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 second guest for this weekly series is Niklas Göke. Niklas is a writer from Germany. He has been teaching himself how to write for the past 5 years, and has been publishing on medium.com for about as long. He also publishes on Quora, has built websites, and has taken a lot of freelance assignments in writing. His work has been featured in Business Insider, Fast Company, Lifehacker, CNBC… He just graduated from the Technical University of Munich and intends to continue writing full time now that he has successfully turned his side project into a viable business. He is the founder of fourminutebooks.com, where you can find quick summaries for over 500 books.
Do you have a morning routine?
I do. It changes every 6 months or so. I might change the order of the steps and what the exact steps are, but it’s always about me leaving the house in the best possible state to tackle the day. That is, making sure I’m in a positive state of mind, healthy, and with the right mindset, not bogged down in any negative-thought spiral. It’s about being present.
Here is what my morning routine consists of these days. I get up at 6am during the week, and the first thing I do is drink a glass of water and wash my face. Then, I meditate for half an hour or an hour depending on how I feel. After that comes a mini-workout. Because I’m a writer, I spend a lot of my day sitting, so I do simple body exercises: push-ups, jumping jacks, some shoulder exercises… Then, I take a shower and brush my teeth. The second part of my routine consists of reading one page of a book, and journaling about it. This is really quick. Following that, I leave the house, I get coffee and a small breakfast on the way to work. Depending on how long I meditate, this routine takes me anywhere from an hour to two hours until I leave the house.
What is the number one habit/routine you attribute the most success to in your life?
Writing and publishing consistently online. In fact, you could even take out the consistent part, because I haven’t always been consistent. I’m good at picking up habits and dropping them from one day to the next, and I was like this even before I started learning about self improvement. Consistency comes easily to me, so it’s not a habit per se.
When I started writing I had a goal of writing 250 words a day, and I’d usually write 1000. I started doing that very consistently right from the beginning.
The question is about what drove my success. All of my success comes from everything I published online, in the public domain. This is the crucial part. You can write for 3 years, if you do it for yourself you won’t get anything out of it. You won’t build a brand, a following, an audience… You have to make it public.
I think I have over 1000 pieces of content online, if you were to count every article, blog, book. For me, the frequency didn’t matter much. But showing up for 5 years again and again while trying to get better from each day to the next is what worked.
What advice do you have for people who struggle to actually start working on the projects they have?
Whatever project people have, they will struggle with it. In fact, the question specifies projects with the letter “s”, which indicates plural. And that’s the thing for many people. They have so many projects they want to do that they don’t start doing any of them. They can’t decide which one is the most important.
For me, the first step was to realise that making a living as a blogger was possible. People I first saw were guys like James Altucher, James Clear, Leo Babauta. These people had millions of readers, even 7–8 years ago. I realised this one thing: the main thing these guys do is they write on this blog and use the platform to do all kinds of other things. But at the end of the day, they get paid to write. That became the most important thing in my mind, and with it came the clarity of where I wanted to go.
I took me a while to start working on it, another while to get better at it, and even longer to be able to do it full time. I still have a very, very long path to go. But they key is to pick one thing to dedicate your full focus to. If you’re thinking about writing a book, creating a company, and you have 3 ideas for a side hustle, forget about everything altogether. You have to pick one thing, and deep inside you always know what the most important thing is.
So pick one thing, and start on that.
The One Book you recommend for self-improvement and/or productivity?
One of the books I got the most out of is Love Yourself Like Your Life Depends On It by Kamal Ravikant. I read it last year in one sitting, and that’s one of the best books I’ve read in a long time. It’s very short, simple and straightforward. It taught me how important compassion is, especially towards yourself. I wish I had known that sooner. I started like most people, with all the productivity hacks, the self improvement stuff, the hustle, the success rules, all of that. But at the end of the day, if you give up, you lose.
Compassion gets you to not give up. It’s much more important to be kind to yourself when you screw up and fail (which you will countless times along the way) than it is to keep pushing, hammering and criticising yourself.
I am now much more comfortable with what goes wrong and what has gone wrong. Once you can accept that, you can move on. The faster you can learn to accept your own failures and shortcomings, the faster you will get to where you actually want to end up. So self-compassion is the most important thing. You have to be relentless in forgiving yourself every time you screw up. I wish I had cultivated that part earlier on, because it’s not as talked about as all the other stuff is, but it’s very important too.
What is the number one productivity item you can’t live without?
My laptop. I’ve written about how simple my setup is. It’s important that your tool isn’t full of clutter.
I don’t use my phone to write. I use it to text and communicate with people. It is mostly a private tool, but I use it for work whenever I’m on the go, to post content or take notes for instance. But again, the number one item when it comes to productivity is my laptop.
There are no other specific gadgets I have. I don’t use any of those smartwatches or what have you. I track some of my habits in an app called Coach.me when I’m working on specific new habits, but that’s about it.
You’ve been taking it more easy lately, but can you talk about the time when you were “hustling hard”?
I think it’s important to “hustle hard” in the beginning of one’s career. And hustling hard is best reframed as “hustle as hard as you personally can”. You definitely don’t want to be a slacker, and you know when you’re being lazy. Everyone knows for themselves when they’re being lazy and when they’re doing their best. It can be different for all of us in terms of total hours worked, but at the end of the day you know when you’re not putting in the work.
Whether it’s a creative project or an entrepreneurial thing you’re doing, the output in the beginning is extremely important, because you have to get from 0 to 1 (book by Peter Thiel). The first step is one of the biggest. Let’s say you want to get to $50,000 a year in income. The faster you can get to that part, the faster you will have a lot of time available to yourself. That’s when you can dial back a little and think of what you want do with all this time.
For me, that first step was built with a set schedule. Fourminutebooks.com was one of the first big projects I did in 2016. I wrote a book summary every single day. I used other book summaries to write them, and the books I had read before along with all my notes. This project took me 3 to 4 hours a day, everyday. At that time I was freelancing, I was lucky to have a flexible schedule. Almost everyone has at least 1 or 2 hours per day. Even if you have a job and you sleep, you still have 8 hours left in the day. You might as well spend 2 or 3 of them doing something that matters to you.
I was freelancing for 2 years while I was growing my online business on the side and writing for free, practicing. On top of that, I was working on my masters, which meant studying for the exams whenever they came around while still trying to minimise the school load. All the extra time was spent on work, writing and getting better at writing.
I didn’t date anyone during those 3 years. I didn’t do too much with my friends either. I wasn’t totally isolated, but I definitely sacrificed a lot of my social life in order to be able to write and build a career in writing.
Follow your set schedule every single day, until you get to a level where you think: “now I need to step back, relax, and think a little bit”. Teach yourself to show up day in and day out.
You talk a lot about the growing irrelevance of good old newsletters. What is your vision for the future of blogging/marketing?
Let’s start with the baseline of the question: writing. I don’t think writing is going anywhere. People have been proclaiming the death of the written word for hundreds of years, and definitely for the last 10. We now have fast internet available almost everywhere, anyone can watch videos, listen to podcasts… And yet people are still reading. In that sense, writing is a very valuable skill.
Everything is written. Great videos are scripted, so are movies and TV shows. Songs have written lyrics, and even music itself is written in a special language. Advertisements, copywriting online and/or offline are also written. Billboards, brand names, your CV, your cover letter, your emails… Writing is everywhere.
Writing is one of the most valuable skills you can have for the future, regardless of what content you want to create and/or market. Writing is valuable not only as a marketable skill, but also due to the fact that it helps clarify your own thinking, it teaches you about yourself. It’s probably one of the most useful skills to have if you want to get success in this world.
Now, what does the future of that look like? Well, we said that writing isn’t going away. So it doesn’t matter all that much what the future of it looks like. Once you start to grasp certain specifics and rules of storytelling and writing, you can transfer those to other domains. You can take those anywhere. Write a billboard ad, an article on medium… But you might also write on some kind of platform that we don’t even have yet, 2 years into the future.
The point is, the channels are going to keep changing, the platforms too. We didn’t have Quora and/or Medium 10 years ago. You couldn’t get paid to write articles about whatever you want like you can nowadays. All these new models are emerging all the time, and my advice is this: whatever channel pops up, whatever platform you discover, go try it and see if it’s for you, see if you can catch some kind of trend there.
Because we have more and more of these platforms, email newsletters are becoming less important. At the end of the day, you always have to go somewhere, to some platform, to get people. That is not going to change. If anything we’re going to have more of those platforms. As a writer, you have to find the right places to attract an audience, and then make sure you diversify, have people coming from multiple channels. Once you have that, you start building some “security” for your business. An email list is one channel, it doesn’t have the strength of a multi-channel approach.
How important is time off for you, and what do you do when you take time off?
As I said before, it was important for me to get writing to a level where I could write full time, and I managed to do that. These days, I’m starting to take more time off.
My ideal week is something like 40 hours of work. Some weeks will be a bit less (30 hours), some weeks more (50 hours). As a writer you’re always working, always thinking about new ideas, that’s a great part of my job. I’m working even when I’m not working, and it doesn’t feel like work. But I do want to be more mindful and take more time off. I’m going to do that going forward, because that’s one thing I said I would do after I graduate, which I just did.
When I take time off, I try to spend as much of it as I can with other people, doing simple things. Hanging out, getting dinner, coffee, going to the movies, to events, parties, saying yes and trying new things. Sometimes I like walking around town to look at buildings, people, watching the world and taking it in, being present.
I also love video games. I don’t have any console right now but I want to get back into that. I used to be a huge video game nerd when I was a kid. Then other things like reading, movies… I try to push myself to do cultural things as well. Overall, I try to let it unfold.
Why did you decide to start managing medium publications?
I was originally managing my own publication called Crypto Times. At the time I was re-publishing some content I had written as an email newsletter project with a friend, and I was trying it out to see what it would be like. I realised that being a publisher is a lot of work.
So I stopped. I didn’t want to grow a publication all on my own where I would have to supply all the content. Later on I got an offer for running Better Marketing on Medium, and it was a great opportunity. I like the topic of marketing, and I knew the people involved, so I said yes.
Running a publication is a lot of work, and I definitely recommend running it with other people as much as possible. If you try to create a publication from scratch with only your content, it’s not going to work.
The interesting thing about being a publisher is being on the other side. You get to see a lot of content from other people, you edit articles, you learn a lot. It’s good training as a writer, but from the other side of the fence.
If you could have a coffee and talk about anything with a personality (dead or alive) you admire, who would it be and why?
Probably either Leonardo Da Vinci or Benjamin Franklin. Both of them changed the world in so many fields, the course of history in so many different ways. I would love to ask them how they chose their different interests, how they aligned them, and how they managed to get good at different things quickly. So yes, Da Vinci would be my first pick, and Benjamin Franklin my close second.
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 Niklas Göke. Thanks a lot, and keep up the great work!
And thanks to you for reading my content!