Here’s my interview with Paul Millerd where he talks about his most influential habits, creative process, and natural curiosity.
Who’s Paul Millerd?
Paul Millerd is living in Taiwan and spending his free time drawn to the mystery of how people can “reinvent” themselves without blowing up their life. He writes about this in his weekly newsletter, Boundless.
He is increasingly spending his time teaching people through online courses, running Think Like A Strategy Consultant, teaching people the secrets from his 10+ years in the consulting industry and Reinvent, a course designed to help people reimagine their relationship with work beyond the default path.
He is open to having curiosity conversations with anyone who might be inclined so feel free to reach out!
What Are the Most Influential Habits in Your Life?
Sleep is probably the most important one. I get 8 hours of sleep 98% of the time and try to avoid waking up to an alarm clock at all costs. The second most important one is to do some form of exercise every other day (working out at the gym, going for a bike ride or some other physical activity). Finally, making pour-over coffee every morning has been a nice routine I’ve settled into over the last four years after realizing that coffee tastes good if you venture beyond K-cups.
How Do You Set Goals and Manage Time?
I have always had a natural ability to work in a focused and “efficient” way so have rarely felt stressed about time or busyness as many seem to be in today’s world. I consider myself lucky. While there are a number of things I want to work on, the biggest thing I try to do is eliminate things that might drain my energy, which includes trying to avoid things like meeting at all costs, but also includes not following the news or latest media-driven outrage storm.
One of the most unexpected upsides of being self-employed is the amount of time and flexibility I have. I know that when I have large blocks of uninterrupted time, there are a number of things I am drawn to and will start creating. I worry more about creating the space and worry less about whether or not I “do something.”
Can You Describe Your Work Process and Thinking Behind It?
I worked for 10 years in the strategy consulting industry, which gave me the gift of knowing what it feels to create things with high standards and with a rigorous process for creation. I let my curiosity do the work of prioritization and then try to create the space to let the “magic” happen. My process of creating something like writing is essentially many rounds of deep research, iteration and stepping away and returning to the material. Then there is that leap of faith where I finally hit publish.
About six years ago, I made my first in-person connection from something I wrote in LinkedIn which unlocked a powerful feedback loop for me. This loop still powers my work today as I love meeting people and making friends through my writing. I’ve created a graphic model of my creative process below.
I try to come up with different practices that fit into this feedback loop. I run two weekly newsletters and have found that being able to start a conversation with others as well as continuing to become a better writer is what gives me the motivation to keep going.
What Do You Eat for Breakfast?
I typically just have black coffee and fast until I feel like eating. If I eat breakfast these days, it’s typically “fantuan” or “dan bing” – both delicious traditional Taiwanese breakfast foods.
How Do You Train Your Body and Mind?
I think a lot about a long-term system for my life that is sustainable and will help me stay curious and walking when older.
For fitness, I use the “workout every other day” system which means I do something to stress and strengthen my body every other day no matter how short or long that is. I typically try to find things that are fun and I want to keep doing things like swimming, strength training or bike riding.
Mentally, I am lucky that I am naturally very curious. As long as I can remember, I’ve always been deeply interested in something. As a kid, I remember spending hours memorizing stats and information about basketball players and also spending hours on the internet trying to make sense of that new world. Today this curiosity takes me all over the place, but the main areas I’m excited about are making sense of the modern conception of work, thinking about how people can build lives “off the default path” and how to tell powerful stories at work and in our lives.
How Do You Meet and Connect with People?
Typically two way. First I either meet them through friends or increasingly, I meet people through my writing, courses or other digital communities I’m part of.
As I’m living on the other side of the world now, I’ve tried to contribute to the communities I’m living in. I do this with no expectation of return other than making some new friends. I’ve built websites, helped people with English and business English and have given talks on strategy consulting skills – all leading to new friends or communities that might not otherwise be open to me.
At the end of the day, I genuinely want to make friends for the sake of making friends and not just to make money which is probably the key thing.
What Are Your Sleeping Rituals?
I typically read for a half-hour or hour before bed and then wake up when my body is ready. Nothing special here.
What Are Your Investing Habits?
Vanguard target retirement funds, automated dollar-cost averaging and never look at it. Then I usually mess around with 5% of my money using Nassim Taleb’s “barbell” approach into things that are high risk and I expect to lose completely.
I’m usually pretty self-motivated so try to find the tools & habits that people use (often through sites like this) and then experiment with embracing them in my own life so don’t spend a lot of money, but do spend a lot of time. Currently, I’m learning Chinese through an online tutor at iTalki, teaching myself coding via Launch School and learning how to build online courses through my own experiments and failures.
What's One Question That Helped You Understand the World Better?
I think the question is something like, “How much time is that person worrying about you?”
If you really think about this question, you realize that other people spend very little time thinking about you. In one way this can be sad, but it can also be very freeing as you realize we are much more limited by our own thinking than others.
What Books, People, Experiences Shaped Your Thinking?
I am shaped by my family. I grew up as one of many cousins in a large and outgoing family and had two grandparents who tried to make sure we were all always together. The joy and love from this has given me a lot of courage to go out into the world, often exploring unknown paths, without losing myself. I can reconnect with this through a conversation with one of my relatives or grandmother which reminds me that I’m not alone and that I’ll always have a “home” to be part of.
I love reading and am always shaped by the ideas in books. I am probably most drawn to the “what matters?” books that reflect on the deeper truths of life. Books like Tuesdays with Morrie, Survival in Auschwitz and The Last Lecture remind me what matters in life and give me a longer-term “compass” to orient how I spend my time.
The experience that shaped my thinking has been becoming sick with the Lyme disease and dealing with health challenges for two years after business school. It reminded me that all of the success, prestige and money I was measuring myself by were meaningless and that true wealth is having people that matter to you in your life. The experience helped me build up the courage to carve my own path and define my own success while also looking at the world and other people with more empathy.