Ali Abdaal - The Keys to Joyful Work and Being Batman (or Professor X)

Ali Abdaal - The Keys to Joyful Work and Being Batman (or Professor X)

Ali Abdaal: [00:00:00] There's two questions I, I really like to think about. One of them is, What would I do if I knew I couldn't fail? But the other one is, What would I do even if I knew I would fail? Which is really nice. Because that's the thing that you would do the thing anyway. So I, I, I just love collecting these sorts of journaling prompts that help us figure out what to do with our lives.

Ali Abdaal: Because then we can reflect on them and think, How aligned am I with that? You also talk about burnout. You know, people have always been throwing around the word burnout quite a lot. And like, broadly the phenomenon of burnout is where, often, It presents either as a sense that the work you are doing is meaningless, or it presents as a sense of like, emotional fatigue.

Ali Abdaal: There's

Nick Milo: this, this principle that sounds like it comes from a German sociology teacher called

Ali Abdaal: the, what is it, the Reithof? The Reithof principle. The Reithof principle. Tell us about this. Yeah, so...

Nick Milo: Are those glasses prescription? Welcome to How I Think. I'm your host, Nick Milo. It's easy to read what people write and see what people share, but I want to explore how they think, how the sausage gets made.

Nick Milo: Yes, we'll cover the creative process, but I also [00:01:00] want to find out their unique perspectives, see how it was formed, what influenced them, and how it's evolved over time. My guest today is Ali Abdaal. He's a doctor turned YouTuber, soon to be turned best selling author of the brand new book, Feel good productivity.

Nick Milo: He's also become a friend over this year and I'm thrilled to learn more about his journey to becoming the world's most followed productivity expert. Are you ready? Let's begin.

Ali Abdaal: Happy to have you here. Thanks for having me. This is gonna be so much fun. Yeah. This

Nick Milo: is, I was just relaying, this is the fifth time that we've met this year.

Nick Milo: A fifth

Ali Abdaal: time. Yeah. Oh, shit. Yeah, it is. A couple times,

Nick Milo: London, Denver. Damn. Oh, hi. Yeah. Yeah. So, it's wild. I'm just really grateful for that. And, uh, I think YouTube just seems to be such a big thing. I want to start a conversation around there. Now, this is based on something you wrote in your book. In your chapter, chapter five, Find Courage, you write YouTube channel in 2010.

Nick Milo: But you didn't film your first YouTube video [00:02:00] until 2017. What took

Ali Abdaal: so long? So in 2010, well, ever since 2008, since I was in school, I always liked the idea of being a YouTuber, and I watched a lot of YouTubers who do musical covers of popular songs. So people like Kurt Schneider, Sam Tsui, Boyce Avenue, there was these like OG YouTubers.

Ali Abdaal: And they would pick a song like, I don't know, Firework by Katy Perry or something. Is Firework by Katy Perry? Who knows? Like a song like Firework by Katy Perry. And they would like, arrange it and like play the piano and someone would be singing along and there'd be like a con and like a guitar and it would be sick.

Ali Abdaal: Um, and I thought... That would be cool. I'd love to be a YouTuber who does stuff like that. And so every year, from about 2010 onwards, every summer in the holidays, I'd be like, yeah, this is, you know, this is the summer where I'm gonna make my first YouTube video. And then I'd get started stuck in overthinking.

Ali Abdaal: I'd get stuck in thinking I needed the perfect gear. I didn't have any money at the time. I was totally broke. So I'd be like, oh, maybe I could buy like one of these childish microphones, but like, I need a good microphone, otherwise I can't [00:03:00] do it. And like all of this stuff and that seven years later, , in 2017 when I was.

Ali Abdaal: In my fifth year of medical school, that was when I actually started making videos for the first time. And my first five or six videos were musical singing covers, where I was playing the guitar and accompanying some friends. And even for those, there was a lot of, like, imposter syndrome to get over, a lot of perfectionism.

Ali Abdaal: And, like, no one cared. Like, those videos got, like, three views back in the day. They've got, like, a few thousand now because people look at my back catalogue and they see what the hell is going on here. But I had so much, like, Kind of emotions and stuff blocking me from doing this YouTube thing. I'm so glad I managed to get over it eventually because otherwise we wouldn't be sitting here.

Nick Milo: Yeah, that's amazing. And so even your first first few videos, they weren't just you. They were with your friends and or these musical things. So, wow, like whatever it takes you finally got over that hump. That's really interesting, don't you think, that the [00:04:00] seeds were planted, like, seven years earlier, and they were kind of, I don't know, germinating in this way.

Ali Abdaal: Yeah, I think, that's a good way of putting it. I think, like, the seeds of starting a YouTube channel were planted. I think also the seeds of entrepreneurship, like, in around, when I was around 13, so this would have been like 2007 or something like that. Yeah. I started learning web design and web development and tried to build my first internet businesses.

Ali Abdaal: So this idea of like making money on the internet was like a thing in my, in my, in my area. And I'd get home from school and I'd be like so excited to hop on this website called getacoder. com and like do some web design and like make a few dollars here and there. And alongside, I was also teaching a lot of, uh, kind of Maths and English stuff when I was younger.

Ali Abdaal: So I'd be tutoring younger students, and I had a part time job working for this Maths study center. And really, like, it was those three things, this sort of desire to be a YouTuber, plus desire to make money on [00:05:00] the internet, plus a background in web design, plus the fact that I was teaching for a long time, that ultimately culminated in the YouTube channel.

Ali Abdaal: Seven years later, which was where I was teaching people to get into medical school and Had a decent production value and thumbnails and stuff because I knew how to do web design So all of it sort of great connecting the dots looking back starts to make a lot of sense But obviously at the time I was just sort of throwing shit at the walls and trying to figure out what would stick Yeah And just trying to do do what felt enjoyable in the moment That

Nick Milo: is wild to see how you're all these random skill sets coalesced into something really spectacular.

Nick Milo: Mm hmm Also in your book, you talked about your little brother and the protege effect, how basically teaching him, but it sounds like you taught a lot of different people. That's really fascinating because you're young at that. I mean, you're saying you're 13 or like, I

Ali Abdaal: was helping people who were like seven, eight at the time.

Ali Abdaal: Then as I got older, you know, when I was 16, I started doing private tutoring for kids who were like 14 to 16. When I was 18, I was helping kids who were 16. When I was in medical school, I was helping younger medical students. And so like every [00:06:00] year of my life, I've tried to, I just realized I really enjoy teaching.

Ali Abdaal: And I didn't quite realize this until like 15 years later, when I was trying to figure out what to do with my life. And I asked myself like, you know, what are the moments that have been the most meaningful? What would I want written on my gravestone? And I landed on some combination of good father, good husband, and...

Ali Abdaal: Good teacher or inspirational teacher. And that was when I realized, ah, wait, shit, I've been teaching every year since like 13. And that, that was so meaningful and I love this shit. So like, that is the thing that I want to do with my life. Yeah,

Nick Milo: there are so many quotes around different ways to learn better by teaching.

Nick Milo: You include one in your book by Seneca, and I can't remember it exactly.

Ali Abdaal: Yeah, it's like a Greek quote or something. Uh, quid, dolchet, something, so those, those who... Those who teach learn, something to that effect. Yeah, I mean in, what is that, four words? Yeah, something like that. To encompass

Nick Milo: so much of, of kind of what has seemed to work so well for you in life.

Nick Milo: And not just for you, but for everyone that you've influenced. That's culminating, not, [00:07:00] not at the end, but just as another milestone, that amazing book. It looks beautiful. Thank you. Yeah. Quick one while we're still on YouTube and pull us back there for just a little bit. Out of all these videos that you made, now this is something I've, I've recognized recently.

Nick Milo: The ones I love the most don't always play well. Is there a particular video that you just think, Oh, I really love that one. It's like, it's like a hidden gem, even if it doesn't have the view count.

Ali Abdaal: There was one video I made where I, you know, there was a trend on YouTube where this guy called Dr. Mike would react to medical TV shows and he was absolutely blowing up and he was like the really good looking doctor and he would react to like Grey's Anatomy and explain the medical side of it.

Ali Abdaal: So I was like, okay, that's a cool concept. Why don't I explain the science behind Harry Potter? And so I have a video where I painstakingly did a bunch of research to figure out what are the elements from Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone that have some kind of science behind them, like if Petrificus Totalus were, um, a drug, what drug would it be?

Ali Abdaal: It would be [00:08:00] something that caused muscle paralysis and stuff. You know, when Snape at the start talks about, uh, Dittany and Aconite and a bees or a stone and stuff in his potions class, uh, What are these herbs? And it turns out they're all things with medical properties. So I made a whole, it took bloody ages to make this video.

Ali Abdaal: I illustrated animations and diagrams and stuff, and no one cared. It completely flopped. But it was fun, and it was an experiment. And I think, like, looking back on this now, a lot of being a successful YouTuber, especially for longer than a few years, is about... Experimenting. Experimenting your way to success.

Ali Abdaal: And there are so many series I've tried on the channel that I've tried and that have flopped. And then some of them work out, and then you're like, okay, cool, that one worked, and you double down on the things that worked. A few years ago, I realized I needed more series of content, and so I thought, huh. I enjoy reading books.

Ali Abdaal: What if I made a video where I just, uh, a series called a book club where I just make videos about books? And what if, you know, if this becomes big, then one day I'd be [00:09:00] able to interview authors talking about their books and then they'd want to come on my channel because I make good videos about books.

Ali Abdaal: And so now I've made, like, loads of videos about books and that series has done really well, and I know from the grapevine that Authors like Morgan Housel have been saying to their friends that hey, that video that Ali Abdaal made for the psychology of money really did, you know, did good things for our book sales.

Ali Abdaal: Alongside that, I've had like dozens of series that I've started and tried that have not failed. Sorry, that have not worked, including this like Science Explained, where I was like, welcome back to a new series called like Medic Science Explained. In each video in the series, I'm going to do XYZ. I just made one video in the series, the Harry Potter one, and it didn't work.

Ali Abdaal: I was like, okay, that's fine. So I think I'm all about, you know, having an experimental mindset, an experimental approach


Nick Milo: stuff. And that's clear in the book too, because each chapter has six experiments in it. And after I got through, because there are three parts as well. So after I got through the first part, that's 18, three chapters,

Ali Abdaal: 18 too much.

Ali Abdaal: Oh, well, you

Nick Milo: know, I felt full. Yeah. And I was like, I mean. [00:10:00] Is that it? I mean, I felt like that's the end of the book, and then when I was looking at the page count, I thought, whoa, there's a lot of meat per minute here. So, I was like, okay, let's go, let's find out about these Meat

Ali Abdaal: per minute. I like meat per minute.

Ali Abdaal: Uh, the, the issue with meat per minute is that, uh, so, Malcolm Gladwell has an analogy around, um, Books are made up of meat and candy and meat is the stuff that like is the the value of the book but candy is the stuff that people will talk about and you have to have if you want to be a Well selling author you have to have a good balance of candy as well.

Ali Abdaal: And so a big challenge with the book was trying to Make moments where people are like, oh, you know, that, that one thing that you said about that thing is the thing I really liked. And often I found when I give talks about this stuff, that the simplest things are the ones that people talk about. Mm-Hmm.

Ali Abdaal: Um, so

Nick Milo: yeah. Yeah, to that point, I, I think that's such a balance. And there there'll always be the critics that say, oh, too many stories. I just want the facts. I noticed that that excellent balance in here where the stories were never feeling overbearing or that they went on for too long. [00:11:00] They they were there, they were compelling, they made a point.

Nick Milo: And then that led to an experiment or some takeaway or a personal story, which I really loved just hearing all the different personal stories that you had, like the fact that you are a magician. Yeah, I mean, where'd that come

Ali Abdaal: from? Oh, so some would say that came from an inferiority complex. When I was in school and the only thing that I had attached to my identity was the guy who got good grades.

Ali Abdaal: I wanted to be cooler than that. And so when I was around 16, 17, I watched Penn and Teller fool us, where magicians would come into Penn and Teller and they would try and fool them and stuff. There was this magician called Michael Vincent who came on with this. Fucking amazing card trick where he would do some stuff with the cards and at the end he was like spieling a bit and he was shuffling the cards and things like that and he was, it was a very nice, nice motivational message and then after doing all the shuffling, he spread the cards out and they were all in order and it was just like a new deck order like ace through to king for each of the four suits and my mind was just blown.

Ali Abdaal: Wow. You know, like in an absolute mental way and I thought, wow, [00:12:00] I want to be able to do card tricks and so I started learning how to be a magician, um, bought a bunch of books, pirated a bunch of DVDs. I bought a bunch of magic supplies, and I would have a deck of cards with me when I was in school, and I would show people card tricks.

Ali Abdaal: And the, uh, the kind of popular kids would then, like, be like, Oh my god, I showed a card trick, and I started getting all this validation. Which I hadn't really had previously. Um, and maybe connecting the dots, looking back, maybe that's where the desire for validation came from, the addiction to, like, ooh, likes and, like, success metrics and stuff on YouTube.

Ali Abdaal: Wanting to be seen as someone more than just the guy who got good grades. I think that's where the magician thing came from. And I kept on with that for... Several years, I'm trying to audition for the Magic Circle now as a prestigious organization in the UK. And you have to like do a 12 minute act. So I'm working with all my friends to make a 12 minute act.

Ali Abdaal: Oh, right, right now you are? Well, like, you know, on and off for the last couple of years. Yeah, it'll happen at some point in the next few years. So the tricks are still alive. The tricks are still alive. Yeah, I've got a few sponge balls in my little tech bag where I do some

Nick Milo: tricks. Before we completely move [00:13:00] away from.

Nick Milo: I'm sure we'll always circle back to that, but you did talk about the book club series and what are a couple of the books, like from that series, the books that you've talked about, I'm kind of curious which ones really stood out to you. Like one that stood out to me from your reviews was 4, 000 weeks by Oliver Berkman.

Nick Milo: I'm just kind of curious if you had a favorite, there's um, so many that you've reviewed. Is there any that come to your mind? Yeah,

Ali Abdaal: I mean the, the book that had the most, the biggest impact on my life was the Four Hour Work Week by Tim Ferris. Mm-Hmm. Um, a second place would be Show Your work by Austin Cleon.

Ali Abdaal: Mm-Hmm. Show Your Work was actually the book that helped me get over the fear of putting myself out there. So in 2016, I read that book and that was the book that helped me start my own personal website. 'cause before reading that book, I was thinking, I, you know, I've been thinking for a while. I wanna start a blog like that.

Ali Abdaal: Seems cool. I was reading like, I think I might've been reading Mark Manson's blog as well back in the day, . But I would, I would, I would read these blogs and I think, oh, it'd be cool to start a blog. And I bought the domain aliabdha. com and for years I just sat on it because I was like, Oh, it's too weird to have a blog [00:14:00] like I can't, I can't be the guy who has their blog, a blog called aliabdha.

Ali Abdaal: com. That's weird. That's too arrogant. That's too audacious. And reading show your work by Austin Kleon helped me realize that actually in the modern world you can't just do, do stuff and expect people to find it. You have to be findable and in terms of posting stuff online, it's totally okay to show your work.

Ali Abdaal: You know, if that, if showing that work could help someone who's. A step behind on the path, or could help people discover you, or anything like that. Just teaching what you know and sharing what you're working on is a totally reasonable thing to do. And Austin Cleon made a really great case for that in the book, and so I was like, cool!

Ali Abdaal: January 2016, started a blog, and that was the precursor for the YouTube channel. Because I don't think, I think if I hadn't started the blog, I definitely wouldn't have had the confidence to start the YouTube channel.

Nick Milo: It's a totally reasonable thing to do. That is, uh, just something that needs to kind of be on repeat, because there's just so much fear.

Nick Milo: out there of starting or any of this, and to just recognize, Hey, this is reasonable. Yeah. Like

Ali Abdaal: this is the reasonable thing to do. You can do it. [00:15:00] So it's like broadly, no one cares when you do it. So it's fine. And so

Nick Milo: what's not reasonable then?

Ali Abdaal: I don't know. There's very little that's not reasonable. I think, um, yeah, honestly, most things that people want to do, they probably can.

Ali Abdaal: I think there's a lot of fear in people's eyes. There's okay. I'm going to caveat here. So like, If someone is below the poverty line, then it is very difficult for them to sort of just take risks and like do stuff because you've got to feed the family, like obviously, let's caveat that, put all of that aside, I suspect there's lots of people listening to this podcast or listening to How I Think and Following Your Stuff are not at that level where they have to worry about the basic, the basic needs being met.

Ali Abdaal: Provided your basic needs are met, there's almost nothing you audacious. Um, I think, you know, I see, I see this a lot with people listening. Thank you. Like, wanting to, I don't know, quit their job and do something else. It's like, it feels like such a big deal because, Oh, my job making me 50k and so if I do something else, I'm down to zero.

Ali Abdaal: It's like, no, you could always just get another job. Maybe you'll get a [00:16:00] 40k job, so it's only a 10k risk. And also, 10k, well, once you've got your basic needs met and as long as you're not on the poverty line, you're probably alright. But we put so much fear into, like, decisions like leaving the job or starting a YouTube channel or doing stuff like this.

Ali Abdaal: And I used to be like this back in the day and so I'm trying to, like, whenever I meet people who I feel like, Could do something that they really want to do. But they're being held back by fear. I always try and be as encouraging as possible to be like, Hey man, just like, do the thing. It's not, it's not that deep.

Ali Abdaal: No one cares. You don't need to take yourself so seriously. Again, provided you can feed yourself, like, you're actually good. So you can take risks, especially when you're young. So on

Nick Milo: that point, um, and tying back to the book, The Batman Effect. Which I loved, it was like, oh, it makes so much sense. Yeah. And, uh, and, so, I guess question for you right now, are those glasses prescription?

Ali Abdaal: So these glasses are actually fake. Um, the, so I had laser eye surgery about two years ago and that cured my need to wear glasses, but I still wear the glasses partly because there's like brand [00:17:00] association and stuff, partly because this actually is a bit of a privacy screen in that I tend not to post photos of me looking like this.

Ali Abdaal: And so if I want. privacy a bit more when I'm out with my girlfriend or my family or something. I can take the glasses off. But most importantly, I think, you know, there's this thing called the Batman effect, which which which which I talk about in the book, which is from a study that some psychologists did on like kindergartners, and they asked them to like, they split them up into a bunch of different groups.

Ali Abdaal: And they asked them to do some sort of like creative task or something. And one of the groups was just told to do the task as normal. And another one of the groups was told to, like, imagine themselves as like, you know, imagine themselves being more confident or something like that. But the final group was told to imagine themselves as some sort of character like Dora the Explorer or Batman.

Ali Abdaal: And they found when the results came in that the group of students who imagined themselves as being Batman or Dora the Explorer or whatever, they did better in the task and they felt better about it and they were more creative and they were more like resilient and all the good things. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.

Ali Abdaal: Just by, as a result of like, [00:18:00] putting yourself into the shoes of someone that you're, that you're not. And they call this the Batman Effect. And a bunch of people have used this over the years, so, um, Beyoncé had an alter ego called Sasha Fierce. That one of her albums was named after, and this was the alter ego that she would use when on stage, and also to sort of separate her from the media, because she would feel as if she is this character and not herself.

Ali Abdaal: Adele used a similar trick. And so... When I read about this, I realized that for me, putting on the glasses, it's like I'm, like, the person who I like to try and embody is young Charles Xavier from the X Men series, played by James McAvoy in the amazing film X Men First Class. Um, and I am, and in that sense, I imagine myself as a teacher.

Ali Abdaal: As just like, oh, I'm just a, I'm just a dude who... Learn stuff and then who shares it with people and I'm sharing from the heart and I'm sincere about it. And that is what putting on the glasses helps me, helps me embody.

Nick Milo: Yeah, it makes me immediately, thank you for sharing that. It makes me think like, okay, who's my alter ego?

Nick Milo: And I don't know, just that like thought journey, that little jaunt [00:19:00] is, is so fun to go on. Yeah. Like, and I don't know what it is. I'll get back to you when I figure out a couple. Yes. But I'm like, yeah, that's gonna be a lot of

Ali Abdaal: fun. Have you got any ideas on the shortlist? Like who could it be? If you had to, if you had a gun to your head and you had to like.

Ali Abdaal: So,

Nick Milo: when Return of the King came out, Lord of the Rings, I went dressed up with some friends for the midnight premiere. Of course. And, uh, I was dressed up as Aragorn, of course. But everyone's like, oh, Frodo! I was like, Aragorn!

Ali Abdaal: It's the big sword, not the small one. Yeah.

Nick Milo: But, um, I don't know, I think the characters from there, I think, really kind of like speak to me in how they can straddle, I don't know, both the masculine and kind of like the softer, you know, they don't have to present.

Nick Milo: Yeah. To feel confident in who they are and how they show love. So there's something there. Yeah. I don't know these days who's on the shortlist, but I think maybe, I think Aragorn might still be on the shortlist there.

Ali Abdaal: Nice. Yeah. Nice. It's a good old Rhaegar. Yeah. I'll

Nick Milo: think about it some more. Nice. Okay. Um, a couple of other books.

Nick Milo: Okay. So not, nothing that you've done with the book [00:20:00] club. I'm just kind of curious cause your audience obviously loves books. My audience loves books. What's another hidden gem that Is a book that you've read, that you haven't widely talked about, or at least you haven't recorded a video on, that really spoke to you?

Ali Abdaal: Hmm, that's a good question. So in the world of business, there's a book called The E Myth Revisited by Michael Gerber. And that is like a, looks like a boring business book, but it's actually really good. Uh, and it's all about delegation. And that book helped me realize, as I was building my business, that I needed to hire people.

Ali Abdaal: I needed to delegate and help me figure out some of the. Um, some of the ways that I could go wrong along that path. So I, I, I just love, absolutely love that book. Um, but another one that I've been rereading recently is The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle, which lots of people are familiar with because it's a huge bestseller.

Ali Abdaal: But I read, I read it a few years ago and it didn't quite vibe with me. But I recently reread it about a week ago, um, when staying with some friends [00:21:00] in Colorado, and it really started to vibe with me. the idea of focusing on the present moment and just the the truth that the present moment is all we have.

Ali Abdaal: That has been a really empowering and freeing thought for me over the last A few weeks at the present moment is all we have, you know, at the moment, at the time that we're recording this, there was tons and tons of bad shit happening in the world. Like we're in the midst of the Gaza war, um, every day on my social media fees and in the new, in the news, I'm sort of glued to what's going on and there's just so much suffering in the world.

Ali Abdaal: But that book kind of helps me realize that despite the fact that there's all the suffering in the world. Fundamentally, all we can do is ourselves is to live in the present moment. And so when I remember that while I'm having a shower or while I'm walking or while I'm playing a video game or doing a podcast or doing a video or whatever the thing might be, it's like, Oh, the present moment is all there is.

Ali Abdaal: And so let's try and enjoy it. Let's not take it so seriously. Let's approach it with lightness and joy. And yeah, just been trying to trying to live in that mode a little bit more. [00:22:00]

Nick Milo: That's really nice. The power of now, honestly, I've never read it because it felt it was one of those things that. Some of the best truths are the most obvious and therefore they're neglected.

Nick Milo: And, uh, I'm definitely going to, to open that one up now. It's very good. Yeah. I love it. But what about note taking? So a lot of your videos and a lot of what you've shared on YouTube are strategies around learning or taking notes. And how has that evolved for you in the past, let's say six years, six, seven years?

Ali Abdaal: Mate, I feel like this is a constant search for the holy grail that I'm never gonna find. So, like literally as of yesterday, I started experimenting with Tana and Reflect, because I was like, hey, I've got some time now. I finished my book. I wanna wanna, I wanna write more books. Great. That's a good chance to revive my PKM system.

Ali Abdaal: I was actually rewatching your course as well. Oh, funny. Um, I think I, I've sort of, I, I had been taking notes in obsidian on your course as I was going through, so I [00:23:00] resumed some of those I have yet to find. a system that I can actually stick to, um, I would love some help. I have some help in this regard, because to me, there is this holy grail of note taking, which is that, oh, you know, just as you read stuff, just as you're going about your life, you'll capture all these notes and you make all these connections.

Ali Abdaal: And then at some point, you'll just like effortlessly produce a book. And I'm like, okay, like, well, it seems pretty effortful. So like, what's, where's this, where's this magic, where's this magic bullet of note taking. Um, Yeah. What's what am I doing wrong? You're not doing

Nick Milo: anything wrong. Like that's the thing.

Nick Milo: They're, they're just different strokes for everyone. Um, what's magical is just, I think with links, the moment that you make a spontaneous connection and, and feel that and be like, Oh, whoa, because of the tool, it forced me to make that connection. Like it's an environment. So in your book, you mentioned seniors.

Nick Milo: The term by Brian, you know, and, um, love for you to talk about that. But that's what I feel like in environments like obsidian [00:24:00] is that it's actually this environment. I'm not surrounded by people. I'm surrounded by these amazing ideas and I'm just among them and they're talking to each other. I'm like, Oh wait, you two.

Nick Milo: And then in between who's missing. Oh, new idea that I haven't. Played with yet. And then like spark, article, video, great conversation. I want to share. That's kind of, um, the magic that starts to happen. Okay.

Ali Abdaal: That sounds very inspiring. Okay. I'm, I'm inspired again. I'll give it another go tomorrow morning. Um, okay.

Nick Milo: Well, on seniors, just a second, because there is something I really need to hit on here. And that is this quote by, by somebody. In April, Obsidian is my main personal note taking choice for personal knowledge management. I was a bit surprised when you said this in a YouTube video. Is this still the case, or are you just constantly checking out new

Ali Abdaal: things?

Ali Abdaal: Yeah, I think Obsidian is the one that I've stuck to most, but I am still checking out new things. Partly. The reason I'm checking out new things is somewhat commercial in that I like the idea of being able to acquire a [00:25:00] small minority stake in like a note taking app because I promote the shit out of a lot of note taking apps and I would like to own a percentage of the one that I promote and so I've been trying to figure out like I don't think obsidian.

Ali Abdaal: Is that because of the whole open source community nature of the project? Mm-Hmm. . It seems not to be a for-profit initiative as such. Um, but, so I've been exploring what some of the, exploring some of the new ones just to, to see like, is this something that I can just put my weight behind and actually start using it?

Ali Abdaal: And if I love it, then I can reach out to the, the founders and be like, Hey man, can I invest in you? That, that, that sort of thing. So that's been in the back of my mind. Yeah.

Nick Milo: You did that with, oh, I'm not sure if it's worth, if I can mention Oh, sure. Score app. Yeah. So after you mentioned it, um, in a previous.

Nick Milo: Previous session that we were hanging out. Um, I, I got into that and I love score app. Score app is great. Yeah. Yeah. It's an amazing app.

Ali Abdaal: Yeah. I think this is kind of where a lot of the creator economy is heading where, you know, Yes, making online courses is great, like that there's a cap to how much money you can make through online [00:26:00] courses.

Ali Abdaal: Creators with distribution acquiring equity stakes in tech startups that are potentially trying to go big. That doesn't seem particularly capped and so that's an interesting area that I'm trying to dabble in without taking it too seriously because fundamentally the thing that I care about is teaching.

Ali Abdaal: Investing. But it's a good way

Nick Milo: to round off that portfolio. So hey, I actually want to go back to something else that I read in your book that I think I want to dig into some of the inspirations around your life. And the one that I thought was pretty interesting was under an experiment called schedule your breaks.

Nick Milo: And you relate a story about Dr.

Ali Abdaal: Adcock. Chris, what a legend. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. So. You know, the final, the final part of the book is about how to sustain productivity. Actually, I was recording the audiobook for it, like, last month, and as I was reading the final three chapters, I was like, Oh my God, like, I need to take my own advice.

Ali Abdaal: Because I think I'd been on the verge of and sort of be on the point of burnout quite a lot, and I hadn't really noticed it until I was reading these things being like, [00:27:00] Burnout is defined as, and I was like, Oh, okay, shit. I need to do this. Um, so, there was a, there was a time a few years ago where I was working in the emergency department.

Ali Abdaal: And it was my first day on, on the job. Um, And I was just sort of, emergency departments are always, are always busy. Um, but this was just in the aftermath of Covid and, um, you know, there was loads of, loads of patients coming in. It was my first day I wanted to make a good impression and so I was working, I, I think my, my shift started at 8:00 AM and it, it got to like 1:00 PM and I was just kind of working away.

Ali Abdaal: And it was time for lunch, but I was like, nah, I'm going to power through. It's all good. And Dr. Adcock, one of the consultants, um, so we call them consultants, you call them attendings. He was like the, the physician in charge of the department. He came up to me and he was like, hey Ali, have you taken your break yet?

Ali Abdaal: And I was like, oh no, I'm good. It's fine. You know, I'll just, I'll just, you know, carry on. I'll grab some food afterwards. And he kind of reached across and he turned my computer screen off. Hmm. It would have been antisocial to power the entire computer off because I had notes that were unsaved, but he just turned the screen off and I was like, [00:28:00] what's going on?

Ali Abdaal: And he was like, look, I think he basically said that, like, no one is going to die because you take a break. Like, there is always time to take a break. And he said, he kind of basically explained that in emergency medicine, there is like this hard and fast rule that You cannot go more than four hours without taking a break for at least half an hour because they've done all the studies on this and they found that doctors who don't take breaks end up killing people and that is not a good thing to do and end up burning themselves out as well, which is also not a good thing to do, because then we lose doctors from the system.

Ali Abdaal: So. A lot of the job of the physician in charge of the emergency department is not to see patients. It's to manage the morale and the emotions of the doctors that are working under them. And to encourage them to take breaks every four hours. And so he basically forced me to take a lunch break. And I, that, you know, that moment always, has always stuck with me.

Ali Abdaal: I should remember it more often because I could definitely take that advice more often. But I think, like, yeah, scheduling breaks, making sure you have time to take a break. No one's going to die. It's probably fine. Yeah, no

Nick Milo: one's going to die. In the entertainment industry, we say it's not heart [00:29:00] surgery. Oh, I see.

Nick Milo: We're flying around through all these different things. And it's like, what are we, we don't have to be stressed out of our minds. Yeah.

Ali Abdaal: Even during heart surgery, even during heart surgery, they take breaks. So like, um, If it's, if it's open heart surgery, often they'll connect the heart, uh, they'll connect the circulation system up to a pump and so the heart will stop beating for a bit, so they're, they're able to operate on it and they'll, they'll like cool it down and the system is like, you know, this machine is taking the blood out of the patient's body and then like warming it and cleaning it and filtering it and stuff and then putting it back in once it's warm and they're fairly chill because you can actually keep a patient under that for like hours and hours and hours.

Ali Abdaal: So sometimes they'll be like, all right, you know, we're going to take a quick break, 10 minutes, surgeon will grab a cup of tea, just sort of chill around, play some music, and they'll come back to it. And that's also totally fine, because you can't maintain concentration for such a long period of time, because these are bloody all day events, these open heart surgeries.

Ali Abdaal: Wow. So they take breaks halfway through. They, you know, they sometimes take a break for lunch, that sort of thing. When you say it, it

Nick Milo: makes sense. Yeah. But, you know, just kind of envisioning it. Yeah. It's like, okay. Yeah. Yeah, let's have lunch. Yeah. Might as well. [00:30:00] Oh, that's, that's pretty wild. Before we get back to other Dr.

Nick Milo: Adcocks in your life, maybe from earlier on, those type of, um, random... Um, role models are people who give you a lesson that you don't expect. Before we get there, uh, you also talked about burnout. And so this is in part three of your book and, uh, sustain, right? And that's when I was really leaning forward. I love the first two parts just with where I'm at personally, what I've experienced over the past couple of years, working from home, doing all this online stuff, burnout and your chapter on burnout.

Nick Milo: You're having a conversation with your mom. And, uh, but you may, you also come to the realization that there are three types. Yeah. Of burnout. And I was just glued reading those pages.

Ali Abdaal: Yeah. So, you know, people have been throwing around the word burnout quite a lot. Um, and like, broadly the phenomenon of burnout is where, like it's, it's, it sometimes present, presents differently for guys and girls.

Ali Abdaal: There's like a bit of a gender, [00:31:00] a gender sort of thing here. Often it presents either as a sense that the work you are doing is meaningless. Or it presents as a sense of like, uh, emotional fatigue. And so generally when people are approaching the verge of burnout, like for me, it's this sense that my work is meaningless.

Ali Abdaal: I'll start thinking, oh, what's the point? I'm doing a podcast, what was the point of that anyway? It's like, oh, I'm Nick Moynihan, fuck's sake. Like, you know, I start having those sorts of thoughts and, you know, most often it comes to YouTube videos being like, Oh God, that video, what was the point? Six side hustle ideas, what, am I just a slave to the algorithm and all this kind of thing?

Ali Abdaal: And when I start thinking those sorts of things, I'm usually like, okay, that's a good chance. That's a good sign that like, maybe I should take a break, take a step back, reconnect with why I'm doing this thing. But after doing a bunch of research into burnout, um. I kind of distilled it down into three different types.

Ali Abdaal: Was this you distilling it?

Nick Milo: I really like

Ali Abdaal: those distillations. Oh nice, I'm glad. It was a team effort, me and the editor and like our research assistant being like, Hey, we've got all these things around burnout, like how do we? [00:32:00] Cause you know, three part structure is always nice. So we were like, there's gotta be a three part structure here.

Ali Abdaal: Cause we could see like these different. different threads, and we pull them into these three things. Um, so essentially there's overexertion burnout, there's depletion burnout, and there's misalignment burnout. So overexertion burnout is what it says on the tin. It's where you're just working too hard, basically.

Ali Abdaal: Depletion burnout is where you work for a long time without taking breaks. So this tends to be kind of without taking a vacation, without taking a holiday. And then misalignment burnout is like, I think, the most interesting one, because that's where you might be doing something that you enjoy, and you might be making money, and like, Climbing the ladder, but the thing that you are doing is out of alignment with what personally fills you with joy and lights you up and energizes you and stuff.

Ali Abdaal: And that's the one that I see so often among successful people. Because you can be very successful, but if you're doing something that feels even a little misaligned to what you actually want to be doing with your life, that is a huge recipe for burnout. And from the outside, it's like. You know, you've got it all.

Ali Abdaal: You're a [00:33:00] successful corporate lawyer. Like, what are you talking about? Like, you've got work life balance as well. What's happening? Um, I found this when I went full time on YouTube for the first time. I'd taken a break from full time medicine. I was like, what right do I have to feel burned out? Like, what?

Ali Abdaal: Um, misalignment burnout strikes when the things that we are doing in the here and now are not aligned to the future that we actually want for ourselves. And that involves trying to figure out what that future actually is, which is hard. And recognizing when we are deviating too far away from our, I don't like using this word because it sounds kind of woo, but it's, it's so true.

Ali Abdaal: Like we all have this core sense of this thing that lights us up. And this thing, this, this thing that we enjoy doing. And that's different for, for every one of us. And a big challenge of life and careers and stuff is figuring out what is that thing for you? And how can you, how can you find a way to explore and express it?

Ali Abdaal: Yeah,

Nick Milo: that, that really resonates. And the first two are like, okay, yep, yep. And then that last one is this like, ooh, that hits hard. The misalignment. Yeah. Kind of thinking through that, but that's what the whole book is helping for is [00:34:00] what I recognize is Oh, it's the whole books about like the hidden thing is from my perspective.

Nick Milo: It's alignment understanding who you are Through these experiments with these chapters like okay, I can try that and that's going to help me get to that alignment Yeah, I felt really empowered Oh,

Ali Abdaal: thank you. I appreciate it. And like in, in just in terms of like a practical thing that, that, that people can try on that front, a really good experiment that I really vibe with is the Odyssey plan, um, which is basically the, it's a, it's an exercise designed by these professors at Stanford business school who are specialists in like product design.

Ali Abdaal: And they've written a book called design your life, designing your life, which is about how to apply the principles of product design to a life well lived. And this thing called the Odyssey plan is basically you imagine yourself three to five years from now. If you continue down your current path, what does your life look like?

Ali Abdaal: Then you rewind and you're like, cool, that's fine. Then you imagine yourself three to five years from now. If you had to take a completely different path, and you write out what that's like, and then you imagine yourself, three to five years from now, if you had to take a [00:35:00] different path, but you don't need to worry about money, and you don't need to worry about what other people think of you, what does that life look like?

Ali Abdaal: And the idea behind doing the Odyssey Plan is that, like, often, when we're thinking about what to do with our lives, we think very... Uh, like the thing that I'm doing is the thing that I will always be doing. And we tend to be fixated on this vision of the world that we know. But if you force yourself to take a step back and even for a few minutes just like sit in silence and think about it, what would life look like if you had to take a completely different path?

Ali Abdaal: If you're not allowed to do the career that you're currently doing, what would you be doing? For me, if I wasn't allowed to be a creator, I'd probably do some sort of tech startup. If I wasn't allowed to be a creator and wasn't allowed to do a tech startup. and money and social status were no object, what would I do?

Ali Abdaal: I would probably maybe write books anonymously, which sort of overlaps with the creator thing, but it's like, even, even now just thinking about it in those ways, even I think about this stuff all the time, but I always, Learn something new about myself and it's doing exercises like that, that helps us get some [00:36:00] of the way towards figuring out what do we actually want and then making and then figuring out a way to make sure that our, our actions in the here and now are actually aligned with that future.

Nick Milo: Yeah. Yeah. Not so you don't want to be a magician.

Ali Abdaal: I would love to have a one man stage show. So a sort of cross between Derren Brown meets Jay Shetty kind of motivational magic, music, mentalism, mind reading. Throw in the guitar a little bit as well, you know, if someone's, like, part of, part of building a stage show is that you want to, uh, manage the moments for the audience when someone is coming on stage.

Ali Abdaal: So, for example, if you're calling a volunteer up, you can suddenly have this moment of dead time, where the audience is, like, waiting for something to happen. And so, or if, for example, you're doing a trick and the, the participant on stage has to do something, like, shuffle cards here or there, or while they're shuffling, you have to keep the audience entertained.

Ali Abdaal: And so having a guitar to just be able to, there are a few magicians I know who like strum a ukulele while that's happening, which is kind of fun. It's like they, they add some vibes while other things are happening. So yeah, maybe some guitar.

Nick Milo: Okay. Well, if we have to think the odyssey [00:37:00] plan for that happening in some alternative future, I'm game for that.

Ali Abdaal: If you, if you, the other thing on that front is like, this is not in the book. Uh, it was, it wasn't there, but we cut it out because we only had so much space. There's, there's two questions I really like to think about. One of them is, what would I do if I knew I couldn't fail? But the other one is, what would I do even if I knew I had to, even if I knew I would fail?

Ali Abdaal: I've not heard that one. Which is really nice. Yeah. Because that's the thing, what would I do even if I knew I would fail? That's the thing that you would do the thing anyway. And so for me, actually, I realized, what would I do if I knew I couldn't fail? Oh, I'd build the ultimate productivity app. I'd build the next Notion or whatever the thing might be.

Ali Abdaal: But would I do that if I knew it would fail? No, absolutely not. Why would I try and build an app if I knew it would fail? But even if I knew it would fail, I would still want to build my own magic show. Because the process of doing it would be so enjoyable. So I'm like, Oh, that's interesting. Even if I knew it would fail commercially, I'd probably still want to write another book [00:38:00] because the process of writing it would help me, help me think, help me learn.

Ali Abdaal: And it's quite satisfying. Things like that. So I just love collecting these sorts of journaling prompts that help us figure out what to do with our lives. Cause then we can reflect on them and think, how aligned am I with that? You don't have to be 100 percent aligned, but if, as long as you know you're moving in a particular direction, like moving towards the direction of our North Star.

Ali Abdaal: Tends to stave off misalignment burnout and tends to feel really good as well. Yeah,

Nick Milo: that is an A plus prompt. I mean the twist there too, because I think most of us have heard the first part. Yeah, but not the second one. So as we get into sustain in that final part, everything that we're talking about, burnout especially, and there's this, this principle That sounds like it comes from a German sociology teacher, or professor, called the, what is it, the

Ali Abdaal: Reitoff?

Ali Abdaal: The Reitoff Principle. The Reitoff Principle. Tell us about this. Yeah, so. Yeah, there was a, I think this was when in my first year of working full time as a doctor, you know, I'd get home from work in the [00:39:00] evenings, and then I'd, And normally, I found a way to make editing the YouTube video feel good and feel energizing and enjoyable, because that was my whole productivity hack.

Ali Abdaal: If you can find a way to make the thing feel good, make it more fun, play some music in the background, put the Hobbit soundtrack as my soundtrack for the video, or whatever the thing is, find a way to do transitions, find a way to do anything I could to make the process of editing this video a bit more fun.

Ali Abdaal: Most of the time, that worked, and most of the time, I'd get home from work, and I'd feel excited to edit a video, which is how I was able to churn out content on my YouTube channel. But some days, I would just flop on the couch, and I wouldn't have the energy to edit the video. And I'd feel and then I'd start beating myself up, I'd start feeling guilty, I'd start being like, Oh, but like, you know, consistency, and the channel's doing well, and I don't want to fuck things up, and like, oh my god, I shouldn't be editing.

Ali Abdaal: Occasionally, my housemate, who's also a doctor, would see me doing this, and one time she said, Ali, why don't you just write the rest of the evening off? Why don't you, why don't you write it off? And I was like, huh, that's a good phrase. Why don't I write it off? And I needed, I needed to make an issue of my email newsletter that day, [00:40:00] because I've been writing a weekly email newsletter for like five years now.

Ali Abdaal: I was like, write it off. Why don't I write it off? I was like. Why don't we call it the Write Off Principle? And initially it was spelt right as in W R I T E Off, but I was like, it's kind of more fun if I just pretended some German sociologist spelled R E I T O F F, the Write Off Principle, because it seems more legit, right?

Ali Abdaal: It seems, it's like, yeah, the something method, the Batman effect. I personally love naming things for my own sake. But I sent this newsletter out, and got loads of replies from people being like, Oh my god, this principle is really helpful. And I didn't tell them, it was, I sort of pretended it was some German sociology guy, I just sort of thought I'd have a bit of fun with it.

Ali Abdaal: And so many people loved the write off method. And I had to include it in the book, partly as a bit of fun. Um, but now, like for example, this evening is a write off evening for me. Because I realized that, you know, one thing I haven't done in a while is play video games. And so, after this recording, I might pop over to the Razer store, buy myself a gaming laptop that I've been salivating over for years.

Ali Abdaal: And play some Baldur's Gate 3, and it's gonna be my write off evening. And, it's, things like, things like that, like, I think, some people would [00:41:00] be like, basically what you're saying is have an evening off. It's like, yes, that is exactly what I'm saying. But for productivity bros, for people who get to chapter 8 of a productivity book, usually those people are fairly highly strung, fairly Taipei personalities, fairly like achievement oriented.

Ali Abdaal: And sometimes I just find it really helpful to be like, yeah, this is a thing, it's a write off day. Yeah, I

Nick Milo: love that so much. And when I saw that term, I was reading pretty fast. Uh, and then, I was like, wait a second, oh, yeah,

Ali Abdaal: okay, I didn't quite explicitly mention that it was a sort of a joke in the book, but like some people will

Nick Milo: pick it up and you've kept that the whole time from that first newsletter.

Nick Milo: It sounds like, okay, so where'd this principle come from? I'm researching it. Oh, really? It seems like it came from Ali. But the way that you. Right about it. It was, you don't go out like this is a term I've coined. Yeah. You kind of like just sneak it in there. Yeah. I just thought it was funny.

Ali Abdaal: It was, it was initially a joke, but it's stuck.

Ali Abdaal: So I just go with it now. Cool.

Nick Milo: Yeah. All right. A couple, I want to kind of dig into some influences or, you know, parts that are maybe lesser known, [00:42:00] maybe dig back just a little bit before the YouTube phase. Um, and go back to a question. Thank you. As who are the Dr. Adcox from earlier in your life? So before medical school, before Cambridge,

Ali Abdaal: there was another, uh, another moment from Dr.

Ali Abdaal: Adcock himself, which was when I was, I think it was in my fourth year of medical school. And that's when, around the time people start asking you. What specialty do you want to go into? What residency program do you want to go into? And I was, I was never sure. I was never sure of the answer. I was always like, oh, but like there's so much, like, I don't know, there's like 50 to choose from and I need all this sampling and stuff.

Ali Abdaal: And I happened to be talking to Dr. Adcock over like coffee one time. And he was like, look, man, just pick something and go for it. And he said something, he said it's much easier to steer a moving ship than a stationary ship. And I was like, oh shit, he's so right. So I just decided I was gonna go for plastic surgery, just went for it.

Ali Abdaal: And in the process of going for plastic surgery, I unlocked lots of opportunities, I started working with this cool charity, I met a bunch of people. [00:43:00] And eventually I realized I didn't want to do the thing, but like, the process of going towards that specialty meant that I had all this momentum, so when I switched to anesthesiology, anesthetics, and then later to obstetrics and gynecology, and sort of had a bit of float around, I had this momentum built up.

Ali Abdaal: And I, I still think about that a lot, and I often say this to my team, When it comes to making decisions about things to do in life, it's so easy to get caught up in analysis paralysis. And yet, if you do just pick something and just start to work towards it, the way will reveal itself over time. So that's another classic Dr.

Ali Abdaal: Alcock one that I always go back to. Um, other influences. So actually, this is less well known. Um, when I was in the 7th grade, we call it, so when I was like 11, there was a friend of mine who was a bit of a bad influence. And he's still a friend to this day. His name's James. And... One time he and I were sitting next to each other in class, and he had this like, weird credit card that he signed up for at the age of 11, so he would have lied about his age using his parents address.

Ali Abdaal: Nice. And he said, he told me that, look, if you spend money on this credit card, you can [00:44:00] like, you can like, make a few pounds here and there online. You can, you can, you can make some money on the internet. And he was like, why don't you give the, why don't you give it a go? I was like, make money on the internet, that sounds interesting.

Ali Abdaal: Yeah, I could give it a go. But I said to him, no, but hang on, I need to ask my mom for permission. Because, you know, I was a good boy. And he was like, dude, fuck your mom. Why would you ask your mom for permission? Just, like, do the thing. And I was like, oh shit, you're right. And he probably doesn't know it, but that...

Ali Abdaal: Comment from James sent me on on the entrepreneurial path because my mom is like, you know, she's She's she's a parent So super super risk averse back in the day like putting your credit card details on the internet was like, oh my god What the hell are you doing? All of this kind of stuff if i'd said hey mom Can I lie about my age and sign up for this like dodgy affiliate marketing money making scheme on the internet?

Ali Abdaal: The answer would have been hell no, but I didn't ask permission. I just went for it And over time I learned to code, I started building websites, I started building, trying to build businesses, trying to make money, and all of that sprouted into what this YouTube channel is, and what the book now is, and why we're here.

Ali Abdaal: And it all sort of [00:45:00] stemmed from this idea that you don't need to ask permission. And I think, you know, in my context I was 11, so I was like, my mum was the permission holder. But I also think, like, we are all waiting for permission from someone to do something. We don't need that, and we don't need that permission.

Ali Abdaal: Um, I think about this a lot, like, who am I waiting for permission to do something from? And then often I realize, huh, I think actually I'm waiting for someone to give me permission to take a break from uploads channel. Because I need someone to tell me it's okay to do that. But actually, why do I need permission?

Ali Abdaal: I mean, to do the thing.

Nick Milo: Permissions are so interesting. I mean, the write off principle is just about giving yourself permission. Yeah. And you have permission to, you know, sign up for a fake credit card. It's like carrying a permission list is a kind of a cool thing. Oh,

Ali Abdaal: tell me more. Permission list? A permission list.

Nick Milo: Yeah, so in my notes app, I have this ongoing permission list. Yep. And it's just like, you don't have to take a note on that. Yeah, like anything like that though. It's like you [00:46:00] don't have to and it's just like yeah I don't and it's been one of the more liberating things and just I'll throw it up every now and then

Ali Abdaal: nice Yeah, one of the things for me is you don't have to finish that workout.

Ali Abdaal: Nice. Yeah I'm not sure if it really serves me over time Yeah,

Nick Milo: well it does and that goes to your book I can't remember the exact section but it just get started to do a little bit Yeah, and then give yourself that permission not to do the other Um, like what was it you said? You

Ali Abdaal: know, just do five minutes, just do five minutes.

Ali Abdaal: You can always give yourself permission to not do anymore. Usually, more often than not, we'll find that if we do something for five minutes, we end up just wanting to continue doing it because the inertia has kicked in. But sometimes if you do it for five minutes, you know, like, actually, I'm not feeling it.

Ali Abdaal: That's totally okay. There's, there's very little to be gained by forcing yourself to do a thing against your will. I think this is why I don't like the whole narrative around discipline and like, you gotta be more disciplined and all this suffering and all that shit. It's like, okay, fine. But like, most people are not David Goggins.

Ali Abdaal: Most people cannot discipline themselves to wake up at three in the morning every day and just go for a run. For most people, we do the things that we feel [00:47:00] like doing. And we don't do the things we don't feel like doing. So instead of like, Complaining about discipline, that we're not disciplined enough.

Ali Abdaal: Let's just find a way to make us actually feel like doing the things that we want to do. Let's find a way to make it more fun. Let's find a way to make it feel good. Play music in the background. Do it with friends. Like, that's what the first three chapters of the book are all about. Just how, what are the strategies that we can use to make stuff a little bit more enjoyable.

Ali Abdaal: I love

Nick Milo: those strategies. People. Play, play, people, power,

Ali Abdaal: play, people, power, or the three P's. Yeah. We were thinking of adding a fourth, which was progress. Cause that's another big part of it, but we incorporated that into power. I mean, then there was going to be a fifth purpose, but then that's the final chapter.

Ali Abdaal: So it's like, really, there's these five P, three, three to five P's, depending on how you slice the slice, the thing that really give anything more enjoyable, uh, make anything feel more enjoyable. And I, and I feel

Nick Milo: like the, the biggest elephant in the room with that is these environmental factors going back to senior, seniors, um, like David Goggins, incredible discipline.

Nick Milo: But when I, when I want to unpack that a bit more, I love looking at, well, what's the environmental factors like he's not surrounding himself with [00:48:00] Cheetos in his bed, you know, at night, like, you know, it's the environment that allows. Discipline as we often think about it to, to, to look like

Ali Abdaal: that. Yeah, absolutely.

Ali Abdaal: And this is why I'm, I'm a big advocate for like a pleasant environment to work in. Like if, if the desk is tidy and the keyboard is like nice, it makes you more, more, it just makes you, it makes it just a more pleasant experience to sit down and do some work. This is why I often take my laptop on the go with me.

Ali Abdaal: Like I'm rarely at my desk because I like the idea of just going to a coffee shop and working from there. You know, I get out there, it's whatever, it's a bit more enjoyable. Back when I was in medical school, I would do library hopping. So there were like, loads of libraries around Cambridge, so I'd just go to a different library each day.

Ali Abdaal: Adds novelty, adds a sense of adventure. And this is actually one of the, one of the sort of practical tips of the book. To make anything more fun, just ask yourself. The question simply, what would this look like if it were fun or at the start of the day, the question I ask myself is what's today's adventure going to be?

Ali Abdaal: And it sounds really, it sounds too easy, but like just [00:49:00] framing any amount of work as an adventure or as fun completely changes the way our brains think about the thing and genuinely does make the thing feel like more of an adventure. What does an adventurous podcast look like? What does an adventurous writing project look like?

Ali Abdaal: How can I make this PowerPoint? That I'm boring as PowerPoint. I'm doing a little bit more fun. Can I add a funky animation? Can I put some background music in? Cause why not? It's like we're all so worried about being so serious and being like professional and shit that like we forget to have a little bit of fun and forget that people want, people, people love to be surrounded by other people who energize them.

Ali Abdaal: And generally being professional. It is the same as being boring, and generally that's not the way you energize the people around you, and also not the way you get ahead if that's what you care about. Yeah,

Nick Milo: absolutely. And that's why the book is called Feel Good Productivity. Exactly. Like, I love that so much, and that idea is just seeped within every single chapter.

Nick Milo: Um. World of Warcraft. You mentioned that. Yeah. And I loved reading that little sentence. It's like, when I enter World of Warcraft, I'm not Elie Abdaal. Yeah. I'm Sephiroth.

Ali Abdaal: Sephiroth, a blood elf. [00:50:00] A level 80 blood elf warlock with billowing robes and yeah. An army of demons at my

Nick Milo: command. It's play. It's, it's side quests.

Nick Milo: Yeah.

Ali Abdaal: Adventures. Yeah, all of that stuff. Chapter one. People can just, honestly, people can just read chapter one. Introduction and chapter one and then you'll get most of the book.

Nick Milo: Not true, but that's an awesome part of it for

Ali Abdaal: sure. I have a question for you. Why did you decide to start this podcast? What's the motivation?

Nick Milo: Uh, you've, you've heard me mention it already so many times. I'm obsessed with environment and I want to be around people who inspire me and I, I want to be connected and have these conversations like we're having right now. Like that means so much to me. I'm obsessed with that. I actually, I had this whole book, um, when I was in 2014.

Nick Milo: It's all written, but I never publish it. It's called Amateur's

Ali Abdaal: Quest. Oh, that's a nice title. Yeah. I like it.

Nick Milo: Um, and that might be what the book that comes after linking your thinking, but the, the whole point was this, this journey down willpower. I thought a huge part of it was going [00:51:00] to be about how to strengthen willpower slash discipline and it was this matryoshka doll and I was like, okay, so willpower is actually a smaller one.

Nick Milo: And that's based on habits. But above habits is an environment and it was just like, what's the biggest matryoshka doll of them all. And at least my conclusions at that time, that was a decade ago was it was environment. And if I want to change any type of behavior, if I want to be more disciplined, um, it's all about who I'm around, what the environment is.

Nick Milo: So this, the impetus to do this, this podcast is, and is just mainly to be around inspiring people and, and to get to curate that list, you know, like you can't meet with everyone. I can't meet with everyone. So who can I meet with? That would just be amazing. Yeah. Nice.

Ali Abdaal: It's a good reason to do it.

Nick Milo: Yeah.

Nick Milo: Thanks for spinning the tables there. Uh, have you done this before? Um, okay. So I love this question. If researchers were observing you at ages, let's say eight to 18 or [00:52:00] let's go eight to 16, what would they have noticed? Anything unusual?

Ali Abdaal: That's a good question. So I think they would have noticed spending a lot of time on the computer.

Ali Abdaal: Um, they may have noticed spending a lot of that time doing things that looked like wasting time. Um, I was watching so many TV shows back in the day. I was addicted to World of Warcraft for three years from age 14 to 17, where I'd be playing like three and a half hours a day. But at the same time, I managed to do all my schoolwork.

Ali Abdaal: And also I managed to try and do like build these web, web design businesses and learn web design and development and stuff. And one of the things that always puzzled me about my peers is that we would all have the same number of hours in the day in that we'd all get home from school around 4 PM and then we'd all sleep around like 10.

Ali Abdaal: So we would all have those six hours every day to do stuff. And in that time I was playing three, three and a half hours of world of Warcraft, having dinner, doing my homework, watching TV shows, and also doing web design and development. [00:53:00] And. A lot of other people were complaining that they didn't have time once they did food and homework to do anything else.

Ali Abdaal: And so I always found ways to squeeze more stuff into my time, but I think it's because the stuff felt so energizing. And that is, I guess, the sort of message of the book. Like, if you do the things that feel good, or find a way to make whatever you're doing feel good, it becomes more energizing, and you have way more energy to give to it.

Ali Abdaal: To it and to other things. So when I'd, I'd come rushing home from school to do a web design project, I'd be like, yeah, and I'd make some progress on my, my girl queries or whatever, and I'd be like, cool World of Warcraft for a bit. And that was super energizing. I'd be like, cool TV show to wind down. And it was just like, go, go, go.

Ali Abdaal: And I guess now that I, I'm a sort of a somewhat self-professed productivity expert. That's sort of what I do now as well. I just teach people how to do that as well, but in a way that's enjoyable, sustainable, uh, enjoyable, sustainable, and meaningful. Enjoyable,

Nick Milo: sustainable, and meaningful. It's not the first time you've said those three in a row.

Ali Abdaal: Yeah, sometimes I put intentional in there. I haven't yet figured out like a pure repetition on this. [00:54:00]

Nick Milo: Part of the mantra behind like the commander's intent. Mm, yeah. Okay, which is featured in your book. Absolutely. So what was interesting about that is um, It's one thing to have an intent, intent from a commander, but what I was like, Oh, and I turned my head was when you tied it to your business and your team and how you communicate.

Nick Milo: If there's a new idea, does it match this intent, commander's intent?

Ali Abdaal: Yeah. I think that that just speaks to this idea, you know, for people who are not familiar, commander's intent is this idea from, from like the Austrian army in like the 1800s. where it's like you kind of, when you're, when you're commanding troops on the battlefield or doing any kind of military operation, you want to explain the intent behind, like the why behind why you're doing the thing rather than just the thing to do.

Ali Abdaal: And this was really shown up in D Day in 1941, when was D Day, 1941, 1942, 1942, yeah, in D Day, uh, when, when the allied forces landed, landed on the beach, on the beaches of Normandy [00:55:00] was a total disaster. They landed in the wrong place, the platoons that were meant to be with the right platoons weren't with the right platoons, and it was a total fuck up.

Ali Abdaal: But, because the commanders had communicated the intent behind the operation, i. e. seize strategic units and strategic areas and bridges and stuff, people knew why they were doing the thing, and so they could improvise the how, even though the plan didn't go according to plan. And so I think that's where, you know, speaks to the study we were talking about, having like a bit of a vision for your life.

Ali Abdaal: It gives you that, like, why do you want to do the thing? It's like, once you know why you want to do the thing and, like, the, the, the intention behind it, now you can figure out the how. The how will take care of itself. Even if the how goes, uh, goes, goes off course. Wonderful.

Nick Milo: One I'm just kind of curious about, though, you, you do talk about your mom a few times, and your, your grandma.

Nick Milo: I'm just kind of curious, uh, what's something positive that you've taken from them, or that you see in yourself?

Ali Abdaal: from them. Oh, um, my mom is very generous. She's a great host. She's always keen to have people around, like feed people, like [00:56:00] always going out of her way to pick people up from the airport and that kind of thing.

Ali Abdaal: And I really admire that generosity of spirit. Um, I think I've sort of, I've sort of imbibed some of those traits in that, like at university, my room was always like an open hub and people could just come and go as they please, as they pleased. And I would always have snacks in there and feed people and like always have the door open.

Ali Abdaal: Um, and I found that Sort of when my mom does it, it's just really nice. It creates a really welcoming atmosphere. And, you know, that's part of what we talk about in the book, around people, like... if you're, even, even if the goal is productivity, which for the record, it doesn't have to be then creating, crafting a welcoming atmosphere with the people, with people that you love around you.

Ali Abdaal: It's just so nice. It just makes everything more pleasant and makes you more energized and makes your work feel, feel more fun. So I think I've really taken that generosity of spirit from my mom. I love

Nick Milo: hearing that and what about your grandma?

Ali Abdaal: My grandma actually, she used to be an air hostess for the Pakistan International Airlines and then she decided to forget about that and trained as a teacher [00:57:00] and my grandma did a lot of homeschooling for me and my brother when we were younger because we were living in Southern Africa and for like one of the years the schools that we were in the area of were all too violent for us to want to go to.

Ali Abdaal: And so my grandma homeschooled us, and so I think she instilled within me this love of learning, and also the love of teaching, and that has served me very well over the years.

Nick Milo: I love hearing that. I love hearing those connections to family. Um, yeah, so as we wrap this thing up, I guess my main question is...

Nick Milo: What would you want to leave the audience with as far as a challenge to them, something based on the book perhaps, something of a dare that they could try

Ali Abdaal: out? Nice. That's question. Um, I think, okay, here's a challenge. When, whenever you're listening to this, the next thing you, for the next thing you do, ask yourself the question, what would this look like if it were fun?

Ali Abdaal: And just see what comes up. What would this look like if it were fun? Especially if that thing is work related. If it's already fun, then, you know, it's not much of a challenge. [00:58:00] But if you have to do a thing in the next 24 hours. That you would ordinarily think. Or, uh, it's boring, or it's work. Whatever. Ask yourself, what would this look like if it were fun?

Ali Abdaal: And... Do you leave a comment below and report back?

Nick Milo: I love it. What would this look like if it was fun? Okay. Well, thank you, Ali. I've really, really

Ali Abdaal: appreciated this. Thank you so much. It's a pleasure being Episode One. Oh, yeah.

Nick Milo: I look forward to seeing how it goes. All right. Thanks so much. Before we finish, I just want to do a few socials.

Nick Milo: So this is the book. I've already pre ordered the hard copy. Thank you. Feel Good Productivity by Ali Abdaal. You can find him on almost all the socials at Ali Abdal. Yep. It seems absolutely, but the most important thing to do right now I believe, is to go to feelgood and think about making a pre-order.

Nick Milo: It definitely helps him out and it helps spread this message. I think it's the message worth spreading. I think it can help you and who knows, maybe some of the people around you. And if you do pre-order. I found this was interesting and you added this, uh, I don't know when exactly, but um. After I preordered, [00:59:00] but don't worry, I'm registered the feel good productivity annual planning work.

Nick Milo: Yeah.

Ali Abdaal: We literally launched that like yesterday. Yeah. We updated the website to include that. So basically in the first weekend of January, 2024. So if you're listening to this before then for people as a, as a thank you to everyone who's preordered the book, I'm hosting like a whole annual planning online live retreat type thing where I'll be taking people through some of the evidence based strategies that we can use to reflect on 2023 and to plan for 2024.

Ali Abdaal: Having a good like annual planning session with hundreds of people from all around the world. It's gonna be sick.

Nick Milo: Yeah, well, I'll be there and again like if you are into this and you're still listening Then obviously you are you have to at least check out the website to that website is

Ali Abdaal: sick Thank you that website our goal was to make the best book website in the world And our publisher was like, guys, I think this is the best book website I've ever seen in my life.

Ali Abdaal: And I was like, yes, we got there.

Nick Milo: We did it. Nice. So anyways, you're going to be hearing a lot about this book. Um, well, you will, but everyone was going to be hearing a lot about this book. So I encourage you to join the conversation. And see what it's all about. [01:00:00] Don't stay on the sidelines and jump into the arena.

Nick Milo: Thanks, Ali. Thank you. Thanks for tuning into this episode of how I think we'll be sure to add all the links and resources we mentioned in the video description or show notes, depending on the platform you're watching or listening from. And if you're curious for more, then feel free to check out another episode.

Nick Milo: I'll see you there.

Ali Abdaal - The Keys to Joyful Work and Being Batman (or Professor X)
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