Table of Contents

Want 5 quick ways to improve as a podcast host or guest?

Podcasting Doesn’t Have to Be So Much Work According to David Heinemeier Hansson

Podcasting Doesn’t Have to Be So Much Work According to David Heinemeier Hansson

Table of Contents

How are you doing in podcasting as a guest, host, or both?

The podcasting industry’s culture is riddled with hustle, craziness, and busyness on either side of the microphone. But it doesn’t have to be this way. The opposite can be true and ultimately lead to more traction and success! In this blog post, David Heinemeier Hansson, renowned entrepreneur and co-author of the influential book “It Doesn’t Have To Be Crazy At Work,” explores how the insights from his book can be applied to the world of podcasting. David shares empowering strategies for avoiding overwhelm, prioritizing meaningful content creation, and fostering a healthier approach to podcasting. Get ready to walk away with practical advice for maintaining a sustainable and enjoyable podcasting experience!

LISTEN TO THE AUDIO VERSION:

WATCH THE VIDEO VERSION:

 

SEND IT ANYWHERE:


Read the Blog Post: Podcasting Doesn’t Have to Be So Much Work According to David Heinemeier Hansson

Introduction David Heinemeier Hansson

Alex Sanfilippo:
In our last conversation, I told you this morning I went through all things David Heinemeier Hansson. I went through it all to determine what you have been doing on podcasts. And stuff like that. And I still go back to our last interviews. I’m slightly biased, but it’s one of the better interviews. I will encourage everyone to go back and listen to that, and I’ll have a place where everyone can find it. But again, I do appreciate the time.

I’m going to quickly get into a little bit of some of your history just because it’s going to be relevant to today’s conversation for anyone who doesn’t know David Heinemeier Hansson, creator of Ruby on Rails, cofounder of Basecamp and HEY, the La maz; a winning-class race car driver. I mean, how cool is that, right? And then also multiple times, best-selling author.

I have referred to you many times as the closest thing to a real-life Tony Stark that anyone could ever meet. But it turns out I’m wrong, by the way. You’re, like, from the future or something like that. And I say that every time you do something that maybe, like, rocks the boat a little bit, you and I are both on Twitter, so we can see that happening from time to time. It’s because you’re years ahead of where the rest of us will be.

David Heinemeier Hansson was the keynote of PODTalks, are you attending the next one?

A perfect example is you wrote the book Remote Office Not Required. Back in 2013 is when I believe it was. I don’t know if you remember that time, everybody, but we weren’t ready for that message yet. But here we are. We live in that world now. So, again, I want to mention that because, David, this conversation could go anywhere, I feel like. My goal today is to make sure that we hone it in. It’s very valuable for podcast guests and podcast hosts because that is our audience. So I’ve got some ideas around that so we can make it valuable for them. But, man, did I miss anything you wanted to share there?

David Heinemeier Hansson:
No, that’s great. I think the thing about living in the future is that sometimes you’re too early, too. So it sounds like a universally good thing. But we’ve had many products, for example, Campfire Slack, about a decade before Slack took off. And that was early, but it was too early. So it’s sometimes a bit of a mixed blessing to be early to things. But it is satisfying when it pants out, and the rest of the world comes around to how you’ve viewed items for a long time.

David Heinemeier Hansson’s Thoughts on Content Creation

Alex Sanfilippo:
Oh, yeah, like I said, I’ve been following you on social media and stuff, and I’m realizing, like, you say something, I’m like, oh man, that’s interesting. That could work, maybe in one world. And most people are just like, this is ridiculous. This would never happen. And a year later, everyone’s like. We were all wrong. Right? So it’s got some validation on that side of things, but of course, there’s also the products you create or the software you create that you’re like, oh man, too soon. The world wasn’t ready for it, but hopefully, we can get a glimpse into what that future looks like for podcasting as well today.

The first thing I want to mention is what I’ll pull from here is what I consider your most impactful book, titled “It Doesn’t Have to Be Crazy at Work,” but we’re applying that again to podcast guests and hosts. So, “It Doesn’t Have to be Crazy for Podcasters.” I don’t know, man. David, maybe that’s a book we co-author later on, right? So we’ll get into this whole idea of crazy versus calm. But before we do that, I want to talk about content online. I’d love to hear your perspective on where you see digital content and content creation. Where is this whole thing going from your perspective?

David Heinemeier Hansson:
Well, it’s funny because even how you bracketed what it is, content creation was terminology that wasn’t really honed in or applied back when Hansson or I started sharing our quote-unquote content in the early two thousand. Thirty-seven signals. The company behind Basecamp and HEY is from 1999, and when the company launched in 1999, it launched alongside a blog, which ran for over 20 years before we decided to post in different ways.

Using content, something you’ve learned, something you have an opinion on, that’s authentic, to build an audience is one of those time-tested methods of creating awareness about the things that you’re doing, about the things that you believe. – David Heinemeier Hansson

The whole approach of using content, using something you’ve learned, something you have an opinion on, that’s authentic to build an audience. I think that is one of those just time-tested methods of creating awareness about the things that you’re doing, about the things that you believe, and then being able to use that awareness either directly in terms of selling books or access to newsletters or podcasts or whatever else you have you. Or, as with us, we give it all away for free because we make our money on products. And that’s been our marketing strategy if you will.

Related Post: How to Thrive as a Podcaster in The New Era of Content

Even though it was never a strategy where we sat down and decided, oh, we should do this because it’d be great for whatever the marketing metrics. It turned out to be that way, and we learned to appreciate that it was that way when we committed to out-teaching the competition rather than outspending it. It was a necessity, not so much because it was just a strategic point at the start. 37 Signals is a bootstrap company. We’ve built Basecamp, our product management tool, and, HEY, our email platform is entirely bootstrapped.

No investors showed up to give us millions of dollars, and for us to build a market for those two products required us to lean on the things we could do when we didn’t have capital. And that was sharing our perspective, thoughts, software, methodology, and everything we knew and learned as soon as we knew or learned it.

We committed to out-teaching the competition rather than outspending it. It turned out to be a necessity, not just a strategic point at the start, and we’ve learned to appreciate that it was that way. – David Heinemeier Hansson

That’s the other thing I find interesting when I look back on the journey. When we launched Basecamp in 2004, I believe it was in late 2004 or early 2005. We did a seminar called The Building a Basecamp, which was just an early preview of everything we thought we’d learned. Building a SaaS company well before the term SaaS was even coined, and sharing that, treating that as a secondary revenue source, but also as a way of honing and perfecting the content.

Much of that content became a book called Getting Real, the first thing we self-published in 2006. And then many of those topics went into our New York Times bestseller Rework in 2010 and continue to be these planks that we talk about on our podcast that I go on a ton of different podcasts to talk about because many of the topics are evergreen. We cover topics like this:

How should we…

  • Spend our time?
  • Build a company?
  • Hire?
  • Fire?
  • Design new features?
  • How should we do all of these things?

These are themes that we’ve been discussing and thinking about for well over 20 years, and it’s a pleasure. I think in addition to being something that works when it’s authentic and it’s real. It has meat on it. I think one of the things that I’ve sometimes looked upon with some dismay is when this whole approach of using content as a marketing strategy, content marketing gets turned into a tactic. It very quickly becomes inauthentic. It becomes info junk. Like this: Hey! Here are the seven reasons why you become successful, or whatever else that people pull together, not from their own experience, not with any novel insights, but just as a compilation or a distillation, a junk food version of all the other stuff you’ve heard a million times before out there.

That’s why I am ambivalent about content marketing and content in general. Even as a bucket of things. I don’t really like it, calling it content in that way because I like to think about it as sharing lessons I’ve learned, techniques we’ve developed, insights, and perspectives on novel and interesting things. Not that it all is. I write on my blog on HeyWorld almost every day when I’m on a good streak. Not all of that is going to be golden. And I also speak on many different podcasts, including our own, the Rework podcast, where we sometimes record twice a week. Not all of it will be wonderful either, but if you keep doing it, and I’ve probably written, I don’t know, 5000 blog posts over the years, and I’ve probably appeared on 300 podcasts.

how to video podcast with multiple camera views

Eventually, some of it will distill down to something that hits. I like to believe. Maybe that’s not a guarantee, but it is certainly higher ODS of that becoming. So if you practice and tune and perfect it much the same way as I like to think of stand-up comedians. No, stand-up comedians can write an hour-long special, and that’s all golden amazing jokes. No, they have to try a ton of material. They have to try 10 hours of material to come up, sometimes with just 15 minutes of golden nuggets. So that’s kind of how we think about it.

That’s kind of the approach that I’ve had over the years to do it.

But I think what’s been interesting over that long period is, like, I’ve been writing for the Internet for 25 years. I’ve had a blog since the 90s that stayed stable and the same. But podcasting, as a percentage of the time I spend sharing my ideas, has grown enormously, which is funny. We talked for a brief moment here about being early. I remember when Odo, one of the first podcasting services, Whatever, premiered in 2005 from EV Williams, the creator of blogger.com, and it was too early.

Podcasting just wasn’t ready yet. And then boom, you fast forward, whatever, ten years, and suddenly it’s something everyone picks up. You see it grow and bigger and bigger, to the point where I mean, the joke is that everyone and their dog today has a podcast, which to me is a wonderful expression of the ethos of the Internet that we all can share our voice. We don’t have to ask anyone for permission. There’s not like a podcasting publisher you have to go through to be able to put your material out there. It’s just the Internet using open platforms and protocols. And hey, if you’re interesting, good, and stick with it, you can have a great show.

David Heinemeier Hansson’s Thoughts on Shiny Object Syndrome

Alex Sanfilippo:
That’s so great. David, you said a few things here I want to highlight. First, whether you’re a guest or host, our teaching the competition gives it all away. I think that that’s a beautiful thing to be able to do. And then you also mentioned sharing what you learn as soon as you know it. You also said that a second time, just sharing the lessons you’ve learned. And they’re not all going to be gold. But there will be something for somebody in almost everything you share, or you wouldn’t take the time to share it. It will be something that can help and serve somebody else at the end of the day.

I love the analogy you gave the stand-up comedian. You don’t just say, here’s my full-hour program. No, it is thousands of hours of being on stage. Okay, that joke landed. The other 30 didn’t. Okay, that joke landed, and the additional 28 didn’t. You are eventually putting enough together. It’s about getting those reps, which everyone must understand. The future of content is just us being more human and sharing our experiences with others. So I love that you shared that, David. It brings me straight to another question: I want to ensure we get into it daily. Right now, online, there are new tools, products, AIs, and everything for podcast hosts and guests. Like now, it’s on both sides of the mic. It was just a podcast host for a while, but all these things are also arising for the guest side.

Shiny object syndrome is a real thing. What are your thoughts on balancing what we should be looking at and what we shouldn’t be looking at?

David Heinemeier Hansson:
Yeah, I think it’s mainly right now around AI. It’s such a novel domain. It’s popped up and expanded incredibly quickly, probably quicker than any other domain I can remember looking at. I mean, you can take a format like podcasting, for example. How long did it take from the early podcast? And I think 2001 the term was coined or 2002, and then it came out in 2004.

Yes. And for that to roll out and become something, that was a very long process, even something more recent like crypto also had quite a long gestation period. AI has at least a feeling amongst those who aren’t in the field like it happened overnight. And part of that is that those improvements that have been happening after the initial premiere have been almost unbelievably fast. I almost feel like this is an argument for some metaverse or simulation acceleration. Someone hit fast forward on innovation because they were bored, and boom, we’ve gotten in six months what most fields and new ideas would have taken years to progress with.

I think if you look at something like Mid Journey, for example, which also only came out, what, nine months ago, you look at version one, like the fingers are all weird and freaky, and quality just isn’t that great. And then you look at Mid Journey five one, and you go like holy smokes, these are some of the best images of any kind. It’s not even that AI is competitive. It’s that it’s playing in the absolute elite arena right away.

With all that said, though, I have had it up to my eyeballs in, like, look what happened in AI this week. Everything you knew is out the window, and whatever novel is in. Come on, calm down. Take a freaking breath. There’s a lot of FOMO right now. Fear of missing out when the reality is no one has a clue where this is going to land in six months. And what you have is a sea of speculation.

Becoming confident as a podcast guest but feeling nervous

Oh, graphic designers are dead, programmers are dead, photographers are dead. All these industries are supposedly gone. And I’m not saying there won’t be some upheaval, but maybe we’re just a little early to declare what the final picture of all this will look at. And I think I mean, I have ChatGTP in a pinned tab, and I have used it this week a few times in some of my programming work. But for example, some of the use cases that some folks have been excited about have been like, oh, ChatGTP can write and read my emails. Well, there’s something odd in that conflation.

If you need a piece of AI to write your emails, you’re probably just being too verbose because they’re sitting someone on the other side asking that same AI. To summarize, you made an AI, so their AI can decode it into the bullet points they’re just interested in reading.

What if you skipped the AI to AI nonsense and started writing better, writing shorter?

At this point, a good quarter of all my email replies are a single emoji-like thumbs up. Yes. Good. Let’s go. So I have a little ambivalence with the whole AI advancement, but I’m also excited, especially on the image side. I’d say on the text side, which is what’s gotten a lot of attention. I don’t know. I haven’t seen a ton of truly great writing. I’ve seen a lot of hallucinations. I’ve seen a lot of other aspects of AI that doesn’t feel quite ready yet, but like generative fill-in Photoshop, yeah, that’s just pure magic. Where I’ve used it myself. On the audio side, though, it is also pretty neat. I’ve been using, Descript, the new tool I’ve been using for making video tutorials. And what I love about the script is it’s a way for me to record a video.

Like, I did a video for a new software tool we’ve been building to do some deployment for our applications. And in the past, I’d say the last time I did this was a few years ago. We put out another software tool called Hotwire, and I wanted to make a 15-minute video about it. And I could not find a way to create that 15-minute video in a way that felt right without doing it in a single take. It’s pretty to do a single take 15 minutes, super tight, super dense screencast without making mistakes. And I’m such, at times when I’m in that mode, an annoying perfectionist. So I spent 8 hours recording that 15 minutes, putting everything right.

But then, with Descript I used for the second round, it was much quicker because I could do the whole thing. And then I could cut out my UMS and my Oz, and I could rewrite some of the mistakes I would make in my voice, and it would feel like a single-cut take. Yet it was, I don’t know, 1015 cuts. And then I could take it from an eight-hour project to perhaps a two-hour project or three-hour project that felt like, oh, yeah, this is advancing, and it’s allowing ourselves to be better in ways I also it feels like a little bit like Auto-Tune for podcasting a little bit.

Or Instagram filters, right, where we all sound perfect all the time. Which perhaps isn’t always great either. So I also enjoy the polar opposite of that, which is just the single take. It has all the umms and the ah-hs, which also gives it some authenticity. I’m not sure exactly where we’ll land, but that’s been some of my explorations into this space.

JOMO Instead of FOMO

Alex Sanfilippo:
Very cool. The only thing we’re removing from this is that I don’t do a lot of editing, just your curse words. That’s the only thing going away—e for everyone, not for explicit. You said a couple of things here I want to highlight because going back to the original question about whether we should be using more tools and exploring them all the time. And I find that this gets us into this Hustle mode of, like, OOH, this is out.

I’ll use two somewhat recent examples:

  • One, TikTok came out, got to be on TikTok if you want to be a podcaster.
  • And the next one was YouTube. Having your podcast on YouTube to be a podcaster would be best.

But the truth is, the only thing you must do to be a podcaster on either side of the mic is record podcast episodes and let them get released. That’s the only requirement. And you talked about FOMO, but I’ve also heard you speak about JOMO Joy of Missing Out, and I think that in many ways, we have to sit back and say, you know what, it’s okay to let someone figure out this whole AI thing. And I’ll just come in later when it’s been figured out and spend 15 minutes instead of the next two months trying to figure out how to make it work.

Do you agree with that notion? All because I know that I’m sure every day new tools are coming your way that people want you to look at is like, wow, look what this did, look what that did. How do you shift from FOMO to JOMO? I guess that is the best way to say this.

David Heinemeier Hansson:
Absolutely. Well, I do it intentionally by accepting that I’m not an early adopter, which perhaps sounds a little strange in the context of some of the earlier things we discussed being early. But the things I’m early on, someone else, many other people were way earlier. I don’t want to be first is hard—first means clearing the path. I don’t mind being sort of in the trail of that.

In the second expedition, there’s sort of the bell curve of adoption talks about the pragmatists. I’m probably more into pragmatism. Not in the early adopter phase on a lot of things. Not everything, but on a lot of things. And I feel completely at ease and at peace with that. I mean, AI, of course, is the big example right now. And we had a conversation internally at 37 Signals about whether we should rush to get some AI features into Basecamp.

Maybe Basecamp could prepare a message post for you, or it could get a to-do list going. And we looked at that and went like, but is that what people want? Does it feel like it’s real value here? And a bunch of competitors rushed in, adding a bunch of AI tools to a Mi, going like, I don’t know, man, I don’t want to read the verbose. Often. That AI. You can bleep that word puts out. And why would we want to make tools early on when we haven’t figured out the value? Totally on board with the JOMO, the joy of missing out, sitting back, relaxing, and not just freaking out.

There are so many people, like if I don’t learn all the AI this minute. I’m going to be behind the curve. What are you talking about? The whole point of why people are excited about AI is that it’s an entirely conversational prompt link, which you’re using in English. And yeah, there are a few tips and tricks here, but it’s not like you need a Ph.D. to get started on it to do any AI stuff. So if you sit on the sidelines and wait until this stuff gets a little more approachable, you’ll be spending your time better unless you’re like AI. That’s what I want to do. Like, that’s my field. Okay, be a pioneer, pick up a shovel, and be the first in line. Most people don’t fall into that category.

Alex Sanfilippo:
And it is excellent, man. And I hope that everyone takes this to heart because, when I shifted away from this idea, I’ve got to try all these new tools, these shiny objects, and now I’m not the early adopter. I have a list of things I’m looking for, and when I see them, I know that’s what I’ve been looking for. I’ve been waiting for that. Here it is. I’ll grab it. But it’s so freeing. Like, I’m much more relaxed, so I’m glad you shared that side note here. By the way, David, I’ve gotten an emoji response from it’s just a thumbs up, which I know means love you, bro. I’m so proud of you. That’s how I read it, at least. So I guess it’s up for, however we want to articulate it.

David Heinemeier Hansson:
That’s the beauty of emoji, right? It’s an open story for anyone to put their hopes, dreams, and aspirations into, which is a beautiful way to communicate a lot of the time.

David Heinemeier Hansson and Setting Goals

Alex Sanfilippo:
I want to talk about this notion of having no goal, which I’ve heard you write about in some ways. I’ve listened to you talk about it as podcast guests and hosts. Should we have no goal when we’re coming into this area that we’re at right now?

David Heinemeier Hansson:
The problem with goals is that if you don’t meet them, you feel crap about yourself. Oh, I set my goal. I’m going to have 1000 listeners within a month. And you don’t have 1000 listeners within a month. Maybe you only have 600. And then you look at that. I felt 400 short. Well, or you’re up 600. So much of what we perceive in this world is filtered through our preconceived notions of what it ought to be instead of simply accepting that reality is going to come your way and whether you feel bad about it or good about it is a choice.

You can choose to look, wow, amazing. I got 600 listeners to my show rather than going, oh man, I missed my target of 1000. The other thing is if you then meet that goal, it often gives you a moment’s worth of satisfaction. Yes, hooray, I got 1000 listeners. And then you just set yourself another goal. Now I need 2000… I need 5000… I need 10,000!

build repetition in podcasting - it's like working out

We’ve tried to design how we do business so that we’re not on that treadmill of constant goal setting and meeting and exceeding and feeling bad about it or temporarily excited about it and replaced it with a dedication to habits. I want to be a specific person who tries hard. I want to be a persistent person who sticks with things, especially in this podcasting world. Podcasting statistics show that 95% of all podcasters would not make it through episode three. So if you just made it to episode four, you’re already in the top 5%. That’s pretty incredible. And then I thought I saw another stat that said 1% makes it past a year.

You’re in the 99th percentile if you stick with something for a year. And that’s the habit I look to cultivate on a recurrent basis and focus on that rather than these incremental goals, rather than like, oh, I got to meet this metric or worry about that metric.

So much of what happens, we don’t even have a direct influence over it.

  • What we have a direct impact over is, will I stick with it?
  • Will I try harder?
  • Will I be better today than I was yesterday?

hose are the things we can feel like they’re within our sphere of control and we can do something about, and that feels empowering, a metric, how someone else reacts to something. You do. You have no power over it. And I see this repeatedly, even after sharing so much over 20 years. I’ll put a bunch of heart and soul into a piece I write, and I think this will be a banger. It’s the one, right, rickets. Nothing happened. No one cares, right?

I might have spent hours on this piece, but I’ll write something else that takes seven minutes. The original post I did on our cloud exit was like a throwaway post. I spent less than 15 minutes on that post. It was seen more than 5 million times on LinkedIn alone. And I went like. I don’t know how to make a hit. No one does. And I think they’re blowing you smoke if they say they do. What most people can do is they can put themselves in a position to have a hit by keep slamming at the balls coming their way, and they got to hit 100 balls before there’s a home run in there, even if you’ve hit up 500 home runs.

I’ve had a lot of posts and appearances, and whatever goes viral and goes big over the years. And even with all that, I still don’t know what’s the secret sauce, what’s the magic that makes this piece, episode, guest, or topic take off when it takes off; no one knows. And that’s also the charm of it. That’s the excitement of it. That’s the sort of you pull the lever, and you don’t know what you’ll get, and sometimes it just comes up a jackpot. And that’s why it’s so addictive in some sense. But. I try to focus not on those outcomes but on my inputs.

Calm vs. Hustle

Alex Sanfilippo:
Man, I love what you just said at the end there. The way I put this internally and with our team is we don’t set outcome-based goals. So our goal isn’t to have 50,000 people listen to each podcast episode. By the end of this year, our goal is to reach. I can’t remember the exact number, 200 and some OD episodes, which is one a week, so that I can stick to that. And I always tell podcasters that we created what’s called PodMatch.  It is an excellent award plaque for podcasters, but we only celebrate the milestones of episode releases. So it’s 100, 200, and 300 hundred episodes that have been released.

And people I have people reach out all the time. I have 70 episodes right now, but I have 4 million downloads. I think I qualify. I’m like, come back when we hit 30 more episodes. And the wild thing is, many of them don’t make it. They have all those downloads, but they can’t keep up. I’d instead celebrate the non-outcome-based goal, and I love that you’re also sharing that. It takes a lot of pressure off us, saying I need more downloads, any more downloads. Instead of saying, and everyone who’s ever listened to me has heard me say this, do for one what you wish you could do for all.

Seek to serve one person and keep on going. Eventually, it’ll grow. And also, you’ll start getting some real traction because you’ve just stayed consistent for so long. That’s what people look for at the end of the day.

So, David, I appreciate your thoughts on that. I want to move on here because I think it flows well with this. I want to talk about being practical instead of productive, like the difference between the two. Because if there’s one thing I’ve noticed, podcast guests, podcast hosts, whether they have a business with it or not, there is no reason they’re doing it. Almost everyone I talk to is stressed out, is dealing with anxiety, is just up to their limit right now, and they’ve got so much to show for it. But is it worth it? I want to turn it over to you and give you some free rein here because I know your thoughts on this topic.

David Heinemeier Hansson:
First, you must accept that there is no magic relationship between how hard you grind and what kind of success you get. Now, I say that while believing as you just talked about, you have to stick with it. But what does that mean? Sticking with it is something about endurance. For how long can you go? It’s not about whether you can work 60 or 70 or 80, or 100 hours a week.

I think that is a recipe for most people to burn out miserably. I know very few individuals, Gary Vee aside, who can keep that kind of mad hustler grind up for a duration and not end up in bits and pieces. And we’ve never done it.

We’ve done the opposite.

When we started creating Basecamp, I worked 10 hours per week, not per day, on that project. It was a side project. It was something we did. After all, we needed it because we wanted it, but we weren’t willing to risk everything. And I think this is one of the things that people sometimes get too enamored with their passion or their vision or their project, and they go all in, all risk, all chips on the table. Of course, that’s stressful. What kind of stress would you not have if you put all your chips in red? 26? I don’t know if 26 is actually.

That is not a strategy that appeals to me. I’m an incredibly risk-averse person. I will occasionally take measured risks, and what looks from the outside like a wild risk is usually not in my assessment because I’ve done the analysis, and it won’t be a wild risk in my optics. So this idea that if you grind ever harder like that, there’s no tip to it, I think it’s false. I find that I do my best writing, work, and appearances when I’m not pushing too hard when I’m not at the edge of adhesion. And I do a lot to make sure that my brain is fresh. I sleep eight-plus hours a night, every night, religiously monitored by an aura ring.

I’ve done so for decades. I know exactly what my body feels like if I get under seven and a half hours. I know what my body feels like if I am not breathing fresh air. So I monitor my CO2 concentration in my little office, open the windows, and do all these other things. I try to do a lot of things to make sure that I show up with an, I mean, that sounds like hustler ethics, perhaps, but like an A game, like my A brain, and then I don’t think like, oh, I got to run it for as long as possible. When I look at any given day, if I get four or 5 hours out of any given day that I put in on a project that matters and I make progress, that’s an amazing day.

My amazing days are not like ten or 12 hours. I barely, if ever, get even 8 hours of straight, productive, valuable grind out of it. So I think you got to get out of that. You got to get out of this hero mode, this push-through at all cost mode, and go like, you know what? I’m going to go the distance instead. I’m going to go twice as far. I might burn half as bright initially, but I will get to the end.

Partnerships/Collaborations

Alex Sanfilippo:
Man, I love this. And you were the guy who taught me to avoid chasing inbox zero. When we had our last conversation, I was like, man, I’m that guy he’s just talking about because it never stops. And I was the person who was checking my email 20 or more times a day. I started logging how many times I was going to my inbox. I’m like, oh my gosh. So now I check it twice a day. And really, I’m getting more work done by not doing that. I want to get your thoughts on one of the big things I see in podcasting because I’m not even really sure how to handle this.

This is a bit of coaching for Alex real quick. David, so hi, everybody. I hope you’re all doing well being here with us. But meetings, collaboration calls, partnership calls, virtual coffees, all these things, I have to say no. But how do I say no without offending people? Because people get so upset when you tell them no. And maybe I shouldn’t care, I don’t know. I won’t try to give myself the advice, but I know I’m not the only podcaster in that space. Again, guest and host, everyone’s default is to get a virtual copy, see if we can partner, and see if we can collaborate. How do you manage something like that?

David Heinemeier Hansson:
So a couple of answers here. One is I have two seasons. I have the season of no, and I have the season of yes. I primarily run in the season of no. And when I’m in the season of no, I say no to almost everything just automatically. No, I’m not going to come to the conference. No, I’m not going to come on the podcast. Podcasting is a great example right now. I’d said yes to you during a season of yes. I’d said yes to many appearances, and that season was well passed. I’ve been saying no to every inbound podcast invitation. I get quite a few. And I’ve just said, like, hey, reach back out in September. I’m in a season of no.

I’m just not going to entertain that. And I find it is sometimes more accessible for people to accept the negative because it’s not right now. And I leave it open. That like, hey, do you know what? Six months from now might be it. I’ve also had people reach out, like, I just started my podcast. Would you be my first guest? And I’m like, no, I won’t. I’m sorry, but I can’t be on everything. And to get the things and the themes that I care about out to people, I have to ration my appearances to show either on people I already know and connect with or on podcasts with some traction. And then the answer is, like, fantastic.

You started a podcast. Please invite me to episode 100. And then, of course, you know that episode 100. I don’t know what that percentile is, but it’s probably 0.1 who makes it to episode 100. So it’s a pretty safe promise to make.

And it’s not even a promise I’ll entertain it again if you make it all that far. And, of course, most people don’t, so that’s an excellent filter to go through. But then part of it is don’t feel bad about it. I mean, my first filter is I use HEY, obviously, for all my email when I get inbound stuff unless it’s written to me in a way where I can sense someone took the time to figure out what I’m about, what they wanted out of it. They don’t even make it to my inbox. They go straight into my screener, this feature of hey, and I tap no.

You don’t owe the world a reply.

You don’t. Mainly when it’s not a proportionate level of investment, I get all these outreaches from people who I don’t want to say spam because that’s not quite right, but it’s halfway between spam and ham. It is like someone, whatever, put me on some list, and I got some 80% boilerplate outreach. I’m Sorry, dude, I don’t have time for 80% boilerplate. If you want to write me 100% genuine, I want to talk to you thing, all right, I’ll write you back. Otherwise, I have no guilt about pushing no. And then the great thing in HEY is that you don’t see any follow-ups.

That’s where much of the guilt often comes in, or at least it did for me when I was still using Gmail. Someone would send me something, and I’d leave it in the inbox because I wouldn’t say I liked it. How do I say no to this person? And I’d leave it in the inbox for two weeks, and they’d follow up like, hey, I don’t know if there was a busy time before. I’m just catching up again, whatever.

Right? And now I felt guilted into replying because the person was following up. I never see that in HEY. It just goes into no. The screener takes care of it. That person I won’t hear from again. So that’s a way of doing it, using different tactics such that a minority of things come in. And then me going like, you know what? I love Derek—Siver’s. Take here. I don’t say yes to maybe it’s either yeah or no. Oh, yeah. That sounds like a great podcast. That sounds like a great host. Sounds like a great topic. I’d love to talk about that for 30 minutes or an hour, or it’s like, I don’t know, I guess maybe. No, man, that’s so good.

Manage Your Attention

Alex Sanfilippo:
Thank you. A lot of wisdom benefits me because I tend to be the guy, and many people watching and listening probably feel the same way. Hopefully, I’m not alone where you feel guilty. We’re like, oh, man, someone put time into this. But I can’t give everyone 20 minutes of my time today because that’s over 28 hours, and there are only 24 in the day. Right.

David Heinemeier Hansson:
It’s not about time. It’s the attention. I don’t have 8 hours of attention in a given workday. I have way less, and you will splinter it. If I give someone 30 minutes or 20 minutes or what I’ve gotten, the most preposterous outreach I get is five minutes. You can’t say anything worth anything in five minutes. That is not a thing. That is a bait and switch. We will not have a five-minute conversation. We’ll have a 30-minute conversation. And you tried to get me to have that by saying it was five, and it wasn’t.

Even so, though, this idea that I have something on my calendar dramatically reduces the efficiency of that day. The value of a day with an empty calendar is ten x the value of a day with 320 minutes of engagements, even though those three times 20 minutes are only an hour, and there should be seven left. That’s not how it works. Time doesn’t yield in that way. It gets exponentially more valuable the more contiguous it is.

Alex Sanfilippo:
Man, that’s amazing. I love that. So as we get to the end of our time here, I want to talk to you about one more thing, and this is just some final thoughts here that you can share on choosing calm internally. The way that I’ve done this is with the team. Anytime something feels like it has pressure, somebody, not even me, will say, hey, remember, we have a culture of calm.

Whenever I’m talking to another podcasting company that’s apologizing for an outage they had, I always respond the same way. I said, no worries at all. We work in podcasting, where nothing is ever urgent because no one will die if our content comes out. Right. Like, it’s just the fact of it. And some people are like some of the company’s owners. They’ll say, wow, that was so helpful for me today. You’re one of the guys who has just led the way with this idea of having calm in your work, your podcast, or your podcast. Guesting, can you quickly give us some inspiration before we end our time?

David Heinemeier Hansson:
Yeah. First, I think you premised it well. Calm is a choice, and many people do not make that choice. They choose ASAP they choose. They’re always in the current moment, regardless of the underlying issue, and that is simply a disease. ASAP ism is a disease. This idea that everything has to be done right now, rush, rush, rush, go, go, is a disease. And you can cure yourself through a change of perspective. I found that the best way to stick with that change of perspective. Sometimes you can internalize, oh, yeah, I want to be calm company, and then five minutes later, something comes in, and your head is on fire again. It isn’t easy to build up a habit of thinking just this way.

In the same way, it is challenging to build up a habit of exercising or anything else. The philosophy of Stoicism has been incredible for me in terms of cementing and anchoring this notion that there’s enough time if I spend it well. And the emphasis is really on spending it well, and I can’t spend it well if I’m running around like a headless chicken, constantly chasing everything as though it is an emergency.

I help run a company of almost 80 people. We serve well over 100,000 customers, millions of users. You’d think in that environment. There are a bunch of genuinely urgent things. Yeah, there are about, like, five every year. Five things every year are like, wow, this is critical. It’s got to happen right now. The servers are down, whatever. Yet that’s a complete choice. I know plenty of entrepreneurs who have a small slice of what I have on my plate regarding obligations, and they’re constantly running around sweating. So it is that mental shift.

I encourage anyone to dip into story philosophy for inspiration on how to deal with that. The book I always recommend is The Manual by Epictetus. It’s like the espresso version of Stoicism. You can read in 40 minutes, and if that opens your eyes, you can carry on with, like, on the Shortness of Life by Seneca or The Meditations by Marcus Aurelius, and then at least you have some timely weight to it.

Sometimes I think we’re like. I don’t know. Can I commit to being calm? Can I commit to being stress-free? If you read of someone who was the emperor of Rome two and a half thousand years ago, and you’re like if that person with, like, I don’t know, the barbarians coming down from the north, the internal strife, was somehow able to find serenity in his head, I mean, my troubles seem pretty quaint in comparison.

Alex Sanfilippo:
Man, that’s good. Something that I’ve heard you say that I want to end with here is say calm means getting comfortable with enough!


About David Heinemeier Hansson

David Heinemeier Hansson is the creator of Ruby on Rails, cofounder of Basecamp & HEY, best-selling author, Le Mans class-winning racing driver, antitrust advocate, an investor in Danish startups, frequent podcast guest, and family man.


💬 What was your big takeaway or insight gained from this episode?

Join the Conversation