Maria Popova on Writing, Workflow, and Workarounds

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Maria Popova

“Why put in the effort to explain why it isn’t a fit, if they haven’t done the homework to determine if it is a fit?”
– Maria Popova [1:23:00]

Maria Popova has written for amazing outlets like The Atlantic and The New York Times, but I find her most amazing project to be BrainPickings.org.

Founded in 2006 as a weekly email to seven friends, BrainPickings now gets more than 5 million readers per month (!). I read very few blogs regularly, but BrainPickings is one of the few that makes the cut.  It’s a treasure trove.

BrainPickings is Maria’s one-woman labor of love — an inquiry into how to live and what it means to lead a good life.  From Mark Twain to Oscar Wilde and everyone in between, Maria finds the hidden gems. She is also PROLIFIC and makes me look like a sloth.

In this in-depth conversation, we cover just about everything: how it happened, her workflow, how she writes (and workarounds to problems), how her site generates revenue, her workouts, and many more details. If you want to know the habits of a hyper-productive person, this episode is for you.

Stream with the player below:

If you can’t see the above, here are other ways to listen:

This podcast is brought to you by 99Designs, the world’s largest marketplace of graphic designers. Did you know I used 99Designs to rapid prototype the cover for The 4-Hour Body? Here are some of the impressive results.

This episode is also brought to you by ExOfficio, which I’ve personally used since 2005 or so. They make ultra-lightweight, quick drying, antimicrobial clothing for men and women. Here’s my own ultra-light packing list (scroll down for video), which went viral.

QUESTION(S) OF THE DAY: What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever received or read?  Please share in the comments!

Scroll below for links and show notes.

Enjoy!

Who should I interview next? Please let me know on Twitter or in the comments.
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Selected Links from the Episode

Where to Start? BrainPickings Recommendations from Maria Popova

Show Notes (Times Are Approximate)

  • What percentage of New York Times best sellers are a result of Maria’s coverage? [4:55]
  • How to live a meaningful happy life. [10:00]
  • The importance of writing for an audience of one. [12:10]
  • Contending with the temptation to create Buzzfeed-like content. [15:45]
  • Maria Popova’s daily rituals, beliefs on sleep, distraction-avoidance habits, meditation, and exercise routines. [23:25]
  • Maria Popova’s note-taking system. [31:45]
  • Seneca and the time-tested challenge of presence vs. productivity. [37:36]
  • Start-up opportunity? Build a note-taking tool for heavy readers/highlighters. [41:58]
  • About the team behind BrainPickings. [48:45]
  • Maria Popova’s process for editing within her team. [51:12]
  • Self-reliance pathology and how to overcome it. [53:56]
  • How to find a professional personal assistant and delegate. [56:40]
  • What Maria Popova’s weight lifting regiment looks like, plus her favorite bodyweight-only exercise. [1:02:14]
  • Blogging strategies [1:05:22]
  • Social media strategies [1:15:00]
  • How cultivate a personal inner circle, how to pre-screen book review requests [1:20:30]
  • Why there are no dates on the posts on BrainPickings? [01:12:30]
  • Scheduling (and automating) social media [01:22:10]
  • How do you deal with friends who want you to read their books? [01:27:10]
  • What donation model works best for site revenue? [01:31:45]

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Tony Robbins on Morning Routines, Peak Performance, and Mastering Money

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“Our revenues are now over $5 billion annually. Without access to Tony and his teachings, Salesforce.com wouldn’t exist today.”
– Marc Benioff, Founder of Salesforce.com

“[Tony] distills the concepts of the best investors in the world into practical lessons that will benefit both naïve investors and skilled professionals.”
– Ray Dalio, Founder of Bridgewater Associates, the world’s largest hedge fund

Tony Robbins is the world’s most famous performance coach. He’s advised everyone from Bill Clinton to Serena Williams, and from Leonardo DiCaprio to Oprah (who calls him “superhuman”).

For years, you’ve also asked me to interview him in-depth — so here it is! I flew to Florida to spend time with Tony in his home, and what ensued was an epic two-part conversation.  It covers just about everything imaginable. Special thanks to Joe Polish and Peter Diamandis for re-introducing us.

My visit coincided with his first new book in 20 years: Money–Master the Game.

I love Tony’s work and it helped me start my first company, but when I got an early draft of the book, I thought to myself–really? Another book on money? Ugh. I prepared to be bored, especially since I think of myself as an experienced investor [pats self on back]. Instead, and very surprisingly, I was blown away. Before I knew it, I was pushing off other work, letting my dinner get cold, and staying up hours past bedtime each night, all because I couldn’t stop reading.

Why?

First off, he saved me years of my life! Over the last 10 years, I’ve been approached by several top hedge fund managers, who’ve suggested I write The 4-Hour Investor by collaborating with them and their friends. Tony has written that book perfectly, so it saves me the trouble. I can just point people to this book. Which leads me to…

Reason number two, he goes DEEP with many of the investing icons I’ve always wanted to meet, including Paul Tudor Jones (who he’s coached for 10+ years), Ray Dalio, Carl Icahn, David Swensen, Kyle Bass, and many more. These are the hard-to-interview “unicorns” who consistently beat the market, despite the fact that it’s called impossible. In this book, they disclose details and examples I’ve never seen anywhere else, and I’ve read A LOT of books on investing.  For me, the interviews alone were worth the entire book.

Third, he solved the problem that I couldn’t. How do you write a book for both the novice and the sophisticated expert? How do you account for the differences in goals (e.g. growth versus security) without creating a mess of a book with no structure? He nailed it.

Fourth, and last for this blog post, this book isn’t just about “investing.” It’s about clear thinking and clear priorities applied to big things. By the time I’d read half of the book, I’d already taken steps that doubled my income for that month. While it wasn’t stocks or bonds, the principles of the book translated to my other business decisions. Obviously, you’re mileage will vary, but I found the flexible toolkit worth as much as the specific recommendations related to asset allocation, etc.

In the following interview, we dig into everything: Tony’s morning routines, his diet, how we works with the world’s highest-performing athletes and traders, common misconceptions about him, the most typical money mistakes he’s uncovered, and on and on.  I even ask him to palm my entire face (Here’s the pic!).

Enjoy!

Tons of links and goodies in show notes below…


If you can’t see the above embedded players, here are other ways to listen:

This podcast is brought to you by 99Designs, the world’s largest marketplace of graphic designers. Did you know I used 99Designs to rapid prototype the cover for The 4-Hour Body? Here are some of the impressive results.

Also, how would you like to join me and Sir Richard Branson on his private island for mentoring? It’s coming up soon, and it’s all-expenses-paid. Click here to learn more. It’s worth checking out.

QUESTION(S) OF THE DAY: What is the best piece of investment advice you ever received or read? Please let me know in the comments.

Scroll below for all show notes, and thank you for listening!

Do you enjoy this podcast? If so, please leave a short review here. It’s very important to keep the show going.
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Selected Links from the Episode

Show Notes

Note: “Ep1″ = Part 1 and “Ep2″ = Part 2.

  • What it’s like to coach (and question) the worlds top 1%? [Ep1-10:07]
  • Tonys advice for ‘How to get out of a slump’ [Ep1-14:25]
  • Tony’s morning routine – including using cyrotherapy [Ep1-19:08]
  • Tony’s daily priming ritual [Ep1-26:16]
  • The biggest misconceptions people have about Tony [Ep1-32:20]
  • How 2 millimeters can change your life [Ep1-41:14]
  • What inspired Tony to write his first book in 20 years [Ep1-45:30]
  • How Tony’s new book is feeding 50 million people this year [Ep1-55:01]
  • The first questions Richard Branson always asks before going into a business [Ep1-59:14]
  • What a 50% investment loss actually means [Ep1-60:04]
  • Why a nickel costs 5 cents but is worth 6.8 cents. [Ep1-63:01]
  • What “average rates of return” actually do to your money [Ep2-3:40]
  • Nobel Prize winners’ advice on automating your investing [Ep2-5:16]
  • Why investing is just like monkeys playing with apples [Ep2-5:54]
  • One of the nine biggest lies in our investment lives [Ep2-6:23]
  • How mutual funds are driven not by rates of returns, but marketing [Ep2-9:10]
  • Why most mutual funds underperform the market [Ep2-9:54]
  • Ray Dalio’s “All Weather” Investing Principles [Ep2-12:51]
  • Why losers react and winners anticipate [Ep2-27:07]
  • What exactly is “diversification”? [Ep2-30:10]
  • Why investing should be maximising quality of life, not maximising returns [Ep2-34:08]
  • What you need to ensure against your lesser instinct [Ep2-39:23]
  • The story behind Tony wanting to punch Obama [Ep2-42:20]

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Can You Rewire Your Brain In Two Weeks? One Man’s Attempt…

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Can you rewire your brain in two weeks?  The answer appears to be — at least partially — yes.

The following is a guest post by Shane Snow, frequent contributor to Wired and Fast Company and author of the new book SMARTCUTS: How Hackers, Innovators, and Icons Accelerate Success.  Last year, he wrote about his two-week Soylent experiment, which went viral and racked up 500+ comments.  He knows how to stir up controversy.

In this post, Shane tests the “brain-sensing headband” called Muse.

It’s received a lot of PR love, but does it stand up to the hype?  Can it make you a calmer, more effective person in two weeks?  This post tackles these questions and much more.

As many of your know, I’m a long-time experimenter with “smart drugs,” which I think are both more valuable and more dangerous that most people realize.  This includes homemade brain stim (tDCS) devices (I wouldn’t recommend without supervision) and other cutting-edge tools.  If you’d like to read more on these topics, please let me know in the comments.

In the meantime, I hope you enjoy Shane’s experimentation!… Read More

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The Art of Strategic Laziness

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David Heinemeier Hansson ("DHH")

David Heinemeier Hansson (“DHH”)

The following is a guest post by Shane Snow, a frequent contributor to Wired and Fast Company.  Last year, he wrote about his two-week Soylent experiment, which went viral and racked up 500+ comments.

This post is adapted from his new book, SMARTCUTSand it will teach you a few things:

  • How to use strategic “laziness” to dramatically accelerate progress
  • How “DHH” became a world-class car racer in record time, and how he revolutionized programming (they’re related)
  • A basic intro to computer programming abstraction

Note: the technical aspects of programming have been simplified for a lay audience.  If you’d like to point out clarifications or subtleties, please share your thoughts in the comments!   I’d love to read them, as I’m thinking of experimenting with programming soon.

Enter Shane Snow

The team was in third place by the time David Heinemeier Hansson leapt into the cockpit of the black-and-pink Le Mans Prototype 2 and accelerated to 120 miles per hour. A dozen drivers jostled for position at his tail. The lead car was pulling away from the pack—a full lap ahead.

This was the 6 Hours of Silverstone, a six-hour timed race held each year in Northamptonshire, UK, part of the World Endurance Championship. Heinemeier Hansson’s team, Oak Racing, hoped to place well enough here to keep them competitive in the standings for the upcoming 24 Hours of Le Mans, the Tour de France of automobile racing.

Heinemeier Hansson was the least experienced driver among his teammates, but the Oak team had placed a third of this important race in his hands.

Determined to close the gap left by his teammate, Heinemeier Hansson put pedal to floor, hugging the curves of the 3.7-mile track that would be his singular focus for the next two hours. But as three g’s of acceleration slammed into his body, he began to slide around the open cockpit. Left, then right, then left. Something was wrong with his seat.

In endurance racing, a first place car can win a six- or 12-hour race by five seconds or less. Winning comes down to two factors: the equipment and the driver. However, rules are established to ensure that every car is relatively matched, which means outcomes are determined almost entirely by the drivers’ ability to focus and optimize thousands of tiny decisions.

Shifting attention from the road to, say, a maladjusted driver’s seat for even a second could give another car the opportunity to pass. But at 120 miles per hour, a wrong move might mean worse than losing the trophy.  As Heinemeier Hansson put it, “Either you think about the task at hand or you die.”

Turn by turn, he fought centrifugal force, attempting to keep from flying out while creeping up on the ADR-Delta car in front of him.

And then it started to rain… Read More

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How to Gather 100,000 Emails in One Week (Includes Successful Templates, Code, Everything You Need)

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This story is about the launch of Harry’s, a new men’s grooming brand.

Specifically, it will explain how they gathered nearly 100,000 email addresses in one week (!).  This post includes all the email templates, open-source code, and insider tricks that you can use to replicate their success.  It’s similar in depth to my previous how-to post, Hacking Kickstarter: How to Raise $100,000 in 10 Days.

This post is of great personal interest to me, as I’ll be doing a ton of fun stuff with email soon.  For a sneak peek, click here.  Now, on to Harry’s…

Harry’s started small and grew quickly.  They now have 40 domestic employees, an online store, a barbershop in New York, and a thriving online magazine called Five O’Clock. Harry’s also recently raised 100+ million dollars to buy the 94-year-old German factory that makes it blades.  By doing so, they added 427 people to their team. Today, you can find Harry’s products on harrys.com, in select J Crew stores, and at more than 65 men’s boutiques and hotels across the country.

This is piece was written by Jeff Raider, Co-Founder and Co-CEO of Harry’s, with input from key members of the Harry’s team.

Prior to Harry’s, Jeff co-founded Warby Parker, a brand offering designer-like eyewear at lower prices, which also helped pioneer the “buy one, give one” model.

Enjoy!… Read More

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How to Learn Any Language in Record Time and Never Forget It

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Fluent_Forever_Logo

Preface from Tim

Back in 2012, Gabriel Wyner wrote an article for Lifehacker detailing how he learned French in 5 months and Russian in 10, using mostly spare time on the subway.  That article went viral.

But don’t run off! That was nothing but version 1.0.  This post gives you version 2.0 and more.

He’s spent the last two years refining his methods and putting them on steroids. Kevin Kelly, founding editor of Wired, was the one who told me, “You have to check this guy out. His new book is amazing.” Keep in mind that I’d previously told Kevin that I thought most books on language learning were garbage.  I took his endorsement seriously, and I wasn’t disappointed.

This post gives you Gabe’s new blueprint for rapid language learning:

  • A revised and updated version of his original post
  • New techniques from the last two years of experimentation
  • How he learned 6 languages in just a handful of years
  • Tips and tricks you won’t find anywhere else

Read More

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