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SPI 745: How to Have Your Most Productive Year with Ali Abdaal

We have productivity all wrong! Discipline and grit are vital, sure. But here’s the thing—no one procrastinates on watching Netflix or doing other fun activities. It’s no secret that we’re more likely to do the things that feel good. So, how do we apply this concept to growing a business? How do we make our work feel great?

We’re ending the year with an incredible session that will answer these questions and energize you on your path to success in 2024!

My special guest, Ali Abdaal, is the world’s most-followed productivity expert. He’s been on the show in episode 503, where we heard all about his journey from med school to content creation and passive income mastery. Ali’s still growing, having now amassed five million YouTube subscribers, and is here to share everything about his first book, Feel Good Productivity.

This episode will shift your mindset around boring or repetitive tasks that drain your willpower. Armed with Ali’s tools and tricks, you’ll have fun at work while performing at the ultimate level. Not only that, Ali and I also discuss his process for creating viral YouTube videos that reach and impact millions!

Don’t miss out on this incredible chat. Listen in, and enjoy!

Today’s Guest

Ali Abdaal

Ali Abdaal is a doctor, entrepreneur, amateur magician, and the world’s most-followed productivity expert.

He became intrigued by the science of productivity while juggling the demands of medical training at Cambridge University and building his business on the side. While working as a doctor in the UK’s National Health Service, Ali started to document his journey towards living a healthier, happier, more productive life on his YouTube channel and other social media platforms. To date, Ali’s evidence-based videos, podcasts, and articles sharing insights into the human mind have reached hundreds of millions of people all around the world.

In 2021, Ali took a break from his medical practice to focus full-time on his work popularising the science of human flourishing and high performance. In this book, he reveals everything he has learned from a decade of studying the secrets of feeling better and achieving more.

You’ll Learn


SPI 745: How to Have Your Most Productive Year with Ali Abdaal

Ali Abdaal: It seems like we kind of have productivity wrong. We think that productivity and getting a lot done is about hustle. It’s about grind. It’s about discipline. It’s about grit. And all of those things are important in some way. But, fundamentally, we as humans do the things that we feel like doing.

No one ever struggles with procrastination watching Netflix, because it’s fun. It feels good. And if the thing feels good, we’re so much more likely to actually do it. You never need to be like, Oh, yeah. I’ve gotta really discipline myself to, you know, watch that TV show or play that video game.

So how can we take that idea and apply it to our work? How do we make our work feel good so that it energizes us?

Pat Flynn: How would you like to have the most productive year ever? I think we all want that, right? And how do we do things better? How do we optimize what we have going on? And how do we make sure we don’t burn out while doing all that, right?

Solving this problem, this puzzle of productivity has become a problem that has persisted for centuries.. But, anyway, I’m really happy to invite my good friend Ali Abdaal, a very massive YouTuber who is the leading World’s expert or the world’s leading expert on productivity, the most subscribed to expert, if you will, who focuses specific one on productivity.

And he’s got a brand new book that just came out here, the end of 2023 is it’s the perfect book, in fact, for 2024 and beyond or whenever you’re listening to this because I feel like he solved the problem. He solved the problem of how do we actually feel good while being productive. And we talk about those principles today. We talk about three P’s that you need to learn about. And then selfishly, and I know for many of you as well, I ask questions about his process for YouTube and some of the things that he’s doing to make sure he stands out, but also still remaining an expert amongst a lot of the competitors that are coming out and coming for him and literally copying him.

So we talked about a lot of those things, but Ali’s been on the show before. He’s incredible. We’ll link to those episodes from prior episodes so that you can hear a little bit more about his background. But today, we just dive right in. So here he is Ali Abdaal. The final episode of 2023, and this is session 745.

Hope you enjoy. Here he is.

Announcer: You’re listening to the Smart Passive Income Podcast, a proud member of the Entrepreneur Podcast Network, a show that’s all about working hard now, so you can sit back and reap the benefits later. And now your host, one thing he knows he needs to get better at is regularly sharpening his kitchen knives. Pat Flynn.

Pat Flynn: Ali, welcome back to the SPI podcast, man. Thanks for being here.

Ali Abdaal: Thank you so much for having me. This is, like, super surreal because, like, I remember when I was I I did a binge through, like, literally dozens and dozens of your episodes around 2019, and I think that’s when Superfans came out. And you would always do, like, the little plugs for Superfans. I’m like, hey. If you order, you get the free audiobook and stuff. And I was always like, oh, one day when I write a book, it would be the dream to go on Smart Passive Income because I’ve just learned so much from your podcast over the years. So, thank you.

Pat Flynn: And now you have a book that has just come out at the time that people are listening to this.

Congratulations. What was, in one sentence, what was the book writing process like for you?

Ali Abdaal: In one sentence, it was like a marathon where every step involves overcoming some sort of limiting belief and imposter syndrome deep down.

Pat Flynn: That sounds like a crazy battle.

What were some of the more more challenging parts of the book writing process for you.

Ali Abdaal: Yeah. I started working on the book when I was twenty six. And, you know, the publisher approached me saying, do you wanna write a book about productivity? And initially, I was like, alright.

Cool. I’ll just, like, repurpose some of my online courses and stuff. And I got started with the process, and I realized writing a book is a way more involved process than just repurposing some videos. And then I started getting all the stuff around, like, what do I know about productivity? Like, I’m not Elon Musk.

Like, why would anyone listen to me? Why does anyone care? And our mutual friend, Azul, who you introduced me to very kindly back in the like, three years ago now, a lot of working with him, he’s a he’s a writing coach, was around overcoming the emotional barriers to doing something like this. Mhmm. And I think there is a there’s a lot of analogies with like, I I speak to so many kind of creators who wanna start out making YouTube videos or starting a blog running a business.

And it’s all the same emotional hurdles. Like, why would anyone care what I have to say? Are people gonna laugh at me and that I have the audacity to do this thing? And what Azul, our writing coach, was saying is that most of what being a writer is and what being a creative is is overcoming these emotional hurdles.

Pat Flynn: Yeah. I mean, definitely, and credit to Azul. He helped me on my writing journey. I’m just so happy to see that he’s helped you as well. So shout out to you, Azul, if you wanna check him and and his partner Steve out. But it’s out now.

How does it feel? I mean, you are so prominent a video creator. What was it like working in this medium and now to see your work out there in the world?

Ali Abdaal: Honestly, it was really scary. Like, books have this kind of cultural prestige attached to them.

And so the thought of writing a book like, some people say that, oh, a book is just a string of blog posts. It’s like, okay. But putting a blog post on the Internet is very different to putting a book out there on Amazon and in stores where you can open yourself up to negative reviews and things. And so, like, seeing, like, the the kind of the physical copy and Seeing it all come together is very, very surreal. But also, like, I think what’s interesting about it so, You know, you and I make a lot of YouTube videos.

And when you make YouTube videos, you see immediately what the process of going from a raw product to a final cut looks like. Like, whenever I’m recording a video, even though I’ve been doing it for nearly seven years now, I still like and ah, and I make so many mistakes along the way. And I record for an hour, And I’m like, oh, this is terrible. And then it goes off to our editing team because we now have editors, which is great. And then they polish it up and they cut out all of the mistakes, And then it becomes this finished product where I watch it afterwards, and I’m like, oh, this is actually not bad.

This is actually pretty good. And I’d never experienced that process before and with books. Because when I submitted the first draft, I was like, this is awful. No one’s gonna read it. Why is it so bad?

But through that dozens and dozens of layers of editing, I now see the the polished final product. And so that makes me really appreciate that, oh, wow. Back in the day when I was comparing my first draft with, for example, your final draft, and I was feeling, oh my god. Pat’s such a good writer. I can’t compete with this.

There’s no I’m not I’m trying to compete. I was just like I I couldn’t see the gap between here and there. But now seeing the layers of editing, I’m like, oh, so so much happens in in editing. And that takes the pressure of future books and future things that I write because I’m like, I can just write a crappy first draft, then the editors will sort it out, and then we’ll just delete all the bad stuff.

Pat Flynn: Yeah. For sure. And I think that speaks to just this idea that we often compare our first draft is somebody else’s final draft, whether we’re creating YouTube videos or blog posts or podcasts, whatever it might be. So I think that’s a great lesson for sure. What does it mean to have Feel Good Productivity? What what’s the premise behind the title of this, and what’s it all about?

Ali Abdaal: Feel Good Productivity, like, when when the publisher said, do you wanna write a book about productivity? I was like, yeah. Sure. And they kind of asked this question of, like, what’s been your one secret?

Because, you know, for for context, for people that are not familiar with my story, I went to Cambridge Medical School. I trained as a doctor. And then while working full time as a doctor, I grew my YouTube channel and my business, thanks to Smart Passive Income. And then we ended up being sort of multi multi seven figure business. And people kept on asking, like, how how did you have the time and the energy to do all of this stuff while you were working full time?

And if I had to drill it down to one thing, it was that I always found a way to make my work feel feel good, feel enjoyable, feel fun, feel meaningful, feel fulfilling, all of that all of that stuff. And initially, I didn’t think you could write a book about how how to make work feel good because it’s like surely everyone knows that. But then after I started diving into the research and reading every other book on the market, it seems like we kind of have productivity wrong. We think that productivity and doing thing and, you know, getting a lot done is about hustle. It’s about grind. It’s about discipline. It’s about grit. And all of those things are important in some way. But, fundamentally, we as humans do the things that we feel like doing. No one ever struggles with procrastination watching Netflix.

No one ever struggles with procrastination playing Pokemon Go because it’s fun. It feels good. And if the thing feels good, we’re so much more likely to actually do it. You never need to be like, oh, yeah. I’ve gotta really discipline myself to, you know, watch that TV show or play that video game.

So how can we take that idea and apply it to our work? How do we make our work feel good so that it energizes us? And there’s so much evidence that shows that when work feels good and when it’s fun, and we can certainly talk about some kind of practical ways to make it do so. When work is fun, when we feel positive emotions, it makes us more productive. It makes us more creative.

It makes us less stressed, And it gives us more energy to apply to our work, but also to apply to the other important areas of our life. And so that’s a very long winded way of saying that the title feel good productivity is is the destination, but also the journey. Like, we all want productivity that feels good. That’s the goal. But, actually, the way to get there is to try and make whatever you’re doing feel good in the moment.

We all have to do things we don’t wanna do sometimes, but there is always a way to make it a little bit more fun, a little bit more enjoyable. And that’s really been the secret to my productivity and what I’m hoping to kind of teach people how to do in the book.

Pat Flynn: So it’s not just let’s remove all the extra stuff in our life that we don’t like doing and only focus on the things that are already enjoyable. But, actually, we can take the things that we might have to do or even forced to do and restructure them or do something with them so that we actually have some joy in that. How does one actually make that happen?

Ali Abdaal: Yeah. So I think that’s a really good point. Like, I’m not saying just stop doing all the stuff that you don’t wanna do because most of us are not in that position. If you’re like a serial entrepreneur and you have your eight personal assistants and your whole team, then you can, in fact, just offload everything that you hate, and that is a very good strategy. Once you’re already a millionaire, basically. But for everyone who’s not there yet and, you know, even you and me, for example, you know, we have big successful businesses.

We still still have to do stuff that we don’t like doing sometimes, like filing taxes and talking to the the lawyer and the accountant and all that kind of stuff. The worst. All yeah. All of that all of that fun stuff. So the goal is how do we find a way to make everything that we’re doing feel a little bit better?

Now in terms of practical advice here, there’s, like, three things, three P’s that are the secret, and those are the first three chapters of the book. Play, power, and people. So which of those sounds interesting? And we can just sort of dive in and and riff on those. Play, power, and people.

Pat Flynn: So play. What’s what’s in the play section?

Ali Abdaal: Yeah. So play play is interesting because, essentially, you know, you’ve heard that thing of if you can make work feel like play, then you’ll never have to work a day in your life. And people, you know, sometimes scoff at that as a bit cliche.

How can work really feel like play? But in doing research for the book, there were so many stories that I found of entrepreneurs and really successful athletes and Nobel Prize winning scientists who, when asked in interviews about how they got to where they are, they land on this idea of play. You know, like Richard Feynman was, you know, Nobel Prize winning physicist, and he was burned out after working on the Manhattan Project and everything like that World War two, and his wife had died. And he was in a in a really bad place, and he just lost the joy of physics. And one day, he saw in the Cornell University cafeteria, some student was chucking a plate up in the air, and he noticed that the Cornell logo on the plate was, like, wobbling at a different rate than the the the rest of the plate.

And he was like, Why Why is that logo wobbling at a different rate than the rest of the plate? And initially, he was like well, you know, it doesn’t matter. And then he kinda remembered that the reason he got into physics. The reason he became a professor, the reason he helped build the atomic bomb was because he found physics fun. He found it enjoyable.

And so he said, you know what? I’m just gonna play around. I’m just gonna I’m just gonna write some equations that model the spinning of this plate. And those equations led to, like, some theory that ended up helping him win the Nobel Prize. And there have been loads of other Nobel Prize winners that fundamentally arrive at this idea that if you can find a way to approach your work in the spirit of play, it becomes way more enjoyable, way more energizing, and you’re also way more productive.

There’s sort of three ways to do this, and we can we can kinda talk about them just to be a bit more specific. So, essentially, play happens. If we think of, like, what are the things that that feel like play, it happens when you’re fully engaged in something, but where the stakes are low enough. So let’s take the stakes point for a minute. People sometimes ask, okay, how do you make work feel like play?

A really big way to do that is to just lower the perceived importance of your work in your own mind. Lower the seriousness. We all have a tendency to take all of our work just way too seriously. And there’s an amazing phrase from the philosopher, Alan Watts, that says, don’t be serious about your work. Be sincere.

Now we’ve all played video games with people who take it too seriously. It’s just kinda boring. It’s just like, it’s a bit of a drag, bit of a drain. But it’s also not fun playing a video game or playing a board game with someone who’s who doesn’t take it seriously at all. If they’re just like whatever.

It’s just a game. Who cares? They’re like, that’s that’s not fun either. What you want is someone who plays sincerely. You want them to be really, really, you know, really put their effort into it, but also to recognize at the end of the day that it’s just a game that we’re playing.

For me, whenever I find them getting too stressed out by my work or too frantic or overwhelmed or anything, I try and remind myself to dial down the seriousness, and that helps lower the stakes. So, like, for example, when Roger Federer is playing the Wimbledon tennis final, he is not approaching that in the spirit of play. The stakes are just too high, especially when he’s the defending champion. And it’s too easy to approach a work with that sort of sense. So lowering the seriousness is a great way to help play you know, help create the conditions for play to flourish.

Pat Flynn: Can you speak to the aspiring YouTuber out there listening to this right now who hears that, but then goes, well, my videos have to be perfect, and I have to take this seriously or in order to make it work. How do you play still?

Ali Abdaal: Yeah. So this was a big a big part of how I was able to stay consistent with videos for, like, two years before my channel really took off, which was that I would try my best to think I I had a little Post it note on my computer monitor, which sounds a bit cringe, but I I still have that to this day on my desk.

Pat Flynn: Oh, I have a ton around me.

Don’t worry about it.

Ali Abdaal: Oh, nice. So my one says, what would this look like if it were fun? What what would this look like if it were fun? And, you know, when it came to video editing, I remember back in the day, I was working full time.

I’d get home from work at, like, seven PM, And I’d have three hours until ten PM when I’d have to sleep to wake up the next day for for the for the day job. And in those three hours, I found a way to make video editing fun. So the ways that I would do that, for example, I really enjoy the Lord of the Rings soundtrack. And so I would I would use concerning hobbits from Lord of the Rings as the background music for my YouTube videos. And only at the end when the video was finished would I swap it out for some royalty free thing because I didn’t wanna get a copyright strike.

But all the way through while I’m editing my video, I’ve got This really nice tune from the Shire with, like, Frodo and Bilbo and Sam playing in the background, and it makes it feel more whimsical. It makes it feel more fun. I was also trying to find ways to like, every video, I was thinking, okay. What’s a cool thing I can do in this video? What’s a way I can experiment with a transition or experiment with new sound effects or experiment with some kind of new title title format.

And that made it fun because, generally, things are fun. Things feel playful when we feel as if we’re making progress, and you can find a way to do that when editing videos as well. I think the other the other main thing for this is, like, a lot of the seriousness comes from yeah. Just think thinking that our work is is so important and thinking thinking that people are gonna care. But one of the big big unlocks, I think, for a lot of creatives I’ve spoken to is that, basically, no one cares.

Like, there’s so many people are held held back by starting a YouTube channel or starting a blog. I certainly was by the fear that my friends and family will judge me. Like, what are people at work gonna say? It’s like, no one cares. Everyone’s got their own life.

You know, people are fundamentally selfish. They wanna watch stuff that adds value to them. The algorithm, if you’re making YouTube videos, will present your video to the right people at the right time. No one cares. Your friends and family do not have an opinion on this.

They’re too busy worrying about their own lives. So all of those things really help lower the stakes, but also help to find the fun in what could otherwise be a pretty boring activity, which is sort of just like chopping and editing videos.

Pat Flynn: And that strategy of just realizing that truly, nobody cares is also great if you’re gonna go out in public and film. That was something that stopped me, especially in the Pokemon space. I go out to card shops, and I trade in person.

And putting the camera on worried me, but then I realized I’m not that important. I’m not that important that a person’s gonna stop what they’re doing, think about me While I’m doing this thing, they’re just gonna maybe look at it really quick and then move on by and then not not even think about it anymore. So that that really helped me, and I I think that’s a great iteration, especially for those of you who are getting interested in getting involved with YouTube. And, obviously, you are a YouTube expert. You’ve helped so many groups of people through your program and your academy.

I’ve been a special guest in those, and I I truly enjoy being in in front of those very, very enthusiastic future YouTubers, and many of them have gone on to do very, very well, which is really amazing. Now let’s go back to the playbook, if you will. You had mentioned play, and, obviously, you should all check out the book, Feel Good Productivity to get more of this. But you had mentioned people was the third one. What was the second p that we can dive into right now?

Ali Abdaal: The second p was power. So that’s a fun one. Power. So power is essentially one of the things that really drives fulfillment and kind of positive emotions in our work is feeling like we are powerful, feeling a sense of power over our work. Now this is not power in the sense of, like, being a totalitarian dictator.

This is a sense of power as in you feel personally empowered. And so that’s basically a combination of ownership and improvement. If you feel like you feel like you’ve got ownership or autonomy over something, that really drives something called intrinsic motivation. So motivation is like the sort of two different types, there’s extrinsic and intrinsic. Extrinsic motivation is when you’re doing something for the sake of something else.

I’m writing a book because I wanna get lots of sales. I am making a YouTube channel because I wanna make money. Those are extrinsic motivators, And those don’t feel good. They feel good up to a point. It’s like if the thing is working, but it’s really hard to sustain sustainably do something over the long term if if you’re doing it for extrinsic reasons.

On the other side of the coin, we have intrinsic motivation, which is where where you’re doing something for the sake of doing the thing. You’re just doing it because it’s fun. You’re doing it because you enjoy it. We are intrinsically motivated to hang out with our friends. We are extrinsically motivated to go to event.

You know? That’s why, you know, people tend not to enjoy networking events. And one of the massive drivers of intrinsic motivation is a sense of autonomy, sense of ownership, a sense that you are in control of your own destiny. And this is why people love decorating their bedrooms and redo designing their houses and having a nice background for your YouTube studio or whatever. When you feel as if you have autonomy over what you’re doing, It massively, like, moves the needle.

Now at this point, people sometimes ask me like, okay. But what if I’m working? What if I’ve got I’ve got a job to do? Or what if I’m a student and I don’t have a choice in what subjects I I choose? And there’s sort of a couple ways of thinking about autonomy.

One is even if you don’t have autonomy over what you’re doing, you almost always have autonomy over how you do it. You know, one way of doing that, like, when I was working as a doctor, I had to write lots and lots of boring discharge summaries. This is when a patient’s been in hospital for a long time, And you have to write a massive letter explaining to their their local doctor, their GP, why they were in hospital and what happened to them and stuff. And that, You know, it takes sometimes minutes, sometimes a a long time. And and I had to do these every day, and this kinda gets a bit boring after a while.

And so I didn’t have autonomy over what I was doing. I couldn’t suddenly say, well, Screw this. I’m not gonna write these letters because that’s my job. But I had autonomy over how I did it, and so I found ways to make it a little bit more fun for myself. I had Pirates of the Caribbean music playing on my Bluetooth speaker in the background.

No one cared. It made made my life better. I found ways to incorporate little jokes into the letters. And my goal when I was writing the letter was I wanna be really clear and concise and really help the doctor on the other end understand what happened, but I also wanna make them laugh or smile a little bit. And so occasionally, I’d make reference to, you know, one of the patients had a cat and was always talking about the cat.

I I mean, I would say something like, you know, And mister Smith cannot wait to go go back home to his cat. Just some something basic like that that would make it’s that’s a bit unusual. Like, you wouldn’t expect to see that in a discharge letter, but it’s a real human on the other end of it, and they had a good time. And, actually, I got a couple of written compliments that GPs sent to the hospital being like, oh, wow. This is this is the best discharge letter we’ve ever seen, because I took autonomy over how I did the thing.

And so the challenge for people there is that if you’re ever doing something where you feel like it’s a bit of a drain, bit of a drag, ask yourself, how can I take ownership over the process? Could I do it faster? Could I do it slower? Could I do it in a more interesting way? Could I do it my own way?

And whenever we do things our own way, It profoundly boosts our intrinsic motivation and makes anything that we’re doing, however boring, become way more fun.

Pat Flynn: What are some examples that you know about or even your students have used to make editing YouTube videos more fun or more sort of on their own. It feels like that is a major barrier for people with the creativity that they have in in themselves and putting it out there in the world. What are some unique and fun ways? I know you said putting Lord of the Rings in there, having something playing in the background, music.

Sure. Are there any other creative ideas that you might have or examples that people can pull from listening to this?

Ali Abdaal: Yeah. So one of my friends, Aaron, he has a YouTube channel called Mister Who’s The Boss. He’s got, like, sixteen million subscribers on YouTube.

He’s been on YouTube for, like, ten years, something absurd like that. The way he makes editing videos fun, and now he has a team who helps with this, is that they always put inside jokes into the videos. So there will always be some sort of you know, that Rick Astley song, like Rick Rolling people. He would always incorporate that somehow into his tech videos. And now when I watch a mister who’s the boss video, I’m sort of like, oh, interesting.

I’m sort of waiting for that to be a little and and this is stuff that you talk about in Superfans as well. It’s like that little those little icons and rituals and things that you can sprinkle into into your content that makes your Superfans, like, love you even more because they’re in on the joke. So what sort of inside jokes can you incorporate into your stuff? The way I would do this back in the day is I would try and incorporate specific language. Like, I try and always use the word wasteman in a video or try to put in some sort of Harry Potter reference.

I know our editors these days now try their best to shoehorn any Harry Potter reference that they possibly can into the content because it’s become a bit of a brand thing for the YouTube channel. And it also makes it way more fun for them because then now they’re being creative and thinking, can we use that clip from Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and just sort of splice it in in, like, thirty seconds in? And, you know, the the fans will get it, and other people will just be like, what? Why is there a Harry Potter clip? So there’s little things like that that you can do to make it a little bit more fun.

Pat Flynn: It reminds me of Two things. Number one, there is a TikTok weatherman that’s become viral because he incorporates lyrics from famous songs into his weather reports. So in the beginning of the video, he shows that somebody had asked, like, hey. Put this song from Ice Cube in there, and then he’ll show actual news clips of him doing the weather and then incorporating those lyrics into the way he presents the weather, which is genius. And, of course, now he’s famous and people watch him just to, like, look out for those things, and I’m sure that makes it fun for him to do the boring weather every single day.

So like you said. And then for me, I remember when I was on the speaking ring for a while, I would always meet up with the same kind of groups of people when talking at these events. We created something fun just to kinda make it interesting and different, which was we each got the same secret word that we had to incorporate into our presentation that only we knew. And then we’d talk about it later and see who’s the most creative in in incorporating it. And then eventually, the audiences started to catch on that, like, why did every single person here say the word marshmallow in their talk?

Anyway, it was super fun, and so I I I love those little things. They seem on the surface like it’s just like a silly thing, but anything that you can include to the thing you are knowing that you have to do a little bit better or just have some joy into it can go a very long way. Right?

Ali Abdaal: Yeah. And, like, I I think it’s it’s it’s also worth mentioning that it’s not just about the joy.

Like, finding a way to make your work fun actually makes you more productive and more creative. And there’s a really cool study that, like, really kind of kicked to kicked this whole branch of research off. It was it was in the early 1990’s, and some psychologists, they got different groups people into a lab, and they asked them to do these sort of creativity challenges where you have to, like, organize boxes in a certain way, you know, that that kind of stuff. And one group, they would give a little little piece of candy to them just before starting the thing. And the other group, they wouldn’t.

And they’re saying, like, you know, what’s what’s the difference? And they always found you know, sometimes it was candy, sometimes it was chocolate, sometimes it was playing upbeat music, sometimes it was get getting them to watch, like, thirty seconds of an inspiring movie, anything like that. They found that the group that was primed to feel more positive emotions, that was primed to feel good, they were more creative as well. They were solving the creative task way faster and coming up with more divergent kind of suggestions, which is a test of creativity. And then they were like, okay.

Cool. That’s that’s kind of interesting. They did this other thing, which was cool, where they told people you know, they brought them into a lab, And they told people, okay. You’re you know, you’re about to give a public speech in two minutes. Everyone hates public speaking, so that would spike their heart rate, and they would feel like they would they would start to feel stressed.

Then they would split the group up into two. One group, they would show some uplifting an uplifting YouTube clip or whatever. And the other group, they would show a sad YouTube clip, and, you know, the third group, they wouldn’t show anything at all. And they even found that the people who saw the uplifting video, their stress markers lowered. Like, physiologically, their heart rate went down, their breathing rate went down, the sweat and skin conductance on their skin went down.

And they were like, wait a minute. Like, just helping people feel good with, like, literally thirty seconds of music or a thirty second video clip makes them more creative and pro and productive, but it also physically reduces their stress levels. Wow. That’s sick. More of us should be incorporating these sort of things into our life.

Pat Flynn: Yeah. That is well, how simple it is just to kind of maybe put on a hype up song before you start work just like how an athlete before they go and take the field does. Right?

Ali Abdaal: Yeah. All these athletes have their own routines.

They have their own methods, and, You know, they’re not trying to feel good. They’re trying to optimize their performance, but they have found that feeling good helps them optimize their performance.

Pat Flynn: Yeah. That is so great. Let’s talk about people.

You had mentioned play, power, and now people. And then I do wanna ask you about your YouTube routine and kind of how you’re approaching your videos now because, Selfishly, I’m always learning from you with regards to that, and I know the audience wants to know too, but let’s talk about people. What do you mean in terms of people and productivity?

Ali Abdaal: Yeah. So finding a way to connect your work to people in some way is another sort of huge lever to make your work feel good and therefore to be more productive.

So I found this that when I was in medical school and trying to study for my exams. The exams are kind of boring in the first few years. You’re having to memorize all these tedious pathways and stuff. You know? You don’t really wanna do it.

And I found a real hack, and the hack was I would go to the library with friends. It was very simple. You know, most people are in the library on their own, but I would bring a posse of, like, five to eight of us to the same library. And we would do the Pomodoro technique together. So we’d work for twenty five minutes, then we’d take a five minute break, and I don’t know, watch our YouTube video or something.

And then we’d work for twenty five minutes again, and we would do these sort of twenty five minute little cycles. And then every two hours, we would take a lunch break or a coffee break or whatever, and we’d come back. And there was something remarkable about just doing the same thing, doing the work, but you’re doing with people around me. It made it way more energizing, made it feel way way better. And I I wasn’t distracted.

I was just like I was so in the zone to the point that I made a WhatsApp group, and I was sort of started coordinating this every single year, and people wanted to join. We’d go to different libraries and different coffee shops. And then during the pandemic, as I was writing this book, I was like you know, this is you know, it was feeling a bit of a drag. And I found this Zoom workshop called London Writer Salon, where every day, they’re four times a day. They have this completely free Zoom call where you can join it with a hundred writers from around the world.

Wow. And someone will host it, and they’ll spend five minutes, like, spieling about, like, some quote from Hemingway or something. And then you just Sit in silence and do your writing for fifty minutes. And then there’s five minutes at the end to just kind of doing a do a wrap up. And I was so productive.

I was sitting in my room in the middle of the pandemic with no one around me, but because I knew that I was on the Zoom call with, like, these hundred other people, it was completely free. Didn’t have to pay anything for it. It made me way more focused and made the work feel good. It felt like I was part of something. And so the challenge to people there is whenever you’re doing something that you think is a bit boring, how can you find a way to bring people into it?

They don’t have to be doing the same thing, but even just being around people. And it’s like co working spaces or anything. I was just in a WeWork earlier just now because it just makes just makes everyone feel good. And, yeah, maybe some people might say, oh, but I’m more I focus better when I’m on my own. It’s like, okay.

But if you’re miserable when you’re on your own, is it is it really worth it? I would happily take a two percent reduction in focus for the sake of a eighty percent boost in my mood because that boost in my mood is is gonna impact my work as well, and it’s also gonna make me feel great.

Pat Flynn: Yeah. My initial thought was, well, now you have a chance to be distracted. Now there’s more input coming in from different, not just people, but the environment that you’re in.

I typically think of productivity as you’re gonna shell up and kind of, like, nothing else in the world is out there kind of potentially able to distract you. You’re kind of confined and able to do that. But that makes sense to me. Why do you think scientifically that might work when you surround yourself with other people. What’s going on there, you know, psychologically?

Ali Abdaal: Yeah. So one of the theories that the scientists have come up with is is called relational energy. So we’ve all had this experience where there are some people where you hang out with them and you leave feeling totally drained. And there are other people you hang out with them and you feel really energized. You can call those, like, penthouse people or basement people.

Do you do you feel like you’re on the penthouse, or do you feel like you’re in the basement? And a bunch of there there was this, like, really big study they did in some big corporation where they try they sort of mapped out, like, how energizing different people were. They called this an energy map. And they found that, like, the people who were energizing, like, gave energy to the people around them, they were rated the best managers. They were the best bosses.

They were more likely to get promotions. They were better at their job. People wanted to work with them. People wanted to hang out with them. There’s something about being around the right sort of people that it’s it’s it’s it sounds kinda woo, but, like, really does energize us, and we’ve all had that experience.

And so one of the theories around that is that when you’re surrounded by other people, like, you just benefit from this electrifying effect of the group. Yes. If everyone in the group is a bit of a downer, know, it’s a it’s a drain. It’s gonna drain you. But usually, when you’ve got enough people around, there’s, like, one or two people that energizing and just being in community with others.

Like, you know, we’re we’re social creatures. We’ve evolved to be in community with with with the people around us. Back in the day, it was a survival advantage. If you were the sort of person who could get on with people around you, you’d be more likely to survive because you’d be invited into the tribe and won’t get mauled by a lion. All of these things are theories that scientists are comfortable for why working with people around us should weigh nicer than we’re just sitting there working on our own for most things.

Pat Flynn: Of course. And through that, surrounding yourself with people who are like minded, who will lift you up. Right? Like you said, it’s not Just being around people, but being around the right people. And this is why community is like the ones that you host and, you know, with SPI Pro on our end.

These are great places people can come together to know that you’re gonna be surrounding yourself with people. And even if you’re just kinda working together, we often have, like, co working moments in our communities as well. Like, they do work, and people are productive. That is amazing. So everybody definitely check out Feel Good Productivity available on Amazon, or do you have another place that you’d rather drive people to?

Ali Abdaal: Yeah. No. Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Waterstones, anywhere. You can check out our website,, and that has, like, all the links.

Pat Flynn: And your book came out on December twenty sixth. December and the holiday season is, like, the toughest time of the year for books and publishing and and all that stuff. But with your audience and, you, you know, I wanna do my part to help here too. You know, we can give it a real shot at any of those lists if that’s important to you, but it’s gonna get in the right hands. And I think this is a perfect book, especially at the beginning of the year. Everybody’s wanting to start off on the right foot and and you have that opportunity there.

I wanna know because you’ve your YouTube channel has the last time you were on the show, it was growing and growing very well. I mean, it was set out on a great path, and now it’s just gone exponentially even higher. I think you’re about four million subscribers now, which is amazing. I would love to know your process for selecting a video topic and how you take that video topic idea and and turn it into a worthwhile video for you to publish.

Ali Abdaal: So I think it’s worth prefacing that a big part of my approach to YouTube is trying to think about the long term.

Like, when I started YouTube, I knew I wanted to do this for a long time because, like, a, that’s how you become successful. But, b, when I think of if I won the lottery, if I had a hundred million in the bank, whatever the thing is, I would still make YouTube videos. And I think okay. Cool. I I enjoy making YouTube videos.

And I would also think, what is the sort of channel that I would love to see? What’s the sort of channel that I would love Pat Flynn to have or Tim Ferriss or James Clear? Like, what would I like to see? And I landed on the idea that that I want a YouTube channel where I can sit down and I can share something that I’ve learned, and I can speak from the heart. So that’s kind of the constraint that I’m approaching YouTube with.

I know that for me to play the long term game, it’s not sustainable for me, and it’s not that enjoyable to try and create a Netflix documentary out of every every video. I I’m also I’m a nerd at heart. You know, I’m not that I’m not that entertaining. I I knew that, like, doing a prank themed channel or doing a challenge theme channel or doing a lifestyle theme channel wasn’t gonna be for me. I knew I just wanted to sit down and talk about something.

So within that context, I have tried my best to optimize the process. So, essentially, usually, it starts off with some sort of idea. I think it would be cool to do a video about Pat Flynn’s book, Superfans, because I read it, and I thought it was really good. And you know, I’ve got some creators in my audience, so I wanna do a video about the book. The next step is, okay.

What is the title? Because the title of the video and the thumbnail of the video, as as you know, are, like, more than seventy percent of the value of the video just comes from the title and the thumbnail. And so then I will try and think about the title. Okay. I I can’t just call it Superfans because that doesn’t quite make sense.

The five steps to Five steps to build an audience who loves you. Okay. Five steps to build an audience. Five steps to build an audience for beginners. Five ways to stand out on YouTube.

I I often think of these as listicles. So I I quite like listicles as a format because they’re very easy. They feed nicely into my thesis that If I just had a list of five bullet points, could I just talk about them? And then that makes it fun to film a video. So for your book Superfans, I I probably think that I’d be I’d be thinking I’d I’d also be thinking that, generally, beginners make up a hundred times more people in the market than experts.

So I don’t wanna frame the video as how to take your channel from one million to five million because, like, there’s not that many people who are gonna watch the video. I wanna aim it at beginners so there’s something for everyone. So five ways to build an audience in 2023. Five ways to build an online audience in 2023. Okay.

That’s that’s a reasonable title. I would then go through the book. I would go through my Kindle highlights for the book because I read everything on Kindle, I’d be like, cool. What are the five, six, seven, eight, nine points I wanna make here? And then I would just give them a heading, and now I’m ready to record the video.

And the way I approach it is that I see the heading, and I just talk. And I just talk and I talk and I talk. And that’s my skill. I can just talk about stuff. And then when I was editing my own videos, I would chop out the stuff that was boring.

Now we have editors that they talk about the stuff that’s boring, and that’s really been my approach. And this approach is optimizing for long term sustainability. Some people might say, oh, but you really wanna optimize retention, and you really wanna think about, like, changing up the format and leaving the desk and doing this and that. I’m like, okay. Maybe.

But for me, it’s like, I’m always asking myself, how do I make this fun? How do I make it energizing? How do I make sure I’m able to do this ten years from now? And that’s the format that I’ve landed on.

Pat Flynn: I started watching a video of yours recently, and it was, I think, nine things you wish schools taught you or something like that.

And I play the video, and it’s like, number one, you’re already into it. There’s no intro. What’s your thinking behind that?

Ali Abdaal: We’ve been experimenting with that recently. Like, if if the title is self explanatory, like we did one the other, like, nine things I wish I knew about YouTube.

We we were experimenting with what does it look like if we just go or, okay. Number one is no one cares. Number two is this. Number three is that. And the comments were so interesting.

They’re like, oh my god. A YouTuber who respects my time. YouTube very kindly invited me to speak to their CEO, Neil Mohan, a few months ago. And, you know, it was me and, like, five, six other creators, and we went to the YouTube office. It was very fancy.

And we asked Neil, like, what are the features that people most request from YouTube? And he sort of laughed and see and and he said, The primary thing everyone requests is a get to the point button. And that’s why they start started using time stamps and those little graphs that show how much people watch. Like, Audiences want you to get to the point. And so we thought, okay.

Let’s experiment with this. And we have seen a bit of an effect, but on honestly, it’s not been huge. So intro versus no intro, hook versus no hook. We’ve we’ve we’ve run the numbers on this, and we haven’t seen a significant difference annoyingly. I wish I could say, oh, that made all the difference, but, you know, we’re just experimenting and and seeing what works.

Pat Flynn: And I think that’s the biggest lesson here is that you are trying something, and you’re gonna look at the data, and then you’re gonna see what happens. And I appreciate the honesty of we don’t know yet, but that’s how you improve. You take something that you think would make the video better or more digestible for your audience or more beneficial to your audience, and you you try it, which which I think is great. You also have some incredible visuals that go along with your videos. I mean, more than I remember.

Where did you get the inspiration to do that and the movements? It’s a very, like, They’re almost even coining it like the Ali Abdaal kind of style of of filming, and I see a lot of other creators getting inspired by that. Jay Clouse being one of them, I can tell with his shorts and stuff. And it’s just, like, so engaging, but, obviously, there’s other people doing this because it’s just it’s just there’s so much movement in in a person who might be just starting out on YouTube might not be able to get there. So number one, how are you doing that?

But number two, how could a person who doesn’t have the team or doesn’t have the resources create a similar effect or or or get a similar outcome in terms of just engagement in in in your videos.

Ali Abdaal: Yeah. Okay. So I’m gonna be honest here. So, like, the so all of this is done by the team.

The team is amazing. The mandate for the team is how do we make world class videos, But how do we make world class videos within the constraint that I just wanna sit there and talk to a camera? I don’t wanna go out into the world. I don’t wanna do anything funky or fancy. I just that is your rule.

That’s my rule. It’s like, cool. So now our editors are, like, sick. That’s our constraint. Within that constraint, how do we blow people out of the water?

I see. And We have we have hire so when whenever we hire an editor, we get hundreds and hundreds of applications, and we pick one person. So so we have preselected our editors to literally be the best in the world, and they have many competitions with each other. And they’re, like, kind of sharing new things and trying to do new stuff. That’s really neat.

That goal of continuing to push the needle, continuing to push the envelope results in, like, the Ali Abdaal signature style, and then people make tutorials on on how to do it.

Pat Flynn: It’s like a Casey Neistat. It’s very very similar. He’s he had a very specific style, and then he started to get copycats and not like, how are you how do you feel when people are doing the Ali Abdaal style on their videos.

Ali Abdaal: Yeah. I honestly I don’t I don’t mind it at all. Oh, I I think I actually I I also took this away from Superfans. Or either either Explicitly or Implicitly. One of the things that you’ve talked about certainly in the past is building a moat around your brand, building like a sort of competitive advantage. And initially, when I was new to YouTube, I wasn’t thinking about that.

I was just like, great. Let me just try and make videos. But now that I’m, like, one of the biggest personal development channels in the space. I’m kind of playing defense. It’s like when you’re, you know, the the the champion and other people are trying to kinda compete.

You have to continually be on top of your game. And so the question that’s always in our mind as a team and and and for me is, how do we keep on building the moat around our stuff. What we want is if someone sees an Ali Abdaal video and thinks, you know what? I wanna get into productivity. I wanna become a productivity YouTuber.

We want them to think twice. We wanna we wanna just blow them away with the value and the depth and the research and the editing for them to think, Oh, okay. This is what it takes. And that’s how I think we can stay relevant and stay, quote, competitive. Even there’s not competition, but, like, yeah, you know, it’s kind of fun to be like, how do we build the moat?

So, honestly, it’s very hard for a complete beginner to replicate the style by design, but there have been a few plug in packs and a few tutorials and but but I think the goal is not to replicate the style. The goal is to find your own style. Because if you try and replicate Casey Neistat, the best you will be is a Casey Neistat copycat. But if you create your own style, like, for example, Ryan Trahan did or, for example, like Mister beast did or Like, Peter McKinnon does with his vlogs or like you do with your Pokemon content. Like, that’s your own signature style.

You you weren’t you’re not trying to copy someone else. So find find your own style and, you know, take inspiration from others.

Pat Flynn: It’s funny because we’ve noticed a lot of other Pokemon creators now doing challenge videos with voice overs, which was never done before now. And many of the comments are this is just a Deep Pocket Monster video on your channel now. It’s it’s it’s really interesting because say similarly, it’s like and and what I was getting at before was you’re creating that moat.

You’re using your unfair advantages that you have to be like, this is how we do it here in this space. And if you wanna come in, great. You gotta find a different angle though. Right? And so and and that’s great for everybody else coming in.

That almost forces them to think a little bit more deeply about how they’re gonna come in, and and that’s of a service to them actually. So, you know, the more that you kind of stay in your lane, the more that your lane becomes clear and then another person can find their own lane. Because I’m sure you are open to other people coming into productivity. It’s not like you you are like, I own this space and nobody else can come in, but this is the way we’re doing it, and and we’re gonna make it clear that this is the way that we do it.

Ali Abdaal: Yeah.

And I, you know, I love it when when when other people are in the space, and I’m basically friends with everyone who does content, and we all like to promote each other and help each other out. So very keen on other people joining the space. It’s just that you have to kind of find it find your own path through.

Pat Flynn: Yeah. And it took you how long would you say since you started YouTube to get to that point where you’re like this is where I sit in this world of YouTube, and I have a voice here, and this is this is what I am known for.

How long did it take you from your first video to that point?

Ali Abdaal: Oh, my first video was in twenty seventeen, and it’s only earlier this year, twenty twenty three, so six years down down the line that I feel a bit more settled. Yeah. I I think part of it was actually writing the book because the book, you know, call is is a book about productivity. You know, I think I’m now the world’s most followed productivity expert.

And so it was it was kind of embarrassing, but it took the publisher to say that for me to finally believe it. Why they were like, oh, yeah. I think I think you’re the world’s most followed productivity expert. I was like, really? What about Tim Ferriss?

And they’re like, well and, you know, depending on how you slice the pie, you actually are. And I’m like, oh, okay. That’s cool. And the fact that the publisher has put it on the title on the front cover of the book makes me much more chill with, like, doing it because, you know, there’s a lot of imposter syndrome. I’m you know, I don’t wanna be too big headed about it.

Pat Flynn: It’s literally on the top of the cover. Yeah. Which is which is do you feel pressure having that title put on you now? Like, Everything you do now has to be, quote, unquote, productive. And if you’re gonna be doing something new, it’s like if you don’t take a productive route with it, maybe you are an impostor or somebody might say something. Do you do you feel any pressure now as a result of that?

Ali Abdaal: Honestly, not really. I used to. I used to not like the word productivity because I was like, oh, no. But, like it’s I it’s not about work, and I didn’t used to like the the fact that people would call me a productivity expert because I’m like, I mean, what is a productivity expert? I okay.

I found ways to get things done, but, like, It doesn’t make me an expert. Recently, I’ve started to embrace it more because for me, productivity is using your time well in a way that’s intentional and effective and enjoyable. Intentional, effective, enjoyable. And so my goal for, like, literally everything I do is to be intentional with it, to be effective, and to and to enjoy it. And I’m like, you know what?

Actually, that’s a pretty good way to live. I had a an evening yesterday where I was just playing video games. I’m playing Baldur’s Gate three. Fantastic game, by the way. I don’t know if you’ve if you’ve tried it.

But to me, that was productivity. It was intentional. I intentionally decided, you know what? I’m gonna decided, you know what? I’m gonna take the evening off, and I’m just gonna play a video game.

It’s not intentional if I’m sort of trying to do work and I’m scrolling TikTok at the same time, so I I just don’t do that because it’s a waste of time, but I’m very intentional about the things that I do. And I just think it’s a good place to be.

Pat Flynn: I love the theme of enjoying just kind of being a part of everything that you do. And I think that’s really important. We often kind of forget that or don’t even look for opportunities for joy and enjoyment in the work that we do even if we we have to do that thing.

I love the tips that were offered today. I love the insight into the YouTube strategy and the talk about the moat. Ali, this has been a tremendous honor to have you back on the show. I am so appreciative of all the shout outs that you’ve offered toward my end and to our brand and Superfans and all that stuff. I mean, I’m I’m so happy to see you continue to thrive, and I’m I’m very, very excited for everybody who’s gonna pick up your book who has yet to be introduced to you.

So congratulations. And one more time, where can people go and and grab your book and check out your work?

Ali Abdaal: Yeah. Thank you so much. And, yeah, just again, I have been Smart Passive Income fans since, like, 2017 when I first got into making money on the Internet and all that.

So I actually even even before then when I had my first business. So thank you for literally, like, all the things that you do. Your income reports from back in the day were just ridiculously inspiring. I know you stopped doing them now. We we we were doing income reports, and now we’re gonna stop as well because at some point, it becomes a bit a bit much.

But, yeah, just thank you for all the things that you do. And if if people vibe with this and they wanna hear more about the book, check out Feel Good Productivity. If you just search it on Google or in a bookstore or go to, all one word, and you can find links to all of the retailers and all of the all the funky bits.

Pat Flynn: Hello, man. Thank you so much.

I appreciate you, and best of luck with the book.

Ali Abdaal: Thank you.

Pat Flynn: Alright. I hope you enjoyed that episode with Ali Abdaal. Again, you could check out his book anywhere you can get the books over at Feel Good Productivity.

I just looked that up or look it up on Google or Amazon, and, obviously, check out his YouTube channel if you haven’t already. It is amazing and an incredible resource. I pull inspiration from it. And just the quality, it just continues to rise like we just talked about at the end there, but I’m very grateful to have him on. If you like the links to the prior episodes that he was a guest on so you can get a little bit more into his story and where he came from, just go to the show notes page,

again, And that does it, everybody. That does it for the end of the year here. But, again, no matter when you’re listening to this, I appreciate you so much. Here’s to an amazing, happy, healthy, profitable 2024 and a very productive one without burning yourself out.

And cheers to you. Cheers to you, my friend. Thank you so much. Hit that subscribe button on your way out, and check out another episode if you’d like. Until the next one, all the best, and once again, happy New Year.

Thank you so much for listening to the Smart Passive Income podcast at I’m your host, Pat Flynn. Sound editing by Duncan Brown. Our senior producer is David Grabowski, and our executive producer is Matt Gartland. The Smart Passive Income Podcast is a production of SPI Media, and a proud member of the Entrepreneur Podcast Network. Catch you next week!

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