Work Daily: How Nomad List maker Pieter Levels works

How Nomad List maker Pieter Levels works

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.”

Want to be featured on Work Daily, or have someone in mind who you would love to read about? Drop me a message here.


If you have any comments or feedback on this article, feel free to reach me on LinkedIn.

Like what you read? Get my latest posts sent to your inbox by adding your email below.