Noise Cancelling Headphone Review Showdown: Sony XM3 vs B&O H9i

A few months ago I bought two pairs of noise-cancelling headphones:

  1. Sony XM3
  2. B&O H9i

First of all, noise-cancelling headphones are amazing! Where have these things been all my life?

Secondly, it’s safe to say that both of these headphones are fantastic.

These are arguably the two best pairs of noise cancelling headphones on the planet right now.

When I set out to get a pair of headphones, all I wanted was:

  1. Incredible sound.
  2. Something that would be comfortable to wear for several hours in a row.
  3. Something that could cancel out annoying background noise of people talking and kids running around in the next room.

I read tons of reviews. Watched all sorts of comparison videos. Asked around to different friends who already had headphones of their own. Even spoke directly with my friend Marius who wrote our own comparison review of these same headphones for an article on The Sweet Setup.

Now, what I should have done was simply pick one of the above two pairs of headphones and move on with my life.

But no. for whatever reason, I couldn’t just take other people’s words for it. I couldn’t just pick one and trust that it’d be great. I had to compare them for myself… Whatchagonnado?

I spent 29 days comparing them both and using them both. And to be honest, these two headphones are pretty much neck and neck.

There are subtle differences between the two. But the differences are so small that no normal person should bother themselves taking the time to obsessing over the small details between these two sets of headphones.

But, let’s be honest. We’re not here because we’re normal.

No, we’re here because we’re nerds who have been known to obsess over the details that nobody else may notice.

So, okay then. Let’s dive in.

Sound

I like a clear sound profile with full bass. And this is pretty much what the B&O headphones sound like out of the box, though I like the bass turned up a bit more.

After listening back and forth between a bunch of my favorite albums with both the B&Os and the Sonys, I think the sound quality is just about equal between the two. And by that, what I mean is that both of these headphones sound amazing and you will be able to EQ either of them to sound exactly how you prefer.

Both headphones come with an iOS app that allows you to adjust the EQ and sound profile. The Sony app has much more control and lets you really fine-tune the EQ to get exactly the sound profile you want.

The B&O app leaves much to be desired in terms of setting your EQ. They call it “ToneTouch” and basically all you can do is move an orb around inside a bigger orb to find a balance between “Warm”, “Excited”, “Relaxed”, and “Bright”. Which I’m honestly not even sure what those mean.

However, between the iOS Music EQ presets and the B&O Sound Profile settings, I’m able to get a pretty great EQ mix for the H9i.

Above screenshots: I have my iOS Music App EQ set to “Classical” and the B&O app’s ToneTouch set to the “Bass” preset, which puts the orb between pretty warm and excited. (Don’t look at me; I didn’t choose those labels.)

To adjust your EQ presets in the iOS Music app, go to the Settings app → Music → EQ.

I was curious what the actual Classical preset was doing. So, I went to Apple Music app on my Mac, where you can select a preset but then also adjust the individual levels. This is what the Classical preset levels look like on Mac:

Above: I like the Classical preset on iOS because (assuming it’s the same as on the Mac) it boosts both the bass and the treble. I wish I could push the highs up a bit more, but this is good enough.




Noise Cancelling

Neither of the headphones eliminate all noise. I had heard such crazy reviews and testimonials (especially regarding the Sonys) that I somewhat expected them to eliminate the sound in a room down to nothing at all. And, sadly, while they do work well they don’t work that well.

When comparing them side by side the Sonys were somewhat better for noise cancelling. Both sets of headphones cancelled out the same types of sounds — but the Sonys seemed to reduce ambient sounds by a few more decibels than the B&Os.

An example of a real-world use: About a month ago we had a late-season snow storm, and around 10 in the morning my neighbor got his snow blower out in order to clear his driveway. My office window is about 30 feet from my neighbor’s driveway. His gas-powered snow blower sounds like a lawn mower. I put my headphones on and I could still hear the engine gurgling. But then, I turned on the noise cancelling and I literally could not hear the snow blower at all. Pretty amazing.

Lastly, one thing that is important for me is that neither of the headphones cause any sense of pressure on the ear-drum (like the Bose Quiet Comfort headphones do).

Comfort

For me, the comfort issue ultimately comes down to the headband padding.

Alas, I don’t have much hair left on the top of my head, and what is left I keep pretty short. So whatever headphones I wear, it helps if there is extra padding on the headphone band.

In this regard, the Sony headband is just a bit softer than that of the B&O, thus making the Sonys a bit more comfortable. But for long-term usage, it didn’t really seem to matter.

After 3-4 hours of wearing either pair of headphones, I will get a bit of discomfort at the crown of my head where the headband rests. And so, alas, if I had more hair then I think maybe this wouldn’t be an issue for me.

Build and Style

No comparison here. The B&O are gorgeous, high-quality, and built to last.

The Sonys look nice and have some cool brass accents, but they also look more generic; they don’t have the quality feel that the B&Os do.

I also can speak to the overall quality of B&O in general.

I have a different, 4-year-old pair of B&O H7 headphones that I have used constantly since I bought them in 2015. I have traveled with them all over the country — never once putting them in a case — and they still look and sound brand new. The only reason I am “upgrading” to a new pair of headphones is because I wanted to get active noise cancelling.

Bluetooth Pairing

Look. If your headphones don’t support multi-device pairing then they’re doing it wrong.

Tell me if this sounds familiar:

  • You sit down at your Mac or iPad to do some work.
  • You put on your headphones or AirPods.
  • But they pair with your iPhone that’s in your pocket.
  • So you go to the settings app on your aforementioned Mac or iPad and get your headhones to pair with the device you’re actually in front of.
  • Repeat every day.

Imagine instead a scenario where you sit down to do some work, you put on your headphones, and they are automatically paired with the device you’re using. Because they can pair with multiple devices at once! I can tell you: it’s wonderful.

The B&O H9i headphones can be paired with multiple devices at the same time. When I turn them on, they simultaneously pair and connect with my iPad and my iPhone. Then, whatever device I play music from, or watch a video from, etc. They just work.

I didn’t realize how incredibly helpful and frictionless this was until experiencing it. In fact, after having this “always connected / it just works” experience with the B&O headphones it has made my AirPods feel outdated. (I can’t believe Apple didn’t include multi-device pairing in the recent AirPod update.)

In contrast, the Sony headphones can only be actively paired with one device at a time. Like an animal.

Other Tidbits

  • The B&Os have an accelerometer feature where they can pause your music if you take the headphones off, and then they un-pause the music when you put your headphones back on. However, in my usage, it was always getting false positives and it was super annoying. Fortunately you can disable the feature — though it’s an incredibly obscure process that you would never know without reading the manual or searching for a solution. I’m not sure why this isn’t at least a toggle within the iOS app.

  • The stated battery life on the Sony is 30 hours compared to 18 hours for the B&Os. I never really did an in-depth test of the batter usage. But since February I can only recall one or two times that I’ve charged the B&O headphones, and I wear them for a few hours every workday. So, I guess what I’m trying to say is that they get plenty amazing battery life for me.

  • USB-C! Yay. One less cable that I have to carry around and use. And it means my iPad can charge them.

  • The Sony headphones fold up and collapse better than the B&O headphones which, well, don’t really fold up at all. The Sonys also come with a nice, hard-shell carrying case. The B&Os come with a cloth bag.







My Pick: The B&O H9i

After all my comparing and side-by-side usage, I went with the B&Os.

To sum it all up for my preference as to why:

The B&Os sound better to me. They are full, with lots of clear bass while also having a natural and clean sound.

The B&O headphones have a much better build quality than the Sonys. Plus, they look cooler.

While I do think the Sonys had better noise cancelling, it wasn’t enough to tip the scales.

And, of course, there is the fact that the B&Os can be paired with multiple devices at the same time! As I said in this section above, multi-device pairing removes a huge point of daily friction which ended up being one of the big things that pushed these headphones to get the win.

If you’re on the hunt for the best pair of noise cancelling headphones you can buy, then my suggestion is that you get the B&O H9i and enjoy.

Noise Cancelling Headphone Review Showdown: Sony XM3 vs B&O H9i

Todd Henry’s Challenge Stability Matrix

Todd Henry Herding Tigers Workshop

Last week my production manager, Isaac, and I went to a workshop hosted by Todd Henry. And it was absolutely incredible.

(I’ll tell you more about the workshop in just a second.)

Todd is the author of Accidental Creative and an absolute inspiration to me personally. He does so well at articulating the challenges of creative life while offering truly helpful solutions. A few years ago I was able to connect with Todd for an interview discussing how to thrive under creative pressure, how to stay creatively focused, and the “myth” of work-life balance.

Todd’s workshop here in Kansas City was from on his book most-recent, Herding Tigers, which is all about leadership. (Todd has an online course version here.)

Specifically, the workshop hit on the challenges of leading a creative team.

Since the creative process is largely opaque — with a lot of complexity and intricacies that aren’t always obvious or measurable — then there can be a natural pressure and strain within the workplace.

Needless to say, I took copious notes.

So. Many. Notes.

One thing I especially loved, which was brand new to me, was the Challenge / Stability Matrix.

As a leader, you need to ensure that your company, your team, and each person within your team has the proper balance of challenging work plus stability.

This balance is unique for each team, as well as unique for each person.

You have your own needs and definitions for work that you consider challenging. And you also have your own different needs for what helps you feel stable and supported to do that work.

As you increase a team members challenges at work, you also need to increase their stability. Otherwise people will feel as if you are expecting things from them without giving them the resources they need. They will feel angry.

With the proper balance of challenge and stability, then people will be able to thrive.

Todd Henry Challenge Stability Matrix

This balance of challenge and stability is variable for every organization as well as every person on your team….

If someone on your team often acts irrationally angry, then perhaps they don’t have enough stability.

Or if someone is always asking for more work, then perhaps they are not being challenged enough.

Consider yourself, your co-workers, those you lead, and ask yourself if there is the proper blend of challenging work along with the stability needed to be able to thrive.

Todd Henry’s Challenge Stability Matrix

Productivity and Promises

Your productivity and your moral character are not intertwined.

Meaning: Getting things done does not make you a good or better person. And, conversely, failing to be “productive” does not make you a bad person.

Now…

There is, of course, a connection between your character and your follow-through.

If you tell someone that you will do something, or if you commit to something, then, of course, you want to follow through on your commitment. You want to keep your promises.

So, in that way, productivity is a means by which we can consistently follow through on our word and our commitments.

But productivity can only be connected to our moral character in as much as it helps us to be the people we have set out to be.

But this has gotten blurry. Because many “productive type things” get thrust upon us by other people. People who have expectations which they’ve projected upon us without our consent!

They want us to reply to their email within their desired timeframe. Or they want us to be available on Slack when they need us. Or whatever.

And then they have the audacity to be disappointed at us when we do not meet their unfair and un-agreed-upon expectations of what they consider to be “productive behavior”.

Well, shame on them. We had better things to do.

Productivity and Promises

An Excellent Sugar-Free BBQ Rub Recipe

Here at the Blanc house, we love to grill. We’re also trying to cut out sugar from our diet. Alas, brown sugar is one of the key ingredients in a good BBQ dry rub. So I made my own that is sugar free, and I think it turned out excellent.

But! Before I get ahead of myself… I’d first like to insert a few thousand words about traveling and discovering my inner chef. Then, I’d like to say something about the history of this recipe and how it has brought my family together in ways we never thought possible.

Sadly, I didn’t capture any photos of the food itself after being cooked. But I do have this neat iPhone photo of the spice jar I bought at Target filled with the spices.

Sugar-Free BBQ Rub

Okay. All joking aside, here’s the recipe. Enjoy!

The Recipe:

  • 2.5 Tablespoons Paprika
  • 1.5 Tablespoons Chili Powder
  • 1 Tablespoon Kosher Salt
  • 1 Tablespoon Garlic Powder
  • 1 Tablespoon Oregano
  • 1.5 Tablespoons Rosemary
  • 5 teaspoons Mustard Powder
  • 1 teaspoon Cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon Nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon Celery Salt
  • 2 teaspoons Ground Pepper
  • 2/3 teaspoon Cayenne Pepper

Directions: Put all the ingredients into a jar or whatever, mix them up, and use liberally as a dry rub or marinade before and during cooking. Goes great with chicken, beef, and pork.

An Excellent Sugar-Free BBQ Rub Recipe

After 191 Workouts in a Row, Here are Three Things That Have Helped Me

Six months and nine days ago it was the first of October 2018 and I decided to do a workout every single day for the whole month. And I’ve been able to keep that streak going. According to the activity app in my phone I am up to 191 workouts in a row so far…

As I shared with newsletter subscribers back in early December when I was just 70 workouts in, there are a few things that have helped me to keep this going. Here they are, revisited after an additional 120 workouts…

  • Just 15 minutes per day. I’ve discovered that I don’t have to focus on closing all my rings. Instead, all I have to do is get in a single, 15-minute workout. With that, pretty much everything else takes care of itself and I am almost certain to close all my rings.

  • Having a plan: By knowing when and where I am going to work out each day, I am far more likely to actually show up. (This goes for anything, by the way: from writing, to practicing basketball, to reading with your kids.) Knowing the when and where takes out all the stress and procrastination — all that’s left is to show up.

  • Accountability: I’ve got two forms of accountability: (1) my twice-weekly spin class and (2) my Apple Watch friends. Having these two groups of folks that expect me to show up is a pretty great motivator to help me actually show up consistently when I’m not feeling it.

    (Also, the achiever in me does not want to break the chain of all those closed rings and green dots on my Activity app.)

When I first began, it took a lot of mental energy to do a workout every single day. It was all I thought about — and it felt super inconvenient. It felt disruptive to my whole day.

However…

If you choose the right actions long enough, they begin to choose you back.

At first, you are pushing yourself toward your healthy habits. But then, after a while, your healthy habits begin to pull you forward.

After 191 Workouts in a Row, Here are Three Things That Have Helped Me

Everything Requires Maintenance


A few months ago I bought one of the best drip coffee makers in the world.

Truly, as I was walking out of the store with box in hand, four — (4!) — different people stopped me to say how excited or how jealous they were that I was taking this coffee machine home.

Long-time readers of this site will know that I am giant coffee nerd. Probably the worst thing you can buy me is anything related to coffee. Chances are good that I’ve already seen it, researched it, bought it, used it, and have since moved on to something else.

Over the years my coffee shelf has been home to a V-60, French Press, Espro Press, AeroPress, Kalita Wave, Kone Brewing system, Moka pot, Siphon, and Clever dripper (to name a few).

After well over a solid decade of manual coffee making at home I finally aged out. I have moved to an automatic drip coffee maker. Gasp!

I bought the infamous Moccamaster. (It’s more than famous.)

A Brief Aside on Why I Bought the Moccamaster and What I Think About It

So, after all those years of manual coffee brewing methods, why did I get a drip coffee maker? It all boils down to my time.

The time I have between when I get up and when my day starts is never enough. And I wanted to spend those precious minutes on activities other than pouring hot water over coffee grounds.

I wanted to get back just a little bit of my time in the mornings without sacrificing the quality of my coffee, of course.

It’s been at least four months now since I bought the Moccamaster, and I love it. It certainly wasn’t cheap. The model I bought probably cost more than nearly all of my manual coffee makers combined.

One thing that makes the Moccamaster special is that it’s built to last. I’ve heard from many people who have owned their Moccamaster for years and years and still love them.

As far as quality of coffee… I would say that the Moccamaster makes almost as delicious of coffee as I could make with one of my pour over methods. If the Kalita or V-60 can make a cup that is 9/10 delicious, the Moccamaster makes one that is 8/10.

While I think I could get the coffee quality to be a bit better — you’d be surprised to hear about ways you can still get nerdy and fussy with a Moccamaster — I have intentionally chosen not to go that route because it would be the opposite reason for why I bought the thing in the first place.

I just measure my beans and water and I’m happy with the results. In fact, I’m drinking a cup of my coffee as I type this very sentence. Yum.

The one thing I do not like about the Moccamaster is that the carafe and brew basket are not dishwasher safe. It’s not a huge deal, but it just means every few days I have to wash everything by hand. It still requires some bit of maintenance.

Actually, now that you mention it…

Everything Requires Maintenance

Sadly, there is no gadget or system or process that is completely absent of all work and maintenance.

To some degree or another, everything requires your time and attention; everything requires maintenance.

Alas, even my “automated” coffee maker still takes some work to keep clean and operational.

As someone who doesn’t always like to trust the process, it has been helpful for me to keep this truth in mind: everything requires maintenance.

And it stands for more than just the things I own, such as my clothes, cars, lawn, and tax-receipt filing system. My physical self and even the productivity workflows I live within every day require attention to keep operational. (Ugh, right?)

Spoiler: There is No “Easy” System for Focus and Productivity

Perhaps one area I see the most hangup in this is related to productivity systems.

Staying in control of your time and your attention is an activity that requires some time in an of itself.

Lots of folks bemoan this fact. They have, no doubt, tried many systems and none worked for them. They feel frustrated because they don’t want to waste time managing their to-do list.

Now, side note, there is a lot of legitimacy to these frustrations. I definitely understand how frustrating it is to spin your wheels with an overflowing to-do list. A lot of productivity systems out there are way more work than they’re worth.

However, if you care about how you spend your time and your attention — then you also ought to care about the keeping up with the system that keeps you on track. And I think most people do care, which is why it can feel frustrating at times.

For me, I set aside about half an hour on Sunday evenings in order to plan out my week. (I go into the nerdy details of this in the “Analog” section of my All the Things course.)

During my weekly planning time I will decide what it is that I will focus on and how I will primarily spend my time each day for the upcoming week.

This brief weekly planning session never feels convenient. I am rarely in the mood and I’d almost always rather do something else. But my task list and calendar must get the appropriate amount of my time and energy in order for them to be effective and helpful.

When Inconvenience Becomes Opportunity

In the beginning, these inconvenient activities of maintenance often feel like speed bumps that are getting in the way and slowing things down. There is never a convenient and easy time to work out, or to eat well, or to plan my week or my day.

However, if you stick with it, then over time you will see how these activities of “inconvenient maintenance” are actually the foundational actions in our day in which we are choosing to live with intention.

The truth is, you won’t find anything that is free from all work and maintenance. This is as true for coffee makers as it is for productivity systems.

With that in mind, don’t try to find something that requires ZERO maintenance. Because it doesn’t exist. You’ll never find something that is devoid of all work and maintenance.

Rather, find a system that can work for you — one that you have the ability and the drive to to keep up with.

Everything Requires Maintenance

What it Was Like to Go a Month with No Social Media on My iPhone

It has now been one month since I deleted Twitter and Instagram from my iPhone. I also made a commitment to put my iPhone into Do No Disturb and leave it in another room of the house during our family evening time.

A mere 28 days was no heroic feat at all. Nevertheless, it was enlightening.

And so, after a full month, here are some initial thoughts on the experience as well as what I’m doing next.

Regarding No Social Media on my iPhone…

Let’s get to the point:

I have loved not having social media on my iPhone.

Over this past month I have felt more creative, more focused, and at times, more bored. All good things!

If you follow me on Twitter, then you may have noticed that I did not completely disappear. I still have Tweetbot my iPad, and I’ve been checking in about once a day during weekdays to reply to any DMs and other conversations that were going on. This intentional, “small batch” processing of my Twitter streawm for a few minutes per day has been great.

Even though I use my iPad for just about all my work and writing, Twitter access on the iPad has (so far) not been a distraction.

Regarding DND every evening…

Having DND enabled in the evenings proved to be a bit more difficult than I thought.

There were many times during an evening where I’d be having a conversation with my wife or with one of my kids and we’d want to pull the phone in for some reason — such as to search for something online, message someone, look at a video one of us took earlier, etc.

In those moments — with my phone in another area of the house — I grew more aware of just how prevalent my smartphone is within my family’s day to day life. And, honestly, its a prevalence that I’m not comfortable with.

As our boys grow up, there are certain mindsets and behaviors that my wife and I do and do not want to “normalize” for them. And “staring at our phones all the time” is most certainly a behavior we do not want to seem normal.

Now, what’s next?

For one, I currently have no plans to reinstall Twitter or Instagram on my iPhone. My experience in February has been too good and I’m not ready to go back.

And I will also continue to leave my iPhone on Do Not Disturb in the evenings during our family time.

Additionally, there are two more things I’m doing as a result of February’s experiment:

  • I’ve subscribed to several magazines, including HBR, The Atlantic, Monocle, and Fast Company. I’ll share more about this in a future article, but I realized that I wanted some literal boundaries to my news and media consumption. The internet is boundless; a physical, printed magazine has a front and back cover — it is finite.

  • Secondly, I’m signing out of email from my iPhone. During February, I noticed that email was the thing I checked instead of social media. But yet, I don’t actually send or reply to emails from my iPhone — I just check my inbox. It’s not a productive use of my time. So, I’m going to remove it during March and see how things go.

I’ll check back in at the end of March to see how things go without email either. But I have a hunch I already know.

What it Was Like to Go a Month with No Social Media on My iPhone

“If you care about your thoughts, keep them.”

I got a lot of inspiration from this brief article by Derek Sivers on the benefits of a daily diary and topic journals.

I’m already a fan of regular (if not daily) journaling. I’ve been logging stuff into Day One for years. And something I began doing at the beginning of this year is to keep a daily “highlight” journal along with my daily habit tracking.

Over the past couple years I have been continually interested in improving my note taking and learning skills (especially as related to books), maturing my system for idea capture, and just trying to get better at doing more writing.

But the “Thoughts On” journal that Derek wrote about in his article was a new idea to me. It’s so simple and it makes so much sense.

Derek writes:

> For each subject that you might have ongoing thoughts about, start a separate “Thoughts On” journal. Whenever you have some thoughts on this subject, open up that file, write today’s date, then start writing.

Since reading Derek’s article last month I’ve already spent some time setting up my own “Thoughts On” inside of a new group in Ulysses. My topics so far include 8-Week Work Cycles, Finances, Delegation, and Leadership.

There are two awesome things about using Ulysses for these “Thoughts On” groups. For one, you can easily set up a specific group to place your own ideas, notes, and thoughts into.

Secondly, if you’re using Ulysses to store book notes, quotes, and other tidbits of information, then you can also create a Smart Filter that will aggregate any and all of those notes you have which are tagged with a keyword and/or which contain other words.


For more reading on this, see also André Chaperon’s weekend article on his knowledge processing system for creators.

There is a ton of nerdiness in André’s article, and I love it. One big takeaway for me was this piece of advice:

> Don’t make the decision of what app to use when the moment arrises. Decided on the app now, and position it on your first screen where your thumb can click it easily.

I currently use Bear for all my quick-capturing of ideas right in the moment. And then I will move those ideas into Ulysses.

“If you care about your thoughts, keep them.”

Tips for Delegating

I’m currently reading Mike Michalowicz’s latest book, Clock Work. One of the things that has really stood out to me so far is that there are two types of delegation for a business owner.

The most common type of delegation actually isn’t delegation at all. Mike calls it “Deciding”. This is what happens when you hire someone to help you with a task or a job, but you don’t ever train or empower them to make any decisions on their own.

Perhaps you do this out of fear or laziness or your perfectionist mindset… whatever the reason is, since you aren’t delegating properly you end up as the bottleneck for all work projects because at every junction in their work, people are having to come to you and ask you to make a decision about something.

And then… when they do finish the task you asked them to do, guess what? They sit and wait for you to decide what they should do next. Because you have not given them any autonomy or self-direction.

In short, you are still managing every little decision — you’re merely delegating (or assigning) the actions behind those decisions.

How does this differ from actual delegation?

Assign an Outcome

Actual delegation happens when you assign a task to someone while also empowering them to make any decisions related to completing that task.

Put another way, you are delegating the outcome.

When you can delegate the outcome, it is liberating to everyone involved. Your team member feels trusted and empowered to do their job without you micromanaging them. And you are free to focus on the things that you need to do.

Reward Ownership (Rather Than Quality)

One other thing related to delegating that stood out to me was the importance of rewarding a team-member’s ownership of a task and not the quality of the outcome of that task.

You must allow them to make mistakes, or do things differently. Because they will.

If you only ever reward them when they do things just perfectly the exact same way that you would have done it, then all you’re doing is training them to ask you for a decision at every juncture.

So, instead, celebrate their ability to think and work with autonomy while giving candid and helpful feedback to help them make better decisions in the future.

As Mike writes, it all boils down to letting go of perfectionism.

Tips for Delegating

Culture is What You Do

It was in February 2011 that I quit my job to blog for a living. (You can read the original announcement post here.)

For a few years I was writing here, full-time as an indie blogger and podcaster. And so, any of the choices I made about work hours, salary, time off, or projects were choices that, for the most part, only affected me.

But then, in January 2016 I hired my first employee. And last summer I hired my second employee. And that’s not to mention our amazing team of long-time contractors and contributors.

Needless to day, today, things are very different than they were back in 2011.

Now, when I make a decision about my company I have to think about how it impacts our team and our culture. (It’s not just me anymore. Thank goodness!)

When I make decisions about what projects we take on, what our company profit sharing looks like, the amount and type of time-off we allow, our team communication systems, and more, I have to think about this:

Is this a vote toward the type of work environment I want to have in 20 years?

Here’s the thing. It will never be easier to have an awesome work culture than it is right now.

Why should I be waiting for some sort of potential, future-state of my business before I can begin implementing the sorts of healthy work cultures that I want?

If I wait, then I run the risk of accidentally building a company culture that I don’t like. How awful would it be to look up 10 years from now and realize that I spent a decade building a business that is stressful and exhausting to work in?

The Two Types of Sustainability: Finances and People

Being sustainable in revenue is critical. We know that. But finances are not the only metric of sustainability.

There is also the sustainability of your team’s time and energy.

Is your company “human sustainable”?

If you were to look at the amount of work you are doing, and the pace at which you doing that work, would it be something you would still want to be doing in 20 years from now?

Anybody can talk about how they value a healthy work culture.

But culture is what you DO (not what you SAY).

Are the decisions and actions happening within your team right now in alignment with the values that are being spoken? Or are things crazy right now with the promise of change once XYZ milestone is reached?

As the folks at Basecamp would say, it doesn’t have to be crazy at work. And I agree.

Fear Brings the Craziness

In my experience, the craziness comes from fear. Fear that if things are calm then people are not being productive. Or a fear that without frenzied, emotionally-driven activity then there will be no revenue. Or a fear that without long hours the work won’t get done.

You can’t change your culture overnight (for good or for bad).

But you can make one small vote today about the sort of work environment you want to have in 20 years from now. And then, tomorrow, you can make another small vote… and another…


P.S. This goes for the culture you create other places as well. Such as your family, your personal finances, or your weekends. Are the choices you’re making in alignment with the values you profess?

Culture is What You Do

There will be poop

Two of the most productive hours of my day are also the most chaotic.

Guaranteed someone will get punched, someone will tell a not-funny joke but we will find it hilarious and belly laugh anyway, someone won’t get what they want, and someone else will poop his pants.

Now, I love a nerdy talk about time management as much as the next guy. But I believe that real productivity does not always look organized and tidy with everything just right.

Most of the time, when you’re really getting things done it’s messy; it’s human.

Those two productive-yet-chaotic hours of my day? They are the evenings hours from 5 – 7pm at the Blanc house.


My wife and I have 3 boys: ages 2, 5, and 7. Our evenings are filled with LEGOs everywhere, Nerf gun target practice with unsuspecting stuffed animals, wrestling, food fights, toddler nudity, meltdowns, and hiding behind closet doors to avoid brushing teeth.

I am a dad. And this is what family time is like with three fantastic sons.

As my boys become adults, I look forward to having a real-life friendship with them. But I don’t know of any “formula” for making this happen. I only know that if I am regularly present and engaged then I stand a pretty-good chance at building a deep bond and long history of trust with each of my sons.

So while our evening hours may look like disorganized chaos right now, they are also the hours where my wife and I get to consistently give our full attention to our boys.

That’s why, every evening at 5pm, my wife and I set our iPhones to silent Do Not Disturb. Then we put the phones away in another room.

Value / Identity: I’m a dad.

Expression / System: I spend quality and undistracted time with them on a regular basis.

Outcome / Goal: I’m building a thriving relationship with my sons.

This is just one example of how I am taking a personal value for my life and aligning it with how I spend my time each day. And the result will be one of life goals.

The immeasurable value of good systems is found in their ability to bridge the gap between our personal values and our goals.

When your time and energy are NOT being spent on the things that matter to you, it’s frustrating and stressful.

Frustration = The Tyranny of the Non-Essential

Ask yourself this:

  1. What is something in your life that you think is important but you are not giving very much time or attention to?

  2. What is something in your life that you do NOT consider important but yet it is receiving too much of your time and attention?

Aside fom someone else eating the last of the ice cream that you were totally saving for later, there is nothing more frustrating than when the things which matters most are pushed to the back burner, forced to succumb to the tyranny of things which do not matter at all.

Which is More Important: Systems or Goals?

It’s somewhat of a trick question; they’re both important.

However, if I had to pick just one, I’d pick systems because most folks already have some goals.

But I estimate that more than 80% of the people reading this do not have a good goals system. And by that, I mean most people do not have a reliable and consistent way to accomplish their goals.

The Systems I Use to Accomplish Goals in Every Area of My Life

There are a handful of various tactics and systems I use on a regular basis to ensure that the important areas of my life are getting the time and attention I want to give them.

These are the habits and routines I’ve built that help me stay active with my physical health, stay on track with my creative work, and stay engaged in my awesome parenting life that I just shared with you.

One of the systems I use is something called my “Hybrid Productivity System”.

It’s a blend of both digital and analog tools to help me schedule my days, know exactly what to be focusing on, and keep the margin I need in my life to avoid burn out. Here’s a video (taken from my course, All the Things) that explains a bit more about the hybrid method.

There will be poop

A Brief Review of the Keychron Bluetooth Mechanical Keyboard for iPad

bluetooth mechanical keyboard for iPad

Last fall I helped Kickstart a new mechanical, bluetooth keyboard for my iPad: The Keychron. A few weeks ago it arrived at my house.

I’ve been a mechanical keyboard nerd for the better part of a decade now, using one clickety keyboard or another with my Mac since 2012. Now that I use the iPad for a significant amount of my work — especially my daily writing and editing — I’ve been considering a more fancy external keyboard for it as well. Because why not?

For about two years now I have simply been using the Smart Keyboard Cover (both with the 9.7” iPad Pro, then the 10.5”, and now the 11”). It is not a great keyboard by any means; but it’s been fine for me and I love the simplicity of just having it right there ready to go anytime I grab my iPad.

But when I saw the Keychron on Kickstarter, I thought it would be worth backing. While I don’t want to carry a keyboard with me when I’m out and about or traveling with the iPad. But I do like the idea of having a nicer keyboard at my home for the times when I’m using the iPad for writing while at my desk (such as at this very moment).

bluetooth mechanical keyboard for iPad

And so, what initially piqued my interest with the Keychron keyboard was that:

  • It has mechanical switches
  • It has LED backlighting for the keys
  • It’s Bluetooth
  • It has a dedicated Siri button.

In a moment I’ll share more about each of the above items.

Overall the Keychron looks beautiful. It’s a very clean, sleek, well designed keyboard.

Mechanical Switches

The Keychron uses low-profile blue switches. They are nice. While they are a bit less tactile they are also much quieter than my Filco Ninja with it’s Cherry MX blues, that’s for sure.

Typing on the keyboard feels like something right in the middle between my Cherry MX switches (which are big and bold) and the current bluetooth keyboards that Apple sells (which are thin and quiet).

bluetooth mechanical keyboard for iPad

LED Backlit Keys

Another delightful feature of the Keychron is that each key is individually backlit. I opted for the simple blueish-white LEDs you see above, but there was also an option for full RGB colors which I did not get. I don’t want my keyboard to be a disco holiday light show, I just want it to be backlit.

Anything which hinders the writing process is no good. Anything which aids is most welcome.

There is an LED “Light mode” toggle button. But, oddly and nonsensically, it sits just to the left of the arrow keys.

This keyboard takes it’s light modes a bit too seriously.

The first few days I had this keyboard I accidentally toggled the light mode about every 100 words. Which is not great.

There are 10 different LED settings. Nine of which are some sort of fancy, wildly-distracting, party trick of light dancing around underneath the keys.

Which means that if you accidentally hit the light switch on the keyboard, suddenly the LEDs are bouncing around and flickering. And since there are about 10 different settings, you have to hit the button 10 more times to get back to where you were.

Bluetooth

Another selling point for me with the Keychron is that it’s bluetooth. Moreover, you can pair it with up to 3 differnet computers / devices. And you can then switch between those devices using the keyboard. Pretty clever.

It also has a USB-C connection that it uses for charging and connecting directly to a computer if you don’t want to use Bluetooth.

But for some reason, the USB-C to USB-C cable I use to charge my iPad doesn’t work as a way to wire the Keyboard to the iPad. I can connect the Keychron using my USB-C to USB-A adapter that I bought from Apple.

So, to reiterate the awkward and nerdy wired configuration: Even though the iPad and the Keyboard both have USB-C ports, I have to use a USB-C to USB-A cable and then plug that in to with a USB-A to USC-C adapter. And the adapter has to be plugged into the iPad. If it’s the other way around, it doesn’t work.

Also worth noting is that the iPad will charge the keyboard’s battery when the two are connected via USB.

Siri

On my iPad I use both Spotlight and “Text to Siri” as a sort of quick-action, keyboard shortcut workflow.

Having the ability to bring up the Text to Siri interface without having to press and hold the power button on the side of the iPad makes things much nicer.

Alas, on the Keychron, the Siri button is Mac-only. This is a huge bummer and I wish they would have been more clear / upfront about it on their Kickstarter page as I thought the Siri button would be able to bring up Siri on iOS as well.

A Brief Aside About Propping Up the iPad In Order to See the Screen While Typing on an External Keyboard

Sigh.

Apple’s Smart Keyboard cover (which I use and have attached to my iPad 90% of the time) will only prop up the iPad when it’s in the keyboard orientation. You cannot prop up the new iPads Pro in “media mode” the way you could with the previous generations and their Keyboard Cover.

Thus, for me to use an external keyboard like the Keychron along with the iPad means I have to have the keyboard portion of the keyboard cover sprawled out, sitting in front of the iPad and just behind the bluetooth keyboard. Ugh.

Now, I’m not a victim here; there are some workarounds for this. I could buy an iPad stand (the Twelve South Compass is awesome). Or I could also buy another case that lets you prop up the iPad, and then use that case when I’m using the external keyboard.

There’s also a partial workaround using the keyboard case I already have, but it only works if the iPad is on a rough-ish surface. You can flip the keyboard cover around like an “A Frame” and prop the iPad up that way. But on my desk, it just wants to slide open.
 As you may have noticed from the photograph at the top of this article, my current solution has been to put the iPad on top of a used Baron Fig notebook. It’s not ideal, but it works for now I suppose. Shrug emoji.

bluetooth mechanical keyboard for iPad

Other Miscellany

  • The function and media keys all work as expected. So I can adjust the iPad’s volume and screen brightness, as well as control audio playback all from the keyboard.


  • There is also a screen grab button and a dictation button. The Screen Grab button works just like pressing the hardware Volume Up and Power buttons on the iPad, or hitting SHIFT + CMD = 4 on iOS: it takes a full screenshot and the puts you into the screenshot editing interface.

    

 The dictation button, alas, is like the Siri button: it does not work on iOS. It just brings up the on-screen emoji keyboard.


  • I’m not the only one getting nerdy with iPads and keyboards. My friends Ben Brooks, Jason Snell, Matt Gemmell, and Federico Viticci also have gone down this rabbit hole. Good times.

Coda

I’m sad to say that after using the keyboard for a couple weeks my current feeling is that it is less than the sum of its parts. It’s a beautiful and well-made keyboard, and the more I use it the more it’s been growing on me. But for whatever the reason, it’s not delightful to use. And if you’re going to have a big, noisy keyboard, it ought to be nothing if not delightful.

Now the question remains: Do I keep using it because I’ve got it; bust out the Apple Extended Keyboard II that I’ve had in my office for 7 years; go back to using the Keyboard Cover that I’ve been using for a few years; or…. start further down this rabbit hole of bluetooth mechanical keyboards for the iPad?

A Brief Review of the Keychron Bluetooth Mechanical Keyboard for iPad

On Making the Switch From a Consumer to a Creator

Last week my friend Nathan Barry posted an article with 13 tips for making the switch from a consumer to a creator.

Suggestions number 3, 6, and 9 from Nathan’s list especially resonated with me since these three tips in particular had to do with the focus, intentionality, and routine of creating.

I also love how Nathan states right at the beginning that in order to make this shift you don’t have to become a fundamentally different person, nor do you have to make radical changes to your life. You just need to stack a handful of small changes together and let the momentum build.

Show Up Every Day, Poster by Sean McCabe

The ”Show Up Every Day” print by Sean McCabe that I have hanging in my office.

As you seek to build a creative habit, it is professional-grade to be intentional with that time. You do this by (1) planning ahead; (2) scheduling yourself time to work; and (3) removing as many distractions as possible. This is literally what any top performer does. (I made a simple Show Up Every Day Worksheet that’s at the bottom of this article if you’re interested.)

And, not that Nathan asked, but since we’re blogging here I wanted to add an additional suggestion to his already excellent list:

Be intentional about what you consume.

What I mean by this is two-fold:

  • Making the switch from a “consumer” to a “creator” does not mean cutting out all media consumption. (More on that in a second.)


  • And therefore, consider what types of media consumption leave you feeling inspired, excited, and energized versus those which leave you feeling tired or complacent. 



Which types of media take from you and which types give to you?

If I spend 15 minutes mindlessly scrolling Instagram or Twitter, I do not feel inspired or recharged.

But if I spend 15 minutes reading a book or a thoughtful article that’s saved in Instapaper, then my brain is usually bouncing with ideas and fresh inspiration.

Nathan’s article is all about making the switch from “consumer” to “creator” but I want to underscore the fact that the right kind of consumption helps with creating.

I think this is so valuable that not only do I have a habit goal to write every, I also have a habit goal to read every day.

Moreover I just deleted the social media apps from my iPhone so that I would have less opportunity for non-productive media consumption. (Even Peter McKinnon recommends quitting social media as a way to help overcome creative block.)

In his book, First Things First, Stephen Covey writes about what he calls “Sharpening the Saw”.

We often get so busy “sawing” (producing results) that we forget to “sharpen our saw” (maintain or increase our capacity to produce results in the future).

It took me a few years to to realize it was okay (even necessary) for me to take time away from “producing and creating” in order to maintain and increase my capacity to do my best creative work.

One of the ways you experience burn out is when you consitently try to create without any fresh, incoming inspiration. It’s like driving a without ever stopping to fill up — evenatually you will run out of gas.

Showing up to do the work is the noble part of the endeavor. But let us not get so busy producing that we forget to maintain and increase our capacity to keep producing results.

On Making the Switch From a Consumer to a Creator