How The Pros Do It: 10 Questions With Sergey Faldin

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 Sergey Faldin. Sergey is a top Medium blogger in Creativity, Advice, Writing, and Productivity. He is the author of two books. He built a video production business and worked on branded content with companies such as Dunkin Donuts, Pepsi, Heineken… He is originally from Russia but currently lives in London, UK. Sergey aims to package ideas, to live life and teach others through the ideas, experiences and stories that he goes through and sees others do. 50% of his job is consuming content, 50% of his job is packaging these ideas into an interesting, fun, beautiful way.

Do you have a morning routine?

I try to quantify as little in my life as possible, as it makes me feel like living in a straitjacket. But if I think about it, I do have a routine.

  • I wake up at 6–7am almost every day. No alarm clock, because I got to bed at 9pm.
  • I try to eat a lot of fat and protein in the morning. I think breakfast is the most important meal of the day, so I try to make it amazing. Example of a good breakfast: eggs + bacon + avocado + sometimes salmon (I have a special “salmon guy” in London, he brings me fresh salmon every Saturday straight to my home).
  • Then I usually have 1–2 cups of coffee and write for 2–3 hours until I get tired.

What is the number one habit/routine you attribute the most success to in your life?

My discipline. Doing the same small thing every day for a long period of time. It is what helps me achieve success in everything. The 6-month rule came from that. Here are 2 examples on how I apply self discipline in my life:

I write daily and haven’t missed a day of writing since October 2. This helped me turn my writing into a part-time income from something I love. By the end of this year, it will become a full-time income if I keep going.

When I built my first business, I did a lot of sales. I approached my sales the same way: I told myself that I should send 10 emails per day. Not much, right? But in a month that’s 300 emails. Even if the conversion rate is 1%, I would get 3 new clients every month.

I believe small things matter. They compound and become big things. If you want to do something, find your highest ROI action, and make it easy enough that you’ll be able to do it daily (like writing 1 post or sending 10 emails). Then, stick to it for 3, 6, 9, 12 months. See what happens then. You’ll be surprised.

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

I am not really productive by the standard definition. I actually don’t like this word. Productivity is for machines, and I like to think of myself more as a creative.

One thing I can’t live without is my Moleskine. I have 30+ Moleskins stacked up on my bookshelf, accumulated over the years. If I want to know what I was thinking on August 2, 2015, I would just open the corresponding journal and go back there.

Evernote is also big for me. I usually upload my whole brain there. Like with the Moleskines, I can go back very, very far.

The One Book you recommend for self-improvement and/or productivity?

Deep Work by Cal Newport. It changed my life and the way I work. I read it 3 times and will probably read it again soon.

You’ve written a lot about the 6-month rule. Can you elaborate on that?

Very often, you start something and you feel excited about it the first few days. Then The Dip (as Seth Godin would say) happens. It starts to get difficult. Then you quit. Sounds familiar? I’ve had this experience 2312983128 times before I realized that if I wanted to get anything productive done in this world, I need to tame my adventurous nature and stick to something for a long time. Again, small things accumulate.

The 6 month rule is simple:

  • You pick a project.
  • You pick a strategy and a tactic. Your highest ROI action. It has to be small enough so that you can do it every day for a long time.
  • Then you do it for 6 months. You don’t look at your results. You don’t judge yourself. You don’t think about quitting. You don’t change strategy or tactic. You just do.
  • After 6 months you wake up, look around and THEN decide whether to quit or not.

Too many people quit too early. I say, give yourself at least 6 months. Then decide. Results are like wine: they need time to ripe.

You also wrote about the tracking method you used to find your passion. Can you tell us about your use of journaling and goal tracking?

I don’t really track myself these days. But that one time, I was very lost. I wanted to find my passion, my calling, and I learned about this thing called The Quantified Self. It’s a big community created by Kevin Kelly.

The idea is that you track every aspect of your life. In my case, I didn’t need every aspect, I just wanted some data to make sense of what was happening in my life. It’s very difficult when you’re in your own head. You need to get out. You need data. You need to look at yourself as an observer.

It’s simple: take a journal or an Excel sheet and ask yourself the same questions:

  • What you ate
  • How many hours you slept
  • What you did

Do that for 20–30–40 days. Then draw conclusions. I like writing handwritten notes more, but I would recommend using Excel because you can then sort the days. If you input a day quality rank (from -2 meaning awful to +2 meaning great) each day, you’ll be able to sort your days by quality and see what made these days great. That will give you a lot of valuable insight on your life.

You still work a more “classic job” next to blogging. How do you manage your time between that job, your blogging time, and your private life?

My job is not very classic. I am Head of Content for an IT startup. I work from home (London). The office is in LA. The rest of the team is in Russia. So it’s very distributed.

As for my schedule, I usually write in the mornings and work after lunch. I like to have a workout as a transition between my creative time and working time. Workouts give you focus, too. I used to run, but now I swim more often, because of the back pains.

I usually work for 3–4 hours per day and find that enough to get things done. That way, I have an 8-hour working day, 50% writing and 50% working.

What advice do you have for people who struggle to actually start working on the projects they have?

If it’s something external (like, having a job), I don’t know. Be honest, I guess. It depends on every situation. Be honest with yourself. Ask yourself “is that what you really want?”

Don’t say yes to a promotion if you don’t want it, even if it pays more. I recently turned down an extra $2000 per month. Why? I didn’t want to compromise my writing. It’s more important to me than money. Would I benefit from that extra money? I would. But screw it.

If it’s something internal (like procrastination), then realize that if you do nothing, there will be nothing. You cannot fix a blank page. You can only fix something once that something is there. Get it out, start working, start writing, and then fix it. Usually people can’t start because they analyze what they do through the lens of perfection. It doesn’t have to be perfect. 1 is better than 0. Once you get the 1, then you can tinker with it and turn it into a 10, and a 100.

On marketing. You have a newsletter but don’t appear to have a website (yet). Do you have a business model?

My business model is simple: my audience (my true fans) live on Medium. Then I make them my email subscribers. I give out a lot of free content via email. Once in a while I write books and sell them. I market these books to my email followers and Medium followers. In the books, I promise to give out a lot of free stuff if they subscribe, so I get more subscriptions from the books too.

Medium → Email → Books

That’s my model right now. I also make money from the Medium Partner Program and affiliate links in emails and books. I also have a Patreon. I hope some people will love what I do and support me, even if it’s $5.

But it’s more about building the community, (the 1,000 true fans) rather than money. I am more focused on exposure and audience than money. I’m still happy that I make money with something I love.

If you could have a coffee and talk about anything with a personality (dead or alive) you admire, who would it be and why?

I would meet Seth Godin. I love the guy. He’s my ultra hero. I would talk to him about content, and I would share with him my ideas about content. I think that the way I view ‘content’ and blogs and media is unorthodox. I believe that we’re now going through a revolution the same size as the one we were going through 20 years ago, when the .com bubble burst and all of these companies emerged.

I think that we’re now seeing a shift. People are making money off their ideas, and content brings us all closer. I think it’s content (not the Internet) that will change us as a species, bring us together, make us whole. I think it might save us (say, from Global Warming). I would talk about all that with Seth.

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 Sergey Faldin. Thanks a lot, keep on doing the great work!

And thanks to you for reading my content!

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