Snow Day

Leica Q Snow Photos

Leica Q Snow Photos

Leica Q Snow Photos

Leica Q Snow Photos

Leica Q Snow Photos

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

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

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

Alas, around noon, the power came back on.

Snow Day

Also on The Sweet Setup, Rose Orchard posted this quick walkthrough of all the ways you can ensure your iPhone does not disturb you. The Do Not Disturb features in iOS over the past few years have been some of my favorite. Especially Do Not Disturb while driving.

And, speaking of Rose, she shared her Mac Setup on Monday. Is it just me, or are stickers making a massive comeback?

How to Use Do Not Disturb to Your Advantage

Earlier this week on The Sweet Setup, Drew Coffman dove deep into the world of note-taking apps that support Apple Pencil and handwriting and other sorts of multimedia.

This has long been a category of apps that the iPad seems made for. And thanks to the new iPad Pro and the Apple Pencil 2.0 that is always available and always charged, I think we’re going to see a significant uptick in app usage within this category.

I spent some time over my holiday break looking into infinite canvas whiteboard apps, and while there is definitely some overlap between whiteboard apps and note taking apps, there is also quite a bit of differences.

Notability is the Best App for Taking Handwritten Notes on an iPad

A Review of the Clear Habit Journal

Clear Habit Journal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Clear Habit Journal

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

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

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

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

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

Clear Habit Journal

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

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

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

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

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

But… (and this is a very big but)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bullet Journal Daily Habit Tracking

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

Clear Habit Journal

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

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

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

A Review of the Clear Habit Journal

Regret vs Celebration

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Regret vs Celebration

If you’re looking to improve and/or start some new habits and routines, then one of the absolute best ways to help yourself stay steady is by tracking your progress.

That’s why, over on The Sweet Setup, we just updated our review for the Best Habit Tracking app.

I have a few daily and weekly habits that I track in my Baron Fig notebook as part of my Hybrid Productivity Method. But if you prefer a digital app for tracking your routines, then check out our review of the best habit tracking apps here.

The Best Habit Apps For Your iPhone

As I mentioned on Tuesday, one of my main areas of focus this year is on improving and giving more time to my writing and editing routine.

As you may know, Ulysses is the central spot for where I store all my notes, research, and other tidbits of inspiration. It’s also where I toss all my writing ideas, and it’s where I actually do all my writing. (Mostly on iPad these days.)

What’s so awesome about Ulysses is that it excells at each of these functions: it is ideal for capturing ideas and it’s also the best app there is for doing the writing.

If, like me, you’re looking to do more writing as we begin 2019, then you should check out Ulysses.

And, to help you get off to a great start, over on The Sweet Setup I put together seven links to the best articles, tips, tricks, resources, and other how-tos that we have.

Want to Write More in 2019?

How I Approach My New Year Goals

Don’t go crazy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How I Approach My New Year Goals

So, this is some pretty exciting news from Blanc Media HQ…

In January we are putting on our first-ever LIVE event.

As in… an actual event-event. Right here in Kansas City.

The kind of event where you show up, get a fancy name badge, and have a chair to sit in.

The kind of event where I cater the best BBQ you’ve ever had (no hyperbole; just check out Q39 on Yelp).

The kind of event where you can meet me, my team, and about 40 other awesome folks.

But most importantly, this is the kind of event where you are guaranteed to walk away with fresh focus regarding your time and energy.

This is the kind of event that will help get more intentional about how you pursue the things that are meaningful to you even in the face of so many other urgent issues.

This is the kind of event where you re-align, set goals, and get clarity for how to accomplish them.

The Focus Course LIVE is for you if…

  • You could use some margin and some breathing room in your life.

  • You said “yes” to a few too many opportunities this past year and you want to get better at setting boundaries and saying “no” (in a nice way, of course).


  • You have a big life transition ahead of you and you need clarity and a chance to reflect.

  • You want to ensure that your work doesn’t drown out your personal life and other areas of responsibility and interest.

The Focus Course is my flagship productivity and goal-setting training. We’ve had thousands of people go through the online version of the course over the past 3.5 years. Now we are doing an in-person workshop, led by yours truly.

It’s going to be fantastic! I really would love it if you could join us!

Here’s the link to check it out and learn more:

thefocuscourse.com/live

Save the Date: January 23

How and when do I carve out time to read distraction free?

September and October have been good to us readers this year. I have a pile of brand-new books that I can’t wait to dive into.

Yesterday I tweeted about how if you’re also diving into a new book (or 5) then you might be interested in how to build your own, alternate index of notes and ideas. Having your own index is, to me, a game-changing strategy for reading and studying any non-fiction book. (See also: My approach to learning and taking action.)

In response to my above tweet, I was asked how and when I’m able to carve out time to read.

Well, the way to make time for reading is the same way you make time for anything else. You pick a time (schedule it) and then you show up.

  • I wake up an hour before my kids in order to make time for my workout and to read.
  • After the kids go to bed and I have tidied up the house, I try to read for at least 15 minutes before doing anything like watching a show or working on other projects.
  • Before going to bed I read for 20 – 30 minutes. This is usually fiction (if I read non-fiction business or finance books, then my brain gets going and I can’t wind down for sleep).
  • Saturday and Sunday afternoons we (usually) have quiet time during my youngest son’s nap. While my older two are doing their quiet activity, I will usually read for a bit.

To be candid, I don’t read nearly as much as I’d like to. And I have two things I want to adjust in my daily rhythm to make more time for reading and studying. One of them is to switch to audio books rather than podcasts when I’m driving in the car. The other is to make more space for reading at the start of my work day and in the afternoon. I’d like to at least double the amount of time I spend reading each day.

However… right now I am focused primarily on a new workout routine (which is something I hope to write about soon), and I have about three more weeks to go before I feel that my new workout habits will begin to settle in and become easier to follow through with.

I try to only focus on one big area of change in my life at a time. And since I’m focusing on my health right now, I’m not worried about changing my reading habits just yet. I will wait until I’ve hit a stride with my new workout routine and thus can give my energy to focus on building a new reading routine.

How and when do I carve out time to read distraction free?

How to Make Sense of Things When You Feel Overwhelmed

Have you ever looked up the dictionary definition of “overwhelm”? It’s pretty intense, actually.

  • bury or drown beneath a huge mass
  • defeat completely
  • give too much of a thing to someone

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, then perhaps you feel as though you have been given too much. In fact, you’ve been given so much that you’re to the point of feeling buried and drown beneath a huge mass of stuff — from urgent issues, undone tasks, incoming requests of your time and energy, and more. And as a result you feel overpowered and defeated.

When you’re overwhelmed with too many priorities, it can feel impossible to find the time you need to get everything done.

Even worse is when everything is important.

How can you possibly put aside 99% of your responsibilities for a few hours in order to focus on just one thing?

I don’t know about you, but I used to feel guilty at neglecting all the other important things I wasn’t doing, when I would try to focus on at least one thing that was important.

It’s nonsensical that you can work on everything all at the same time. But who says we humans are rational, sensical people?

How to Make Sense of Things When You’re Feeling Overwhelmed

Do this. Make a note or a list or just mentally take inventory of the following:

  • What urgent issues do you have right now?
  • What areas of responsibility are you managing?
  • What projects are you working on?
  • What things do you feel that you should be doing but you’re not?

Now, take that list and put each item into the proper box from this matrix:

  • Box 1: Things you enjoy that ONLY YOU can do
  • Box 2: Things you enjoy that ANYBODY could do
  • Box 3: Things you dislike that ANYBODY could do
  • Box 4: Things you dislike that ONLY YOU can do

Now, looking at those boxes, how does it make you feel?

For reference, here’s what my matrix looks like (for the sake of brevity I focused only on high-level areas of responsibility and the tasks that fall under those domains):

Looking back at your own matrix, consider this:

  • The items in boxes 1 and 4 are things which you must choose to take personal ownership of and prioritize into your life. 


  • What things are in Box 2? It’s awesome that these are things which you love, but make sure they’re not keeping you from the things in Box 1.

  • What things are in Box 3? These need to go! Delegate them to someone else. Get assistance, learn how to automate the process of that work, ask your boss if you can be relieved of those duties, etc.

Looking again at my matrix above, let me share a few insights.

You’ll see that I put writing and project management in Box 2. The truth is, my job within my company as a writer, designer, and project manager is totally replaceable. Even though those activities are critical to what we do, I could train someone else to do that work.

But what’s NOT replaceable within the company is my leadership as the owner. My taste, values, and vision for the work we do are unique.

Therefore, if the work I’m doing in Box 2 begins to interfere with my responsibilities in Box 1, then guess what? Time to make a change.

I love looking at the things in my life that ONLY I can do, and nobody else can do for me.

  • Only I can be a husband to my wife.
  • Only I can be a father to my kids.
  • Only I can take care of my health by eating well and staying active.
  • Only I can lead my business in the direction I want it to go.
  • Only I can take responsibility of my personal development through reading, learning, and living a focused life.

It’s liberating to know exactly what I’m in charge of.

When you’re feeling buried under a mass of so much stuff, it can feel as if you’re responsible for everything in the whole world.

But it can be liberating when you step back and get clarity about the things that ONLY YOU can do.


By the way… those things in Box 4? The the things you don’t like, but that only you can do?

Here’s a tip: Put systems in place that help you automate those things. Habits and routines help keep important areas of your life on track even when you can’t — or don’t want to — give those areas your full attention.

(This is something I’ll be sharing more about in the coming weeks, and it’s something that I cover in a ton more detail within The Focus Course.)

How to Make Sense of Things When You Feel Overwhelmed

Apple Watch Series 4

Apple Watch Series 4

Last Friday, an Apple Watch Series 4 was delivered to my house around 8:45 in the evening.

I’ve been wearing an Apple Watch every day since the spring of 2015 when they first came out. My first watch was an original, Series 0. Then, after holding out for a while, I upgraded to a Series 3 with LTE and was totally blown away by both the huge speed increases and the usefulness of cellular service and being able to leave my iPhone at home.

The Series 4 is, without a doubt, the nicest Apple Watch to date.

Apple Watch Series 4

I went with the larger, 44mm size so I could keep using all of my watch bands that were from my previous 42mm Watches. The larger screen is wonderful — it has a higher pixel density and (at least to me) seems noticeably brighter. The slightly larger casing compared to the previous generations fits me just fine.

There are so many things about using an Apple Watch that I love. It has helped me tremendously in my personal health and fitness goals as I track my workouts (the gamification of closing the rings is a gimmicky yet real motivator).

But perhaps what I love most is how Watch has allowed me to decouple from my iPhone far more often.

My Apple Watch is, more or less, my “dumb phone”…

It allows me to leave my smartphone at home but still be reachable by text or phone (and I can still stream music to my bluetooth AirPods if I’m at the gym or driving the CJ), but I don’t have the entire Internet in my pocket. And there is just something liberating about being out and about without having email, Twitter, Instagram, and the like at my fingertips.

Apple Watch Series 4