Today I got to interview Dave Pell from NextDraft! I hope you enjoy it!
Links from the show:
Ari: Hey, everyone. Today we’ve got Dave Pell from Next Draft; hey, Dave.
Dave: Hey, how’s it going?
Ari: Great, thank you. I’m so excited to talk to you today. First of all, tell everyone what Next Draft is.
Dave: Next Draft is a daily newsletter and iPhone app where I cover the day’s Top 10 most fascinating news story. I basically break it down and describe the news story sometimes in a serious way, sometimes in a funny way, and I provide links to the full stories for people who want to read those. Usually, people find two or three stories they want to click through and for the rest of it they just sort of settle on my overview. I try to give people enough information to sort of know the jest of the story so I call it ‘dinner party’ prep – if you want to know enough information to sort of be ready to talk about it at a dinner party you could if you read the newsletter. If you are interested in the topic, you can click through and read the whole story.
Ari: Okay. The reason I’m so excited first of all is because I am such a huge fan of the newsletter. I can’t wait to get it every day. You said people click through two or three things, I usually – 9 out of the 10 – are usually something that I’m clicking through and then re-sharing and really enjoying reading. I’m particularly excited because a lot of times in this podcast I will talk to people who are in the productivity space or the wellness space but what I’m so fascinated about with you is that I think I’m really efficient and I go through about 1,000 blog posts a day and then I share what I can. I can’t even imagine how you’re able to put together such a well-written and interesting and timely resource every day. How do you go through all this information?
Dave: Ari, I really appreciate it; I’m glad you like it also. You know, I’ve been doing stuff on the web for about 20 years or however long this stuff has been around and I’ve always come back to doing this newsletter or this app because it’s just really in my wheel house. It’s just I have weird, everybody has a certain weird skill I guess that they’re good at and for some reason I’ve always been a news addict since I was a kid. I’ve always been pretty good at being able to (A) figure out what people would be interested in and (B) sort of be able to summarize it pretty quickly and write about it pretty quickly. So, those two skills sort of come together in Next Draft; I’m not sure if they’re too marketable in other ways but that’s one of the joys the internet. You can sort of create something that represents your creativity and skills as opposed to having to fit those skills into some other role. Basically, I just…. It’s… I was probably a little faster when I was younger but I just, I don’t really have any great technique for it really, I just go really fast looking for stories, read them as quickly as I can to find sort of the money shot or the key piece of the story so I can share that with people. Then, the writing part usually takes probably about an hour and a half. The whole thing probably takes about three and half, four hours. Interestingly, if there’s more good stories or interesting stories of the day for me to go through and pick from is actually a little faster. The slow days are really when I get down to the eighth story or the
ninth story and I just can’t find anything good; that usually is a few weeks during the summer and during the holidays where it gets pretty tough because I think fewer journalists are doing sort of creative things during those periods. The other thing I sort of…[Both talking at once]
Ari: Go ahead, sorry.
Dave: I was just going to say another thing that I sort of rely on is I don’t use any kind of RSS feed reader or any tricks like that, I just use – or not tricks but any tools like that, I really just open up tabs. I open up a couple of hundred tabs every morning and I sort of try to drive as much benefit as I can from what the editors of the sites have already done; the work they’ve already done. That’s one reason why a lot of people are surprised that I don’t just use it to stream or using an RSS feed but I really want to see how sites are laid out. When I go to the New York Times an editor or several editors have gone through the trouble of laying out that front page based on what they think is important and I really use that a lot so that I can save some time by making sure that I look at the design of a site not just a list of headlines. Also, I do follow a few good people on Twitter and I do, now that it’s getting more popular, get submissions from sites or from editors so that makes it a little easier also.
Ari: Okay, so that’s really fascinating actually because I’m always talking about optimizing things with using RSS feeds and also, do you notice that I have CTC?
Dave: Yeah, that you can make little tools?
Ari: Yeah, so you can make it automation. For instance, when I find something that I find interesting on my feed reader I can save it and then I have people who will put in on Twitter and Facebook and LinkedIn and then it’ll create my interesting things of the week post. I do this once a week; I actually think it would be stressful for me to have to come up this stuff every day but the fact that you’re doing it just by opening all these tabs is also really interesting. You can see the geniusness I think that comes through with the comments that you write. What I also like is that I’ve discovered some really interesting sources through your newsletters. I know that you pull from courts a lot and you’ll post on the Atlantic a lot but there’s all these really random sources too that I find. Are you literally opening all of these different sources every day and checking them out?
Dave: It’s a combination. I do open a lot of sources and I’ve discovered a few of them also through the same way following people on Twitter and then link to a story or I’ll use other sort of sites that lists the most popular news of the day or whatever, I use a few of those also. Those sort of more obscure stories from sites which I personally find to be the most sort of interesting in some way because it’s really stuff that people probably wouldn’t have seen before. Those I usually find maybe through somebody, a Facebook friend, or somebody on Twitter that post that story. In the early days of the newsletter, I’ve done this twice, actually I did it about ten years and I re- launched it about a year ago. One of my concerns early on…a friend of mine that I built a few
sites with kept saying you should bring back Next Draft. I said I don’t know what’s in today’s web or internet where people are having so many stories sent to them on Twitter and Facebook and everywhere else. I’m not sure they want another source for news. He sort of felt, well, I think people need it more now than ever because they are so overwhelmed in the data by all this stuff. They need somebody that’ll say here’s a few things to focus on in sort of a clean, quiet space that doesn’t change really. You get your newsletter; you open it your app is static; it sort of stays the same and you can come back to it if you want. He did turn out to be right. I think as people have responded to it. When I first re-launched it I was focused on trying to be exhausted. I felt like if I’m going to write a daily newsletter focused on news then I had to make sure that I didn’t miss any top stories. It was really I have more stories than more links and I felt a sort of obsession with making sure people didn’t email me and say hey, how can this be a newsletter on news and you missed these three big stories today about something happened in our embassy in IranandsomethingthathappensinWashingtonaboutpoliticaldebate. Overtime,Irealized that really wasn’t the value of being exhausted; the web is already exhausted. People can find the news they really want or the top stories of the day pretty easily so I really narrowed it down to what did I find interesting or what did I find fascinating that day and sort of shut out all the other noise; give it 100% personality; here are the ten stories, if I was looking at the web today, I will be likely to read. That really was actually sort of a breakthrough moment to sort of narrow it downandsay,Idon’thavetodoeverything,Ijusthavetobewhatpeoplearereallylookingfor. I think tools like Next Draft and most blogs and by following most people on Twitter is that they’re personality driven. They’re not looking for exhaustiveness; they’re looking for specificity and uniqueness.
Ari: Absolutely. I’ve almost developed like a trust in you without ever meeting you that I know when you put out content, not only is it going to be interesting to me but it’s something that I can then sensitize and use whether it’s a minimum of being able to talk somebody about it and tell my wife about interesting stories or actually using is for actually something in my own work and my own blog. What I want to know too is any of this sort of automatically outsourced? Do you actually go ahead and create the newsletter yourself as well? Is any part of this done by other people or other things?
Dave: No, no. It’s definitely…. I don’t work and play well with others. So, it’s definitely just me. I also invested in an internet startup so that’s sort of my other half of my day spent doing that kind of stuff and working with other people and advising them and benefiting from feedback and exchange. Next Draft is sort of my own thing. I don’t have to outsource anything. I don’t automate anything. I’m probably inefficient in some ways but yeah, I just open my tabs, find the stories and go. As soon as I get done talking to you, I’ve found my stories for the day, I’ll start writing and that process will probably take about 90 minutes from beginning writing to proofreading, to sending.
Ari: Okay, so, I’m actually loving this even more. I’m sure people listening to the podcast are going to be really surprised as to why I wanted to talk to you about this since you’re basically saying you don’t any of the things that I’m recommending people do on a daily basis. But the truth is less
doing has two sides of it whether you’re going to be efficient in everything you’re doing or you’re going to choose one thing that you want to do better than anybody else which is clearly what Dave is doing. That’s as much less doing as anything else as far as I’m concerned. The last question that I want to ask which I ask everybody on the show is what are your top three personal productivity tips, the three things that make you able to kick ass each day?
Dave: Sure. I’d say one thing is probably – I think it’s pretty cliché at this point but – I do try to take breaks. I get so focused and so tense when I’m doing stuff like this even after I’ve done it a million times every day, I’m pretty addicted to pressing the publish button. So, when I’m working on it I’m really focused and probably too tense and getting some carpal tunnel here and all those kind of issues. One of my key productivity tips is just walking around the block. I have an office that has a block that probably takes me 5 minutes to walk around so I try to do that two or three times every time I’m doing a newsletter. That really makes a difference just getting out stretching my legs getting the blood flowing; just getting away from the screen because I just really lock in. My other productivity tips is actually don’t overdo it when it comes to productivity apps if you’re not the type that needs that stuff. I, for months, was sort of researching a really good productivity app for a to-do list and the truth is I’m just not that type of person; I just don’t have that type of personality. Before the mobile app aide, I didn’t have a method for keeping a to-do list with a pencil and paper either; I just sort of kept it in my head and that’s the way I function. I actually found that one of my biggest productivity slowdowns is trying to find tools to help me be more productive because I just couldn’t find tools that matched my personality type. I think sometimes we get sort of obsessed with the shiny new thing; there’s a new app that comes out and it’s beautifully designed, clean, inviting, and easy to use, and the UI is perfect. If you don’t have a problem with something, even when it’s tempting, I wouldn’t try to find a solution, a technological solution about something because I think sometimes that can be irradical and actually makes you less productive, less happy. The other productivity tip I have actually has to do with really understanding for each individual what it is that you consider to be productive. I find a lot of times that I’m working on Next Draft in the morning and maybe finding some stories at home before I come to my office and my son is trying to talk me about something that’s going on that day at school or camp or my daughter wants me to check out the shirt she’s wearing or listen to a story that she’s telling and I’m distracted and looking at my screen trying to make sure I get the stories because I’m sort of focused. Every few weeks, I try to sit down and I’m bad at this like most people in our era, but I try to get better at it. I just try to sit down and think what it is exactly that I want to be productive at. 10 years from now is it going to matter whether or not my newsletter was averaged getting out at 1:05pm, pacific or 1:20 pacific or is it going to matter whether or not I was making sure that my kids felt like they had my focus and making sure I was spending time? Like the walk around the block; taking care of myself and not getting carpal tunnel syndrome. I think it’s really easy, especially on the web when information is constantly coming at you, to feel like you have to be there every minute and you can’t miss a thing or you’re going to fall behind. The truth is that that stuff doesn’t really matter. You can miss a week and come back and catch up when you need to. You can miss a minute that’s for sure but it really does sort of become addicting. So, every now and again just
sitting back and saying, what is it exactly that I want to be productive at and making sure I adjust my behavior as much as I can to focus on those things instead of focusing on a few minutes here or a few minutes there in terms of staring at the screen which is my addiction like many people who are listening probably.
Ari: Well, Dave, I love every single thing you just said and I love the newsletter. So, everyone…. I insist that everybody listening, if you aren’t already a subscriber, you have to sign up for Next Draft, NextDraft.com. Dave, thank you so much for your insight and taking this time to talk to me.
Dave: Ari, I really appreciate it. Thanks a lot.