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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
In the past year, I’ve been to Austin, Chicago, San Diego, Atlanta, Breckenridge, Denver, Boise, Portland, and Nashville. It’s the most amount of traveling I’ve done in a 12-month period in the past 10 years.
It used to be that I would step on to the plane with the excitement of having a few hours to work on whatever I want — I figured that I would have several hours to put on my headphones and just write. But over the years I’ve learned better. In reality, when it comes to doing creative work such as writing, I am just not productive on flights.
Some folks can write an entire novel over a series of airplane flights. Not me. Though sometimes I will edit content that I’ve already written (such as moving an article from the “idea” folder to the “edit” folder).
If you’re looking to be productive when you travel, my best advice is this:
Have a specific goal in mind and be prepared for it.
(That advice goes for quite a bit beyond just travel productivity, btw.)
In short, don’t step onto that plane with a blank canvas and the hopes of being inspired. Instead, know your desired outcome and prepare ahead of time. What are you hoping to get done? What do you need to do to make it happen? What will you be doing on the flight?
A little bit of preparation goes a long way. Because then, once you’re on the flight, all that’s left for you to do is get to work.
As I said, I’m not good at creative work or inspirational thinking when on a plane. Therefore I have found other ways to still make the most of my time (though I’m also not above watching a good kung fu movie).
Before my flight, I download a few podcast episodes or an audio book. Then I listen (with my B&O H7 headphones) and take copious notes.
Listening to a podcast or audiobook while taking notes is a great way to learn the material. It’s also a more passive form of creativity and work. It’s been helpful for me, and the results from the notes are always a huge asset. For example, my book club articles for Rhinoceros Success and The Dip both came about from times I was traveling this past year.
After listening to my podcast episode(s) or audiobook, I’ll then watch a movie or read a novel and just relax. Or sometimes I skip the note-taking altogether and get straight to the movie.
We were in Colorado for Thanksgiving weekend, and downtown Castle Rock is just amazing during the holidays.
My family and I spent this past Saturday evening walking around the downtown area, and I took this nighttime photo with my iPhone X and then edited a bit with the VSCO app…
Not bad! Especially when you compare it to this next pic, that I took few years ago on that very same street corner. Except that this one I took with my fancy Olympus camera and the Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 lens:
There will be some people who strongly dislike it.
I’ve always felt that great design is polarizing. There will be some who love it and others who hate it.
For example, I recently received a request for a refund of the Focus Course from a fellow stating that the content was “inane, generic, bland and full of nothing but buzzwords.”
Negative and vile feedback like that used to really throw me for a loop. I’d worry, What if they’re right? What if I’m selling snake oil I and don’t even realize it?
There is a difference between constructive feedback and angry feedback. If the former, I’m all ears. I am happy to learn from genuinely unsatisfied customers who tell me they were expecting one thing but got another. That is a great way for me to improve my marketing, products, and more.
But angry feedback just comes from angry people. They feel entitled to something and they want you to know just how angry they are. Angry, hyper-negative feedback is not a reflection of you nor of your products. It is a reflection of the person giving the feedback.
And so, in times like that, I choose to politely refund their money, delete their email, and go about my day creating new things and working toward what’s next.
(As a side note, I’d rather get negative feedback than no feedback at all. Perhaps the worst response to a product would be indifference.)
It’s not easy to make something and put it out there.
Another way to tell you’ve created something worthwhile, is to look at the people who are talking about it, sharing it, and using it.
Look around at the people who are gladly doing business with you. Are they people you respect? If so, then you’re doing it right.
Sometimes it’s hard to get a clear picture of the work you’re doing. You’re so immersed in the product and the message that you can’t easily step back and see it all with fresh eyes.
But if there are people who you find awesome, and they are happy to be around your work and they actively seek you out, then you are on the right track. You’re serving the right people doing something worthwhile. Good job.
Early last week, I peeled back the curtain to finally announce something I’ve been working on for months.
It’s an online event that starts in two weeks from tomorrow. And, to be candid, this is one of the biggest things I’ve ever done. I think you’re going to love it.
For one, the summit is completely free.
Secondly, it’s all online, so there’s no travel required.
You sign up. I email you each day with links to that day’s videos (which, by the way, will be available fully on demand).
This is somewhat similar to the free Elements of Focus class that I ran last year. In that, this is a chance to put something together around the topics of creativity and focus just in time for the New Year.
But what’s different is that this year I’ve invited 13 brilliant speakers to participate. (Seriously. Check out that lineup.)
Over the course of the summit, you’ll walk away with ideas and advice related to time ownership, working on your passion, balancing your work life and your personal life, showing up every day, doing your best creative work, growing an audience, and so much more.
So go check it out, and then register for free.
As I type this note, it’s a crisp Friday morning and my hot coffee is keeping my keyboard company.
Here in Kansas City the weather is beginning to cool down, and it finally feels like fall.
It’s in these final weeks of the year that my thoughts always turn to the next year, and I begin to think about what’s next. What will the upcoming year hold for my work? For my family? What hardships will we have? What adventures?
As you may know, I was recently in Austin where I had the privilege of speaking at the seanwes conference. While there I had some fantastic conversations with my friends Sean McCabe and Nathan Barry. They both gave me some excellent advice and new ideas for The Focus Course.
Combined with the nearing of 2017, and needless to say I’m excited about what’s to come for my work, my family, and many other areas of life.
And I hope you can say the same as you look ahead to what’s next.
To give you an idea of a few things we’re working on for you:
We’ll be hosting our first Focus Course winter camp in January. And it’s going to be awesome.
Before that, I have something else in store.
Something my team and I have been working on for months.
Something that is unlike anything I’ve done before.
To be candid, I was nervous about this new project. But now that it has come together, I can’t wait to pull back the curtain.
While I can’t tell you what it is just yet, I will be announcing it this coming Tuesday, November 15th.
In the meantime, here is a clue…
It’s the little things, in aggregate, that can make the difference between something being exquisite and delightful, or else being full of friction.
When done well, the little things add up to make an overall positive impression. And, on the flip side, when ignored or done poorly, the little things add up to leave a negative impression.
This is why “good enough” can be the enemy, and why implementing many features poorly is actually a worse plan than implementing a few features very well. Though the princess slept on many mattresses, just one pea under the whole stack ruined her night’s sleep.
* * *
A few years ago I was replacing all the flat slab doors in our home with new 6-panel slab doors. A slab door is just the door itself — I wasn’t replacing the jambs and frames, which means for each door I hung I had to cut out the grooves for the hinges. These are called mortises, and I used a router to cut them out.
Over several weekends I worked my way through the house, doing one door at a time. And as I did, I became acutely aware of all the shortcuts the previous owner had taken when they were framing and painting the doors I was now replacing. All the doorknobs had paint around their base, the door hinges were painted over, and so were the strike plates.
After I had hung about half the doors, I began to understand why there was so much sloppy work I was replacing. When you’re in the middle of a project like this it’s easy to get overwhelmed by all the little to-do items, and thus begin cutting corners in order to speed up the completion of the project.
As I was routing out each mortise and measuring the spot for each new strike plate, I felt the temptation to sidestep a detail here or there. I’d have to remind myself that I couldn’t take a shortcut — not even once. What would seem like a negligible issue in the moment would soon snowball into another sidestepped detail and then another, until there was an overall feeling of sloppy work.
When you’re in the middle of the project, you think, “well, a one-off here and a one- off there is not the end of the world.” But shortcuts add up, and those little details — for the good or for the bad — come together in aggregate and make the difference between something that is either exquisite, ordinary, or poor.
When I was done with my project, the difference was significant. Just as the sloppy work on the previous doors and knobs and hinges had added up to exude an overall “cheap” feeling, having new door knobs that weren’t tainted with paint slops, new door hinges that were clean and not painted over, and having doors that were free from scuff marks, all added up to an overall “classy” feeling that was greater than the sum of the parts.
And so, when you’ve committed to not take shortcuts, you quickly learn that sweating the details is where most of the hard work lies. Like I’ve mentioned before, it’s that 80/20 rule: 80-percent of the project gets completed with the first 20-percent of effort, and then it takes the remaining 80-percent of the effort to complete the final 20-percent of the project.
But it’s worth it because in these details lies the overall feeling of the product. The underlying “truth” of our product is found not in the feature set but in the details we implemented well. The details make the design.
* * *
This article was from my book, Delight is in the Details.
I wanted to share it with you because it serves as one side of the coin.
When it comes to our goals, our projects, and/or our businesses, it is important to sweat the details.
However, there is another side to the coin: perfectionism will kill your project. We’ll get into that next.
When you’re living a focused life, it’s your personal vision and values that serve as the foundation for how you spend your time and energy.
Start with what’s important to you, and then use that to direct where you spend your time, energy, and attention. (Many people do it backwards, and they allow their time and energy to be spent on things that are important to other people.)
When you have core values as a business, they too can help drive the choices you make as you grow.
As you know, there are so many options for how you can grow your business or side-project…
Do you focus on awareness, traffic, conversions, subscribers, followers, opt-ins, downloads, customer lifetime value, customer satisfatcion, membership churn, new products, networking, hiring, or something else altogether?
And since there is no singular path to success, it’s not a cut and dry roadmap. Each business or side-project is unique in terms of why it exists and what stage of growth it’s in right now.
When you’re not sure what to do in a situation, your business’s core values can help.
Moreover, as your business grows, new opportunites will present themselves. Your core values can help you choose what to say yes to and what to decline so that your success doesn’t end up leading you to failure.
Until recently, we didn’t have Blanc Media’s core values written down or articulated. Now that we do, I wanted to share them with you.
We follow through on our commitments. We put our audience and customers first and condisder it our responsibility to take care of them on an ongoing basis.
We are honest. We teach what we know in order to help others who are on a similar path. We do not overhype or overexagerate our work, but neither do we downplay or undervalue it. By being transparent we hope to earn the trust of our audience and build customers for life.
In business we always seek to provide value first and foremost, without expectation of return. We also seek to increase charitable donations every year so our giving grows along with our business.
We create opportunities for people to connect in a vibrant community where they can connect with one another by sharing their challenges, opportunities, and successes; building a creative career is challenging, and a strong community can help mitigate the fears that go along with that. We are also building an internal team of employees and contributors who practice integrity and pursue generosity in order to create something greater than the sum of their individual abilities.