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Pieter Levels, of “12 startups in 12 months” fame, is most well-known for his 4th startup, Nomad List. That’s not to say that his other projects have gone south, though – far from it.

How does Pieter do it? The method he uses to push out product after product seems simple on the surface: build a minimum viable product to test a hypothesis, and see if it can achieve market fit in a month.

Behind the scenes, though, the pace of work is intense. “If I build a new feature or startup I do need 12 hour straight sessions for like 10 days. And then after I’ll take time off to relax,” he explains.

Yet, as you’ll see below, when it comes to his toolset Pieter prefers to be as minimalistic as possible:

“It’s on purpose, I’ve cut out a lot of stuff to just make me be as efficient as possible with the least amount of time. Adding more tools and software only increases complexity and that costs time.”

Fair enough. Let’s take a peek into his lean working setup.

Daily workflow

“I get in around 9:30, and usually zone out for an hour in front of my computer, but it looks like I’m working. I then zone out for another hour after lunch too. In fact, in a given day, I’d say I do fifteen minutes, of real, actual work.”

I did a double take when I read this – that didn’t sound quite right. Turns out, Pieter was just joking. Got me for a moment there!

Still, by his own admission, Pieter keeps a rather strange schedule. He usually heads to bed at around 4am in the morning, and wakes up in the afternoon. It gets weirder:

“I scream out my girlfriend’s name as she wakes up before me, and then she comes and wakes me up. Then I shower, I make coffee (with my AeroPress, I love my AeroPress). I add some milk. I don’t like breakfast, so I usually skip that for the first hour.”

Not exactly the routine you’d expect from an entrepreneur with multiple successful ventures under his belt. Somehow, it just works for him.

On to the work day. At his work table, Pieter usually starts off by perusing his huge A3-sized to-do list, which contains an equally massive checklist of tasks that he has already completed, and those that he needs to.

Seeing the history of tasks that have been struck off the list gives Pieter the motivation he needs to get going. “I kinda get an idea of what I wanna do that day, which is usually like three tasks at least,” he says.

How Nomad List maker Pieter Levels works

The next 4 hours are spent going through any notifications that he might have received overnight, doing some light work, and playing GTA V. After that, the real work begins in earnest:

“The real work can be from 4 hours long to 12 hours straight sessions. Mostly it’s short sessions and the rest of the day will be filled with small errands, like tiny bug fixes.”

12 hour work sessions might seem over-the-top, and Pieter is well aware that he can get obsessive when working on a project. He knows, however, that he can’t get something big done on his own without obsessively focusing on it for long stretches of time.

Pieter’s method certainly goes against the recommendations of productivity wisdom that we so often read.

Outside of these stretches of work, though, Pieter balances it out with “fun stuff.” “Work is spread out through the day mixed with doing fun stuff with my girlfriend like going for walks wherever we are, getting groceries, cooking dinner, making coffee, and so on. And I like it like that,” he says.

To him, work and life are simply one and the same:

“I don’t like work just stopping at a certain time. I love what I do so for me it’s not so much work but just my passion. And being able to mix that every day with seeing my girlfriend and friends, why not?”

The tools he uses

How Nomad List maker Pieter Levels works

As a maker, Pieter typically goes through the entire process of building, launching, and growing his startups, which makes his small toolbox all the more impressive. Here are the products and services that he uses.

For communicating with friends, family, and employees, he prefers Telegram over the myriad of messenger choices out there. There are three benefits that inform his choice: “it is light-weight, works on all platforms, and is lightning fast.

How Nomad List maker Pieter Levels works

When writing code, blog posts, and pretty much anything text-based, Pieter goes with Sublime Text 3 simply because it’s the industry standard for coders. According to him, most of the older developers use Vim, but ST3 for “is faster, intuitive, and modern.”

On the design-end, he goes with the widely-used choice: Photoshop. “I make screenshots, edit them, post them to Twitter, and do small design work in there,” he says.

Of all the products Pieter uses, his favorite seems to be task automation service Zapier. He uses it for getting certain tasks done quickly and efficiently, such as auto posting new questions from Nomad Forum into the #nomads Slack chat group, and doing his accounts.

Pro tip: Pieter uses a Zap in Zapier that automatically checks his email for invoices, and puts them into Dropbox with the right data. That way, he can easily enter them into his bookkeeping and accounting system.

Interestingly, Pieter opts to use Terminal on his MacBook to get things done, rather than clicking around in Finder:

“Stuff goes so much faster […] Also, there’s loads of apps for Linux that work on OSX, like NCDU which shows where your hard disk space goes for example.”

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From the moment we’re born, we begin to make choices and determine our priorities.

At first, it’s relatively simple. As a baby, most of my life decisions are made by my parents – otherwise, my priorities are determined by my biological needs. So I eat when I’m hungry, sleep when I’m tired, and so on. Life’s pretty dandy.

When we transit to primary school, we move out from under the protective wings of our parents and into the vast world of shiny and loud things that demand our attention. While previously we trusted wholly in the direction our parents gave, now we have friends who whisper in our ears, media that tells you what’s what in the world, and personal interactions with life outside the four walls of our homes.

Our priorities begin to shift. They spawn beyond simple biological needs. Now I need to prove my worth to others (and myself, though it’ll be a while before I admit it). I need to capture the attention of people I admire. At this stage, my priorities are relatively selfish. I want to be the best so people will acknowledge and befriend me, and so that I’ll have a bright future ahead of me. Nothing else really matters.

In no time at all, school is over. Out into the working world – the real world, as many would put it. Then comes the realization that being an adult is tough. I could afford to be selfish while I was younger only because my parents bore the brunt of everyday problems. Their priority was me.

Then I start to notice how old they’ve become. How, one day, they’ll need me to take care of them instead. How they need (and deserve) to be my priority.

Then my childhood friends begin disappearing, seemingly by magic. Adult life consumed them as well, one priority at a time.

The friends that are left come and go, by chance or by season. But never again will they be a priority.

Then I fall in love. Head over heels. She’s the bright light in my life that I never want to see go off. She becomes family, together with her family, and family is now a priority.

The problem now is that the well-paying job I worked so hard my entire life to achieve is getting in the way of that priority. Work will always be a priority, because it offers meaning and purpose and money and providence. But never above family.

Then I realize that work can never offer enough meaning to life as I want it to. Work is a man-made construct after all, with all the limits that human beings have. God’s Word is the logical place to turn to. What once were simply facts and truths, become life itself. In God I find ultimate meaning to life. He becomes priority uno numero.

And then age sets in. Pains, ailments, sores – the physical body starts to break down as it is meant to. And without a healthy body, I cannot provide for my family nor pursue the purpose I have in life. I start to watch my diet, execise when I can. Health is a pre-requisite to performance, and is a foundation I need to maintain for as long as I can.

I’ve reached an age where I’ve done some stuff, experienced some of the good and bad things in life, and start to understand the limits that life has.

I’ve come to a realization that there’s no such thing as “having it all.” It’s a myth, something young people tell themselves to justify whatever they have in actuality given up.

Life is about priorities.

Ever since leaving Tech in Asia, I’ve thought long and hard about priorities. I’ve always chased after what I consider to be a dream career. Simply by virtue of taking up so much of my waking hours, I had deemed it to be my number one priority.

Now, I see that there are more important things in life. Yes, work is necessary for survival, and can be a key source of satisfaction. But it is nothing if there isn’t anyone around to share it with. It becomes a temporary blip in an otherwise meaningless life.

There’s gotta be a greater narrative tying everything together.

And as cheesy as it sounds, to me that’s love. To love my family. To love the people I work with and serve through my work. To love my body so it doesn’t give up on me prematurely. To love the earth by exploring and appreciating its sights and wonders. And loving God, the source of all these wonderful things.

What’s important to you in life? Focus on these even when everything on the periphery falls away. You won’t regret it.

Thanks to James Clear for The Four Burners Theory, from which I gained inspiration.

I find it curious how people tend to focus on the “content” in “content marketing” a whole lot more than the latter word.

And the word “content” always seems to be associated with frivolity. It instantly brings to mind spammy listicles and fun blog posts that we love to read, but just aren’t very serious or work-like. Stuff that attracts eyeballs, you know, but are only vaguely connected to the bottom-line.

content marketing business
“Yeah, that doesn’t sound very business-y to me, mate.”

This is especially so in Asian companies, which tend to be very focused on dollar signs. I’ve met clients who expect to see “some results” within a week of launching their blog. After all, companies like Buffer and Crew have managed to throw some articles up and receive a whole lot of referral traffic in return. Why can’t we?

This Isn’t Content Marketing

But I’m getting ahead of myself. First, let’s establish that content has always been a part of marketing. TV advertisements are made up of words and visuals, which are “content.” Pamphlets are made up of words and visuals, which are “content.” Facebook posts are made up of words and visuals, which are “content.”

You get the idea.

When we refer to “content marketing,” though, there is something specific we have in mind. We think about virality. We think Buzzfeed. We think, put some memes and GIFs and lists together and we’ve got an award-winning blog post on our hands. We’ve got all the traffic we need to sell to for the rest of our days. Time to book that flight to the Maldives.

And yes, you might have a real winner right there that sends everyone on a sharing frenzy. But not for long. Here’s what your graph will probably end up looking like:

evergreen content

The solution? Why, create more “content,” of course! Keep those spikes going on and on forever!

Sadly, that’s not going to happen. Buzzsumo’s analysis of 1 million articles says all:

  • 50% of randomly selected posts received 8 shares or less
  • 75% of these posts received 39 shares or less
  • 75% of these posts achieved zero referring domain links

That spike there? An anomaly. A blip. Might not ever happen again.

That’s not content marketing. That’s generic junk. That’s the stuff that content farms rear and hawk on a dark and gloomy Monday evening, when you feel just about depressed enough to try anything.

What Content Marketing Is

Far from just being excellent writers, the best content marketers are masters of the funnel (I hate that word, but it’s a good way to track results nonetheless). They create both content and processes tailored to bring visitors through from brand awareness to becoming loyal users.

That’s because content marketing isn’t about that one-hit wonder. It’s all about the long-game, as Morgan Freeman says in Now You See Me 2.

Content marketing is brand marketing. When you write guest posts or get quoted and featured on publications sharing domain knowledge, readers will (slowly) begin to see you and your company as leaders in that particular space.

You develop a content brand.

That’s how Buffer became synonymous with social media. That’s why Airbnb and Uber are always uttered in the same breath as the sharing economy.

Jay Acunzo puts it superbly:

“Content marketing is just solving the same customer problems as your product but through media you create and distribute.”

Your product, Jay elaborates, solves problems for your customers. You know it’s doing just that when money starts rolling in.

The same goes for your content. When your article series helps readers to know more about insurance, they’ll remember your brand name when they’re thinking about buying some.

Content marketing is email marketing. What’s the point of asking readers to subscribe to your newsletter when you’re just going to send them weekly updates (not that there’s anything wrong with that, but you can do more than that)?

Enter drip campaigns. Enter curated collections. Your readers subscribed because they loved that particular article or ebook they just read. Give them more, give them the best, satisfy them! And just as your content solves their problems again and again, show them how your product can solve their problems, too.

That’s where the bottom-line comes in, businessman.

I Could Go On And On…

But I’ve made my point. Content marketing isn’t “just content.”

It’s about finding out who your audience—potential customers—wants to become, and empowering them to be just that, while at the same time capturing and holding their attention in a media-saturated world.

It’s about building your brand narrative around that—becoming the champion for your audience—and in so doing so, creating a loyal community that pushes on ahead of you.

Content marketing IS marketing.

Images from FlickrPexelsBuffer

journalism

It’s been a roller-coaster year of sorts for me since graduation midway last year. Since then, I’ve undergone 4 (full-time) job changes within a window of 11 months. Yes, that averages to about a new job every 2.75 months – I am the very epitome of the millennial’s struggle to find purpose, passion, and autonomy in the economy today.

Thankfully, I’ve been blessed with a slew of clients in my freelance writing career in the meantime that keep me afloat.

I have learnt a lot in these tumultuous months, though. I have seen the best and worst of people in the tech and marketing industries, but have emerged on the other side relatively unscathed, though perhaps with a stronger sense of skepticism. Still, there’s nothing like first-hand experience that will force you to grow up in a hurry – and that is exactly what I had to do, grow up.

Making the move into journalism with Tech in Asia will be a whole new challenge for me, and perhaps that’s exactly what I was looking for. I had previously dived head-first into the deep end of the marketing pool in 2013, specializing (maybe prematurely) in content marketing and subsequently taking up role after role, client after client. It’s been an eye-opener, and I certainly still strongly believe in the power of content marketing.

Writing for the news will be a whole new ballgame, I suspect, and  as of today I have already experienced a week of adjustment.

This is not to say that I will be offloading my current clients and assignments. Writing will always be my passion, and I will most definitely continue engaging in other forms of writing alongside news writing moving forward. And, after a process of elimination, I have successfully curated an amazing group of clients that I absolutely love to write for. It is safe to say that I will not be giving them up in the near future.

More importantly, for those who are desperately looking for the right job that they can call their own, don’t be afraid to jump in and test the waters. Sure, you might feel the water is too cold after a while, but don’t feel pressurized to hold out against your better judgment. Find warmer waters. Find purpose, passion, and autonomy wherever they may be – yes, they are out there somewhere.

As for me, I’m currently treading new waters. Let’s see where time and tide takes me to.

(Featured image credit: http://kevin.lexblog.com/)

Fear is perhaps one of the greatest common denominators among people today. Everyone is afraid of something. From the smallest ant to the biggest retrenchment, it is a universal feeling that no one can deny.

The worst part is that fear, if allowed to fester, can be incredibly crippling. A man with the potential to be a great person can be reduced to a whimpering pile of mess. It is very much akin to clipping the wings of an eagle off, which is tragic. The eagle was meant to soar high in the bright skies, where the limits are boundless. In the same way, us humans have incredible, untapped potential within each and every one of us. We are all made unique, with a special combination of abilities that set us apart from each other, which, if harnessed, can be used to do great things.

So why are great people rising up in such small numbers? The answer: Fear. We’ve been convinced that risk is not worth taking. It’s been whispered in our ears that it’s not worth it, that we should stick to the tried-and-tested. It’s been insinuated that sticking to the conventions are the best, because they are proven and secure. We’ve been bribed with huge future returns… If we stay on this one path of life. You know the path: Good school to good job to good income = Good life.

Yet, how many working people today would actually dare to say that they are living out their dreams daily, that they are pursuing their passions and using their abilities to the fullest, that they are actually happy?

Fear has kept us on the road more taken. The road not taken, as it is, is covered in moss and undergrowth, and seems to be a scary place to tread. However, all it takes is for someone to sweep the moss and undergrowth off the road at the beginning, and voila! the road is as clear as day. All it takes is a step in the right direction, and you’re on your way.

I find that fear is not necessarily a bad thing. If you fear something, you know for sure that if you actually overcome it, you have grown as a person. Overcoming fear leads to growth. Rising up to the challenge in the first place, however, takes courage. The road is not easy, I can tell you that — but the returns are great.

Life is too short to be hindered by fear. Don’t pass up the potential that you have because of a moment of anxiety. Do something that you are afraid of today — or at least, take baby steps in that direction, but nevertheless, take steps. I first took the step to publish my rather unpolished writing 3 years ago and never looked back. If you love writing but are afraid of criticism, start a blog now. If you love photography but don’t dare to take photographs in public, take one photo a day for a year — that’s 365 photographs for your portfolio.

And I guarantee you this: It will all be worth it.

I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

– Robert Frost

This post first appeared (mostly) on Fever Avenue: Fear is Overrated, and re-posted on Medium.