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

Continuing in this week’s theme of “Rubber Accessories to Make Your Apple Gear Work Better”, let’s talk about the Apple TV remote.

The Apple TV remote is a case study in form over function. It’s a beautiful little remote control that is an absolute pain in the butt to use.

I highly recommend this $8 case. It makes your Apple TV’s remote much easier to hold, and it helps you know which side of the remote is actually up.

Apple TV Remote Case

Thoughts on Camera Gear

Soon after my first son was born I wanted a better camera than my iPhone.

That was five years ago. Long-time readers may remember that I dove deep into the world of mirrorless cameras. (I’ve put links to all those past articles at the end of the post.)

To make a long story short, in the Fall of 2012 I purchased an Olympus E-PL5. And it proved to be surprisingly awesome. Though it lacked a bunch of the knobs and dials that a more advanced photographer would want, the E-PL5 was capable of taking some incredible images.

After using that camera constantly for about 18 months, I upgraded to the Olympus E-M10. The E-M10 had all the upgrades I wanted.

Life After the E-M10

After buying the E-M10 in the spring of 2014, I pretty much stopped paying attention to all new camera gear.

Instead of following the latest gear trends, I wanted to use what I had and push it to the limits. If I hit a point where I was using my camera all the time and wasn’t satisfied with my results, then I would allow myself to look into other options. But that never happened.

Five years later, and I am still using my Olympus gear regularly (though the iPhone X is certainly giving it a run for its money) and I’m still very happy with the results.

Recently, however, I was curious what new gear there was. I started searching online and found that the Olympus and Micro 4/3 landscape is mostly unchanged from when I stopped paying attention back in 2014.

There have been steady and incremental updates to all the versions of all the Olympus flagship cameras, and there are some cool new Panasonic and Olympus lenses, but nothing significantly new or mind blowing. At least, not for me.

Now, please don’t read this as me griping or complaining against Olympus or Panasonic. There’s nothing at all bad about incremental progress. If anything, I’m bragging about the opposite side of the coin: the camera and lenses I purchased back in 2013 and 2014 are just as great as they were when I bought them.

And this is something that I’ve discovered to be true about photography gear: it doesn’t become obsolete the way other technologies do.

My iPhone, iPad, and iMac will all, eventually, become obsolete and will need to be updated.

A good camera will only become obsolete if you neglect it or else outgrow it.

* * *

I have no doubt I’ll upgrade my camera gear one day.

I’d love to move up to full-frame, and there are some excellent options: both Leica and Sony have both been pushing things forward in that area. The Leica Q is stunning, and if it came with a 50mm prime rather than the 28mm, I’d be in trouble. Likewise, the Sony RX1R is pretty awesome.

For now, what I have is still serving me well. In fact, I recently took some photos of all the grandkids as part of a gift to my parent’s on their 40th wedding anniversary. I used both my Olympus E-M10 and also my office Cannon 6D that we use for shooting video with its 50/1.4 lens.

Guess which camera I got better photos from? The Olympus. No doubt because it’s the camera I’m more comfortable with, and that results in better images. But it’s just proof that for stuff like this, tools and gear are not the most important.

All that said, here are some shots I’ve taken recently with the my Olympus E-M10.


If you’d like to read more about my foray into camera gear — and get more of the details behind why I bought what I bought — then here are links to all the articles I wrote, in chronological order, starting here, here, here, here, here, and, finally, here.

Thoughts on Camera Gear

MagicGrips for Your Magic Mouse

Elevation Lab MagicGrips

A few weeks ago I happened across this new to me product from the folks at Elevation Labs, and it’s pretty awesome.

The MagicGrips are a pair of rubber grips that attach to the side of your Magic Mouse to make it more comfortable to hold.

They’re $13 (cheap) and work exactly as advertised.

As you can see from the super-bokeh’d image up at top, the MagicGrips fit perfectly, and don’t interfere whatsoever with the functionality of the mouse.

On the bottom side, the grips don’t interfere with two “skis” that the Magic Mouse rests on. And on the sides, the grips don’t touch the button’s edge, so there’s no hindrance with using the mouse.

Elevation Lab MagicGrips

Elevation Lab MagicGrips

They attach like stickers to both sides of the Magic Mouse, and took me about 30 seconds to put on. And I think they look great — it’s not a degradation of aesthetics.

After years of using the Magic Mouse, it took me a little while to get used to the new grip. But now, with the grips, the Magic Mouse is much more comfortable.

It’s a nice little upgrade to a tool that I use pretty much all day every day.

MagicGrips for Your Magic Mouse

Over on The Focus Course blog, my friend and one of our Focus Course alumni, Mo Bunnell, wrote this article on the conundrum we face when we have more ideas than time.

As I look back, distinguishing between my successes and failures is really simple: nearly all of my successes in life have been when I’ve focused on very few things, obsessed over them, and pushed them until they are ready to ship, good enough for my standards. Nearly all of my failures? Starting too many things, saying Yes to too much, or beginning more things than I can finish to my standards. Trying to do too much leads to fragmentation, dysfunction. And despite what you read, there’s no fun in dysfunction.

More and more, my success seems correlated to what I say Yes to and what I say No to.

Mo’s article originally appeared in one of his Founder’s Friday newsletters. And as soon as I read it I felt super encouraged, because it came at just the right time.

Just a few months ago Isaac (my production manager) and I were getting ready to start on a big new project. But things felt rushed… as if we were behind before we even began.

Isaac suggested we move our project deadline back by 30 days to give ourselves additional margin. But I wasn’t sure. And for several days I was stressing out over this conundrum of how much we needed to do but how I didn’t want to miss our deadline.

Reading Mo’s article reminded me of my own advice. More often than not, it’s better to sweat the details and ship something that is up to standards than it is to rush something out the door.

And so we did choose to move our project deadline back by 30 days, and it was clearly the right decision.

When Mo talks about the power of focus, he’s talking about the results you’re capable of when you give yourself the time and the margin you need in order to obsess over a project and really make it something special.

The Power of Focus

iPhone X Home Screen (December 2017)

iPhone X Home screen Shawn Blanc

The background wallpaper is from Unsplash.

A few notes about some of the specific apps…

  • A very big thanks to James Thomson for hooking me up with with the pro version of his fantastic calculator app, PCalc. It was super thoughtful of him, and there’s a long and boring story about it.

    You see, way, way, way back in the day I had purchased the Lite version because it had an orange icon and it seemed in those days that every other app icon was blue. I upgraded, of course, via in-app purchases to the “pro” version, but even still my iPhone home screen’s icon said “PCalc Lite” and I would get heckled every time I shared a screenshot. I didn’t mind, but nevertheless, James took pity on me.


  • Also, after nearly a decade of using Simplenote, I’m giving Bear a try. Bear is, without a doubt, far more polished and sophisticated than Simplenote. But it’s the — ahem — simplicity of Simplenote that has always been its charm.

    My two biggest quibbles with Bear are that: (a) it won’t let me remove the few lines of preview from the notes list (I’d prefer to see only the note title); and (b) the first line of a note doesn’t automatically get formatted as a title.


  • Just Press Record is my new go-to app for voice memos. There are times when, at the end of my workday or workweek, I still have loose ends floating around in my head. And it can be a tremendous help to simply speak them all out loud into a voice memo. Now, they’re captured and tomorrow I can listen to that memo and pick up right where I left off.

  • I’m using Things 3, of course. It is, by far, the most elegant of all the most popular task management apps.



    Early this year I switched from OmniFocus to Todoist. But never really felt comfortable with it. When Things 3 came out in May, I switched to it and have been using it ever since. There are a few little things that irk me, but that’s the way it is with every single task app out there. Most are great, but none are perfect.

    Moreover, I think it’s worth mentioning that Things 3 has been getting consistent updates since it shipped nearly 7 months ago. And many of those updates have been some of the most commonly requested features that I’ve seen, such as adding in the ability to have repeating to-dos within projects, keyboard shortcuts to iPad (basic, but still better than none at all), iOS drag and drop support.

    Things has been around for quite a while, and over the years Cultured Code has developed somewhat of a reputation for shipping awesome updates and then going silent and letting their product begin to stagnate.

    Hopefully the past 7 months is a look at Cultured Code’s new development cycle, and if so then that’s awesome.

* * *

Sidebar, so long as we’re talking about apps and Home screens…

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could have some blank space at the top row of apps, not just the bottom rows?

I would certainly prefer to have fewer apps on my Home screen, but not at the expense of having those few apps be anchored way up at the top virtually unreachable by any mere mortal’s single hand. So, instead, I have more apps in order to keep a few of the most-used ones within one-handed reach.

iPhone X Home Screen (December 2017)

A while ago, Unsplash came out with this nifty MacOS Menu Bar utility app. Every day it changes out your desktop wallpaper with a random photo from the Unsplash vault. If you don’t like a day’s photo, you can easily click refresh to grab a new one.

Here’s the desktop wallpaper it served up for my iMac today:

Unsplash Desktop Wallpaper Retina iMac

P.S. And, speaking of Unsplash, here’s a page full of holiday and wintery images if you want to get your iPhone, iPad, et al. into the holiday spirit.

Unsplash Wallpapers Mac App [MAS Link]

Kieran Snyder with an excellent twitter thread on leadership. Here’s part of it:

The best leaders lead from the front when things are tough. They are visible, accountable, and own the challenge + their own failings. Sometimes the only way to guide or coach things to improvement is to live in the difficulty yourself.

The best leaders lead from the back when things are going great. When things are going great, that’s a sign that the organization knows what it’s doing, and you’d be foolish to mess with the day-to-day. Your job in that case is giving credit + setting up the next challenge.

Ineffective leaders often make the choice backwards: they stay in the background when things are difficult, hoping someone else will figure it out. They get in front when things are going well, hoping to take credit. No one wants to follow these leaders for long.

(Via Sean Sperte.)

“You Can Lead From the Front or From the Back”

“It is All. On. You.”

Discipline Equals Freedom, Focus

Jocko Willink’s chapter on Focus from his new book, Discipline Equals Freedom, is so awesome and so intense.

Sometimes, in day-to-day life, you can lose track of the long term-goal. It fades from your vision. It slips from your mind. WRONG.

I want that long-term goal to be so embedded in my mind, that I never lose sight of it. EVER. […]

Embed that long-term goal in your mind. Burn it into your soul. Think about it, write about it, talk about it. Hang it up on your wall. […] Every day: Do something that moves you t toward that goal — that keeps that goal alive and in sight and in focus.

Also, check out Jocko’s special episode on the Tim Ferris Show where he shares topics from his book such as success mindsets, overcoming laziness and procrastination, behaviors that lead to failure, and more. I love his advice for how to stop procrastinating.

“It is All. On. You.”

How to Be Productive When Traveling

In the past year, I’ve been to Austin, Chicago, San Diego, Atlanta, Breckenridge, Denver, Boise, Portland, and Nashville. It’s the most amount of traveling I’ve done in a 12-month period in the past 10 years.

It used to be that I would step on to the plane with the excitement of having a few hours to work on whatever I want — I figured that I would have several hours to put on my headphones and just write. But over the years I’ve learned better. In reality, when it comes to doing creative work such as writing, I am just not productive on flights.

Some folks can write an entire novel over a series of airplane flights. Not me. Though sometimes I will edit content that I’ve already written (such as moving an article from the “idea” folder to the “edit” folder).

If you’re looking to be productive when you travel, my best advice is this:

Have a specific goal in mind and be prepared for it.

(That advice goes for quite a bit beyond just travel productivity, btw.)

In short, don’t step onto that plane with a blank canvas and the hopes of being inspired. Instead, know your desired outcome and prepare ahead of time. What are you hoping to get done? What do you need to do to make it happen? What will you be doing on the flight?

A little bit of preparation goes a long way. Because then, once you’re on the flight, all that’s left for you to do is get to work.

Here’s What I Do

As I said, I’m not good at creative work or inspirational thinking when on a plane. Therefore I have found other ways to still make the most of my time (though I’m also not above watching a good kung fu movie).

Before my flight, I download a few podcast episodes or an audio book. Then I listen (with my B&O H7 headphones) and take copious notes.

Listening to a podcast or audiobook while taking notes is a great way to learn the material. It’s also a more passive form of creativity and work. It’s been helpful for me, and the results from the notes are always a huge asset. For example, my book club articles for Rhinoceros Success and The Dip both came about from times I was traveling this past year.

After listening to my podcast episode(s) or audiobook, I’ll then watch a movie or read a novel and just relax. Or sometimes I skip the note-taking altogether and get straight to the movie.

How to Be Productive When Traveling

Long-time readers will know that for the past several years the original Monument Valley soundtrack is part of my daily, morning writing routine.

Well, a few weeks ago the soundtrack for Monument Valley 2 came out and it’s fantastic. I’ve been listening to it all this week instead of the original soundtrack. If, like me, you like music while you work but you need something that’s instrumental and isn’t too crazy, this is perfect.

And speaking of, the soundtrack for Land’s End is also quite excellent.

Monument Valley 2 Soundtrack

Over on The Sweet Setup, we’ve put together a breakdown of some of awesome apps that will come in especially handy over coming weeks.

On my iPhone, Day One, Paprika, Deliveries, and Apple Music all get used a bit more than normal during the holidays. And, for me personally, instead of AnyList, my wife and I are using a shared note via Apple’s Notes app to keep our Christmas shopping list in sync.

And lastly, I’d add one thing to entertainment: The Kindle (the actual gadget, not the app). I’ve got Andy Weir’s newest novel, Artemis, lined up next.

TSS: Apps and Services for the Holidays

Christmas Photos from Castle Rock, Colorado

We were in Colorado for Thanksgiving weekend, and downtown Castle Rock is just amazing during the holidays.

My family and I spent this past Saturday evening walking around the downtown area, and I took this nighttime photo with my iPhone X and then edited a bit with the VSCO app…

Not bad! Especially when you compare it to this next pic, that I took few years ago on that very same street corner. Except that this one I took with my fancy Olympus camera and the Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 lens:

Christmas Photos from Castle Rock, Colorado