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What Can You Accomplish in the Next Two Years?

January 29, 2018

We’ve all had that feeling in life when we realized a year or two has gone by in a blink of an eye. We reflect on everything we could have done in that time, and regret not doing more.

Let me help you avoid that feeling. This article is the anti-overnight success business plan. In fact, it’s not even really a business plan at all. It’s merely a way to show you what’s possible in the next 730 days.

If you’re starting a new business (or growing an existing one)…

  • You have 365 hours (working 30 minutes per day)
  • You have 520 hours (working 5 hours per week)
  • You have 4,160 hours (working standard 40-hour workweeks)
  • You could grow your revenue by 52% ( .5% growth each week)
  • You could grow your revenue by 104% ( 1% growth each week)
  • You could create 6 new products/service (spending 4 months creating each)*
  • You could have 1-on-1 chats with 104 customers ( 1 per week)
  • You could have 1-on-1 chats with 312 customers ( 3 per week)
  • You could pitch 1,460 people your product ( 2 per day)
  • You could attend 24 events/meetups/conference (1 per month)

If you’re a writer of any kind…

  • You could write 100,000 words ( 137 words per day)
  • You could write 200,000 words ( 274 words per day)
  • You could write 300,000* words ( 411 words per day)
  • You could write 104 articles or email newsletters ( 1 per week)
  • You could write 208** articles/newsletters ( 2 per week)
  • You could write 312 articles/newsletters ( 3 per week)

*The average book is 50,000 words long, this would be six fully written books!
**If you share your articles/newsletters weekly, that’s four years of weekly content.

If you’re looking to get more things done…

  • You could come with 7,300 ideas* (write down 10 per day)
  • You could spend 240+ hours on fitness ( 20 minutes per day)
  • You could accomplish 2,190 to-do items ( 3 per day)

*Even if 99% of the ideas you write down are absolute crap, 1% is still 73 good ideas.

No matter what you’re doing or working on, you have 730 chances to get out of bed every day and make your dreams come true.

What will you do with the next two years?

Simple Things We Pay For to Increase Productivity, Save Time, and Improve Happiness

August 17, 2017

You may be thinking: Jason, I don’t want to spend money to become more productive, run a more efficient business, and feel happier. Just give me all the free tips!

My answer: You get what you pay for. Also, stop saying “free tips,” it sounds weird.

It’s true. You absolutely do get what you pay for, especially when it comes to productivity and saving time. Rarely are you going to find an app, tool, life hack, etc that costs you nothing and makes a profound impact on your life (both ina time savings AND in happiness levels). Sure, you might find little things here and there that help, but are they really making a noticeable difference in your life?

Everything I’m about to share with you impacts the productivity, happiness, and time saving in my (and my wife’s) life and business. But first, let’s clearly identify something we all know to be true:

Time is our most valuable asset. We should be doing everything in our power (even spending money) to gain more time and happiness in our lives.

If you need a more in-depth look at why productivity matters and how you can shift your thinking about it, Ramit Sethi’s Productivity advice for the weird was written just for you (and was the inspiration for this article after realizing we share some of the same productivity-increasing habits).


What we pay for to increase productivity

Waking up to fresh, quality coffee every morning

(Blue Bottle coffee subscription, $62/month)

This $62 is the best recurring $62 I spend on our productivity and happiness each month. Why? Because coffee makes the world go round (or at least an entrepreneur’s world go round).

Without a great cup of coffee to kick off the day, you may as well forget that being a productive human being is possible*.

Blue Bottle Coffee Subscription

(Super hipster black and white photo of my morning chemex)

I was hesitant to pigeonhole myself into only getting Blue Bottle’s coffee beans. I love great coffee. I want to explore and try ALL the delicious coffees of the world. But I bet you can guess what happened? I found myself visiting coffee website after coffee website and spending way too much time researching beans. And when different coffee arrived, while it tasted unique, it wasn’t blow-my-mind-out-of-my-skull unique.

Every now and then, I’ll buy a local bag of coffee from our favorite coffee shop, but I’m super happy having two 24oz bags of whole beans arrive every other week. I never have to worry about that dreaded moment when the coffee might run out.

While $62 may sound high for a month’s worth of coffee, we drink three cups per day, making our average cup of coffee cost $1.45. Take that, Starbucks!

*If you’re some type of super alien who doesn’t need coffee to start your day, then you are amazing, and I worship the polished concrete you walk on. Truthfully, that’s quite a feat!

Healthy, ready-made meals in the fridge every day of the week

(Vegan meal prep service, $1200/month)

Speaking of things that nourish our entrepreneurial bodies, my wife and I have been paying for a meal prep service since 2015 (now a vegan meal prep service).

This is not a bunch of ingredients waiting to be cooked (like Blue Apron, etc). No ma’am! The meals we get, delivered twice per week, account for 95% of the food we eat, and require 1-2 minutes of warming in a skillet. Delicious and nutritious meals, always ready to be consumed.

Meal Prep Containers

(Fun side-benefit of meal prep: who needs dishes!?)

Let’s talk about the numbers of meal prep real quick:

  • We used to spend $2,000 a month on groceries + eating out
  • We used to spend roughly 15 hours a week grocery shopping and cooking
  • We now pay $1,200 per month for our meals ($300 per week)
  • We save, on average, 60 hours and $800 per month because we use a meal-prep company!

Not to mention all the mental energy it takes to continue to eat healthy. We use zero mental energy because our plant-based vegan meals are sitting in our fridge waiting to be consumed on a daily basis.

TIP: A great way to find a meal prep company near you is to search Yelp for “meal prep” in your local area. You should be able to find great local small business owners you can support!

Super nerdy: Buy a short domain

(Purchasing a short domain and creating a super short email address, $30/year)

Years ago, I bought the domain iwys.co to go along with my IWearYourShirt business. I use Google Domains to buy domains and love that they give you 100 free alias emails with every domain (an alias email is simply an email you set up that forwards to a real email address).

In this case, I setup j@iwys.co to redirect to my standard Gmail email address (which is about 2x the character length).

Google Domains Email Aliases

It may not seem like a big deal to have a super short email address, but if you’re constantly sending yourself test emails (or giving out your email address), having a short domain with an alias email is a great time saver! The day I wrote this article, I used my short email address three times.

Having a robot manage my follow-ups

(RightInbox, the Life Saving Personal Reminder Robot [LSPRR], $6/month)

Here’s a huuuuge secret about business: Those who follow up, succeed.

I’ve used some sort of Life Saving Personal Reminder Robot (LSPRR) for years. When I’m writing an email to someone, I simply tell my fancy robot to remind me to follow up with the person I’m emailing in X days/weeks/months. Then, my LSPRR brings that email back to the top of my inbox and I take action on it. This (following up) is absolutely one of the most important things I do in my business.

RightInbox Email Follow Ups

After moving all of my email needs to Gmail (which you’ll read about next), I switched over from FollowUp.cc as my LSPRR to RightInbox.com. Let me give you two examples of how using a PRR has greatly impacted my productivity and bottom line:

Example #1 – $50,000+ made in five months: When I launched SponsorMyBook, I knew I would have to do email outreach to try to land sponsors for my book. The project netted $75,000 in total, but I kept track, and 70% of all sponsors came from some sort of follow-up email (which my PRR helped remind me to do). My LSPRR was crucial for that success!

Example #2 – Building stronger relationships with customers: When someone emails me after reading an article (like this one), I like to keep them accountable. I’ll reply to them and tell my LSPRR to remind me to follow up in a month. A month later, I pop in that person’s inbox, and they’re completely surprised. I’m almost always met with messages like, “Wow, I never expected you to follow up!” or “No one ever does this. Thank you so much for taking the time.” My LSPRR helps me build stronger relationships by doing the majority of the work for me.

This is how I feel about my LSPRR…

Gollum, my precious

Saving money without even realizing it

(Round-up savings account with Acorns.com, $1/month + whatever I save)

You may already know of Acorns* or other apps like it. I LOVE Acorns and when I started writing this article, I had no clue how much money was in my account. I took a look, for the sake of adding context to this topic…

In my first 12 months using Acorns, I accrued $1,885 without even knowing it.

  • I made an initial deposit of $50
  • I turned on automatic “Round-Ups”
  • I let Acorns do the rest

Acorns Simple Investing

In one year I socked away nearly $2,000 and never even knew I was doing it. I don’t have a goal with my Acorns account other than to let it continue to grow. Isn’t that the way a nearly forgotten savings account should be?

*If you use my Acorns URL we both get $5. Isn’t that neat? I think that’s neat.

Working in a clean, organized, and fresh-smelling environment

(Cleaning service: $120/every other week)

Years ago, I had my first experience with paying someone to clean my house. It. Blew. My. Freaking. Mind. Why did I ever clean my own toilet and shower!?

Funny enough, to me at least, paying for house cleaners is the one luxury item I felt embarrassed to share in this article. Why is that? Anyhoo, it doesn’t matter, because he were are.

I absolutely thrive in a clean environment. When there’s clutter around, or a dirty surface, I can’t concentrate. Not only does not being able to concentrate kill my ability to get work done, but the effort and energy it takes to recover from not being able to concentrate, well, you may as well call my day done after that. Who wants to go get a smoothie??

Jason Zook Home

(That’s my very productive desk and office-mate, PlaxicoTheDog)

We had a conversation with our neighbors about cleaners, and they mentioned they were only paying around $80 every other week. For a moment I thought about looking around to see if we could get a better price, and then I thought of all the future “switching costs” that I couldn’t see right now. Sure, saving $40 every other week would be great, but our cleaners are amazing human beings and we’ve been (ecstatically*) using their services for two years.

  • New cleaners could do a bad job (which we’d have to pay for in time or money).
  • New cleaners could not be as friendly (which would greatly impact our happiness).
  • New cleaners could quit on us as we don’t know them or their track record (and then we’d have to switch again).

We’re incredibly happy to be able to afford to have people give us an immaculate work environment that never slows down our concentration. Oh, and it doesn’t hurt to have a house that smells great, too!

*This may seem like an exaggeration, but one of our cleaners has the most adorable and heartwarming laugh you’ve ever heard. Picture a full-grown man giggling like a baby. That’s exactly what it sounds like, and it’s glorious.

Finding freedom from chasing down failed customer payments

(Churnbuster, $79/month)

I never knew what “churn” was (also called “dunning”). I also didn’t understand the world of failed payments and the effort it can take to recover said payments. Until I found Churnbuster.

Churnbuster takes all of the work out of trying to recover failed credit card payments. It takes less than an hour to set up your account and once you’ve done that, you never have to touch it again. When a customer who has a payment subscription loses their credit card, cancels it, or does something weird we as business owners can’t control, Churnbuster hunts them down and gets them to add a new credit card (all while sounding like you!).

Churnbuster, dunning software

One of the best things about Churnbuster is that it pays for itself! In the image above you can see that it recovered $554 over the course of two months. I didn’t have to do a single thing to recover that $554—woot!

Failed charge examples

(Imagine the headache of trying to chase down all these daily failed charges? It would be a nightmare!)

I realize this is a very specific situation, but Churnbuster absolutely saves me time and energy, and keeps me from ever worrying about people’s bad credit card habits.

Never forgetting or worrying about searching for my passwords

(1Password, $3/month—$3!)

If we’re talking about the best $3 you can spend per month to be more efficient, productive, and happy, a password manager takes home the gigantic 1st place trophy.

For some stupid reason, I was skeptical of password managers. Whether it was my (incorrectly) perceived lack of security or laziness to change from allowing my web browser to store my passwords, I couldn’t be happier to pay 1Password $3 every month. THREE DOLLARS.

1Password, password manager

Wouldn’t you love to never forget a password again? Or not have to scramble through your notes/notebooks to find out where you wrote down your passwords? Or even worse, have to deal with the dreaded “Forgot Password” system, which can sometimes ask you a series of painfully penetrating questions that you don’t remember the answers to? That’s what $3 can get you with 1Password, and it’s worth every single penny.

Stop wasting a single moment trying to remember and store your own passwords. You’ll thank me later.

Last but not least, never having to go to the post office

(Stamps.com, $15.99/month)

The post office is a cauldron of misery. It’s where bridge-dwelling trolls go when they run out of bridges to dwell under. No one in the history of ever has had a cheerful and expedited USPS experience. It doesn’t happen.

I barely ship enough things out each month to warrant paying $15.99 for a Stamps.com account. But the moment I need to ship something and can print a label in a blink of an eye, I’m in a state of euphoria. Honestly, it would probably shock you how giddy I get when I realize I can print my own shipping label in the comfort of my own home and then drop my ready-to-ship box in one of those blue USPS receptacles on the street and NEVER interact with a bridge-dwelling post office troll.

Stamps.com may be one of the things I am most grateful to be able to spend money on each month. It seems silly, but if we’re talking about things that completely derail your day and mood, USPS ranks up there at the tippy-top of the list for me.

BONUS! Here’s one that’s actually free… Keeping two separate email accounts

(One for business and one for personal stuff: FREE—😱)

In a previous life, I used Mac Mail and managed 11 email addresses. One day, I was fed up with the slowness of Mac Mail and realized the majority of my business emails could all be forwarded to one Gmail address.

The majority of my businesses all have to do with me, as a person. While I have different projects that attract different audiences, if someone emails me, they just want to get ahold of me (regardless of the domain or extension on the end of my email address). It’s probably been 10,000+ emails since I made this switch, and no one has ever questioned why my email reply came from a different email address than they originally used.

As far as the personal email address goes, I absolutely looooove keeping all my “adulting” emails separate from business emails. Things like household bills, credit card statements, any online banking stuff, and emails with family and friends. Gmail also makes it so easy to bounce back and forth between two email addresses these days.

I know my two main email addresses are saving me time, but more importantly, I’ve removed almost all stress when it comes to organizing my inboxes now. Happy camper!


Money can by happiness and productivity

I hope you’ll invest in your productivity and happiness after reading this article. It’s not an exaggeration to say that my life is better with these things. Some of them, I cannot imagine living without.

The next time you get stuck wondering if you should spend $3 per month on something (or $1,200 per month), ask yourself how much time that thing could save you and how much your time is worth.

My time is worth way more than all of the things I pay for on this list, and so is yours.

For 4 Weeks I Let RescueTime Track My Productivity, and Here Are The Results

March 12, 2017

Like you, I know I spend the majority of my waking hours connected to technology. However, I considered myself a productive person and wanted to put that assumption to the test.

Enter: The RescueTime App.

Note: I am not being paid by RescueTime to write this article. It’s simply something I wanted to test out for 30 days and learn from the data and results.

How was I tracking my productivity and time before RescueTime?

I’d never used RescueTime before this. Instead, I’ve let Google Calendar dictate my daily schedule, and I regularly refer back to it as a way to track my productivity. By looking at the blocks of time on my calendar and asking Did I do that thing?, I could get a basic idea of how productive I was.

Or could I?

Jason Zook Productivity Calendar

(Hehe, yeah, I schedule my haircut and beard trimming sometimes.)

Let’s be honest…There’s always some fudging when there’s no real accountability. I could guess and assume that I was correct about getting stuff done, but was I actually right?

Just putting blocks of time on my calendar doesn’t mean those tasks get completed by magic. And if they didn’t, what was taking their place? Last week, for example, see that 3-hour block on Tuesday that I was supposed to spend on CYDI emails and planning? Yeah…I rescheduled that for this weekend and took a tech-free afternoon off with my wife Caroline. #worthit

But that’s not the norm for me, and I wanted to see if and where I was losing potentially productive time. That’s where I hoped RescueTime would come to the, well, rescue!


Starting my journey to increased productivity with RescueTime

Where did it all start? Installing the RescueTime app and telling myself to forget I’d ever installed it.

The great thing about RescueTime is that it’s 100% free to track your basic info, and it takes a matter of minutes to set up:

  • Create a free account on RescueTime.com
  • Download and install the app
  • Huzzah, you’re tracking!

Once the app was installed, it does everything for you. The only thing I knew to check, because RescueTime told me to, was to review a day’s activity in my Dashboard and make sure the websites I was visiting (or programs I was using) were being categorized correctly. This came in handy when it didn’t know what to do with sites like ProductHunt, Medium, and a handful of others (more on this in a minute as well).

For the purposes of my experiment with RescueTime, I opted not to install the app on my iPhone. I’ve disconnected myself from doing almost anything on my phone. I removed all social apps except Instagram, and only check that twice per day. I have almost every notification turned off, and I ignore 99.9% of phone calls I get (ha!)

Let’s look at Day One of tracking my productivity with RescueTime

RescueTime Week One - Jason Zook

My typical workday starts, alarm-free, at around 7am. I give myself about 30 minutes to scroll through Instagram, make coffee with the Chemex, and watch a few random YouTube videos while eating breakfast, so it wasn’t surprising for me to see some of my least productive time during that first hour. What kind of psycho just dives head-first into being productive??

However, I fairly quickly righted the ship, and had a few hours of my most productive time of the day. This time was spent mostly on:

  • Communication: Interacting with people in Slack Channels and answering emails
  • Business: Answering support tickets for my various software products, and writing articles
  • Utilities: This category should have been renamed, but it was solely tracking time spent on the staging version of my brand new website (which you’re viewing now)

I’ve known this about myself, but RescueTime reaffirmed the fact that I’m most productive early in the morning or late at night.

The middle of the day isn’t totally unproductive time, but I do find myself taking more breaks from my computer and doing other things (what entrepreneur doesn’t knock out laundry at 1pm on Mondays?).

One of the big revelations for me on the first day of tracking my time was that I would have guessed I spend 10-12 hours on my laptop each day. The reason being? I may use my laptop from 7am – 7pm, but it’s definitely not 60 minutes of usage per hour. I was happy to figure this out by using RescueTime, because I tend to feel guilty that I’m on my laptop too much*.

*And truthfully, the only reason I feel any guilt at all is because of societal stereotypes about over-working. I work for myself. I love the work I do. I love the people I communicate with. I thoroughly enjoy technology and creating things on it (conversations or otherwise).

Here’s what the First Week of RescueTime looked like, with a pesky house guest

RescueTime Less Active Week

You’ll see in a few moments that my normal hours spent on my laptop is nearly double the first week. Well, we had a guest visiting us for three days, and we spent the majority of that time planning, scheming, plotting, and brainstorming—all things that require a disconnect from technology.

Even though this first week wasn’t perfect as far as a “normal” week, I’m glad I have the data to see the difference.

My favorite takeaways from looking at the first week

I talk a big game about spending time with my community, but I back it up!

Five of the 29 hours I spent on my computer were laser-focused using Slack. I’m a part of 10 Slack Channels, but none of them are public groups. The are all used for individual projects or ways to keep up with friends. The most active channel is my BuyMyFuture channel, hands-down.

BuyMyFuture Slack

26% of a week is spent on business and customer support.

Anyone who has a software product, or customer support for any product, knows how many hours can go into it. Apparently, I spend way more time in Google Spreadsheets than I would have expected. Looking at this, it does make sense as I track a lot of things, especially revenue and expenses in my own spreadsheets.

RescueTime Week Chart

Ain’t nobody got time for social media and news!

You’ll notice that social media usage and reading news sites don’t even crack 5% of my total time spent during a week. In fact, I only spent 36 minutes (total!) viewing social media or anything news related during this first week. I’m very proud of this. I used to be addicted to social media and have proudly backed my usage way off. And as you can see, “news” for me is basically just ESPN.

RescueTime News

Now we’ll take a look at my second week, with another house guest!

First off, can we all take a moment to appreciate the fact that I spent a difference of just 40 minutes on my laptop from Week 1 to Week 2? That’s crazy and completely random that it ended up that way.

RescueTime Week Stats

Right off the bat, you’ll notice a stark difference in this week’s productivity versus the first week’s. Well, the guest in town was our good friend Leah, and she was visiting to help us plan our wedding day (we basically did a staycation + elopment… you know, a staylopement).

It was great having Leah in town, but it did change my laptop usage quite a bit.

Takeaways from Week Two, with another house guest and the Harry Potter Wiki (?)

Time spent on business stuff decreased, shopping and social media increased.

Just as we were celebrating my productivity of the first week, here comes Twitter to wreck the party. Over an hour spent on Twitter this week. Shopping was no surprise, as Leah is a professional stylist and was introducing me to the world of Asos.com (watch out, danger zone!).

I spent a lot more time on Slack gearing up for a new project launch.

YourPack is a new product I created with my friends Paul Jarvis and Zack Gilbert. Many of the extra hours spent on Slack can be attributed to testing, tweaking, and setting YourPack up for the initial launch.

Going down the Harry Potter Wiki rabbit hole.

Okay, it was only 2 minutes, but it’s still funny. The majority of the time in the reference/education section show below was dedicated to researching the cast of Friends and Harry Potter for YourPack’s demo pack. I run serious businesses people! Research is important.

RescueTime Education Chart

Week Three, or what a normal week of work and productivity look like

Well now, 53 hours is a bit more like it. I used to guess that I worked more than a normal 40-hour work week, but now I have the data to prove it.

RescueTime Week Chart

This week was dominated by working on the new version of JasonDoesStuff.com. My productivity score is a bit off, only because I, again, didn’t categorize my staging website the correct way. I’m sure you’ll survive and can imagine that purple space in the chart as more, wonderfully productive blue space.

My most productive day of the month happened this week, and it was on a Sunday!

That’s interesting, right? The most productive day of the week being a Sunday? When you work for yourself, you find yourself not having a standard weekend. And often, the work needs to get done regardless of what day of the week it is.

RescueTime Daily Dashboard

As mentioned, this week was spent working on my new website and the Sunday before launch was justifiably the busiest day.

You’ll notice the big fat 91 on the productivity scale. But, there’s 4% that wasn’t categorized, and you guessed it, that was time spent on the staging version of my website. This day may have actually been a 95! Yay for celebrating arbitrary scores!

Earlier I talked about my afternoon slump, and you can see it on this day as well. 3pm, you are my productivity nemesis…

RescueTime Entertainment

(Let’s be honest, though. Less than 30 minutes of distraction in a nearly 11-hour day is pretty solid. In case you care, I’m sure the YouTube videos were all Jimmy Fallon Thank You Notes.)

Some random/interesting facts about the third week

  • I spent 1 hour and 7 minutes just in Finder. I’m sure it was being anal retentive about design files (deleting: layout1.jpg, layout1-2.jpg, layout1-2x.jpg, layout1-final.jpg, and layout1-final-FINAL.jpg)
  • I had three 30-minute Skype calls on my calendar and only ended up spending 33 total minutes on Skype. Yay for ending calls early!
  • 12% of my overall time was spent on unproductive things: 2 hours of that was on Twitter
  • I have Spotify playing for at least 8 hours every day, yet during this week, I only spent 11 minutes using the app (partly because I use an Amazon Echo Dot and boss Alexa around constantly)

The Final Week was all about me me me

Fairly similar to the prior week. While it does look like I spent more time working on my site, it’s actually less time at 10 hours and 26 minutes, compared to 13 hours and 27 minutes the previous week (because of the extra time on the staging version).

RescueTime Week Dashboard

The final week’s takeaways

Almost 3 hours spent on Twitter, oh my!

Truthfully, those 3 hours could get categorized in communication as it was a lot of back and forth with folks who were checking out my new site. In the free version of RescueTime, they don’t show you exact behavior by website (that kind of detail IS available in the paid version!), but I’m confident 95% of my 3 hours on Twitter would have been spent in my mentions area.

Gmail continues to dominate.

It’s funny to think I didn’t use Gmail up until a few months ago (I was a Mac Mail user). Now, I live, eat, and breathe it.

59 hours felt like a lot of hours.

This week was very productive, as you can see, but it also felt that way. I knocked out the launch of a website, wrote over 5,000 words (~4 hours in Google Docs), and just got things done.

Slack soaks up the majority of my attention.

Thanks to the 2-week check-in email RescueTime sent me, I could see how much actual time I spend interacting with my BuyMyFuture community and the people I collaborate with. I’d like to think 10% of that time is sending GIFs back and forth.

RescueTime Emails


I have room to improve my productivity

Looking back on using RescueTime for 30 days showed I have room to improve my productivity, and I’m okay with that.

I like getting scored with an 80 for my overall productivity (although, it may be closer to 90 with the staging site caveat). That being said, I was never shooting for a perfect 100.

RescueTime Month Dashboard

Running my own business affords me the ability to work at my own pace, and my own pace is getting a lot of stuff done, with a handful of distractions mixed in.

When I started this little time-tracking experiment, it wasn’t to make myself the most productive person of ALL TIME. It was simply to see what I was actually doing and to reflect on what I learned about my habits. I like that I take breaks, and that I can clearly see that mid-afternoon is my least productive time (I’m going to start prioritizing exercise and offline to-dos during this time).

It’s fun to track your actions so you can test assumptions you have about yourself and how productive you are.

I figured I spent a lot of time in Slack and Gmail, but RescueTime showed me those things dominated where my time goes.

I talk a good amount about the value of investing in your community, answering every email, and being available to your customers. I was happy to have that shown back to me in the form of nice colorful bar charts.

RescueTime 30 Days Categories

I don’t spend much time on social media or reading the news, and that absolutely helps me get more done.

Spending just 5% of my overall time on social media makes me grin from ear to ear. While I have reaped the benefits of being on social media since 2007, I don’t think it’s the best place to spend time as a business owner any longer (unless you can absolutely attribute ROI to it).

You may be thinking there’s an argument to “having conversations with your community” here, and you’d be right. However, I’ve moved those conversations to places where I’m in control: Gmail and Slack. Plus, because I have more control of the messaging in email and Slack, it’s a much stronger connection than yet another tweet or post in crowded social media news feeds.

RescueTime Social Media Chart

Yeah, yeah, I already patted myself on the back for not checking much news. But how little do I actually check?

In an entire month, I spent less than 3 hours on news sites. The news sites I visited the most were ESPN, ProductHunt, TheVerge, Medium, and Crackle (which doesn’t even count as news, unless Jerry Seinfeld having coffee with Christoph Waltz is news??).

I’ll avoid any soapboxes about the need to be an informed citizen and read all the propaganda (err, news). In fact, RescueTime doesn’t take into account the 33 minutes I spend with John Oliver every Sunday on HBO, getting caught up on all things news. (It also doesn’t track the weird amount of time I spend juicing fruits and veggies each week. Or baking biscuits. Or making cashew cookies. I assume that feature is coming in an update.)

Oh, what about my least productive day of the month?

A Wednesday filled with fried chicken?

Yep. The first week when we picked up a friend from the airport and visited one of our favorite guilty pleasures: a fried chicken restaurant called Crack Shack. This was, as you can imagine, my least productive day of the month.

You should be able to clearly see what time the meal happened and the lack of ability to open my laptop up afterwards…

RescueTime Day Chart

(I guess least productive is misleading because the time I did spend on my laptop was fairly productive.)


Better habits and time blocking increased my productivity

Developing better habits and using time blocking has helped my productivity skyrocket.

Unfortunately, I don’t have any RescueTime data from a year ago when I was still using Facebook. When I was spending a lot more time on Twitter. When I easily let things distract me and didn’t keep myself accountable to my assistant (named Google Calendar). I’ve never been the person who spends hours getting sucked down random rabbit holes on the Internet, but I do get a lot of enjoyment from creating things and sharing them with the world.

I’ve built a business in a way that helps me get a ton of things done, while also not feeling like I’m working every hour of the day. In fact, many of the tasks I spend hours doing don’t feel like work.

Enjoying the work I do didn’t happen by accident, and neither did removing social media, investing in my community, and embracing the value of deep work.

Maybe it’s time for you to sign up for RescueTime and track your usage for 30 days? You might be pretty surprised with what you find.

For me, using RescueTime for three weeks was a nice confirmation that I’m on the right track for the most part. Luckily, I was already pretty productive before using the app, so while I won’t be checking in with it as regularly every week, I’m happy to leave it installed so I can continue to track data that I can look at whenever I’m feeling curious.

An Inside Look At The Tools I Use To Run My Business

May 8, 2016

Have you’ve ever tried to actually use a laptop on a beach? The glare is awful, you have a terrible wifi connection, and you’re constantly worried about sand getting in your ports (hehe).

In actuality, there tend to be more tools and services than you think you need when you have an online business. The list below is constantly being updated with the things that help me manage my many projects and ever-expanding to-do lists.

I use every single thing you see on this page and a handful of them have affiliate links. You pay the same amount if you click those links, I just happen to get a few buckaroos in my bank account (win-win!)

Jason Zook Desk


15” Retina Apple MacBook Pro with Touch Bar

That laptop I can’t see on the beach? It’s the 2016 15″ MacBook Pro with Touch Bar (in space grey). There’s no doubt the most important tool on this list is my laptop. Without it, I wouldn’t be able to do anything. I’ve been using a MacBook Pro since 2007 and have loved every minute of it. Buy MacBook Pro with Touch Bar on Amazon.

MacBook Pro with Touch Bar


Drip for Email Marketing

I’ve used NetAtlantic, MailChimp, Campaign Monitor, ConvertKit and most recently ActiveCampaign for email marketing. While they’ve all served their purpose, Drip is the perfect fit for the latest direction of my online business(es). I won’t lie to you, Drip is an advanced email marketing platform that heavily focuses on automation. It can be used for broadcast emails and simple email courses, but it’s better served if you have a lot going on in your email world (which I do, since 98% of my revenue comes through email). Learn more about Drip or read my MailChimp vs ConvertKit vs Drip breakdown.

Drip Email Marketing


Flywheel for WordPress Hosting

Wandering Aimfully is the foundation of everything I do these days and I don’t ever want to worry about my website going down or having issues. I’m not a WordPress developer, but I choose to use WordPress because of its customizability and access to affordable developers. Flywheel’s WordPress hosting is not the cheapest out there, but their customer service and beautifully designed dashboard is worth every single penny! Learn more about Flywheel.

Flywheel WordPress Hosting


Chop-Chop.org for WordPress Development

I can hang when it comes to doing my own design work, but as soon as a design needs to actually move and become a website, I leave it to the folks at Chop-Chop.org. They are absolute wizards when it comes to building websites. They care about making things pixel perfect and are helpful at making sure designs are responsive on all devices and load quickly. Learn more about Chop-Chop.org.

Chop-Chop.org


Crowdcast for Live Workshops and Webinars

There’s something really powerful about live video. You can create a connection with people and deliver real-time awesome value. The folks at Crowdcast have built a solid platform for live workshops and webinars. They do automatic recording and have no-nonsense signup pages and email reminders. Learn more about Crowdcast.

Crowdcast


RØDE Podcaster Microphone

You can’t do live video without great audio! I’m fine with the onboard video camera of my MacBook Pro, but the onboard microphone is no beuno. I’ve worked with RØDE multiple times over the years and know how much they care about the quality of their gear. The RØDE Podcaster microphone, boom arm, and shock mount are the perfect kit for slightly advanced audio aficionados. Buy the RØDE Podcaster kit on Amazon.

Rode Podcaster Kit


RØDE Smartlav Microphone

If you don’t want the cumbersome setup of the RØDE Podcaster, then the RØDE Smartlav will be perrrrrfect for you. I record all my podcast episodes with the RØDE Smartlav and love how simple it is to use. For under $80, you cannot beat this lavalier microphone! Buy the RØDE Smartlav on Amazon.

Rode Smartlav Microphone


Acuity Scheduling for Calendar Scheduling

One of the parts of running an online business that drives me nuts is the question “what time works for you?” Between timezones and different schedules, finding a time to schedule a call with someone can be as difficult as solving a Rubik’s cube with your eyes closed. Acuity Scheduling solves those issues and has a boatload of features that can take your calendar scheduling up a notch. Learn more and get 45 days free with Acuity Scheduling.

Acuity Scheduling


Slack for Communication

A few years ago I never thought anything could replace the effectiveness of email. Then Slack came along. Not only is it amazing for small teams, but it’s also free! I haven’t paid a dime for Slack and I’ve used it for all my projects for years. Whether you work with one other person or 300, Slack makes online communication a breeze. Learn more about Slack.

Slack


Dropbox for Cloud Storage

There was a time when you had to have external hard drives to backup your computer. That time has past. I use Dropbox to backup all my files and am happy to pay them $199 per year to do so (in the cloud!) I can access my files offline and I can use Dropbox as a file storage option too. Learn more about Dropbox.

Dropbox


Seagate 2TB USB External Hard Drive

Yeah, yeah, yeah, I just said you didn’t need an external hard drive. However, I still spend some time filming and editing videos, and video files take up a crapload of space. With cloud storage, you can’t remove files from your computer and still access them, so that’s where the old-school external hard drive comes in. Luckily, these things have become small enough to fit in your pocket and extremely affordable (under $70!) Buy the Seagate 2TB external hard drive on Amazon.

Seagate 2TB Hard Drive


Bear Writing App

I’ve dabbled with a few writing apps over the years, but when my friend Paul Jarvis told me about Bear, I was all over it. I enjoy writing in a simple, markdown writing tool, because it’s free of distractions (toolbars, images, formatting, etc). The Bear writing app is extremely well-designed and helps me get more writing done. Learn more about the Bear writing app.

Bear Writing App


Chantel Hamilton for Editing

Okay, obviously Chantel Hamilton is not a “tool” or “thing,” but she is critical to the success of my business. Chantel is my structural editor and has helped me crank out 100,000s of words. I love that I can cobble together a random thought and Chantel can help craft it into a legible and worth-reading article. If you need help with writing, do yourself a favor and reach out to Chantel! Learn more about Chantel Hamilton.

Chantel Hamilton


Desk items that help me stay productive and organized

A list of the things I use to run my business wouldn’t be complete without talking about the items on (or near) my desk at all times. Having a clean and organized desk helps me get more things done.

StudioNeat Material iPhone Dock

Most people are fine with laying their phone down flat and plugging it in. Well, I’m not most people. When StudioNeat released this walnut iPhone dock, I jumped all over it. This little guy looks great and is super functional. There’s also an option with Apple Watch, if you’re into that. Buy the iPhone Material Dock at StudioNeat.com.

StudioNeat Walnut iPhone Dock


Panasonic LUMIX DMC-LX10K Camera

I cannot believe the quality you can get from point-and-shoot cameras these days. I used to be a Canon DSLR guy. Then I moved to a Fujifilm mirrorless camera. While those cameras were great, they were still bigger and I had to carry lenses around with me when I traveled. Sure, I won’t take any long distance photos with the LUMIX camera (even though the digital zoom is impressive), that’s not what I use this camera for. I can toss it in my pocket, snap great-looking photos using impressive autofocus with 1.4 apeture, or put it on a tripod and get crisp 4K video all for less than $600! Learn more about the Panasonic LUMIX DMC-LX10K here.

Panasonic LUMIX DMC-LX10K


Waxed Canvas Dopp Kit

Let’s face it, your desk can be a messy place. Mine had odds and ends scattered all over it and then I picked up a simple waxed canvas dopp kit. Now, all my miscellaneous cords, USB sticks, dongles, and other items have a place to live. Buy a waxed canvas dopp kit on Amazon.

Waxed Canvas Dopp Kit


Kindle Voyage

If you would told me that I’d read 40-50 books per year a few years ago, I would’ve laughed in your face. But alas, as I’ve spent less time on social media and watching TV, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed diving into books on the Kindle. I still enjoy the touch and smell of a paperback book from time-to-time, but you can’t beat carrying hundreds of books in your pocket with a Kindle. Buy the Kindle Voyage on Amazon.

Kindle Voyage


Minaal Carry-on 2.0

There was a time when I traveled 30 weeks out of the year. When you travel that much, any amount of time you can save navigating the airport experience is critical. When I first saw the Minaal Carry-on bag, I was hooked. It’s the perfect backpack for the minimalist traveler, and is versatile enough for the online business owner. Plus, you can’t go wrong with a company run by two awesome New Zealanders! Browse all gear at Minaal.com.

Minaal Carry-on 2.0


Anything by Ugmonk

I own t-shirts, leather goods, and anniversary sets from Jeff Sheldon, creator of Ugmonk. I love everything Ugmonk stands for and have enjoyed calling Jeff a friend for many years. Whether you need items for your desk, quality clothing, or high-quality leather goods, Ugmonk will not disappoint. Browse everything at Ugmonk.com.

Ugmonk


That’ll do donkey, that’ll do.

Be sure to check back on this list from time to time! As my business and tastes evolve, so will the things I feature here.

Get More Done Using The 3×333 Method

February 14, 2016

1,000 tasks?! Is that possible? That’ll take a lifetime, right? No way it could take a sensible amount of time to accomplish 1,000 tasks or to-do items, right? That’s where the 3×333 Method swoops in to save the day and help you get more done.

I used to suck at getting things done on a daily basis, until I stumbled upon this simple process.

You want to get more done in your life and business, right? I mean, if you’re reading this article, I have to assume that is something you want to do.

Can you imagine the impact of getting 1,000 targeted tasks done in the next year? Does it seems like an impossible feat? Do you think you have a better chance of climbing Mount Everest a couple times first? Well, let me help you implement a simple new method into your life.


What is the 3×333 Method and how will it help you get more done

The 3×333 Method is a very simple process for breaking your ever-growing to-do list into a manage system. It involves these two steps:

  1. Write down and complete 3 tasks per day
  2. Repeat Step #1 until you’ve done this for 333 days

Want to take breaks on weekends? Go for it. It’s your life. But of the amazing goals you’ll accomplish if you start using the 3×333 Method is getting 1,000 things done!

How many tasks did you get done last year?

Without a tracking system in place, it’s impossible to tell if you got any closer to your goals, or if each day was productive or a total wash. A year from now, wouldn’t it be amazing to actually see that you accomplished 1,000 tasks and be able to witness the direct impact of those things? Your answer is yes, so let’s keep going.

There are just five steps to the 3×333 Method. (I know, I know. I should’ve made it three.)

Step #1 to get more done: Create a recurring calendar reminder for the same time every morning

This is VERY important. Hence why it’s Step #1.

Whether you use the calendar app on your phone, Google Cal, Outlook, a physical daily planner, or you have an assistant who manages your every need (who probably deserves a raise, by the way), a recurring daily reminder is critical. It’ll help this method become an expected part of your day instead of a frustrating interruption.

I recommend having the 3×333 Method be your first calendar item of the day.

Yeah, go ahead and make coffee and surf your Instagram feed, but after that, your 3×333 alarm should be going off. Have this calendar item recur every single day into eternity. Don’t worry about ending it on day 333. That’s not important. Stop wasting time on things that don’t matter right now. Recurring calendar reminder at a set time. Boom. Done.

Step #2: Write out your three tasks!

This, my friends, helps you build a habit. And what do habits do? They help you get stuff done when you struggle to get stuff done!

I’d recommend a piece of paper or a journal/notebook. I’ve found I get way more things done when I do the physical act of writing something down (instead of creating yet another new page/list in a to-do list app).

The beauty of writing your tasks on a piece of paper is you can crumple it up each day and get a little destructive satisfaction in your life!

If you use a journal or notebook to write down your daily tasks you’ll be able to leaf back through the pages when you’re needing a little boost about exactly how much you’re accomplishing every day. (Just try to get a notebook that can fit 333 3-item lists on it so you don’t need to move to a second journal/book). I recommend the Panobook by StudioNeat.

What should you write down for your three tasks?

Things you can get done that day! “Write my best-selling novel” is not a one-day task. Write something simpler and more accomplishable—something that helps you achieve the much bigger goal to write a best-selling novel (or whatever your bigger goal is). Things like:

  • Write 500 words of Chapter 3: the section about my awkward playground experience on the jungle gym.
  • Spend 10 minutes answering emails.
  • Do slides 25-30 for XYZ Business powerpoint.
  • Skype call with Paul about new podcast.

The smaller and more concise the tasks you write down, the better the chances that you’ll actually get them done! (If you don’t get them done, the next step will help you.)

Step #3: Every day, focus on getting three things done

You should only be writing daily tasks that you can accomplish in one day. However, I realize and have experienced that sometimes tasks don’t get done. If a task doesn’t get completed, you’ll want to carry it over to the next day’s 3-task list.

Let’s say you’re on Day 7, and you’ve just sat down to review your list of three items from Day 6. You realize you didn’t get the last item done. Uh oh. Don’t worry! This will happen. Be okay with it. Don’t freak out and go on a weird donut-binging bender or anything. What you’ll need to do is rewrite the task you didn’t get done from Day 6 as the first task to do on Day 7. Then add your two new tasks.

Not getting a task done may feel like you’ve derailed your 3×333 to 1,000 progress, but that’s just not true. How do I know? Just trust me. I’m your getting-things-done sherpa. Keep going. Keep pushing forward. I’ll explain in Step 5.

Step #4: Realize that 3×333 does not equal 1,000

I bet you already realized that, didn’t you, you smart cookie?

But here’s the beautiful thing about the 3×333 Method. Eventually, you’re going to have days where you get more than three tasks done. GASP! I know. Your mind has entered a state of fireworks and Michael Bay 360-degree-explosions.

If you’re a strict rule follower, here’s the missing 1,000th task: Do four tasks on Day 333.

You may finish your 1,000 tasks way ahead of 333 days. Great! I’m extremely proud of you, and I’d like to give you a blue ribbon for your accomplishment. The goal is to help you get going, so get going.

Step #5: Don’t quit. You will build momentum.

This is where you go out on a limb and you trust me. You trust the guy who used to put “Does Stuff” in his website URL (JasonDoesStuff to be exact). You trust a guy who, for nearly 900 straight days, worked without a day off. You trust someone who embraces his overly efficient (some may call it OCD) tendencies.

If you keep your tasks small and achievable, you will have no problem getting to 1,000. Maybe on Day 10, you’ll hit a snag. Or on Day 20, your dog will have to have emergency plastic surgery so he can get the part he’s always dreamed of in that Petco commercial. (I really hope cosmetic surgery isn’t actually a thing for dogs.) But if you stick with this process, you will build momentum.

If you want the 3×333 Method to help you achieve a larger goal, you can target your tasks in that direction. If you want simply to get more things done every day, the same method will help you go to bed each night feeling accomplished.

Completion and consistency are like compounding interest. You don’t see the benefits right away, but we all know it works.

Bonus Step #6 to get more done: Find an accountability partner

The first time I did the 3×333 Method as a formal thing was in April 2015, and we called it Pow Pow with the Bow Wow. This was a cute name my roommates came up with when we used to have morning meetings to list the three tasks we were going to get done each day. Calling it the 3×333 Method is a bit simpler (even though Pow Pow with the Bow Wow is more fun to say).

As a household, we met every morning at the exact same time. It was our Step #1: the recurring item on all our calendars. We sat together and wrote a physical list of the three tasks we each wanted to get done. Then we’d refer to this list throughout the day and reflect on it the next morning, repeating the process over and over again.

If you have a friend, co-worker, or significant other, bring them into your 3×333.

The three daily tasks don’t have to be business-related. I’ve kept them that way for this audience, but everyone has things they need to get done on a daily basis. Your list might include tasks for your forthcoming Bassett Hound Cosmetic Surgery Clinic, but your friend might just list personal errands. Just write things down, and focus on getting them done!

If you’re looking for some scientific backing to the 3×333 Method, you won’t find any.

I made it up. Just like other human beings make up all the magical things around us in our world. But doesn’t this seem like a really actionable, practical way to get 1,000 tasks done? Yes, you still have to do the actual work involved with those 1,000 tasks, but now you have a process and a guide to help keep you on track. And you’ll have proof, after 333 days, that you’re a productivity machine!

The unintended consequences of inconsistency are easy to ignore. Give yourself a chance to become an action-taking kung-fu master and to prove to yourself (and anyone else you want to prove things to) that you can accomplish 1,000 tasks in the next 333 days.


It’s fun to see some folks sharing their experience using the 3×333 method on Twitter! Make sure to @ mention me if you try this method for yourself.

Accomplish More By Tackling The Task With The Greatest Impact On Your Progress

February 9, 2016

Last year, “crunch mode” would have meant long nights, little sleep, and endless amounts of worrying about how every little detail would come together.

But not this year, my friends. Thankfully I’ve learned a few things from my various project launches last year, and one of my intentions for 2016 was to make launching a lot less stressful and a lot more fun.

So today I want to share with you one of the biggest mental tools I use to remove stress from my business projects or my life.

But first, I want to kick things off with an illuminating story from one of my favorite books, Essentialism. (If you’re tired of hearing me talk about this book, go grab a copy (aff link) and then you’ll understand why I use it in just about every aspect of my life!) The story is called The Slowest Hiker:

Imagine a scout troop on a hike. The troop is 10 miles away from their final campsite and the scout master is in charge of getting all the scouts to camp before sunset. As they move through the woods, the scout master notices that some of the scouts are naturally moving faster than others. Before long there’s a large gap between the slow scouts and the faster scouts. The slowest scout named Herbie is so far behind that the scout master can’t even keep him in sight. So the scout master tells all the fast scouts at the front to stop and wait for Herbie, and once they’re all together he starts them again. Within minutes the problem is recreated. It’s clear he needs a new strategy.

So he puts Herbie in the front with all the other scouts lined up behind him in order of speed: slowest to fastest. This strategy succeeds in keeping the scouts together, as every scout can keep up with the one in front of him, but there’s one hitch: they’ll never make it to camp by sunset if they move at Herbie’s pace.

That’s when the scout master realizes that the answer is to do everything he can to make things easier for Herbie. With Herbie leading the group, every increase in efficiency for Herbie, however small, will benefit the pace for the entire group. So they remove weight from Herbie’s pack and distribute it across the troop, which does speed up the pace of the entire troop and they make it to camp on time.

In business and management, they use The Slowest Hiker story to deliver this lesson: if you can identify the true “constraint” — the one part of the process that is holding up the rest — than you can improve the entire system just by alleviating that constraint.

That’s a helpful reminder, but I actually glean an even broader lesson from The Slowest Hiker and it’s one that I continue to apply to my business and life. I think this story is about IMPACT.

Not all effort is created equal. You have to decide what effort will create the most impact in achieving your final goal.

“Not all effort is created equal. You have to decide what effort will create the most impact in achieving your final goal.”

This idea is beautifully described in an article that my better half Jason wrote to his list last week called “Put Down The Toothpick and Pick Up The Hammer.”

So often we approach our businesses or lives by making toothpick-sized changes. We nitpick at the imperfections on our website or we spend days tweaking one line of sales copy until it’s perfect or searching page upon page for that perfect icon.

What we really should be doing is looking for the hammer-sized changes. We should be tackling things that have a direct correlation to the goal we’re reaching for. Those kinds of changes might feel riskier or bigger, but they ultimately will result in an impact that can be felt and seen. Maybe it’s nailing down your ideal audience or finally committing to a content schedule and sitting down to write those blog posts you’ve been meaning to write.

With every single item on my to-do list getting ready for this pre-order launch, if I find myself at a sticky point, I simply ask myself these three questions:

  • Is spending ____ hours doing _______ a good use of my time?
  • Will this task of ________ have a tangible, substantial impact on my final outcome?
  • And the kicker: Do I still have outstanding things to be done that WILL affect my final outcome?

That last one usually seals the deal for me and I realize that spending two hours searching for the perfect stock photo when I haven’t even loaded all the products into the shop is NOT an efficient use of my time.

I know it may sound silly and overly simple say focus on the foundational things, but I also know that there are tons of you out there who, like me, often find yourselves debating the minutiae as a way to hide from the big, scary stuff that matters.

And unfortunately, when we spend our precious time on stuff that doesn’t have a substantial impact, we end up down to the wire, beyond stressed, and wondering where all that time went. It went to the toothpicks!

My challenge to you this week is to learn to identify the Herbie’s on your to-do list.

Learn to evaluate tasks based on the impact they’ll have on your final outcome.

When you’re able to finally let go of all the toothpick-sized tasks and only focus on the things that will get you to your goal, you’ll be amazed at the time and mental energy you can free up.

Because making things should be fun, not stressful, right?!

There are just a handful of days before the first pre-order window goes live for the Art Shop, and there’s no scrambling, no sleepless nights… just pure excitement.

Thanks again for all the support, you guys! It means the world.

Now get out there and start your week off right!

Frame Your Year, A Simple Way To Get More Done And Stay Focused

January 10, 2016

A year from now wouldn’t it be great to look back at your accomplishments and know that you set yourself up for growth and success? That you drew a line in the sand and used that line to make important decisions in your life and business and get more done? Wouldn’t it be great if there was a simple way to do that? Well, I believe there is, and I want to share it with you.

For as long as I can remember I’ve never worried about the cycle of a year. I’ve never been a big resolution-er. I didn’t know what framing a year could do for me. That was, until, 2015.

From 2007 to 2014 I had zero framing or planning whatsoever. I made a lot of business changes and personal progress, but I can’t look back and pinpoint the exact timeline in which that happened. I’m okay with this, and if you’re reading this, you should be okay with the fact that you haven’t framed out any of your previous years either.

2015, however, was my first framed year: The year of experimentation.

Looking back, I’m incredibly happy that I set the intention of framing an entire year. In doing so, it gave me the permission I needed to make some hard decisions in my life and in my businesses. Every opportunity that I created for myself or that fell in my lap went through the filter of “experimentation.”


What does framing a year mean?

Take my 2015 as an example, and picture the word experimentation drawn in the sand on a beach. That word becomes your line in the sand as you stand above it. Every opportunity, change, or decision that comes your way is a shell in the sand that washes up right in front of the word experimentation. It’s entirely up to you whether you bend over, pick up each shell and cast it away (back into the sea of opportunities) or carry it over the line and put it next to your feet (allowing it into your life as something you’ll focus on).

So what exactly did experimentation mean for me 2015 and how did it help me get more done?

It was actually quite different from my early years as an entrepreneur when I followed the advice of focusing more and doing less. 2015 was a year when I allowed myself to be more open to change and opportunities in my life and in my business. My goal was simply to try things. To see what I liked, what brought me value and what didn’t.

Does this mean I said YES to every opportunity that came my way? Quite the contrary. It meant that I looked for more new opportunities and less comfortable ones (by comfortable, I mean things that come easily to me).

I actually said no more often: I turned down most speaking gigs offered to me in 2015 because it wasn’t something that was new for me. It wasn’t something that would challenge me. It wasn’t something I wanted to experiment with.

I stretched myself with my writing: I accepted a bunch more paid freelance writing opportunities in 2015. I won’t say it’s easy to write for myself, but it’s certainly quite a bit scarier to deliver an article to someone else and let them edit it, make changes, and put it on a platform where many other people can openly critique it. This was new for me, and I actually really enjoyed it.

I collaborated more: I worked with many more people on collaborative projects in 2015. I always hated group projects in school, but I said yes to more people than ever before in 2015 because I thought it would stretch me as a person. It would force me to get out of my comfort zone of working mostly alone and give up control (something that I value greatly).

I took a big bold business risk: I hadn’t had a big bold project in a few years, but I could feel myself itching to do something big again. When the idea for BuyMyFuture hit me, it was a beautiful shell I happily picked up and brought over my line in the sand. I knew it would be a difficult project, but I also knew it was the type of project that fit perfectly in my experimentation frame.

I turned my entire life upside down: In my personal life, my wife Caroline and I sold almost all our worldly possessions (we kept our dog, our underwear, and our laptops) and moved clear across the country from Florida to California. This was by no means an easy decision to make, but it certainly felt right considering my guiding principle of experimentation.

This idea of framing a year does not have to be looked at under a microscope. It doesn’t need detailed metrics or over-analyzation.

Instead, it’s a big wide lens with which you can zoom in and out. Having a frame for the year is a nice crutch to lean on when you might need to nudge yourself in one direction or another.


You won’t get more done because it’s January 1

How about that little rhyme!? Just because the calendar starts on January 1, your timeframe for your year can start whenever you like. In fact, we all know how quickly we fall off the New Year’s Resolutions wagon. If we know that happens, why not start right now? Pick your own framing word and start getting more stuff done.

Need help finding a word to frame your year with?

If a word or value doesn’t immediately come to mind to help you frame your year, here are a couple examples for you:

Flexibility – This is one of my most important values. Do you want more options in your life? Do you want more spontaneity? Do you currently feel trapped in your job, city you live in, etc? Flexibility could be the word you need to start making big changes in your life.

Focus – This is somewhat the opposite of flexibility. Is there one big project or goal that’s been nagging at you for some time? A book to write? A business to start? A life decision to make? Focus as a framing word could really help you deflect opportunities that don’t directly relate to your one big project or goal.

Saving – This is the year you really start to tackle your debt. This is the year you stop eating out as much and start cooking meals at home. This is the year you take a strong look at your financial situation and make some cutbacks so you can build a little nest egg. When saving becomes your frame, you’ll be amazed at how much extra cash you can accrue.

Health – Have you let your health go? Tried multiple diets and failed (don’t worry, you aren’t alone)? What if the next 365 days weren’t about a diet, but were just focused on the frame of health. Each day you could do 5-10 minutes of exercise you don’t hate. Each day you could ensure you drink an extra glass or two of water. Each time you go out for a meal you could order something fresh instead of fried.

Charity – Do you want to give back more (and I don’t just mean money)? Do you want to donate your time on a daily/weekly/monthly basis? Knowing that you’re making charity or giving back the most important value for your year could help you make profound impact in the lives of other people.

Adventure – If you’ve been putting off big life and business changes, then this is the frame you need. This can be a challenging frame for a year, but it can also be the most rewarding. Stop taking the easy way out and start looking for the decisions and moments that will stretch you with excitement and the unknown.

Completion – Are you a serial project starter but not finisher? Do you feel like you get things to 90% completion but can never quite finish the last 10%? Frame your year with completion and don’t allow yourself to take on new projects, new tasks, etc, until you finish the previous ones.

Those are just a few ways you can frame your year. Again, framing your year doesn’t have to mean making gigantic sacrifices and changes (although it can), it’s simply a helpful nudge when an opportunity is staring you in the face.


Use your frame as a mantra to help you get more done

I wouldn’t recommend standing in line at a coffee shop and mumbling your framing word over and over again. (Well, unless your word is crazy.) But think of your framing word as a mantra you can repeat over and over again in your mind when the need to make a decision shows up in front of you.

With my example of the word experimentation, an idea or opportunity would appear and I would simply think “is this an experimentation? will this help me grow? does this take me outside my comfort zone a bit?” Whether it was something big or a tiny detail that I couldn’t seem to make my mind up on, my framing word of experimentation became a great deciding factor.

Put your framing word where you can see it and where it can help you!

Another useful tip to keep your framing word top of mind is to print it out and tape to the wall in front of you at work or at home. Keep it on your fridge. Write it in big bold letters on the cover of the journal/notebook you’re going to use this year.

You now know how to frame your year, the next step is to pick a word and put it into motion.

What will you frame your year with?

 

12 Ways to Digitally Declutter Your Online Business

December 11, 2015

If you want a sure way to feel less overwhelmed and more focused in your work life, it’s time to declutter your digital life.

Whether we realize it or not, digital clutter takes just as much of a mental toll on us (if not more given how immersed we are in it day in and day out) than physical clutter. And while I may love a good messy desk, creative chaos abounding, I’ve learned that I do NOT have the mental energy to withstand rogue files on my desktop, mountains of email subscriptions that go un-opened, and useless apps clogging up my hard drive. My anxiety simply can’t handle it.

That’s why I’ve compiled a list of 12 ways to declutter, streamline, and clear out the various digital pipes of my business below. If you’re an online business owner (or, heck, really anyone that uses a computer!), I hope this list will prove helpful for you in creating a clean slate to start off the year right come January.

Doing this type of regular check-up on your digital life will hopefully contribute to less overwhelm in general and a more restful state in general.

And hey, if it’s a little too daunting to take all of these on at once, well as of today you’ve still got 20 days left until January 1st. Try tackling just one of these a day for the next 12 days and you’ll be all spick and span before 2016 hits!


1. Organize Your Files

This one shouldn’t come as a surprise, but if you spend hours a day on your laptop like I do, it’s crucial to your sanity that you’re able to find what you’re looking for fast AND that you don’t have file pile-ups clogging up your machine’s memory. (Believe me, I’ve been working on a project at the 11th hour and suddenly I have ZERO disk space and everything starts crashing. It’s not a fun game to play!) To avoid all that, here are a couple tips for cleaning up and organizing your files.

Create a naming convention for your most-used files and folders.

I recently learned this trick from my roommate Julia Roy, but did you know that you can use special characters to sequentially organize your folders? (This is on Mac, not sure about PC!)

Yep, you can include special characters like _, -, <, (, [, and / at the beginning of your folder names to control which rise to the top of your finder window (when sorted by “name”) and which fall below. Finder will prioritize them based on the order I listed above. I use this to my advantage by placing the name of my current project folders in parentheses, placing my secondary folders (things I use often but not every day) in brackets, and then my lesser used “archive” folders with a / in front.

 

 

I not only use this to organize my Desktop but I do the same thing within each folder.

 

 

And don’t forget you can drag and drop your most used folders to your Favorites in the sidebar of your Finder window! That comes in handy for me quite a bit!

Regardless of whether you take advantage of the special characters or not, the important part is just that you come up with a system so that when you do create new files, you know where to put them and when you go to look for files, you can navigate to them without frustration.

As you go through your files, I recommend creating one “Master Archive” folder of things that you want to keep on an external hard drive but that you don’t need in your day-to-day business operations.

Which leads me to the next step…

Back up your computer and archive outdated files!

Once your files are organized and you know which ones you don’t need daily moving forward into 2016, I recommend backing up your hard drive onto an external hard drive (if you’re not familiar, think basically a USB drive on steroids!)

I recently invested in a more slim and portable drive via Amazon. My old one weighed several pounds and had to be plugged into the wall! How antiquated! 😉 I’ve been really happy with it so far because I can actually keep it in my tote and keep it on me if needed. If you’re in the market for one, the one I have is the Seagate Backup Plus Slim 2TB Portable External Hard Drive  (aff link).

Once you backup to your drive using Time Machine, you can trash the Master Archive folder from your active Desktop because you’ll always be able to access the files within it on your external hard drive if you need to.

If you’re feeling EXTRA zesty and really want to boost the performance of your computer, you can do what I did and you can restore your Mac to its factory settings — after you back up, of course.

I followed the steps in this article, which basically wipes your hard drive, allows you to reinstall OSX and then you can pull over your necessary files from your backup that you intend to use daily.

**Warning: Be careful though! If you choose to do this you’ll have to reinstall any paid applications from the Mac app store and you’ll lose all of your custom preferences/settings. You’ll also have to re-login in to any of your saved accounts like social media, web apps and banking portals. **

Still, for me I was able to free up about 150 GB of available storage by doing this which has definitely sped up the processing speed of things quite a bit. Plus it’s nice to feel like you’re starting the year off with a brand new computer!

Okay, now that you’re hard drive is clean, you want to make sure it stays that way…

Keep your screenshots off your Desktop.

This may not apply to everyone, but I’m an absolute nut when it comes to using my ⌘+SHIFT+4 Mac shortcut to save screenshots, and because the default location for screenshots is the Desktop, inevitably I end up with a Finder window that looks like this:

 

 

As Jimmy Fallon would say, “EW!!” Not exactly the easiest way to find anything!

A while back I was fed up with all of this gibberish staring at me from my finder window so I searched for a way to send them straight to a folder on my Desktop instead. (At least that way I could sort through them regularly and they wouldn’t clog up my pretty desktop wallpaper!)

That’s when I found this article, How to Change the Screenshot Save Folder on Your Mac, and it worked perfectly! It’s a little scary at first because you have to open the program “Terminal” on your Mac that looks veeerrry technical, but I promise if you just follow the simple instructions you’ll be fine.

And now my laptop background looks like this, with all my screenshots being saved to one “Screenshots” folder:

 

 

Ahh yes, that’s much better.

Now that the place is all tidied, you can also put a few easy processes in place to make sure it stays that way!

Create recurring reminders on your calendar to keep the place cleaned up.

To make sure that your digital home stays this organized all year round, use your calendar or project management software to leave you regular reminders.

Once a week I… clean up my desktop and empty my trash can.

Every two weeks I… empty my downloads folder.

Every month I… reassess my folder prioritization and backup my hard drive.

I use recurring tasks through Asana (or you can use Google Cal) and it only takes me a few seconds but it keeps me sane!


2. Update Your Browser Configuration

Now that your file structure is streamlined and your machine is hopefully moving at the speed of light, let’s talk about your browser (where I’m guessing you spend most of your time when you’re on your computer). Here are a few items to help you bring your browser into the new year.

Make sure your browser is up to date.

I use Chrome because I’m a Google nerd and I love using Chrome extensions, but regardless of what browser you choose, take a few moments to make sure you’re using the latest version of the browser. This will ensure you have the latest design features, functionality and security updates. Chrome updates automatically for me so if that isn’t a default setting for you, now would be a good time to make that change so you don’t have to worry about staying up to date in the future.

Clean up your bookmarks and bookmarks bar.

Am I the only one that has wildly outdated bookmarks? I mean, I hadn’t updated those puppies for YEARS before just recently. I guess before Evernote or Pocket I pretty much used my bookmarks as a “save for later” app and things apparently got out of hand.

If you’re like me, I recommend going through them, tossing the ones you haven’t had a second thought about since you saved them, and then keeping just your most-visited work-related sites to your bookmarks bar. Right now for me that’s basically just Made Vibrant, Asana and Mailchimp. It’s nice not to have 14 different links staring at me from the top of my browser (especially since I’m a recovering tab-aholic and it’s usually crowded enough up there!)

One thing I want to note: If you do end up restoring your computer to its factory settings like I mentioned above, you can carry over your newly-overhauled Chrome bookmarks by exporting them and re-importing them once your machine is restored to brand new.

To Export, simply click the Chrome menu , select Bookmarks > Bookmark Manager, click the “Organize” menu in the manager, and select Export bookmarks. That will save your bookmarks as an HTML file that you’ll just make sure you carry over with your files to your new Desktop.

To Import the HTML file and restore your bookmarks once you’ve restored your computer, click the Chrome menu , select Bookmarks > Import Bookmarks and Settings. Select the HTML file that contains the bookmarks you’d like to import, click Import and click Done. Then you’re all set!

Pro-tip: try leaving social media sites OUT of your bookmarks bar. The less easy it is to get to them, the less time you risk wasting during the day while trying to be productive.

Take a look at your browser extensions/apps/add-ons.

There are a few Chrome extensions that I love and use (WhatFont?, Eye Dropper) but over the course of a year I tend to accumulate some that are completely worthless and just taking up wasted space. If that’s the case, now’s the time to kick those puppies to the curb! Visit your browser settings and disable or delete those that you aren’t using.

Make your default web page a useful one.

For a few months now, my default home page used to be Panda which was a pretty cool service that would deliver articles and Dribbble shots specifically for designers. It was awesome for a while because it was a constant source of inspiration every time I opened a new web page BUT I found it more distracting than inspiring.

Recently I switched over to a Chrome Extension called Momentum (another great recommendation from my roommates Julia and Clay) which basically sets your home page as a clock, a beautiful photo and one intention that you can set for the day. That way your most important to-do is front and center reminding you to stay on task! Just click the link above to sign up and it will update your settings for you.

 

 

That’s it for your browser! While we’re on the subject of web-based de-cluttering, let’s tackle some of those cloud-based files!


3. Clean Up Your Cloud Storage

If you’re running an online business, especially one where you’re collaborating with other people, my bet is that you are using one or more cloud-based storage solution like Dropbox or Google Drive. If that’s the case, you’ll want to make sure those file structures are getting some attention just like your desktop files.

Organize Dropbox and assess your Selective Sync.

One feature of Dropbox that I find especially useful is the ability to drag and drop files using their integration with my finder window. However, did you know that if you sync your Dropbox folder to your desktop that essentially you’re creating copies of those files and storing them on your machine (which pretty much defeats the purpose of housing files on Dropbox anyway!)

To avoid this, there is a way to sync your Dropbox to your machine and then edit your Selective Sync settings so that only certain folders are available to you through finder.

To do this, simply visit your Dropbox settings from the application in your toolbar, click on Account, and select Change Settings… next to Selective Sync (see below).

 

 

This will pull up a list of your Dropbox folders and you can simply uncheck the folders you DON’T want to sync to your desktop. This comes in handy if you want to host things like large video files or even design files that you want access to but don’t want them hogging up space on your hard drive.

 

 

Delete unused Google Drive documents and file the rest.

I use Google Drive a TON, not just for collaborative documents with my assistant, Laura, but for brainstorming and project planning as well. Over the course of the year there are blog post drafts that never get completed, spreadsheets that go unused and random shared documents that pile up.

That’s why I go through and consolidate relevant documents into folders, deleting any documents that got started but are no longer useful. I also use the same special character filing system I use for my desktop files to order the files for easy navigation. And of course, utilizing fun bright colors to codify my primary, secondary and tertiary folders is a must!

 

 


4. Perform A Website Audit

As online business owners, our websites are arguably our most valuable brand asset, so making sure they are up-to-date and reflect the latest, greatest version of whatever’s going on in your business is key!

If you’re like me and you’re creating new products or writing blog posts often, you want to make sure the back-end of your site isn’t causing you all sorts of mental anguish.

Delete incomplete and abandoned pages.

Do you have pages of your website you’ve created but never fully finished? Maybe it’s a landing page for a product you never released or a portfolio project you wanted to update but never did?

Well, I’m notorious for this. I have about 35 pages in the back-end of my site and about ⅔ of those are hidden/incomplete/abandoned. (I mean, just take a peek to the right — all the light gray pages are ones that aren’t live.)

So many of them are for ideas that I never brought to life and then I just let them sit there in my Squarespace dashboard collecting dust and cluttering up my brain every time I do update a live page. But not anymore!

Before the beginning of the year, I’ve set aside one day where I plan to go through each one, deleting those that will never see the light of day and fully finishing those I want to push live but I abandoned for lack of time or focus.

Go through each live page of your site and update any images or text.

I know for a fact there are pages on my site that link to old products or say “new to the shop” for products I released months ago. When it’s just you or a small team, it’s hard to find time to make all those tiny updates along the way. (And, to be honest, you’re looking at your website every single day and you kind of become blind to those glaring out-dated items.)

Umm…. I guess four months after the launch, the Resource Shop is no longer the “NEW” resource shop anymore, right? 🙂 This image is going to get updated STAT!

However, I really want to enter next year with a site that’s completely up to date and that promotes my latest, greatest projects. By going through each page and swapping out more up-to-date images/copy, you can make sure your website feels current and relevant for readers that have been around for years and new ones that arrive to your site each day.

So, for each page of your site ask yourself: Is this easy to navigate? Does it lead someone through the information I want them to know? Are there any calls to action or images that need to be updated?

And then refresh accordingly!


5. Tidy Up Your Inbox And Email Settings

Yes, we’ve arrived at the dreaded inbox! I’ll be honest with you guys, emails can be the bane of my existence. Not because I don’t love getting email — I do! Especially from readers and community members because that’s where I really get to know you guys and connect in a meaningful way.

My biggest problem with email is that, until recently, I had never developed a solid system for managing incoming messages and trying to respond to them. Without any sort of protocol, it’s all too easy to let messages slip right through the cracks and then suddenly they’re piling up on you and you find yourself avoiding your inbox at all costs like you would the dark and crowded attic.

Develop a system for organizing incoming messages.

Before we clear out the cobwebs, I’ll give you the basic rundown of how I organize my inbox and mark incoming messages. Everyone’s email tendencies will probably vary, so I recommend structuring your inbox according to what your bad email habits are. Here’s what I mean by that:

My worst email habit used to be opening a message, realizing I didn’t have the time or focus to respond right then, but not doing anything to mark that message for later. Since the message was now “read,” it would just get buried among everything else, never to see the light of day again. Not good.

But now, with my email flagging system, if there’s something I need to respond to but don’t have the time at that moment, I can simply assign a colored flag to it which let’s me know it needs a response and what level of priority it is. Messages that require a timely response OR that contain revenue-dependent opportunities (ie. the chance to make the biz money) get responded to first. Then, every week I have a set time that I try to solely focus on responding to the remaining flagged emails from that week. It’s not a perfect system, but it definitely keeps me sane and I no longer dread opening up my inbox.

To set up your own flag system in Gmail, visit your General Settings and drag which flags you want to use to the “In use” section. Here’s how I set up my flags. Blue is top priority (because the worst feeling is finding a message months old that could have made your business money!); purple is secondary and tells me the response has some sort of time component or time limit on it; and orange is still important, reminding me to respond, but doesn’t necessarily have a time component to it. This system helps me prioritize my time and when I do make time to respond to emails I know exactly what to tackle first.

I also have my inbox customized into sections to keep things sorted. Here’s what that looks like:

Messages obviously start out in the “unread” section and once I’ve seen them they get three treatments: (1) Archive immediately; (2) Flag for response; (3) Read with no need to respond.

Flagged emails get moved to the “Starred” section which is grouped and visible, keeping it top of mind that I need to respond.

All of this doesn’t guarantee I respond to every message (though I try!) but it does keep my brain from exploding, something that’s super helpful.

Delete abandoned drafts.

Similar to the abandoned pages, you don’t want messages you started but never sent clogging up your sidebar or lingering out there. Even if you consider them “out of sight, out of mind,” I guarantee you’ll feel better knowing you don’t have any of those outstanding. It’ll feel good to start the year off with no task left undone!

You can see above I have 23 lingering drafts which I intend to go through, making sure there aren’t any messages I meant to send that never got out, and then trashing the rest.


6. Trim Down Your Content Subscriptions

While we’re on the subject of email, this seems like a great time to mention one of the most gratifying de-cluttering practices: paring down your email and blog feed subscriptions!

Unsubscribe from newsletters you no longer find valuable.

There’s nothing worse than waking up to an inbox that’s already clogged up in the morning, not from eager customers or collaborators or your BFF, Oprah, asking you to be a guest on Super Soul Sunday.

Nope, instead it’s just pointless sales emails from that one place you downloaded something from that ONE TIME and you continue to archive their messages week after week instead of simply just unsubscribing. No more, my friend!

Instead, use a service like Unroll.me, which connects to your email and allows you to easily bulk unsubscribe to those you no longer wish to receive and “roll up” the rest into one handy newsletter email instead of a bajillion individual ones.

My Unroll.me “rollup” where I can see my retail subscriptions at a glance.

*Note: I use this tool for retail subscriptions only. Weekly newsletters from my favorite peeps like BrainPickings.org, Jamie from Spruce Rd., Paul Jarvis, and that handsome fella, Jason Zook, I keep happily in my inbox so I know I won’t miss them.

I would also encourage you to take this time to evaluate which newsletters you open week after week but that actually might be negatively impacting your business.

I went through a phase earlier this year where I wanted to keep an eye on what everyone else was doing with their creative businesses. Without realizing it, all this led me to do was question my own decisions, compare myself to others, and spin my wheels with self-doubt. The best decision I made was to unsubscribe from almost every one of them — not because I didn’t enjoy what they were doing or because I didn’t support them — just because I needed less noise in order to hear my intuition more clearly when it came to running my business. I encourage you to take a hard look at your newsletter subscriptions and do the same!

Speaking of playing the comparison game, that also goes for blog feed subscriptions like Feedly and Bloglovin…

Clean up your blog subscriptions.

I actually don’t use Feedly or Bloglovin’ anymore for the exact reasons I outlined above. They put me into consumption mode vs. creation mode and I’ve learned that’s not always conducive to my ability to stay true to my voice.

Still, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with following blogs that you love (Hellerrrr, that’s hopefully why you’re here!), I just believe in doing it more intentionally. So maybe instead of those 50 biz blogs you follow, you could pare it down to your top 5 instead and that will allow you to start off the year without drowning in a sea of other people’s content.

Feeling overwhelmed with where to start? Don’t forget there’s a handy dandy checklist you can download at the end of this post to tackle each item one by one!


7. Streamline Your Mailing Lists

Now that you’ve cleaned up your inbox, you want to make sure you’re not dirtying up anyone else’s!

Hopefully you already know how important having an email list is to the growth of your online business (if not, start here!), but if you’re a little bit further along in the life of your business, you may be at the point where you’re juggling multiple lists or list segments.

Consider segmenting your lists based on behavior/topic interests.

People who signed up for this live workshop or that pre-launch list or downloaded that product, etc. It’s enough to make a person go CRAZY at times. Still, I believe that the engagement of your community relies on how relevant and valuable the information you send them is, so it might be a good time to evaluate who’s on your list, how they go there, and find out what information they’re interested in. Admittedly, this is something I’m still very much working on learning more about. If you have any great resources, please link to them in the comments!

Purge your list of dormant subscribers.

When I see blog posts touting the importance of email lists, more often than not it’s about how to grow the size of your email list. And while I realize that’s important (you want to bring new people into your community, of course), what’s not being talked about enough is how to ensure that your list stays lean and full of high-quality subscribers. After all, if you have over a certain number of subscribers, you’re likely paying a service like Mailchimp or ConvertKit and that means that the person who stays on your list but doesn’t open your emails week after week is actually costing your business money.

That’s why now might be a good time to delete “dormant” subscribers. I recently removed about 400 people from my own list and boosted my average open rate by nearly 5%, which tells me that the people I’m paying for are those actively engaged people that open my emails week after week.

To purge dormant subscribers in Mailchimp, I simply created a segment of subscribers who signed up in 2014 (so, almost over a year old) and haven’t opened the past 20 newsletters. That likely pertains to people who found Made Vibrant early on but have moved on and no longer are engaged. (From your Dashboard, select Lists > choose your list > Manage subscribers > Segments > Create New Segment.)

I sent that segment this email asking them to click on a link (which would indicate to me that they’re still interested). Anyone who did not click (or did not open after one week) I deleted from my list. That way I can ensure that everyone who’s signed up for Self-Made Society truly wants to be getting my emails.


8. Evaluate Your Monthly Subscription Costs

Just as it’s easy to forget you’re paying for dormant email subscribers, sometimes it’s easy to forget about all those smaller monthly subscriptions you’ve paid for to run your business.

I’ve just recently put on my big girl pants and hired a bookkeeper to help keep an eye on the business finances, but if it’s just you trying to keep costs down for your online business, taking a look at these recurring payments is a must!

Cancel subscriptions you no longer need or change your pricing tier accordingly.

Maybe you don’t need that analytics software you tried out for $9.99/month and can finally cancel. OR maybe you’ve realized that you love using Squarespace and now you can pay for the next year in advance (instead of monthly) to take advantage of the cost savings. Either way, set aside time to make some of these financial decisions so you know you’re operating your business with as little monthly expenditures as possible.


9. Delete Unused Apps

I won’t lie to you, the home screen of my iPhone is typically a HOT MESS. I download new apps to try them out but then forget to delete the ones that don’t make the cut. Once they’re all jumbled up, I just get used to the habit of searching for things and I forget to organize them!

Arrange your home screen and remove unwanted apps.

There are a million different ways to organize your home screen and I think everyone’s different (similar to email preferences), but the point is just that you take time to intentionally organize your apps, and remove those that no longer serve you.

I also took the opportunity to finally go into my notification settings and remove badge notifications from all my apps so I no longer get those pesky red numbers staring me in the face. Here’s an article on Mashable with some clever ways to organize your apps on your phone if you’re looking for some suggestions.

Here’s the before and after of my own tidy up! Now I can actually see my wallpaper and I don’t have a heart attack when I open up my phone. Hooray for that!

This also goes for any apps on your computer that you no longer use! Hopefully you’ve already taken care of that with your file clean up earlier in this post!


10. Consolidate Your Notes & Saved Articles

You never know when inspiration will strike! That’s why I’ve got pages of haphazard notes started on my phone, random text documents saved on my desktop and rogue articles I stumbled across months ago hiding in the catacombs of my Pocket. If any of those “brilliant” ideas have a hope of turning into something, now’s as good a time as any to sort through them.

Organize your saved content/visual bookmarking.

There are a dizzying number of visual bookmarking tools like Evernote, Pocket, and Stache, just to name a few. The key I think is to pick one you enjoy and to stick with it.

I love Pocket personally and I use the Chrome extension a ton, but I’m TERRIBLE with utilizing tags to keep things organized. I mean, just look, you’ve got Amy Schumer and a Photoshop tutorial in the same breath:

To fully utilize this awesome tool, I’ll be doing a refresh on my tags so I can keep things well organized, and so that when I’m working on a project and need to look for that article or video I saw forever ago, that I’ll know where to look!

Clear out your Notes & Voice Memos.

 

It could be a random idea for a blog post or a particular turn of phrase that pops into my head but I’m always writing down “Notes” in my phone. Usually I’m terrified that the idea is going to leave me so I don’t waste time searching for the right place to put it, I just start a new note. The result is a list of things that looks like this ->

What does it all mean?!

I figure it can’t hurt to go through and see if there’s anything worth salvaging here. The rest has got to go!


11. Curate Your Social Feeds

Trim down who you’re following to get better content.

Similar to what we talked about in the email subscription section, I think it’s important to regularly assess not just who you’re following but how they make you feel.

Are the people in your feeds Negative Nancy’s or are they positive people that share inspiring content? Are you following too many people that share a similar craft and does it lead you to compare yourself to them? Or are you simply following too many people and you can’t get value from those connections because your feeds are so noisy.

Whatever the case may be, try going through each platform you use and think about how your experience might be improved by further curating down the people you follow.


12. Update Your Project Management System

I have to admit, for the first year and a half of owning my business, my idea of “project management” was pretty much a hacked together system of Google Docs and calendar alerts.

It wasn’t until I brought on the amazing, incredible, gift-of-a-human-being, Laura, as my creative assistant back in September that I realized we might need an actual software solution to manage our projects and collaborate on the twelve thousand things going on at once here at Made Vibrant.

After a few months of experimenting with different apps/systems, Laura introduced me to Asana which has been an absolute game-changer for me when it comes to feeling organized.

We now have every piece of Made Vibrant separated into “Projects” within Asana and each project has tasks/subtasks that we can communicate on and work together on accordingly:

Archive old projects and prioritize current projects.

Whether you use Asana, seen above, or you use something like Trello or Basecamp, it’s a good idea to go through and retire projects that are complete. Also, you can look to the future and start prioritizing projects for the upcoming year. I always find it really helpful to start a spreadsheet with anticipated projects, general time periods of when I plan to work on them and revenue projections. It helps me feel organized and prepared as I enter the new business year.

Things always shift and move around but I find it immensely helpful to have this “year-at-a-glance” to refer back to. Jason and I share this sheet so we can see any opportunities to collaborate and our general household cashflow for the year.

Once that’s taken care of, you should hopefully be feeling refreshed and digitally organized! I truly believe that with how much time we spend around technology — especially as online business owners — these things have a tangible impact on our anxiety levels and overall happiness. When you know your digital life is intentionally organized, you can focus on creating or traveling or doing whatever makes you feel like the brightest version of yourself.

How To Fight Procrastination With Constraints and Limitations

November 16, 2015

We all deal with procrastination, but here’s how you can use constraints and limitations fight through it.

There are times when you feel like you just can’t get any work done. Your thinking isn’t clear. You have too many things racing around in your mind and instead of buckling down and getting to it, procrastination is at an all-time high.

You fall into Workload Paralysis: You stress about all the work that needs to be done to the point of needing an escape, only to come back and see even more work to be done. And on and on and on…

It’s a dark place to be in, but there is a solution. It might seem counterintuitive, but I strongly believe that setting limitations and constraints can help you get through procrastination and help you get more done.

 


Start Fighting Procrastination By Shifting Your Mindset

We’ve all been there before. We feel the squeeze of a deadline and somehow manage to hunker down and get the work done just in time. Often times during the ‘squeeze’ we feel like we get in the ‘zone’.

You know the zone right? That place where you just seem to be firing on all cylinders and to-dos get knocked off like falling dominos.

There’s a trick to getting in this ‘zone’ often. That trick is to set limitations on time and constrain yourself to focusing on only one task at a time.

One of the best ways I’ve found to master my work output is to be very strict with my calendar. For example, while writing this article I blocked off 1.5 hours. During that time my email was closed, Google Chrome was minimized, my phone was out of sight. I put on some music that helps me focus while writing (Odesza and Pretty Lights). Then I just write. Free from distractions and any potential procrastination. Of course I have moments where I can’t think of what to write next or I can feel the pull of social media. But I remind myself of the limitation I’ve set and stay focused.

My weekly calendar is filled with similar events.

There aren’t a lot of free hours in my day. 90% of the events, however, have nothing to do with phone calls or meetings. Heck, I used to even set times on my calendar to check email and social media (thanks 4-Hour Workweek).

I block off time on my calendar for writing, for strategy sessions, for customer support stuff, for life tasks (appointments, errands, etc), and I even block off time to NOT work.

Jason Zook Calendar

(A screenshot of my calendar during the BuyMyFuture planning and build.)

Why I only allow myself 30 minutes (or less) when going to the grocery store: No one needs to spend an hour browsing the aisles at the grocery store. Plus, this little trick keeps me from buying extra things I don’t need (because that would take too much time). I’m in and out, with only the items I needed, and I can get back to work or back to time off from work.

If you don’t feel you have the willpower to let your calendar dictate your life, try finding an accountability partner for a while. If you don’t have friends you want to trust with this task, hire a virtual assistant. For the $20-50 you’d spend a week having someone nag you, it might make you want to stick to your schedule more because you’re spending money on it.

Plus, it’s human nature not to let someone down. Whether that’s a friend or stranger somewhere else in the world, accountability can be very powerful.

Don’t procrastinate when picking “the right” tool, app, etc

We have too many tools at our disposal. A simple Google search for “writing app” brings up 252,000,000 results. Holy crap. How does anyone decide where to start? And the answer is not to click through until Page 5 or 6 in the Google search results, that’s just ludicrous.

The key is just to pick one tool and limit yourself to that one thing to start. Personally, I like to pick the tool with the least amount of features. As an example, I use the Bear App for writing. It doesn’t have a toolbar. It doesn’t have text decoration options. There isn’t even any text formatting. Not being able to waste time with features helps me get in the writing zone very quickly.

Bear Writing App

(The Bear writing app in action – This is where all my articles start!)

A tool should be just that—a tool. It should have just the amount of features necessary to get the job done. When you have the right tool, it fades into the background and allows you to focus on the task at hand.

But how did I find Bear App? Through a friend on Twitter. A friend I trusted the opinion of and I knew was also an efficient writer. It’s one thing to take a recommendation from a friend who has successfully used that tool to their advantage. But if they’re just gushing about all the shiny and ‘interesting’ features it has, that might be a red flag that their recommendation isn’t the right thing for you.

Another way to test a tool is to set limitations with it. Let’s say it takes you one hour to do an existing task with an app you’ve been using for a while. If you want to try a new app, only allow yourself an hour to perform the same task. If you can’t get it done, then the new app isn’t worth the time investment. If you’re able to do the same task in half the time, then you definitely should switch apps.

 


Constraints Are The Best Way To Avoid Procrastination

It’s my honest opinion, coming from someone who’s created a dozen online courses, written two books, and built four software applications, that having constraints is a beautiful thing.

When I say constraints, I’m talking about a few specific things. The first is only doing the essential things needed to complete a project. The second is not letting assumptions dictate the amount of work you do.

Let me break both of these down for you…

When you’re building anything, it can be tempting to follow through with every ‘great’ idea you have along the way

Yet by constraining yourself to only work on a few things, you have a better chance of actually finishing your project and creating something with value. Here’s an example:

I have an online learning product called Teachery. For a year my co-founder Gerlando and I were heads-down building the best online course building tool we could, with the least amount of features possible.

Every time we’d think of a new feature idea, instead of spending time on it, we’d put it in a massive to-do list in Basecamp. Early on we set goals to help people quickly and easily build and sell beautiful online courses. If each feature we came up with didn’t directly relate to our goals, then it got put in the to-do list queue.

Recently we archived a queue of 50+ feature ideas. They weren’t bad ideas either. But by constraining ourselves to stick to the core features and work on perfecting them, we’ve been able to hit all our goals and milestones (which can be extremely tough when building a software product).

 

How to avoid analysis paralysis

Now, when it comes to assumptions, I want to share an example of an online course I recently created. When I was writing the outline for the course I had 12 topic ideas. But when I sat down to create the course I told myself to pick the top 8 ideas I thought were most important to open up the course for purchase.

I assumed that people would be interested in the other 4 topics, but knew they weren’t absolutely necessary. I wrote a note in my outline next to those 4 topics that said: “If 5 people ask for any of these, I will create and add them as lessons in the course.” This small step would help test my assumption that people would want this information. So far no one has asked about any of them.

 
Now in both of these examples, you could argue that my projects could have been better with all the additional features and topics. And while I agree with you in principle, I also believe in the quote “Done is better than perfect”.

I’ve seen it with my own projects and with entrepreneurs and creative professionals time and time again. You want to over-deliver as much as possible to show the value of whatever you’re building. But it’s much easier to launch with less and add to a completed product, then it is to struggle to get a product to market that has a feature list a mile-long.

In almost all aspects of creation I see constraints as a beautiful and helpful thing

They help guide you and give you a compass to reach the finish line of whatever you’re working on. Lots of people get projects to 80-90% completion. Those same people struggle to get sales and always seem stressed out and overwhelmed. Get the best, smallest version of your project done and revel in your successes.

There’s a ton of power in completion.

I Want To Help You Avoid Burnout

June 1, 2015

In 2012 burnout hit me like an unsuspecting right hook from Floyd Mayweather.

“You can’t sustain this.”
“You need to take a break.”
“Eventually, you will burnout.”

Those were things that were told to me again and again in 2009 as I embarked on a business that operated 365 days out of the year. My inexperienced and naive self scoffed at the thought that my youthful invincibility would be tested.

Boy, was I wrong.

Burnout was never something I felt coming.

I felt stress and pressure, sure, but those didn’t inhibit my ability to do creative work. Yes, they added a tinge of difficulty, but they certainly weren’t insurmountable.

Out of nowhere, I felt like my creative spark was gone. I felt like I couldn’t come up with any new or interesting ideas. And I wanted absolutely nothing to do with my camera or my laptop thanks to filming more than 1,500 daily videos from 2009 to 2012. It’s now three years later, and I’m not exaggerating when I say that I’m only now feeling like I’ve overcome the disdain for my video camera.

I don’t bring up this topic so you’ll pity me. I also hope I don’t sound like a drama queen. I bring this topic up because I feel that many business owners, creative folks, and entrepreneurs are going to get blindsided by the evil bitch that is burnout, and I want to help you try to avoid that.

The other evening I had a discussion with friends who were both feeling burned out. I could see it on them, like a dingy, dirty, wet trench coat. They looked weighed down and tired.

I want to share a bit of context about these friends. They have two businesses they’re running. One business is established, is a well-oiled machine, and is profitable, but takes multiple hours every day to keep going. Their second business is a brand new business that they’ve been working on for months, but is just starting to see the light of day. The second business has a lot of technical details involved, customer support issues, and is all-around a bigger project.

As a group of us sat chatting in a circle on the floor of our living room, I could see it in their faces. A familiar look that I remember all too well. In most scenarios, I try to hold back a bit on being brutally honest (it gets me in trouble sometimes) but this time I recognized my former self in them and I wanted to get really honest about that.

What I shared with them (and what I’d like to impart upon you) is that burnout is not something you can simply work through.

There’s a difference between working long hours to get the job done and overworking yourself to the point of no return (that last one is burnout).

 


Avoid Burnout By Attacking It Early

As soon as you see the signs of burnout, you have to attack it. And the best way to attack it? Take breaks. I know that sounds incredibly counterintuitive, but I honestly feel burnout is like an infection. The longer you ignore it and just let it fester, the worse it is going to get and the harder it is going to get rid of.

If you start to feel burnout creeping in, you have to take a step back. That doesn’t mean taking a week off to go to the Bahamas, but it does mean establishing time away from your work.

Don’t let burnout creep in, set a schedule for yourself

Your schedule could be a specific time, like the hours between 9 to 5 (especially if you work from home). Or it could only be a certain number of hours per day (and you stop, no matter what, when those hours are up). The important part is just that you create a schedule and then stick to it. I’d recommend starting with one schedule, trying it out for a week, and seeing how it feels.

It could also be very helpful for you to keep a journal of how you’re feeling. This might sound a bit “woo woo,” but if doing something that’s a bit “woo woo” helps you avoid an epic meltdown, then I think it’s worth doing. If you’re going to try a new schedule for a week, write in the journal every morning and evening. You don’t have to write a novel, just write a few sentences of how you’re feeling.

If you’re going to try journaling, I’d recommend doing it for a week with your current schedule and then another week with a schedule that allows you some breaks. After those two weeks, read through and see the differences between them. You may still have a feeling of overwhelming, but it might not be as daunting and you may not feel as stressed out.

Burnout doesn’t go away with success

In 2012, I pivoted my IWearYourShirt business to a new model and it was going well enough. I wasn’t swimming in money, Scrooge McDuck style, but things were looking a bit better. Looking back now, I can see that even the shift in my business didn’t help get rid of the burnout. Surprisingly, it actually seemed to continue to get worse.

We tend to think money is going to fix all our problems. But if you have problems before money comes along, and the problems don’t get solved, they’re only going to get worse with the stresses that get brought on by money (more customers to deal with, more employees, higher output of work, more pressure, etc).

Success is simply a byproduct of hard work. Success doesn’t fix problems. It doesn’t heal wounds. It’s merely an outcome.

 


Want To Avoid Burnout? Ask For Help And TAKE It

The first part of asking for help is difficult. Trust me, I once waited eight entire months to send someone an email who I completely believed could help me out. Pride is a dangerous beast. But it’s the second part that comes along with asking for help that can really cause complications: actually taking the advice you get and doing something with it.

You aren’t doing yourself any favors if you muster up the courage to ask for help and then remain set in your old ways. Whatever you were doing up until the point of asking for help was leading to burnout, so it’s time to make a change. You certainly don’t have to take someone’s full advice, but maybe there’s one small thing you can start doing right away. That one thing might lead to another, which leads to another, etc.

Asking for help is important, but actually doing something with that help might be even more important.

For folks who own their own businesses, burnout is very likely to rear its ugly head at some point or another. You might not be dealing with burnout right now, and in that case, it’s my hope that this article gives you some semblance of preparation when you start to see some signs of it.

I don’t think we as entrepreneurs talk enough about the dangers of overworking ourselves or the negative feelings that can come with running our businesses, feelings like burnout. I hope this article reminds you that your business is not the only thing in your world. If you don’t take time and attention to care for yourself as you continue to follow your dreams, all the success you’re working so hard to achieve won’t be worth what you had to sacrifice to get it.

Take care of yourself and your business will follow.