Maria Popova on Writing, Workflow, and Workarounds (#39)

Maria Popova

“Why put in the effort to explain why it isn’t a fit, if they haven’t done the homework to determine if it is a fit?”

– Maria Popova [1:23:00]

Maria Popova has written for amazing outlets like The Atlantic and The New York Times, but I find her most amazing project to be

Founded in 2006 as a weekly email to seven friends, BrainPickings now gets more than 5 million readers per month (!). I read very few blogs regularly, but BrainPickings is one of the few that makes the cut.  It’s a treasure trove.

BrainPickings is Maria’s one-woman labor of love — an inquiry into how to live and what it means to lead a good life.  From Mark Twain to Oscar Wilde and everyone in between, Maria finds the hidden gems. She is also PROLIFIC and makes me look like a sloth.

In this in-depth conversation, we cover just about everything: how it happened, her workflow, how she writes (and workarounds to problems), how her site generates revenue, her workouts, and many more details. If you want to know the habits of a hyper-productive person, this episode is for you.

You can find the transcript of this episode here. Transcripts of all episodes can be found here.

Stream with the player below:

Ep 39: Maria Popova on Writing, Work Arounds, and Building

If you can’t see the above, here are other ways to listen:

This podcast is brought to you by 99Designs, the world’s largest marketplace of graphic designers. Did you know I used 99Designs to rapid prototype the cover for The 4-Hour Body? Here are some of the impressive results.

This episode is also brought to you by ExOfficio, which I’ve personally used since 2005 or so. They make ultra-lightweight, quick drying, antimicrobial clothing for men and women. Here’s my own ultra-light packing list (scroll down for video), which went viral.

QUESTION(S) OF THE DAY: What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever received or read?  Please share in the comments!

Scroll below for links and show notes…


Who should I interview next? Please let me know on Twitter or in the comments.

Do you enjoy this podcast? If so, please leave a short review here. It keeps me going…

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Selected Links from the Episode

Where to Start? BrainPickings Recommendations from Maria Popova

Show Notes (Times Are Approximate)

  • What percentage of New York Times best sellers are a result of Maria’s coverage? [4:55]
  • How to live a meaningful happy life. [10:00]
  • The importance of writing for an audience of one. [12:10]
  • Contending with the temptation to create Buzzfeed-like content. [15:45]
  • Maria Popova’s daily rituals, beliefs on sleep, distraction-avoidance habits, meditation, and exercise routines. [23:25]
  • Maria Popova’s note-taking system. [31:45]
  • Seneca and the time-tested challenge of presence vs. productivity. [37:36]
  • Start-up opportunity? Build a note-taking tool for heavy readers/highlighters. [41:58]
  • About the team behind BrainPickings. [48:45]
  • Maria Popova’s process for editing within her team. [51:12]
  • Self-reliance pathology and how to overcome it. [53:56]
  • How to find a professional personal assistant and delegate. [56:40]
  • What Maria Popova’s weight lifting regiment looks like, plus her favorite bodyweight-only exercise. [1:02:14]
  • Blogging strategies [1:05:22]
  • Social media strategies [1:15:00]
  • How cultivate a personal inner circle, how to pre-screen book review requests [1:20:30]
  • Why there are no dates on the posts on BrainPickings? [01:12:30]
  • Scheduling (and automating) social media [01:22:10]
  • How do you deal with friends who want you to read their books? [01:27:10]
  • What donation model works best for site revenue? [01:31:45]

People Mentioned

The Tim Ferriss Show is one of the most popular podcasts in the world with more than 900 million downloads. It has been selected for "Best of Apple Podcasts" three times, it is often the #1 interview podcast across all of Apple Podcasts, and it's been ranked #1 out of 400,000+ podcasts on many occasions. To listen to any of the past episodes for free, check out this page.

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161 Replies to “Maria Popova on Writing, Workflow, and Workarounds (#39)”

  1. I’m really looking forward to this, Tim. Brainpickings is indeed a treasure trove. Thanks for keeping the great guests coming!

  2. The best writing advice I ever read was that the most important tool a writer needs is ‘bum glue’ glue your bum to the seat and just sit down and write. I am very easily distracted so I could use some of this!

    Thanks for the link to Brainpickings I just had a quick look it looks very interestin.

  3. “He never understood that it was just writing as well as you can and finishing what you start.” -Hemingway from Ernest Hemingway on Writing

    I believe this to be a powerful statement for writing and many other endeavours, do your best, keep at it, and see it through!

    Thanks for the great podcast!

  4. *Amazing* interview. Thanks to both, particularly for addressing the highlighting for heavy readers! Look forward to part 2.

  5. Excellent interview. Thanks to both, particularly for addressing the highlighting for heavy readers! Look forward to part 2.

  6. Some good copywriting advice I’ve read recently: There’s no such thing as writer’s block, you just haven’t done enough research yet.

  7. I love Brain Pickings, can’t wait to listen. Also, as far as who you should interview next, I’d love to hear you with Gary Vaynerchuk.

  8. So grateful for Tim and Maria. I’ve experienced huge growth from their work, art, and giving. I want to be like both of you when I grow up!!!!

    1. J, what the shit you doing around these here parts? I hear this is a bad neighborhood. Good folks like you and I, probably shouldn’t hang out here.

      Hope your doing well.

  9. Hi Tim, here’s my suggestion for your next interviewee:

    Dr. Bryan Roche from the National University of Ireland and on the subject of Relational Frame Theory and increasing IQ.

    1. Thank you so much for this link. I am a high IQ ADHD dyslexic with an amazing gifted (read high IQ but challenging personality) 7yr old. We are both gaining an incredible amount of value from this company. I would have never have found them but for your post here, that I had to comment. It’s amazing when such a small thing makes an enormous impact on people’s lives. Again, thank you, and keep talking about this company, because I would love to see more people benefit from this research and classes. I believe that they should add a button in their shopping cart for purchasers to donate $5 to a scholarship program for people who could use this but can’t afford it.

  10. Best advice: Recognize that as creatives procrastination issues are typically anxiety, or “meaning,” issues in disguise. Tim, check out Dr. Eric Maisel’s “The Van Gogh Blues” for more on this concept. It has had a profound effect on my approach to work, and understanding some of the struggles of writing full-time. His work for writers, including “Mastering Creative Anxiety,” “A Writer’s Space” and tons more are such important reads for creative folks that I’m going to be sharing copies with friends over the holidays. I think you’ll also find his arguments on the creative person’s existentialist struggles informing, even though I’ve read you’re kinda’ so-so on the idea on the whole. The way he frames it is enlightening. I think he might make a pretty cool guest for you as well. The cat is prolific. Peace. D

  11. Hi Tim and Maria

    I have been following your blog for many years, probably 7 or 8 and I think, and this is the first post I have been moved to comment on. It was an excellent and very rich, rewarding interview. There was so much I found useful in it, as an aspiring blogger looking to find my own voice, that I wont try to pick out them all. I did find the ending very poignant however, in that it showed how being genuine and of high integrity in your writing attracts an audience, because people recognise it. It’s like a beacon of quality in a sea of self-interest, that stands out and offers some leadership at this time of change where so many feel at a loss as to the way forward.

    Thank you and Maria for this service you both offer, It is certainly one I hope to rise to in my own publishing.

    Will Richards

  12. Hi Tim,

    You mention that this site is on you regular reading list. What other sites or blogs are on your regular rotation? I would be interested on knowing what places you visit for fun, learning or to stay on top of specific topics.



  13. Tim, the thing I appreciate the most about your podcasts (amazing guests and interviews aside) is that you take the time to post notes, links, and related content. I can’t TELL you how helpful that is! It just takes “interview” to a higher level of education, where you’re not just listening to someone’s story, but you’re presented with a lesson from their life experience in a richer context. Awesome job!

  14. Interview suggestions: Leo Babauta, author of ‘Zen to Done’ . He has distilled Steven Covey and David Allen’s concepts into a simple, actionable productivity system.

    Michael Gerber, author of books on entrepreneurship. He encourages all business owners to structure their businesses as if they were going to franchise them. Ties into Remit’s praise of MacDonald’s system (my first job; I was so impressed with training, process, reinforcement, etc).

  15. Tim, I see you were up late with your writing routine, meant to ask this on the last one, but do you believe “a random walk down walstreet” is a good book in addition to Tony’s for first time investors?

  16. Your podcast has quickly become one of my favorites, great work Tim. Thanks. A good follow up to Maria would be Shane from I think Ryan Holiday mentioned him in your talk with him (he also mentioned Mark Cuban which would be pretty amazing to hear from).

  17. Best advice was from an ex-girlfriend splitting up with me. Paraphrasing her: “your response to everything is negative. Stop, listen to yourself before you speak, and decide what the positive response might be”. Literally a life changer.

  18. With all the garbage that saturates the web and media, it is wonderful to have a blog like yours Tim, that brings great minds and ideas of the modern world to one place so people like myself can become enlightened.

    Your blog has been a real educational tool for me.

    Thank you.

    Kind regards,


    PS. Used UBER for the first time last week, loved easy and comfortable.

  19. Hi Tim, In your latest email you asked who to interview next. Look up Jen Sincero. She’s the author of “you Are a Badass” and I am in the midst of her 8-week coaching program to become my own version of a badass! She is witty and has a great personal story to share to aspiring BAs. She’d make a super interviewee! Kathi

  20. Thank you for this interview. Wow. This is one, along with your recent Tony Robbins discussions, that I will review several times. Lots of gems.

  21. This is a gem of an interview. I have been a subscriber for a while of BrainPickings and she alway was a mystery to me.

    I enjoyed the questions, in particular how to navigate writing content you want verse what is popular. Being an artist this is one I struggle with.

  22. No single suggestion for future posts, just keep up the diversity in interviewees. It’s the unique backgrounds, career paths, and sometimes conflicting opinions of your guests that make the blog interesting and valuable (for me, anyway).

    As a female, there is an extra level of insight and motivation that I get from listening to interviews with female entrepreneurs/thought leaders/creatives/all around ballers. Those that you’ve interviewed have clearly been chosen because they have excelled in their respective fields, not simply because they are female. I value that.

    1. Agreed with Laura. While I don’t necessarily jive with Ms Popova’s world view (i like the internet, news, microsoft, etc), i appreciate hearing from different povs.

  23. I’ve listened to all your podcasts Tim and this was my favorite. I’ve been reading Brainpickings for years and it was nice to get to know the person who is behind it all! Future guests I’d love to hear: Sheryl Sandberg, Elon Musk.

  24. Brother Tim, I enjoy your podcast BUT one thing is frustrating me. You are taking too much time to ask your questions. You leave your audience (and probably the guests) increasingly frustrated waiting for you to stop talking and let your guest answer.

    For example, in your conversation with Popova [38:32-39:04] you ask a question and then follow it with a complimentary explanation before letting her speak. Why not reverse the order and start with the complimentary statement and follow it with the question? She’ll be grateful for the praise and probably more inclined to give an uninhibited and thoughtful response. Don’t get in the way of that.

    Another example is in your conversation with Ohanian, when it took you 30 seconds to ask a question [28:37 to 29:07]. Stop trying to find the perfect choice of words to articulate your question. Your guest is a smart person who understands English, even when spoken by an Ivy League educated author of several bestselling books. By the time you stop talking I sometimes forget what the question was or I’m so annoyed that I stop paying attention.

    I know your goal is to maximize the value and learning from these podcasts, and I think one way to help us get there is to be more mindful in your approach to asking questions. I really enjoy your podcast and I appreciate your effort to produce and organize it so well.

    1. I have to disagree. I like how down to earth your podcast is. I think this gives us listeners a lot of insight into your life and thinking, which we are all interested in. If the podcast was too polished or scripted, it wouldn’t be as enjoyable. I think Tim wants it to be closer to just a conversation with a friend.

      1. When having a conversation with a friend, do you require 30 seconds to ask a simple question? When having a conversation with a friend do you strive to articulate your point with the perfect choice of words? The answer is NO. My suggestions to Tim were for him to stop trying so hard. We want to hear a conversation, not an interview.

        Thank you for supporting my argument.

      2. There are different kinds of conversation. In small talk with a friend, no I don’t usually require 30 seconds to ask a question. However, when I am talking to my coworkers about technical subjects we are working on, yes, sometimes a question takes 30 seconds or longer to ask. Sometimes in seeking for the right question is how we slowly crawl towards the solution of our problems. Tim’s podcast is of this type of conversation, one of digging deep on subjects with people, not a small talk conversation with a stranger or daily catch up with friends. If you don’t ever have conversations where you may need some time to formulate a question, I suggest you may not ever be having very stimulating conversations.

  25. This, Ramit Sethi and Tony Robbins have been absolutely great. Major lifesaver this week while I drive around SoCal for work… Thanks!

  26. I purchased your book a million years ago, then I pop up on your blog list – THANK YOU! Brainpickings – what a gift as well as the many other gifts that your generously share through your blog.

  27. Commenting just on the email you sent and the user experience – ‘kay?

    1. Awesome awesome email. Suggest using one terminology: “go to blog” (or sim) rather than two terms in different places (“read more” and “to comment…) which results in two clicks, two pages — duplicate…!

    2. The blog result was time consuming – time wasteful because it streams like the whole month of entries I guess – and I’m looking for the comments on the first one and it shows up dead last. I have a slow cell connection – 20KBS is good for me. Even so – Tim – this sucks as a user experience for anyone who is just trying to find that one blog entry and comments. Please tell WP to knock it off.

    Looking forward to spending time with the interview tonight. Just the kind of stuff that kicks my ass – in a good way. 8’)

  28. Best writing advice I’ve gotten;

    > “Write epic shit” – corbett barr

    > The AIDA-model

    > Keep it simple (no-one needs fancy words to be impressed)

    > Sound like yourself

    > Write to 1 person (use “you” instead of “we”, “us”

    > Create a shitty first draft, then improve it

    > Include a call to action at the end (question, task)

    > Humor (be human & write for humans)

    > Everyone likes a fancy quote once-in-a-while

  29. Hi Tim,

    Thanks for the awesome blog and this great post. As feedback for your interviews for the podcast, I’d REALLY love it if you could offer a version as a transcript, so we can read the interview rather than listen. I think others would like that too. So much faster to read. It’s so much more efficient. No downloading or streaming hassle. I often don’t find time to listen to a recorded podcast. It gets tucked away in the things I should do pile. But I always seem to be able to find time to quickly read something that has valuable/interesting info. Just my 2 cents.

    Thanks again,


  30. The best advice I read was from James Altucher. Write like you talk and only write about what you have experience in. The second piece of advice he didn’t specifically say but that’s what I gleamed from him while listening to his podcasts. Love your work Tim, keep it coming!!!!

  31. The best piece of writing advice that I got was from one of James Altucher’s podcasts. Write like you talk. This made writing so much easier for me. Keep up the great work Tim!!!!!

  32. Tim, Not sure if anyone has answered the Facebook question yet. But, in case no one has. Here is what I found.

    I went back to last year on her page and looked at the averages of Like/Comments/Shares and there are 2 posts that pretty much kicked off the cascade.

    this one was posted on Oct 8th 2013 and I would think it is safe to say that the title and nature of the post is what grabbed peoples attention. Here is a screenshot of that post.

    Then on Oct 10th 2013 there was another post that dwarfed the previous one about Birthday Dates. Another easily shareable post. Here is a screenshot of that post.

    Up until that point the engagement of the page was pretty standard. These 2 posts were the triggers. I hope this helps answer the question of what happened.

      1. I’m embarrassed at how long I looked at the two screenshots, trying to figure out why the same post made a huge impact twice, before moving down and seeing the real screenshot.

    1. Not to be a hater here, but Maria’s hypocrisy knows no bounds. Affiliate links “scandal” and the unexpected pop on her fan page traffic as found by Chris.

      According to SimilarWeb, she garners 53% of her traffic from Facebook.

      I have no opinion on the quality of her site, but I do smell bullshit and do not take kindly to being pandered to by someone who obviously knows what she is doing but denies it at all cost. [probably worried that donations will decrease]

      Here is the same link she published that drove her social media traffic published by Buzzfeed a year earlier.

      In my opinion, I say own up to it. Put a single advertisement there in your right rail instead of your donation box and make 100k a month and be happy about it. Taking the money is not selling out as long as you are not changing the content you are providing to the public.

      People do not care. If they did, no one would use Google or Facebook, both are heavily ad supported.

      I apologize for my cynicism, but I have never disliked someone more after listening to one of Tim’s podcasts. I just don’t care for people that act so superior to the rest of us.

  33. Excellent interview once again, Tim. I loved hearing about how Maria refuses to compromise her integrity when it comes to creating and sharing content. She won’t simplify her material in order to placate a generation obsessed with immediacy.

  34. Someone I’d love to hear you interview: Derek Sivers. But don’t ask him about CD Baby, as he’s talked and written about that elsewhere, ask him about his life *after* CD Baby: building his blog, his marketing advice for independent musicians, why he gave away his money to charity, and his explorations into cultural relativism (something I imagine you connect with him over). Such an independent thinker who actually acts on his ideas!

    1. Hey thanks for the recommendation. I’d never heard about this guy but I did manage to promote a friend through CDbaby a few years ago. I’ve just downloaded Derek’s audio book and Ted talks, definitely my kind of guy! and he lives in NZ! I’m going back there next week. Thanks again

  35. Hi Tim,

    Great, and at the same time simple, writing advices (to me and my way of intending writing) come from “What I Talk About When I Talk About Running” by Haruki Murakami and some odds reflections available in the web by Raymond Carver (write simple, don’t betray your readers with game of words, read – rewrite again and again).

    There’s also something very intriguing related to fiction-writing that came to me the first time reading a book about a spanish (basque) movie director Julio Medem about lucid/awake dreaming before writing. Later on I discovered that many artists seem to use this way/approach to creations.

    Another book very interesting about story telling and life is Herzog on Herzog by Paul Cronin. That book in many sections is very formative even if sometimes digs very much in the description of Herzog’s movie productions. But even in those very detailed explanations you can find the why and how he made such unbelivable movies.

    I discovered that book weeks ago thanks to Maria Popova and her great post:

    (Actually in her post page she referred to another book “Werner Herzog: A Guide for the Perplexed; Conversations With Paul Cronin” but eventually I bought the other one.)

    I enjoy very much your podcasts and your way of making them.

    It’s very useful and I think you have to keep on going as much as possible.

    The ones I loved most (following my passions and activties) are the ones with:

    – Chase Jervis

    – Kevin Kelly

    – Dan Carlin

    – Mike Shinoda

    – Jason Silva

    – Maria Popova (I appreciated so much what she said about her commnents policy and why people do in that way)

    Most important teachings from above podcasts: create the best craft you can and build your own community step by step, start small and set your rule.

    I enjoyed very much also the ones with Sam Harris and Tony Robbins but for other reasons.

    It’d be great if you can interview Rolf Potts, one day,

    and if you can produce a podcast or a post about the start up scene in Europe (Berlin and London) everythin you know about that.

    It will be very helpful for your european followers.

    Once you asked about your possible next projects and I believe you might try something like tv documentary. Just to give you a reference, something like the “Iconoclast” series. I enjoyed very much two documentaries from that series:

    1) Eddie Vedder vs Laird Hamilton

    2) Sean Penn vs Jon Krakauer

    I’m sure, knowing your books 4HWW and 4HWB, you have very incredible and unique stories to tell and transplant into visual tales.

    Thanks a lot for what you are doing!!!

  36. Hi Tim,

    Can you please reconcile these two things you’ve said?

    1. True fans are what keeps artist alive financially. They are something positive.

    2. Your most diehard or excited fans are also the ones who are most likely to switch to around and become haters.

    The ones who like your stuff the most are bipolar in nature.

    (I couldn’t find your exact phrasing to quote it. I don’t and wouldn’t attribute these exact phrasings to you.

    As someone who likes 70-80% of what you curate or produce, I feel confused. I must have misunderstood something, but so may others have.

    Can you please clear this up? What’s the difference between a True fan, and a “bipolar” fan?

    Thanks for your efforts. Love the quarterly box and these podcasts. You are making a positive dent.

    Future guests: if you can find an angle that hasn’t been covered yet (by pandodaily and other youtube interviews), I’d love to hear you interview Elon musk. He has a very interesting background and operating system, which are obviously related.

    1. Best writing advice:

      1. “Write the way you wish you spoke.”

      2. “Language, communication, thinking and writing all exercise the same muscle. Thinking is simply communicating with yourself, which translates into behavior.

      Improve one and it translates to all the others.”

  37. I can’t wait to listen to this one. THe last Podcast with Tony Robbins was incredible. Thanks so much for these gems, really appreciate it.

  38. I haven’t really followed Brainpickings but I will now. Maria was a great interview and it gives me confidence that knowing a lot about a lot of things is a good thing. I love learning and I hope to emulate her and you along my life.

  39. Hey Tim, I’m half way through this podcast, really savoring it. You two have great chemistry – makes for a fascinating listen.

  40. HI Tim, Avid reader and follower of you. You asked in today’s email who we would like to see you interview. I would love to read about conversations with Warren Buffet, Elon, and Andressen. They seem to be at the forefront of many of the breakthrus as well as keys to investing.

    In this day of barely making it, take us into the stars for gazing.

  41. “Guilt is the flip side of prestige and they’re both horrible reasons to do something.” Maria, wiser words have rarely been uttered. Indeed.

    In this ever growing world of society induced mediocrity, this show is a breath of fresh air.

    Thank you both for the intellectual, inspirational conversation and diving deep into life, learning and truth.

  42. Hey Tim Tim,

    I have been using Bookcision, a tool that makes pulling your highlights out of kindle much easier. You drag it to your bookmarks bar and you can download all your Kindle highlights into a text file (or copy them to your clipboard to past them into Evernote).

    Using Bookcision, I got my highlights from The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing (thanks for recommending this book Tim!). You can download them here to see a sample of how the tool works:

    Check it out here (I like it!):

    ¡Saludos Tim! (and thanks for making the Podcast. It is part of the 80/20 squared of the internet)

  43. What a great interview. I was not previously familiar with either Maria Popova, or BrainPickings. She comes across as such a well-informed, intelligent, positive and wise person. I am signing up for her site immediately based on the interview alone.

  44. Interview Julian Assange. Not about politics – about his interior – he has tremendous skills and has made extraordinary achievements. He’s also an outlier-the kind of person you enjoy learning from

    1. There are a few documentaries out on him but it would be interesting to see how Julian interacts with Tim. Julian is a hard one to interview, I would think.

  45. Eric Brende could be a really cool interview. Author of “Better Off: Flipping the Switch on Technology”. Great read. Clearly a different type of “excellence” that you can deconstruct.

  46. Hi Tim, quick question: I read on your Book Club page that you buy the book rights for books that you like. I think it’s a cool idea, and was wondering how and why you do this?


  47. Hey Tim, you have a tendency to respond with “No, …” in many of your conversations, and in spots where you are not disagreeing. Just wanted to point out the only clunky speech habit I’ve noticed while listening to your excellent conversations. Thanks for your work!

  48. Wholesome. Satisfying. That was a solid interview with a truly great curator of wisdom. Thanks Tim. Keep challenging us to grow.

  49. Loved listening to this! And the comment about “Literature being the original internet” is so true. While I’m guilty of not reading “older” books because I’ve assumed they are “irrelevant” this podcast helped me realize the timeless wisdom of messages (like Seneca) rather than focusing on “it’s too old.”

  50. Just a thought Tim– you asked Maria if she is ever tempted to do listacles to get more clicks/shares, etc., and I wonder why is this a temptation? You have a large audience and I assume you are comfortable– do you have a need for your audience to be larger if compromising your principles (which it sounds like you’re saying that would be) is the price you would pay? You are an amazing person who is accomplishing so much. Who you are and what you do is so valuable and I encourage you to stay true to what you feel is right, and the right audience of the right size will be there for you. Thank you for all your work!

  51. Hi Tim,

    Maria’s first quote sums it up.

    I love her hyper-productive nature too. After publishing eBook #8 in 4 months I can find serious value in this interview.

    She’s a dynamo.

    For me, doing what counts or what really matters, and building my day around what I value, keeps me creating 6 to 7 blog posts daily, publish an eBook every 10 to 14 days, and helping my clients.

    Build your day ONLY around what you most value.

    For me on the networking front, that’s blog commenting.

    So I comment, and promote others, and spend so little time on social because I’m busy writing more eBooks, blog posts, and articles for clients.

    Once in a while trim that fat. Let go stuff you find yourself doing that you don’t value and you’ll learn how to be mind numbingly prolific.

    Thanks for the inspired share as always Tim and Mari!

    Tweeting from Fiji.


    1. Question about that…are you saying that you use blog commenting exclusively for traffic generation, and spending the rest of your time producing your work?

      If so, I’m all about adapting that for myself. Please explain.

  52. Next interview, only if Brian Chicken is unavailable, personally I would love an interview with Robert Kiyosaki, thanks for the awesome work Tim!

  53. thank you so much – both Tim and Maria – for this great inteview with tons of great advice. This will help me a lot – and of cource i signed up for the newsletter on immediately – this site is stunning.

    Best regards


  54. For evernote: What works for me is using the clearly app for evernote to remove the formatting then clip it to evernote and then copy drag any screenshots into the note. It gets rid of all the meta data, buttons, etc on the website but keeps the text, links, and pictures on the page. If you have the clearly app installed when you go to clip something to evernote choose the dropdown option “simplified article”. So you’ll need to download the clearly app and web clipper app from

    1. A more general approach for anyone using Mac is to install Plain Clip ( which strips formatting from text on the clipboard. Put in on your Dock and click it whenever needed. On Windows there used to be a similar program called ClipStrip but it doesn’t seem to be available anymore.

  55. I absolutely love this interview. Brain Pickings has been such an inspiration for me, more so Maria. I love what she said about reading to learn how to lead a more meaningful & fulfilling life. Certainly a food-for-thought on having a purpose even on these little things.

  56. Awesome interview!

    Two things: One thing I was hoping to hear was a bit about how she grew that traffic and list over those years. The notion of 5 million + uniques per month had me salivating, and a mini case study on that would have been sweet.

    Second, I know these are podcasts, but could you have a VA transcribe and put together a PDF or something? I can’t Evernote audio 🙁

  57. Hey Tim and Maria,

    When you guys spoke of the problem of taking notes, it resonated with me. I read a ton of books and take lots of notes, and I have also encountered the problem of how to store my ideas. I use Evernote as well, but I have found that I had to hack together a system of using Evernote, kindle highlights, and other tools in order to keep my thoughts and ideas organized.

    I am a web developer and I am seriously considering building a tool that solves this problem. A note taking/organization system that truly reflects the way the mind works. I would love to chat about ideas and pain-points you have so the solution is actually a good solution for the voracious reader/writer.


    1. I just listened to this episode again – what a gem. Omar, did you ever make or find a decent tool to take and organize notes and thoughts?

  58. Tim and Maria. I am hoping this little tool will help you both with the Kindle highlights and notes transfer to Evernote. I have been using (no affiliation) for a year or two now, and it has never been easier to transfer all of my kindle highlights to Evernote, in literally one click. Give it a try. You can save them in different formats, each in individual note, or all in one note per book etc etc. No more copy/paste, removing formatting, screenshots etc etc.

    They now have a Chrome plugin (2.99 a month) that does it all for you, once you are on the Kindle notes page. So worth the money to me.

    It might not work, however, with PDFs and other imported docs into Kindle, but works fine with Kindle books.

    Good luck and thank you both for the work you do!

  59. Thank you both, Tim and Maria, for this interview. I’ve just been listening to this while packing boxes and getting rid of stuff before I move out of my flat and head off for a few months. Absolutely brilliant resource to have the timings of certain points of the conversation annotated and links to other content mentioned!

    The three things I loved most:

    (1) The fact that Maria showed a resistance to promoting her content for the sake of promotion. This is nice. It’s very interesting to hear from someone who has reached such a large audience and achieved such huge success – and still is grappling with this issue. What I’d like to say is that when your content is that helpful for people, doesn’t it become a matter of responsibility and serving others rather than just promotion? One of the ways around this resistance is to get our little selves out of the way and think of how it is honestly helping others. It’s something I am learning about myself. Glad you brought this point up, Tim..

    (2) Maria’s conviction to do things in a way she feels comfortable with – no fear, no sense of lack! Very inspiring to hear this.

    (3) I love the way you keep asking for more and more detail, Tim. The practical advice is welcome!

  60. Tim, I’m sorry that the first time I’m writing you it’s to leave constructive criticism. I love your books. LOVE your podcast. Your interviews are thoughtful and you have one of the best lineups of guests on the Internet. That said, you have this habit of saying “no” when you mean “yes.” For example, you’ll say, “No, I agree completely,” when responding to an insight from one of your guests. Perhaps I’m one of the few who cringes a little every time it happens. I’m only writing because I know you are a bit obsessive in your desire to improve, and you’ll likely take this in the spirit that it’s intended.

  61. Dear and Beloved TIm,

    I will go against the dominant view here and ask you to consider how many of your listeners are in fact writers and therefore interested in hearing a mind like Maria Popova’s hold forth on kindle highlighting and evernote.. Please, for the rest of us, have her on again soon and ask her to talk about, in detail, the ten things she herself finds most fascinating….

    Love Ya!

  62. You have just introduced me to Brain Pickings and Seneca at the most perfect time. Thanks Tim 🙂

    Oh, and hate Microsoft? There’s always Openoffice.

  63. I think another person has partially answered the Facebook question but to expand on that a little further, on the Facebook business page insights you can track “likes” by date and then compare them to what happened on that day.

    For instance I have a client who picked up 53 likes for one day. I can go back to that date and see what was posted in or around there, whether the posts went viral and what the total reach was.

    I would suspect in Maria’s case (confirmed it looks like by one of your other readers) that a couple of her posts caught a viral slipstream that created a cascading effect in page likes and exposure.

    The page analytics tell the story.

    Thanks for a GREAT interview.

  64. I am an avid listener to the podcast and was pleased to hear Maria mention Tara Brach, a well-known meditation teacher (she is amazing and I listen to her regularly). I teach mindfulness-meditation in a mental health setting, where I work with people who are facing a plethora of challenges and mental illnesses. I have found that having my own mindfulness-meditation practice keeps me grounded as I listen to so much suffering. Watching people with these challenges practice meditation and apply it in the group without judging one another has been amazing to witness and experience.

  65. Great Podcast.

    I have wondered how you approach all the reading and research that you do on a regular basis. I assume that it wouldn’t be as analog as Ryan Holiday system but I just wasn’t sure. Hence I was very excited to hear the discussion in this week’s s podcast. Thank you so much for putting this out into the world.

  66. The best writing advice I ever got applies to all forms of communication… The enthymeme was invented by Aristotle and improved by George Guthridge, author and professor of English at the University of Alaska Fairbanks…. It is the key to persuasive communication.

  67. A great way to capture quotes from either your Kindle or a physical book is to take a photo of the page using Evernote. Evernote will OCR it making all the text searchable. You can then add annotations with Skitch and organize using tags and notebooks. I’ve found this far more effective than trying to use the Kindle note capture functions that Tim and Maria were struggling with.

  68. Hey-ya,

    I’ve really been enjoying the podcasts and my guess is that a review over there means more than a comment here. Unfortunately, every link you have to ‘leave a short review here’ takes me to you podcast page with no option to actually leave a review. I’d love to wax poetic on the things I’ve learned via the podcasts I listened to but I’m not a tech girl. How do I leave a review stating such. The link provided doesn’t offer me the opportunity to share what I love and that’s a shame.

  69. Hi Tim,

    Maria mentioned in this podcast that tracking notes of books and resources in software was not a solved problem. It probably isn’t fully solved yet, but that comment reminded me of Paul Ford’s work-in-progress project called Unscroll.

    He has a short Youtube demo which you can view here.

    Maybe if enough people pester him, he’ll be inspired to finish it. 🙂

    – Chris

  70. Wonderful interview Tim! This was one of my top 5 favorites! Maria’s work is amazing and I am so grateful to have been exposed to her and If you interview her again I want to know what podcasts she listens to besides yours! 🙂

  71. Hi Tim and Maria!

    I listened to your podcast together and really enjoyed it! I just wanted to let you know of a partial solution to your Kindle highlights problem (ie., all the extraneous information comes with your copy-and-paste)

    Once you’ve copied and pasted your highlights into Evernote, copy and paste them again into Workflowy. Then you can search for the terms “Delete this highlight” and “Add a note” and delete those bullets all at once! Here is a 30-second screencast to show you how:

    You can then either just continue to enjoy the highlights in Workflowy or export them in formatted or plain text.

    While you will still have to delete “Read more at location” individually, I hope this saves a bit of time! Enjoy!

    – Rebecca

    PS – I don’t work for Workflowy, nor am I affiliated. Just a happy user!