Have you started down a career path only to discover you’re really good at making money in other ways?
Well, today’s guest, Ali Abdaal, is no stranger to this, having qualified as a doctor but having just surpassed 2 million subscribers as a YouTuber!
In this episode, we discuss how Ali has been able to build multiple income streams that bring in over a million dollars each year, how to turn your work into passive income over time, the habits that have him set up for success to become a millionaire, how to turn productivity into a game, and how to eliminate all distractions.
If you’ve been looking for ways to diversify your income streams and get more done in a day than most people get done in a week, this episode is for you!
Ali Abdaal is a doctor and YouTuber working in the UK. His YouTube channel now has over 2 million subscribers and focuses on how we can lead happier, healthier, and more productive lives by encouraging people to do more of what matters to them.
Ali also co-hosts a weekly podcast, Not Overthinking, with his brother Taimur where together they discuss happiness, creativity, and the human condition. He also runs the Part-Time YouTuber Academy where he shares his skills, knowledge, and experience of becoming a YouTuber with others.
I’m excited to hear what Ali has to share with us today — so let’s jump straight in!
Ali has been exploding onto the digital scene the past few years, and I wanted to learn how he transitioned from the traditional career of medicine to building multiple streams of income on the side. Ali shared the keys to switching his mindset that helped him to get to where he is today:
“I can trace it back to when I was 17 years old and I first read The Four Hour Work Week and came across the idea of passive income, and immediately my mind was blown. I had by default been following the traditional path of assuming, ‘I’m going to be a doctor to make money and hopefully ascend the hierarchy and eventually make enough money to buy a bigger house and then retire.’ I just hadn’t really considered any of those assumptions until I read The Four Hour Work Week.” – Ali Abdaal
It took one book to open Ali up to a different way of thinking and he immediately put that knowledge to work. In his first year of medical school, Ali decided to create another revenue stream and when he wasn’t writing an essay, studying for an exam, or hanging out with friends — Ali was developing his skills building websites and slowly trying to build additional streams of passive income.
Another game-changer for Ali’s mindset was hearing the Mexican Fisherman Parable, a story that reveals the importance of building a life, day-to-day, that we enjoy and get value out instead of a deferred life plan which entails working really hard, grinding, and hustling to get to the point where we have lots of money and THEN we retire.
“I never want to be in that position where I am shackled to a job that I might not necessarily enjoy just for the sake of money. [When I was in] med school, I would meet another doctor and ask the question, ‘If you win the lottery, would you still do medicine?’ About half of them said, no — they would leave immediately.” – Ali Abdaal
Ali had extra incentive by having honest conversations with doctors already years deep into practicing medicine. Meeting a few doctors who said they would continue to work full time in medicine if they didn’t need the money set alarm bells off and fueled his side hustle.
It paid off because now Ali has eight different revenue streams besides being a doctor. It’s no wonder that one of those income streams revolves around teaching productivity!
As an expert in productivity, I wanted to know what Ali recommends as the best tools to increase productivity, for someone that already feels overworked and overwhelmed. Ali suggested the best place to start is creating a clear understanding of what productivity is that encompasses a broader meaning than just being efficient.
“To me, productivity is [part] efficiency, but the other part of it is living intentionally. For example, it’s not very productive to drive at a hundred miles per hour if you’re going in the wrong direction. Also to me, productivity is, ‘Am I having fun along the way?’ I found the more fun I have, the more productive I am as a result. … I think optimizing what’s fun for enjoyment and either picking something that’s already fun or more likely finding ways to enjoy the thing that you’re already doing. That is the thing that really moves the needle for productivity.” – Ali Abdaal
Ali came up with what he calls “The Three Horsemen” of productivity killers and explained them to us in this interview.
“Number one: procrastination. Procrastination is really a problem with getting started. We can defeat the horsemen of procrastination [by setting] a really easy goal. [Instead of thinking] ‘I want to write a New York Times bestseller’ say, ‘I just want to write one paragraph that I’m happy with today.’” – Ali Abdaal
To begin the process of overcoming procrastination, there are two areas of friction to acknowledge and reduce — environmental friction or emotional friction.
Environmental friction is when your environment doesn’t support the pursuit of your goals. We can set our environment up to form part of our success by doing things like avoiding phones and TV while we working.
Emotional friction is created by perfectionism, fear, self-doubt, or guilt that get inside your head that prevent you from taking the first step. You’ll find yourself saying things like, “I need to wait until I have a perfect camera set up before I make a YouTube video, otherwise people are going to laugh at me,” or “I need to wait until I’m in better shape before I go to the gym because I don’t want people to judge me while I’m at the gym.” Emotional friction is often a bigger source of procrastination than almost anything else, and addressing it is a long-term battle to overcome being afraid and having self-doubt.
“The second [horseman] is distraction. I think distraction is only really a problem when we’re not having fun. No one gets distracted from hanging out with their friends or playing board games. We get distracted from working on a thing that’s either hard or that we find boring.” – Ali Abdaal
Ali goes into greater detail later on in this post about the techniques he uses and recommends to overcome distraction. A massive realization Ali’s had about productivity is how important it is to live a life aligned with your values, living intentionally, living your vision and what you find meaningful — when you do that, productivity takes care of itself, and you become less distracted.
“The third [horseman] is burnout. … There is such a thing as too much of a good thing, too much fun, and too much productivity [can be] bad — even if you’re enjoying yourself. Taking breaks [has been] one of the biggest tips I found really helpful.” – Ali Abdaal
It becomes so easy to constantly strive to cram every second of every day with “productive” work — this can create feelings of immense dissatisfaction. Life is about having fun and learning to enjoy the journey and find as much fulfillment in creating our lives as we would have in reaching any given milestone.
It’s one thing to know about these three horsemen, but as Ali alluded to earlier — distraction is by far the worst.
So what can we do to mitigate it?
Even if something is fun, there are still notifications to pull us away from our task and create “task switching,” which never leads to anything good. How do we stay on task without having our minds constantly pulled away to other things? Here was Ali’s answer:
“I think with distraction, the needle is moved by making it fun. [I make it fun using] a five-part framework that spells the word G.A.M.E.S. [Each letter stands for] gamification, autonomy, mastery, environment, and social.” – Ali Abdaal
Ali breaks down the value behind each word in G.A.M.E.S. to try and reduce our distraction:
The two elements of gamification are challenge and progress, so tracking your progress (you can create a point system) shows you your progress and keeps you focused on the task at hand.
This is one of the core drivers of human motivation because when we feel we have ownership of something, that makes everything more fun and gratifying.
“The practical hack I use I got from Seth Godin which is a subtle mindset shift. If we’re finding ourselves not enjoying stuff, we need to change our mindset from, ‘I have to’, to ‘I get to’. I get to make a difference in this person’s life.” – Ali Abdaal
PRO TIP: If you want to take this a step farther, the ultimate phrase to work towards is ‘I’m blessed to.’
Another core driver of human motivation is linked to doing something that we feel we’re good at and makes it more fun. Think about learning an instrument or a new skill like public speaking — becoming a master at a new skill enhances our confidence and reminds us what our capabilities are when something new to learn crosses our path.
How can we make our environment nicer to promote happy work? For example, washing the dishes with music in the background is more fun than washing them in silence. Even something as simple as adding greenery to your desk improves creativity and focus.
How can we include people in what we’re doing? People create coworking sessions online, so if you’re struggling to write, you can join a “writers hour” and join 200 people on a Zoom call and simply write together. Another example would be scheduling “creative happy hours” with your coworkers to brainstorm about an upcoming project.
If we can tick one of those G.A.M.E.S. boxes, we give ourselves an opportunity to have more fun than what we’re currently experiencing. These tools, used in conjunction with turning off your phone or putting it on airplane mode, help minimize the distraction temptations.
Removing distractions helps us focus and make the most of our time management, and with eight revenue streams, I have to know what Ali’s time management hacks are like.
Juggling as much work as Ali does, I wondered if he had any advice for his younger self about time management that he knows now.
“There are two [concepts] that are game-changing. Number one is the daily highlights: What is the one thing I actually want to get done today? I [write it down] in the morning, and I am striving to [make this practice] every day.” – Ali Abdaal
By distilling what needs to happen down to one thing to accomplish today, gives you a greater chance of completing it and even if that’s all you do — it’s still a successful day. As an example, Ali cited completing the chapter outlines for his book proposal as yesterday’s “one thing”. Ali uses this “daily highlights” concept to really hone in on the single thing that will make a difference in his life each day.
“The second productivity hack is time-blocking. Once I decide what that thing is, I stick it in my calendar, and generally, when the time comes around, I’m going to do it because it’s in the calendar.” – Ali Abdaal
Adding another layer of accountability to it, Ali sometimes asks a friend to do it on a Zoom call or even puts money on the line and tells someone in his circle he’ll pay the $50 if he doesn’t complete a task he’s struggling with. If it’s important — put it on the calendar, and it’ll get done by the end of the day.
Don’t just say, “I’m going to get around to it when I have free time” — the free time you have now should be used to schedule what needs to be done. Remember, having a complete schedule means making sure to include an off day as well.
Guys, this is such a powerful interview with Ali Abdaal, and it is packed with so much value about increasing your productivity and building multiple streams of income. Listen to the full episode for more, and don’t forget to share it with someone who needs to hear how to begin the process to build multiple streams of income by working more efficiently.
I think it takes immense courage to shift away from a career that required eight years of studying and focus and focus on building up your passions. Ali tried many things over the course of those eight years that didn’t work out, but his relentless pursuit gave him the skills and strategies to make an incredible, diverse life for himself. I acknowledge Ali for showing up and doing inspired things from a place of creativity, thoughtfulness, analysis and helping others do the same.
I like to end each episode with my guest’s definition of greatness, and Ali Abdaal’s definition sums up his successful approach:
“[Greatness is] living a life where we impact people in our own way, working with others and enjoying the journey along the way” – Ali Abdaal
If you enjoyed this conversation, please make sure to spread the message of greatness and make an impact on someone’s life today. It would be great if you could also tag me, @lewishowes, and Ali, @aliabdaal on Instagram with a screenshot of this episode and your greatest takeaways from it.
I want to remind you all — if no one has told you lately, you are loved, you are worthy, and you matter! I’m so grateful for you — now, it’s time to go out there and do something great!