6am Magic

The 6am writing timeblock has been working well for me.

As I shared in my previous post, I have recently begun getting up around 6am to spend the first hour of my day writing in the kitchen with a cup of coffee, my iPad, and Ulysses.

By 7:15 all the boys are up, and so we have breakfast with the family.

Then, I head down to my home office around 8:30 to do more work. Followed by a workout before lunch. And then a few more hours of work before wrapping up around 4pm or so.

As I wrote a few weeks ago, this is a new writing routine for me that came out of my need to re-evaluate how I’ve been spending my work days.

I will admit that I fell out of this early morning writing routine a little bit last week because it was our sabbatical week. Last week I let myself sleep in that extra hour instead of getting up early to write, and I let myself stay up a bit later to do some woodworking in the garage — building a beautiful Quarantine Coffee Table that I will never forget.

But this morning… I was back at my early morning writing. And this time I had a new typing tool at my fingertips!

My iPad Magic keyboard arrived late last week.

On Thursday evening, to be exact. While I was out with my boys to get curbside pickup of BBQ from our favorite spot: Joe’s KC.

(Let’s just say that when we got back with our BBQ dinner ready to eat and I discovered an iPad Magic Keyboard sitting on the front porch ready to be unboxed… it was a dilemma. But I was hungry and so I was somehow able to let the keyboard wait until after the boys had gone to bed.)


Anyway…

Long-time readers of this website may be all-too familiar with some of my previous in-depth, winded, opinionated, articles about keyboards.

I love a good keyboard. And I love my iPad.

So you’d think that if Apple came out with an amazing keyboard for the iPad, it’d be my New Favorite Thing.

Well. I’m not entirely sure if it is my New Favorite Thing or not.

I’ve read the Magic Keyboard reviews. Watched the videos. And I have loved reading everyone’s opinion about this thing, because it’s a HUGE step forward for Apple (and the iPad) on many, many levels.

In 2018 we got the epic reinvention of the iPad Pro, followed by iPadOS in 2019, followed by amazing trackpad support last month, followed by this Magic Keyboard…

Apple is saying over and over again that the iPad has a bright, professional, awesome future.

But as for me and this Magic Keyboard…

I’m still not sure if I like it. Or, at least, I’m not sure how much I like it for day to day use around my house an in my home office.

But don’t read into things too much. Really. I’m 50/50 on this… it’s too early to tell.

Because I also have to say that now that I’ve been using the Magic Keyboard for several days I’m not sure I could go back to that Smart Keyboard Folio.

Today I spent just about my entire workday working from just the iPad and the Magic Keyboard. (Usually I spend about half my day on the iMac and half my day with the iPad.)

And the typing experience on the Magic Keyboard is far superior to that of the Smart Keyboard. I mean, of course it is. This is a real keyboard. With backlights. And it’s not some plastic-wrapped thingamajig. But with my 11-inch iPad, the keyboard does feel more cramped. I have typos galore, and I am having a hard time adjusting to the way that the iPad itself sort-of blocks access to the top row of number keys.

And the trackpad. This. This thing is quikly becoming so nice and useful and something I may never be able to go back to even though it is still early adoption within iPadOS and many of the apps. (Things 3 in particular really shines with it’s keyboard and trackpad support.)

I know there are many more iPad apps that will be supporting trackpad and keyboard support. And I bet we’re going to see an increase in professional-grade apps as well. So that’s another way this keyboard will be improving the iPad experience.


Down the road when our lives begin to return to some sort of normal, and travel is something that we can do again, the iPad Magic Keyboard will be the ideal travel accessory for the iPad Pro.

But for now, it’s stuck with me here at home. And I have more thoughts and specifics that I may get into later about exactly how this Magic Keyboard works for me at home.

But! At the very least, this keyboard will be my new 6am writing companion.

And if it can help me write and create more on a daily basis then that is a huge win.

6am Magic

6am Writing

This past week I have been trying something new in the mornings.

We have 3 boys at home. And if I ever write a book on parenting it will have one chapter. And in that one chapter it will have one sentence. And the one sentence would be this:

“Buy an OK-To-Wake Clock.”

That’s it. That’d be the whole parenting book.

So this week, as I said, I have been trying something new.

I still wake up a little after 6am, which is when I normally wake up anyway. And that means I get an entire hour to myself before the boys wake up. (Thanks to their ok-to-wake clocks, they all stay in their rooms, quiet, until 7:15am. Every single day. (I know, right!?))

And I have been spending the first quiet hour of my day writing.

I wake up. Put on sweats. Make a cup of coffee. Sit down at the kitchen counter. And write for 30 or 45 minutes.

I’m here right now. The house is quiet. The sun is just beginning to rise. And there is the dim early morning light warming up the windows. And I am writing.

During the past month, I’d been noticing that I was struggling with my morning writing time. There are not one but two articles I am supposed to have already written for The Sweet Setup that are still in my drafts folder. And so I knew something needed to change.

During my work day, I have been more distracted — doing more busywork — than normal. I had to create a separate task list that is just all the “busywork ideas” I have. It’s a list of the little things I suddenly want to do around my house and around my office now that I am just here all day every day. And they’re all good things to do, but they also are distractions from what I need to be doing. (Writing it down on its own list helps me to stay focused.)

So, in order to combat my newfound work-from-home distractions, I’m trying a new writing routine to help me be more focused on this single most important task of the day.

Of course, all the “distraction talk” is not to say that my whole day has gone to the birds.

We Blancs are on day 35 of life and work and school from home. We certainly have our good days and our bad days. And in the midst of everything — the inside monotony and outside pressures of life — our routines have become all the more important.

A few things I have stayed vigilant with are:

  • Protecting my time to rest and think during my day.

  • Using routines and systems to make things easier on myself.

In another article I’ll have to write up the nitty gritty things of my routines and systems that have helped keep my day on track.

But first I want to share a “bigger idea”. Which is the simple idea of having big chunks of your day blocked out.

Here. Check this out.

It’s a copy of Benjamin Franklin’s daily schedule.

This simple schedule of Benjamin Franklin’s has been an inspiration to me for years!

What I like is how open and simple it is. (And how he had “diversions” as part of his daily routine.)

If you look at it, you’ll see that he had only 6 blocks of time scheduled each day:

  1. Morning Routine: 3 hours for getting ready, shower, breakfast, personal study, and prepare for work
  2. Work: 4 hours
  3. Afternoon break: 2 hours for eating, reading, and admin
  4. Work: 4 hours
  5. Evening Routine: 4 hours for dinner, relaxing, diversions, and wrapping up the day
  6. Sleep: 7 hours

This, dear reader, is timeblocking. And it’s marvelously effective.

For my day, I have big “blocks” like what you see on Benjamin Franklin’s schedule. And I also will time block within those . . . mapping my day’s most important tasks to a time on my calendar.

Having a simple way to schedule your day can be especially important if you find yourself in the middle of a transition — such as trying to figure out how to work from home with additional distractions you wouldn’t have at the office.

Timeblocking can help you regain control of your day and make sure you are spending your time effectively on the things that are important.

I regularly come back to my own daily schedule to re-evaluate it and see if it is serving me as well as it should be.

Hence, this week’s early-morning writing experiment. I simply shifted around two blocks of time to see if it would improve my day. And it has!

Now, I don’t know if this is early wake and write will be my new normal. But it’s working right now and that is what matters.

6am Writing

Tiny Moments

Coffee on a desk

It’s now been a month since my family and I began self-isolating at home.

Here at the Blanc house things have somewhat begun to settle into a new normal. Well, as normal as things can be considering the circumstances.

This past week, Kansas City had a few beautiful and warm days that allowed us to eat our meals in the backyard, do some work outside, and ride bikes around the neighborhood.

Over the past month, here are few of the rituals and tiny moments that are helping me to get through this:

  • Building furniture
  • Taking walks around the neighborhood with my wife in the evenings
  • Clearing, cleaning, simplifying, and redesigning my workspace
  • Prayer
  • Coffee in the afternoon
  • Board games with my kids (Settlers and Skip-Bo are the current favorites)
  • Daily exercise
  • Journaling in Day One
  • Spontaneous phone calls with friends
Tiny Moments

If you work with your head, rest with your hands

It’s amazing how much intentional destruction you can do to a piece of hardwood when you’ve got some 60-grit sandpaper and an orbital sander.

I have been spending my weekends in my garage workshop, bulding two new woodworking projects.

Last weekend I built my first picture frame for a painting that my sister made. While I definitely made some rookie mistakes along the way, it turned out pretty great in the end.

The photos here are ones I took last night after sanding down a new coffee table I am making for the downstairs.

I am spending hours each day, staring at a screen, having meetings, and making decisions about how to best navigate my business through this season. It is refreshing to step away from all of that and into the workshop, put on my gloves, and get to work.

These photos were taken on my Leica Q and edited on my iPad.

If you work with your head, rest with your hands

For anyone and everyone who is working from home, schooling their kids from home, and just generally feeling a bit overwhelmed at the moment…

We are offering our flagship Time Management Course for half price.

This course has several lessons that are specifically relevant to work-from-home creative folks as well as full-time, stay-at-home parents.

Right now the entire course is available for anyone to sign up at no charge. It will remain 50% off at least through the middle of April.

Here is a blog post with more details as well as direct, public links to some of the video lessons.

Or, you can sign up here and use the coupon code WFH to get your 50% discount.

Half-Price Access to Our Time Management Course

Music for Working From Home

Good music is instrumental (ha!) for me to do focused work. Especially when I am working at home with kids in the house.

I almost always have a single, go-to album that I put on when it is time to work. This helps quite a bit as part of my routine for getting into the zone.

It can be difficult to transition from feeling at home to feeling at work. But, by having the same playlist or album that I put on when it is time to work, then that music becomes pavlovian — it tells my brain “now it’s time to work”.

And, over time, as I become used to the music, it turns into background noise that is so familiar it is not distracting at all.

Another reason I like having one specific album that is my go-to for background music is that it removes the decision of what do I want to listen to right now?

The less choices I can make before starting my work day the better. I prefer to save as much of that mental energy as I can for actually doing the work.

Anyway! Enough chit-chat…

Here are a few fantastic albums and playlists for helping drown out the background noise so you can do some work. Enjoy!

  • Imagine Gold, by Frameworks is my current favorite. His other albums, Tides and Kings have all been on repeat pretty much ever since I discovered them a few months ago.

  • The Pure Focus playlist in Apple Music is excellent. It is updated regularly, and I often find new artists there.

  • The Monument Valley Soundtrack has long been my go-to. I have listened to this album well over 1,000 times. Possibly a few thousand times.

  • For additional good jams for deep, focused work. Check out this roundup over on The Focus Course blog.

And, of course, for when you are done with work and it’s time to wind down for the day, may I recommend the BEATsrumental playlist? I love to turn this one up while making dinner.

Music for Working From Home

Photos From Indoors

Here in Kansas City, we have a rainy season every spring and it is my favorite thing about living here.

During the rainy season we’ll get massive thunderstorms with huge downpours. It seems like they always happen in the middle of the night (why is that?) — but we do also get them in the late evenings or early mornings.

And I love to lie in bed and just listen to the rain and watch the sky light up with the lighting.

It’s still early in the season right now and so we haven’t yet had any major storms. But we have been getting some rain over the past week.

These photos were made around my house during a recent rainy day. And, of course, I edited them and published them from home as well.

Heck. You’re probably reading this from your home right now. Good for you.

In some ways, it may feel as if every day is a rainy day.

But we are all in this together.

For most of us alive today, there has never been a time like this in our lives when every person on the planet was being impacted and touched by the same issue all at the same time.

In the midst of this crisis, one thing I am witnessing are so many people who are going above and beyond to be generous and kind.

Now is a fantastic time to create. People are sharing more, giving more, and connecting more.

From famous Italian musicians playing live music for their neighbors, to designers making stay-at-home coloring books for kids who aren’t in school, to companies giving away money to creators in need, and so much more.

Even in the midst of the quarantines, the isolation, and the trauma — there is still community. There is hope and light.

Photos From Indoors

Three Things for Right Now

The past few days I have been spending a lot more time than normal reading the news and checking social media. (Pretty sure we all have!)

There is so much happening so fast.

While I don’t personally feel any fear or panicked anxiety about the COVID-19 virus and its implications, I do feel very drawn to social media, the news, and to watch what is happening through these live feeds.

A few things that I am focusing on in light of the current events:

  1. Batch processing news and social media to avoid becoming anxious or paralyzed from the firehose.
  2. Prepare for the worst and begin to take action now.
  3. Create and publish more.

. . . . .

As we all step toward physical isolation, a lot of my social feeds and group text threads have become alive and active in a new way and I am so thankful for the connectedness that we all are able to participate in.

Which is why I feel an an increased focus to create, make, and share more — even though it may feel trite in context to the crisis in our midst.

Yes, it is difficult to focus on just about anything else right now.

But…

I believe creating and doing what you do best has two positive byproducts:

For one, creating and making will help you stay positive.

Moreover, what you create and share will be helpful for all of us who are around you. We need your art, your ideas, and your thoughts now more than ever.

Right now we are feeling just how small the world is and how connected we all are to one another.

That feeling of connectedness is a wonderful thing (even though it is being driven by a global crisis).

So, instead of shying away from creating because it doesn’t seem right, I believe it is all the more necessary that we create and share.

One way I am going to start is simply by trying to share more of my photography and more stories here on my personal website. What about you?

Three Things for Right Now

Our Emergency Food List

For years, my wife and I have kept a 5-day emergency supply of non-perishable food items in our home.

We recently expanded those reserves to a 3-week supply of non-perishables that our family could survive on (with a rationed change to our diet of course).

The reason we are stocked up is so that we can avoid any unnecessary trips to the store in the weeks or months to come. And so we can be prepared in case shopping becomes dangerous or even restricted.

We know things are about to get bad, but we don’t know how bad.

Which is why we want to take as much action now so we can be as prepared as possible.

Anyway…

If, like me, you’re curious about what things people are stocking up on, here are the items we have in our storage closet or freezer:

Coffee (duh!), rice, beans, protein bars, canned soups, lentils, pasta, mayonnaise, oatmeal, canned tuna, frozen fruits and vegetables, frozen meat, dried mango, almond milk, bottled water, chicken broth, and, of course, chocolate.

Our Emergency Food List

Is time on your side?

It was shortly after my first son was born that I began to get seriously interested in photography.

I had all these photos of him, but they had been taken on my iPhone 4. And honestly, they were not good photos.

So in the fall of 2012 I bought an Olympus M43 camera, and began learning more about photography.

In the 7.5 years since then, my excitement and love for photography has only grown. In fact, these days I often find myself thinking more about photo-related creativity rather than writing-related creativity.

Our home is full of original photos that I have taken. They are printed and framed in pretty much every room. But I am eager to learn more, to practice, and to make more photos.

I know that as I pursue this craft and this hobby over the coming years, I have so much more to learn and so many more opportunities to do my best work. I have no doubt that my best photographs have not yet been taken.

. . .

Whatever your craft — the good news is that the best is yet to come.

Whatever it is that you are pursuing, the best days of it are still to come.

But it’s not guaranteed.

You need habits and routines that will move you forward.

I like to call these “lifestyle practices”.

With good lifestyle practices then, as my friend James Clear says, time becomes your ally.

With Finances: For example, with a good financial practice of living within your means while saving and investing, then over time your financial position will improve. Time becomes your ally in wealth building.

With health: If you have a healthy diet and consistent workout routine, then over time your physical health will continue to improve. You will grow stronger, and stay healthy. Time becomes your ally in living a healthy life.

The same is true in your career, your relationships, your side-hobbies, and your inner-personal life.

Take again my example of photography. By having a regular routine of taking photos, editing them, sharing them, printing them… it means that over time I will grow as a photographer. Time becomes my ally in doing creative work.

And that is why your best work — be it design, songwriting, books, videos, business, et al. — it is still ahead of you. Because with good lifestyle practices, time is your ally.

Is time on your side?

Broadway Coffee

Kansas City has a ton of great coffee shops.

(If you are ever visiting, let me know and I’ll recommend some spots to you.)

Broadway is one of the oldest and most wonderful.

I’ve been visiting Broadway Cafe for nearly 20 years. I always order an americano with steamed breve, and it’s always fantastic.

There used to be a Starbucks right next door to Broadway Coffee. But the Starbucks came and went — nobody went there when they could go to Broadway instead. Someone told me it was the first Starbucks to go in next to a local coffee shop and then go out of business. Normally, it would have been the other way around.

I made these two photos about a year ago when Anna and I were out on a date for the day.

We went down to Westport for lunch and to walk around. We passed by Broadway, though we didn’t go in for an espresso because we’d just had tea at a different spot around the corner.

The above photos were shot on the Leica Q and edited in Lightroom on the iPad.


Speaking for Broadway Coffee, here’s a shot I made back in 2014. This is of the inside of the cafe, shot with my Olympus E-M10 and the Summilux 25/1.4 lens.

Broadway Coffee

Erin Brooks is one of my favorite photographers.

She is constantly capturing amazing, candid shots of her two daughters. Her iPhone photos have been featured by Apple. And she has a style to her photos that is really unique.

The reason Erin has been an inspiration to me is because of how well she tells stories and stays vulnerable in her photography. Not to mention the fact that she is constantly finding new and creative ways to make amazing photos right in her own home.

Last year, Erin wrote a guide for The Sweet Setup on how to take great holiday photos. I have definitely been taking her advice and finding inspiration in the photos that she shares.

Here are a few of my own holiday photos from the past couple of years…

(Looks like my photo skills still have a long ways to go!)


As we head into Thanksgiving, I asked Erin if she would update her guide for 2019. She added some new ideas and tactics, plus new photos as well.

Here are a few tips and tricks for how you can take better photos of your family. Happy holidays, and happy shooting!

How to Take Great Holiday Photos

A Blank iPhone First Home Screen

About a week ago I moved all the icons off my iPhone’s first Home screen.

Basically I moved everything over by one screen. So the first Home screen became the second, the second became third, etc. Now, my iPhone’s first Home screen is blank.

I just finished the book Make Time, by Jake Knapp and John Zeratsky. And one of their suggestions for reclaiming time in your day and improving your focus is to remove all the apps from your first Home screen.

In the same way that a small little meteor rock can strike the earth and create a huge crater — so too can small little interactions with our phones end up creating huge craters of time in our day.

In terms of absolute efficiency, a blank Home screen is not exactly the most efficient Home screen. By moving everything away from the first Home screen, it means my most-used apps — aside from those 3 in the Dock — are now one additional swipe away.

But I’m okay with that added bit of friction. It ensures that I’m being a bit more mindful and intentional when using my phone. I don’t know how many times I have unlocked my iPhone to do something, but then forgot what that thing was the moment I was at the Home screen. Over the past week, when I’m presented with that blank Home screen it helps me stay on track with what I’m on my phone for.

Secondly, I think the blank Home screen looks pretty great.

Lastly, I’ve found that the blank Home screen makes it easier to stop using my iPhone when I’m done with a task.

I always swipe up and up in order to exit out of the app I’m using and then exit back to my first Home screen. And so now when I do that, I end up back at the empty Home screen. And for some reason, that brings a sense of closure.


Side note: moving all my apps was a giant pain in the app. I had to move each folder one by one, from screen to screen. You can tap-and-hold to get into wiggly-app mode, and then once you’ve selected one app you can tap on other apps to select a whole bunch and move them all at once. It took me about 15 minutes — but it was actually a bit cathartic, and I deleted / rearranged some apps in the process.

A Blank iPhone First Home Screen

At a Westport Bookstore

My wife and I recently went on a date downtown near Westport. And there is a cozy, local bookstore that I love to stop in whenever I’m nearby. We walked around for a while, perusing the new and old books that lined the shelves. I love how places like this have books falling out of their ears.

At a Westport Bookstore