Alastair Humphreys: Finding the Focus to Live Your Dream Life
At Freedom we love our users – not just because they use our product, but because they’re cool – cool people working on cool stuff. Academy Award-nominated screenwriters, best-selling authors, editors, designers, star TV actors & writers, academic researchers, and entrepreneurs – the Freedom community is packed with curious, creative, and efficient go-getters. We love to share their stories and advice, because how better to learn about productivity than from the productive?
This week’s productivity spotlight goes to Alastair Humphreys. Humphreys is a tireless British adventurer, author, blogger, and keynote speaker. With a resume that would rival that of any great explorer, a few of Humphreys’ feats include cycling around the world, (a journey of 46,000 miles through 60 countries and 5 continents,) walking across southern India, rowing across the Atlantic Ocean, running six marathons across the Sahara desert, and being named one of National Geographic’s Adventurers of the Year for 2012.
And that’s just the start. Humphreys has also authored nine books about his travels, created and popularized the concept of “microadventures,” and is a keen photographer, filmmaker, and renowned motivational speaker for corporate events around the world.
With stories, perspective, and accomplishments to inspire anyone to pack a bag, we decided to sit down with him and get the scoop on how he manages to do it all.
How did you become the expert adventurer and writer that you are today? What were some of the steps you took along the way?
Ha! I definitely don’t consider myself to be an expert at either of those things (or anything, come to mention it). What I suppose I have succeeded in doing is going on some big adventures, writing some books, and turning both of those fun things into my sole income and job. The steps that are relevant are…
- Doing a massive adventure. I spent four years cycling round the world. I did it because it excited me and I wanted to do it. That came first. It’s important to get the foundations right – do the big, bold hard stuff because you want to do it and because you need to do it. Don’t worry about the frills – the brand design and stuff like that until you are way down the line (if ever).
- I wrote a book because I wanted to do it. I had no publisher. It was a financially foolish thing to do (true for 99% of all books written) but it was fun, rewarding and challenging. I tried hard to make it as good and as true as I could because I knew it would become the public face of my private adventure.
- Figure out a way to pay for all this flighty, ephemeral, vague stuff. “Fun” doesn’t pay the rent. “Fulfilling” doesn’t fill the fridge. Pragmatism pays. I began doing lots and lots of poorly paid talks at schools to pay for my life whilst I wrote. Do 1000 talks (literally) and you get quite good at them. That led on to better paid corporate keynote speaking work.
As someone who lives for the next adventure, how do you stay productive, motivated, and focused? / How are you able to balance your incredible adventures with earning a living and having a family?
None of this is ever a problem for me. I love my adventures. I also love planning them. But I also love all the other stuff too – the writing, blogging, social media, filmmaking, SEO, web maintenance that makes it possible for adventures to pay the way. So none of this is ever a problem. My problem is the opposite – being able to turn it all off, to walk away, to relax. That’s why I built a shed: a physical separation of my “work life” from my “home life”. Freedom serves exactly the same purpose for me.
What is the biggest mistake you have learned from as an entrepreneur and writer?
Trying to hack the system. There are no shortcuts. For too long I wrote rubbish blog posts just for their SEO value (“The Top 10 Cool Places To Go In Africa!” -style crap), spam emailed loads of successful bloggers (“I’d love to contribute a guest post”), stuff like that. The breakthrough realization for me was that there is no shortcut. What I needed to do was write quality blog posts, quality books, to build real and quality relationships and friendships with not only bloggers but also my audience. That takes years of time, and masses of effort. Setting up some spam thing to automatically “like” all the Instagram posts of the leaders in your niche is not the way to generate a body of work that you are proud of.
What excites you most about what you do?
The variety of my days. Being my own boss, and therefore the variety of my projects and plans. The endless learning curve I am on, trying to get so much better at so many things. The well is deep and I am thirsty and greedy!
When/where are you most/least productive, and how does this shape your daily working routine?
I’m least productive when I’m trying to answer emails etc on my phone when out and about. Far better to stick the phone away, read a book, and then work efficiently when I am back at my desk.
I’m most productive anywhere that the internet is not. I am writing this on a five-hour train journey. Five hours with no incoming email or social media distraction is a goldmine of productivity these days!
What resources or tools do you use daily and have found most beneficial to your working process?
- Seth Godin’s blog
- A big pile of books by my bed to read, to inspire me, challenge me, and teach me how to write better
- A notepad and pen
What project are you currently most excited about?
I’m writing a book about last year’s walk across Spain (link to this is on the Adventures page of my site – I’m offline here so can’t provide it to you). It has been rejected by my usual publisher. I’m writing it anyway. And I am excited about trying to write a quirky, unusual, weird book. I love the Streets’ lyric that it’s better to be a “cult classic than a best seller.” I love that sentiment, and I’m excited to return to the brilliant liberty of self-publishing a book. I am also making a film about that trip and I’m daunted but excited about the challenge of my biggest ever film-editing task
What are your biggest distractors?
Twitter and Instagram, specifically. The internet as a whole. The internet has made my career possible. But I’d be quite happy too if it disappeared tomorrow.
How do you find a balance between being connected and overwhelmed?
I don’t feel overwhelmed by the web. I just get distracted and faff about. That’s why the Freedom app has been so genuinely helpful for me (used in conjunction with SelfControl app on my Mac.)
What do you do outside of your work routine that helps you stay productive?
I am trying to build a habit with the Headspace app. My mind races like a lunatic so I find it hard, but I’m about two months in and eager to persevere. Exercise is critical to my life too. When I don’t do it for a few weeks for whatever reason I find myself working too much but not efficiently, drinking too much, and generally getting grumpy.
The busier I become the more I try to exercise. I run a lot, stretch quite a lot (Yoga Studio app is great), and enjoy more and more the quantitative improvement you see from lifting weights (Stronglifts is an excellent app for beginners to the world of strength training.)
To learn more about Alastair Humphreys, his books, or projects, visit his site AlastairHumphreys.com.