move up to full-frame, and there are some excellent options: both Leica and Sony have both been pushing things forward in that area. The Leica Q is stunning, and if it came with a 50mm prime rather than the 28mm, I’d be in trouble. Likewise, the Sony RX1R is pretty awesome.

For now, what I have is still serving me well. In fact, I recently took some photos of all the grandkids as part of a gift to my parent’s on their 40th wedding anniversary. I used both my Olympus E-M10 and also my office Cannon 6D that we use for shooting video with its 50/1.4 lens.

Guess which camera I got better photos from? The Olympus. No doubt because it’s the camera I’m more comfortable with, and that results in better images. But it’s just proof that for stuff like this, tools and gear are not the most important.

All that said, here are some shots I’ve taken recently with the my Olympus E-M10.


If you’d like to read more about my foray into camera gear — and get more of the details behind why I bought what I bought — then here are links to all the articles I wrote, in chronological order, starting here, here, here, here, here, and, finally, here.

Thoughts on Camera Gear

MagicGrips for Your Magic Mouse

Elevation Lab MagicGrips

A few weeks ago I happened across this new to me product from the folks at Elevation Labs, and it’s pretty awesome.

The MagicGrips are a pair of rubber grips that attach to the side of your Magic Mouse to make it more comfortable to hold.

They’re $13 (cheap) and work exactly as advertised.

As you can see from the super-bokeh’d image up at top, the MagicGrips fit perfectly, and don’t interfere whatsoever with the functionality of the mouse.

On the bottom side, the grips don’t interfere with two “skis” that the Magic Mouse rests on. And on the sides, the grips don’t touch the button’s edge, so there’s no hindrance with using the mouse.

Elevation Lab MagicGrips

Elevation Lab MagicGrips

They attach like stickers to both sides of the Magic Mouse, and took me about 30 seconds to put on. And I think they look great — it’s not a degradation of aesthetics.

After years of using the Magic Mouse, it took me a little while to get used to the new grip. But now, with the grips, the Magic Mouse is much more comfortable.

It’s a nice little upgrade to a tool that I use pretty much all day every day.

MagicGrips for Your Magic Mouse

iPhone X Home Screen (December 2017)

iPhone X Home screen Shawn Blanc

The background wallpaper is from Unsplash.

A few notes about some of the specific apps…

  • A very big thanks to James Thomson for hooking me up with with the pro version of his fantastic calculator app, PCalc. It was super thoughtful of him, and there’s a long and boring story about it.

    You see, way, way, way back in the day I had purchased the Lite version because it had an orange icon and it seemed in those days that every other app icon was blue. I upgraded, of course, via in-app purchases to the “pro” version, but even still my iPhone home screen’s icon said “PCalc Lite” and I would get heckled every time I shared a screenshot. I didn’t mind, but nevertheless, James took pity on me.


  • Also, after nearly a decade of using Simplenote, I’m giving Bear a try. Bear is, without a doubt, far more polished and sophisticated than Simplenote. But it’s the — ahem — simplicity of Simplenote that has always been its charm.

    My two biggest quibbles with Bear are that: (a) it won’t let me remove the few lines of preview from the notes list (I’d prefer to see only the note title); and (b) the first line of a note doesn’t automatically get formatted as a title.


  • Just Press Record is my new go-to app for voice memos. There are times when, at the end of my workday or workweek, I still have loose ends floating around in my head. And it can be a tremendous help to simply speak them all out loud into a voice memo. Now, they’re captured and tomorrow I can listen to that memo and pick up right where I left off.

  • I’m using Things 3, of course. It is, by far, the most elegant of all the most popular task management apps.



    Early this year I switched from OmniFocus to Todoist. But never really felt comfortable with it. When Things 3 came out in May, I switched to it and have been using it ever since. There are a few little things that irk me, but that’s the way it is with every single task app out there. Most are great, but none are perfect.

    Moreover, I think it’s worth mentioning that Things 3 has been getting consistent updates since it shipped nearly 7 months ago. And many of those updates have been some of the most commonly requested features that I’ve seen, such as adding in the ability to have repeating to-dos within projects, keyboard shortcuts to iPad (basic, but still better than none at all), iOS drag and drop support.

    Things has been around for quite a while, and over the years Cultured Code has developed somewhat of a reputation for shipping awesome updates and then going silent and letting their product begin to stagnate.

    Hopefully the past 7 months is a look at Cultured Code’s new development cycle, and if so then that’s awesome.

* * *

Sidebar, so long as we’re talking about apps and Home screens…

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could have some blank space at the top row of apps, not just the bottom rows?

I would certainly prefer to have fewer apps on my Home screen, but not at the expense of having those few apps be anchored way up at the top virtually unreachable by any mere mortal’s single hand. So, instead, I have more apps in order to keep a few of the most-used ones within one-handed reach.

iPhone X Home Screen (December 2017)

“It is All. On. You.”

Discipline Equals Freedom, Focus

Jocko Willink’s chapter on Focus from his new book, Discipline Equals Freedom, is so awesome and so intense.

Sometimes, in day-to-day life, you can lose track of the long term-goal. It fades from your vision. It slips from your mind. WRONG.

I want that long-term goal to be so embedded in my mind, that I never lose sight of it. EVER. […]

Embed that long-term goal in your mind. Burn it into your soul. Think about it, write about it, talk about it. Hang it up on your wall. […] Every day: Do something that moves you t toward that goal — that keeps that goal alive and in sight and in focus.

Also, check out Jocko’s special episode on the Tim Ferris Show where he shares topics from his book such as success mindsets, overcoming laziness and procrastination, behaviors that lead to failure, and more. I love his advice for how to stop procrastinating.

“It is All. On. You.”