The only way to reach your targets in life is to get to work. But it’s easier said than done. Only a fraction of people in life are actively working towards their goals. They know how to create and use the right tools and processes to generate progress for themselves. A lot of these people have a ton of interesting things to say. So I thought I’d interview them.
Most of my weekly guests created their own business, and they got where they are today by successfully implementing self-discipline in their life. To each one of them, I ask questions about their life, their learnings, their tools, and sometimes about which celebrity they would like to have coffee with.
There are no rules for success, only consistency in the work you do. None of the people I interviewed are super-humans. They’re just dedicated, and they have a lot of awesome things to teach us.
Let’s get to it.
My second guest for this weekly series is Thomas Oppong. Thomas is the founder of alltopstartups.com, a resource site for small businesses, and the curator at Postanly Weekly, a free weekly digest of the best posts about behaviour change that affect health, wealth, and productivity. He is a top writer on Medium who writes science-based answers to problems about creativity, productivity, and self-improvement. His work has been featured on Business Insider, CNBC, Inc., and more. He writes mostly for himself and then shares his findings to learn even more along the way. His personal website is learn.thomasoppong.com.
Do you have a morning routine?
Yes, but I prefer to experiment and focus on activities that leverage my energy in the morning.
- Wake up at about 7:00am
- Drink a glass of water
- Exercise for about 10 minutes (inspired by the NYT stretching workout routine)
- Eat breakfast
- Read my Feedly update, check my email
- Drink green tea or coffee (mostly green tea)
- Start writing on a topic I chose the night before.
I work on other 3 Most Important Things (MITs) before 2pm. I do more as the day progresses, but my focus will be to finish at least three MITs.
What is the number one productivity item you can’t live without?
My laptop. I tend to use it together with my phone and headphones (these three are the most important gadgets I use consistently). I write mostly on a laptop every day. I use my phone to read or do research in the evenings. I also take notes when I’m reading on my phone. I listen to movie soundtracks or classical music when I’m working. Music has been scientifically proven to have a powerful effect on the brain. A pair of headphones helps me focus when I’m working.
The One Book you recommend for self-improvement and/or productivity?
The One Thing by Gary Keller is probably one of the best productivity books out there. I have consistently written about the importance of single-tasking and he makes an insightful case for doing one thing at a time. The brain doesn’t handle multitasking very well. It takes a while to completely get back to flow mode when you multi-task, so I stick to making the most of my brain energy by single-tasking on purpose. James Clear’s Atomic Habits is also a great read.
You’ve said you write on “science-based answers to problems in life.” Can you elaborate on that?
In recent times, I have been reading a lot about psychology and how I can leverage findings of human nature to bring out the best in myself. The discoveries influence what I write about. I believe there is a lot of research out there that answers the pressing questions related to managing emotions, finding meaning and happiness or improving performance.
My aim is to share the discoveries in the simplest way possible for people to learn how to make the most of life and living it. I am curious about a lot of things though, so I find answers to my questions first, and then share them with my audience. That way I can learn in the process of sharing.
You’ve also written “If you’re not healthy, it’s tough to be happy.” What is your health routine?
That has a lot to do with mental health, not just physical health. Both mind and body need exercise to stay healthy and keep performing as required. I try to balance both. There are a lot of options out there, so the only way to stay on top of my health is to be mindful of what I feed my mind and body.
The brain is a big deal for me because I want to control the cognitive decline process. I tend to choose plant-based foods, and prefer lean meat. I eat more superfoods like nuts, blueberries, dark chocolate. I try to limit sugar as much as possible. I don’t have a specific diet, but I’m mindful of what I eat.
Do you consider yourself a minimalist?
I am a minimalist, but I am not strict about it. The concept appeals to me and makes a lot of sense. It prevents you from wasting a lot of brain energy making choices when you can stick to a few things you need. It’s a win-win for your pocket and your mind.
These days, I stick to Marie Kondo’s suggestions, “We should be choosing what we want to keep, not what we want to get rid of.” I am conscious of possessions and expenses. I tend to use the same things for a long time, and only get a new one when I get rid of the old one. I believe experiences are more important than possessions, so I try to make that fundamental in all areas of my life.
You own 2 websites, are prolific on Medium and have a weekly newsletter. How do you manage your time between your business and your private life?
That’s a very important question. It’s getting insanely difficult for me, especially in the last two years. I schedule time for breaks away from everything, every now and then.
My startup resources site was my first project when I started blogging. But along the way I wanted to diversify, so I created newsletters, courses, wrote a book, and now Medium is also a huge part of everything I do. I treat Medium like a full-time job.
I prefer to write first thing in the morning. That’s why I make decisions about the next morning in the evening. It saves me from thinking about priorities when I wake up. If I don’t write before midday, I probably won’t write at all, so I write before noon. I make the most of my energy.
Once the writing part is done, I spend the rest of the day either publishing posts from a lot of sources on the startup blog or finding content for Postanly. It’s insane at the moment, but I am working on outsourcing a lot of things.
Some people say the classic newsletter/email list model is dying when it comes to generating more online business. What is your opinion on this?
Email marketing is here to stay but it’s changing and getting even more competitive. It’s getting personal and more human, which is why more influencers rely on them to make money online. The only problem is that there are too many newsletters out there. You must be sending something valuable to keep the engagement. It’s getting crowded, and people will begin unsubscribing at some point to keep their sanity.
The focus is moving from traditional newsletters to personal newsletters. People don’t engage with business newsletters as much as as they do with those that add value to their lives. About 50% of my income comes from my email list. I focus on providing as much value as possible for a very long time before I sell a service or product. That works for me.
You write a lot about letting go, relaxing and making time to do absolutely nothing. How often do you take time off?
I struggle with taking time off and making time to do absolutely nothing, which is why I talk about it a lot. I also read more about ways to get away from work. Relaxing and taking a break is paramount to our health. The dangers of stress and burnout are real. I guess the more I read about it, the more I’m tempted to share what I find. I aim to take a day or two away from work, but the more I take time off, the more time I have to put in when I get back to it. I am still experimenting with different approaches to get away more. Again, I am also planning on outsourcing more.
If you could have a coffee and talk about anything with a personality (dead or alive) you admire, who would it be and why?
Elon Musk. He is disrupting many industries at the same time. His ability to hold on to different ideas and innovate in so many areas is impressive. He is a modern-day polymath, and he is thriving in the midst of highly diverse global challenges. He’s made himself anti-fragile. It’s a valuable skill for the 21st century.
There you have it. I want to personally thank my guest for taking the time to provide me and my readers with really insightful answers. I am deeply grateful to Thomas Oppong. Thanks a lot, keep up the great work, and all the best in your 2020 projects!
And thanks to you for reading my content! Stay tuned for our next guest, coming up next week!
If you want to take control of your time, stop wasting your energy, and prioritise the right things, my free tool The 168 Hours Spreadsheet will help! Happy New Year, all the best in 2020!