Yesterday (Sunday), I got most of my "errands" stuff done, like emails, budget, and catch up stuff because I wanted to ensure that Monday I could crush it.
I didn't have any meetings, and I didn't have to run today.
So that gave me a fully blocked day to get a bunch of "mini" product and coding tasks done.
Here's what I got done:
Paywalled filters on Starter Story (1 hour)
Added more categories to Starter Story businesses & some random design stuff (30 mins)
Added smart field for "last opened date" for Pigeon - users can quickly see last time email opened (1 hour)
Fixed date inconsistencies in Pigeon data model (1 hour)
Added ability to send a "test email sequence" for Pigeon users (1 hour)
Added ability to update a status for a Pigeon entry automatically, as part of a sequence (2 hours, still working on it)
Once I get this all tested and deployed, I'll have a nice update email for my Pigeon users along with the improved features I've been working on. Once I get that out, I can put my head down and focus on improving (1) the sequence sender from the Gmail reply box and (2) re-doing the spreadsheet interface! Those are two big projects that I can't wait to get out there.
Pigeon is really, really improving and getting easier to use. I've been really focused on product, design, and usability. I'm learning a lot. I can't wait to see what it's like at the end of the year.
Now it's been about two weeks since I was rejected by YC. Things feel a lot better now and it's starting to feel smaller and smaller.
I recently read a Paul Graham blog post about "how not to die", more specifically how not to let your startup die. PG says that they might achieve a 50% success rate at YC.
I have my down days, but I know in my heart of hearts that I will have a 100% success rate.
It's hard to imagine failing at a startup, now. But maybe it's because I see failure differently.
In a startup that raises capital, I guess you can fail when you run out of money, but when that happens, what do you do next? Go start another startup? That's what I would do. But some people might never do it again, and go back to corporate/academia/investing.
I think that's the difference between them and me. I'm not scared of failing because I can't fail. For me, failure is not attached to one specific idea or business - failure is giving up.
When Michael Scott is negotiating the sale of his new paper company to Dunder Mifflin, he has a sudden aura of confidence, and says this:
If tomorrow my company goes under, I will just start another paper company, and then another and another and another. I have no shortage of company names.
Maybe it won't be this project, or the next one, but I know that I will be successful because I won't give up, and I will just keep working at it until I'm set for life (and hopefully at an early age).
Today was another missed day, didn't do a journal entry... I had the intention to do it, and then it completely slipped my mind.
So, as stated I will donate to charity or support/donate to people online.
I think a great way to do is to support independent product and app creators, so this time I will support Adriaan van Rossum from Simple Analytics. Simple Analytics is a privacy-based alternative to Google Analytics.
One of the things I want to do more of going forward is supporting people like Adriaan, and if I can get some use out of a new (and awesome) product, then even better!
I don't have much money, but I these kind of expenses are worth it. First of all, they are business expenses, so from a tax perspective, it's not so bad!
And more importantly, when you support people, they might support you back! Doesn't have to be money, but maybe it's a retweet, telling their friends about your product, could be anything - maybe something good comes out of it 5 years down the line...
Or maybe it's just supporting a friend, like buying them a beer :)
I know Adriaan works crazy hard and deserves it, blazing his own trail on the internet. And he's built an awesome product.
Over the past couple days, I've been deep working with rich text editor frameworks, like Slate.
More specifically, I'm re-doing the text editor for Pigeon, because my first attempt at it was really shitty.
Why was it shitty?
Because I tried to take shortcuts and copy-pasted a done-for-you rich text editor from some Codepen.
This was epic at first because it only took me an hour to implement a rich text editor, but it totally screwed me down the line.
I didn't know the fundamentals of the framework
Making changes and updates to the editor took a really long time
Overall it was buggy
This led to stress and even feelings of anguish looming in the back of my mind:
Pat, you need to make XYZ changes to the text editor. How are you going to do that?
Back to the drawing board
So, this time, I'm reimplementing it, and I'm doing it right. I'm reading the docs, doing it from scratch.
This is taking me a while and it sucks how long it's taking, but I know down the line it's going to be a killer feature and I will be able to add new things and fix bugs more quickly, leading to a happier life and happier customers.
Having that confidence in your code and product is so huge.
Today I slept in until about 9:30. I'm trying to live most days without an alarm clock, it's a new thing I'm trying.
I've also had massively productive days since starting this experiment, and maybe it's due to getting really solid sleep?
Today, I added a submit/share page to Starter Story, something I've been meaning to do forever. I also added more tags to the platform. I'd like to start tracking more and more data. The more data I have, the more leverage I have. I can turn that data into paid features, or enrich pages on the site.
That data also may lead to new features, or even new products altogether. I can use the data to programatically generate content, and can do so much cool stuff, I really love this kind of stuff.
Also, getting data that is user-submitted is pretty epic. That, with a combination of scraping, and other tools, can build very valuable businesses. But our data is on such a small scale. But, it's still really cool to think about.
I also switched memberships on the site and removed the free trial. Also added a lifetime membership. I'll give that a test over the next couple months and through the new year.
I created a mini roadmap for Pigeon. Sounds like a non-important feature, but I think building this out and making each item as part of the docs will help me to share more of these features and build structure around the documentation and things like that. I need some process around that, because for me it super sucks right now :(
Feeling extremely energized this past week - need to take full advantage of this.
Since I went through the YC interview process a couple of weeks ago, I was definitely exposed more to investors, or at least "investor-think" - through talking to people, blog posts, etc.
Although investors probably have good advice, it is often hard to understand or apply that advice when you are deep in the trenches as an operator or business builder. And sometimes, I think their advice is just bad for you if you're building a business.
The same goes for podcasts, business books, and general startup content as well.
Because most advice is in 20/20 hindsight. You hear classic startup advice like "you need to identify your target market" but I have a feeling that many successful businesses didn't find it right away and pivoted multiple times to get there. It's not that simple.
Advice like that is great but I don't find it very helpful, at least for me. The only way I learn is by doing, and learning the "hard way". Maybe that's what makes me "slower" in terms of growth/success/riches...
I wish more investors or VCs would say things like "just keep working every day" or "building a great business takes 20 years" or "just get started", but often it's more sophisticated junk where they try to sound smart.
I'd like to write every day, and I plan to make that a commitment going forward. It doesn't matter how long it is - I want to treat this more like a diary.
I can literally type two sentences, or I can write 3000 words, or I can record a YouTube video, or even a tweet. Maybe, it will often just be updates on what I worked on that day, really boring stuff :)
And I want to hold myself accountable. So, if I miss a day, I have to donate $20 to some organization of my choice or support another creator buy buying their products/merch. If I miss a day, I have to write a blog post for that day (backdated) with proof of my donation.
That's the rules for now - things might change. I'm excited. Time to set a daily reminder in my calendar.
My business/product isn't good enough for YC, so should I keep working on it? Should I use their decision as a data point? Is all of this work futile?
Everything feels bigger now. All the things I need to build.. Things are getting more complicated with every line of code. Am I building something too complex, or something that is fundamentally too big for one person to be able to handle.
I've been thinking of other products that I could pivot to. So stupid... I could spend my whole life looking for the next shiniest thing, and never really finishing what I started.
Well, it's been almost two weeks since my last post. As the year comes closer to a close I will figure out how to do this every day.
But the last two weeks, I was preparing and anticipating for a YC interview.
It's over now, and I was rejected, but I just wanted to get my initial thoughts on paper. It helps to just write it down and get it out. I want to put something together over the next few days as I get all my thoughts together, but here is how I'm feeling now:
This time, I don't feel the sting of rejection as much as last time. This time I got further in the process, too.
This time, I won't kill my startup because I was rejected. Technically, I don't need YC because I have really low costs and I can grow it organically.
Part of me applied because it's the 'cool kids'. If only I could get in and get that validation I want. I wanted to prove to YC, and my family, friends, etc that "I am legit" and I'm working on something smart.
But I know better than that. I never got into any Ivy league colleges, and I never got hired by any epic companies like Google or Facebook. I'm not smart like that. I don't hang out with Princeton elites and discuss growth strategy, politics, and modern art. Sometimes, I have fallen trap to wanting those things, and when I try to get them, and can't get them, I somehow wonder why.
I never deeply wanted them in the first place, or I wanted them on a very superficial level. And if I ever got them, I realized very quickly it's not for me, and leave.
I'm not saying YC is like that, but it's also a 'cool name' that you can impress people with. In 5 years, I want to be able to say "I built a great company" instead of "I did YC".
But, if you have YC on your LinkedIn, or in your email signature, people will take you more seriously.
To me, that is one of the most cringiest things I've ever read about YC.
How about being taken seriously for things you actually did? The people that I personally look up to built things from nothing, like Elon Musk, Pewdiepie, Kanye West, Joe Rogan, etc. They are often college dropouts, and worked harder than anyone else, taking years to be even recognized.
I definitely see the value in YC but I need to write this kind of stuff to remember my principles. Because it's not my life goal to get into YC, it's to build a great life.
This is just the beginning of my thoughts. I hope to write more tomorrow.
I don't think YC is bad (it's actually awesome), and the interview experience was amazing. More on that next time.
But for now, I'm back to work on my business the day after I was rejected. That's certainly better than last time I was rejected.
I am in Lisbon on "vacation", can't sleep. Needed to code up this idea (this blog right here) as I've been kicking at the idea like every day for the past couple weeks.
Been thinking a lot about how I want to get back into writing, and documenting all this stuff I'm doing.
I have a lot of "thoughts" but too scared to post them on Twitter and too busy/lazy to write a well thought-out blog post.
I want to build a daily habit. But I want to do this more for myself, and less for social media and for people to see. I want this to be more like a daily journal. It can be a YouTube video too, or some other piece of content, doesn't matter..
Who know what will come out of this. Don't want to make any promises, but I'd like to create some goal where I have to do this daily - doesn't matter about number of words, just that I wrote something.
And if I miss a day, will have to donate $X to charity...
Anyways, will iron more stuff out as 2019 comes to a close, but at least I got this one post up! Will keep playing around and trying to post more, with a more formal idea for what this will be in the next few weeks.
August 2019 is another record month, beating last month's record month in categories including revenue, traffic, content and pretty much everything else.
Although the number doesn't mean much, over 100,000 people visited Starter Story in the month of August. This is a first - I hoped that we might hit that number by the end of the year, but hit it 5 months early!
I have to attribute almost all of the success of the month to the process we've been building around the business and the team members we have brought on. This is especially true because I was traveling 3 weeks out of the month, and our team was able to hold down much of the operations without me, and ultimately ship 59 interviews/articles, which is another record!
On the flip side, my travel schedule significantly decreased my productivity and I didn't complete some of the features/initiatives I had planned. But the positive there is that it opened my eyes to even more holes in the process, more things I should outsource, and how I can improve things so that it could run without me and I can focus more on growth and the vision for the business.
We published 59 pieces of content. That is a 75% increase over the previous month (34 pieces of content).
In line with the above, my freelancers are now fully onboarded with all publishing and email tasks. Even though we shipped a massive amount of stories, it didn't feel that way as I am enabling my team to handle so much more.
Our Pinterest sharing automation is starting to take off. This month our pins got 10K impressions, which beats out last month's which was basically 0. This should keep growing! https://www.pinterest.com/starterstory/ I have implemented 9 daily templates and plan to get to 20. This is 100% automation and I LOVE this kind of stuff.
I had a big tweet about how I automate Reddit posts for Starter Story - which really goes into the details of how it works.
"Starter Features" are fully rolled out https://www.starterstory.com/michelle-miller - we published ~15 of these last month - as they allow us to share interviews with people that are not comfortable with sharing their monthly revenue, whom we would just lose them before.
In order to stay sane, I moved over most of the email stuff for Starter Story to [email protected] address. The team now works out of this email address, which will allow us to scale more and keep building the team.
We published a book on Amazon! This is 24 of our best interviews - I will announce this in the coming days and also offer it as an upsell on our premium membership.
August Opps for Improvement
I had a ton of stuff planned to implement last month, and barely got to any of it. Traveling was the main reason for this. I wasn't on vacation, but took most weekends off as I was going between SF -> LA -> SD in the span of 3 weeks. It felt like I was basically just keeping my head above water with the day to day stuff.
What I learned from this is that I need to build more process around the day to day so I can take some days off and still be able to focus on growth activities. I don't want to spend my Mondays and Tuesdays "catching up" on emails and transactional stuff from the weekend.
Here are the 3 most successful interviews from last month, all hitting the front page of Hacker News (and 2 of them saying great things about Klaviyo):
How I Started A $60K/Month Online Business From Malaysia - "When it comes to retention, email marketing works wonders for us! E-liquids are consumable so people would have to restock and repurchase after they’ve finished. We also set up a whole lot of automated email sequences that segments each user into providing as much value as we can along the journey. We recommend using Klaviyo when you can afford it, it pays for itself!"
Don’t feel like writing too much this month, but here’s my update for the results of the month of July 2019.
In this post, I’m mostly talking about Starter Story updates. I’m also working on Pigeon and learning a lot about how to build an app. Currently have 12 paying users on that one. More on that soon.
July is another record month, the biggest in terms of traffic and email subscribers.
I've been working a lot on building process around the business and now onboarding some help to the team. This is allowing me to scale both content and features, which I'm really excited about. This is all sort of new for me, but I feel inspired to grow the business and make it bigger than just me.
Although most traffic comes from Google, I did see a big uptick in direct traffic this month and I think we are starting to feel some effects of word of mouth. I've started communicating more with users (by using Klaviyo) and they tell me often that they share the site with all their friends, which I love to hear.
High-level goals going forward is to keep increasing content output and variety, and keep moving the site to a more UGC model of AMAs, forum, Q&As, etc.
I've fully onboarded two freelancers to the team. One helping with all things email, publishing, etc. And the other helping outreach to more businesses for interviews. The goal is to release 60 interviews in the month of August and it will only be possible with their help, and with the help of my new side project Pigeon.
Launched new Starter Feature profile series - a new way for businesses to share their story without having to share their monthly revenue.
Implemented a new 5 email flow with Klaviyo (see screenshot) after signup. This has been awesome - especially the email where I ask them what they are working on - have made some great connections.
100% automated Reddit posts
We cracked <100K Alexa ranking. Although it doesn't mean much, it does give our site more "clout" for pitching businesses and improves our name/authority in the space.
Started new Pinterest campaign to drive more traffic to the site. Working on a 100% automated solution using asset generation tool Placid and the Pinterest API. It's pretty cool, you can see it already in action here.
Plans for next month:
Publish 60 new interviews (in the month of August). This will be a record high and the new norm going forward if things keep going the way they are - also, sometime next month we will likely hit 500 interviews since inception!!
Ability to favorite stories and save them for later
Ability to follow users
Start new "story follow up" content offering -Reach out to old stories and have them provide and update on their business
Improve signup flow (get more data on user's businesses and incentize them to fill out their profiles)
Incentivize more engagement on the site such as commenting and posting
Add site-wide search to the homepage -> search "candle business"
Add tags to stories -> "bootstrapped", "side hustle", "instagram"
First, I want to time travel back two years, in late 2017, when I was in a much different place.
I was on a six-hour flight from San Francisco to New York. It was a Sunday, and I was coming off of a long weekend trip with family and friends celebrating my sister’s 21st birthday.
That’s always a grueling flight, especially if you’re going east since you “lose” 3 hours. Couple that with the fact I had taken off a few days of work (just started a new job) and how much alcohol I drank over the weekend, I was feeling a bit guilty.
Why was I reading this book? Because I wanted to fix things in my life. And while reading, I couldn’t help but face my insecurities about my financial situation and career:
I had over $25k in credit card debt.
I had over $40k in student loan debt.
I had just moved to NYC and was living above my means.
I had just started a new full-time job and I wasn’t passionate about it.
(obligatory note that I am grateful to only have these issues - I realize that they are nothing compared to the hardships that most people in the world are going through)
I wasn’t beating myself up though - I was feeling a surge of motivation to change things.
A few pages in, I put the book down, pulled out my iPhone and wrote this note:
You might be thinking “that’s is an oddly specific statement to write”.
But early in the book, Hill walks through his simple process on how to get rich (or for me, to get out of debt).
Napoleon Hill’s six-step process to get rich
He boils it all down to six steps, designed to help anyone get the financial results they desire:
1 - Fix in your mind the exact amount of money you desire. It is not sufficient merely to say “I want plenty of money.” Be definite as to the amount.
2 - Determine exactly what you intend to give in return for the money you desire. (There is no such reality as “something for nothing.”)
3 - Establish a definite date when you intend to possess the money you desire.
4 - Create a definite plan for carrying out your desire, and begin at once, whether you are ready or not, to put this plan into action.
5 - Write out a clear, concise statement of the amount of money you intend to acquire, name the time limit for its acquisition, state what you intend to give in return for the money, and describe clearly the plan through which you intend to accumulate it.
6 - Read your written statement aloud, twice daily, once just before retiring at night, and once after arising in the morning. As you read, see and feel and believe yourself already in possession of the money.
I actually wrote it down this time.
After I got home from the flight, I wrote that same statement on a physical piece of paper, stuck a nail through the top and into the wall, and hung it right next to my bed.
But how many times had I done stuff like this before? Made goals and didn’t stick to them? Too many to count…
This time, I made sure to follow his instructions:
1 - $10,000 CASH was the exact amount of money I desired to have. Keep in mind that I was in $65k worth of debt, so this I needed to profit $75k to get there.
2 - What would I give in return for that money? As stated, I had to (1) keep making my full-time income (2) follow a serious budget and (3) make good money with a side project.
3 - I stated the date: Jan 1, 2019. At the time I wrote the note, that was 15 months away.
4 - Was it realistic? I needed a definite plan - so I created a spreadsheet that ran all of these numbers, and it was possible (although everything had to go perfectly).
5 - Following Hill’s instruction, I actually wrote it down on a physical piece of paper.
6 - I didn’t read it aloud twice a day, but by having it hung up by my bed, I was forced to look at it every morning and night.
I put my head down and started working
I’m not going to say that I became a different person and turned things around overnight.
I was still stuck, but this piece of paper remained constant as I slowly turned things around.
But also having this piece of paper hung up in my room was actually kind of weird for me at first…
When friends or family came into my room, I hid the sheet of paper out of embarrassment.
I was self-conscious about these goals. I thought people would think I was weird for this. I think I was afraid of failure and afraid of being myself.
But over time, people eventually found it and asked about it. It really was no big deal. Although I didn’t share this goal online, sharing this with friends helped it feel more real.
I took that sheet of paper really seriously.
Keep in mind that when I made these goals, Starter Story was not even monetized. I was making $0/month.
At the time, $3,000/month seemed incomprehensible to me, but I knew it was possible after all that I’d researched and read on the internet (thank you Indie Hackers, Pieter Levels, and so many more).
To reach my goal, I was assuming an average of $3k/month over the next 15 months. So if I couldn’t reach $3k in earlier months, I would have to make up for it in later months if the site grew.
It wasn’t very realistic, but you have to set big goals, and even reaching half of that I would have been happy.
I slowly chipped away at that goal:
What else could get me closer to $10k cash? Saving more money.
I’ve never been great with money, and I won’t go into that... but I needed to change that as well.
I created a spreadsheet forecast/budget and tracked my expenses in detail. I analyzed it every two weeks, digging deep into my spending, income, and understanding my financial picture better.
And that was the moment I had not only reached my audacious goal of $10k, but blew so much further past it than I could ever imagine.
I dug through my bag and found the piece of paper, and it was one of the best feelings of accomplishment of my life.
Note: The stock options/IPO is almost 100% luck, so I hope it’s clear that I’m not bragging or attributing this to my own success. However, I do think this shows the power of hard work + luck. I worked my ass off to get to $5k, and then this was really the icing on the cake.
What did I learn?
Visualize. Visualize. Visualize.
What you visualize over time will naturally become your reality.
If you visualize yourself running and finishing a marathon, you will do it. If you visualize yourself getting that promotion, you will get it.
But it also goes the other way.
If you can’t visualize your side project making money, then it won’t magically monetize itself. If you visualize a relationship or date going poorly, then it will. I am guilty of negative visualization in many ways.
State your goals, and then multiply them by 3.
If you think it’s possible to make $1k month after 1 year, then scribble out the 1 and replace with a 3, or a 5, or even a 10.
Because if I set my original goal to be $1k/month, then I would never have hit $3k. And if I set my goal at $10k, I probably would have hit that too.
If you visualize the ceiling, then you will won’t break through it.
And the other thing I learned? If you work hard, consistently, and do honest work, then unexpected and amazing things will happen - it just takes time.
So that’s how one little piece of paper changed my life.
The funny thing is, after I wrote the note on that flight, I picked the book back up and only read a few more pages and got bored.
It didn’t matter what the rest said - that was all I needed! Thank you Napoleon Hill :)
Although it’s a bit dated (written in 2010) there was one thing that really stuck with me, and I can’t stop thinking about it…
I’m making a lot less money than I should be.
Rob goes over some simple calculations to determine if you are underpaid - I pulled out my phone and did a rough calculation. I started feeling pretty shitty :(
I realized what I’m making is SIGNIFICANTLY less than what I should be making…
So what should my time be worth?
A good way to determine what your time is worth is your salary + benefits divided by 2000 hours.
Now, I don’t have a full-time job because I recently quit my job (more on that later) - but before I quit my job I was making $125k/year as a software engineer. Let’s add $25k of benefits to that (a conservative number).
$150,000 / 2000 hours = $75/hour
By those calcs, my time should be worth $75 per hour.
But what is my time actually worth?
Right now, I’m making around $4,500/month, or $54,000 per year.
$54,000 / 2000 hours = $27 per hour
Wait... but the 2,000 hours figure assumes a 40 hour work week, with weekends off. I actually work more than that now.
I probably work 60 hours a week (3,000 per year), so:
$54,000 / 3000 hours = $18 per hour
Eighteen fucking dollars per hour!!! You’ve gotta be kidding me.
This $18/hour number kind of freaks me out a bit…
However, it’s not really that simple. There are a couple of things that make me feel a bit better...
My costs are lower
My living costs are much lower than they were in New York City. However, the income I have now would not sustain me in NYC.
This was a choice I made because I wanted to start my own business and knew that my revenue would be low while starting out.
So although my spend is less, I want to be able to live anywhere with my own business, including NYC (one day). Right now I can’t live there, so I don’t have true location independence.
Most of my income comes from minimal work
Most of my income comes from my website Starter Story. However, as of right now, I only work on it around 12 hours per week. (I’ve automated everything I could)
So, if I were to do a calculation on actual work:
$48,000 x 625 hours of work = $76.80 per hour.
OK that’s a little better!
Building assets for the future
Unlike a full-time job or consulting business, the work that I do today (for little to no direct compensation) may mean bigger payouts in the future.
For example, Starter Story may have a lot more traffic in one year, which would increase income with barely an increase in input.
About a year ago, I was putting in serious hours on Starter Story and making just a couple hundred bucks a month - now I put in less time with way more money.
I’m also spending ~75% of my time at the moment on a new product, which right now brings in just a small amount of money compared to the loads of work I’m putting in.
But that’s mostly because I’m just launching it and frontloading so much of time for the future. It’s also a recurring revenue product.
It’s not about the money
It’s important for me not to get too caught up in the numbers, and focus on building something great.
If I wanted to make an effective $100/hour I could go back to my old career of implementing enterprise software for Fortune 500 companies. If I never left that, I would have never learned how to code, become a software engineer, started my own business and overall I would have just been fucking miserable.
Or I could do freelance, or make a load of cash as a software engineer, but then I would be building someone else’s dream which also makes me miserable.
How I plan to change this
Although those were some good caveats, I’m still having a sinking feeling every time I think about that $18/hour number.
Going forward, I’m going to be taking a closer look at this number and how I can increase it.
My goal is to get that number higher than $75/hour.
Here’s how I plan to do it:
Start outsourcing work
Another really impactful thing I read from Rob’s book was the importance of outsourcing.
He argues that you would be crazy not to outsource anything that is cheaper than your target hourly rate. So if I’m doing a task that someone else can do for $6/hour, I am making a huge mistake, and effectively losing $69/hour.
If I can figure out how to outsource more Starter Story, I can not only save 10-15 hours per week of work, but I can scale that work to produce more content and grow at a faster rate.
I’ve tried outsourcing in the past and didn’t have a great experience… However, I’m going to give it a go another try and take a different approach. More on that to come.
Tracking my time better
I could work less which would bring up that hourly number, however, I don’t plan on working less right now.
I want to be more productive. I plan to do this by tracking my time better, using a new productivity technique called time blocking (which I’m loving) and making sure I’m working on only the most important things.
And again, using this analysis of my time to outsource more stuff.
Earn more revenue
This one is obviously the most important, but the hardest.
My goal this year has been to get to $12K monthly revenue by the end of the year, which would put me at $46 per hour at 3000 hours.
I’ve been thinking a lot about how to make more money and my plans to do that mostly reside on landing some big sponsors for Starter Story and some more B2B efforts.
More on that to come soon. Hopefully some more saved/productive/outsourced time will allow me to focus on that towards the end of the year.
Oh yeah, I could also sell a course for $699 on Starter Story and make $1M/year. But I’m not a scumbag.
This is a post about my productivity hacks/techniques and how I work on a daily basis.
I’m not claiming that I am an extremely productive or efficient person. This is just how I work and what I have found works for me.
I am always trying to improve this as well, so any feedback you have please let me know what you think!
Goals before hacks
In order to be productive, I need to have clear goals.
I have to ask myself…
What, specifically, is it that I want to achieve? Can I break it down into smaller projects and tasks that I can work on today?
If I can’t answer these questions, then everything will fall apart and I will barely have the willpower to work more than a 3 hour day. I can always fake it for a bit, but it won’t last long.
I witnessed this a few months ago when I lost sight of my goals. At time, I didn’t know what I wanted, although I won’t go into it.
But during this time I wasn’t very productive and didn’t have much motivation to work hard.
But after that slump, my goals became more clear, and I slowly got back on track.
If you are having trouble focusing or getting meaningful work done, it might be worth it to think about your goals - and not just for 10 minutes - spend some time each day refining what specifically it is that you want.
Always be experimenting
It’s important to keep trying new productivity techniques and softwares, adding and subtracting new things often.
I’ve found that there is no single system or technique that works best. Our lives change and evolve, and so should our ways of getting work done.
I’ve learned Pomodoro, GTD, watched countless YouTube vidoes. I’ve used simple todo lists, Post-It notes, Trello, Notion, Google Calendar, and the list goes on.
By the time you’re reading this, my framework has probably changed.
But I think that’s part of the fun of it all.
Discovering and implementing a new productivity technique gives me a “boost” of productivity. So if I’m feeling like something has become stale or not working like it used to, I’ll go out searching for a new thing.
It’s exciting and motivating to try new things.
One thing to note - try to not get caught up in the productivity software stuff and switching to every new system. These softwares try to sell you on being more productive - but they won’t. Just pick one, they all do the same thing.
First I’ll talk about some key takeaways I’ve learned...
If you have trouble focusing or being productive (like I did), then it might be important to take a step back and figure out the fundamentals.
Go to the store, buy a stack of post it notes, write one task on each post it note (don’t pull them apart) and then place your post it stack next to your laptop.
Then, work on the item on the top of the stack until it’s complete. Once it’s done put it into the done stack. Then move to the next. If you realize you need to do something else, write that on the next blank post it note.
One cool side effect is that you can physically see that you’re getting work done.
I love this because it taught me two of the most important things:
What is deep work? An example would be going to a coffee shop early in the morning and working for 2 hours free of distractions. No email, no internet, no social media, no texting, etc.
If you can build a couple of hours a day of deep work into your life, you can achieve extraordinary things over time. A few hours a day can turns into thousands of hours a year of you working on the things you truly want to work on.
Building deep work into my days helped me grow Starter Story and was one of the main reasons I was able to quit my job after a year.
Here’s a video that sums up the messages from the Deep Work book.
GTD is a framework created by David Allen. It’s incredibly practical, and I love it.
For me, this is mainly for bigger picture stuff, so more products, features, code, and less day to day email stuff (that I’ve mostly systemized - which I’ll take about later in the post).
Here’s a screenshot of what it looks like.
I’ll break down the different columns.
The In Tray
I use the In Tray as a sort of triaging station.
If I’m working on something and I’m like “Oh shit, I need to do X” I’ll immediately add it to my in tray so I can get it off my mind.
Every morning I go through my in tray and drag items to the to Today column, or delete them if I realize they are dumb. I’ll also check my calendar in case I have any recurring tasks or meetings (more on that later).
Today is obvious, it’s all of the things I want to get done today.
I almost never finish it but I think it’s important to give yourself a bit more work than you think you can do. Keeps you working hard :)
Throughout the day, I tackle these as fast as I can while taking short breaks. Once I finish the task, it goes in the Done bin on the far right.
See the card on there that says Pomodoro x 4? That’s a task to work on email, which I’ll talk about a bit below.
These are the “bigger picture” projects that I’m working on. Tasks on the In Tray and Today columns usually correspond to these bigger projects.
Frequently, I’ll create new tasks based on these projects.
For example, I’m creating a YouTube video for this topic How I Work. It’s too big of a project to be just one task, so I will break it down into smaller tasks, like “How I Work” rough draft blog post.
Then next task might be “Revise Draft for How I Work”, then “Film YouTube video”.
Waiting For / Someday Maybe
If I’m waiting on something like buying an external hard drive next time I’m in an electronics store, I’ll leave that there so I can try to keep it top of mind.
If a task is something I want to do, but I don’t feel any obligation then I move it to Someday / Maybe but I rarely even look at that. If I don’t think it’s necessary then I should probably move it out of my sight.
I use a calendar for recurring things that don’t fit into GTD.
For example, one weekly task I have is Finding and emailing 75 Starter Story leads… I need to do that every week so I can hit my targets, so I try to do that every Thursday.
On Thursday morning or when I get the alert, I will turn that into a Today task in GTD and try to get it done that day.
For me, this works surprisingly well for recurring things.
Same thing for my newsletter, publishing YouTube videos, monthly reviews, meetings etc.
I do a lot of email. I’m probably tackling around 50 actionable emails per day - not including spam and newsletters and random crap. Most of this is Starter Story articles and all of the email correspondence that comes with that.
It is mindless but it is also very important to my business. My goal is to spend as little time in email as possible - so I can focus on creating.
I tackle all of my email with the Pomodoro technique, which I’ll talk about a bit in the next section.
I focus on Inbox Zero, which I really hard for me to hit but I try my best.
I archive/filter/unsubscribe to everything possible. I also I aggressively use Boomerang to stay on top of hundreds of in progress blog posts.
My new product, Pigeon is going to solve a lot of my email headaches which I’m really excited about. For example, I will be able to send a series of emails (drip) to someone that needs to finish their interview, rather than Boomeranging the email thread 4-5 times over the course of a few weeks. It’s going to save me so much time and allow me to raise content output going forward.
There are also a lot of small tasks that I need to complete, like sharing Starter Stories on reddit, or updating missing information, or notifying people that their Starter Story is live.
I automate everything possible using tools like Sendgrid. Again, this is another thing that Pigeon will solve.
But some things cannot be automated and they require human interaction, so I use what I call email tasks.
For example, sharing Starter Stories on reddit. For reasons I won’t get into I am not automating this task (although I do schedule posts and have a bunch of code that helps me do this in 2 minutes).
But anyways, I have an automated email when a story goes live that I send to myself:
This email is helpful because I can tackle that task very quickly, less than (~2 mins) while I’m going through and getting my Inbox to zero with the pomodoro technique (talk about below).
This also has the hidden benefit of consistency. I would likely forget to do this sometimes. But if it’s in my email inbox, I have no choice.
I think this will also help me systemize for when I hire people too, but we’ll see on that.
Last, but definitely not least is the greatest productivity hack I’ve found, the pomodoro technique.
I use this “hack” to tackle work that I don’t want to do, like email and monotonous Starter Story work (reading, editing, and revising content).
It’s really simple. Set a timer for 25 minutes and then just go hard on a specific task. When the timer is up, take a 5 minute break, and then do it over. I usually do this 2-4 times and then I can get my inbox to zero.
It’s crazy how much work I can get done with this method, I highly recommend it. If I can do 2 Pomodoro sessions in the morning, that means got all my annoying shit done in one hour - and I can free up the rest of my day to work on the stuff I really want to work on.