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.


  • 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…


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)

An Epic Prime Rib

This past Sunday, my wife and I hosted an end-of-year dinner for 6 of our closest friends. It began just last year and is now officially a new tradition for the 8 of us.

I was in charge of the main course, and so we had prime rib roasted to perfection.

Here it is, just about to go into the oven…

During dinner, we all went around the table and shared our highlights and lowlights from the year.

For me, I had two big highlights to share, one of which was all things work-related.

In 2017, I took an unprecedented 8 weeks of vacation (including the 2 weeks at the end-of-the year that start tomorrow).

Moreover, Blanc Media generated more revenue than last year and we retained more of our earnings than last year; we created a brand new product; and I traveled more than I have in the past decade and was able to build many new relationships. Plus, I can’t recall a single night or weekend where I needed to work (though I’m sure there were at least a few).

My point is that, work-wise, this was a very successful year (and I’m not really talking about the financial side).

It was successful in the areas that matter most to me: time with family, a life outside of work, time to rest well, doing meaning work, and still being profitable without being stressed out.

The big question is: How? What contributed to this?

Obviously having a successful year is the result of many moving parts and lessons learned over the years. But…

If I had to boil it down, the single most impactful thing this year was our new work cycles.

In short, this new schedule was our attempt to simultaneously increase focus and productivity at the office while also increasing time away from our desks.

  • These 8-week work cycles forced us to focus on only the essential.

  • They helped us realize and define our boundaries.

  • They kept us free from work debt.

  • They forced us to take time off, rather than to just keep on working and working and working… until… 

 For years, I used tell myself that I only needed to work through just one more difficult week / project to get to an important milestone. But I did that over and over for years. There was always just one more thing.

 This year, for the first time ever, I prioritized stopping points, rest, and breaks within our work cycles. Not allowing work to infringe on my personal life.

What’s crazy is that so much of this approach to work overlaps with something I’ve been doing with my family and in my personal life for the past 6 years…

Every January, my wife and I take an evening or two and we map out our upcoming year. And year after year, this time of planning is always a highlight.

Through it, Anna and I are able to define what matters most to us for the year and see what obstacles we may encounter. It helps us maintain margin in our family life and it helps us to focus on what is most important so we can say no to everything else.

(It’s a very similar mindset and approach to what I began doing this year with work.)

For the next few weeks I’m going to take Friday to talk about how to make progress on your goals.

We won’t be talking about how to hustle harder. Rather, we’ll be talking about how to move at a sustainable pace so you can enjoy life in the process.

Here are the topics:

  • The difference between goals and systems and why they are both important (you can’t have one without the other).
  • A simple-yet-powerful structure for attaining your goals that is free from any particular productivity system, app, or methodology.
  • Lowering the barrier of entry to your goals so you can finally get started on them.
  • How to define meaningful progress (and recognize that progress) so you stay motivated.
  • The ebbs and flows of life, and allowing yourself to zig and zag in different seasons of life.

Next week, we’ll get into the two big “goal setting” camps…

Some folks say that need to know your goals inside and out or else you’ll never accomplish them. Others say you should not set goals, because who knows if you’ll even accomplish them or not, instead you should live in the moment.

Which is the right approach? We’ll dive into that next week.

Side note: This January, I’d love for you to be able to go through the same year-planning process that Anna and I go through. Which is why I finally put something together for you. It’s brand new, it’s very simple, and it will be available on December 27th.

A bunch of folks went through it this past week and their feedback has been super positive. More info on that later. For now, just wanted to give you the heads up.

An Epic Prime Rib

Do Not Disturb

My favorite feature of iOS 11 has been Do Not Disturb While Driving.

At stoplights, it’s almost universal that most folks will be looking at their screen. While annoying, at least this isn’t life-threatening behavior.

But stoplights aside, it is uncanny just how many people I see texting while driving. I often want to honk at them and remind them to put their stupid phone down, but I’m afraid that I’d just cause a wreck.

Needless to say, Do Not Disturb While Driving is a feature that will undoubtedly save lives. And so, in that respect, DNDWD is my favorite feature that everyone has who is using iOS 11.

But it’s also my personal favorite feature as an iPhone owner.

It has now been months since I received a notification while driving. And I have absolutely noticed how much more calm and present I feel when driving.

I love that my phone never buzzes and my watch never notifies. And there is no fear of missing a truly important message or phone call because people can get through if they need to. But so far, I have received exactly zero “urgent” messages while driving.

Additional, Miscellaneous Thoughts and Experiments with Do Not Disturb

In addition to the the “While Driving” part, Do Not Disturb is a pretty great feature in general.

Do Not Disturb While Working

Both my iPhone and my Mac are scheduled to stay in Do Not Disturb mode until 11am every day. This gives me a good 3-4 hours every morning to do my work without any incoming notifications.

Do Not Disturb at Night

For about two days I tried turning off internet access for my iPhone in the evenings (using the settings of my Eero). But it was very short lived — since I quickly realized that without internet access I couldn’t control my Sonos nor our Nest. Also it meant my iPhone wasn’t automatically backing up at night and updating.

However, I liked the idea of having no internet access in the evenings. There was no “pull” to just check stuff.

Some folks recommended that I just turn off all notifications and put my phone down somewhere else.

But I already do both of those things. For years I have had notifications turned off; I only get pings for incoming text messages and DMs. And my phone is usually by the fridge in the kitchen.

My no-internet evening experiment wasn’t so much about cutting off the incoming distractions as it was about giving myself the mental breathing room (similar to DNDWD) that accompanies the complete absence of something.

Do Not Disturb

On Constraints for Creating

In his response to my post from yesterday, my friend, CJ Chilvers, made this fantastic comment:

I’ve always stressed constraints in creating art, not necessarily sharing art.

This instantly makes me think about the challenge between creating the work and sharing the work…. a topic I could write about all day long. Because, well, as someone who creates things for a living and then puts them out there, I kinda need to nail it when it comes to both creating and sharing.

Earlier this year for my book club, we read through Show Your Work, by Austin Kleon. And in that article I wrote about how I have two modes of work: Monk Mode and Publishing Mode.

When I’m in Monk Mode, I have a tendency to go dark to the outside world. All of my working hours are spent with my keyboard, some books, my team, and a whiteboard. I don’t publish much to my websites, nor do I update Twitter or Instagram all that much.

But when I’m in “Publishing Mode” then it’s somewhat the opposite. Most of my working hours are spent publishing things to my sites, tweeting, etc. But I’m not focusing on any particular project or product.

A goal of mine has been to operate in both of these modes simultaneously. And, to be candid, it’s a huge challenge.

You’ve no doubt noticed that for the past few weeks I’ve been publishing here every day. Which I have loved (and I will share more about it next year). But this “publishing mode” has been, in part, made possible because I am not head down in “monk mode”.

Relatedly, Austin Kleon recently wrote an article about “how to hide and still be found”.

In which he states that his book — Show Your Work — was “for people who were great at hiding, but not so great at being findable.”

So but what about for those on the other side? The side that needs help hiding?

Austin doesn’t have the answer (yet?), but he does write this:

We seem to have being out there nailed. We’re all of us, it seems, out there. Maybe we need some help learning how to hide again?

For me, that’s what this year has been about: Learning how to hide and still be found. How to stay connected overall, but how to disconnect in crucial ways that allow me to recover some calm, some privacy, some inner sense of self, so that I can make great things to share. Because if you don’t hide, at least a little bit, it’s hard to make something worth being found.

As I wrote about back in August, I was in search of a workflow and rhythm that supported (a) doing deep work and creating huge pillar products while also (b) frequently publishing articles, podcasts, ideas, links, inspiration, etc.

It’s now December and I’m not there yet. But I think a big piece of the puzzle is what CJ said, and what I quoted at the beginning of this post…

Use constraints when creating, not when sharing.

On Constraints for Creating

Removing Obstacles to Prioritize Output

I never got into Tumblr, but I loved the idea behind it.

Tumbler encouraged you to post anything and everything: quotes, links, conversations with friends, photos, videos, articles, etc.

On the one hand, this led to tons of Tumblrs being the online equivalent of an angsty teenager’s messy bedroom. But on the other hand it also encouraged folks to put stuff out there day after day.

For the most part, I am an advocate for the idea that constraint breeds creativity. But sometimes the constraints need to be removed so you can just get unstuck.

And that’s something Tumblr got absolutely right. Because Tumblr had all sorts of various post types, there was no right or wrong thing to publish. You could share anything you found to be interesting or special or unique or funny or helpful, no matter the format. It all counted. You didn’t even need to have a title.

Contrast that with WordPress where, for a long time, the only post format was written text. Which meant that if you didn’t have something to say via written text, then you didn’t really have anything valid to publish.

And but so, if you find your output slowing down — or dammed up altogether — what can you do to get unstuck?

Remove whatever (false) constraints may be holding you back. Find a new outlet. Maybe just choose to get started again.

Daily creative output is inconvenient — no doubt about it. It’s messy. It’s up and down. That’s just the way it is.

The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.

Removing Obstacles to Prioritize Output

Seth Godin:

Most organizations think nothing of having twenty valuable employees spend an hour in a meeting that’s only tangentially related to their productive output.

But if you’re sitting at your desk reading a book that changes your perspective, your productivity or your contribution, it somehow feels like slacking off…

I work from home, for myself, and it is still a mental hurdle to allow myself time in the day to read and learn without it feeling like slacking off.

Seth’s got a great list of books. Here are a few I’d put in:

Reading at Work