Interview with Steve Pavlina
If you like to read personal development blogs and articles, you must have read Steve Pavlina’s blog. His posts like How to Give Up Coffee and How to Become an Early Riser are definitely popular among the self-development blogs. He started his first business, Dexterity Software when he was 22 years old. Now he has moved on his career on writing about personal development. His life is very organized and I am interested what created a man like him. So I prepared a few interesting questions and organized a time to interview Steve.
Lifehack.org: Would you tell me more about yourself? I read from your About page that you were in game publishing, and now you have moved to writing and speaking full-time on personal development. What makes the change of career?
Steve Pavlina: I’ve had a long-time passion for personal growth which pre-dates my game publishing business. In fact, I started the games business in 1994 largely because I wanted a challenge.
As I ran the games business, I began writing articles on game development topics. I wrote a couple dozen articles to help fellow game developers, and I also spoke at industry conferences. Over time these articles became more motivational in nature, and I soon learned that people who didn’t even work in the gaming industry were coming to my site to read them. In the long run, I found I enjoyed writing and speaking more than developing and publishing games, mainly because I saw that I was providing more value to others.
I started the games business when I was 22 years old. At age 33 after publishing about two dozen games, I had accomplished much of what I had originally set out to do. Plus I had grown a lot and wanted to do something more meaningful than putting out entertainment products. At first I tried to stretch the business to grow along with me, but it was the wrong kind of medium for that and was holding me back. I realized the best thing would be to transition to a whole new career, one that would be based around my interest in personal growth and my increasing desire to contribute.
I did a lot of self-assessment and planning to figure out what kind of career would suit me best. I didn’t want something that would be inflexible, since I was concerned I’d outgrow it too quickly. So I opted to build an information business based around writing and professional speaking on personal development. I felt this would be much harder for me to outgrow, since I could always adapt the topics as I grew older.
Lifehacks: From the older articles on “Do it now” and “How to get more done in less time”, to the recent “Self-discipline” and “The meaning of life”, I must say you are pretty good at personal development. How do you get your material to write all those articles?
Steve: Presently I average at least 1-2 hours a day soaking up new ideas. This includes reading books, articles, and blogs (including lifehack.org); listening to audio programs; going to seminars and club meetings; and asking questions of people more knowledgeable than me.
I estimate I’ve read about 600 books and listened to dozens of audio programs on some aspect of personal development.
These sources give me plenty of ideas — every day I’m taking in far more ideas than I can possibly share with others.
I have no interest in regurgitating ideas from these sources though because then I’m not producing any new value. So I focus on making new connections that other people haven’t already figured out (or at least I’m unaware that they have). This usually results in me going through many perspective shifts — I think about old ideas in new ways and find links between them that I never saw before. If I think the ideas have merit (usually meaning that they’ve worked for me), I turn them into articles or speeches to share with others.
I keep flooding my brain with new ideas on a variety of different subjects because I’m constantly looking to form these new connections. I’m always asking questions such as: What’s the connection between self-discipline and motivation? What’s the relationship between selfishness and selflessness? What would an optimal time management system look like, given the way human beings actually behave under real-world conditions? Why is procrastinate such a difficult problem for people; are we perhaps looking at it the wrong way?
Lifehacks: Like “The meaning of life” series, you are able to deliver heavy content article everyday with quality. Are there any quick writing skill tips you want to share to lifehack.org readers?
Steve: I average about 3-5 new articles per week, but I definitely don’t write every day. I do have some tips to share though.
1) Keep your ideas ahead of your writing. I maintain an ideas list for new blog entries on my PC. It currently has over 40 ideas listed, any of which could be developed into a new article. Whenever I come up with a new idea or receive a suggestion via email, I add it to this list. If the list ever drops below 20, I’d do a brainstorming session to bring it back up again. Having an abundance of ideas means that I’m never stuck trying to think of a topic.
2) Invite topic suggestions from readers. A few weeks ago, I made a “Suggest a Topic” post and received lots of suggestions for future topics. This also helped me see which topics were in the highest demand, so I could bump those to the top of my list. For example, I received many suggestions for an article about self-discipline, so I wrote a six-part series on that topic.
3) Write articles in batches and set them to post throughout the week. I often write a week’s worth of articles on the weekend and then set them to be posted at various times throughout the week. This is easy to do with WordPress. This allows me to do my blogging in a single session each week while readers see a steady flow of new posts. It also allows me to capitalize on creative bursts while giving myself a break. So even though visitors might see a new post every day one week, it’s possible that I’ve taken six days off from blogging during that time.
4) Write first, then edit. Writing a new article is like giving birth. Just get the thing out first, and worry about cleaning up the mess afterwards. I often write a very sloppy first draft just to capture all the ideas, then I set it aside for an hour or a day and make another editing pass. I find that writing and editing at the same time is very slow. When I write I want to get all the ideas out of my head. When I edit I improve the structure of those ideas and make them comprehensible.
Lifehacks: Besides writing articles for your blog, what else are you doing during your normal day?
Steve: I work at home, so on a typical day, I get up at 5:00am, get dressed, and exercise (normally running or weight training) for 30-45 minutes. Then I shower, connect with my wife, and have breakfast. At 6:30 I start my workday while my wife handles the kids and takes our daughter to preschool. I spend the morning writing (blog entries, articles, speeches, or my book), and then I check blog comments. At noon I have lunch and feed my son (who’s almost 2). Then I usually work on other projects in the afternoon, like improving the web site, marketing, reading, etc. My son is playing in my office during this time, so it’s harder to do creative work like writing. At 3:30pm I pick up my daughter from preschool (she’s in summer school now), and then from 3:45 until about 5-6pm, I handle my routine tasks like email, checking my stats, processing my inbox, filing, and planning my next day. Then my family and I have dinner together, and my wife and I spend time with the kids and put them to bed. In the evening I’ll read, go to Toastmasters meetings, spend time with my wife, play games, work on personal projects, or sometimes run errands. Yesterday was the 4th of July, so last night we all went to a nearby park with a great view of the Las Vegas Strip and watched the fireworks. I usually go to bed around 10-11pm.
Lifehacks: Would you tell me more about the book you are writing? What sort of topics are you writing?
Steve: The book is called Personal Development for Smart People. This is for people who seek a deep understanding of how they can grow and improve as human beings, not those seeking simplistic solutions to complex problems.
Mainly the book is about how to take conscious control over the different parts of your life in order to improve your results across the board — better health, better relationships, a better career, etc. The chapters are organized conceptually, so each chapter dives deeply into a particular concept and then explains how to apply it to the various parts of your life. I include plenty of personal stories and examples.
For instance, there’s a whole chapter on courage. This is a subject that I feel has been terribly overlooked today, yet it’s essential for personal growth. This chapter explains why courage is so important and how you can build your courage. Fear holds people back far more than they realize, and courage is the antidote. But most people don’t even know it’s possible for them to become braver, nor do they have any idea of how to do so intelligently. What could greater courage do for your relationships, your career, your finances, your self-esteem?
Other topics include perception, self-discipline, focus, motivation, emotions, action, and purpose. Again, these are all high-level concepts, so each chapter begins with something very abstract and drills down to the level of practical application and real-world results.
Most personal development books I’ve read don’t take a conceptual approach. They typically use either a topical or a chronological structure. For example, you might see a book with chapters on health, relationships, career, money, etc. I opted not to write a book like that because I think it’s more important that people understand and master the high-level tools of personal development and learn how to apply them to different areas. I want people to understand why something works and understand the logic behind it, so they’ll have good reason to apply it. It also forces me to explain why I expect a certain approach to work from the top down.
If you understand the concepts, you can take conscious control of your own personal growth. If I teach you a way to make more money, that’s not going to help you directly improve your health or your relationships or your spiritual growth. And someday that method of making money may become obsolete anyway, or it might not even work for you. But if I can show you a way to build your self-discipline, that can benefit you in every area of your life, and the benefits will be permanent.
Lifehacks: In your recent article of “Six months of Goal-mongering”, you have categorized your accomplishments through Physical, Work/Career, Toastmasters/Speaking, Mental/Skill-Building, Social, Financial and Personal/Home. How are those aspects affecting your life? Which one would be the most critical aspect for your success in life? How do you manage all those different tasks together?
Steve: I think all these areas are important. If I put any of them ahead of the others, my life would be out of balance. But since my primary value is growth, you’ll notice that the areas represent different aspects of my own growth, so that’s the guiding force behind them.
I’ve written previously about how I manage these different goals. I maintain a Personal Accountability System to keep myself focused.
And I also use a heavily modified version of David Allen’s Getting Things Done system to manage my goals, projects, and tasks as explained in this article – More on planning.
Lifehacks: What are your future plans on your home page?
Steve: My short-term plans include adding more free content and releasing my book. Long-term I intend to add more books, audio content, and probably some video as well. I’m keeping my long-term plans flexible because as technologies like podcasting and RSS mature, unforeseen opportunities may arise, and I don’t want to be stuck with overly rigid goals. The main goal of the site will remain the same — to be a strong resource for those who want to take conscious control of their lives. But the precise media involved are likely to evolve considerably over the next several years.
Lifehacks: Besides writing your book, do you have other projects coming up on your plate?
Steve: Yes. My book is my primary project, but I have two large secondary projects. The first has been the most visible — building StevePavlina.com’s content and growing it’s traffic. The site is loaded with free content now, and traffic has increased 600% over the past six months, so that’s been going well.
The other significant secondary project is launching myself into professional speaking. I’ve spent over a year just building my skill in this area. I’m also learning the business side of speaking to prepare myself for going pro.
I’m keeping my project options open for after the book is done. If it sells well, I’m likely to develop an audio program based on the same material. But I’ll decide which primary project to tackle next after the book is released and I get feedback from the readers.
Lifehacks: Thanks for your time, Steve. It is my pleasure to interview you. Looking forward to your book and more articles in your blog.
Steve: Thank you, Leon. And keep up with the great work with Lifehack.org!
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