How To Become Your Superhuman Self: An Interview with Jonathan Levi
In this interview, Mailbutler gets to know Jonathan Levi, his job, and some of his productivity secrets.
Tiffany studied Language and Economics, and now likes to write about business topics and conduct interviews with interesting people. She spends her free time looking after her plants and with her dog.
Setting up a business is not an easy thing, but even less at a young age. However, Jonathan Levi dared to do it. After this experience, he decided to sell the business and focus on the next thing. This is how he started SuperHuman Academy, and since then, his business and its popularity have grown. Today Mailbutler wants to get to know him, his job, and some of his productivity secrets!
Hey, Jonathan! It is a great pleasure to have you here. I have seen that you started an e-commerce company at the age of 16. Could you tell us what it was about? And where did the idea of setting up a business so young come from?
Oh my goodness, that’s ancient history - but yes, it’s true. At the age of about 15, I got really into cars and modifying them. Prior to that, I’d started a bunch of “businesses” such as a web design agency, a mobile DJing business, and a few more, but nothing had really taken off - maybe because I was 12-13 years old!
In any case, at 15-16, I started becoming really active on community message boards for BMW modifications and enthusiast groups. Eventually, I began buying parts in bulk, then reselling, one thing led to another, and after a few years, I was running a $2.75M e-commerce operation with offices and warehousing and the works! I sold the business in 2011 to travel, go to business school, and focus on “the next big thing”.
It is amazing to know how you decided to start your own business at that early age. As you have experience in that, what tips would you tell to young entrepreneurs?
The first thing is that you are going to fail - so don’t make such a big deal about it. 9 out of 10 businesses fail. That’s a fact - and it’s a numbers game. So if you’re going to fail 90% of the time, you better get efficient at failing. You better learn as you do it. And you better learn to fail inexpensively and quickly. The name of the game is to try things and test them until you get it right. That’s the idea behind the whole “lean startup” movement - and it works.
Recommended reading: 11 Questions That Will Help You Become A Productive Person
Another thing is to remember that your business exists to serve the needs of people - and you’re a person, too. I’ve often made the mistake of building the business I “thought” I should build, or the business that other people were building, instead of building the business I want to run.
I like how Derek Sivers explains this: building a business is your opportunity to create a little bubble world where things work exactly as you want them to. Don’t squander that opportunity! Recently, I’ve decided to re-focus my business and optimize for happiness, enjoyment, and excitement - not revenue or growth. Those things aren’t going to make me happy. But trust me when I say, it’s easy to lose your way and lose sight of what you wanted to build in the first place. Social pressure and influence are powerful, and as my friend Joe Polish always says, success traps are harder to get out of than failure traps!
The last thing you want to do - speaking from repeated experience - is to find yourself living in a prison of your own making.
Wow, I think those are really good tips that most entrepreneurs should take into account! After setting up the businesses you mentioned, how did you decide to found SuperHuman Academy and become an instructor not only on productivity, but also on fitness, lifestyle design, and personal finance?
Well, truthfully, it all kind of happened by accident - see above. I started this “business” as a side project - just something to fund my lifestyle until I found my next “big” startup opportunity or idea. At the time, I was coming off of a failure that wasn’t so fast or efficient, and I’d spent 6 months and a lot of heart and soul into it. I wanted to buy myself runway so that I didn’t have to rush into anything, and I could explore as many ideas as I wanted to.
I decided to build an online course about accelerated learning (something I’d studied from private tutors), to see if it could bring in some passive income. I didn’t know anything about online courses or creating content, but I had the skill of accelerated learning - so I devoted a week or so to learning everything I could. The results spoke for themselves. In the first month, I blew past my goals for the project. Within a few months, I was earning enough to not have to work at all. From there, things snowballed.
About a year and a half later, I decided to do another course, and then a podcast, a book, etc etc etc. One thing kind of just lead to another, snowballed, and my ambition and the positive results I was getting for my students drove me forward to create more.
All that is well and good, but at some point, I lost sight of the original goal: to create freedom for myself while simultaneously helping people, so that I could explore my curiosity and creativity. I wanted to create freedom - and though I did create a life where I have a lot more freedom than most, I stopped optimizing for what mattered most: my quality of life.
Today, with 275,000 students worldwide, a top-ranking podcast, blah blah blah, I’m no happier or freer than I was before, and that’s something that I’m actively working to rectify, by redesigning the business to suit the needs of myself, my family, and my team instead of the needs of endless growth.
Oh, you can be proud of what you have achieved! And I’m sure you will find a way to suit your needs. As you explain, you decided to offer online courses, podcasts, books, etc. How do you organize yourself to carry out such different tasks?
I religiously use a task management software - my app of choice is Asana. I also make a conscientious effort to manage my attention and ensure that I’m only working on things that move the needle.
I use a lot of the productivity hacks and tricks I’m sure your readers already know about, things like Pareto’s law and Parkinson’s law, but more important than all of that, I don’t leave productivity to chance. I have rigid systems that keep me in line and ensure that if I’m working, I’m doing exactly what I should be doing. For example, I only take calls and interviews 2 days a week, for a maximum of 4 hours. I only do email 2 hours a week - on Mondays and Thursdays. You get the idea, and there are probably 200 little things like that which together add up to a LOT of time saved and a LOT of things getting done.
It sounds very rigid, but it’s actually liberating because it gives me the freedom to work only as much as I’m motivated to do.
Yes, true, a rigid but profitable system!
Let’s talk a little about productivity. In your opinion, what does it mean?
To understand productivity, you have to get to the root of the word: production. Productivity to me is actually producing results or outcomes. Too many people confuse efficiency with productivity, and they’re not the same thing at all. Efficiently doing time-wasters doesn’t help you produce any more. When I think about my productivity, therefore, I look at what I’ve created or improved in a given time.
And can productivity be trained? If so, how?
100%! Productivity is just a set of habits that you learn. Or, better yet, it’s unlearning a lot of really bad habits. I go into depth about this in my course on productivity, explaining how most people’s “default” habits (checking their phone or email regularly, working in a reactive way instead of a proactive way, and so on) are sabotaging their productivity.
A lot of times, people think that productivity requires some fancy hacks, tools, apps, or software, but at the end of the day, it’s just a matter of learning better habits and being more strict with how your time and attention are spent.
Could you tell us some tips to improve productivity at work?
Yeah, I’ll give you two big ones, but your audience is going to laugh. If you do find yourself laughing, though, I want you to ask yourself: when was the last time you actually did it?
The first tip is to put on blinders whenever you need to get work done. Research shows that even a small distraction like a vibrating phone in our pocket can knock us out of flow for at least 15 minutes - and most of us get interrupted more frequently than that. Sure, you probably close the door to your office when you need to get work done, but what about the red bubble on your email app, the buzz of your phone, the slack sound in the background? Enable yourself to get productive work done by disabling ALL distractions when you need to work - the world won’t burn, I promise.
The second one is to work proactively instead of reactively. Too many people log on in the morning and just start doing whatever it is that makes noise first - usually email or other low-productivity output. Instead, before you start your week and your day, sit down and decide on the 2-3 BIG things that you want to accomplish in that day. Then, prioritize those, unless the building is literally on fire.
The more you spend time doing a big, high-impact activity, the further you’ll move towards your goals, and THAT, at the end of the day, is the whole point behind productivity.
We should definitely put in practice your recommendations, thanks! Additionally, I have seen that you said learning is “the only thing that matters”. In fact, it is the title of one of your books. Could you explain why learning is so important?
Well, for any skill you wish to acquire in life, you’re going to need to be able to learn in order to acquire it. In a sense, learning is the one skill that allows you to acquire all others, and most people can’t learn nearly as effectively as they could if they knew how to use their brain properly.
And how can people improve their learning process?
Whew, big question. The first thing is to learn how to use their brain and their memory. The crazy thing is that 100% of the world’s record holders in memory don’t have any special advantage - they just know techniques to use the brain properly. Once you’ve done that, the world is your oyster, and you can start learning techniques for properly structuring learning, speed reading, and much more.
It’s a big topic - much more than we could cover here, but I do invite people to pick up a free copy of my bestselling book on the topic at http://freelearningbook.com!
Thanks! We will take a look at it. Apart from that, we are curious to know if Mailbutler has helped you to implement your productivity tips in your daily work.
Definitely. I love being able to “schedule” emails so that I don’t get a reply too soon/quickly. Some people like to use email as a chat, which is a time-waster. I also will occasionally “snooze” emails so that they don’t distract me until I need to look at them.
We are glad that you enjoy Mailbutler! And thanks for sharing your secrets! We will keep in mind all you have suggested to us. It has been a pleasure, thanks, Jonathan!
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