How The Pros Do It: 10 Questions With Megan Holstein

The only way to reach your targets in life is to get to work. But it’s easier said than done. Only a fraction of people in life are actively working towards their goals. They know how to create and use the right tools and processes to generate progress for themselves. A lot of these people have a ton of interesting things to say. So I thought I’d interview them.

Most of my weekly guests created their own business, and they got where they are today by successfully implementing self-discipline in their life. To each one of them, I ask questions about their life, their learnings, their tools, and sometimes about which celebrity they would like to have coffee with.

There are no rules for success, only consistency in the work you do. None of the people I interviewed are super-humans. They’re just dedicated, and they have a lot of awesome things to teach us.

Let’s get to it.

My guest this week is Megan Holstein. Megan is a self-help writer on She’s a top writer in productivity, leadership, and many other topics. She used to do a lot of other things, like run a small business making apps for autistic children and consult with startups on their strategy, but now she just sticks to writing. Check out her medium profile here and her website here.

What is the number one habit/routine you attribute the most success to in your life (online and/or offline)?

What I’d attribute my success to is not so much what I do as it is what I don’t do. I don’t…

  • Play video games
  • Watch TV
  • Own a lot of things (meaning I don’t spend a lot of time cleaning or organizing)
  • Use social media

This isn’t literally true. I do sit down every so often to watch a movie, a few episodes of Supernatural, or even sometimes go shopping. But I don’t spend more than 15 hours a month on these kinds of activities. Compare that to the average American, who spends 15 hours a week on social media alone. With all that extra time, it’s hard not to be productive.

What is the number one physical productivity item you can’t live without?

My computer? I don’t carry around a bullet journal or todo notebook or any of these other things some people rely on. My todo app on my phone and my writing app on my computer are more than enough for me.

As for my phone and computer, they are nothing too fancy. I use a base model 12″ MacBook and a base model iPhone X. I also have over-ear headphones and a beat up set of original AirPods. Unless you are a software engineer or something similar, staying on the cutting edge of technology does little more than part you with your money.

You read 77 books in 2019 alone! What is the One Book you recommend for self-improvement and/or productivity?

One size doesn’t fit all. While there is a universe of good books out there, the One Book depends on what your needs are at the moment. For instance, if you’re struggling with feeling “busy” and having too many things on your calendar, Essentialism will probably flip your world upside down. If you’re struggling with feeling bored and under motivated, however, the same book won’t be much help. You’d get a lot more benefit from reading Do The F*cking Work.

You journal digitally with the app Day One. Can you tell us more about the process?

I don’t have much of a process. I have daily and weekly templates I use for journaling when I’m in the mood, but I don’t make a routine of it. I use those templates once a week. Most of my journaling is free form. I journal in spurts when I am dealing with a lot in my life as a way to cope, but it is in no way a “productivity tool” for me.

This paradigm is, to me, the problem with productivity advice: What is all this productivity for? We are not being productive for productive’s sake, after all. We’re trying to achieve something. I think productivity is better considered as a tool for some other end, like getting more work done in less time, or being more strategic about the work we accept in service of a larger career goal, or building skill at a hobby we do for our own personal pleasure. Is my journaling “productive?” Not by traditional standards, no. But it achieves my purpose, and there is nothing more productive than that.

You’ve written about your top 5 favourite productivity apps (including Day One). If you could keep only one, which one would it be and why?

No app, journal, or tool is the key to discipline. Discipline comes from within. Those who are disciplined will find a way, regardless of whether they have an iPhone XS Max or a tattered journal.

You wrote about how you deleted all your social media accounts a year ago. How much impact has this had on your productivity?

It’s hard to overstate the impact. Over the course of two years, I went from spending 20 hours a week on social media to nothing. That’s 80 hours a month, 960 hours a year that I gained back. Like I said before, it’s hard not to be productive with that much extra time on my hands.

You take minimalism pretty seriously. How much has it improved your life?

This is another area where it’s hard to overstate. The gains are not purely from “time saved”. Yes, minimalism has made it so I have to spend far less time cleaning, but it’s about more than that. Clutter doesn’t just clutter up your home; it clutters up your mind. When you’re in a house filled with things, your mind has trouble sifting through all the things that are there and focusing on what’s most important. By contrast, when there are few things in each room of my house and each thing has a purpose, I always know exactly what is most important to me, wherever I am in my home.

People tell me all the time that it’s not true for them, but they’re just wrong. They can’t see the forest for the trees. I know Einstein had a messy desk, and people like to say those with messy desks have creative minds, but your mess does not have a specific creative purpose. You are not Einstein. Your mess is just a mess. Sorry.

Some people say the classic newsletter/email list model is dying when it comes to generating more online business. What is your opinion on this?

My email provider ConvertKit regularly trots out creator after creator that makes their living on the back of their newsletter. Last year, at Craft + Commerce, they handed out a hard bound book of the stories of such creators, complete with newsletter stats and profits. I’m not personally using my list to generate sales, but I know that when I’m ready to, it will be more than possible.

How important is time off for you, and what do you do when you take time off?

I don’t work full time. Not even close. I work about fifteen hours a week. I take entire days off about two or three times a week, and even on my working days I don’t spend a huge amount of time working.

I’m able to do this because I’m an incredibly efficient worker. I’ve trained myself to be. I learned how to type at 90 to 100 words per minute, I learned computer keyboard shortcuts for nearly everything, and I’ve cut all the distractions out of my life (I receive fewer than ten phone notifications a day).

It’s not all roses. I’m incredibly efficient, but I’m also incredibly fatigued after only two or three hours. If I work five hours, it’s a big day.

That being said, I don’t think this is too unusual. We say we work eight hour days in America, but based on what I’ve observed, we don’t. The eight-hour workday is a lie we tell ourselves. When I had a full-time job a few years ago, nobody actually worked eight hours a day. People worked four or five hours, and spent the remainder of their time standing around the office and chit-chatting with coworkers. And when people say they work ten-hour days, they’re really working six hours, with another four hours spent on things that seem productive, but aren’t (checking email, watching YouTube, meandering conversations with coworkers…) Spending two hours on the phone with your attorney may feel productive, but chances are it’s not nearly as productive as it could be.

My favorite example of this is from when I first began consulting. Because I’m efficient, I charged an unusually high hourly rate for my experience level. One of my first clients said he was happy to pay the fee, but he’d rather have me lower my billing rate and increase my reported hours, even if I wasn’t working them, because it looked better on his paperwork.

I suggest we stop lying to ourselves. We should give up the charade of long hours. Instead of aiming to work more hours, aim to fit more work into fewer hours. Believe me, it leads to a much better life.

You get $100 to burn, all your friends are busy and you have the whole day to yourself. What do you do?

Questions like this presume we do not already have that choice. They presume that our lives are subject to fate, that our options are limited, and that there are many things not available to us. But they are. You already have your whole day to yourself! You’re the one who chooses to spend it with friends, or spend it at work, or spend it however you spend it. If you don’t like the way you’re spending your time, start spending it differently. There’s no one stopping you.

To answer your question, what I would do if my friends were busy and I had $100 to spend is what I would do any other day of my life: wake up, meditate, get some work done, make food, go exercise, sit back with some books for a few hours, catch up with my boyfriend, and go to sleep. Oh, and I’d put that $100 in the bank where it can do something useful for me.

There you have it. I want to personally thank my guest for taking the time to provide me and my readers with really insightful answers. I am deeply grateful to Megan Holstein. Congrats on the medium success, and keep up the great ork! All the best!

And thanks to you for reading my content! Check out the People Who Do homepage, where you’ll find more inspiring interviews!

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