Writing. Blogging. Tweeting.
What was the original impetus for writing your first book?
David: It took me about 25 years. Really that’s how long it took me to have enough life experience to put GTD together, as well as to realize that it (GTD) was as unique as it was and as badly needed as it was. There really wasn’t anything else out there like it.
Plus I’d been working with some of the best and brightest business people and other over-achievers on the planet and I had become convinced due to their productivity improvements while using the system that it was pretty bullet proof.
In addition I had reconfigured my business and put my name on the masthead so part of my mission was to create a website and was advised by my advisors to create a book – write a bestselling book.
This was pretty intimidating for me but I said well — maybe somebody needs a manual for this and besides, a good business book is a great business card. To a large degree it was a large anticipation but a low expectation exercise. Additionally I wanted to see if I could put GTD in a box such that people who were not around me could get it, I also wanted to see if I could even write a book and also if GTD would be anything that would be recognized as unique in the marketplace. I knew that what I was doing was unique but I wasn’t sure that the world or the marketplace would recognize it as unique.
I know your killer app is Twitter. I even heard you say you could easily give up your mobile phone but you wouldn’t give up Twitter. Why do you prefer Twitter to your beautiful iPhone?
Guy: I can easily give up my iPhone or any other cell phone. I don’t talk much on my iPhone, and I use it mostly as a portable email and Twitter machine. I’m just not a phone person - when I need a phone, I can use a landline as a substitute or grab someone else’s phone for a quick call.
By contrast, I know of no substitute for Twitter. How else can I reach 144,000 people instantly and for free? Twitter is the best marketing tool since television, and unlike television, you don’t need to spend millions of dollars to buy exposure.
Isn’t constant twittering distracting you from daily activities and daily work? I often shut down my Skype, IM, and other tools to make sure I can get stuff done. With you being constantly on Twitter, how do you get stuff done?
Guy: Maybe this is rationalization, but Twitter is not a social diversion for me. It is core to my business. I am in the business of, for example, promoting Alltop right now. Twitter enables me to do that, and the more people who follow me on Twitter, the better I can promote Alltop.
For many people, Twitter is a way to make friends, entertain oneself, and have fun. For me, Twitter is a weapon. In this sense, Tiger Woods approaches golf differently than the weekend duffer. For him, it’s a business — he probably enjoys golf, but it is a business. I enjoy Twitter, but it’s a business.
Let’s start with your blog — you launched it about the same time I launched Nozbe (early 2007) and I’ve been tracking it from the beginning and the growth over 2007 has been incredible, from just a couple of hundred of subscribers to tens of thousands by the end of the year, how did you do it? What were the key components to your success?
Leo: The main thing I’ve done is try to produce extremely useful posts, perhaps 4—5 times a week. I experimented a lot by doing different types of posts and posting schedules, and I’ve found what’s optimal for my readers, for growth, and for my schedule. The key part of this strategy is giving away really useful content that solves readers’ problems. If you keep doing that, they’ll keep coming back, and once you get a decent reader base these types of useful posts also tend to get popular on social media sites such as delicious, stumbleupon, digg and twitter.
Of course, you have to let people know you’re out there, so my second winning strategy has been to write as many guest posts as possible. When you write a guest post for another blog, preferably one that has a lot of the type of readers you’re going after, you’ll reach a lot of new readers and you’ll show them just how great your content is. Then they’ll go to your site, and if you’ve created a lot of great content there too, they’re likely to subscribe.
I’ve tried other strategies as well, but these two strategies are what have been most effective for me.
Your book, “The Power of Less: The Fine Art of Limiting Yourself to the Essential…in Business and in Life” has become a bestseller, when did you manage to write it and what did the process look like? Was it hard to get the book published? Did the success of your e-books help? What would you advise wannabe-authors based on your experience?
Leo: I tell you, it’s tough to write a book and run a busy blog at the same time. The next time I do it, I will probably set up a bunch of posts in advance and take 2—3 week “vacations” to focus on the book writing.
I tried to do both at the same time and I had a difficult time. I would write my book in the morning and then do blog things in the late morning and afternoon. Sometimes I’d get lazy with one or the other and they’d suffer. :)
Surprisingly, it wasn’t hard to get published — what really helped was that my blog was finding some amazing success, really resonating with readers. As a result I had some agents and publishers approach me about doing a book on similar topics, and I jumped at the chance.
I’d advise potential authors to build up a blog, and find a topic and angle that is different from whatever else is out there — something that really resonates with you personally, and with your readers. That’s what worked for me, and once I found some success, it was an easy sell to publish the book.
Now you’re a published author with a fantastic book (I know, I’ve read it), “Get It Done Guy’s Nine Steps to Work Less and Do More” — what made you write the book and how easy/difficult was it? When did you start working on it?
Stever: I started the book in Fall 2008. Then I took a full-time job, worked on the book a bit during the job, and then worked on it full time after returning to self-employment in mid-2009. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done — even harder than MIT, though for different reasons. I’m good at writing, but it doesn’t come easily. My brain needs focus to write, so I basically dropped out of my life for eight months to finish the book.
In Chapter 2: Stop Procrastinating, I introduce Action Days as ways to motivate yourself by involving other people in your goals. An action day is a simple hourly check-in with other live humans to keep each other on track. I scheduled action days every day for the last six weeks of writing. Without those action days, I would never have finished.
You are a busy, busy CEO of a big publishing company — Thomas Nelson Publishers, the largest Christian publishing company in the world and the seventh largest trade book publishing company in the States. How do you find time for blogging and tweeting and everything?
Michael: Well, I think social media really represents the future. And one of my primary jobs as CEO is to network with other people that can help my company and that can help us get visibility for our products and some for our mission. I’ve also found out that social networking (in particular blogging) is a fantastic way to do that. Plus it helps me to sort through my own thinking and make sure that I understand what it is that I believe about various topics and my point of view.
This magazine is about productivity so please tell me how do you make time for all this?
Michael: I don’t really think it takes that much time. If you just take the Twitter, and I’ve run numbers on it, in fact at my blog I’ve got an article called “how long does the twittering actually take?”. And basically I spend 20 or 30 minutes a day. Usually in the morning or later on in the afternoon, as I’m reading through RSS feeds or other articles and I find something that I think will be helpful I tweet it out, or I schedule it to be twittered out later on during the day.
Blogging is a little bit more time intensive, but I usually do that in the evenings or more particularly on the weekends. But again I don’t think you can find the time for it if you see it as additional task. But if you see it as inter-goal to what you are supposed to be doing in your job, like for me as a CEO getting visibility for my company and networking, then it is easy to make time for it.
You have written a book with David, called Rework. How did you come up with the idea of a book?
Jason: Well, the book has actually been writing itself for the past 10 years. We’ve been blogging for 10 years. A lot of these ideas which are started at the blog. So we didn’t set out to write a book, we set out to share and then over ten years of sharing we went back and looked over and thought: “hey we’ve got a book here probably”. We then looked at the blog and we extracted the best of what we talked about, polished it, and made it into a book. We started doing this early in 2009. It took us about 10 months or so to get the book right.
We went to our publisher and there was lots of editing back and forth. Our goal was to keep it as short as possible. This book can be easily read in just 3 hours. Most business books take you much much longer then that… days or weeks actually. I don’t feel that is a good thing, I don’t feel that a book should take that long to read. Especially, if they are about business, which is all about getting back to work. I simply want to get through this book, get the big ideas and get back to work. That’s why it is short.
The cool thing is that we took it from about 57,000 to 27,000 words. So we cut the book by half on the last draft to make it better. This is certainly my belief that if you want to make something great you have to cut it in half. You’ve got to keep it short.
You don’t engage with users on Twitter or other social networks …are they a waste of your time?
Seth: I’m not sure if that’s a waste, all I’m saying is that I can’t do it very well and also do the other things that I want to do. So I go focus on things I can do well and do them with leverage and passion and don’t let the resistance slow me down.
What would you say to aspiring authors? Should they actually go and pitch the publishers or try self-publishing on Amazon?
Seth: I feel very strong that you should pick yourself. You shouldn’t be waiting for someone to pick you, to give you permission to go and make something happen. If that means working with a publisher, that’s fine, but I don’t feel that anybody should say ‘no, you can’t do that”.
You are known as the ultimate marketer with your books like Purple Cow and All Marketers Are Liars — now you switched to personal marketing with Linchpin and Poke the box. Why the switch all of a sudden?
Seth: Well, I’m not sure it’s all of a sudden. You know the Dip was definitely about the very same thing, and a book I wrote back in 1997 called Get what you deserve. The point is the marketing is not advertising. Advertising is a corporate activity that can be done by a committee, marketing is a personal activity that can be done by a human. What I found often when people are stuck on their marketing it’s because they are personally holding themselves back, it’s because somewhere along the way they have persuaded themselves that they didn’t deserve it, that they needed to wait for something, or that some other thing was holding them back. And so I needed to write about it in order for the whole thing to come together.
That totally makes sense. The next thing: practical aspects of blogging. I also blog and many people blog…but then they just stop… how do you manage to post so regularly?
Seth: Well, I think the most important thing to understand about blogging is that if you are blogging for other people you are going to be disappointed. Even if no one would read it I would still blog. And the people I know who blog passionately, all of them say exactly the same thing. So that is the way you have to look at it, you can’t say: “I’m not getting enough comments I’m not going to blog. I’m not getting enough money, I’m not going to blog.” You have to say: “this is a great chance for me to clear my thoughts and put them into the world, what an opportunity.”
Tell me more about your writing. You have 4 unpublished novels, what about them?
Gretchen: You know I’m really not a novelist. That’s really a different kind of skill. So I wrote them because it is fun and…. one of the things that writers often experience is that you don’t really have that much control over what you feel like writing. You can control what you write, but you don’t control what you feel like writing. So, these were good exercises for me, because they were things that I felt like doing. And I think for any kind of writer any kind of writing is like doing scale for a musician. It’s just helpful to be writing. But I’m really a non-fiction writer, doing biographies and other sort of social criticism, that’s what I do professionally. I often do enjoy these side projects, but they are not publishable quality.
Photo: Flickr / Joe in DC CC BY-ND 2.0