Maria Popova on Being Interesting, Creating More Time in a Day, And How to Start A Successful Blog (#92)

The Tim Ferriss Show QnA with Maria Popova

“Life is a continual process of arrival into who we are.”

– Maria Popova

Maria Popova (@brainpicker) 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.

Maria is massively successful, and her output is staggering. None of it’s accidental, and she’s great at teaching what she’s learned.

This episode answers the top-10 most popular questions you all had for Maria, including:

  • The single attribute that leads to greatness in any given field
  • Required reading and habits for anyone in public office
  • How Henry David Thoreau was the first to talk about the dangers of sitting
  • Why we must stop referring to our work as “content”
#92: Maria Popova on Being Interesting, Creating More Time in a Day, And How to Start A Successful Blog

Want to hear more from Maria Popova — Listen to our conversation in which we discuss writing, workflow, and workarounds (stream below or right-click here to download):

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

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QUESTION(S) OF THE DAY: What blogs do you consider a must-read every week? What makes those sites worth your time? Please let me know in the comments.

Scroll below for links and show notes…


Selected Links from the Episode

Mentioned from Brain Pickings

Show Notes

  • What advice would you give to someone just starting a blog? [4:07]
  • You have probably read all the wisdom shared on Brain Pickings. Has this helped you become who you want to be? If not, what is stopping you? [8:45]
  • What is the most significant characteristic that distinguishes people who have accomplished greatness in any given field? [11:43]
  • How do you decide what to read? What makes something not worth reading? [16:00]
  • What book have you read multiple times? [19:23]
  • If you could guarantee that every public official or leader read one book and engaged in one habit, what would those be? [24:38]
  • How do you turn down invitations that don’t interest you? How do you avoid losing time in your day? [26:05]

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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58 Replies to “Maria Popova on Being Interesting, Creating More Time in a Day, And How to Start A Successful Blog (#92)”

  1. Tim, I have your book. Love it!!

    Thanks for bringing Maria, and so many other people and concepts, to my attention in this blog.

    I’m an avid reader but have never said thanks! 🙂

  2. Loved this! Maria, thanks for sharing your tips about blogging…I’ve been struggling to find direction in that area with a new business venture, and now I have some ideas.

  3. One of my favorite blogs to read (besides Tim’s) is:

    It’s great blog applying zen simplicity principles to several aspects of everyday life (e.g. health, goals, motivation). It’s a great read in the morning to get your day off to a positive start and give you principles to focus on as you go throughout the day

    I recommend starting with “12 Indispensable Mindful Living Tools”:

    1. Hey mike i saw that you read zen habits also.

      I just began my blogging journey and I was hoping to get in contact with Leo to get some feedback on a recent article i wrote, but he’s too busy to take on anything else.

      Since you seem like an avid readers of his, would you be willing to give me some feedback on my recent article about self-awareness? I’d greatly appreciate it.

      You can use a phony email if you’d like! Haha

  4. I’m so glad this meeting of the minds happened! What a treat.

    It’s Cheryl, with a “c”, under People Mentioned.

  5. I like the idea of bringing back guests to answer the most pressing questions. I hope you’re able to do this for all your guests. I enjoyed this so much.

  6. Tim,

    Recommended second only to your blog, for anyone who asks me about traditional versus independent publishing or eBooks (I’m a recently published writer–2011–of women’s commercial fiction/paranormal; formerly a news journalist and learning industry professional). The blog is run by “passive guy” a very brilliant IP attorney who has examined and keeps astounding daily tabs on both traditional and independent print and eBook processes. True to his name, he remains remarkably objective while the insanity of the ever-changing publishing landscape presents us with continual landmines and the occasional quarterly atom bomb. But that’s not the biggest gem…the real value, and he’s the first one to say so, is all the multipublished authors, agents, and editors that “comment” on multiple daily articles! Many of the blog comment sections are like mini case studies. This alone makes his several years of archives worth sitting down to over a long weekend.

    Thanks for all the great tools you’ve shared over the last few years, been a follower since 4HWW came out and recently shared the hell out of your suicide article. Have started learning German btw, and recently chatted with Eddie Izzard after one of his performances here in Arizona about being a polyglot. I’m experimenting now with polyphasic sleep and nootropics–both seem to be helping me get a handle on my barely controlled chaos. Godt helbred!

  7. Ah Tim! I have yet to listen to this pod cast, but I am no doubt sure that the fact that I was completely taken in by your original interview with maria Popova that this will be nothing short of amazing! I Thoroughly enjoy every single pod cast of yours that I have listened to! This is not an easy task to accomplish and shows just how well you do at this type of thing. I would like you to know that your quite inspiring!

    I realise you are very busy but I thought I should ask even if the chance of you getting back to my comment is quite slim but here goes: I Hope you will not mind if I do Review of one of your pod casts on my small-blog and link This website to it?

    Thanks in advance, and keep up the posts they are a great brake for my week!

  8. Is anybody else buying underwear from Tim’s sponsor? I bought them and they’re really pretty good. [Moderator: link removed]


  9. Tim – Great starting phrases for the Popova podcast. Are you learning Turkish? Cok Tesekurler arkadasim.

  10. Another excellent episode on the Tim Ferris show. Just finished watching the Tim Ferris experiment last night – great series. My favourite was the “How to Start a Business” episode. If you created a video series on helping business start ups, I’d watch every episode.

    Thanks for this, Tim. You rock!! 🙂

  11. I buy a ton of the services and books you advocate, I listen faithfully to your podcasts because for 10 years I have been working and reworking a web database for real estate appraising, now narrowed to my niche, timberland and agriculture (again on your advice). I wrote you a nasty note about the green stuff a few weeks ago, and problem is, that’s so inconsistent with who I am, or at least who I try to be and want to be. I bought “The Road to Character” on Audible because Gen. McChrystal recommended it from your podcast. So inspiring! I’ve got lots of work to do, obviously. So, just writing again to say ‘sorry.’ I sent the green stuff back and they refunded my money. I’ll try to be a better person. I’m listening to The Graveyard Book right now and enjoying it, which surprises me because I’m not a fan of supernatural or sci-fi novels. Keep up the good work. I depend on you and your podcast interviews, advice, etc. to keep going. Keep it up.

  12. Thanks for bringing Maria back for a second episode, and massive appreciation to her mention of Tara Brach during her first episode. It was like I got a “game genie” for my brain.

  13. This podcast came in such a lovely time!

    I love Maria and how she articulates her views of the world, of blogging, reading and writing. She makes me believe again that there such a beautiful inner motive (or purpose) to what we do. I actually transcribed some parts of it so I can access it easily and made a little poster of the essence of what Maria tell us here and glued to my wall, next to my writing desk.

    Thank you so much again Maria. I am grateful you take the time to inspire us.

    Much love,


  14. wow easily one of the most amazing women I have listened to!

    Lol when she called out your name Tim…. she likes you 😉

    keep up the great work ladies and germs!

  15. Really liked this. Thanks so much for doing a followup, I really enjoyed the previous interview you did with Maria, too.

  16. Loved Maria Popova talking about content more expansively on James Altucher’s podcast – well worth a listen also!!

  17. Hey Tim, not so much a blog, but a column I think is a must-read every week is “Lunch with the FT” in the weekend edition of the Financial Times. The variety of guests and subject matters is truly fascinating and I find myself religiously reading it even if the subject matter is a long way from my interest circles. Best Morgan

  18. No way!!! You started the podcast with Turkish this time! I rewinded that part 5 times. You put a big simile on my face. It is my native language. I am not a patriotic person but it is still fun to hear you speak it. I’ve just moved cross country this week (in the USA). I want to make more comments about this podcast when I am done with unpacking, but I just had to say something about your Turkish greeting before anything else. 🙂 Have a great week! xx

  19. Another great Q&A and love the podcast episode early in the week and then Q&A release on Friday.

    Maria’s advice on blogging is all about “writing for yourself”, which makes complete sense if you want your writing to be sustainable. She hit on it well, but I think it is still easy to miss what she is saying. You have to actually love the writing itself. So if you hear Maria and think, “I like baseball, so I’ll write about baseball”, it’s not going to work unless you love writing about baseball.

    I also found that piece of advice interesting because it seemingly goes against so much of what I hear and read in the entrepreneurial world. Everything there is about serving an audience, solving other people’s problems. Writing and starting a business are two different things, but they are also similar in a lot of ways. I don’t think “write for yourself” and “solve other’s problems” fundamentally contradict to each other, but there are some surface differences that are interesting to explore. I think Maria might have talked more about this when she was on the first time, I’ll have to check it out again.

  20. Re blogs: Can’t believe no one has mentioned Barking Up The Wrong Tree ( — simple, actionable insights into human nature and the best kind of “lifehacks”

    1. I will listen to this repeatedly. It is very good. I also loved the counter-intuitive perspective – if you’ve ever worked in a marketing role – of writing for yourself. The one question I have: If ya don’t call it “content,” and you’ve got yourself your LinkedIn profile, then what the heck DO ya call it?

  21. I was skeptical in the beginning regarding Q&A podcast-versions. Ferriss & guest dialogues often create a specific suspense beyond the content that makes them very powerful. However, I now find the Q&As truly refreshing and exceptionally dense. Maria proves that being authentic in the moment not only unfolds deep truth but also triggers a mental dialogue that enforces growth. Beautiful!

  22. I’ve got so much respect for Maria. Her ability to distill the wisdom from all of the books that she reads is second to none. Brainpickings is pure gold.

  23. Iyi gunler, iyi aksamlar to you as well Tim 🙂 I was not expecting to hear Turkish in the podcast. It made me smile 🙂 Great episode by the way. Thanks.

  24. I much prefer these podcasts when you are talking to them. It is far less engaging when it’s just one person talking.

  25. I really enjoyed both of the podcasts with Popova. Her relentless push for authenticity – do your art for yourself – over ‘providing content’ cannot be said enough. And her tips on blogging, note taking, and reading are all great.

    A question, though, with no disrespect intended:

    When do you stop reading to learn about the world and life and your path through it and just start living? I imagine someone who says “No, stop. Let me read about that before I experience it so I know how to experience it “. What about the messy parts of life? What aout getting lost? What about walking blindfolded into something instead of knowing the trail by heart?

    There’s a poem somewhere about dusty professors who write learned books about art but never leave the walls of the library to actually go and stand slack mouthed in front of Starry Night and I wonder how much it applies…

  26. ALearningADay is a gem of a blog. It’s worth reading because it focuses on continual growth, one day at a time.

  27. I think these are great tips, finding time for anything is difficult nowadays. I have been reading The Thriving Woman’s Guide to Setting Boundaries. It’s by Kim Buck, her site for it is It’s been a great read on learning to say no when you need to and not being the go to for everything from everyone. When you can free up that time, you can have time to do more, like the blogging!

  28. One does not start a successful blog, but rather starts a blog and makes it successful. ;-P

    I like to check in with Marie Forleo on a regular basis. I use to spend time with Penelope Trunk, but now I’ve moved outside of her target market.

    And of course, the 4-hour work week should get a special mention 😉

  29. Maria. I shared this with several loved ones. Thank you for coming back on the show and the insights into your own mind and philosophy through these measured and beautifully read out answers. Kevin Brennan

  30. Great interview and Maria is such an inspiring profile. There are not many out there like here with such drive, passion and motivation. Good to see two great minds come together!

  31. Honestly, do not like this style of post. I listen to a podcast to hear a conversation. If it’s just someone reading off of a script…I’d rather read the script than listen to their voice. Same goes for all the follow up pieces like this.

    1. same. I usually listen to all podcasts no matter who is on but this one seemed sooooo rehearsed (also personally she speaks so much cringeworthy nonsense imo). keeping people on their toes provides much better insight than a scripted podcast. then again it just may be my problem with this particular person. anyway..

  32. Hi Tim,

    I am very grateful to have come across your book (4 hour work week), your podcast and many of your other projects that I am yet to learn about. Thank you also for a very insightful discussion with Maria Popova.

    While reading the ‘four hour work week’ and note taking, I remembered that there is a limitation on number of quotes that can be saved from a given text. Not willing to loose a word and being an Evernote user myself, I thought of a solution and hope it helps with your quest of learning/teaching/inspiring etc. or anyone interested in overcoming this very issue.

    When reading through a smart phone/tablet a screen shot with the page containing the outlined text can be taken and transferred to a specific Evernote notebook, where it can be converted to text. So none of the quotes have to go missing again.

    My apologies for the length of my post and I hope reading it was worth it!

  33. This would have been so much more interesting to listen to in interview format rather than one voice. Unfortunately just can’t finish. Constructive feedback because absolutely love your podcasts and think Maria Popova is amazing.

  34. For Tim, I found your book in the basement and I was already calling BS. No way you work four hours a week especially now that I see how big your britches have become. I am a consultant, Social Engineer. Here’s a freebie. As you are aware that the pic of you man- handling that weapon on your homepage will turn viewers off, traditionally women, is that your intent? More Macho Brand? It appears hypocrisy pays well. You now sell the same time suck you originally forbade! Forgive me as this may not be where I should post but after wasting time, here I be. I have one four hour block of time left (fee to be determined) in which to impart my sociological wisdom which will apply to a huge audience and particularly to you. I appreciate your consideration. Please call me if you do NOT wish to hire me in the near future, Do call if you need my services now. I am in Newport, Rhode Island, so EST, I pick up calls during lunch or return calls at 2pm. I will leave my email address as required, please have your best assistant contact me there if anyone reaches out in need of my super service. Best, L.A. Murphy

    1. As I read my comment just posted; it comes off a bit snide, that was not my intent, honest, yes but not derogatory. LM

  35. Hey Tim, I just watched the fascinating documentary “Salto Mortale” by Borislav Kolev about the Bulgarian weightlifter Angel Guenchev and remembered your interest in the topic, which you mention in this episode. The film features the brutal training process and facilities, as well as interviews with all of his trainers. Though this is interesting, the dramatic composition of this film is flawless and it is much more than just informative.

    Trailer on Vimeo:

  36. Coming late into this – but OneNote (a MS product, sorry) doesn’t screw up the “email” tread type issue. But I use both ON and EverNote

  37. Show notes are from the part 2 Q&A from ‘listeners’ – is the work flow discussion written somewhere?

  38. Hello Tim and all of you guys! Recently I have the non original idea of translating some interesting articles into Spanish and share it in a Blog, of course putting the link of the original article and the name of the author. Honestly I’m not an original content creator, but since I started to read books, and blogs, something inside of me is telling me that maybe I can do something, but I want to start with the firs idea I told you and then write my things. What do you think? Best wishes!