Seth Godin:

When we fight constraints and eliminate them, we often gain access to new insights, new productivity and new solutions. It also makes it easier to compete against people who don’t have those constraints.

There’s a useful alternative: embrace the constraints you’ve been given. Use them as assets, as an opportunity to be the one who solved the problem. Once you can thrive in a world filled with constraints, it’s ever easier to do well when those constraints are loosened.

Embracing Constraints

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

Speaking of reading more, Srinivas Rao has some practical advice on how to synthesize what you read and have that information impact your life. If you’re feeling creatively dry — or if your creative output has been lacking of late — getting into a regimen of taking action on what you read is a great way to start improving your output.

Herbert Spencer said that “the great aim of knowledge is not education but action.” The things we learn should impact how we spend our time, what our behavior is, the things we create, and more.

But, gosh, it sure is time consuming to bridge that gap between reading and applying.

There is no such thing as an “easy” or “convenient” way to capture ideas, remember them, and take action on them. Highlighting something in Instapaper feels nice, but it’s only the first — and easiest — step.

If I do say so myself, I have a pretty neat system for how I read books, organize the bits of inspiration, and then digitize and categorize it. (See also how I use Ulysses, which is the app that serves as the backbone to the organization of my book notes.)

All this effort takes time and energy. But, guess what? That’s the point. Immersion, study, synthesization, and application are work. And they are worthwhile work.

Rao’s final point is the key takeaway here, and possibly the biggest stumbling block:

Implement What you Read, but Start Small: One of the major reasons people fail to implement what they read into their lives is they bite off more than they can chew. They read some book and attempt a massive overhaul of their life. Because this isn’t sustainable, they usually find themselves right back where they started. They assume the ideas in the book don’t work and start looking for the next book to read

When I start a book, I am only looking for one good idea (maybe two at the most). Not because I have a low bar of expectation for the book, but because I only have the capacity to grasp and act on one new idea at a time.

For example, earlier this year I read Profit First. And it was jam packed with great ideas that I wanted to do right away for my business finances. But I started with just one: setting aside 1% of gross revenue as “profit” every single month. 1% is practically a rounding error, so it’s mostly just about getting into the habit. And starting next month, we’re increasing that amount to 5% plus implementing some more of the alternate accounting methods.

How to Remember and Take Action on What you Read

If you happened to unwrap a new iPhone, iPad, or Apple Watch recently, then over on The Sweet Setup we’ve put together a list of a few apps you may want to check out.

It’s interesting — we’ve been putting these lists together for several years. And it used to be written for the “new-to-iOS” crowd: people who were getting their very first iDevice at Christmas. But now, the list is written a bit more toward folks who are looking for some new apps they may not of heard about. Though I’m sure there are still quite a few people who got their first Apple Watch and/or iPad this year.

For more app picks, check out this article I wrote last week of my favorite apps of 2017. There are some fun games listed there at the end. And, of course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t highly recommend both Day One and Ulysses — even if you didn’t get a new iOS Device.

Moreover, check out the Popular page on The Sweet Setup, where there’s a list of the most popular app picks on our site as voted on by readers.

Some Apps for New iOS devices

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

Two Goal-Setting Camps

As I mentioned last week, I’m going to be taking the next few Fridays to talk about how to make progress on your goals.

And, next Thursday, December 28, I have a new, Plan Your Year workbook coming out.

That said, let’s dive in…


When it comes to goals, there are two camps:

Camp #1: You MUST have a goal.

These folks say that if you don’t have a goal, it’s like having a bullet with no gunpowder — you’re shooting blanks and so you’ll never hit your target.

These goal-setting aficionados are very intense about having very specific, detailed goals and keeping short accounts. You practically need an abacus to live over here because they expect such a huge level of detail and organization.

Camp #2: Goals are for losers who don’t “get it”.

These folks are very non-goal centric. They say that it’s best to live in the moment — to live each day the best you can.

To these folks, progress is found in your commitment to excellence: You should be 100% present in the moment, rather than focusing on the future, because who knows what the future may hold.

Camp 3: Just Right

I have lived in both of the above camps — for years in each actually — and there is wisdom in both sides.

Which is why I prefer to live in the middle, with aspects of both coming together. When you bring them together then you get both the quantitative and the qualitative aspects of life.

Meaning…

  • You have the advantages of a target to aim for and a direction to head.
  • And you also get the advantages of taking joy in the journey and finding contentment in your day-to-day habits and systems.

And thus, when you combine these two, the result is a goal to move toward and a daily system to actually get you there.

A goal without a system is just a dream. Something you’d love to see happen but which you’re not taking any meaningful action toward.

And a system without a goal is just a rote discipline that’s not taking you anywhere in particular.


Why goals Are Valuable

Goals give you a direction and help you make decisions.

When you can get clear about your goals, you can get clear about the action you need to take.

A little bit of decisiveness goes a long way. By making a decision, you will get a spark of motivation to begin moving. That motivation becomes action. And that action will bring about clarity (thus allowing you to make more informed decisions as you go).

As you begin to make decisions about your year — the goals, events, projects, etc — then it will bring with it a spark of motivation.

From there, the motivation will lead you to take action. And, as you start taking action, then you will get an increase in clarity.

This is why it’s always best to quickly make the best decision you can with the information that’s available to you, and then to move on. Knowing that once you start going down a path, you will get additional clarity.

Why Systems Are Valuable

Because goals don’t complete themselves. We all have ideas, dreams, hopes, and desired outcomes. But in order to make them a reality, you’ve got to do something about them.

Having a system — or a habit — is one of the most powerful ways to ensure your daily progress (and even your daily happiness).

While goals give you a direction to head toward, it is through your systems that you will actually make progress.

By focusing on your system, you’re able to focus on incremental improvement. And slowly, over time, your habits and disciplines become a source of joy and delight.


Next Friday I’ll share a simple (and obvious-in-hindsight) approach for attaining your goals.

Two Goal-Setting Camps

I loved this article by Ramit Sethi. I’ve been working for myself for nearly 7 years now, and it’s always a challenge to make sure I’m spending my time on the most-important things, and not doing stuff just because I can.

There are three roles in which I am always trying to find the things that only I can do: (1) as the owner of my business; (2) as a dad; and (3) as a husband.

In these areas, there are things that only I can offer and do, and which I️ do best. I love finding ways to focus on those areas.

Without a doubt, the biggest thing I’ve done to buy back my time was to hire a full-time production assistant: Isaac. I hired Isaac two years ago, and by delegating to him I got back about 50+ hours of my life every week.

Isaac works only 35-40 hours, but I got back more than that because I was working far less efficiently than he does.

Something else that has been helpful for me was hiring a bookkeeper.

I used to spend roughly 4 hours per week — every Sunday afternoon — on my books. Now I have all day Sunday to spend with my boys, help my wife around the house, and more.

What’s funny though, is that it was easier for me to hire Isaac than it was for me to hire Joy, my bookkeeper. Joy is not full-time, and the books are something that I could still do without too much stress or time. And so it didn’t seem as obvious to me that it was something I should have been delegating.

How to Use Money to Buy Back Your Time

Delegating or Controlling

As your business grows, there are two options for how you’ll lead and how you’ll spend your time:

  • Become a master controller.
  • Become a master delegator.

Both come with risks and rewards.

If you control everything, you risk wasting your time. By having a hand in everything, you’re not able to focus on what only you can do and what you do best. You’re doing it all and spreading thin.

But, as the master controller, you will be able to make sure mistakes are never made and that everything is up to your personal standards. The members of your team will be interchangeable and dispensable, because each one works as a cog to do the tasks you assign.

If you delegate, you risk giving a job to someone who can’t do it as well as you. And over time, the members of your team will become critical assets who are not easily replaced.

When you delegate, you may be surprised to find that when someone else does the job, they do it even better than you would have. And now, thanks to them, you have time and energy to focus on the things which you do best.

. . .

I used to think that in business politics, knowledge was power. I felt powerful and important if I knew what everyone was doing all the time, and if I was the one with all the answers.

But I now believe trust is better than knowledge when it comes to business culture and business politics.

I choose to trust that the people I work with are capable. And they trust me to empower them and get out of their way.

It doesn’t always feel like it in the moment, but growing a business that delegates and trusts is far less risky than it seems.

Delegating or Controlling

My Favorite Apps of 2017

Favorite Apps

Recently, when I posted my iPhone X’s home screen, I shared about how Simplenote had just been replaced by Bear on my iPhone’s bottom row*

And as I was writing about that, it dawned on me that I’d been using Simplenote for nearly a decade. (!)

It’s already pretty incredible that the iPhone is 10 years old. But it’s even more wild to me that there are some iOS apps — such as Simplenote — which were available on the App Store in those very early days and have stood the test of time.

With my move from Simplenote to Bear, it dawned on me just how rarely I change up the apps I use. For the most part, I am settled in with my day-to-day apps and workflows. Like a pair of well-worn sneakers, I’ve become quite comfortable with what I’m using.

Sticking with the same apps and workflows has its advantages and disadvantages. The good is that you get really used to things, and you can just kinda fly around getting stuff done. The bad, is that you could totally be using an outdated set of tools and not even realize it.

This year I made a few big changes to a few major apps. And after years and years of using certain apps, a few new-to-me apps in particular really transformed the way I work…

Ulysses

I (re)discovered Ulysses this year, and it has massively transformed my daily writing routing.

Having a single spot for all ideas, articles, research, thoughts, notes, quotes, and more has been a huge benefit. Moreover, I’m just a big fan of the app. It’s well designed, easy to use, and extremely powerful.

Basecamp 3

My team and I went all in with Basecamp earlier this year after attending one of their workshops in Chicago and it’s been so helpful. We used to be on a combination of Dropbox, Slack, email, an iMessage. Now we are entirely on Basecamp and it’s so much easier.

Things 3

After 7 years with OmniFocus, I switched back over to Things when version 3 came out earlier this spring.

I realize that no task-management app is perfect. There are great features about OmniFocus that I wish Things had, and vice versa. Also: Ditto for Todoist.

Things 3 is beautiful, and there are a lot of very helpful details all throughout it. I’ve really been enjoying it, and have re-written all of my OmniFocus Applescripts to now work with Things.

iCloud Drive

While I haven’t yet gone all in with iCloud Drive (from Dropbox) I’m just about there. There are 3 huge competitive advantages I see with iCloud:

  • 2TB of storage for $99/year (which is 2x the storage of Dropbox).
  • iCloud Photo Library built into Photos. (Unless I’m missing something, this is pretty much the dream: all my photos and videos are always available and synced automatically on all my devices).
  • Much better syncing and sharing integration on Mac and iOS compared to Dropbox, since it’s built in at the OS level.

Fortunately, it’s not that hard to use Dropbox and iCloud Drive. You just have to remember which folder exists on which cloud service when hunting for it on iOS.

Right now the only big competitive advantage that Dropbox has is shared folders, and so I’m having a hard time wondering how much longer I’ll be paying that extra $99 each year for Dropbox Plus.

Other Awesome Apps

Here are the apps I’m still using just about every day (on iOS and/or Mac): Apple Music, Instapaper, VSCO, Tweetbot, Overcast, Day One, Keyboard Maestro, LaunchBar, 1Password.

Bonus: A Few Games

So I kinda got into gaming a little bit this year. I still don’t own a Nintendo (sigh), but here are a few games on iOS that I discovered and that are a lot of fun:

  • Causality was great at really pissing me off.
  • The Kingdom Rush games continue to be some of my favorites of all time.
  • I really enjoyed Leo’s Fortune on the Apple TV.
  • Returner 77 on iPad was a beautiful and clever first-person puzzler.
  • And Twofold inc is a blast without being a commitment.

* I’m not yet sure I’ll stick with Bear, there are a few things that irk me about it, but it does to a LOT of stuff right. But more on that another day.

My Favorite Apps of 2017

An (Incomplete) Cycle of Productivity

The Cycle of Productivity - Complete


The Cycle of Productivity - incomplete


I️ came across the above diagrams when reading Jinny S. Ditzler’s book, Your Best Year Yet.

I️ love the visuals they give — and not to mention the irony that, if you feel as though you’re on the hampsterwheel, then maybe you actually need to stop shortcutting the productivity cycle by skipping one or more of the segments.

In her book, Ditzler writes about how this fourth step of recognizing and celebrating progress is what contributes to our overall motivated state:

By far, the most important lesson of the Cycle of Productivity comes in segment four. Too many of us simply go straight from the end of the third segment back to the starting line without taking a pause for acknowledgment, pats on the back, thinking about what happened, or learning from it. Our eye is always on what’s next or what isn’t yet completed, and before long we feel as if we’re running on fumes — below the empty mark! We don’t feel like we’re getting anywhere and we experience little satisfaction.

This model reminds us to take time to appreciate what we’ve accomplished…

This is exactly what Teresa Amabile teaches in her book, The Progress Principle.

When we want to be super productive, we often think that speed and efficiency are what matter most. But when we shortcut ourselves, it actually slows us down in the long run. We are less productive when we don’t take time to rest and recharge and when we don’t acknowlede and celebrate our wins.

A few days ago I️ wrote about how 2017 has been a very successful year for me personally and for my work and business. As I️ said in that article, having a successful year is most certainly the result of many moving parts and lessons learned over the years.

But if I had to boil it down to what one thing had the most impact, it was, without a doubt, our 8-week work cycles.

Here’s what they look like:

Blanc Media Work Cycle

The emphasis of this 8-week work cycle is usually on the 6 weeks of focused work time. We pick one or two projects that we believe will have the most impact and that can be completed within 6 weeks.

But something else that has proven to be so beneficial is that every single work cycle we take time to review what we did, recognize the progress we made, and celebrate it. It has taken me almost this entire year to embrace our buffer week and sabbatical week — I️ usually want to get right to the next thing and not take time to pause and reflect. But skipping those last two weeks of the cycle are akin to working within an incomplete productivity model.

An (Incomplete) Cycle of Productivity

Just in time for your Monday morning commute tomorrow, this week I was honored to be a guest on Eureka, the Baron Fig podcast for thinkers and creative folks.

Adam and Joey are great guys (and have become good friends over the years). We had a lot of fun talking about productivity and writing.

(Here’s a direct link to the episode via Overcast. And here’s where you can find the Eureka podcast page.)

“Space Between” (Yours Truly on the Baron Fig Podcast)