I’ve been listening to a lot of podcasts recently. Now that my commute into the office is more than just down the hall from my bedroom, I spend more time in the car. That, and I moved further away from my gym.
Because of podcasts I actually look forward the 20 minute drive to the gym, which is something I would normally dread. Business and interview shows are interesting, and I especially enjoy the ones created by my friends. But lately I’ve been branching out. My two new favorite shows are Hardcore History and Serial.
For the last year or so my friend Barrett Brooks has been preaching about how podcasts should be produced in seasons. How a short run of high quality episodes is better than a show that rambles on each week with no end in sight.
At first I didn’t believe him. Also, I hadn’t seen enough compelling examples to actually make me care.
But after listening to the Wrath of the Khans mini-series in Hardcore History I was completely hooked. When Dan Carlin followed that up with Blueprint for Armageddon (a 15-20 hour segment on World War I) I was completely in love. It’s a good thing I was late to the party and there were already a lot of Hardcore History episodes available. It would have been torture to wait for each one to come out.
The new show Serial just solidified everything that Barrett had been saying. One topic for an entire season was an amazing way to go. Unfortunately, I made the mistake of listening to all 6 available episodes and now have to wait each week for the next episode.
The content treadmill
Experts say that producing content consistently is the best way to grow an audience. It’s true, but I wish it wasn’t. Creating new content regularly is hard. The idea of doing it indefinitely is scary. My good friend James Clear publishes a new article every Monday and Thursday. The man is a machine. His content is excellent.
But how long could that be sustained?
My goal of writing 1,000 words a day continued for over 650 days in a row. To this day, I still think what I accomplished in that time is impressive. I look back at that insanely productive year and a half with envy. But at some point, it had to stop.
After I broke my writing habit (and then restarted it) I reached 70 days in a row, then I stopped again. I took a vacation and decided that I didn’t want to continue the habit. At least not right now.
All because I felt stuck. The longer I made my chain, the more pressure I put on myself not to break it. That’s the idea right? And it worked. But I needed to break the chain eventually. And the mounting pressure not to break the chain was causing stress.
After just 10 episodes of producing a weekly podcast I started to feel the same way. My bar for quality was much lower since I needed to get an episode out each week. I wonder how my approach—and the end result—would have been different if I had set out to produce 10 really high quality episodes on a specific topic, and then stopped.
Then I’d bring the podcast back next season. Who knows when next season would be, but when it launched, it would be damn good.
A few months ago I was talking to Joel Runyon. He’s working on an amazing quest called The 777 Project. 7 ultra-marathons, on 7 continents, to build 7 schools. Cold showers also came up. Joel is the un-official evangelist of cold showers. He even has a TedX talk about the benefits.
When exercising my willpower tends to give out before my strength. Meaning I could keep going—do a few more reps without taking an extra break—but I just don’t want to. So I stop.
I thought forcing myself to step into an ice cold shower every morning would help strengthen my willpower. So I decided to give it a try.
At first it was hard. I had to force myself to step under the water. It was almost silly how difficult it was. But over time it got easier. By the end of 30 days it barely bothered me. But I was glad to be done.
From the beginning I had decided to do 30 days of cold showers. A season of cold showers if you will. This wasn’t something I wanted to go on forever. After all, I like warmth and happiness too much.
Committing to 30 days of cold showers was perfect. I was able to push myself, meet my goal, and then go back to enjoying life.
One thing at a time
My best work is when I focus on one thing. One of my favorite seasons in my career was the 90 days between launching The App Design Handbook and launching Designing Web Applications.
I knew exactly what to write, how to market it, and how to package it to make it a success. I had perfectly clarity in my goal and just needed to sit down and execute. Other than one small consulting project I had to wrap up, writing that book had my complete attention.
Derek Sivers wrote a post about finding time to accomplish all your life goals. The gist of his idea is to focus on one thing at a time. Build your first company for a few years. Then once you can sell or automate it, focus all your attention on the next thing. You have plenty of time to do everything you want, so stack them out linearly in your life.
Instead of trying to do everything at once, dedicate seasons of your life to one thing.
The first season of my career was about design. The next one was about writing. I don’t know what future seasons will be about. Becoming an artist? A musician? Each of those ideas—and many others—fascinate me.
Good work, every day
That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t write 1,000 words a day or spend daily time honing your craft. In fact, quite the opposite. You should dedicate seasons of your time to create something truly meaningful. My season of writing taught me so much and gave me an incredible platform for everything I do going forward.
So commit to your goal with everything you have—for a season.
A 10 episode podcast season that you can truly craft into something meaningful. A 90 day season focused on writing and launching your book. A 5 year season dedicated to building a software company.
12 Responses to “Seasons”
The thought of starting a podcast and having to produce content for it weekly is a bit overwhelming for me too. I decided a while back that I would create a mini-series that would have around 30 short episodes, and then that would be it.
This post and the idea behind it reminds me of British television, and how a lot of the more successful series (Fawlty Towers, for example) only had 12 episodes.
This is the same for The Office, and when you compare it to the American version, you can see the difference between the two shows and how everything came together in a more structured way.
Seasons. Phases. Focus.
Consistency is best when one is sufficiently zoomed in.
And as the trader-mathematician-philosopher Nicholas Talib calls this the “barbell strategy”… where you focus on a thing for a “relatively” short period of time, you are right on the money Nathan when you give the timelines for diff projects!
Can you link to the Derek Sivers post you mentioned?
Unfortunately, I couldn’t find it. Perhaps someone else could be so kind.
Thanks, I found this to be an extremely resonant post. I often have big ideas without an end point and find myself petering out on something that I thought would be “indefinite”. I think the advice here is something I’m going to take into the next year as a new year’s resolution.
Does this mean you are taking a break on the podcast? Hope not! I enjoyed this article… thought-provoking.
For the moment.
Hey, What App is in the picture of this post?
Nathan – I completely resonate with this message. Love it. After this next sprint in writing / publishing / building, I’m definitely going to test out this style of life / work (seasons or project based stuff with enough pause in between to reset)
So I’ve been thinking the same thing. But in the context of subject matters instead of seasons. My reservation has been that a ‘season’ of a single topic would kind of beat a dead horse.
Doesn’t seasons work for something like Serial and Hardcore History work because they’re covering an historical event and therefore have to cover everything?