Meta Work vs Doing the Work

There are 4 necessary steps to doing work that matters:

  • Identify
  • Plan
  • Act
  • Celebrate

Only one of those steps is actually doing the work. The other 3 are what we call “meta work”.

Meta work is the work that happens before and after the work itself. If you are cooking dinner, meta work is doing your meal planning and going grocery shopping and then cleaning up after dinner. If you are writing an article, meta work is scheduling your writing time and topic.

There are so many times when we feel like meta work is a waste of our time. Planning, meetings, reviews, etc… why bother!? Let me get to work!

To be sure, we never want the meta work to get in the way. But neither can we skip it. When you look at the meta work in context of the bigger picture, you can instantly see that it is necessary. You cannot skip any of the steps or else you will short-circuit the whole process. But, of course, neither should you spend too much time on the meta steps.

Meta Work vs Doing the Work

This Business Goes to Eleven

Something fun happened earlier this week: Monday was the 11-year anniversary of when I quit my job and began blogging for a living!

On Monday, I walked into the office and proudly exclaimed that this business goes to 11! I’ve been waiting a decade to tell that joke, yet all I got were blank stares from my team. (They were, of course, promptly fired.)

For any of you long-time readers, you may remember how I used to support my work through a $3 / month subscription to get access to the private “Shawn Today” podcast. Wow. Those were the days…

Over the past 11 years, so much has changed! It’s no longer just me, sitting down at my desk to write and publish for my blog. There is a team of us now, and I absolutely love getting to work with them!

We celebrated on Monday with a dozen Crumbl Cookies (if you know, you know) as we spent the day ideating, brainstorming, and organizing a lot of new initiatives around our 4-Focus Method and the next big update to Focus Academy and beyond.

This Business Goes to Eleven

Alternative Ways to Spend 5 Minutes of Awkward Downtime

A few weeks ago, as our latest Focus Academy cohort was wrapping up, one of the members asked in the Slack group about how to spend time during the “down moments” of his work day when there was roughly 5 or 10 minutes with nothing to do.

Perhaps you’ve experienced just such an awkward window of time like this — such as in-between Zoom meetings or something. And so, allow me to suggest a few ways to spend those few minutes…

  • If you Use Day One scroll through your Day One timeline and read a previous journal entry.
  • Browse some old photos and memories.
  • Launch Day One (or any other journal you have) and log how you’ve spent your time so far for the day. Doing this for a few weeks can also be super helpful for getting a perspective of where your time and energy are being spent.
  • Write down 3 new ideas. These could be articles you want to write, business ideas, places you want to visit or photograph, topics you want to research, date ideas for you and your spouse, gift ideas for a friend, etc. These ideas never have to to be acted on — the point isn’t to generate a to-do list, but rather to exercise your mind. Ideation and creativity are muscles, and the more we exercise them the stronger they get.
  • Send a text message to a friend or family member to tell them how awesome they are.
  • Stand up and do some stretching / body movement.

Boredom is Good (not bad)

Speaking of ways to spend that awkward downtime, one of the reasons to consider avoiding email and social media is that it can help you to reduce the amount of “novel stimuli” that you let in to your day-to-day life. (This was a main takeaway from my interview with Cal Newport)

When you have a strong baseline level of noise in all the little moments of your life, it makes it more difficult to focus on the task at hand when you’re doing deep work. Because, in short, you’re training your brain that boredom is bad.

Don’t train your brain to think boredom is bad! My 8-year-old is convinced that being bored is the Worst Thing Ever. But boredom is fine! If we “eject” every time we are bored then then it will, in turn, hinder us from being able to focus for extended periods of time.

Alternative Ways to Spend 5 Minutes of Awkward Downtime

Eliminate Small Decisions

A small decision is something trivial:

  • What to have for breakfast
  • What to wear
  • When to begin work
  • When to take your lunch break
  • Etc.

Many of these small decisions can be automated and routinized by deciding in advance… thus, effectively removing them as unique decisions you have to make every single day.

By automating your small decisions and eliminating them from your life, you can save your much-needed energy in order to allow for a greater capacity to focus on the bigger decisions of your day-to-day life and the more challenging problems you are trying to solve.

“You can’t be going through the day distracted by trivia.”

Years ago, in an interview with Vanity Fair, President Obama shared why he would only wear gray or blue suits:

You’ll see I wear only gray or blue suits. I’m trying to pare down decisions. I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make. You need to focus your decision-making energy.

You need to routinize yourself. You can’t be going through the day distracted by trivia.

Eliminate Small Decisions

Some favorite games at “Casa Blanca”

Back in December, several people got Covid at my boys’ school, and so everyone ended up with a 4-week-long holiday break over December and January. And so, with our boys home for a month solid, we spent a lot of time playing games over the holidays. We are a gaming family anyway, but we definitely got into some new ones.

Here are some of our favorites right now:

  • Root: This is the top game at our house right now (thanks, Mike!). It feels like Settlers of Catan meets Risk. This is definitely more advanced and in-depth — thus my younger two boys (5 and 8) struggle and I usually have to help them with their turns, but they love the gameplay anyway. My 10 yo is great at it and quickly picked up the mechanics and strategy.

  • Skyjoe: Perfect for casual game night with anyone at just about any age.

  • Bang: This has been our family favorite for a several years now. There are several expansion packs as well, and about once every six months we will get a new expansion.

  • Bananagrams: We will often sneak in a round of Bananagrams before bedtime, or during lunch.

  • Crew: If you like card games such as hearts, spades, etc. Then you’ll enjoy this.

  • (Bonus) Dominion: This is a deck-building card game that my family got into back before we all started having kids. We got so many of the expansion decks that I had to build my own custom card box. Anyway… we haven’t played it in ages, but listing out all these other games reminded me how much fun Dominion is.

Some favorite games at “Casa Blanca”

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