Love Your Work is the intellectual playground of David Kadavy, bestselling author of three books – including Mind Management, Not Time Management – and former design advisor to Timeful – a Google-acquired productivity app.
Love Your Work is where David shows you how to be productive when creativity matters, and make big breakthroughs happen in your career as a creator. Dig into the archives for insightful conversations with Dan Ariely, David Allen, Seth Godin, James Altucher, and many more.
"David is an underrated writer and thinker. In an age of instant publication, he puts time, effort and great thought into the content and work he shares with the world." —Jeff Goins, bestselling author of Real Artists Don’t Starve
When Vincent van Gogh began his career as an artist, he had already failed at everything else. He even got fired from his own family’s business in the process.
Not seeing any alternative, he completely immersed himself in art. In one two-week period, he created 120 drawings.
But exactly none of those drawings are famous today.
What feels like waste is not waste Last week, I talked about the Iceberg Principle – the idea that any masterpiece you see is just the tip of the iceberg. There’s far more knowledge and experience beneath the surface, giving that masterpiece confidence and grace.
But as you’re adding layer after layer to your iceberg, it doesn’t feel like that’s what you’re doing. It feels like you’re wasting your energy. But you’re not.
After Van Gogh’s frenzied first couple weeks seriously pursuing art, he settled in to a more conservative pace. Instead of 120 drawings in two weeks, he was instead shooting to make just twenty a week. He figured that’s how many he’d have to make to end up with one good piece each week.
“Waste” takes many forms What feels like “waste” can take many forms:
Failed projects: You made something, and nobody likes it. Off on timing: Nobody like it yet, but some day someone will. Unfinished projects: You started, got a little ways, and maybe Shiny Object Syndrome took over. For whatever reason, you didn’t finish. Research and Preparation: You don’t always know what you’re trying to learn, but all sorts of tinkering may seem like a waste. Creative waste is part of the creative game Sometimes what feels like “waste,” makes it directly into a current or future project, thus making it clearly not waste. But even the stuff that never becomes a part of your body of work is part of the creative game.
I talked in episode 256 about the Barbell Strategy. To succeed in creative work, put most of your efforts toward “sure bets” that protect your downside and keep you in the game. With the rest of your time and energy, play “wildcards,” that have a chance of big upside.
Creative work happens in Extremistan, not Mediocristan. Success won’t be a steady climb up-and-to-the-right. Instead, it will look more like a poorly-shaved porcupine. Long periods of time where it doesn’t seem like much is happening, punctuated by big spikes that level up your career one at a time.
Yes, you’re showing up every day and putting in the work, but all that is a series of small bets. You hope for one or two or a few to turn into positive Black Swans. Projects that take off, and take on a life of their own.
In the course of playing this strategy, you can’t tell what will be wasted, and what will not. You have to trust that “waste” is part of the process.
Projects will fail, projects will go unfinished, and iterations will burn in the fire. That doesn’t make you a procrastinator or a dilettante – that makes you a creator.
Waste in Van Gogh’s first masterpiece Vincent van Gogh’s first masterpiece was full of waste. He did not just a sketch, but a small study, a medium study, and a print he could give out to test his idea. This was all before working on the final canvas. And that had many iterations, and four coats of varnish. He left it in his friend’s studio to prevent himself from “spoiling it.” Then he still came back and worked on it some more.
All that waste was on top of the years of work he did leading up to the project. The painting was about peasants, and he wandered around living like a peasant himself, begging people to model for him. And, there was the twenty drawings a week he had done.
And those 120 drawings he did in a two-week period? We don’t even know what they look like, because he destroyed them.
Once this first masterpiece, The Potato Eaters, was done, it must have felt like a waste to Vincent. Everyone hated it. He got in a fight with his brother about it, and he completely cut off a friend who attacked it, vicio
The Iceberg Principle
1920s, London. Radclyffe Hall was pacing around her study. She wore close-cropped hair, a tweed skirt, and a man’s silk smoking jacket and tie. Her partner, Uma Troubridge, sat in a nearby chair, reading the writing of Radclyffe – or “John,” as she preferred to be called. But just as Uma’s voice wavered a bit, John grabbed the papers from her hand, and threw them in the fire.
In the 1920s, throwing writing in the fire meant it was gone forever. These weren’t print-outs of digital files, safely backed up to the cloud. But Radclyffe still often threw her writing into the fire, if she didn’t like the sound of what Uma was reading.
Radclyffe Hall, like many great creators, understood the Iceberg Principle
Any masterpiece is just the tip of the iceberg What I call the Iceberg Principle is this: What you see of any masterpiece is just the tip of the iceberg. There is far more knowledge and work beneath the surface, giving the piece confidence and grace. The Iceberg Principle is inspired by Ernest Hemingway, who said, “The dignity of movement of an ice-berg is due to only one-eighth of it being above water.”
He explained further:
I’ve seen the marlin mate and know about that. So I leave that out. I’ve seen a school (or pod) of more than fifty sperm whales in that same stretch of water once and harpooned one nearly sixty feet in length and lost him. So I left that out. All the stories I know from the fishing village I leave out. But the knowledge is what makes the underwater part of the iceberg.
In other words, when Hemingway wrote The Old Man and the Sea, he didn’t need to include every story and every detail about the life of a fisherman. He had already lived it. His experiences fishing were the underwater part of the iceberg. The stories and details he did include were only the tip of the iceberg. They were more powerful because they were held in place by everything beneath the surface.
What isn’t revealed gives power to what is revealed If I say, “I’m David. I grew up in Nebraska. I now live in Colombia,” I’ve only said three statements, but each of those statements is held in place by a massive amount of knowledge and experience. When I say, “I grew up in Nebraska,” eighteen years of open skies and snow drifts and cornfields flash in my mind. When I say, “I’m David,” more than forty years of being called David are behind that. I’ve never had a different name.
When you read a book by Daniel Kahneman, and he tells you something about human behavior, there’s a lot of authority behind everything he says. Each statement he makes is backed up by mountains of data, and decades of running experiments and seeing it with his own eyes. While he maintains the humble uncertainty of a real scientist, there’s confidence and grace behind each statement.
Just think of how much work, experience, and knowledge went behind Einstein writing the simple equation: e = mc².
This is something Radclyffe Hall seemed to understand. It didn’t matter if she threw her writing into the fire and started over. When she heard Uma’s voice waver, that signaled to her that her stories or her characters weren’t flowing on the page confidently. The same way snow and ice layers onto an iceberg, making it bigger over time, pushing more of it underwater over time, it took many iterations for Hall to write classics such as The Well of Loneliness – the first great novel of lesbian literature. Each time she threw writing into the fire, the paper burned, but the iceberg didn’t melt – it only gained mass.
Keep the Iceberg Principle in mind Why should you keep the Iceberg Principle in mind? The Iceberg Principle helps you manage expectations about your work. It also takes some of the mystery out of great masterpieces you see.
The product is not the process That last part, first: When we see a masterpiece, we can’t help but marvel at how it must have been made. What we see is deceiving, because
It’s 1997, and Tiger Woods is in a sudden death playoff, against Tom Lehman.
Lehman shoots first, on a par three, and hits his ball into the water.
Now Tiger’s up, and this is Tiger’s tournament to lose. All he has to do is hit a safe shot, far away from the hole, and far away from the water.
But that’s not what he does.
An aggressive and dangerous play The hole is way on the left side of the green, near the water. There’s water short, and there’s water left – where Tom Lehman’s shot went. The smart play is just hit the ball onto the green, way right of the hole, so there’s no chance it goes in the water. Then Tiger can putt twice, for par, and win the tournament.
Tiger hits his shot, watches with anticipation as it flies through the air – and almost goes directly into the hole. It’s eight inches away. He just won the tournament.
The crowd goes wild, meanwhile, the announcers are trying to figure out why Tiger would make a play like that. Why shoot directly at the hole, when there’s water all around? If he had made the slightest error, Tiger would have tied Lehman, and extended the playoff to the next hole.
The announcers say, Well he’s 21 years old. He’s aggressive. Some of you are no doubt thinking, Why would he make a play like that? Because he’s Tiger Woods, that’s why.
Perfection comes from imperfection I recently showed my partner a career highlights video of Tiger Woods. She had never heard of him, and had never seen golf (remember, she’s Colombian). By the end of the video, she was convinced Tiger Woods was a witch, who could magically conjure a ball into a hole from 200 yards away. Because that’s what she saw. Over and over, this guy swinging, then a tiny ball flying through the air for several seconds, and jumping and spinning and rolling into a tiny hole.
When we see an expert in any field, we marvel at what they’re able to accomplish. When we compare our own skills, we can’t help but feel insignificant.
But sometimes, what seems like perfection is someone not striving for perfection, but instead working cleverly with their imperfections.
Several years after this playoff, where Tiger Woods made this bold play. He re-lived it in his book. He explained that he was very much aware all he had to do was hit the green – to play safely away from the water. In fact, that’s exactly what he did.
When you’re missing right, aim left Yes, Tiger’s ball almost went in the hole, but that’s not where he was aiming. Besides knowing the smart strategy in this playoff situation, Tiger had noticed something during his warm-up before the playoff: His shots tended to go left. Like Tom Lehman, Tiger had pulled his ball to the left, but because Tiger was aiming to the right, he almost had a hole-in-one.
This is hard to process for many who don’t play golf – indeed many who do play golf. How can the greatest golfer who ever lived be missing to the left? And why would the greatest golfer who ever lived aim away from the hole?
When we see greatness, this is often what’s happening. Tiger was missing to the left, so he aimed right. I call it “aim left,” because it’s just less confusing than “aim right.” Aiming left is simply accepting you’re not perfect, and shooting your shot according to your tendencies. You can use this in your creative work, in your habits, and yes – in golf. When you’re missing to the right, aim left.
Michelangelo aimed left When Michelangelo was hired to paint the Sistine Chapel ceiling, he faced an impossible task. As if it weren’t hard enough to paint 12,000 square feet of ceiling, Michelangelo wasn’t a painter! He was a sculptor. He had hardly painted anything to that point. Add to that, this was fresco – which is incredibly unforgiving. You get a patch of wet plaster to paint on each day, and once it’s dry, it’s literally set in stone.
So what did Michelangelo do? As Ross King – who I talked to on episode 99 explaine
Shiny Object Syndrome
Shiny Object Syndrome is an affliction that causes you to be attracted to “shiny objects.” Shiny objects can be whatever is new and trendy in your field. But oftentimes, the shiny objects are simply new ideas you have – other projects you’d rather be working on. In this form, Shiny Object Syndrome will ruin any chance you have of finishing your current project – unless you do something about it.
Two sources of Shiny Object Syndrome How do you overcome Shiny Object Syndrome? What you need to do is simple: Commit to your current project, ignore the new projects, suck it up, and follow-through. The reality isn’t so simple. Shiny Object Syndrome causes mental distortions that will have you 100% convinced you’re doing the right thing: This old project is a dud. This new project is sure to be a success. To cure Shiny Object Syndrome, we need to know its true sources. That way, we can nip them in the bud, keep Shiny Object Syndrome at bay, and finish projects. There are two main causes of Shiny Object Syndrome:
Naïveté of the novel Frustration with the existing We don’t know much about the new project, so we view it with rose-colored glasses. We know a little too much about our current project, so it looks terrible in comparison. This creates a “grass is greener” effect.
Now how do we get in this position in the first place?
1. Naïveté of the novel As humans, we’re naturally attracted to the novel. That’s how we’ve become such an innovative species. We were not satisfied with the old way of doing things – eating our meat raw and sleeping in the elements – so we’re curious about our neighbor who’s cooking with fire and has built a straw hut.
That explains why we’re attracted to the “shiny objects” in the first place, but there’s more happening in our minds that makes us not only attracted to the shiny object, but that makes us abandon what we have to pursue the unknown.
The Dunning-Kruger effect A powerful force that makes us hop from one shiny object to another is the Dunning-Kruger effect.
The Dunning-Kruger effect is named after it’s originators, psychologists David Dunning and Justin Kruger, who found that when we know a good deal about a field, we underestimate our knowledge, but when we little about a field, we overestimate our knowledge.
The Dunning-Kruger effect is a favorite of internet “gotcha” culture. People love to point out the Dunning-Kruger effect at work in others, but it does a lot of good to recognize it in ourselves.
When we get a great idea for a new project in a field we know little about, we often think that project will be easier than it actually will be. It seems like a good idea to drop what we’re doing, and move on.
2. Frustration with the existing This naïveté of the novel colludes with frustration with the existing. In fact, it adds fuel to that frustration. If we start a new project, thinking it’s going to be easy, we’re even more disillusioned when we realize it’s actually hard.
We’ve run up against all the challenges we didn’t think about. We’ve seen the hidden complexity in the current project. As former guest, Tynan has pointed out, when we’re in the middle of a project, we’ve experienced all of the downsides, but none of the upsides, such as revenue or respect from our peers. Meanwhile, we know very little about the new project. It seems fun and easy.
When we started the current project, we said to ourselves, This will be easy. We’ve realized it’s not so easy, but the Dunning-Kruger effect takes over again. We tell ourselves of the new project, Now THIS will be easy! Just knowing how the naïveté of the novel and frustration with the existing work together to cause Shiny Object Syndrome isn’t enough to cure it. When you’re in this situation, it seems rational. You can come up with good-sounding reasons why the current project isn’t worth the trouble and the new project has a better chance of succe
How I Produce My Weekly Newsletter
If you want to grow an audience online, it’s great to have a consistent newsletter. It keeps you in touch with your subscribers, and it gives you a place to test out small ideas you can later grow into big ideas. I’ve been delivering my Love Mondays newsletter every week for more than 100 weeks (and you can sign up at kdv.co). Here’s how I streamline and automate the process, so I never miss a week.
Small bites of information Newsletters work great as small bites of information. Your subscribers get your newsletter right in their inboxes, so they’re in a hurry. If they know they can get a quick hit or two from your newsletter, they won’t put off opening it.
You can see this with newsletters such as Tim Ferriss’s Five Bullet Friday, or James Clear’s 3-2-1 Thursday. The fact that these newsletters are full of quick hits is right there in the titles.
Keeping the bites organized I design Love Mondays to have a few tiny bites of interesting things, as well as a light main dish. Each Love Mondays newsletter has a quick thought – maybe 150–300 words, about navigating the Extremistan world of making it as a creator. Plus, I have what I call “ABCs” – Aphorisms (or Quotes), Books, and Cool tools. Additionally, I may make a short announcement in the postscript.
Each newsletter has the main quick thought, two ABCs, and sometimes there’s a P.S., sometimes there’s even an P.P.S.
That’s a lot of different things to think up each week, so I’ve designed my system so I don’t have to do it all at once. Using a spreadsheet I built from a service called Airtable, I’m able to organize the ideas I’d like to share in Love Mondays, as well as Aphorisms, Books, Cool tools, and other announcements. I combine them to create each week’s newsletter. My system keeps me from switching mental states trying to think up each item. The spreadsheet also allows me to track the performance of things like subject lines and clicks on items I share, so I can keep making my newsletter better.
Collecting ideas Each newsletter idea starts as an even smaller idea. There’s a sheet in my database that’s full of some of my best-performing tweets. Using Zapier, I have an automation set up so that anytime I “like” one of my own tweets, it gets saved to this sheet in Airtable. It saves the body of the tweet, the number of favorites it has, a link to the tweet, and the date of the tweet.
I “batch” my Love Mondays newsletters on a monthly basis, using the “creative system” I talked about in my book, Mind Management, Not Time Management. To begin a batch of newsletters, I start looking for ideas in this sheet of high-performing tweets. I sort them by date, then make sure the number of likes is updated on all the newest tweets. Then, I sort them by number of likes. I don’t always grow the most popular tweets into newsletter ideas, but seeing the number of likes does help me get a feel for what ideas resonate with my readers better than others.
Collecting Aphorisms, Books, and Cool tools I also have individual sheets in my database for Aphorisms, Books, and Cool tools. My Aphorism sheet also gets populated with a Zapier zap. If I like one of my own tweets, and it has an em dash in it (“—“), that filters the tweet into the quotes sheet, instead of my sheet of ideas. Again, I can sort quotes I’ve shared according to how many likes they got, to get a better feel for which ones my readers will enjoy.
Other than that, I manage the sheets for Books and Cool tools manually.
Reviewing the data Each week, I enter the stats from the previous week’s Love Mondays newsletter. I plug in the number of subscribers it was sent to, and how many opened, to get the open rate. For Books and Cool tools, I enter how many clicks the links got, so I can see each item’s click through rate.
As I consider new Books and Cool tools to share, I check the performance of the past Books and Cool tools I’ve shared, to get an
My Nighttime Routine
You hear a lot about morning routines, but nighttime routines are every bit as important. Your parents probably had a bedtime routine for you, and if you have kids you probably have bedtime routines for them. But we need bedtime routines as adults, too. I follow a specific nighttime routine, and it helps me get to sleep faster, and wake up better-rested.
Wind down, and don’t try to force sleep My nighttime routine follows two overarching principles:
Wind down Don’t try to force sleep 1. Wind down: Before I started my nighttime routine, I didn’t think about what I was doing before bed. I just went to bed when I was tired. I was treating all hours of the day as equal – following time management instead of mind management. Once I started my nighttime routine, I realized “going to bed” starts well before you’re tired. It’s like the difference between crashing a plane and a smooth landing.
2. Don’t try to force sleep: I recently did a sleep study at a lab, and started doing my nighttime routine. But the study was supposed to start before my usual bedtime, and the nurses at the lab wouldn’t let me follow my routine. I didn’t sleep the whole night and the study was a waste. The problem for me was trying to force sleep. I had insomnia as a kid and trying to get to sleep always made me more anxious and less able to sleep. So now I’m careful not to force sleep.
Two phases: wind-down and sleep-time In the spirit of not trying to force sleep, my nighttime routine follows two phases: wind-down and sleep-time.
Wind-down phase: During the wind-down phase, I want to signal to my body that it can get ready for sleep. Again, I’m not trying to force sleep, just giving my body permission to get sleepy. I’ll get more into how I do that in a bit.
Sleep-time phase: In the sleep-time phase, I’m again careful to not force sleep. But I have specific steps I follow that help me transition from the wind-down phase to actually getting to sleep.
Five rules for my nighttime routine Your parents probably had bedtime rules for you. In your bedtime routine as an adult, you need rules for yourself. Here are five rules I follow:
No social media after 9 p.m. No bright screens after 10 p.m. Blue-blocking glasses after 10 p.m. Reading only after 10 p.m. In bed by midnight. Here’s some more detail about each of those:
1. No social media after 9 p.m. I have a theory that associating with anyone you’re not close to before bedtime disrupts your sleep quality. The only proof I have of this is I’ve experienced it myself. Though it would make sense from an evolutionary perspective: You and the tribe might find it hard to sleep if strangers from another tribe were lurking around your campfire.
I don’t want to think about a news story in the world at-large, witness a petty argument amongst strangers, or read a hostile Twitter reply too close to bedtime. I sense that it sets my brain on alarm, making it hard to sleep. Twitter is my social media of choice, and it’s valuable enough to outweigh the above negatives, generally, but not after 9 p.m.
When I say no social media, that doesn’t mean that I won’t chat with a close friend on WhatsApp or Messenger. I would guess associating with people you’re close to before bedtime makes it easier to get to sleep, if anything. I often make a FaceTime call to my father after 9 p.m., but no Twitter.
2. No bright screens after 10 p.m. By now it’s well-established that blue light exposure late at night disrupts sleep and is even associated with higher cancer risk. Yes, our devices have nighttime modes that reduce this light, but I don’t trust that to eliminate blue light completely. So I avoid bright screens, wholesale, after 10 p.m. I stow my phone and tablet in a charging station in my living room, and ignore them until the next morning. This also makes it easier to follow my rule of no social media.
The brightest thing I look at after 10 p.m. is my Kindle. It’s not g
At last a podcast that is not rambling, unprofessional and self-indulgent.
Highly recommend! David is an awesome host and speaks on much needed to hear topics!
THIS is the kind of podcast biz owners NEED!
This podcast is a triple threat -- It teaches you how to affect your mindset, business strategies, and team culture with actionable steps. David's (and his guests) thoughtful advice and guidance is refreshingly straight-forward (no clickbait titles here) and also fun and easy to listen to.