This is what my Ulysses writing interface looks like on my iPad (which is where I spend about 90% of my writing time):

I’m currently using a modified and simplified version of the default Freestraction theme along with the custom font, iA Writer Duospace.

What I like about Ulysses’ ability to let you adjust your own theme is that you can design the look and feel of your writing app to suit your own writing needs and preferences.

It sounds kinda obvious, but I actually think it’s a big deal.

You and I have have different writing styles, goals, and preferences. And having the ability to create a writing environment that you actually like is important.

For me, I want my text formatting to be nearly invisible.

Because, when writing, you want to focus on the feel of the text not the think of it (which is the entire point behind why John Gruber created Markdown in the first place).

Anyway…

With all that said, today we just posted a quick-start guide that shows you how to find, download, install, and customize your own themes within Ulysses.

When you are writing, what is the feel of the text that best helps you to focus and do your best work? If you don’t love the feel of Ulysses, here’s how to change it to suit your mood. Heck, you could even set up a Day Theme and a Night Theme.

How to Customize the Look of Ulysses

True story. I was up until 11:45 last night getting a few final details in place for this new course launch. (For context, I normally go to bed at 9:30.)

Even though we’ve been working on this update to Learn Ulysses for the past 4 months, a few things still came down to the wire (for me, at least).

And I have to say that wow, I am just so happy with how this course turned out! It never would have happened without the incredible team at The Sweet Setup — everyone worked together on this new course to make it something world-class. A huge thanks to Mike, Matthew, Josh, Jeff, Isaac, Chris, and Joanna!

I am someone who is constantly trying to wrangle ideas and keep my writing organized. And I am so glad that I went “all in” with Ulysses a few years ago — it has been a game changer for me. And even more so now that I use my iPad for just about everything. (The Ulysses iPad app is phenomenal.)

The whole reason The Sweet Setup exists is to help people find and use the very best apps. And so I love being able to put together these training courses for my “must-have” apps like Ulysses, et al.

Anyway…

Right now, since it’s the launch week, the new Pro tier of Learn Ulysses is on sale for 20% off. (That will be until Friday.)

And if you are one of the 2,500 folks who bought the original version of Learn Ulysses before today’s update then we’ve got upgrade info for you right here.

The All-New Learn Ulysses Course

Matthew Cassinelli put together this fantastic guide for quick capture in Ulysses on iOS. He goes over the built-in share sheet (which is what I use about 5 times a day). And he also gives several examples of custom Shortcuts (with download links) for automating the capture of ideas, notes, and more.

Side note: On this Tuesday 26 March, we are shipping a huge update our Learn Ulysses course over on The Sweet Setup. This article on Quick Capture is taken from one of the lessons in the new course.

The Ultimate Guide to Quick Capture in Ulysses

This is a short video showing a day in the life of Chef Nozomu Abe, who owns and operates Sushi Noz in New York.

It is so fascinating and educational to watch and learn the small habits, routines, mindsets, and idiosyncrasies of people who are masters at their craft.

I love that when he puts on his chef’s apron his whole mindset shifts from preparing the food to now putting on a presentation and hosting his dinner guests.

And I love how every single detail within the whole restaurant is considered.

And I love how he starts with the goal of having an excellent dining experience for his guests and then develops the constraints based on that goal. Such as the fact that they only serve dinner to 16 total people in an evening: only 8 people at a time, with only 2 dinner seatings per evening. An entire day’s worth of hard work with a team, all to serve dinner to 16 people. Depth over breadth…

What do a blog and a sushi restaurant have in common? Not much. But I love seeing how masters like Chef Nozomu approache their work. It gives me inspiration for ways I can improve and grow in the creative work I do and the websites that I run.

This video brings to mind a quote from George Leonard’s book, Mastery

“Consistency of practice is the mark of the master.”

A Day In The Life of Chef Nozomu Abe, Sushi Master

Over the past two years, my usage between Mac and iPad has flip-flopped. And these days I use my 11-inch iPad Pro for just about everything. Especially all writing. So over on The Sweet Setup I just posted an article that gives a look at what I’m using these days to do all my writing.

(Side note: If you’re looking for the wallpaper I’m currently using on my iPad, it’s from my Blurry Kansas City photos which you can find along with the the high-res versions here.)

My iPad Writing Setup

David and Stephen were generous enough to invite me back onto to the Mac Power Users podcast this week.

We spent a fair amount of time talking about my gradual move away from the Mac and toward to the iPad Pro. For those who’ve been waiting for my thoughts on why I switched from the 12.9- to the 11-inch iPad Pro, this is a great opportunity to catch that.

We also spent a lot of time talking about leadership, management, and team culture. Specifically, how I manage the team behind my two sites: The Sweet Setup and The Focus Course.

Here’s a direct link to open the episode in Overcast.

Yours Truly on Mac Power Users Talking About Workflows and Leadership

Over on The Sweet Setup we put together this list of great apps for thinkers.

If you’ve got ideas to wrangle, brainstorming to do, and thinking is part of your normal day, then you’re going to want to use some of these apps.

I quipped on Twitter that this list is like my app love language. These are the apps I live and work in every single day.

Two brief, personal side notes:

  • While we recommend Notability as the best app for taking handwritten notes on the iPad, I personally use and prefer Goodnotes. However… I use Goodnotes differently than as a note taking app. Goodnotes is the app I use to mark-up PDF documents. And, something new I’ve just begun fiddling with is the idea of having certain PDF templates stored within Goodnotes and then using those PDFs when working on certain types of projects or doing planning.

    So, for example, having a project planning outline template. Or a decision-making framework template. Or a marketing editorial calendar template. Etc. I could create these as PDFs and store them as blanks within Goodnotes, and then when I need to fill one out I can just duplicate the blank one and use it within Goodnotes.


  • A few months ago I was introduced to infinite canvas whiteboard apps, and it’s apps like Concepts that make the iPad plus Apple Pencil make perfect sense.
The Best Apps for Thinkers

Everything Requires Maintenance


A few months ago I bought one of the best drip coffee makers in the world.

Truly, as I was walking out of the store with box in hand, four — (4!) — different people stopped me to say how excited or how jealous they were that I was taking this coffee machine home.

Long-time readers of this site will know that I am giant coffee nerd. Probably the worst thing you can buy me is anything related to coffee. Chances are good that I’ve already seen it, researched it, bought it, used it, and have since moved on to something else.

Over the years my coffee shelf has been home to a V-60, French Press, Espro Press, AeroPress, Kalita Wave, Kone Brewing system, Moka pot, Siphon, and Clever dripper (to name a few).

After well over a solid decade of manual coffee making at home I finally aged out. I have moved to an automatic drip coffee maker. Gasp!

I bought the infamous Moccamaster. (It’s more than famous.)

A Brief Aside on Why I Bought the Moccamaster and What I Think About It

So, after all those years of manual coffee brewing methods, why did I get a drip coffee maker? It all boils down to my time.

The time I have between when I get up and when my day starts is never enough. And I wanted to spend those precious minutes on activities other than pouring hot water over coffee grounds.

I wanted to get back just a little bit of my time in the mornings without sacrificing the quality of my coffee, of course.

It’s been at least four months now since I bought the Moccamaster, and I love it. It certainly wasn’t cheap. The model I bought probably cost more than nearly all of my manual coffee makers combined.

One thing that makes the Moccamaster special is that it’s built to last. I’ve heard from many people who have owned their Moccamaster for years and years and still love them.

As far as quality of coffee… I would say that the Moccamaster makes almost as delicious of coffee as I could make with one of my pour over methods. If the Kalita or V-60 can make a cup that is 9/10 delicious, the Moccamaster makes one that is 8/10.

While I think I could get the coffee quality to be a bit better — you’d be surprised to hear about ways you can still get nerdy and fussy with a Moccamaster — I have intentionally chosen not to go that route because it would be the opposite reason for why I bought the thing in the first place.

I just measure my beans and water and I’m happy with the results. In fact, I’m drinking a cup of my coffee as I type this very sentence. Yum.

The one thing I do not like about the Moccamaster is that the carafe and brew basket are not dishwasher safe. It’s not a huge deal, but it just means every few days I have to wash everything by hand. It still requires some bit of maintenance.

Actually, now that you mention it…

Everything Requires Maintenance

Sadly, there is no gadget or system or process that is completely absent of all work and maintenance.

To some degree or another, everything requires your time and attention; everything requires maintenance.

Alas, even my “automated” coffee maker still takes some work to keep clean and operational.

As someone who doesn’t always like to trust the process, it has been helpful for me to keep this truth in mind: everything requires maintenance.

And it stands for more than just the things I own, such as my clothes, cars, lawn, and tax-receipt filing system. My physical self and even the productivity workflows I live within every day require attention to keep operational. (Ugh, right?)

Spoiler: There is No “Easy” System for Focus and Productivity

Perhaps one area I see the most hangup in this is related to productivity systems.

Staying in control of your time and your attention is an activity that requires some time in an of itself.

Lots of folks bemoan this fact. They have, no doubt, tried many systems and none worked for them. They feel frustrated because they don’t want to waste time managing their to-do list.

Now, side note, there is a lot of legitimacy to these frustrations. I definitely understand how frustrating it is to spin your wheels with an overflowing to-do list. A lot of productivity systems out there are way more work than they’re worth.

However, if you care about how you spend your time and your attention — then you also ought to care about the keeping up with the system that keeps you on track. And I think most people do care, which is why it can feel frustrating at times.

For me, I set aside about half an hour on Sunday evenings in order to plan out my week. (I go into the nerdy details of this in the “Analog” section of my All the Things course.)

During my weekly planning time I will decide what it is that I will focus on and how I will primarily spend my time each day for the upcoming week.

This brief weekly planning session never feels convenient. I am rarely in the mood and I’d almost always rather do something else. But my task list and calendar must get the appropriate amount of my time and energy in order for them to be effective and helpful.

When Inconvenience Becomes Opportunity

In the beginning, these inconvenient activities of maintenance often feel like speed bumps that are getting in the way and slowing things down. There is never a convenient and easy time to work out, or to eat well, or to plan my week or my day.

However, if you stick with it, then over time you will see how these activities of “inconvenient maintenance” are actually the foundational actions in our day in which we are choosing to live with intention.

The truth is, you won’t find anything that is free from all work and maintenance. This is as true for coffee makers as it is for productivity systems.

With that in mind, don’t try to find something that requires ZERO maintenance. Because it doesn’t exist. You’ll never find something that is devoid of all work and maintenance.

Rather, find a system that can work for you — one that you have the ability and the drive to to keep up with.

Everything Requires Maintenance

What it Was Like to Go a Month with No Social Media on My iPhone

It has now been one month since I deleted Twitter and Instagram from my iPhone. I also made a commitment to put my iPhone into Do No Disturb and leave it in another room of the house during our family evening time.

A mere 28 days was no heroic feat at all. Nevertheless, it was enlightening.

And so, after a full month, here are some initial thoughts on the experience as well as what I’m doing next.

Regarding No Social Media on my iPhone…

Let’s get to the point:

I have loved not having social media on my iPhone.

Over this past month I have felt more creative, more focused, and at times, more bored. All good things!

If you follow me on Twitter, then you may have noticed that I did not completely disappear. I still have Tweetbot my iPad, and I’ve been checking in about once a day during weekdays to reply to any DMs and other conversations that were going on. This intentional, “small batch” processing of my Twitter streawm for a few minutes per day has been great.

Even though I use my iPad for just about all my work and writing, Twitter access on the iPad has (so far) not been a distraction.

Regarding DND every evening…

Having DND enabled in the evenings proved to be a bit more difficult than I thought.

There were many times during an evening where I’d be having a conversation with my wife or with one of my kids and we’d want to pull the phone in for some reason — such as to search for something online, message someone, look at a video one of us took earlier, etc.

In those moments — with my phone in another area of the house — I grew more aware of just how prevalent my smartphone is within my family’s day to day life. And, honestly, its a prevalence that I’m not comfortable with.

As our boys grow up, there are certain mindsets and behaviors that my wife and I do and do not want to “normalize” for them. And “staring at our phones all the time” is most certainly a behavior we do not want to seem normal.

Now, what’s next?

For one, I currently have no plans to reinstall Twitter or Instagram on my iPhone. My experience in February has been too good and I’m not ready to go back.

And I will also continue to leave my iPhone on Do Not Disturb in the evenings during our family time.

Additionally, there are two more things I’m doing as a result of February’s experiment:

  • I’ve subscribed to several magazines, including HBR, The Atlantic, Monocle, and Fast Company. I’ll share more about this in a future article, but I realized that I wanted some literal boundaries to my news and media consumption. The internet is boundless; a physical, printed magazine has a front and back cover — it is finite.

  • Secondly, I’m signing out of email from my iPhone. During February, I noticed that email was the thing I checked instead of social media. But yet, I don’t actually send or reply to emails from my iPhone — I just check my inbox. It’s not a productive use of my time. So, I’m going to remove it during March and see how things go.

I’ll check back in at the end of March to see how things go without email either. But I have a hunch I already know.

What it Was Like to Go a Month with No Social Media on My iPhone

“If you care about your thoughts, keep them.”

I got a lot of inspiration from this brief article by Derek Sivers on the benefits of a daily diary and topic journals.

I’m already a fan of regular (if not daily) journaling. I’ve been logging stuff into Day One for years. And something I began doing at the beginning of this year is to keep a daily “highlight” journal along with my daily habit tracking.

Over the past couple years I have been continually interested in improving my note taking and learning skills (especially as related to books), maturing my system for idea capture, and just trying to get better at doing more writing.

But the “Thoughts On” journal that Derek wrote about in his article was a new idea to me. It’s so simple and it makes so much sense.

Derek writes:

> For each subject that you might have ongoing thoughts about, start a separate “Thoughts On” journal. Whenever you have some thoughts on this subject, open up that file, write today’s date, then start writing.

Since reading Derek’s article last month I’ve already spent some time setting up my own “Thoughts On” inside of a new group in Ulysses. My topics so far include 8-Week Work Cycles, Finances, Delegation, and Leadership.

There are two awesome things about using Ulysses for these “Thoughts On” groups. For one, you can easily set up a specific group to place your own ideas, notes, and thoughts into.

Secondly, if you’re using Ulysses to store book notes, quotes, and other tidbits of information, then you can also create a Smart Filter that will aggregate any and all of those notes you have which are tagged with a keyword and/or which contain other words.


For more reading on this, see also André Chaperon’s weekend article on his knowledge processing system for creators.

There is a ton of nerdiness in André’s article, and I love it. One big takeaway for me was this piece of advice:

> Don’t make the decision of what app to use when the moment arrises. Decided on the app now, and position it on your first screen where your thumb can click it easily.

I currently use Bear for all my quick-capturing of ideas right in the moment. And then I will move those ideas into Ulysses.

“If you care about your thoughts, keep them.”

Tips for Delegating

I’m currently reading Mike Michalowicz’s latest book, Clock Work. One of the things that has really stood out to me so far is that there are two types of delegation for a business owner.

The most common type of delegation actually isn’t delegation at all. Mike calls it “Deciding”. This is what happens when you hire someone to help you with a task or a job, but you don’t ever train or empower them to make any decisions on their own.

Perhaps you do this out of fear or laziness or your perfectionist mindset… whatever the reason is, since you aren’t delegating properly you end up as the bottleneck for all work projects because at every junction in their work, people are having to come to you and ask you to make a decision about something.

And then… when they do finish the task you asked them to do, guess what? They sit and wait for you to decide what they should do next. Because you have not given them any autonomy or self-direction.

In short, you are still managing every little decision — you’re merely delegating (or assigning) the actions behind those decisions.

How does this differ from actual delegation?

Assign an Outcome

Actual delegation happens when you assign a task to someone while also empowering them to make any decisions related to completing that task.

Put another way, you are delegating the outcome.

When you can delegate the outcome, it is liberating to everyone involved. Your team member feels trusted and empowered to do their job without you micromanaging them. And you are free to focus on the things that you need to do.

Reward Ownership (Rather Than Quality)

One other thing related to delegating that stood out to me was the importance of rewarding a team-member’s ownership of a task and not the quality of the outcome of that task.

You must allow them to make mistakes, or do things differently. Because they will.

If you only ever reward them when they do things just perfectly the exact same way that you would have done it, then all you’re doing is training them to ask you for a decision at every juncture.

So, instead, celebrate their ability to think and work with autonomy while giving candid and helpful feedback to help them make better decisions in the future.

As Mike writes, it all boils down to letting go of perfectionism.

Tips for Delegating

Tomorrow (Tuesday, Feb 19) I am hosting a live webinar workshop that’s all about accomplishing your goals.

The topics we will cover include:

  • Meaningful Productivity: How to align your energy with your values.
  • Margin: What is breathing room and why do you need it to accomplish your goals?
  • Goals vs. Systems: What are the differences between a goal and a system? And why do you need both?
  • How to Schedule Your Day: Time ownership plays a huge role in accomplishing you goals. Discover a simple way to schedule your time in order to stay focused and maintain breathing room.
  • Weekly Planning & Reviewing: You must incorporate a simple and regular review session if you want to accomplish your goals.

Plus, there will be a time for Live Q&A where you can ask me anything.

I’ll be answering as many of your questions as I can. It can be about focus, entrepreneurship, creativity, time and attention, work/life balance, or anything else you submit.

I know for sure that this webinar is going to be a blast. Several hundred people are already signed up.

You can registering here. Once you’re signed up, I’ll send you all the details you need for how to tune in live via Zoom. (You will also get access to the video replay.)

I don’t host live training events like this very often any more. Last year I only did a few. And so far this is the only one we have planned for all of 2019.

thefocuscourse.com/fantastic-systems

Last Call to Register for Fantastic Systems

Culture is What You Do

It was in February 2011 that I quit my job to blog for a living. (You can read the original announcement post here.)

For a few years I was writing here, full-time as an indie blogger and podcaster. And so, any of the choices I made about work hours, salary, time off, or projects were choices that, for the most part, only affected me.

But then, in January 2016 I hired my first employee. And last summer I hired my second employee. And that’s not to mention our amazing team of long-time contractors and contributors.

Needless to day, today, things are very different than they were back in 2011.

Now, when I make a decision about my company I have to think about how it impacts our team and our culture. (It’s not just me anymore. Thank goodness!)

When I make decisions about what projects we take on, what our company profit sharing looks like, the amount and type of time-off we allow, our team communication systems, and more, I have to think about this:

Is this a vote toward the type of work environment I want to have in 20 years?

Here’s the thing. It will never be easier to have an awesome work culture than it is right now.

Why should I be waiting for some sort of potential, future-state of my business before I can begin implementing the sorts of healthy work cultures that I want?

If I wait, then I run the risk of accidentally building a company culture that I don’t like. How awful would it be to look up 10 years from now and realize that I spent a decade building a business that is stressful and exhausting to work in?

The Two Types of Sustainability: Finances and People

Being sustainable in revenue is critical. We know that. But finances are not the only metric of sustainability.

There is also the sustainability of your team’s time and energy.

Is your company “human sustainable”?

If you were to look at the amount of work you are doing, and the pace at which you doing that work, would it be something you would still want to be doing in 20 years from now?

Anybody can talk about how they value a healthy work culture.

But culture is what you DO (not what you SAY).

Are the decisions and actions happening within your team right now in alignment with the values that are being spoken? Or are things crazy right now with the promise of change once XYZ milestone is reached?

As the folks at Basecamp would say, it doesn’t have to be crazy at work. And I agree.

Fear Brings the Craziness

In my experience, the craziness comes from fear. Fear that if things are calm then people are not being productive. Or a fear that without frenzied, emotionally-driven activity then there will be no revenue. Or a fear that without long hours the work won’t get done.

You can’t change your culture overnight (for good or for bad).

But you can make one small vote today about the sort of work environment you want to have in 20 years from now. And then, tomorrow, you can make another small vote… and another…


P.S. This goes for the culture you create other places as well. Such as your family, your personal finances, or your weekends. Are the choices you’re making in alignment with the values you profess?

Culture is What You Do