Giving Up Control at Work

Earlier this year I became aware that, in my business, though I was focused on things that were important, I was too focused on things that were not essential for ME to be doing.

It’s not that I was working too many hours. I am pretty focused with my work time. The issue is that I was taking on too much control; I wasn’t delegating or trusting enough.

As a result, it was eroding the mental and emotional margin in my work life. It was also holding back the creativity of my own team because I wasn’t giving them as much autonomy as they deserved.

In his his awesome book, Essentialism, Greg McKeown writes:

Many capable people are kept from getting to the next level of contribution because they can’t let go of the belief that everything is important.

I think I was pretty good at knowing what was and was not important. But, as I said, I was doing things that I should have delegated instead.

And so, about 4 months ago I began intentionally focusing on ways to let go of things in my life and business that are are non-essential so I can more diligently focus on what is most important for me.

My process for focus was an odd one, and it’s something that I felt embarrassed to talk about in public.

But what I did was this: I cut my work week in half. I limited my working hours to only 20 per week — roughly 4 hours per day.

By giving myself half the normal amount of time to get my work done, I was forced to do the things that only I could do. Everything else had to be delegated or else eliminated.

The results so far from this focused time have been great. I’m experiencing a calmer work life with less stress and anxiety. I’ve spent more time with my family and in personal development. I’ve delegated more to my team, and as a result we’re even seeing an increase in our creative output and business profits.

Giving Up Control at Work

Apps and Gear I Use When Traveling

Last week I was in Atlanta visiting some friends and talking about business-y stuff. And I thought it’d be interesting to share a few of the apps and other gear that I take with me when traveling.

As far as physical gear goes, my main staples include:

  • iPad Pro (who needs a “real” computer?)
  • Baron Fig notebook (don’t leave home without it)
  • B&O Headphones (for listening to books, podcasts, or movies on the plane)
  • AirPods (for when going on a run)
  • Goruck GR1 bag (the best backpack ever)

When flying, I’m just not all that productive. So I may try to listen to a podcast or audio book, but sometimes I just want to watch a show. (Yay for both the Netflix app and Apple’s TV app that allow you easily download movies and shows that you’re tracking with.) Thus, I always make sure I’ve got a few TV episodes downloaded to my iPad (so I can watch on the plane) and also a few podcast episodes downloaded in Overcast.

As listed above, when on the road I work from just my iPad. A few must-have apps I utilize are encrypt.me (a.k.a. Cloak), Ulysses, and Instapaper.

On my iPhone, I use Tweetbot and Instagram to stay social. I toss any travel-relevant notes into Bear. And I use Lyft to get around.

Perhaps the best part of my “travel setup” is the “standard packing list” note that I keep in the Apple Notes app. I use Apple Notes because it’s easy to share the note with my wife. And it’s easy to toggle the list by selecting all items and then tapping the “checkbox icon” in order to uncheck them in one fell swoop so I can start over with the list.

Having a pre-populated packing list is one of the greatest “travel hacks” I’ve ever done. It takes all the guesswork out of packing, and it saves me quite a bit of time as well. I just follow the list and I’m done and I don’t have to worry if I forgot about anything.

Apps and Gear I Use When Traveling

My Approach to Learning New Things and Taking Action

This morning I was tidying up the books on my dresser and realized I had about 8 different books related to finances that I’d recently been studying. And that got me thinking about my general approach to learning new things and taking action on them.

Thus, here are some unordered thoughts on how I keep a pattern of learning new things and then applying those to my life.

Follow Rabbit Trails

Yesterday I was in the car listening to a podcast about budgeting (because YOLO). In the podcast episode, the guy mentioned a book he likes regarding finances. And so, as soon as I got home I bought the book on Amazon.

When there is someone whose lifestyle and/or opinions you respect around a specific topic, and they mention a source of inspiration, then follow that trail. Some of the most impactful books I’ve read were discovered thanks to the casual mention of them by someone whom I respect.

Also, when you are reading a book, what are the books the author mentions?

Because I always try to follow these rabbit trails, I end up buying way more books than I read. And, most books that I buy, I don’t read cover to cover. I aim to seek out the key ideas and areas of interest. If the book pulls me in, then I gladly read it. But if not, who cares? There are many, many more books out there to dive into.

Follow the Inspiration

I’m a huge fan of just-in-time learning. When I get interested in a topic, or when I have a specific need in my business, then I dive in as much as possible. I don’t (usually) force myself to learn things I’m not interested in or motivated to learn about.

Intrinsic motivation is an excellent way to learn new things quickly. When you are hungry to learn then you are naturally seeking out the information.

Also, this means I am usually only diving into on one or two issues at a time. Thus, it allows for more immersion on a topic. And when you’re immersed in something, you’re able to pick it up quicker, connect more dots, and more quickly translate your new information into working knowledge.

Make Learning a “Habit”

This may seem contradictory to what I just said, but I also make sure that learning is a part of my regular life. My normal day-to-day routine includes time for reading, study, and note taking.

For example, my morning routine involves personal reading and study. And whenever I’m in the car I have an audiobook or podcast going.

Now, there have been times when I’m just not all that motivated to read because I’d much rather binge watch a show on Netflix. Sometimes I’ll tell myself I have to read for 15 minutes before I start a show. This way I keep the habit of reading active even when I’m not into it.

Buy Physical Books

It is far easier for me to take in new information when it’s in a physical book compared to digital. While there are a lot of conveniences about digital, for me, it’s easier to focus with a physical book. Moreover, it’s also far easier for me to take notes and refer back to my ideas, takeaways, and etc.

I also find that having a physical pile of books is more inviting compared a digital shelf or list on my iPad or Kindle. With physical books you can pick them up and hold them, thumb through the pages, scan the chapter titles, and then start reading the one that grabs your attention.

Take Notes (and Review Them)

Just taking in new material (reading it, listening to it) is not enough. I will lose most of that information if I don’t write down notes.

It’s critical for me to write down ideas, takeaways, highlights, quick wins, action items, and more. This is something I have to make myself do. Because in the moment as I’m reading a book or listening to a podcast, when I come across something exciting I always feel like I’ve got it.

But the details and takeaways will get forgotten if I don’t write them down.

Almost all of my notes I put into Ulysses. If there is a specific project I am researching for, then that project gets its own folder; if it’s just general notes on a topic then my notes go into a single document in my general, simple notes folder.

Take Action

As Herbert Spencer said, the great aim of education is not knowledge, but action.

What good is all of that learning if I’m not going to use it to improve my life and the lives of those around me?

By learning about investing, saving, and budgeting then I can improve how I manage the finances of my business and my home.

Or by learning about how my CJ-7 works, I can better troubleshoot its issues and work on it in my garage with confidence.

To be candid, when it comes to taking I have two propensities that are wont to hold me back:

  • I have a knack for researching something to death, and never letting myself get to the point of taking action. I’ll just keep doing a little bit more research, and a little bit more. Always wanting just a bit more information before making a decision about something and taking action.

  • My other propensity is to live vicariously through my research. Basically, I will feel that by learning about something is the same as actually doing it. It’s one thing to read a lot of books on how to invest my money, but that head knowledge alone does not make me an investor. I have to actually put my money into an investment account.

Therefore, when it comes to taking action, there are two pieces of advice that have helped me to overcome my above obstacles.

  • Make the best choice you can, with the information you have. There will be a point where you have done enough research and enough learning, and it’s time to take action. And so, take comfort in the fact that all you can do — all anyone can do — is to make the best decision at the time with the information you have available to you. Get over the fact that there is no such thing as a “perfect” decision. There is what seems right and best at the time.

  • Secondly, when it comes to taking action, use the idea of the minimum effective dose. What is the one thing you can do now that will make everything else easier? Do that one thing.

Journal About It

In addition to taking notes and taking action, I also find that it’s helpful to journal through the process of learning and applying something new. (I write all of this in Day One, of course.)

Why am I motivated to learn this information? What am I doing about it? How’s it going? What are the results I’m getting? Etc.

It can be helpful to just write down answers to some of these questions. Moreover, it’s giving advice to your future self. Seasons of life are cyclical. And during a time of learning something new and implementing it, write down your motivations and worries and lessons learned. Your why and your what will serve as guidance some day in the future as you wrestle through related issues again.

Teach What You Know

When you learn something new, share it with others. In fact, if you’ve just learned something new and applied it to your life, you have some real-world wisdom that is very fresh and relevant.

If you have a newborn at home, the best person to ask for advice is someone with a toddler or two because they are fresh at just having figured out how to raise a little baby and survive. Don’t ask someone who’s kids are out of the house — they’re too far removed from what life is like with a newborn.


When I am interested in a topic — for whatever reason — I try to immerse myself in books, podcasts, and online forums. I take notes, write down takeaways and ideas and action items. Then I make sure that all of that information is leading to something so I can take action on it.

We’re grown ups. We don’t have to go to school anymore. So learning should be exciting and exhilarating. Don’t learn something because you feel guilty and think you should — learn it because you want to.

What are some of your approaches to learning new things? Hit me up on Twitter and let me know.

My Approach to Learning New Things and Taking Action

Money First, Then Exercise

True story: One of the best things I ever did for my health was to get my finances onto a budget.

Yep. Several years ago my wife and I started doing a cash envelope system for our monthly expenses. We started being very focused and intentional about budgeting.

It took us a little over a year to really get our budget dialed in. But then, we were on a roll!

Once I had mastered focus with my finances, it was easy to use that momentum for the next thing.

I chose to focus on my health. Again, it took me a little while to get things dialed in, but I began eating better and exercising regularly and have continued to do so for years.

As much as we would love to, we can’t bring our entire life into focus at once…

But! Here is what you CAN do: start small in one area and allow that to lead to the next and to the next.

A lot of people roll their eyes at this truth. They despise small beginnings; if they can’t have it all right NOW then they opt for nothing. To be blunt, their attitude is the height of immaturity and shortsightedness. Check back in on those people in one year from now you’ll find their life to be exactly the same.

You only have the mental energy to focus on one, maybe two, areas of your life at time. So embrace it and leverage it to your advantage.

Money First, Then Exercise

Thoughts After One Year of Focused, 8-Week Work Cycles

As you probably know, a little over a year ago we started experimenting with an 8-week work cycle here at Blanc Media HQ.

They look like this:

(You can read all about the what and why in this detailed article here if you want.)

We are just now wrapping up our first work cycle of 2018. Today — Friday, March 2nd — is the last day of our Sabbatical week, and this coming Monday we will kick off next Focused Work Cycle.

After more than a year of doing this — we’ve done 7 or 8 of them now — I wanted to share a few brief thoughts on the the advantages I’ve found in having a focused, six-week work cycle project followed by time to review and prepare, and then time to rest.

Working in Monk Mode is Awesome

For our 6-week, Focused Work Cycles I usually have just one main project that I am focusing on. Last cycle it was All the Things. And that’s why we were able to go from idea to launched in just 5 weeks.

Having one primary project to focus on allows me to go heads down and work for hours a day without distraction. I call this “Monk Mode”.

When you’re in Monk Mode then all sorts of things become inspiration and ideas for the work. You can keep the whole project in “RAM” in your brain and that makes it much easier to connect ideas.

The result is that projects get done faster and the overall end-result is of a higher caliber.

Not to mention the fact that it means the work is just more fun. Most days I am “finding flow” and seeing regular, tangible progress. The value of this fruit alone cannot be overemphasized.

You Probably Don’t Need as Much Time as You Think You Need

I’ve tried working a 4×10 schedule (where you do 10 hours per day, 4 days a week and then take a 3-day weekend). And while I loved the 3-day weekend, I found that I was less productive overall. Those additional 2 hours per day were usually not very productive for me because I was tired.

I have found that it is much easier to compress 8 weeks worth of work into 6 or 7 weeks than it is to compress 5 days of work into 4 days.

We still work a normal 40-hour work week. But by being focused and intentional with our work (see below), we are simply not wasting time. We are working with intention in order to be done on time.

When I first learned about these types of focused work cycles from Jason Fried, he said that work will take as long as you give it. If you give a project six months then it will take six months; give it six weeks and it will take six weeks.

Resting and Recovering Should Not Be Optional

It used to be that I took time off when I had the time. But I never had the time. There was always more work to be done.

Now, we schedule in our break week to make it mandatory time off. And thus I am actually able to let my mind and emotions recover from the work. Recovery time is critical for sustaining high performance (and even improving performance) without burning out or injuring yourself.

Focus Only on Wildly Important

When you’ve got just 6 weeks to work on something, you are somewhat forced to pick something that will have the highest impact and the lowest effort.

And then, when other ideas come around in the middle of a work cycle, you simply don’t have time to give in to them. And this is liberating. I know of so many places where there is no limit to the amount of active projects a team can have. (I have one good friend who currently is managing 25 active client projects for his company.)

By setting boundaries around what we are currently focusing on and working on, we are able to say no to new ideas while we are currently in the midst of active projects.

As my friend, James Clear, says, highly focused people (and companies) limit their options.

Highly focused people do not leave their options open. They make choices. If you commit to nothing, you’ll be distracted by everything.

The great irony of this is that by limiting your options and remaining focused until you master a skill, you actually expand your options in the long run. Life-changing optionality is a byproduct of providing great value, which can only be achieved through focus.


You can read more about the what and why behind our 8-week work cycles here. And you can also read my notes from the Basecamp workshop I went to where a lot of these ideas came from.

Thoughts After One Year of Focused, 8-Week Work Cycles

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