Welcome to the Knowledge Project, I'm your host, Shane Parrish, creator behind Farnam Street and online intellectual hub of Interestingness that covers topics like human misjudgment, decision making strategy and philosophy.
The knowledge project allows me to interview amazing people from around the world to deconstruct why they're good at what they do. It's more conversation than prescription. On this episode, I have Ryan Holladay since dropping out of college at 19 to Apprentice under strategist Robert Green, the author of The 48 Laws of Power.
Ryan has advised many New York Times best selling authors and musicians. He's a master and some would say manipulator of the media as his first book. Trust Me, I'm Lying outlines his latest book, The Obstacles, The Way Bestseller Status. We explore how he reads, what it means to be a stoic and is infamous no card system. The conversation is actually cut short. We originally had 90 minutes for this interview, but I forgot to turn on the recorder, so we had to rerecord the entire interview.
Ryan got to practice some of that famous stoicism. With that said, I hope you enjoy the conversation as much as I did.
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Well, let's start with what is stoicism again. OK, we'll go quicker.
This just we were just talking for 20 minutes and just realized that the microphone wasn't on.
Wouldn't it be funny if I freaked out and knocked over all the mikes and was just very unstuck about it now? So so stoicism is a practical philosophy. Most people think when they think philosophy, they think college professor lecturing them.
Stoicism is, you know, it's favored by statesmen, politicians, soldiers, artists, etc., because it's really at its core, I think a series of maxims, maxims and exercises for how to live, what they would call a good life or to live virtuously or with excellence.
And, um, you know, if I was to sort of sum up the central maxim, there would be you don't control the world around you.
You control how you control your thoughts, you control how you respond to the world around you.
And so the Stoics are focused exclusively on that stuff. And that's a not just a competitive edge, but it's a recipe for, I think, contentment and fulfilment and stuff like that.
And so what really pulled you into that was, I think, the book recommendation by Dr. Drew. Yeah.
So I was at a conference. I said, hey, what books would you sort of found him afterwards?
I said, hey, look, I really love to read. I know you read. What would you recommend that I read?
And he told me about Epictetus. I looked up Epictetus on Amazon.
Marcus Aurelius was there, who I'd always like the movie Gladiator. So it's like, oh, I'll get that.
Do I read Marcus Aurelius and Marcus Aurelius is just it's just this totally unique historical document in the sense that it is the most powerful, successful man on Earth at that time, literally worshipped as a God is defied writing notes to himself about how to be a better person that would never intended for publication, and that survives to us.
And so when I picked that up at 19, it was like so radically different than what I learned in school.
Radically different than any self-help book I'd ever read is radically different than any of the crap my parents had ever told me.
And so I was just like, wow, this is this is what I want. This is what I want to be.
This is how I want to live my life.
And was that the Hays translation's. Yeah. The has translated so that one of the mistakes I see people do when they read philosophy is they're cheap out like oh this is free on Project Gutenberg.
First off, it's free because according to the copyright system, it's not worth anything. Right.
That's what every generation needs its own translation because a book like Marx, really he's writing to himself in colloquial personal language.
So when you see like thou shall not, that's not he didn't say that. That's what someone in the 17th century would have said.
And so you I think you want to read the best translation you can.
And right now that's Gregory has I remember reading I first came across that, I think in university and it wasn't his translator.
I read this and I was very dense is this and I found the his translation just randomly in an airport one day. And I started reading it going, why didn't I read this before?
What was I who is hiding this for me? This is crazy. Yeah.
So who are your favorites then in terms of the the Stoics, I guess.
Um, so Marx really is my favorite. Probably Senecas my second favorite.
Senaka was a high profile political advisor.
He was also a very famous playwright at the time, a famous enough that one of his as I was saying earlier, I'm trying to remember what I said and didn't say.
One of one of Senecas lines from his plays is actually a graffitied line on a wall at Pompeii.
It's just been preserved for us. He's one of the most famous writers of his time and his plays are actually great.
Um, but I like Seneca a lot. I like I like Epictetus.
Epictetus is a bit preachy for me. Um, but those are the big three. I've read the others. The others are much harder to understand, like Chris or.
Yeah. If you want to read the others, the best thing to do is diagnose Laertes wrote this book.
That's sort of a biography of all the other all philosophers. It's like a multivolume series. But one of the volumes is about the Stoics. And so it's like he's giving a biography, but then also quoting all their best lines.
The reason Senaka, Marcus Aurelius and Epictetus are also the most famous is because their works survive the most complete. Right. So all you really get from the other people are fragments anyway.
So Senik is fascinating to me and he led this life that's been. Trade in multiple ways to maybe we already had this conversation, but maybe you can give me a sure. Yeah, so so Senecas most famous letter or one of his most famous letters is to his mother after he'd been exiled.
And we don't know whether he deserved to be exiled or not.
He supposedly had an affair with Claudius. Maybe Claudius is no Caligula's like sister in law. He had an affair with a famous woman and was exiled from Rome. And his mother was, of course, devastated. He, as a political insider and powerful person, was, of course, devastated. This is the end of his professional life.
And so he's sent away.
And so he lost all power and influence everything. Yeah.
And so he's not just writing about philosophy in theory. He's writing about it as someone who underwent, you know, who lost everything to be like going bankrupt tomorrow or being impeached from office or something.
And so then he's recalled to Rome on the condition that he become Nero's tutor and he accepts Nero at the time was just a child.
Right. So no one knew whether he was really good or bad or anything.
But it became increasingly clear that this was a deranged, pathological individual, like a true psychopath.
And he's and so not only is Sinica his mentor trying to curb these things, but he's also becoming immensely rich, was one of the richest men in Rome because the emperor is his you know, he is almost more powerful than the emperor. And so there's that. And then he's an artist, which I imagine was stressful and interesting.
So it's just some even in his own time, a lot of people thought he was hypocritical.
But at the same time, they loved his writing and they loved his essays. And he was one of the most prominent, considered to be one of the wisest men at the same time. So he's complicated like everyone else. And as someone who's worked for complicated people and I have a bit of a complicated reputation myself, I very much related to this idea that there's just a lot more than people see when they hear, like rich guy, neuros, tutor, famous writer, stoic.
So it's almost impossible to comprehend what this individual must have been like.
I think we're like that with almost everybody, right? We paint them with some sort of brush or label based on a sound, but a tweet, a headline in a newspaper.
And we don't think that we're you know, we don't think about that person or what's going on in their life or why they make these choices.
Yeah, in the Eric Rongbuk, which I know you've recommended, he says he says that the Senecas critics and I won't try to pronounce a Greek word, they what they called him was tyrant teacher.
There's actually a Greek word for that. And that was considered an epithet. Right. And as someone who has represented individuals, many of which are very hated, I've got this.
I myself have been accused of enabling these people or encouraging these people to be worse than these people. So I and then I give my opinion of some of the people that I've worked for has changed over time.
And and I read that book about Senaka around the time that American Apparel was collapsing.
And Dov Charney, who is the CEO, sort of went through, you know, did some things I very much disagree with.
And so, you know, it was like there's this great line and one of Senecas plays where he says crimes often return upon their teacher and. You know that that's what happened to Seneca, right, Seneca is ultimately forced to commit suicide by Nero. It's it's very prescient remark that he would write in one of his plays, some thing that basically describes the fate that would befall him.
Well, I mean, one of the first things I like to do, if only for my own sake, because I even though I look, I wrote my biography, so I'm responsible for the people who say, like, hey, you know, you dropped out of college at 19.
But it's interesting how things can become, in retrospect, more significant than they are. And Nassim Taleb calls this the the narrative fallacy. You tell yourself a story about your life. So it's like the my sophomore year of college ended, you know, two weeks before my 20th birthday.
And that's why I stopped going to school so that I drop out when I was 19 or that I dropped out when I was 20.
Is that semantic or is that a that's a very significant portion of your life. It's big.
So but anyways, I left when I was 19 or 20 to I was I was at the time, I was a sort of a marketing manager for Tucker Max, who had written these bestselling books and had a sort of a media empire.
I was I was working at a talent agency in Hollywood. I signed some of the first YouTube clients to ever become sort of professional actors and content creators.
And then I got a tryout to be a research assistant for the author, Robert Grenier at The Hours of Power. And so it was just it was three things that if you told me when I was graduating that I could choose one of them, I would have said college was worth it.
So to me, it was, should I stay in school? Should I turn down these things, stay in school, because that's what you're supposed to do and then hope to get this lucky again.
And so I tried it.
And so we were talking earlier about being busy and saying no to things and doing three things at once. Sounds like it's a lot.
And how have you you're always doing multiple things at once. You're always trying to do a lot. How do you juggle that?
Well, it was a lot, but it was also very formative. Right. So I was working and you could argue that what I do now is a combination of all those three things. Right? I have my own marketing company. I write books and I.
And I I advised sort of clients and people on strategies, right, so it's a combination of those three things.
And so instead of developing them concurrently, which would have taken a long time or not consecutively, which would have taken a long time, I did them concurrently.
And so it compressed. You want to say your ten thousand hours. If I'm close to that, it compressed it in three years instead of 10 are for closer to four.
But I, I was very overwhelmed and very busy. But by not doing it at a leisurely pace, I got to skip ahead in line, so to speak. But it's also been a tendency in my life that I just commit to a lot of stuff. So like not only was I working for all those people, but I never stopped working for those people. I would just start doing more things. And so I worked for Robert for like five or six years.
And if you called me today, I'd say, oh, what do you need me to do? And so it's very it's very it can be very exhausting, but it's also a bit of a compulsion for me.
It's hard for me to say no to things.
And you kind of reached a tipping point recently on that, didn't you? Yeah, yeah.
I mean, around the time of the collapse of American power, I was just very overworked and like, I built this life for myself here in Austin where I live. And yet I was in L.A. I was had to show up at an office every day.
I was dealing with all sorts of stuff. I try to cut out of my life because, like, someone called me and said, hey, look, we need you.
Can you come? And I said, I'll be on the next plane.
And the idea of stopping and going, what's the opportunity cost of this? Or should I say, yes, this is what I want, what you know.
What what is going to what's going to be the problem here, and I didn't ask that until sometimes you've got to touch the stove to get burned. And so I really got burned and overwhelmed and I've tried to get better at saying no. But I would say, you know, this is a very first world thing and I get that.
But one of the hardest things in the world for people to do is to say no to money is extraordinarily difficult.
It almost doesn't matter how much like if Tony offers you 20 bucks to do something in the next ten minutes or something.
I remember like my wife makes fun of me because, like, a couple of years ago, we were like walking into, like a Home Depot or something. And I was like, oh, they're hiring. And she was like, are you looking for a job? But it was like like somehow I can't even I just couldn't turn off that part of my brain.
The idea of like, there's an opportunity. Should I consider that, like, this is 40 minutes. Right. Right, right.
And so for me, it's it's always the same way. It's like when we see stuff we think about, like, why shouldn't we do it? We don't think, like, what is the opportunity cost? We don't think, you know, do we need this? We think well, that are paying us for it. And that that is not great. That's not a great attitude.
If you're trying to produce lasting work or to be the ultimate best at what you do.
How is your framing changed now in terms of these costs? I mean, you must be bombarded all the time.
I mean, not as much as you think. Like, I don't want to make it sound like I'm just drowning in opportunities like it. I'm certainly not there. But one of the things that was formative for me is, like I said, yes to a bunch of I said yes.
So I said yes to working on this one book.
And then for for some personal reasons, I backed out of it.
And then like a week later, Tony Robbins called me and wanted me to work on his book for like double the amount.
And that book is sold like a million copies since it was like a huge, big life changing opportunity for me.
But I just committed to this other thing, not thinking about it like it was.
Do you need to have the confidence to be able to go like things are going to be OK in the future?
So you're not you know that what's that?
You're not driven by that immediate kind of. Yeah, there's that fable about the ant and the cricket, about the ants. I was preparing for winter while the crickets like playing and then the the ants.
Well, if you actually read about that story, some of the interpretations, the interpretation of the allegory is changed in different eras.
Um, you know, the ant, if the is overpreparing at a certain point, it's missing out on life that the cricket is experiencing. Right.
And so I think for me, it's this idea of like, OK, this is what enough is or this is what this is what my baseline is. And I have to be able to to say, no, sorry, that's not enough.
And it's also understanding what makes you happy. Right. And we're totally. Yeah, yeah. And it was like, OK, I'm making great money doing this thing. But I had to show up at an office and my whole life as a root was about not having to show up for an office.
Right. There's that throw line. Like be wary of any enterprise that requires new clothes.
It's like if you don't if you like, like if you don't like having to dress up for work, don't it doesn't matter how good the opportunity is if they make you dress up for it.
You don't like I, you've got to think about what's important to you.
And if you don't know, you can end up very if you don't know and you don't make those decisions one by one, you will end up very far from where you need to be to be happy.
Right. I want to come back to working with Robert Green. Yeah. What did you learn from that?
I mean, I learned everything right.
Like, he I would not be a writer if it wasn't for Robert Green. I would not be able to think the way that I think if it wasn't for Robert Green, I'd be a much worse person if I never met Robert Green, which I know is probably funny to people who hear that. He's the author of Forty Years of Power.
Rover is one of the most generous, patient, wisest people that I've ever met.
I started for him.
I was transcribing the interviews for a book that he was writing with 50 Cent, and then he would start to let me read books that he didn't want to read, that he thought there might be a remote possibility.
He's like, look, there's a one percent chance this book has some material in it that I might be able to use.
Please read it. And most of the time my answer is like, yeah, you're right, there's nothing here. But he would say, like, you know, I want I remember he was saying it's like when the fifty cent book was like I like to include some stories of like the great black boxers.
He's like, but I've already written about Muhammad Ali and my other books so you can find and so I read biographies of Joe Lewis and Jack Johnson and all these other people.
And and so I was like that was like one of my first contributions to one of his books. Like I was like, there's something there about Joe Lewis. Like, here's what I would suggest. That's how that works. Like, Hey, I read this biography of Joe Lewis. This is something I think you should check out. There might be something there. And then he goes and finds that I'm not like contributing in any way there. I'm just hey, I've.
Illuminated this for you. Check this, but those like I never would have read those books if you hadn't assigned me to read them. So in a weird way, it was it was sort of like a college experience and that I have an instructor who's assigning me to explore certain things. It was like a work study program. I think you refer to it as almost an apprenticeship.
Yeah, yeah, yeah. I mean, it's not an official apprenticeship and like, we didn't like a contract, but yeah, the idea is at a certain point after I've gotten a little bit better, he was like, what do you want to do?
Because that's how I can if you could tell me how I can help you with what you want to do with your life.
And this is a conversation I have with people that I work with now, if you like. I'm not going to pay you like a ton of money.
But if you can tell me what you want to do with your life, I can make sure this is very rewarding for you.
And it was like he he showed my note cards and somehow I research books. Now is a direct result of the system that he taught me and how I think about books as a result of, you know, I would go, you know, Chediak, I want you to do this.
I want you to do this. Can you do this? Can you do this? And I and then be like, OK, but I have one question. Like, I remember one time I was like, Robert, like, who makes the indexes for books?
Like, how does that happen? It was like, oh, like because I thought like one of the things it was intimidating to me by writing a book is like, do I have to do I have to do that? And he was like, oh, no. That just like happens a publisher just does that. I was like, oh, OK. Like so it was just little things. And then when I decided to write my first book, he walked.
He was like he walked me through the walk through it.
That's awesome. Let's go for a sec because the number one question I got when I told people I was interviewing you. Yeah. They want to know that there's infamous no card system.
Can you walk me through Robert System and then how you've adapted that to your system now? Sure.
So Robert does his not quite Robert Caro, who writes everything longhand.
But Robert, I would say probably 80 percent of his work is in the research and 20 percent is in the writing and all the writing is done on these note cards. So you would read a book, he would read a book, go through it and take notes, mark things that he liked, and then he would transfer that knowledge onto note cards.
And then if, you know, like so the 48 laws of power might be forty eight sections and then each law is supported by note cards. And so the way that works as a research assistant is like, my job is to find materials to go in the note cards.
Right. So then when he's writing Law six in the fiftieth law or whatever, there's stuff for him to rely on.
And so I started using note cards myself. And I really I just started I would write stuff. I would I would see a quote that I would like or a word I would like or a story I would like.
I would just write it down on this note card. And I just had a collection of note cards until I had enough note cards that I started organizing them my theme.
And then when I wrote my first book, it was Trust Me, online it was I spent a year before I left American Apparel writing note cards around media and hey, this is good.
I read this book and then I would, you know, all this stuff and it became, you know, hundreds and hundreds of note cards. And then what that allows you to do is when you like my book, the obstacles away is three parts, 10 chapters in each part. So that would be thirty parts plus an intro to conclusion. Right. So that's thirty two sections. You're just filling that up. But let's say I'm writing part to chapter six.
That's all I have to carry with me if I'm going to the library or I'm on the road. You're not carrying the whole book around your head. You're not sitting down and just writing where it leads you. You're focused on that individual section, which makes it all much more manageable.
And how did you pick the themes that you came up with originally? For what?
For you know, it's just it's really just a function of the material, right? If you're not like, oh, personal categorization. Yeah. It's like, look, I read a lot of books about Stoicism, so I have a huge section of note cards that are on stoicism.
But the obstacle is away. Like, um, you know, I was writing I read this this section in Prado's The Inner Citadel where he talks about this stoic idea of turning the obstacle upside down, which is how you take a negative thing and turn it into a positive thing. And I wrote that down and then I would read other examples of people doing that.
And I write that down and I write in the corner, turn the obstacle upside down.
So I got to twenty notecards about that topic. And then I said, hey, when I was thinking about what I wanted to do for my next book, I was like, I think there's something there. And so I wrote a proposal, I sold it. And then I said, OK, I've got twenty cars, I need a thousand to write a book.
Now I have to go read and explore and find things to to breath and to to build up this database of knowledge essentially. And then. And so how do you store these.
There must be thousands of them. There's thousands of note cards there. I, I use this thing. It's called Acropora Hopper. Which is just a weird thing, they used to make the store store like photos, photos, because a four by six photo is the same size as the no card. So I just have bought I used to buy one at a time.
Then I started running. They started to stop making them. So I've got my garage full of them. But each one of my books is one of those boxes that I have. And I used to have just one box of general note cards in different categories that have not become books or anything yet. And now that split into two.
And so do you store these electronically? So I store them in my office.
I got really scared, like my house got broken into a couple of years ago and I was really scared that someone stole them not knowing what they were. They didn't, thankfully. And then but it all would have been gone like it all year.
And then ironically, I came home and knocked the box over and disorganize everything, but rather a couple of years ago found a scanner that can scan no cards. So every couple of weeks I have an assistant go through, scan all of them, and then I back them up to Dropbox.
So you don't use Evernote or anything like that? I don't even know how to use Evernote. And a lot of people go like, oh, your system. It sounds just like Evernote. It's not Evernote, it's physical.
No cards for a reason like Raymond Chandler is a line. If you take the pain to write it down, you're more likely to remember it and use it. The idea of just quickly being able to copy and paste stuff is antithetical to what I'm doing and why.
Like it's the ritual that's important and the act of taking it longhand is very important.
Obviously, if it's like a huge paragraph, I'm going to type it out, but it's still no copying and pasting.
That's sort of the law, the rule, the rule, because it's about taking the knowledge from the book, running it through your body and then putting it in a in a thing that you can manipulate but still have tangibly in front of you. Right.
Like like my note, I could I could lay out the box for obstacles away and it would be right there and you could see it.
And while it was there, I could move stuff around. I could say actually, yeah, this chapter is going to be moved into part three or this note card. I thought this no card would work for somewhere in Section two, but it didn't. So I'm going to rework it intersection. I can move stuff around. So I have a physically. Visually, yes.
And I think that's very, very important. I don't want it to be a black hole on my computer, but it's not searchable. Right.
Like, how hard is it if I look if I ever couldn't find something, I could have someone go through them for me or I could go through them, which I do all the time. But I've never want my memory works as such. Like I could tell you what different passages look like in books on my shelf where that shelf is.
I'm I'm a bit like, I don't know, Asperger like that, I guess.
But I, I've not I think people overestimate like they're like, oh, I need it to be searchable. It's like, well what have you ever done with it. Right.
Like I think a lot of people get very nerdy doubt about the system and about having like the perfect optimized thing. When you told me they'd written thirty books, I'd be like, OK, your system is better than mine, but it's certainly not.
I mean, I'm really optimizing for what I've written for books in four years. Like, it's it's it's not having not having it searchable has not held me back in any way I can currently tell.
And you wouldn't you don't envision doing things differently in the future. Um. No, I don't think so. So what's your workflow like for writing a book, maybe walk me through, kind of give me an idea, not from a publishing perspective, but from a writing perspective. So you go from an idea what is the structure and the tools that you're using to put that together?
So you you have an idea. You do the research you put, then you get the notecards, you arrange them. Are you writing? And like, how are you?
I mean, that's that's a more difficult question to I think when you write your your book, you will not ask that question because, like, it's just different.
Like people like how long did it take you to write it? And it's like, I don't know because when did it start.
Right. Did it start when I was born. Did it start when I first had the idea? Did it start when you sold it?
In my book that's coming out in June, I started writing it January 1st of twenty fifteen, like I know that. And my first book, I started June 17th, 2011. I know the exact day that I started, but I've been researching them for years.
Right. Like so and I know when I sold it. So it's, it's a little weird. Right.
But when you, when you have, you have the idea you're researching it sort of like you have this general sense of what you're trying to say and what you believe.
And then you you know, you sort of let the confirmation bias do its work right. Because you're only thinking about this thing. You weirdly just attract all sorts of things that could support that idea or would be interested in discussing that idea. And so one of the one of the downsides of that is you're paranoid. Someone's going to steal your idea all the time, but they're not. You're just thinking about your idea all the time.
So you feel almost a pressure to to get it out there really quickly. So nobody so what I do is when I sit down to write, let's say I'm I've broken it up into pieces. That's part of what the note card system does. So it's like today I'm writing the intro like on Sunday and January 1st, I started I was writing the intro. And now that intro is radically different now than it was.
But I was writing that and then I got to a point where I could say, like the in the rough draft of the intro is done then.
Now I'm writing, you know, part one, chapter one, and I'm writing these discrete pieces because writing a book is very demoralizing. Like think about it. Let's say a book is Sixty Thousand Words and you're writing five hundred words, five hundred usable words a day, let's say, which is, you know, people write two or three thousand, but, you know, getting rid of them.
So you could work for eight hours on something or three hours where you can work a day's work of writing and make no visible perceivable progress towards your goal.
So there's no you only get to light at the end of the tunnel like three or four months in or, you know, think about someone like Robert Caro has been he wrote you know, he's been writing about Lyndon Johnson for like 40 years. He's Lyndon Johnson's like sixty in the book. Right. So he's like and that's only to get him to volume four.
So you have to break it up into discrete tasks, at least.
I think when you break it into discrete tasks, then like even Robert Caro, he knows the last sentence in the first sentence of the book and then everything else is filling it in.
But what you don't do what I think is the most dangerous thing for writers to do is to just maybe it works when you're writing fiction, I don't know.
But sitting down and just writing, you can't hit a target that you didn't know.
But that's like the whole notion that people sell is known about being an author. Let's go to the coffee shop.
You sit down, the words magically spew out of your mouth.
And I mean, there's there's this Hemingway quote is is writing is easy. It's just sitting down and sitting down at a typewriter and opening a vein or something. Right. And that would be great.
Except for he didn't write that way.
Like, if you look at a farewell to arms, there are eight to twenty seven handwritten different endings to that book. So he was not sitting down and bleeding unless he was bleeding to death, like he was meticulously editing and rewriting and getting closer to something like. So writing, I think. Will you break it up into tasks like, OK, all I have to do is get these two thousand words right. That's much easier to wrap my head around.
And then later, you're linking all these pieces together. But I write. I write. This is another weird thing with that. So I write those those chunks in Google Docs, like in separate Google documents. So I'm not doing like a day to day word count. It's OK.
Today I'm writing part two, Chapter four, and then only when I've gotten to the end do I then combine all the things and then begin to look at the book as a whole.
So it's a big then I switch to and this is all personal, but then I switch to Microsoft Word. So I'm taking it off the Internet. And now it's a now it's a distinct manuscript. And now I'm thinking about the project as a whole. I think editing while you write the whole thing is hard, but if you're just doing these.
Pieces that I'm able to sort of be a bit recursive about these smaller sections, and do you map it out in the like today? I'm going to do this section tomorrow. I'm going to do this section.
Are you doing anything else when you're doing this? It's not scheduled like on Tuesday.
I'm doing this and Wednesday I'm doing this. It's more like you have to go from A to Z.
And so you're starting a day and then you're done with it and then you move on to B, but like, I don't write full time like I could, but I have a company and I try to write one or two articles a week at my own site.
I do a lot of consulting for the first three books.
I was also working in American Apparel.
So I tend to I don't know how someone writes for an entire day. So I write. I usually get up early.
I love your stuff about, you know, if you want to be more productive, wake up early.
I wake up around 7:00, I try to start writing by like 8:00 and I write usually like like eleven, eleven thirty. I'm done.
There's it's it's hard straining. It's very draining. And you just hit diminishing returns. Right.
So then I stop and then I, I don't give myself a break for the rest of the day.
I'm not going to work for three hours, I, I work on my other stuff so I just schedule everything after I start.
But you're matching your energy and intensity to the work in some way, right.
Yeah. Yeah. Like you're writing to your writing until you stop and then you're moving on to these other things. And then usually throughout the course of the day, other things occur to you that would be valuable to the writing. And you're either taking notes and doing them tomorrow or you're sending an email to myself or whatever.
Like, for instance, I like to exercise in the middle of the night, in the middle of the day, in the mid-afternoon. So it's like I ratel, let's say, hypothetical schedules. I write into eleven from eleven to three.
I'm doing calls or working on client stuff or I'm editing stuff for other people, whatever I'm doing. And at 3:00 I'm going to go for like an hour run.
And on that run wherever I was stuck in the writing, some of that's going to come loose in my head and I'm going to be like, Oh, that's a great phrase. And I'll email it to myself or I'm gonna remember this when I come home. And then I'm like bursting in, like the amount of times I've burst into my house and said to my wife, like, don't say anything to me.
Like until I get this down on paper. And then I'm just writing in shorthand like little notes.
And then it's like and then I can go back to being a normal person.
So I either run or swim, but that breaks it up for me. And what's your name like?
Um, I usually am done by like five or six and then I just sort of dick around who you dinner, watch TV, play with our animals.
Sometimes I'll check, I'm checking email throughout this time and not, not working at all.
But um. So you are one of the quickest responders that I know for a busy person on email. Can you how do you do that?
I mean, my job is to communicate like so I don't do much phone. So I'm sitting there working on stuff.
And part of what I'm working on is, I mean, I'm to I get responses from you sometimes.
I've barely hit send and gone to like a new message and it's like a response.
So I'm like inbox zero. So like, I'm I pride myself on having gotten to a point that I can deal with new stuff as they come in.
But one of my tricks is like, if you send me something, then it's worth responding to. I'm responding. If someone is sending me something like, you know, I'll get a letter from someone who read my books, it's really nice.
But I you may have written about this, the Eisenhower stuff, urgent, not important or whatever.
Yeah, I save a lot of stuff until I like to use this.
So maybe this doesn't work.
But to you, I'm responding in two minutes, but then I have people I own emails to from three weeks ago that I probably won't do until the next time I'm on a flight or I'm stuck without wi fi and I'm just getting caught up on old stuff.
I'm notoriously bad for email and I struggle with something that maybe you struggle with as well, which is I get a lot of unsolicited email that I feel in some ways that people are burdening my time and they're not necessarily thinking about it like the requests.
Can you read this twenty page document? I got one last week. Can you do it is well worded, but it was basically like, can you do my homework assignment for me. Yeah.
So remits that he talks about this a lot where it's like you can just not respond like just pretend you didn't get.
I have personally I struggle like I have adopted over the last year. I would have come leaps and bounds, but at first I had to respond to everything. Sure. So I find life on stuff like that.
Responding is what they want, right. You don't actually get to do the requests. You can say like, hey, I can't read this, but here's a thought. Or like I'll go like, hey, one of the things I think about for the articles I write is what do I get the most email about?
Can I write an article about that? Because now I now the first I know that's at least one person is interested in this idea.
Oh, that's a really good a. And then now in the future, all emails I get about this thing, like how do I find a book agent, boom, here's I don't even link them to the post. I just go like I wrote an article about this Google my name and book agent, and then I'll come up. And so I'm sort of treating it like a frequently asked questions thing.
That's like that's a sign that somebody, you know, what does a politician go like?
One calls a thousand constituents or whatever. It's probably similar on email.
Most people don't email. I I've started adding a little bit of friction to it. I like your idea of you always have some sort of caveat, like if you e-mail me, think about it beforehand. And yeah, am I reading newsletter?
What I recommend books. I was just tired of people going like. They were just email me their thoughts, which is great, but like it's a what do you want me to do with this? So. But the reality is, I don't think it actually deters anyone.
So one thing I've done that I find interesting and I don't know where I got this, I didn't come up with it myself, which was when people are sending me 20 page, 30 page documents, proposals.
Yeah. I'll just reply saying, hey, my can you print this out? Email it to me. And so what I've done is now I've added some sort of and if they do and they mail it to me, I will read it.
But if it's not worth their time to print it out and because it's so easy to send email and a lot of them are, I don't want to say form emails, but, you know, it's very easy to insert in a switch. Right. And send the exact same email.
So one of the things that I realized with my company, which is like a consulting and sort of strategy we call a creative advisory, but I I realized I was spending a lot of time talking to people who may or may not have become my clients.
Right. Right. And that was very inefficient for me. So I was like, wait, did I just like I first I don't meet with someone, which meant I couldn't be writing. Then we would talk and I'd have to give them a ton of ideas on the spot. Then they will send me a proposal. Then I'd have to make a proposal and then we'd have to negotiate a rate and blah, blah, blah. Totally.
So especially because I'm trying to run a lifestyle business, not trying to create a scaled major company. So because otherwise the whole point that that's why you hire people. But I was trying not to do that.
So one of the things I realized and this has been a huge not only source of growth for my company, but it's been a huge relief.
I like look, when unless it's like a kid asking me for advice about life, my job is to give companies advice on how to grow, how authors, how to write books, people how to think about stuff, you know, how to market things. So if you'd asked me that, I'm not going to respond to that. So what?
And I'm not going to get together to pitch you on why you should pay me to tell you how to do that.
So what I've come up with is by giving you the answers that you're looking for, to give you, you know, some of my answers and then try to hold some stuff back. You know, it's it's just ridiculous. So what I came up with is all my clients, even ones I know I want to work with, I start with a paid strategy session. So I charge like 50 bucks an hour and we get on the phone and you can send me a little bit of stuff, but almost no prep.
And we get on the phone and then I will I will not shoot the shit with you. I will give you my best work for an hour about that idea.
What you need to know, what I would think, what I would do if you hired me, like I'll give all my ideas away. And then because people think, like the execution is the hard part. Right. But to me, the thinking is the hard part. So I'm not going to think for free and then get paid to execute. Right. I would rather get paid to think and then maybe get paid a little bit more to execute.
If you want to hire someone else to execute, that's fine.
So so then I do these sessions, which is on the one hand it qualifies all leads because the people who are never going to hire me are just milking me for free advice. They go away right away.
The people who can afford whatever I am going to charge are like, you know, they don't balk at the fee. So we work.
We do. We then we map out exactly what they should do.
And then if they hire me or they hire my company, which called brochette, that fee just counts again.
So it's like let's say we end up working for twenty or thirty thousand dollars. It's like they paid a deposit. Essentially.
That's a brilliant idea because I'm struggling. I'm overwhelmed with these people asking for advice. I love writing because it's a sign that you're doing something and people are valuing what you're doing. But on the same token, you're trying to make a living and you can't just give away 90 percent of your day.
Well, a couple of things. So, one, I hate the phrase pick your brain like my brain is how I make my living. And I say that I go like I look. If I could, I would do all of this for free because I love it. But my wife would kill me. I wouldn't be able to eat. And more importantly, I have other clients who have paid me.
And it's not fair for me to do, for do for free for you what they pay me for. So I can't do it for free. I'm sorry if that like I totally understand if that pisses you off and let's not work together. And so there's that. And then the other thing is you have to value your time.
Like Neil Strauss, he he has a things like, look, I can buy my own coffee, you taking me out to coffee or like there's if if a consulting session for me for an hour's worth fifteen hundred dollars.
And like you might think that that's too high.
But plenty of people pay for it and almost all of them say it was worth it or worth many times that there's not a ditter in the world that you could pay for, that you could pick up the tab for.
That would cost fifteen hundred. Right. Right.
So and that means I have to drive somewhere. I have to block like for this. It's like. What I do, not only the other, is I go for a walk when I do these calls, so I get an hour walk in and I talk to people and I'm stimulated and it challenges me and it works out my chops. And then they leave with either up in most cases a plan. They can totally execute themselves at a fraction of what it would cost to pay to have me do it for them, or it's the start of a really good relationship.
And so that obviously worked out only by trial and error. But it's it's been a huge relief for me because I have a way I can just pass these things to a coordinator. He negotiates it and then I either get to talk to someone and we do awesome work together or, you know, nobody.
No, I don't feel like I'm giving a piece of my life or there's a quote from Seneca is like, let no man take a day of my life without, you know, giving me something worthwhile in return.
And like, we sell our time for money. That's what we do. Don't give it away. And, you know, that's just how I think about it.
I think that's the perfect way to end this. Listen, this has been a fascinating conversation, even the second take.
But I really appreciate you taking some time. And we'll have to do this again sometime for sure.
Hey, guys, this is Shane again, just a few more things before we wrap up. You can find show notes at Farnam Street blog, dotcom slash podcast. That's fair. And I am s t r e t blog. Dotcom slash podcast. You can also find information there on how to get a transcript.
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