Solopreneur Mini-Course #4: Creating a Deadline Calendar

Everyday I have ideas for projects I want to pursue or articles I want to write for my blog.  Some of these ideas have stayed in the back of my mind for months, and I’ve either never gotten around to completing them, or (for most) even starting them.  Writing an article for my blog always seems like it will be a lot of work, work that doesn’t have a straightforward payoff, and work that nobody is expecting me to do except for myself.  My blog was updated sporadically at first.  I would go months without writing, which would lead to me feeling guilty about not writing, causing me to put more pressure on myself to write really good articles.  This pressure would build up to the point where I would eventually trash partially or fully completed articles because I felt they weren’t as good as I needed them to be.

The sporadic updates of my blog. A black square means I posted something on that day, grey means I didn't.

The sporadic updates of my blog. A black square means I posted something on that day, grey means I didn’t.

Things changed when Ryan and I started the Paleomodern Polymaths podcast, which I regularly release once a week.  My blog started gaining more consistent and reoccurring popularity, particularly around the episodes.  This made me more comfortable updating my website, and allowed me to put less pressure on myself to make perfect content.  I started writing more, trying more new and different things, improving, and began feeling a genuine sense of fulfillment and enjoyment around working on my blog.  Around the same time my blog took a dramatic, and unanticipated (but not unappreciated) jump in popularity.  I went from being lucky to break 100 page views in a month to breaking 1000 in December, which was partially due to one of my posts trending on stumbleUpon, something that was and is far outside of my control.  Diving deeper than just the numbers, I noticed the more I put out, the more often people would find, explore, and actually read or listen to the articles and podcasts on my website.  I went from one or two people asking about my blog every month, to regularly getting recognized in public by people with whom I hadn’t connected with in years (or sometimes ever), who had read, listened to, or enjoyed something on my website.

January came and went, and I wrote more than ever before, but still maintained a desire to produce more and to grow my web traffic.  Recently I’ve been very influenced by Sam Hyde of Million Dollar Extreme, and Ryan Holiday, both of whom are absolute masters of their craft, and are unexplainably prolific.  They put out so much incredible content every week, that it’s hard for me to even keep up with reading and watching it all (and I rarely do).  As an attempt to explain to myself how they do it, I came across the idea that really prolific and consistent artists often use deadlines to get accomplish more.  I’m a firm believer in Parkinson’s law, which, as explained by Tim Ferriss in The Four Hour Work Week, “dictates that a task will swell in (perceived) importance and complexity in relation to the time allotted for it’s completion.  It is the magic of the imminent deadline.”  The podcast came out every week because I gave myself a deadline to put it out every week, and its quality only got better as I got used to actually working on it, putting it out, getting feedback, and repeating, instead of being a perfectionist and mulling ideas and first drafts in my head for months, hoping it would lead to the right blog post.  From a combination of the ideas I mentioned above, I decided to make a solopreneur mini-course as an attempt to be a more prolific artist.  As silly and arbitrary as this might sound, I also set a stretch goal around the results of the experiment; 1000 page views in the month of February.  I wasn’t sure if it would be possible, but I gave it a shot following the one-pager I outline below.

Solopreneurship Mini-Course #4: Using Deadlines to Consistently Output More

Before the Month (or other time period you are planning on being prolific over) begins:

Get a calendar and mark off what you want to release on the corresponding days.  These are your deadlines.  It’s important to be specific about what you’re releasing (e.g. Episode 10 of Paleomodern Polymaths, a College Article), so that you are clear about what you want to output, without being overly specific (e.g. A podcast episode where I ask Raymond about overcoming his fear to ask Andrea out, an article titled ‘What To Do When You’re in Class’), so that your constraints aren’t too narrow and you are free to be creative within a limited space.  This also allows you to complete tasks even when factors that are outside of your control are present (Ryan deleting his podcast audio, forgetting the most impactful scenes of Knight of Cups, etc…).

An additional tip is to have deadlines for similar objectives occur regularly, like releasing a podcast every Thursday, a college article every other Monday, etc…

Setting up the deadlines

Setting up the deadlines

At the Start of the Month:

Put the calendar on your wall, where you, and others will be able to clearly see it.

During the Month:

Cross off tasks when they have been completed, and again when they have been delivered (in my case posted to my blog or sent to my e-mail list).  Also cross the days off as they pass.  Use different colors or shapes to cross off the different days, so you can clearly keep track of your progress.

Using the calendar, notice I'm getting ahead on a few projects because I see the whole month, instead of just the next blog post

Using the calendar, notice I’m getting ahead on a few projects because I see the whole month, instead of just the next blog post

The Day you Have a Deadline:

For simplicity, it’s important to ensure that every day’s deadline occurs at same time.  My deadlines are 5pm of the day I have marked on the calendar, because refusing to work after 5pm made me feel more free when I was in college.  Staying up late to work is stupid.  The whole point of deadlines is to use them as a tool, not a prison.  The deadlines are rigid, when you hit the deadline you need to deliver your work no matter what state it is in.  Imagine you are in a college course that often gives partial credit, but does not accept late work.  You need to turn something in, and understand that after the deadline passes, it is in it’s final state and out of your hands.  If the deadline has no stakes and is not rigid, it isn’t real, you won’t follow it, and this course will not work.  You need to have skin in the game.

The end result, finished early

The end result, I finished early

Now, I’ll review the mini-course.  I followed the one-pager above for the month of February, where I planned on releasing 2.25 blog posts a week for the entire month including: four podcast episodes, two solopreneur mini-course articles, two college articles, and one personal article.  Up until this point, I’d never released more than 6 posts a month, and I’d averaged 1.75 posts a month since starting the blog, so this was certainly an ambitious goal.  Following the calendar, I did exactly what I set out to.  I never missed a single deadline and I never put out any incomplete pieces of work.  In the first week I cut it close a few times (I posted a few final drafts at 4pm), but pretty quickly I started to get on top of my game, and I wanted to finish articles early to avoid the stress of an impending deadline, so I decided to finish a podcast episode a day or two early, and schedule it to be automatically posted at the deadline.  There was something incredibly satisfying about crossing the tasks off my calendar.  I could see myself progressing, and would receive a small rush of dopamine and publicly visible satisfaction for my work (this is why the calendar is posted where others might see it).  It was even more satisfying to cross items off much earlier than the anticipated deadline.  If I finished something an hour early I would be relieved it got out, a day early I would feel responsible and free, a week early and I would feel like an efficient content producing machine.  When I pushed things out ahead of schedule I would feel not only as though the blog was my job, but that I was killing it at my job.  I felt like a high performer again, a feeling that drove me to achieve much of what I achieved in college.

After front-loading a project I started to experience a runaway positive feedback loop; finishing a task early would give me more time to finish the next task, which would then make me feel good about my work, causing me to want to do more work, and finish the next task even further ahead of schedule.  At one point I looked at my calendar and saw that I only had a few tasks left, which motivated me to finish the work for the entire month early, so I could have everything on my calendar crossed off and I could close the book on the month of February.  Viewing productivity as simply completing the tasks one sets out to complete in the time they want to complete it, this course was extremely successful at making me productive, more so than anything else I’ve ever tried for the blog (so far).

What about my biggest fears?  If I write too much won’t I run out of my reservoir of writing ability and energy (or maybe even things to say), and as a result will the quality of my work fall?  Going into the experiment I was concerned that I would put out some lower quality pieces of work simply because I was producing more work.  I thought maybe I’ll release something I’m not proud of and that will motivate me to work harder so that it doesn’t happen again in the future, which would be a built-in motivation mechanism for the deadline system.  This is a good time to explain that February was probably the busiest month of my post-college life, outside of the website.  I traveled to Dallas and Palo Alto for the first 9 days or so of February, during which I had absolutely no quiet time to work on creative projects.  I went to Phoenix two or three times to visit friends, and I have an on/off work philosophy, which means I work when I’m at work, and with friends I am simply with friends (not working).  I also discovered early on that I would be moving to Dallas, so I went through the entire moving process, including packing all of my belongings, tying up most of the loose ends I had in Tucson (I still have a few left), and driving to Dallas before March 1st.  I also continued to work to prepare for the accelerator I was moving to Dallas to participate in.  I thought Pryzm’s acceptance into the program implied that my lens would be manufactured sooner than I’d previously anticipated, so I wanted to accelerate the progress of my design.  Normally all of that would be an excuse to push all of my blog goals back a month, but I actually found myself working harder, and producing better work than I ever had before (for the blog).  I started to view crossing items off my calendar as a game, which made it fun to chip away at my goals whenever I had a few spare minutes (I wrote the StumbleUpon article at Chris’ house the day I got off the airplane, and wrote 3 college articles on the flight home from San Jose).  I was writing more frequently, which gave me more experience writing, and allowed me to improve as a writer.  As obvious as this sounds (I practiced writing more, which made me a better writer, which led me to write better articles), I legitimately thought my work would be worse if I put it out more frequently.  I fell victim to this perfectionist delusion that we have the perfect ideas deep down in our heads, and if only we could find the perfect mood, environment, headspace, and block of uninterrupted time it would simply flow out of us.  This mini-course helped me realize how delusional these thoughts were and are.  You get better at everything through practice, so forcing myself to practice more, especially in a way in which I receive feedback, (like publicly posting articles and sharing them to my friends on Facebook) should (and will) make me a better blogger, podcaster, and writer.

I started to feel the effects of this practice early on, and by the end of the month I was able to edit and post podcast episodes in half the time it had taken me a week before, and my writing was clearly improving, to the point where my friends were reaching out to me to tell me my that “my new stuff was getting better”, a compliment I value much more highly than “you are a good writer” (or another ‘fixed mindset’ piece of feedback).  In the end that’s really all I hope to experience with my creative projects, continuous improvement, not a delusion of a project suddenly (or ever) becoming “good” or “perfect”.  The theme of my website and my life is learning, and if you aren’t making progress you aren’t learning.  This experiment put me in the exact place I want to be with my website, a clear idea of how to improve (publish more), and some objective feedback that shows that I’m improving.  I achieved both of these through this course, making it undoubtedly a success.  In short, using a calendar with deadlines caused me to complete more tasks than I had before, put me wildly ahead of what I thought I could accomplish and when I could finish it by, improved the quality of my work, reframed deadlines from intimidating and anxiety inducing to a fun game-like challenge, and demonstrated to me an effective learning method.  Will I continue to use it in the future?  I’m buying a new whiteboard today so I can plan out the rest of April.

Also, I received more traffic in February than I ever had before (or since) on the website, by a significant margin, despite the fact that I had absolutely no unexpected traffic spikes.  Instead, it was all pure organic traffic, from people intentionally clicking on and reading my articles.

Objective results

Objective results

Solopreneur Mini-Course #3: Posting Your Pages on StumbleUpon

Some Solopreneur courses are long, complicated, and time intensive.  Others are small, simple, and fast, like this one.  Every once in a while I seek out new ideas on how I can get more visitors to my website.  When I was reading through a few posts on the Smart Passive Income Community Facebook group I found this story:

Screen Shot 2016-02-11 at 7.42.50 PM

It seemed a little fantastical to me, but so did the Four Hour Work Week before I tried it.  So I put it into action, and tested it myself.

Solopreneurship Mini-Course #3: Posting Your Pages on StumbleUpon:

If you have never used StumbleUpon before:

Sign up for an account.  Add interests.  Start stumbling and liking pages (~30 is a good number to start with).

Adding pages from your website:

Here is how I added my last page to StumbleUpon

How I add my pages to StumbleUpon

I like to use the StumbleUpon bar for Google Chrome.  I go to the page on my website I want to add, highlight a paragraph of text, and click the thumbs up button on the StumbleBar.  It then takes you to a page with the text “Submit this page to StumbleUpon and add it to your likes”.  I tag the page with a few ‘Interests’.  Usually the highlighted text causes relevant interests to show up, but if they don’t, just search for them in the search bar, and post your page once you’ve added a few tags.  DO NOT tag your page with irrelevant topics, it will lead to your page getting voted down and ranking lower in the Stumble algorithm, meaning you won’t receive as much traffic.

Adding relevant interests to the last page I posted to StumbleUpon

Adding relevant interests to the last page I posted to StumbleUpon

Between adding pages:

I read that you should like ~15 pages that you haven’t submitted for every page you add to StumbleUpon to prove you aren’t spamming the website.  I’m not sure if this is true or not, but it really only takes a minute or two, so I make sure I like 15 pages I find stumbling right before I submit a new page.

And just like that, 5 minutes later, you’ve completed the mini-course.

Now, as always, I will review this mini course.  I think the most important thing to notice is how mindlessly quick and easy doing this is.  I’ve built it into my article posting routine, because although it’s unclear if it is making a huge difference for my website (it probably isn’t), it has the potential to help, and it doesn’t require any resources.

How much traffic have I received using this incredibly simple method?  More that I might expect.  StumbleUpon is the second largest referrer to my website, and by only a small margin.  Considering that it takes much longer to write a thoughtful tagline for a Facebook post, ensure that my images are embedded properly, and that my posts are released at a time when people are most likely to click on and read my long articles, if we’re going strictly off of quantity of traffic (calculated using (#unique visitors)/(time or effort spent) ), StumbleUpon has been the most efficient method for getting more people to view my website.  It is also basically my only source of international visitors, which is interesting and probably helps me rank higher on search engines (I could be totally wrong about this).  The most fascinating part of the StumbleUpon experiment was when my As a Man Thinketh page started trending, and got hundreds of views in a few days.  I guess all it takes is a few likes for your page to be seen by a large number of people, and I’m sure if you continue adding high quality pieces of content to StumbleUpon, you’re likely to eventually experience a traffic spike.

Stats showing how the significant impact StumbleUpon has had on my page views in 2015 (left) and 2016 (right).

Stats showing how the significant impact StumbleUpon has had on my page views in 2015 (left) and 2016 (right).

One concern that was posed in the comments of the original post from the Smart Passive Income Community was about the quality of the traffic.  This is specifically referring to how many of the people visiting your site are quickly stumbling in and out of your page, and how many of them are actually reading, engaging with your content, and possibly turning into sales.  I haven’t looked too deeply into this because I know for certain that I actually made money off of StumbleUpon users clicking on my Amazon Affiliate links.  Receiving revenue from Amazon is still a rare occurrence for my website, so I wouldn’t be unjustified in assuming that >10% of my revenue has come from StumbleUpon traffic, which assures me that from a strictly financial standpoint, the StumbleUpon traffic is high quality (or at least high quality enough for me to continue adding pages).  However, I have yet to receive a single e-mail, comment, or piece of feedback from a StumbleUpon user, but it’s hard to blame them for that.  The vast majority of the feedback I receive is from people I personally know, and it tends to come via Facebook messages, something that is a little too intimate for a random StumbleUpon user.  It’s difficult to reach out to people online anyway, and there so many writers who I admire, and have built websites that have dramatically changed my life (Ryan Holiday, Scott H. Young, Cal Newport, Tim Ferriss, Brian Koppleman, …) and I have yet to send any of them a single e-mail, even when they encourage their readers (me) to do so.  I probably should, now that the shoe is on the other foot, and I understand how meaningful and motivating it is to receive encouragement, criticism, questions, or best of all a short message saying “hey I tried your suggestions, they worked!”, letting you know your work has made a difference in someone else’s life, but it’s still anxiety inducing, and something I rarely ever get around to doing, so I don’t feel bad when I go a week without hearing any feedback (which thankfully hasn’t happened in a while 🙂 ).

StumbleUpon also holds a special place in my heart.  I used to be a heavy user, and while I’m not anymore I still remember learning chess and monopoly strategy, discovering ScottHYoung.com (which eventually became the inspiration for the Software Engineering Course, and a major inspiration for my entire Graduate Unschool Project), the Study Hacks Blog (which is what gave me the confidence to experiment with different learning methods in college, and exposed me to the idea of deliberate practice, which I think is the best well established theory on learning and skill acquisition, which I still use everyday), and DeepHouseLounge.com (which you can hear in the background of my podcasts, and I spend ~5 hours listening to everyday).  Maybe someone will find one of my pages while Stumbling and become inspired to: create their own learning experiment, learn how to be less stressed and get better grades on tests, dive into their emotional issues, or discover a new book.  If it worked for me, it can probably work for someone else.

This course is undoubtedly a success.  If anyone asks for my advice on the fastest, easiest way to get more traffic to their new website I’ll tell them to do one thing, “add your pages to StumbleUpon”.

My international traffic stats ;)

My international traffic stats 😉

Solopreneur Mini-Course #2: Making Paleomodern Polymaths

Since I started listening to podcasts almost two years ago I’ve become obsessed.  There are podcasts that I look forward to every week, and specific episodes that have dramatically changed my life, or had deep emotional impacts on me.  I usually spend a few hours everyday listening to my favorite podcasts, so following my theme of shifting from consumption to creation, I decided to try and make my own podcast.  The motivation for this experiment was Tim Ferriss’ one sentence summary of how he initially started his podcast (see overview).  What I did, and my recommendations for how to start a podcast are listed in the one-pager below:

Solopreneurship Mini-Course #2: Making a Podcast

Overview:

Record six episodes of the podcast, making sure to release the episodes on a regular schedule (I chose once a week).

Recording the Episodes:

Get together with a friend over who you have some of your most interesting conversations with, and that you aren’t worried will “try to perform” for the podcast (emotional authenticity is what I connect with and look for in podcasts).  Get comfortable, start talking, and record the podcast on your iPhone as a voice memo.

Editing the Episodes:

Use garage band.  Sync your iPhone to the computer, it will add the voice memos to iTunes automatically.  Drag and drop the segments into garage band and edit out anything undesirable (trash talking, loud noises, etc…).

Releasing the Episodes:

Put them somewhere that is easily accessible for your friends.  I upload them via SoundCloud and embed them on my website, which I share to Facebook, so people that know me know when I release a new episode.

Getting People Involved:

Encourage the people that listen to your podcast to send you some feedback, or just let you know that they listened to it.  This is what keeps me motivated to keep making the podcasts, and helps me hear some helpful feedback (that the emotional stories are people’s favorite), as well as some feedback I’m uninterested in listening to (“it’s too long”).

Monetizing:

Make a show notes page, and provide affiliate links to anything interesting you recommended in the podcast, as well as some cool photos, videos, or useful information so your listeners gain some value by visiting the page.

That’s it.  While podcasting has taken up a significant portion of my time lately, and I do more than what I’ve described above (any additional choices I make are for purely artistic purposes), it really is very simple.

The final product

The final product

Now for my review of this mini-course:

First I’ll examine the purely financial and “business related” aspects of this experiment.  I am NOT making money off of the podcast, in fact I am currently losing money on the podcast.  Unless you have a major audience, which at the time I am writing this article, I am very far from, it’s hard to expect that making a podcast (particularly one like mine, with no big name guests, advertising, or other compelling reasons for people who haven’t already listened to and enjoyed the podcast to check it out) will be a profitable decision in your first six episodes.  In general, nobody ever clicks on the affiliate links in my show notes section, and I think I’ve made ~$2 from affiliate sales.  I spend about $15 and (more importantly) 25 hours a month recording, producing, editing, and publishing the podcast.  From this perspective it may seem as though the podcast experiment has been a failure, but I should mention that I really was never in it for the money, and as (assuming if) the audience for the podcast grows, it could conceivably reach a point in the next year where advertisers may be interested in supporting the podcast.

My podcast earnings last month

My podcast earnings last month

The podcast could eventually serve as a method for helping people discover my website and the other things I do/plan on doing, although at this point, this is all speculative.  Keeping the conversation rooted in reality, I never expected to make any money off of the podcast.  A major goal I have for my website is to get more traffic, and while there was a very nebulous spike in traffic associated with my As a Man Thinketh article trending on StumbleUpon, it is now clear that the podcast is the primary driver of traffic to my website.  To my surprise, there are already over 500 plays of the podcast on my SoundCloud, and I have personally heard from around 20 people that have listened to every episode start to finish!  I am essentially making 2 hour long recordings of my conversations with friends, so I think it’s incredible that anybody listens to it.  It’s even more remarkable that there are people that enjoy listening to the podcast, and get excited enough after finishing episodes to call me or message me, asking questions and telling me about their favorite moments (which I really appreciate).

Recent traffic statistics showing how Paleomodern Polymaths episodes are becoming the main source of traffic to my website

Recent statistics showing how Paleomodern Polymaths episodes are becoming the main source of traffic to my website

One might naively assume that the purpose of the solopreneur course is to build my platform into a profitable business, or develop passive income streams, and while those are certainly goals I’m interested in, they are not my main priority.  A major way that The Four Hour Work Week impacted my life was helping me realize that you can either work a job that pays you money so you can afford the things you want and want to do, or you can shortcut the process and participate in a job that provides the things that you want in your life.  An example is a lawyer who works a high income job can either save his money to go to surf retreats in the Caribbean for his vacations, or instead choose to become a surf instructor in the Caribbean, where he would make less money, but would instead be living the lifestyle he desires for a larger percentage of his life by ensuring that it is part of his job.  This concept is called lifestyle design and is exactly what I’m trying to pursue with many of my solopreneuer mini-courses.

Intellectually the podcast has been an opportunity to for me to invite smart and interesting people to hang out, and learn from them in a manner which seems productive for both parties (I have a new piece of content for my website, and they have been featured on a podcast).  There’s something about recording the podcast that allows me to really dig into my guests, and ask questions that I would have been too intimidated to ask only a few months ago.  If I had to pick only one theme to design my life around, it would be learning, and I learn more impactful things in the 2-3 hour conversations I have than I would in a typical week in college.  Recording these conversations gives me the option of making them free and available to the public, so anyone can learn from them, even if they have no connection me to or my guests.  I have already benefited intellectually from the podcast, Laura’s tips have really improved my skating (to the point where I actually think I’m an above average skateboarder now), Raymond helped give me some scientific background for the things I believe about learning, Jamil gave me some really useful ideas about meditation, and honestly there’s more life changing information I’ve uncovered while recording the podcast than I could list here even if I felt it were beneficial to this article.

The largest benefits that the podcast has had on my life (and appears to still have) are the emotional benefits.  I started the podcast after listening to Rich Roll describe the effects it’s had on his social life, “It’s very personal, and I can tell you from having done the podcast for a couple of years now… when I travel to other places people will stop me on the street or on the subway, and they really do feel like they know you, and in certain respects they do!  I have 400 hours of me talking, out freely, out floating around on the internet.  They probably know me more than (they know) most people.”, To which Ryan Holiday added,  “You’re analyzing a person way deeper than you would ever get (to) with your friends”.  I have been open about the fact that I am making the podcast as a way to develop relationships and build intimacy with others, which is why I try to keep the tone focused on personal conversations instead of semi-professional interviews and I reveal so much about my feelings and personal life in every episode.  Although I didn’t think many people would listen to the podcast, I was curious to find out if people listening to the podcast would “feel like they knew me better”, the more they listened.  After releasing the first episode I was already reconnecting with friends I hadn’t talked to in years, on a level that I hadn’t experienced in a while.  People were telling me they cared about me, that they could relate to the moments where I opened up emotionally, and that they were available for emotional support whenever it sounded like I was dealing with something difficult.  So I leaned in, I opened up more, and decided, as a vulnerability challenge, that I wouldn’t publish a podcast episode unless I revealed things about myself that I was uncomfortable making available publicly (and for more recent episodes, even talking about privately).  Because I felt starved for intimacy (I touch on this in episode three) I hoped that the podcast could become a way that people could easily add a little more intimacy to their lives, so I try to have with difficult conversations with Ryan and our guests, and connect as well as I possibly can.  The primary positive feedback I receive from the podcast is that people’s favorite moments are those exact stories we were afraid to tell on air (Ryan’s LYFT story, my half marathon story, Ryan’s nightmare, …).

What working on the podcast looks like

What working on the podcast looks like

Since beginning the podcast, I reconnected with Ray, Jamil, and Tyler all because they let me know they enjoyed listening.  I neither expected them to find the podcast, or thought that I would ever get back in touch with any of these people, but now I regularly spend time with Tyler, and Ray gives some of the most insightful and encouraging feedback for my podcast and website.  The podcast has dramatically increased the intimacy in my already somewhat established relationships.  I spent four years of my life either living in the same building as Brandon and Megan, or spending multiple hours everyday inside and outside of class with them, and I always felt like we were friends, but we were never really close.  In college, for whatever reason, we mostly ended up talking about school stress, and we never really moved past the location based friendship that the Astronomy/Physics double major provided us.  Now I have had extremely intimate discussions with both of them, and I feel like I actually know who Brandon and Megan are beyond the surface level, and I consider them both good friends.  I feel like I have already learned so much from these two, and I have so much more to learn that is much more impactful and applicable than how to solve the Lane-Emden equation or how to calculate uncertainties from a Monte Carlo simulation.  The podcast is even improving my longest and most intimate relationships.  Laura and I have been friends forever, but she’s a very busy person, and its hard to keep up on everything while we’re in different cities.  Since she started listening to the podcast I feel like she’s developed a deeper understanding of how I think, who I am, and what’s going on in my life.

The podcast has been the underlying structure that keeps Ryan and I spending a few hours a week together having face-to-face conversations.  It has led us to hang out (much) more outside of that, and been the perfect tool for keeping up to date with each others lives and emotional states.  In the second episode we started talking about influence, and realized how much of an impact we’ve had on each other’s lives and how important our friendship really is, even though we’d been neglecting it in our college years.  Since then we’ve been trying to get deeper every week, we ask each other the the questions we need to be asked, and we practice being completely honest and vulnerable with each other (and on the air).  I’ve gotten to know Ryan on a much different level than I’ve ever known him before, and that’s crazy considering that he was my absolute best friend growing up.  Knowing that we’re recording a podcast the next week, and having a desire to ask difficult and revealing questions has changed the dynamic of our relationship as well.  Now we’ve really been examining each others lives, and realized that we know things about each other that we don’t even know about ourselves, and on (and off) the air we bring these ideas to each other’s consciousness, creating an introspective experience that cannot be found from within, but can only be found through someone outside of yourself.

This brings me to the person I’ve learned the most about from doing the podcast, myself.  Listening to the podcast I’ve been able to notice my speech patterns, and see how my ideas develop.  I’ve dramatically improved my interview, and conversation skills, to the point where I regularly get recognized for my ability to get people to reveal their secrets (as opposed to under a year ago where I struggled to even have a real conversation with Brandon, Megan, or any of the other people I spent most of my time with).  I have become more honest with myself and others (partially due to the fact that I regularly emotionally expose myself online, which makes opening up to an individual seem like nothing in comparison and the fact that I spend hours every week listening to myself when I’m editing or relistening to old episodes of the podcast).

People tell the truth through their actions, and my actions are that I’ve already recorded ten episodes of the podcast and released eight, so this mini-experiment has been undeniably successful.  Podcasting has helped me build a following on my website, make friends, given me new learning experiments to try, gain insights into myself, given me an excuse to study interesting people, build intimacy (without needing to be present), and taught me how fulfilling it can be to work with other people.

Solopreneurship Mini-Course #1: Learning to Read

The solopreneur course focuses on taking a piece of educational or self-improvement media, and translating it into a homework assignment, which I then complete and share on my website, making it simple for others to take the same actions (to seek similar benefits), as well as see exactly what I did, and how it worked for me.  I already regularly consume a large quantity of self-improvement media, but I believe the most impactful learning and life changing events I’ve experienced happened though my actions, not from reading a book, website, or blog, so I rooted the course in taking action.  In the spirit of ‘work smarter not harder’, I decided to start by learning how to read.  Before tackling the list of articles and books I have planned for the mini-courses, I wanted to improve the way I read so that I can learn as much as possible, and optimize my takeaways.

I spend a large portion of my life reading, and I read almost exclusively for the purpose of learning how to live, or to take away lessons that will benefit my life, but in the past I fear that through distraction, an imperfect memory, or a failure to internalize the ideas through first hand experience, I have failed to implement the ideas I hoped to learn while reading.  As time passes and I become further separated from my reading I also become removed from the achievement of it.  Sure I can say ‘I read that’ when a particular book comes up in conversation, but I want to get much more out of my reading.  I want to see my life change as the result of my reading, and know exactly how (what ideas and actions it inspired, and how they worked).  It would also be nice to talk about books that had more of an emotional impact on me, or get some sort of intellectual achievement out of spending more time and attention focusing on a book instead of speed reading and forgetting it.

For my first business course I borrowed a solution from one of my favorite readers, Ryan Holiday, who: appears read for the same reasons that I do, I admire as an author, and I use to find most of my book recommendations.  His article about ‘how to digest books above your level’, suggests a better method for learning as much as possible from a book and allowing it to have a deeper impact on you.  While reading a few of his other articles I found that Bill Gates, Noah Kagan, Derek Sivers, and many other smart and accomplished individuals write book reports for the books they read, which Holiday calls marginalia.  Producing marginalia would allow me to show what I’ve read, and how it benefited me, serve as content for my website, and could potentially become a source of income for me in the future (as Ryan Holiday’s monthly reading list is for him).  I’ll explain what I did, and how I did it in the “one pager” below.

Solopreneurship Course #1: Read to Lead/Marginalia:

Before Starting the Book:

Read a few reviews of the book.  Usually I see if my favorite book reviewers have read the book and written about it.  If they haven’t I just read the ‘most helpful’ reviews on Amazon.  This allows you to keep an eye out for certain important concepts, or things that benefited others, as well as things to be critical or cautious of while reading.

While Reading the Book:

Read every page, in order.  This includes reading all the intros and forwards.  They can seem boring, but they often give you the historical perspective, or some of the authors thoughts that are meant to prime you into the right state of mind for understanding the book and its intentions or cultural impacts.  It also humanizes the author and helps you realize that someone, no better than you, wrote this, which I find motivating.

Highlight passages that stick out to you.  Whether its a writing style that you hope to emulate, a seemingly quotable passage, a mantra you want to repeat, a concise embodiment of you learned while reading, an actionable exercise, or something that simply causes you to have an emotional reaction, highlight it, and fold over the top corner of the page.

Underline the words and ideas you don’t understand, or want to learn more about.  In addition underline all the books that the author recommends or mentions.  This comes in handy later, and can be used for ideas about what to read next.  Fold over the bottom corners of pages on which you have underlined something.

After compiling the book:

Reread the highlighted passages.  Type them out.  Now you have a bunch of quotes easily organized, and you can quickly find the ideas you hoped to learn from the book without manually searching or having to reread the entire text.  In the same document, type out all the underlined phrases and words.  After writing them out, look them up, and type a short (< one sentence) explanation of each of them in your own words.  Take a break from the book for a week to allow its ideas to solidify in your mind, and to see how reading has changed your perspective.  As you move through the world you may try some of the exercises, or see things that will change the way you think about what you’ve read and learned.  Keep these in mind.

After spending a short amount of time ((ideally) less than 2 weeks) away from the book:

Write your marginalia.  I like to write about how the book impacted my life in an emotionally expressive format, but find whatever suits your writing style.  Put this article somewhere on your website, with pictures of your highlights, notes, and the cover of your book.  In your article use Amazon Affiliate links (particularly on the pictures and titles of the book) to link to it.  This will allow you to get a small percentage of the revenue if someone decides to buy the book after reading your article.  It is important to maintain authenticity, so don’t write a sales page for the book, write as honest of an article as possible.  You are writing for your own benefit, to learn and to have something to look back on, the (potential) income is just a small bonus.

Lastly:

Choose a book that you found while reading (typically in your underlines) to read next, and repeat the process outlined in this one-pager.

For an example, and my homework assignment check out my marginalia on As a Man Thinketh.

Now I want to give a review on this mini-course itself, so I can share what I learned though taking these actions.  While performing this exercise I realized another benefit of reading and sharing books this way; it allows you to give others the benefits you found yourself from the book, while saving them time, money, and effort.  A book recommendation can improve someone’s life, but if you trust the source (meaning the person recommending the book, in this case me), you can shortcut the whole reading process and ask “how can this book change my life?”  Just as I am taking abstract pieces of knowledge in this article, and translating them to a straightforward executable list, the same thing can be done for any book, movie or other piece of art that influenced you and has the potential to influence others.  So in my book notes articles I include my important actionable takeaways, so my readers can live the lessons I learned from the book immediately after learning about it.  In fact if you want to “lifehack” the reading of my articles, just read the short actionable summaries of the books (or business courses), since I believe the majority of the content is there, the rest of the article is about my journey, feelings, experience, or rhetoric so readers understand where I’m coming from.

I throughly enjoyed this experiment, and I plan on continuing to write marginalia about (almost) every book I read in the future, regardless of the results.  It motivates me to read more, more carefully, and live the lessons of my book (so that I can write an interesting article in the future).  It really does feel as though I’ve accomplished something looking at the article on my website, or just the cover of the book on my notes page.  Whether or not I receive any results from writing book notes, Solopreneur Course #1 is a success, since I am looking for work that doesn’t feel like work (that I am passionate about and enjoy doing) and that’s exactly how I feel about writing book notes for my website.

The Traffic Spike I received after writing my AaMT article

The traffic spike I received after writing my AaMT article

From a business perspective, this experiment has been more successful than anything else I’ve ever done for the blog.  I experienced a giant traffic spike after my article trended on StumbleUpon, and my As a Man Thinketh article has more page views than anything else I’ve ever posted on my blog, by a large margin.  Although I didn’t expect to, I actually made money from the article as well.  While writing this article I discovered that I had made $0.52 from affiliate sales off of my Amazon links, and that the sales happen pretty randomly.  Books are timeless (especially timeless books), and I expect my standalone article to be a very small (on the order of $1/year) source of revenue for the website, that will scale as traffic to the website increases.  It may seem small, but going from 0 to 1 is much harder than going from 1 to 100, and it was an incredible feeling to make my first money from the website.  It really made this whole course feel real, and made me feel like a legitimate solopreneur, even if I am still a small one.

My Earnings Summary from my Book Notes Article

My Earnings Summary from my Book Notes Article

The emotional benefit from this experiment has been incredible as well.  Since opening up in my article, I’ve had friends read the book, and it’s led to some really deep and impactful conversations for me.  Even friends that haven’t read the book, read my thoughts, and shared with me that they were going through something similar (I talk about this on the Megan Episode of the Podcast) which helped me in two ways: I knew that I wasn’t alone, and I was given a new perspective on what I learned through the book as well as what I hoped to learn by reading the book.  As people interact with my articles it allows the learning to continue long after I’ve set the book aside.

In short, this has brought me closer to people I care about, has been the primary driver of traffic to my website, been the first thing that has made any money on my website, and wildly improved how much I remember, recall, learn, and live the lessons from the things I read.  I strongly recommend it to others, so much so that I am taking my own recommendation, and will be repeating this experiment in the future!