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Interview with Steve Pavlina

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.

Steve Pavlina Photo

    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?

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    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.

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    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.

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    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.

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    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!


    About Steve Pavlina
    Steve Pavlina’s Blog

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    Leon Ho

    Founder of Lifehack

    Book summary: A Technique for Producing Ideas Finding Your Inside Time 10 Ways to Extend Laptop Battery Life Bob Parsons on His 16 Rules for Survival Free note taking templates and techniques

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    Last Updated on March 14, 2019

    7 Questions to Ask in a Job Interview That Will Impress the Interviewer

    7 Questions to Ask in a Job Interview That Will Impress the Interviewer

    Recruiters might hold thousands of interviews in their careers and a lot of them are reporting the same thing—that most candidates play it safe with the questions they ask, or have no questions to ask in a job interview at all.

    For job applicants, this approach is crazy! This is a job that you’re going to dedicate a lot of hours to and that might have a huge impact on your future career. Don’t throw away the chance to figure out if the position is perfect for you.

    Here are 7 killer questions to ask in a job interview that will both impress your counterpart and give you some really useful insights into whether this job will be a dream … or a nightmare.

    1. What are some challenges I might come up against this role?

    A lesser candidate might ask, “what does a typical day look like in this role?” While this is a perfectly reasonable question to ask in an interview, focusing on potential challenges takes you much further because it indicates that you already are visualizing yourself in the role.

    It’s impressive because it shows that you are not afraid of challenges, and you are prepared to strategize a game plan upfront to make sure you succeed if you get the job.

    It can also open up a conversation about how you’ve solved problems in the past which can be a reassuring exercise for both you and the hiring manager.

    How it helps you:

    If you ask the interviewer to describe a typical day, you may get a vibrant picture of all the lovely things you’ll get to do in this job and all the lovely people you’ll get to do them with.

    Asking about potential roadblocks means you hear the other side of the story—dysfunctional teams, internal politics, difficult clients, bootstrap budgets and so on. This can help you decide if you’re up for the challenge or whether, for the sake of your sanity, you should respectfully decline the job offer.

    2. What are the qualities of really successful people in this role?

    Employers don’t want to hire someone who goes through the motions; they want to hire someone who will excel.

    Asking this question shows that you care about success, too. How could they not hire you with a dragon-slayer attitude like that?

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    How it helps you:

    Interviewers hire people who are great people to work with, but the definition of “great people” differs from person to person.

    Does this company hire and promote people with a specific attitude, approach, worth ethic or communication style? Are the most successful people in this role strong extroverts who love to talk and socialize when you are studious and reserved? Does the company reward those who work insane hours when you’re happiest in a more relaxed environment?

    If so, then this may not be the right match for you.

    Whatever the answer is, you can decide whether you have what it takes for the manager to be happy with your performance in this role. And if the interviewer has no idea what success looks like for this position, this is a sign to proceed with extreme caution.

    3. From the research I did on your company, I noticed the culture really supports XYZ. Can you tell me more about that element of the culture and how it impacts this job role?

    Of course, you could just ask “what is the culture like here? ” but then you would miss a great opportunity to show that you’ve done your research!

    Interviewers give BIG bonus point to those who read up and pay attention, and you’ve just pointed out that (a) you’re diligent in your research (b) you care about the company culture and (c) you’re committed to finding a great cultural fit.

    How it helps you:

    This question is so useful because it lets you pick an element of the culture that you really care about and that will have the most impact on whether you are happy with the organization.

    For example, if training and development is important to you, then you need to know what’s on offer so you don’t end up in a dead-end job with no learning opportunities.

    Companies often talk a good talk, and their press releases may be full of shiny CSR initiatives and all the headline-grabbing diversity programs they’re putting in place. This is your opportunity to look under the hood and see if the company lives its values on the ground.

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    A company that says it is committed to doing the right thing by customers should not judge success by the number of up-sells an employee makes, for instance. Look for consistency, so you aren’t in for a culture shock after you start.

    4. What is the promotion path for this role, and how would my performance on that path be measured?

    To be clear, you are not asking when you will get promoted. Don’t go there—it’s presumptuous, and it indicates that you think you are better than the role you have applied for.

    A career-minded candidate, on the other hand, usually has a plan that she’s working towards. This question shows you have a great drive toward growth and advancement and an intention to stick with the company beyond your current state.

    How it helps you:

    One word: hierarchy.

    All organizations have levels of work and authority—executives, upper managers, line managers, the workforce, and so on. Understanding the hierarchical structure gives you power, because you can decide if you can work within it and are capable of climbing through its ranks, or whether it will be endlessly frustrating to you.

    In a traditional pyramid hierarchy, for example, the people at the bottom tend to have very little autonomy to make decisions. This gets better as you rise up through the pyramid, but even middle managers have little power to create policy; they are more concerned with enforcing the rules the top leaders make.

    If having a high degree of autonomy and accountability is important to you, you may do better in a flat hierarchy where work teams can design their own way of achieving the corporate goals.

    5. What’s the most important thing the successful candidate could accomplish in their first 3 months/6 months/year?

    Of all the questions to ask in a job interview, this one is impressive because it shows that you identify with and want to be a successful performer, and not just an average one.

    Here, you’re drilling down into what the company needs, and needs quite urgently, proving that you’re all about adding value to the organization and not just about what’s in it for you.

    How it helps you:

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    Most job descriptions come with 8, 10 or 12 different job responsibilities and a lot of them with be boilerplate or responsibilities that someone in HR thinks are associated with this role. This question gives you a better sense of which responsibilities are the most important—and they may not be what initially attracted you to the role.

    If you like the idea of training juniors, for example, but success is judged purely on your sales figures, then is this really the job you thought you were applying for?

    This question will also give you an idea of what kind of learning curve you’re expected to have and whether you’ll get any ramp-up time before getting down to business. If you’re the type of person who likes to jump right in and get things done, for instance, you may not be thrilled to hear that you’re going to spend the first three months shadowing a peer.

    6. What do you like about working here?

    This simple question is all about building rapport with the interviewer. People like to talk about themselves, and the interviewer will be flattered that you’re interested in her opinions.

    Hopefully, you’ll find some great connection points that the two of you share. What similar things drive you head into the office each day? How will you fit into the culture?

    How it helps you:

    You can learn a lot from this question. Someone who genuinely enjoys his job will be able to list several things they like, and their answers will sound passionate and sincere. If not….well, you might consider that a red flag.

    Since you potentially can learn a lot about the company culture from this question, it’s a good idea to figure out upfront what’s important to you. Maybe you’re looking for a hands-off boss who values independent thought and creativity? Maybe you work better in environments that move at a rapid, exciting pace?

    Whatever’s important to you, listen carefully and see if you can find any common ground.

    7. Based on this interview, do you have any questions or concerns about my qualifications for the role?

    What a great closing question to ask in a job interview! It shows that you’re not afraid of feedback—in fact, you are inviting it. Not being able to take criticism is a red flag for employers, who need to know that you’ll act on any “coaching moments” with a good heart.

    As a bonus, asking this question shows that you are really interested in the position and wish to clear up anything that may be holding the company back from hiring you.

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    How it helps you:

    What a devious beast this question is! On the surface, it looks straightforward, but it’s actually giving you four key pieces of information.

    First, is the manager capable of giving you feedback when put on the spot like this? Some managers are scared of giving feedback, or don’t think it’s important enough to bother outside of a formal performance appraisal. Do you want to work for a boss like that? How will you improve if no one is telling you what you did wrong?

    Second, can the manager give feedback in a constructive way without being too pillowy or too confrontational? It’s unfair to expect the interviewer to have figured out your preferred way of receiving feedback in the space of an interview, but if she come back with a machine-gun fire of shortcomings or one of those corporate feedback “sandwiches” (the doozy slipped between two slices of compliment), then you need to ask yourself, can you work with someone who gives feedback like that?

    Third, you get to learn the things the hiring manager is concerned about before you leave the interview. This gives you the chance to make a final, tailored sales pitch so you can convince the interviewer that she should not be worried about those things.

    Fourth, you get to learn the things the hiring manager is concerned about period. If turnover is keeping him up at night, then your frequent job hopping might get a lot of additional scrutiny. If he’s facing some issues with conflict or communication, then he might raise concerns regarding your performance in this area.

    Listen carefully: the concerns that are being raised about you might actually be a proxy for problems in the wider organization.

    Making Your Interview Work for You

    Interviews are a two-way street. While it is important to differentiate yourself from every other candidate, understand that convincing the interviewer you’re the right person for the role goes hand-in-hand with figuring out if the job is the right fit for you.

    Would you feel happy in a work environment where the people, priorities, culture and management style were completely at odds with the way you work? Didn’t think so!

    More Resources About Job Interviews

    Featured photo credit: Amy Hirschi via unsplash.com

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