Monk Mode for All the Things

This week I have been in monk mode, working on the video tutorial screencasts for All the Things.

Things are coming together (no pun intended), and they’re looking awesome!

I purchased ScreenFlow 7 from the Mac App Store on Monday and have already spent a solid 50+ hours in the app. If you do any sort of screen casting, ScreenFlow is what you want.

At the beginning of the week my screen casting workflow was all sorts of weird. I’ll probably write more about it later, but let’s just say that after 3 days of very slow-going progress, I tried a different approach that literally reduced my creation and production time by 75%.

As I’ve been working my way through every nook and cranny of Things 3, the process has endeared me even more to this app. I’ve been using Things 3 since it was in beta, but this process of teaching people how to use the app has, obviously, caused me to become even more familiar with it than I already was.

That familiarity has given me an increased confidence and joy when using this app day in and day out. Plus, I myself have even learned a handful of new tricks that are pretty awesome if I do say so myself.

All that said, because I have been so heads down doing these video tutorials, I broke the chain of my daily blogging schedule. Alas.

Between November 28 and January 26 I published an item every single day. 59 days; 59 blog posts. I am bummed to have broken the streak, but I will be picking it back up again.

I have quite a few thoughts on the value and importance of writing and publishing daily. But, these past two weeks I’ve been focused on creating something that is currently more important, and so something had to give.

It has been challenging and fun to create all of this. And I love that we are seeing it all start to come together. Can’t wait to share it.

Monk Mode for All the Things

Behind the Scenes: Shooting Video for ‘All the Things’

Yesterday we shot eight of the videos for All the Things.

Many people have asked me about my video recording setup, so I thought it’d be fun to share some behind-the-scenes details from yesterday’s shoot, and also walk you through our process and the gear we use.


First, a bit of context…

These videos are part of my upcoming course, All the Things, which we are on track to launch in a few weeks.

The course will actually have two parts:

  • Part 1 will be in-depth tutorials on how to use the app, Things 3.

  • Part 2 — which is basically a whole other course in and of itself — is where I go into detail about my best practices, templates, personal systems, and more for managing your tasks and being productive (including a very detailed walk-through of my “hybrid productivity method”).

It was yesterday that we recorded all the videos for Part 2.

The Process

Outlining and planning: I spent several days last week and this week going over all the feedback and input from our survey responses, making sure that I was addressing all the most important topics and questions.

Writing: Then I outline and write all my course scripts in Ulysses (of course). Once written, I read through each script out loud and adjust the language so it sounds natural as I speak it.

Recording: Once the course video scripts are ready, I transfer them onto my TelePrompTer app (more on that below), and we transform the office into a recording studio.

Personal, side-note abut using a Teleprompter… When I first did video shoots like this for The Focus Course, I felt somewhat disingenuous using a Teleprompter. It felt like having pre-scripted talking points took away from the genuineness of the video. But in reality, using a TelePrompTer is just smart. It means I can stay on topic and communicate more clearly. If anything, using a telemprompter is more genuine because it allows me to spend time beforehand carefully considering what it is I want to say, and then ensure I say those things.

With everything set up, we are ready to record. Some videos I’m able to knock out in one take. And some take a few tries.

Yesterday we were in a groove, and we recorded every single video in one take…. except, for one… For the audio, we use a lav mic plugged into my iPhone. And though I had my phone on Do Not Disturb, my mom called me toward the end of one of the video shoots. Since she’s a Favorite her calls go through, and even though I didn’t answer the incoming call caused my recording app to stop its background recording, and thus we had to re-shoot the final 5 minutes of one video. (Hi, mom! 👋)

Gear List

Okay, if you’re interested in the nerdy details, here they are:

  • I use Ulysses to write and plan all the video scripts.
  • This Teleprompter app paired with my Apple bluetooth keyboard. The keyboard is kept by my foot and I tap the space bar to start and stop the scrolling words. This allows me to move through the script at my own pace, which is so nice.
  • This Teleprompter rig is how I set my iPad Pro up to function as the teleprompter.
  • For recording audio, we use this Lavalier Microphone plugged into my iPhone with Røde iPhone app.
  • Camera: Canon 6D with either the 50mm f/1.4 or the 20-70mm f/2.8 that we borrowed from a friend.
  • These umbrella lights.
  • This Tripod, that has an adjustable telescoping extension so we could shoot the overhead video where I walk through exactly how I use my notebook and set up the different pages for my weekly and daily planning, etc.

If you have questions, or suggestions, hit me up on Twitter: @shawnblanc.

Behind the Scenes: Shooting Video for ‘All the Things’

Ryan Holiday defines a commonplace book thusly:

A commonplace book is a central resource or depository for ideas, quotes, anecdotes, observations and information you come across during your life and didactic pursuits.

More or less, my commonplace book exists within both Ulysses and Day One. With the former holding my ideas and quotes, and the latter holding my observations and information.

Over on The Sweet Setup, my friend Chris Bowler wrote a three-part series on keeping a commonplace book. Part One gets in to the what and why, and parts two and three get in to the details of how to toss all that stuff in to Day One.

Keeping a Commonplace Book with Ulysses or Day One

Jordan Critz Playlist on Apple Music

A few weeks ago, thanks to the “Pure Focus” playlist put together by Apple Music editors, I discovered some new music by Jordan Critz.

Critz is a composer and has done quite a bit of work for movies and television. But last year he stopped writing for licensing and began to write his own music.

(The MusicBed blog has a great behind-the-scenes look with photos and information about the recording and production of his most recent EP, which was done at a church-turned-studio with a 30-piece orchestra.)

On iTunes there are now several of his original works in the form of singles and EPs. And they are all just fantastic.

I’ve complied everything he’s put up on iTunes into a single playlist and it’s what I’ve been writing to lately.

Loving This Music by Jordan Critz

The Simple Structure to Attaining Your Goals

Pre-S #1: The past few Fridays I’ve been writing about goal setting. You can catch up on past articles here, here, and here.

Pre-S #2: Plan Your Year is now available. Check it out here.


Today I want to share with you a simple-yet-powerful structure for attaining your goals.

And what’s special about this little process is that it’s free from any particular productivity system, app, or methodology.

It’s as simple as this:

  1. Define an outcome you’d like to see happen.
  2. Think of one thing you can do to make progress toward that outcome.
  3. Do that one thing.
  4. Repeat steps 2 & 3.

That’s it. You’re looking at the fundamental formula for planning and accomplishing.

Here’s why this little process works so well:

You’re taking one big thing, and breaking it down into something small and simple that you can do today in incremental steps.

You’re taking a goal, and your then moving on to focus on the system that will get you there.

Contrast that against something that is more common: coming up with an idea or a goal, and then instantly thinking of all the big hurdles and “unknowns” related to that goal, and then quitting before you even get started.

How to Eat an Elephant

You’ve no doubt heard the adage: How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.

It’s important to focus primarily on steps 2 and 3 — identify the one thing you can do to make progress and then go do it.

But instead, many people focus mostly on step #1 — the goal itself. I’m all for having clear goals, but staring deeply into the eyes of those goals will not make them come about. You’ve got to take action.

If you remember from last week we talked about the two camps of goal setting, and why it’s so important to focus on the system that keeps you moving and taking action.

When you’ve identified one single action and one single result, then the focus is no longer on managing your tasks — the focus is now on doing them.

There’s nothing wrong with systems and methodologies. In fact, once you have the wisdom and the skills to identify the most important thing to do next, then you can use any system or methodology you want. Use whatever makes sense for your personality type and your work environment.

Once you have the wherewithal to define what meaningful productivity looks like for you, then your productivity tools become a slave to your priorities, not the other way around.


Next we’re going to talk about how to lower the barrier of entry to your goals so you can finally get started on them. It’s a little something I like to call “activation energy”.

And in the meantime, you may be interested in my brand-new workbook: Plan Your Year. It’s simple and will help you get a clear, birds eye view of your year so you can focus on what is most important.

The Simple Structure to Attaining Your Goals

For the past 6 years, every January, my wife and I take an evening or two and we map out our upcoming year.

We each get a few pieces of paper and use them to list the year’s important events, milestones, plus any goals we have or other things we want to do. Then we go through that list and decide when those things are going to happen and what we’re going to do to help make them a reality.

It’s a very approachable way to get a birds eye view of the upcoming year.

It helps us define what matters most to us for the year and what obstacles we may encounter. And year after year, this time of planning has proven to be a highlight. It has a positive impact on our year, and it’s also a lot of fun since the process facilitates some great conversation.

For this upcoming January, I’d love for you to be able to go through your own process if you like. (And you don’t have to be married — this is something that works for anyone and everyone.)

I have put together something simple and new. It’s called Plan Your Year.

Plan Your Year is a small workbook that walks you through the exact same process Anna and I go through each January.

The workbook is just $19 and is something you can do in a single evening. Check it out.

May you get out of bed on January 1 and get to bed on December 31, and in-between do what you want to do.

thefocuscourse.com/plan-your-year/

Brand New: Plan Your Year

Got What I Wanted

A few weeks ago I stumbled across an old Christmas wish list from when I was about 10 or 11. And there were 60-some-odd items on it. At the top of the list was a CD boom box with dual tape decks. I remember getting that boom box for Christmas, and I remember my wild excitement.

There was another year when I was obsessed with getting the new TMNT arcade game for my Nintendo. Even now, well over 20 years later, I still have clear memories of opening that gift, freaking out, and then playing video games nonstop for about a month or twelve.

But as I’ve gotten older, it’s not about the items any longer.

I can buy pretty much anything I want. (If not for cash, then at least with credit which would be dumb but that’s not my point right now).

I think about this every year. What I have always wanted most has always been what is beyond my ability to buy. It was true when I was a boy, and it’s still true now that I’m a man.

The things I want most are a healthy family, the time to play with my boys, and a thriving marriage. It’s Christmas morning, and I got what I wanted.

Got What I Wanted

Do Not Disturb

My favorite feature of iOS 11 has been Do Not Disturb While Driving.

At stoplights, it’s almost universal that most folks will be looking at their screen. While annoying, at least this isn’t life-threatening behavior.

But stoplights aside, it is uncanny just how many people I see texting while driving. I often want to honk at them and remind them to put their stupid phone down, but I’m afraid that I’d just cause a wreck.

Needless to say, Do Not Disturb While Driving is a feature that will undoubtedly save lives. And so, in that respect, DNDWD is my favorite feature that everyone has who is using iOS 11.

But it’s also my personal favorite feature as an iPhone owner.

It has now been months since I received a notification while driving. And I have absolutely noticed how much more calm and present I feel when driving.

I love that my phone never buzzes and my watch never notifies. And there is no fear of missing a truly important message or phone call because people can get through if they need to. But so far, I have received exactly zero “urgent” messages while driving.

Additional, Miscellaneous Thoughts and Experiments with Do Not Disturb

In addition to the the “While Driving” part, Do Not Disturb is a pretty great feature in general.

Do Not Disturb While Working

Both my iPhone and my Mac are scheduled to stay in Do Not Disturb mode until 11am every day. This gives me a good 3-4 hours every morning to do my work without any incoming notifications.

Do Not Disturb at Night

For about two days I tried turning off internet access for my iPhone in the evenings (using the settings of my Eero). But it was very short lived — since I quickly realized that without internet access I couldn’t control my Sonos nor our Nest. Also it meant my iPhone wasn’t automatically backing up at night and updating.

However, I liked the idea of having no internet access in the evenings. There was no “pull” to just check stuff.

Some folks recommended that I just turn off all notifications and put my phone down somewhere else.

But I already do both of those things. For years I have had notifications turned off; I only get pings for incoming text messages and DMs. And my phone is usually by the fridge in the kitchen.

My no-internet evening experiment wasn’t so much about cutting off the incoming distractions as it was about giving myself the mental breathing room (similar to DNDWD) that accompanies the complete absence of something.

Do Not Disturb

Removing Obstacles to Prioritize Output

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Removing Obstacles to Prioritize Output

How to Be Productive When Traveling

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.

Here’s What I Do

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.

How to Be Productive When Traveling

Christmas Photos from Castle Rock, Colorado

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:

Christmas Photos from Castle Rock, Colorado