What Drew Me to Infinite Canvas Whiteboard Apps

On the west wall of my office is a giant whiteboard. I use it often, but there are times when I want to use my iPad instead. And with the new iPad Pro and its #2 Pencil, I’m finally interested in a good whiteboarding app.

Apps that relied on the Apple Pencil never really stuck for me because I rarely had my Apple Pencil nearby, and if it was nearby it was probably out of battery. As you’ve probably heard a thousand times already, that all changed with the new iPad and the new Apple Pencil.

Now, I’ve long been a fan of Paper by 53 (though it’s now Paper by WeTransfer) for drawing and sketching. I’ve used it many times to draw visuals to accompany my articles from time to time. But the Paper app hits its limits when you start using it to flesh out bigger ideas and mind maps.

For a few weeks during the Christmas holiday I was checking out different whiteboard apps for iPad. (Yes, this was how I spent my free time during my Christmas break and I don’t regret a moment of it.)

I did a bit of my own research, plus asked people on Twitter what they use, and there were a few apps worth mentioning. The two which stood out to me the most were Thoughts and Concepts.

Thoughts

What’s great about Thoughts is how simple and straightforward it is. This app is very easy to use.

There are only 3 tools: a black pen, a color pen, and an eraser. It also has both a light and dark theme. And there is an iPhone app that it syncs with. Thoughts is just a $2.99 one-time purchase to get the app and you’re set.

For me, one big drawback to Thoughts is that you can’t import any types of media onto your canvas. Meaning your whiteboard canvas can’t include images, links, and the like.

Another tidbit which took me a while to get used to is that the pen size is relative. When you’re writing and drawing with the pen, it’s always the same visual point size no matter what “zoom” level you are at. At first this bugged me, as I wanted everything to be the exact same, but I then began to acclimate to it and it actually makes sense given the way Thoughts works.

Thoughts not only has an infinite canvas, it also has infinite zoom. And, what’s funny but not funny about that is that I actually lost my document. I literally lost some work of mine by zooming out too far. It disappeared in the view and I tried zooming back in but must have been off-center and from there I completely lost my bearings and I literally couldn’t figure out where my drawing went. I lost it to the abyss.

So all that to say about Thoughts: it is pretty great because it’s so simple. You just launch the app and get to work. But for me, I found it to be too simple for my ideal workflow. I want to be able to drop in photos, screenshots, text, links, and also have a bit more control over the tools I’m using.

Concepts

The other whiteboarding app I was most drawn to (ha!) was Concepts.

Over on MacStories, John Voorhees saved me a whole lot of time by writing this in-depth review of Concepts before I could write one of my own. (Thanks, John!)

John’s and my use-cases and sentiments are nearly identical. I have no need for drawing or sketching or illustrating. But I do love to be able to quickly visualize bigger ideas / projects into something that make sense. And while there are some excellend mind mapping apps for the iPad, I prefer the free-form drawing nature of a whiteboarding app for the brainstorming and ideation process.

… I realized that the primary value of an app like Concepts lies in helping users record and refine their ideas. Whether your ideas result in something like [Yarrow] Cheney’s whimsical concept art for The Grinch or my messy soup of notes, screenshots, and highlighting, the core utility of Concepts, which is right there in its name, is the way it facilitates the exploration of ideas. That’s an important distinction that makes Concepts an appropriate choice for iPad users regardless of whether you’re an artist.

I haven’t yet spent as much time using Concepts as John has, and so his review taught me a few tips and tricks. And, like John, what I love about the Concepts app is how beautiful and simple it is, and yet how much power lies under the hood.

Compared to the Thoughts app, Concepts still gives you an infinite canvas that can go in any direction you like, but you don’t have complete freedom to zoom in / out forever and thus lose your work to the abyss. Additionally, Concepts puts little arrow darts on the edges of the screen, pointing in the direction that you have any drawings or media. Helping you stay oriented.

Using a whiteboard app like Concepts is definitely a scenario where the 12.9 iPad Pro would shine and be an excellent tool over the 11. But since I can zoom and scroll the canvas, I don’t feel hindered or cramped using the 11-inch iPad Pro.

All in all, the power and flexibility of an infinite canvas, whiteboarding app can be liberating to your ideas. Having both Concepts and the new Apple Pencil at my fingertips is a fantastic combination that has become a go-to in my workflow.

What Drew Me to Infinite Canvas Whiteboard Apps

Initial Photos and Thoughts From My First Live Event

Yesterday we hosted our very first Live workshop for The Focus Course!

We had 32 people here in Kansas City and I led them all through the Focus Course. It was so much fun! And I am so tired!

I’ll be writing quite a bit more about the event in the weeks to come, but I wanted to share a few initial thoughts from my perspective.

For starters, the whole event went just about perfectly! (Thank you Isaac and Joanna!!)

This was our first live event of this scale and polish. It was the content of the Focus Course combined with a live presentation of my whole ethos behind Delight is in the Details. A lot of group training events like this are rich in content but poor in delightful little details. I wanted to do things a bit differently, and seeing it all come together it was clearly worth the effort.

And speaking of the content…

It was so incredible for me to work in person with people and witness as the dots connected and light bulbs went off for them as we all went through The Focus Course. It was amazing to watch people “get it”… From getting their life vision figured out, to finally understanding how habits and scheduling can help them live a better life. Or getting a breakthrough in goal setting, or understating the value of margin. All throughout the day people were getting these little moments of revelation, and it was an honor to be a part of that process and to see it happen in person.

This morning I woke up, and I wrote this in my journal:

“If it is true that health in one area of your life brings about greater health in the other areas… and if it is true that when we align our values with our calendar we can reach our greatest potential with the most joy in the process… and if it is true that we have a finite amount of mental energy within any given day and we need help to keep our life on track…. if those things are true, then therein lies the power of a focused life. Because a focused life enables those things.”

This event was life changing. Can’t wait for the next one!

Initial Photos and Thoughts From My First Live Event

More Blurry Photos

A few weeks ago when I was in downtown Kansas City, I was shooting some photos and my Leica was missing focus a few times. The photos came out blurry, but I really love the aesthetic.

So last week when I was out for a friend’s birthday, I took the Leica of course, but this time I took shots that were intentionally blurry.

These photos are of a few great places here in Kansas City. Come visit and I’ll tell you all about them.

More Blurry Photos

Creating Without Overthinking

Last week I was driving home, and I wanted to send a quick voice message to my friend Sean McCabe. He’s been posting some awesome and fun stuff the past few weeks and it has inspired me and helped me stay motivated with my own desire to write more, here, at shawnblanc.net, in 2019.

Well, Sean took my 60-second voice message and he turned it into this cool little animated snippet. Check it out:

On his Instagram account, he also shared three takeaways from this little interaction turned video.

  1. When you show up, you inspire others to do the same. ⁣
  2. Opportunities to create content are all around you.⁣ ⁣
  3. A little encouragement goes a long way.

And then I have a takeaway of my own:

Be intentional about engaging in non-disembodied communication.



In a recent episode of Jocelyn K. Glei’s podcast, she interviewed Cal Newport. And Cal shared about how he views all communication and interaction as either “real” or “not real”. Communication done in person or over the phone is real. Communication done via texting, DMing, etc. is not real.



And it got me thinking that the friends and family members I have the deepest connection with are those whom I talk to on the phone or spend face-to-face time with. Not necessarily those whom I iMessage the most.



And so, something I’ve been doing for the past few months has been to send my friends these voice memos to tell them how awesome they are. It’s not quite as awesome as a phone call (because it’s still just me monologuing), but it’s better than a disembodied text message.

Creating Without Overthinking

Blurry Kansas City

Kansas City Power Light Leica Q Street Photgraphy

Kansas City Power Light Leica Q Street Photgraphy

I was recently downtown in Kansas City’s Power and Light district to go see the new Spider-Man movie (which was absolutely amazing).

Of course I took the Leica Q with me to snap some nighttime shots of the area.

Several of the shots missed focus, but I love how they turned out.

You can download a high-res version of the above two images here and here.

Blurry Kansas City

iOS Shortcut for Importing Photos into Lightroom

Speaking of very simple shortcuts, the latest update to Adobe Lightroom CC now has support for the Shortcuts app. It’s not much support, but it’s exactly what I wanted for my iPad photography workflow.

Basically the only option you have is that you can import photos into Lightroom and apply a filter to those photos if you want.

This is perfect for me because my iPad photography workflow is already such that I import photos from my Leica Q onto the iPad Photos app, and then I cull my list from there. Then, what I used to do was open up the Lightroom app and import photos. But being able to select a group of photos right within the iOS Photos app and can send those photos directly to Lightroom is much easier and more intuitive for me.

So I created a shortcut that lets me do exactly that:

How I use it that I first select one or more photos, then I tap the iOS Share sheet, I tap the Shortcuts and select my Send to Lightroom shortcut. The photos are then sent to Lightroom and the app is opened up for me to begin editing.

Download the Shortcut here.

Note: You could also create a shortcut that automatically grabs all the photos from a recent import, or from a specific album or something. But since I don’t do my photo culling inside Lightroom, I prefer to choose the specific images I want to send into Lightroom for editing.

iOS Shortcut for Importing Photos into Lightroom

My Travel Packing List Shortcut

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 when I’m done I don’t have to worry if I forgot about anything.

I used to keep my packing list in the Apple Notes app. It was easy to use because you could toggle the to-do state of the whole list by selecting all items and then tapping the “checkbox icon” in order to uncheck them in one fell swoop so you can start over with the list.

But with iOS 12, I thought it’d be nice to set up a Shortcut for this instead.

So I built a very simple Shortcut that will create a new note for me with my packing list ready to go.

The way the Shortcut works is very simple: It takes a block of pre-written text (my packing list that I wrote) and then passes it into Bear as a new note filled with check-box items.

The reason I prefer to have the list created in Bear is because then, once I’m done packing, I can just delete the note.

One important thing to note when building this shortcut is that you want to write your list text in Bear’s flavor of Markdown so that it will create your packing list as to-do items so you can check them off as you pack them.

That syntax looks like this:

- [ ] ITEM A
- [ ] ITEM B
- [ ] ITEM C

Download the Shortcut Here.

My Travel Packing List Shortcut

On the Necessity of Rest and Relaxation

Greg McKeown, from his book, Essentialism:

If you believe being overly busy and overextended is evidence of productivity, then you probably believe that creating space to explore, think, and reflect should be kept to a minimum. Yet these very activities are the antidote to the nonessential busyness that infects so many of us. Rather than trivial diversions, they are critical to distinguishing what is actually a trivial diversion from what is truly essential.

On the Necessity of Rest and Relaxation

Snow Day

Leica Q Snow Photos

Leica Q Snow Photos

Leica Q Snow Photos

Leica Q Snow Photos

Leica Q Snow Photos

This morning, we woke up to a dark and cold house with about 10-inches of snow outside. The storm had knocked out the power to our neighborhood sometime in the middle of the night.

I made some “coffee” in the french press by heating up the water on our gas stove (lit with a match) and then “grinding” the coffee beans by putting them into a zip lock bag and crushing them with a rolling pin.

We all spent the morning building Legos and doing crossword puzzles. For a few hours we had no heat, but I discovered that our fireplace (which has an eclectic pilot) also has a battery backup. So I was able to get it started and that was definitely the highlight of our morning.

Alas, around noon, the power came back on.

Snow Day

A Review of the Clear Habit Journal

Clear Habit Journal

A few days ago I received my pre-ordered copy of the new Clear Habit Journal.

This notebook is a collaboration between some good friends of mine: Joey and Adam at Baron Fig and James Clear.

I have used a Baron Fig notebook just about every single day for the past five years — it’s a central tool in my Hybrid Productivity Method.

So needless to say, I was wildly excited to check out this new notebook. I may or may not have completely geeked out last Saturday when my copy arrived.

The design of this new notebook is absolutely fantastic! I love the feel, the colors, the type, the layout, the gold foil stamp on the front. Everything about this notebook just screams quality and attention to detail.

What I also love about the Habit Journal is how simple it is. For me, as a hard and fast notebook user, the Clear Habit Journal is exactly the right mix of useful templates with open, blank pages.

In the front of the Journal is an “Index” spread followed by a “daily log” section where you write down one line per day.

The Index is where you build your own table of contents as you go, writing down any important sections and the page number(s) they’re on. I do this in all my journals, so it’s great to have it pre-templated already.

The One Line Per Day section is absolutely brilliant. You choose your own writing prompt, and then have one line to answer that prompt each day. There are 31 lines per page, and 12 pages. So you get a section of your journal that has an easy-to-read summary of your entire year.

Clear Habit Journal

Your daily prompt can be whatever you want it to be. For January my prompt is “Highlight of the Day”. But you could do anything. Such as your Most Important Task, or Something You’re Grateful For, or Something You Learned, etc.

In the back of the Journal are two more sections. A “Habit Tracker” and a “Toolkit” section.

The Habit Tracker is nice and simple. You simply write down the habit / routine that you are workin on and then you check the box that corresponds with the day of the month.

Having clarity about your goals for the year is critical. And then tracking your progress on your goals is what turns them into reality.

As I’ve mentioned in previous blog posts, there are two new routines I’m focusing on this year: more time reading and learning and more time writing and editing. So I have my normal routines that I already track, which include my workouts and personal prayer times, and now I also am tracking time spent reading, writing, and editing.

Clear Habit Journal

Then there is the Toolkit section which has some ideas and instructions for how to use the 167 dot-grid pages that comprise the bulk of the journal.

James wrote out several suggestions for how to make better decisions, how to think more clearly, how to prioritize things, how to be productive, how to log your workouts and/or your diet, etc.

One of the pages is on how to make smarter decisions by writing out your prediction, the decision, and then reviewing it again at a later date. That is a brand-new approach for me and look forward to implementing it.

There are other helpful little details as well. Every page is numbered, there is a pocket in the very back cover, there are two bookmark ribbons, and the Habit Tracking pages are perforated so you can remove them if you want.

All in all, the Clear Habit Journal is a great mix of helpful templates and then blank space. It’s useful and adaptable. And it fits exactly how I do and want to use a notebook. I really love this notebook.

But… (and this is a very big but)

There is one — ahem — large problem: The size of notebook itself.

My singular frustration is that the Journal comes in only one size: the normal-sized, “Flagship” Baron Fig.

I have used many of this sized notebooks over the years. And so I know from my years of experience that this sized Baron Fig will last me about 6-9 months at most. However, the way that the Clear Habit Journal is set up, you would ideally use it for a full year because it has 12 months worth of daily prompts in the front and 12 months worth of habit tracking in the back.

In early 2017 I began using the new “jumbo” size Baron Fig and I absolutely love it. Not only do I love the largest pages because they give more room to write and draw and just spread out my ideas. The bigger size pages also make it so that a Jumbo notebook lasts me more than a full year.

I decided to throw my gripe out the window, and began using the Clear Habit Journal for a few days. But I just couldn’t do it. I kept thinking about how once August got here I’d be out of the dot-grid pages and would have to start a new notebook, and my year’s worth of one-line prompts and habit tracking would have to either be migrated or split up.

But then, also, the smaller pages just felt too crowded. I really missed the extra real estate to let my writing and ideas breath and spread out.

So, alas, I ended up switching back to my Jumbo size notebook. But I brought with me some of the ideas and design elements from the Clear Habit Journal (thanks, James!) and I am incorporating those elements into my own notebook to improve the way I use the jumbo Baron Fig.

Basically what I’m doing is combining the daily prompts and the habit tracker into a single spread that looks like this:

Bullet Journal Daily Habit Tracking

Thanks to the larger size of the Jumbo Baron Fig, I have space to fit the “one line per day” prompt and also track up to 5 or 6 daily habits… all in one spot. I reserved 12 pages toward the front of my Jumbo Baron Fig notebook to accommodate a page like this for each of the 12 months of the year.

Clear Habit Journal

One huge advantage of a notebook like the Clear Habit Journal is that a lot of the template design work is done for you. This can save a lot of time and mental energy. (I, for instance, spent about 90 minutes last night manually creating the new index page, monthly habit tracking page, and hand writing in the page numbers for my Jumbo notebook.)

I am sad that I won’t be using the Clear Habit Journal, because it is such an excellent product. But at the end of the day the size turned out to be a deal breaker for me.

But I am probably more the exception here. I know that there are many people who prefer Baron Fig’s traditionally-sized flagship notebooks. And then I heartily recommend the Clear Habit Journal. It’s fantastic. And if they ever make this notebook in the Jumbo size then I’ll be the first in line to get one.

A Review of the Clear Habit Journal

Regret vs Celebration

You’re probably very aware of just how challenging it is to try and keep up with multiple areas of your life all at the same time. Between your relationships, health, finances, work, hobbies, and personal time … how do you get it all done?

The truth is you can’t. Or at least, you can’t get it all done at the same time.

I love how David Allen says that you can do anything you want but you can’t do everything you want. And that is an extremely liberating mindset.

It is all too easy to feel regret over not having gotten everything done during a certain timeframe. (Such as at the end of a calendar year.)

But depending on what it is you’re feeling regret over, perhaps you should turn that regret into celebration instead.

Now, if someone had taken a significant amount of their time and squandered it on something that didn’t even matter to them, then, well, yes, I would regret that as well. That is a regret in having neglected to do something awesome by do something lesser-than instead.

But perhaps you’ve had to compromise something good so that you could do something great. Perhaps you didn’t get your book idea written last year because your free time was spent focusing on your family or your health…

You probably had several great things you wanted to do, but had to pick just a few of them. If so, then consider thinking of it from a place of celebration.

Instead of feeling regret over what you didn’t do, celebrate what you did do.

Regret vs Celebration

How I Approach My New Year Goals

Don’t go crazy.

I approach my New Year Goals by first looking at the things in my life that are working well and the things that are not.

Then I choose a few small course corrections that will help move me more in the direction I want to go.

I do not overhaul my life on January first. Instead, I pick a few things that I know I can stick with. The compounding impact of small routines done regularly is so much more powerful than that one giant event.

Here are two actual examples for me in 2019 — one related to health and the other related to writing.

I have already been focusing quite a bit on my physical health in 2018. I finished out the year with 90 days in a row of perfect activity on my Apple Watch. I did that by focusing on one thing: doing one workout every single day.

Now that my workout routine has settled in, I’ll be taking the next step by also getting more focused on my diet. I don’t yet have the specifics, but I do know that I will begin taking small steps to improve what I eat to help give me more energy and long-term health beyond what I am currently eating.

My second example is with writing. In 2018 I spent quite a bit of time writing every day. But very little of my writing got published here to this site and, to be candid, that bums me out.

The slow publishing cadence here is not for shortage of time or ideas. I take time every day to write. And in my “ideas” folder in Ulysses has 213 notes that total up to roughly 35,000 words!

So the bottleneck with publishing to my site is that I have not been taking the time to turn my ideas and notes into edited blog posts that I can publish.

So, as I move into 2019, one thing I’ll be focusing on more is to get my writing out here onto the blog. Thus, my focus will be to spend at least 15 minutes per day editing my ideas and notes, so as to turn them into published posts.

While I’m not yet committing to a specific cadence of output here on this site, between you and me, I’d like to publish 100 posts in 2019 with one going up every Tuesday and Thursday.

How I Approach My New Year Goals

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?