Ali Abdaal is a YouTuber and former doctor (and formerly a doctor who did YouTube on the side, which he talks about). Ryan Holiday asks Ali about his writing process (he’s currently writing a book), identity and tying it to career, delegating and figuring out what you can do, choosing to do the fun things in a project, and the endless pursuit of even more autonomy.
- You always want more autonomy: They talk about different people they’ve come across. Ali knows a lot of successful doctors who are trying to find a second career. Ryan knows successful startup founders who want to write books instead. Ali knows YouTubers who are beholden to their personal brands and the content treadmill. It goes on and on.
Ali Abdaal: Even with, you know, creators like YouTubers, influencers… in a way you get into it because of the autonomy. But then you realize, oh crap, I’m continuing on this hamster wheel of content. And I’m so entrenched in it now that I would love to build a brand that’s actually outside of me.
Ryan Holiday: Yes. Well, you want to be able to scale what you’re doing, so it’s not so dependent on you, but then you just built it as your name and you can’t.
- Do the fun parts: Ali talks about trying to design his life and work so that he’s doing fun things. He realized a lot of people would want to get to where the main thing they needed to do was would be the creative work on a YouTube channel. At a certain point, he was delegating that away to his team, even though he enjoyed it and was uniquely good at it. He realized he was taking that for granted and switched things up to be more involved in the creative thinking again. This reminded me of something Courtland Allen talked about on Indie Hackers—he optimizes to do the fun parts. Particularly with the podcast, Courtland got to where he pretty much just does notes to prep and shows up for the interview. Scheduling and editing and show notes are done by his team.
Ali Abdaal: I found that actually just optimizing for what’s fun has been the single biggest hack for my productivity ever.
- Writing notes and a book: Ali talks about how different it is to write something that won’t be released for a couple years compared to the instant gratification that YouTube gives you. Ryan talks about his note-taking process and how the extra (and tactile) steps to create a single note in his notecard system mean he just interacts with ideas more from the start. His gripe with digital notes are that you have huge quantity with the tradeoff of time spent with the idea you’re capturing initially.
- Ali’s using Apple Notes: For all the content he’s made about productivity and tools and systems… he’s back to using plain Apple Notes for a lot of his writing. It’s fast and reliable. Ryan mentions skepticism with some of the elaborate digital note systems that people have. Ali concurs: you can do all of those things but they don’t erase the need to sit down and do the hard work. For him, right now, it’s writing the book.
Ryan Holiday: People set up these sort of Rube Goldberg machines instead of just getting to the fastest thing, which is–yeah–just sitting down and doing the work. The writing sucks or whatever, making the video or coming up with the idea. That’s the hard part.
So I think sometimes we add all this stuff on top of. I don’t know why, but we do.
- The daily highlight: Ali says if he could only give one piece of advice about productivity to someone who’s trying to get things in order, it’d be to do the daily highlight described in Jake Knapp and John Zeratsky’s Make Time. Write down one thing you want to accomplish. That’s usually enough for a day.
Two modern masters of content who are very deliberate about designing their lives. Great listen.