Ali Abdaal, MD graduated from the the University of Cambridge, and is also a YouTuber with over 1.2 million subscribers. Ali talks about productivity, tech and entrepreneurship.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: Hi guys, welcome to another episode of the Body Clock Podcast by Owaves. Very glad to have Ali Abdaal on, who is a big time Youtuber. He’s a junior doctor who graduated from the eminent University of Cambridge, he’s also a podcaster, and he’s very big in the field of medical education as well as productivity, tech, and teaching students on how to learn effectively. So Ali is the best version of a multi-hyphenate, as you can see he’s already hooked up to a mic. I know you’re always prepared. I’ve got all the questions for him in this podcast as he manages to do so many things so seamlessly. He’s got a very large following on social media. So we are going to be discussing mental health, productivity, study tips as well as Ali’s journey and what his vision is in this podcast. So first of all thanks for coming on the podcast Ali.
Dr. Ali Abdaal: Thanks for having me man. It’s been good; I feel like we’ve been trying to connect for absolutely ages, but now finally this quarantine lockdown period means I’m sitting at home with nothing to do, so it was perfect when you messaged yesterday.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: I can’t believe you have time on your hands for once. But I’m sure you fill it up all the time because you’re someone who seems to be quite planned.
Dr. Ali Abdaal: Yeah I mean I kind of have this kind of existential dread when I’m not doing anything productive. And it’s kind of bad, I’m trying to get over it but hey.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: It’s good to have some downtime. So obviously Owaves is an app which revolves around the concept of time, so it’s very interesting that you are so planned because essentially what we are doing with Owaves in California is we are building a company which targets mental health in students, and you’re very popular with students, with a large following and they seem to hang on to every word you say. You obviously are a very well-read individual.
Dr. Ali Abdaal: Yes. For some reason, people see me as a source of legitimate advice.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: Which is good because sometimes I hear you talk and I’m like, wait, I’ve thought of those things and there’s no one there to validate them, especially university. Everything’s so traditional. And was glad there’s someone who’s from such an academic background, you know, went to Cambridge University. And you can, you have that juxtaposition of you’re reading the things that are popular in places like Silicon Valley, which are very nonconformist, disruptive people who normally, traditionally don’t agree with you. You’ve got the two sides of that. And I find that fascinating.
Dr. Ali Abdaal: Yeah I think, one of the things that I sometimes feel bad about in a way that I feel like a lot of the content I make on the Internet is just information arbitrage on this sort of content that those tech gurus would have read on Twitter two weeks prior. I think there’s that sort of opportunity to package that information from the tech Silicon Valley world and present it in a format that is accessible to students and kind of more student-friendly rather than talking about B2B sites, which obviously no student knows what it is unless they were tied to the techy-business. So I enjoy kind of taking those concepts in a way and presenting them to students. Which I think it’s kind of cheating but, hey, it seems to work.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: Well, if it gets the point across, it’s quite digestible, and obviously the audience understands what you’re saying, that’s the most important point. Because I was amazed at how far-removed mainstream society is from Silicon Valley concepts. And when I hear you talk, I’m like, “Wait I’ve been reading about that, that’s what I’m interested in.” It is a niche that it is the same type of person who is interested in you know, ways of thinking, cognitive models, and it’s quite surprising how we don’t get taught that at all but you’re kind of publicizing that on to such a larger platform and obviously it helps that you’ve been able to establish rapport with people who are at such an age where they are developing, you know, trying to learn to study. But do you ever get that feeling that you know too much? And it’s hard to decipher what advice to focus on?
Dr. Ali Abdaal: Oh god yeah all the time.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: Because of all the information out there.
Dr. Ali Abdaal: It’s one of those things whereby, I guess, once you become familiar with an idea then it just becomes a part of your brain. It seems like such a completely obvious thing that surely everyone would know about it. And then like occasionally I would find myself quoting Derek Sivers or Paul Graham or someone and the people I would be talking to would be like “Oh I didn’t know that,” and I’d be kind of surprised because, you know, having heard the idea it’s like it’s now obvious to me. But there was this great blog post by Derek Sivers that’s called “Obvious to You, Amazing to Others,” and read that kind of once a week whenever I have these doubts. His main point is that what is obvious to you, might actually be the first time someone’s hearing it and therefore could be amazing to them. So what is really obvious to me, a lot of these sort of Silicon Valley-esque ideas, they’re probably amazing to a lot of other people.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: Primarily obviously you are a doctor. You’re practicing as a doctor. So when did your interest in tech and entrepreneurship begin?
Dr. Ali Abdaal: I think interest in tech started when I was like 11 or 12 years old. I remember someone, I remember seeing someone in the computer suite at school and they right-clicked on the Google homepage and they were viewing the source. And I was like, “Whoa that looks like coding.” It seemed really cool. And from then on, I was like okay, I really want to kind of learn how to do this sort of stuff. So I started doing freelance web designer things when I was in secondary school, using that to make a little bit of money on the side. And then once you’ve made your first dollar online, you get the, you know, the whole game completely changes for you, you’re like, “Oh my god, this internet thing, I can make money on this internet thing.” And so that was where everything sort of got started.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: So what stopped you from becoming a software engineer, a top software engineer from Google in California Silicon Valley because quite frankly, they’re very sought-after and you seem like you’ve got the skills and ability to be able to do that quite easily.
Dr. Ali Abdaal: So when I was 16…16, 17ish, which would have been…when would that have been? That would have been like 2007, 2008, I think…or like 2010. The whole sort of “become a software engineer and work for a big company” life plan just wasn’t really on the agenda. The only thing that I really had in the back of my mind was the Tim Ferriss idea of multiple streams of passive income and I was like, this is what I want to go for. And so when deciding between… it was a choice between medicine and computer science. But I sort of recognized that it would be a lot more interesting to be a doctor who can code than to just be someone who can code. And that’s why I thought that would be cool.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: Interesting decision making, because I would say I was in a bit of a similar position. I got into Cambridge for Medicine as well, but I chose not to go surprisingly into the disgruntlement of my parents because of the fact that I live in Manchester and I was too used to my comforts. I could have met you. We could have been friends.
Dr. Ali Abdaal: Now we’re friends, so it’s all good.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: So now it’s fine. But yeah, computer science for me, obviously, IT was one of my subjects I did quite well at GCSE and it was that same. You’re right. It was just blowing up on that stage. A lot of companies came out of the last recession in 2008, and these software startups were forming. Big companies like Airbnb, Uber. And it was kind of probably when we were in medical school when really software engineering became such a big field that was so widely known and it became very popular. But as you’re right, medicine obviously is a skill that you can’t learn out of a trained setting. Would you agree with that?
Dr. Ali Abdaal: Sorry that you can’t learn out of a trained setting?
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: You need a clinical environment. Everything else you can learn online.
Dr. Ali Abdaal: Yeah, exactly. In fact, I think…I think most of med school you can probably just learn online, but you do have to have access to patients and the ability to practice on them which you can’t really get out of…
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: But a lot of learning can be remote, like you said as well. But except part of obviously the patient aspect. And you do do a lot of online classes. I saw recently you’ve just published something on Skillshare.
Dr. Ali Abdaal: Yeah man, I’m big on the online class thing. Online education teacher.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: And that saves time as well doesn’t it? Wake up, straight to your lecture, no commute time, minimal cost, decrease your cognitive load, less decision making throughout the day, focus on the screen.
Dr. Ali Abdaal: All of that. Focus on what matters rather than… Well you know there is that social aspect of going to lectures and hanging out with the fellow medics. But yeah, overall, I think like me and most my friends, we learned most of our stuff through the Internet rather than through lectures even if we went to lectures.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: And how did you start teaching? Was it when did you start your YouTube channel and when did it start to get traction?
Dr. Ali Abdaal: Teaching, I kind of started, when I was well, I was like 13 or 14. I was doing like math tutoring. And that was like my side hustle, in addition to the side hustle of making websites. So I’d always really enjoyed teaching. And actually, I stumbled across an Evernote document that I made in 2011 the other day where I was kind of brainstorming ways of making money online. And I sort of wrote on that Evernote document that, you know, what are the things I’m good at and therefore what are the things I can monetize? And teaching was at the top of that list. So I’d always been interested in the whole teaching aspect of stuff. And so when I was at university, I set up a company to help people get into med school by tutoring for the BMAT and the UKCAT interviews. And then the YouTube channel sort of started in 2017 as a content marketing strategy for this business initially. So I started… I was doing the Tim Ferriss Gary Vaynerchuk approach of putting out a lot of free content for free, then hoped that people would then convert down the funnel into paid customers like us. But then very quickly I realized that actually it’s more interesting to just have a YouTube channel than to actually be running this business. So that’s fun.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: So it seems you had a plethora of interests and hustles, but you hardly have the time to help, especially with medicine. But you kept them going and then you seem to come to a point where they all fit in together. You stacked one upon another, and you grew and grew. And obviously, it’s still difficult to do because you hear a lot of advice online of how to start up successful social media companies, YouTube channels, businesses. But you don’t understand that.
Dr. Ali Abdaal: 90% fail, yeah.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: So obviously it takes a lot more than that. You have to have not only the skill set, but you have to be able to resonate with an audience and you’ve been able to do that. What are your tips on that? How have you been able to do that? Is it your niche of being a doctor from Cambridge, someone who is a doctor, but also obviously been coding since 12? There’s not many people who could do those, you know, setting up websites, doing side hustles, there’s not many kids who are that proactive. So that gives you a unique selling point and a new proposition of where there’s not many people who have those different skill sets.
Dr. Ali Abdaal: Yeah, I think, again, there was something that I read at some point which was that magic comes from the intersection of different fields. So the only reason I was able to start the business initially was because I knew how to make a website. And back in 2013, it wasn’t as easy to make a pretty living website as it is today. So having that background in coding I could add up to my medical stuff to make a successful website that looked legitimate and look pretty, because when you’re just starting out, you need a decent website to look real. Otherwise people will think you’re a scam. And so that was a big part of why that worked. And then kind of stacking on the YouTube thing. I think having sort of a background of web design really helped with that as well, because I feel like, from day one, my production value is good. The thumbnail design was pretty on point. But I think… so, there’s a book that I was reading recently called The Unfair Advantage. Have you come across it?
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: No, I haven’t.
Dr. Ali Abdaal: I’m actually working on a video about this, but it’s written by these two brown entrepreneurial guys, Ash and Hasan. I had a chat with Hasan and we had like a two-hour long interview when he came over to my house two weeks ago before socialization mode.
And the Unfair Advantage is basically sort of trying to drill down to the reasons as to why things become successful. The way that I started thinking about it afterwards was that success is some sort of combination of fair play multiplied by your unfair advantages. So fair play would be things that other people can replicate, so things like hard work and hustle and dedication, perseverance, you know, the stuff that you need to really get anything off the ground. But then the unfair advantages are the things that are harder to replicate. And in the book, they talk about it in terms of the Miles framework: M. I. L. E. S. The money, intelligence and insight, location and luck, education, expertise and status. And the idea behind it is that you need to kind of identify your unfair advantages because that combines and compounds with your fair play advantages in order to make you succeed. And so someone like Donald Trump obviously had the unfair advantage of money, someone like Evan Spiegel had the unfair advantage of, you know, going to expensive private school in Los Angeles or wherever you went and like being connected to this super-talented pool of people.
And equally like me, the unfair advantage I had was: A, I had the Cambridge brand behind me; B, I had the medical student brand; and C, I had a sort of expertise in the website, so these are the sort of things that I could combine with hard work and dedication by block in order to make that succeed. And I think the key for other people then is, as these guys argue in the book, is to identify what are your own unfair advantages, because then you can figure out what the path of least resistance is going to be when you’re starting up, whatever you’re starting up, whether it’s a business or a side project or a YouTube channel or a podcast or whatever.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: To someone who seems to plan a lot as well, but you seem to also take the plunge. So you are a risk-taker?
Dr. Ali Abdaal: I feel like I’m very risk-averse. Because, I don’t know, I feel like most things are just so not risky that you know, what’s the worst-case scenario? You start a YouTube channel and no one watches the videos. Great. But at least you’ve got these memories to look back on. You’ve learned how to do video editing, which is a valuable skill just for the rest of your life. What’s the downside if you try and start a business? Maybe the business fails. But, you know, as long as you don’t actively break the law, you probably learn something along the way. So everything is kind of not very risky at all.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: So what my question would be… something I’d be facing is that… I would say the risk would be with your time. Obviously, time is limited. The way we spend it is very important. And with something like a medical career consumes a lot of your time. So. is there a point where you’re compensating other parts of your life or well-being in order to set up a business or take on that extra stress without much return on investment for what you’re doing? Obviously, you’ve been very successful, but I’m part of the NHS entrepreneur program. It’s a lot of people who are getting interested in entrepreneurship. Might be a millennial thing as well. But if, say, you stop studying for your exam because you’re trying to make a YouTube channel, you’re twice that for business. That time is being spent elsewhere. For a lot of people, not all obviously, you seem to manage it quite well. Undoubtedly, they might be suffering in some areas, or maybe they should be focusing on that one sole thing.
Dr. Ali Abdaal: Yeah. So I think it depends. I think it is important to try and calculate the return on investment of all these different things. But there is… so for example, when you’re in med school, it’s really important to pass the exam. But once you pass the exam, it’s not very important to try and optimize for getting 98 percent versus 97 percent. You know, there’s significant diminishing returns once you pass the exam because as you know, the person who graduates bottom of the class is still a doctor in the end of the day and no one really cares what you got in your med school or even what med school you went to. And so it becomes a sort of priority list. Priority number one is to pass the exam. Priority number two is not, at least for me, it wasn’t try and come top of the year or try and get a first. It was, “Okay, what are the other things that I can do that will add value to my life?” And so the equation that I think about is what’s the return on investment? At the very least, I want to learn some skills doing this thing. So if it is a YouTube channel, business, a podcast, a blog, whatever, that will build skills which are, those skills are, in a way, synergistic with medicine. Even if I were just interested in medicine, like there are so many doors that have opened for me over the years, just because I happen to be good at making websites like through my design stuff, every poster that I’ve made for any conference has looked very pretty and ended up winning prizes. I managed to get onto the board of this international plastic surgery committee because I was like, “hey, you guys need the website”. I’m good at making websites. And, you know, I got connected with these amazing plastic surgeons in a Hackathon that I went to. And, you know, we ended up winning first prize because the PowerPoint that I made just looked a lot prettier than everyone else’s, because being plugged into the tech ecosystem, I knew how to download a sketch mockup of an iPhone off the Internet and therefore are kind of apps that we designed, looked like it was mocked up on an iPhone, which is a skill that is so attributively easy. But if you’re not plugged into the ecosystem of design, you just don’t even know that’s a thing. And so everyone else designs just looked like crappy maps with Word documents on PowerPoint presentations. So like this design background helped connect me with all these plastic surgeons, and that was when I was interested in doing plastics. And so I think a big part of it I can’t quite remember what the original question was. But I think a big part of it is sort of identifying those areas that will synergistically, combined with your career, whatever you’re doing. So the value of trying to go for a first rather than a two-one is absolutely not worth it, compared to learning how to web design code, or video editing, public speaking, graphic design, music production, probably all sorts of other things. At least me. Like if you’re trying to optimize for getting that professor of physics at Emory University, that’s fine. People don’t really care about you public speaking. They just care about your research output. But I feel like for most people, that’s not what they’re optimizing for. And so I really think very hard about what’s the goal here? What’s the plan? What am I going for?
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: That’s a good way of thinking of things, and you sound like my Imperial professor. He told us in our business school class that if you would, if pass is 50 percent and the next greatest 70 percent and you think you can’t get 70 percent. There’s no point in aiming for 70 percent because between 50 and 70, it’s going to be the same grade. So you’re just wasting more time you could be spending on other things.
Dr. Ali Abdaal: Yeah, exactly. I fully agree with that. In fact, when I started my YouTube channel and decided to take it seriously and started my final year here about four months away from finals, and I knew that I would pass finals just based on my prior knowledge. I knew I was out of the running for a distinction, most likely because I was kind of fourth decile and distinction was top 15 percent. I would have had to work really, really, really hard to even have a chance. So I actually decided I wasn’t going to revise for finals because anything beyond passing would have been objectively a waste of time. And that was how I was able to release two or three videos a week, just because I was spending all of my spare time doing that. Rather than trying to revise for finals.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: I don’t think that would work for everyone, but I’m glad it worked for you. Because similarly, I mean, I call it the minimally viable energy. So what’s the least amount of energy you can put into something to get the maximum outcome and whether it fits? And I’ve been applying that to my life quite a lot in the last few years. And it has paid dividends. I mean, being with Owaves, the different opportunities I’ve had have been due to obviously having the wider interests. I look at something and like, do I need to be spending these extra hours this much extra, like I said, diminishing returns, output. And I’m glad you’re too vocal about that. And you are educating people because a lot of it we’re inundated from a young age of time equals success when that’s not always the case. What’s your feelings on that? Obviously, does that theory, about 10000 hours to perfect a skill, do you believe in that?
Dr. Ali Abdaal: Not really. But then, you know, in fairness, that 10000-hour rule has been kind of mutated far beyond, who was it, Anders Ericsson I think? Whoever first suggested it. And then Malcolm Gladwell kind of just mentioned in passing and one of his books for some reason became when everyone was talking about. I think I’m a lot more of a believer in like the 80-20 rule and in terms and in the idea that it’s actually probably good enough to get to top five percent rather than trying to get to the one percent. And so I like to combine interests in different ways and become reasonably proficient at a lot of things rather than very proficient at a single thing. This is a sort of a jack of all trades. I think it’s far better in this day and age than being particularly specialized. And I’d like to quote “specialization is for insects”.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: So what motivates you, Ali? What motivates you? What gets you going?
Dr. Ali Abdaal: What gets me going? Virtually everything I do is really fun, like sitting here doing this livestream, planning videos, recording this podcast. It’s all just fun and like objectively, I’ve had more fun in the last four hours of doing this livestream and trying to turn up videos than I did like two nights ago when I decided to binge, the Mandalorian and ended up putting two episodes on Disney Plus. So personally, yeah, that’s what keeps me going. It’s just sort of fun. But also, I really like the general, just the journey of… basically the journey to financial independence. Like, you know, being able to live off of earnings through means other than my job. I want to be financially decoupled from my job. And just the journey of getting there is just really fun.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: I mean, you sound like you need to be in California. I wish I could just pick you up and drop you there in Silicon Valley. It would have been amazing to have…Obviously in the UK, we have slightly different culture when it comes to entrepreneurship than exists in the States. And that’s something that’s quite obvious. And you are… It’s quite surprising being British. You have such parallels and such similar thought processes to people who are here in Silicon Valley because I follow them on Twitter, I follow them on LinkedIn.
Dr. Ali Abdaal: Yes. Everyone I’ve followed on Twitter is also from Silicon Valley. All of the podcasts is in Silicon Valley. I mean it’s a very curated type that I love listening to. But equally, I mean, it’s got the downsides like, I don’t know a lot about the news. I don’t care a lot about politics. I don’t read a lot about the environment, you know, or social justice or any of that stuff. All topics that I know I should care about. But because my whole kind of, everything I consume is in this sort of tech entrepreneur niche. It means I’m not developed in news in these other ways.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: You’re providing value in that way because you knowing about the environment wouldn’t really add anything. There’s enough people in the world who know about environment or politics. So I think if you’re so interested in something, you’re so passionate about it, if you can distill that to so many people, that’s 100 percent you should just be interested. That’s what my theory is. I’m obsessed with tech. And then sometimes people do say, oh, you just talk about tech all the time. But I guess this is passion. But interesting point where you pick up on is that you’ve made what you do so entertaining and fun that you almost elevate above the status of what traditionally people find fun. Because in our minds, we think maybe, you know, going for it. I don’t know. I don’t find this fun. But some people do, you know, going for a picnic in a park or God knows, whatever. I don’t find that fun either. So if you can find, make work more entertaining than traditional entertainment, then almost work becomes your go-to thing.
Dr. Ali Abdaal: Yeah. Yeah, kind of. I’m sure that’s some sort of downsides to it. But at the moment, I can’t really think of any. And there was a time in my fifth year of med school where, you know, some close friends would be like, I mean, you know, you’re a workaholic, you’re working too much. And I was like, okay, fine, you’re right. And I tried getting back into World of Warcraft. I thought, hey, you know, I can relax at the end of the day by playing video games. But I think I found that actually like it felt like an energy drain rather than a recovery, whereas when I get home from work and I’m writing scripts for a video or researching something interesting, that gives me energy. And therefore in a way, I don’t need to relax. And my relaxation is listening to fantasy audio books on the way to work, that counts as relaxation. So there was a good quote from… Do you know [Patrick Collison], I’m sure you’ve come across him?
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: Yes, yes. Yes. Of course.
Dr. Ali Abdaal: His thing was, “to the extent that you enjoy working hard, do”. Because there are no downsides to it. I read that, and this is something I agree with. I think as long as it’s fun, then basically no downsides to continue to do it.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: That reminds me. How do you got such a phenomenal memory? I’m sure you’ve probably gone through this in your memory parts. It isn’t fancy strategies, is it? Obviously there’s a genetic component, but what strategies do you use? I mean, you remember quotes like the back of your… it’s just there as a part of your mind. I’m pretty surprised. I’d probably have to remember beforehand and write them down.
Dr. Ali Abdaal: I don’t know, I mean, I save about 100 times as many quotes that actually remember. But if something resonates with me, then usually it’s locked into place. And then I think oh my god this applies to ABCD and E. I often find myself citing various things in general conversations, which is kind of weird in general conversation, but it makes a lot of sense in the podcasts. I hope it’s not, you know, too much.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: No it works really well. People love quotes and somebody can reveal them off so easily and seamlessly. So with time. OK. So managing the time, how do you manage your time? What tools do you use? Do you use Apps? Do you use calendar planning? Do you have a framework in your mind? How do you prioritize things?
Dr. Ali Abdaal: Yeah so I’ve actually done a video about this. It’s called eight tips to time management. But like the main point is I think I view time as something that’s entirely within my control. I never use the phrase I don’t have time. I think that is a very harmful and pernicious phrase that we’re taught to say as an excuse for not wanting to do something. Instead, I reframe it as I’m actively choosing not to make the time or whatever. And so once that kind of mindset shift has been established, at that point, everything becomes a choice. And so anything that I’m doing with my time is what I’m actively choosing to do. And so, you know, if I’m sitting on my front bench with my grandma rather than doing something productive, that’s actually what I’m actively choosing to do at that time. And everything else sort of stems from that. And I think, like time management becomes not very hard if you enjoy what you did. Right. Like, we don’t need motivation to do the things that we enjoy. And so that’s what I try. I try and just enjoy everything that I do. And I think everything else, time management wise, stems from that. And yeah, I do things like I mean, I’ve got a calendar and I have a to-do list and I tried following David Allen’s GTD —getting things done—but I did a weekly review maybe twice in six months and I know I shouldn’t do it. But I… you know, I tend to just kind of go with whatever seems fun in the moment. And it just so happens that those are also activities that drive the economic engine forward.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: So it fits in nicely. Did you plan your day? Do you have a routine?
Dr. Ali Abdaal: Not really. This morning, I’ve been playing around with this app, Roam Research, I’m sure you’ve come across it.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: Yeah.
Dr. Ali Abdaal: So every Sunday morning now I call it my morning dump where I just sort of dump down everything I’m thinking about and all this news that I need to do. Yesterday I planned to film like ten videos. And I filmed not even a single one. I often overintent and underdo. But I think it’s fine. It’s just in the mornings, I like making a list of all the things that in an ideal world I’d like to get done in a day. Even if I don’t do half of them, I don’t actually care.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: Do you also offload things so tasks that you think other people can do on your behalf? Are you offloading to other people or getting help, or are you kind of leading them all, the more tasks that need more of your executive function?
Dr. Ali Abdaal: Yeah I’m trying to get better. So I’ve got two basically full-time team members now helping with the video side of things, but, I’ve been working with the business coach and he was recommending that, you know, getting a personal assistant as well and just kind of offloading literally everything that doesn’t require my own personal input, but I haven’t really got to that point yet. What about you? Any tips on that?
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: I don’t think I’m in the position to be advising you at the moment, but definitely what I’d like to do my life normally is I kind of prioritize things early in the day that I think need some type of, need less decision making so I get the ball rolling. I think you’ve talked about this in your videos as well. So I get tasks done and that gathers momentum. And then I leave decision making for like an hour period of my day where I’m making decisions or choices. Because I feel like a lot of choices fatigue my mind. That’s what works for me. If I’m making decisions throughout the day, I feel very unproductive, you know, because I’m quite into sports, and the gym and healthy eating and that side of things. So that takes a lot of planning. But at a time, I realized diminishing returns. Why am I doing this? What’s the end goal? So with books as well, with audiobooks I try and double up with traveling, when I’m driving and making sure that there’s always activity. I mean, it’s interesting with companies like Tesla that were accelerating quickly, you would think the number of things you could do while commuting. And now with lockdown happening, remote work has basically changed everything. We all have so much more time to efficiently manage what’s happening. And I think that will change the landscape of how people do things. And so the advice you give is more important than ever before because you kind of almost live a digital life. If that’s the way to put it, you spend a lot of time using so many different technologies that the average person has no idea about or utilizing their day.
Dr. Ali Abdaal: Yeah, yeah, I guess so. One of the benefits of being a massive nerd who could just live with a computer.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: So you could say it’s minimally affected your day to day routine in that way?
Dr. Ali Abdaal: Yeah. Honestly, I feel like life in social isolation is basically the same, than just general life. But now I have no I like I have a perfect excuse to just not go to the gym or not even go shopping because I’m like, well, you know what? We’re in lockdown. I can’t get to the gym and I can just order in every day. So that’s been the only thing that’s changed. Obviously, I’m still going to work at the hospital. So, yeah, my routine really hasn’t changed a whole lot.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: And so is Ali Abdaal going to IPO any time soon?
Dr. Ali Abdaal: Perhaps. I might be doing a pre-seed round at the moment if you’re interested in getting in on that.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: Ok. That sounds very, very cool. And are you planning to specialize in medicine?
Dr. Ali Abdaal: Yeah, I think anesthetics is where I’m leaning, but I’m considering going to America for residency, so I’m kind of looking into that and doubling with USMLE at the moment.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: Well, so many things going on. So you are managing to complete your LinkedIn, but different things. I mean, you’re trying to get your business to accelerate its growth. You’re also applying for very competitive positions in medicine as well. Residency, preparing for exams.
Dr. Ali Abdaal: I think I’m far more focused on the Youtube side of things. I don’t think that much about the medicine stuff right now. I feel like it’s like I’m twenty five. I’ve got medicine on the side as a side hustle. It would be a shame if I didn’t take advantage of the opportunities of the Internet and just became a box standard doctor because I can always become a box standard doctor whenever I want. So it’s a good backup option.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: Definitely, you’re in a unique position where you said one of the aims of financial independence and if medicine doesn’t really give you that till a very late age, even if that, you have to work the hours, it’s time put in for money out. And that’s a concept which obviously is being Silicon Valley again. Do you think this whole situation we’re going through now is going to impact that negatively or positively because some people say innovation has been accelerated by five years due to necessity, but others have said obviously the investment side of things completely crashed?
Dr. Ali Abdaal: Yeah, I don’t really know about that. I don’t know anything about the investment side of things. But it seems to me that this is sort of a good thing overall. I’m sure we’ll all look back on this time and think, yeah, it’s pretty horrendous. And people died, unfortunately. But I’m sure we can find, you know, as humanity, we can find a silver lining to what’s going on here.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: Have you got any tips for managing mental health, are there any strategies you use to keep yourself optimistic and happy as you appear in most videos?
Dr. Ali Abdaal: I’m really big into Stoicism, as every tech bro is these days. Yeah, just that. And, you know, the Serenity Prayer does grant me the serenity to accept that which I cannot change, courage to change what I can and the wisdom to know the difference. And like, you know, it’s that idea that everything is stuff in our control, outside our control. It’s kind of really before worrying about anything, thinking is this something I can actually control? And if so, do something about it. And if not, then what’s the point of worrying about it. But having said that, I’m very privileged. I’ve never had to deal with any sort of mental health problems at all. My mom’s a psychiatrist. Even if I did like, you know, I’d have a support network. It’s very easy for me to say, hey, guys, just read Stoicism. But for people who are actually struggling with that, I really can’t appreciate that position very much.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: Thanks for the honest answer. And with helping people to study in this time of remote online teaching going so mainstream, I mean you’re releasing courses as well. All of a sudden, everyone’s been plunged into this world of online. What are your tips? What are your ways of staying organized, keeping that vision, staying motivated, all to organizing a timetable? I’ve seen a video of yours where you had a way of studying different topics by color coding. I’m sure your viewers have already watched it, but for the Owaves audience, it would be very useful for them to not only follow your videos, but also get a few tips on here.
Dr. Ali Abdaal: Yeah, I mean, I think the first thing is to figure out, like what you’re optimizing for. Like, you know, we sort of assume that if you’re a student in high school or at university, you should spend the time that you’re off university studying for your exams. But if you really think about it, like why are we making that assumption? Like, what is the point of studying for your exams? If and only if you decided that the best return on investment of your time is going to be studying for your exams, then fair enough. But it’s worth thinking about it anyway, because if you’re already you know, if you’re studying medicine and you’re already going to pass the exam, then what’s really the point of optimizing for better grades? It doesn’t really translate to you becoming a better doctor necessarily. And that time could be spent doing other things. But I think that’s step number one. Step number two is once you’ve decided, OK, I actually care about studying, at that point it’s about doing everything we can to make that process as efficient, enjoyable as possible. So that’s by focusing on understanding rather than memorizing, in first instance, by using effective techniques like active recall and spaced repetition, interleaving and categorizing. I have a whole like 36 videos on Skillshare where I talk about it like four and a half hours and give all these sorts of evidence-based techniques about studying. But I think…yep, but step number one is to figure out if that’s really what we want to be doing with our time. Is that the best use of our time right now? And secondly, having decided that there’s all sorts of efficient study techniques that people can find out about by reading a book called Make It Stick. It’s really good. And basically, it’s all about the science of learning. So everyone should read that book.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: You read a lot of books. What do you do to keep summaries of each book to make points, or do you just remember them for the last decade?
Dr. Ali Abdaal: My only regret in life is not making more summaries of books that I’ve read for the last 10 years. I really wish I’d been doing that. And that’s what I’m trying to preach to everyone, is that, guys you’ve got to be taking notes with the books that you’re reading, but kind of since 2007 or 2008, basically since the Kindle came out, I’ve been highlighting and reading on Kindle and now there’s all these services. Services like Readwise.io where everyday it sends you five random highlights and they’ve got an extension with Evernote. So it sinks all your Kindle highlights Evernote automatically. It sinks all my Instapaper highlights to Evernote automatically. And so if I’m doing a video about productivity, then I can just control F productivity on Evernote and it will find me all the highlights related to that. So that’s like an automatic process for sort of resurfacing the stuff that I’ve read in books. And that’s sort of how I remember things. I really wish I’d been more careful about taking notes and summarizing things.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: And we found a sense of community in the tech world. Because medicine is very… almost quite… it’s a bubble. People don’t really venture outside of a bubble.
Dr. Ali Abdaal: The tech world is very much a bubble as well.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: Yeah, that’s equally true. But in medicine, tech, it almost seems sometimes is anti-medicine at times if that’s fair to say. A lot of traditionalists are a bit skeptical of tech solutions.
Dr. Ali Abdaal: Yeah, but they’re all old. Right. The younger people are very much more like, it seems like everyone and their dog is interested in med-tech these days. If you ask anyone, you know what you want to do? I want to do med-tech. Just anyone who’s not enjoying medicine inevitably, 100% would say they want to get into tech. And then you ask them, OK, what have you done, or did you bring anything to the table. They are like, “No, man. I’ve been to the giant health conference. I’m doing the entrepreneurship program. And I want to do a Stanford MBA”.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: The same list exactly I hear on repeat. And it’s growing every year. I mean, seeing medical students now almost starting society at university. But you’re right. If you don’t have the skill set, it’s just a word.
Dr. Ali Abdaal: Yeah. I mean, like, this is something I feel very strongly about. Right. Because there’s all these people who’ve been sold the vision of med tech, and they think that just because they happen to have graduated med school, suddenly they can qualify to be like a chief medical officer for some startup. But bro, you’ve not even worked as an F1 or F2. Like, come on! What skills do you actually expect to bring to the table other than just the fact that you happen to go to med school? I think Peter Thiel has a good point to sort of relate to this in Zero to One where it’s…he kind of gives the example, I think I can remember correctly, of how kind of innovation comes from the intersection of different fields. But the way I started thinking about this was that if you’re a final year med student and you’re interested in hashtag med tech, hashtag living the dream, bla bla bla, if you’re interested in all that stuff, then really at that point, the only solutions you can feasibly offer are the low hanging fruit that absolutely everyone else has thought about. It’s sort of like, as soon as an Asian person gets into University of Medicine, you have the idea that, hey, why don’t I start a business teaching people how to get into med school? Why don’t I make courses of this. Because it’s such a low hanging fruit. And that was exactly what I did. But the market is so saturated now. Equally, you’ve got a final-year med student who graduates and becomes an F1; thinks okay, med tech growth. And then they start thinking, OK, what what’s the low hanging fruit? Something about locum job posting. That’s like something about it in… Because if we revolutionized electronic health records, then alright, mate, good luck with that.
In Zero to One, Peter Thiel argues that, you know, you want to become super-specialized in something because then, and only then, are you able to see what innovations that field needs. So as an F1, you know, I have basically nothing to add in the world of medicine. But if I were a consultant surgeon, I would have a lot more experience and a lot more insight into what the problems are. And then hopefully if I kept up my tech background alongside, I’d be able to innovate in that intersection with something that, I know that was a bit of a rant, but it’s something I feel so strongly about. I get so many messages from students saying I’m interested in med tech and in a way breaks my heart because they’ve been sold a dream that, oh, you know, if you don’t like it you can leave and join a startup and then you’ll be great. But joining a company isn’t actually that fun.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: And definitely you get, you go to all these inspiring talks and you think you’re going to be living a part of it. You know, like the show Silicon Valley or something where things seem a lot more roads than they actually are. And it’s important because a lot of people go into it not actually knowing what tech even is. It’s just a buzzword. And that’s unfortunate because, yeah, if you’ve done five or six years of medicine and then you’re just going to go into a completely different field with no knowledge of that, obviously, you’re not really meant to thrive unless you have some background.
Dr. Ali Abdaal: Yeah. Yeah, absolutely.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: What are you bringing to the table? Like you said, there’ll be many more doctors who are at a higher level who can easily transition because they have that unique skill set. So would you keep people’s dreams going? Was it better to be more practical? If you’re going to be a dreamer or a practicor?
Dr. Ali Abdaal: I’m very much more the practical side. Like, I’ve got a friend who I’ve set up various businesses with and he’s very much more a dreamer and idealist. He has these big dreams and ambitions about what’s possible. My whole thing has always been OK, what can we do right now? What’s actually feasible and what is going to help us grow as people, what’s going to improve our skill set rather than dreaming about this vision of life being rosy in Silicon Valley.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: I’ll be honest, I’ve been a bit victim to that as well. Over the last few years, as you read about something, you can get more and more engrossed in the lifestyle, the ways of doing things. And then what you’re doing in your day-to-day life becomes almost comparable. And you start questioning the small things you’re doing in your life. I think when I read about time management, I started thinking about duplication of tasks. So I’d be in a hospital and I’d be like, “Wait, I’m just duplicating here. Why am I typing? Is that a good use of my time? Someone else should be typing. Can we use Alexa? Can we do this? Can we use this technology?” And it was just driving me crazy. I just… I was just thinking about weird solutions to things that sometimes weren’t practical. You know, you can’t use virtual reality for things that you don’t need virtual reality for. You know, the use case doesn’t exist, why push it? But yeah, you’ve not really gone down that impractical just being visionary about crazy ideas which don’t really exist yet, which is happening a lot with our generation I would say.
Dr. Ali Abdaal: Yeah. I don’t want to be the ideal guy.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: You want to implement and do.
Dr. Ali Abdaal: Yeah.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: Would you ever see yourself working for a company like Google or Apple? I mean, you do these brilliant reviews of tech products. You are perfectly placed.
Dr. Ali Abdaal: I mean, I can’t imagine it, but I mean, four years ago, I couldn’t imagine being a Youtuber. So like anything could happen. I think if Apple hypothetically were to offer me, you know, their chief medical officer role, I probably wouldn’t say no to that. Just because it would be crazy and cool to try out. I’m keen on trying things out. But I’ve been… I’ve completely drunk the Kool-Aid of these sort of passive income, sort of -preneur lifestyle, that it would be really hard to then go work for a company.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: So you want the independence of thought, movement, planning your own kind of lifestyle around what you want to do.
Dr. Ali Abdaal: Yeah. I’m just absolutely not a fan of full-time employment. It’s just not what I want.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: I would agree with that. I would say, I’m similar. Especially after being more and more in the world of… I mean, I’m a big fan of remote work, for example. I think that saved so many unnecessary things in your day that can make you strip. I’m big on the whole lifestyle movement. I’ve been measuring my metric, the heart rate variability, et cetera. I even measure things like, if I’m on a roll call, my heart rate variability is, you know, all over the place. I don’t recover well. The next day I’m stressed. So I’m not thinking as well. My health… I’m reading through my health. I know I’m declining, whereas I had a rotation and I worked from home a few days and my health was a lot better just because I could control my environment. I was in control of all the variables. And I know in life, life is going down your route. Philosophy is very uncertain and you have to be prepared for the challenges. But it’s more you can minimize the variables, the better it is. Would you agree with that?
Dr. Ali Abdaal: I think so, but I’m not really one to actually give any reasonable advice on things like healthy eating. It’s an area that I know I should take more seriously. I’m sort of loosely trying. But when it comes to do I want to spend half an hour cooking a healthy meal or do I want to spend half an hour churning out another video and getting a delivery takeaway? You know, the choice is pretty much made for me. I am trying to get more into it. I think it’s definitely worth considering in the long term.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: Which is obviously, I think, same for a lot of people. To be healthy, but it depends to what extent and if you’re getting more return on value investment from what you’re doing in terms of work, that’s more important. And I think that’s one thing interesting about Silicon Valley. A lot of people don’t live a lifestyle they promote. They’ll talk about waking up at five am when they’re not waking up at 5:00 am. It’s just a cool thing to do. So a lot of things are on brand as well.
Dr. Ali Abdaal: Yeah. I don’t know. I’m not sure how many people are actually tweeting about it and not living it, but I guess I’m not as plugged into the system as you are.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: And on that note, you studied neuroscience as well in university? Is that correct?
Dr. Ali Abdaal: I mean, it was part of the medicine course. Yes. I did my third year BSc in psychology. That counts, but it wasn’t very medical.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: Oh, it was psychology. That didn’t send you down the route of getting interested in behavioral economics and subjects like that?
Dr. Ali Abdaal: I was sort of already interested in that stuff, which is why I did psychology.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: Oh so that led you to pursue it as well. OK. And so at the moment, what tech products would you recommend? What apps do you use? What does Ali Abdaal use? What is top apps on your phone if you would open your screen? What would you see?
Dr. Ali Abdaal: Ok. I lift up my front page. So Fantastical, Drop, Notion, Things, Spur, Audible, Evernote, Maps, Library, Scannable, Day One, Bear Spotify, Discord, Medically, Medi Router, Google Maps, MyFitnessPal, FiLMic Pro, Google Drive, Ulysses. Those are the ones that I use most often.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: And you can see obviously you have LinkedIn as well. Yeah. I think Notion tweeted your video recently as well. Are you an advocate of these tools being used for everyone, or do you think it’s a certain person who needs to use?
Dr. Ali Abdaal: I think the tools are designed to serve a purpose. I don’t think everyone should know how to use a hammer, but you know for a lot of things a hammer is useful. So I don’t think everyone should know how to use Notion, but for a lot of people, it is quite helpful.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: And what are the top books you’d recommend people for people to read who are interested in more specifically financial independence, or entrepreneurship.
Dr. Ali Abdaal: So the three books that most changed my life on that front were firstly, The 4-Hour Work Week by Tim Ferriss. Secondly, Show Your Work! by Austin Kleon. And thirdly, Anything You Want by Derek Sivers. That would be my top three recommendations.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: I think that’s a great three books to get started. It seems like you know them off by heart as well because you have quoted.
Dr. Ali Abdaal: I’ve talked about them all of these years.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: Have you met any of them?
Dr. Ali Abdaal: I met Derek Sivers. I had dinner with him in Cambridge a few months ago when he came to visit.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: You should have made a YouTube video. Guess it would have been awkward.
Dr. Ali Abdaal: It could have been awkward. Maybe one day, we’ll see.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: And as you’re getting more popular on social media, what is your upcoming, have you got a five-year strategy or do you not think that far ahead?
Dr. Ali Abdaal: I really don’t think that far ahead, but quite a few different people have said to me, people that I respect, that it’s very worth having a five-year, ten-year plan, just even as a thought exercise. But it’s something I haven’t really taken the time to sit out, sit down and plan. The friction to doing that in my head seems a lot higher than it probably actually is. What about you? Is it that maybe you’ve got, something that you recommend?
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: So with plans, I think the world changes so quickly that I think any type of rough plan, but it’s very difficult. I think things happen in your individual personal life, but also new opportunities arise. So I think plans can make you very rigid if you make long term plans. And it’s the same thing a lot of people do say to me, why do you not have a plan? Why do you just not get through this training or X, Y and Z just then you can think about it. But as you said, if you keep waiting, you’ll keep waiting your whole life. I mean, we applied for medical school at 16, right. So I just fell down for years and years and then it never ends. And you’re like, okay, I’ll get it. And by that time, your energy, your vigor, a lot of it is starting to fade. I mean, that year I stopped to just go to Imperial Med school was just enlightening for me, that’s when I really got the innovation and entrepreneurship. It gave me the other side to myself otherwise I was just a standard doctor or maybe, might not be enjoying life as much as I am now.
Dr. Ali Abdaal: Definitely. So I think that’s a very important point. So I guess you’re familiar with Daniel Gross, the investor. You’re probably familiar with Invest Like The Best podcast. That was like one of the most life-changing podcasts I’ve ever heard, just because it was just this one line from it where what Daniel was saying is that exactly your point about how the world is so uncertain that you don’t… if you imagined five years ago, could you imagine the position that you’re in now? And certainly for me, there’s no way I can imagine things five years ago. And so what’s to say that my five year plan is actually going to be valid at all even for the next few months? His solution to this was just optimize for randomness and optionality. And the more you can do that, the more surface area of it… kind of the more of a surface area of opportunity you can expose yourself to, the more you can take advantage of serendipity that might come your way. And so that’s been the sort of incentive to think about it once a month or a year ago. That’s sort of been the guiding principle in the back of my mind, that everything I’m doing, I want to maximize randomness and optionality, basically keep my options open to be able to take advantage of whatever the future.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: It’s a very eloquent way of phrasing it. As you say, so in practical terms, would you say you got a bright idea? Would you be like, OK, let’s go to them when filming that video or I’m going to, you know, make this partnership. This brand has reached out to me. OK, I can do things this way. I’m going to know opportunity, or would you be like, wait, I’m tied down to all these things. I’ll get back to you in four or five months or I’ll wait a year.
Dr. Ali Abdaal: It depends on the opportunity. I think previously I used to say yes to everything, but now I use the approach of it’s either a hell yeah or it’s a no. And so I say no to a lot of things now.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: Is that based on feeling alone or is it based on a complex analysis that goes through Ali’s mind?
Dr. Ali Abdaal: I’d say it mostly is based on feeling alone. Because I’m getting the feeling is pretty attuned these days to what would be valuable.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: So it has to fit in with you, what your kind of vision is, or where you’re going with your goals. And, you know, a lot of your, obviously, social media is linked around education, is that fair to say a lot about technology, productivity. How would you describe what you are focusing, what’s your niche, what’s your genre?
Dr. Ali Abdaal: This is something that I’m trying really hard to actually define because I thought it just ended up stumbling into all these fields and not really having a kind of guiding vision as a sort of mission statement as to what my thing is. And so I’ve been thinking about it a lot over the past few days, two weeks. The phrase that I came up with sounds super pretentious, and I hate saying it out loud, but it’s something along the lines of the principal strategies and tools to help us live happier and more productive lives. I think that phrase sort of touches everything I’m trying to do. But I also feel very dirty when I say it out loud, so I apologize to everyone listening to this.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: I think there is a good way to put it, because, I mean, you kind of the hallmark of productivity. I mean, I feel really productive doing this podcast because I think a lot to learn from you. It is great that you can sift through so many books, quote these amazing parts of them, and that educates a lot of people who may not be interested or may not be willing or have the time or energy to read or maybe not even the ability to read. And does that give away everything you’re learning in giving you that unique standpoint. Are you not giving that away to people who haven’t put their energy into the effort in competitors from a…for a business point-of-view. Are you not making your competitors stronger?
Dr. Ali Abdaal: Oh, there’s another quote. And I really wish I could remember who this was from. But it’s along the lines of a restaurant chef does not care that people are going to copy him when he releases his cookbook. And that’s sort of how I feel like I basically put it, on a course, on Skillshare, where I literally teach the A-to-Z process of how exactly how I make my videos, but I’m just not actually concerned. I mean, if someone wants to copy me, then that’s absolutely fine. I think the nice thing about being in the YouTube space is that in a way, the more people that are doing it, in a way, the rising tide lifts all boats because then you end up kind of at each other’s channels appearing in suggested videos. And, you know, if someone’s following one productivity YouTube, chances are they’re probably following a few others as well. It’s not like people are thinking, I’m only gonna follow Thomas Frank. I’m not going to follow Ali Abdaal or whatever. And so I don’t care at all about people copying me. And I think overall, the advantages of being very, very open about sharing everything outweigh the potential disadvantage that may be a competitor will come along. I think the whole open startup movement is the very sort to help solidify this, that, you know, you’ve got companies like Biometrics and Buffer and all these people kind of open-sourcing all of their information. You’ve got Basecamp, obviously, that’s been blogging for 10 years about how they do business and not worry that people are going to copy them like that’s not a thing. And in fact, that brand is so much stronger because Jason Fried and DHH (David Heinemeier Hansson) tweet and write about everything they think about. You know, yeah, I have absolutely no qualms about that.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: Do you think brand loyalty is the biggest part of business, or is it more about execution?
Dr. Ali Abdaal: Oh, I don’t know what that really means.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: In terms of is it because Ali is in this position where you’re recognized as what you are recognized for, which is great videos on productivity, tech, etc. So that in itself, is that aggregate you’re following and make it grow? Or is it still about how you’re executing your… you’ll be using improving on your… make them better or the quality? Or can you now just drop the standard and you still have the following?
Dr. Ali Abdaal: I think there are two sides of it. So there’s one side of it where eventually over time you build up a fan base and there are some people that will just love everything I put out on the Internet, whether it’s filmed with an iPhone or whether it’s filmed on a camera. And those people are great. Like, I’m very, very grateful for that segment of the audience because it’s such a privilege to be able to just kind of spout whatever’s on my mind and people will take me seriously for it. And I can think of so many of so many people who, you know, if Tim Ferriss releases basically anything, I’m probably gonna buy it. If Gary Vaynerchuk releases anything, I’m going to buy it. If Derek Sivers says anything and I will be like, “Oh my God, you’re amazing!” But equally, the only way you grow is by more people discovering your stuff and more people liking stuff. And so for me, it’s this constant quest to try and get better at the things that I’m doing. And so I have no qualms about spending ten thousand pounds on camera gear if it increases the quality of my videos by five percent. People would say that’s pointless optimization. I would say, well, you know, maybe it is. But, you know, this is my thing. I want to do it to the best of my ability. And I think there is value in that. There’s a bit of brand loyalty but for new people, it’s important to obviously execute well. Like I would buy an Apple product regardless of what it is. But, you know, for the company to actually survive long term, they still have to continue executing well.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: That makes sense. Equally important of execution but also building that brand. And so you mentioned Gary V And individuals like that. Did you think some of the stuff they say can be taken with a pinch of salt? Because you get a lot of people who are, you say, educated as much as yourself, and they almost think they can be this amazing entrepreneur who can overnight start a hustle which becomes a million-dollar or million-pound revenue generating business. And that can lead people into a lot of disappointment and hopelessness.
Dr. Ali Abdaal: I think that sort of attitude only comes from headline reading, because anyone who actually follows Gary V knows that that’s not what he is, his point is actually about patience and it’s about optimism. It’s about self-awareness and understanding where you’re coming from and actively recognizing that success takes 20 years to build up and does not happen overnight. So the only people that would think that way are the people who would read, look at a headline, be like Gary V’s promoting the hashtag hustle. And yes, that’s fine. Like from his position I wouldn’t be worried about that at all.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: And have you got a hashtag?
Dr. Ali Abdaal: I hashtag saving lives, ironically on Instagram. But I think most of the audience thinks that thinks I’m being serious about it. Every time I do a hashtag like saving lives. Sometimes I say having to take away, hashtag saving lives, which in my head I’m doing it ironically. That’s sort of my thing.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: You get some very interesting comments on your YouTube videos as well that you share on your social media. How do you deal with trolls or people who just don’t get what you’re doing?
Dr. Ali Abdaal: I mean, I really don’t get enough of them really. Like ninety-nine point nine recurring percent of my YouTube comments are so nice and positive and friendly that in a way, I love it when I get a mean comment because I can just screenshot and post it on my Instagram story because it’s hilarious. People always reply, oh my god that’s so funny, thank you for sharing this. So I actually don’t get any, like comparatively get zero hate basically, but occasionally like three times a month when I get a mean comment I’ll post it on Instagram.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: So a young YouTuber, someone who’s up and coming and maybe listening to the podcast, what would be the tips to get started ? Is it about confidence or would you hone your public speaking skill before starting a YouTube channel? Would you think of a niche? What would be the basic principles?
Dr. Ali Abdaal: The basic principle would be to just take your iPhone out and film something today, upload it because your first 100 videos are going to be absolutely crap. And the sooner you get those hundred videos out of the way, the sooner you can then start figuring out what you want to do on YouTube. The mistake that everyone makes when starting out is that they’re too focused on it being good. It’s not going to be good. It’s going to be absolutely awful for the first hundred videos. As soon as you embrace that, the sooner you can be like, well, you know what? I guess I’m gonna start my hundred videos from today. And that would be what I’d say, quantity over quality. But then quantity leads to quality in the long term.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: So we’ve talked about a range of subjects and you’ve given a lot of information on, an insight into how you think, your strategy, books that you read and study tips. You don’t really plan your day, but you’re quite planned in what you need to achieve. So with that, with Owaves, our focus is on productivity and solving mental health. And we are trying to plan wellness into people’s days in terms of health. That’s the purpose of the app. We are developing it to incorporate coaching as a lot of apps are doing these days. And we’re trying to work out what the best thing would be for students. As a domain expert, someone who’s got an audience of students from all backgrounds and different degrees and they kind of hang off every word you say, have you got any insight into if students are suffering from their mental health at the moment or anything you think that could help someone who is trying to get through university?
Dr. Ali Abdaal: Yeah this is an area that I just really don’t have any experience with. As I said earlier, it’s very easy for me to recommend Meditations by Marcus Aurelius or Happy by Derren Brown or, you know, The Guys with Good Luck by William O’Brien or read Seneca’s Moral Letters to Lucilius or whatever. It’s very easy to recommend all these things, but really I have no understanding of what it’s actually like to go through a mental health crisis. And so I’d be very uncomfortable with trying to be like, hey, guys, this is how you take care of your mental health, because it’s something that I just have no experience with. And I like to avoid talking about things that make me feel like a fraud basically.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: That’s fair to say. It’s better to keep it in what you’re quote unquote have expertise in. That’s actually what we do more of in social media. Everyone staying in their lane, we would have less misinformation out there. So thanks for being on the podcast, and we’ve discussed so many different things. Is that any departing wise words that you’d like to share or any ways that people can follow you, your social media handles, feel free.
Dr. Ali Abdaal: Oh, yeah. Thanks for having me. This has been…it’s been a little fun. It’s nice chatting with a medic who is also into tech. It’s interesting, it’s an interesting conversation. Yeah. We should hang out in person sometime when this whole coronavirus situation gets sorted out. You give me some tips on how to be healthier and stuff.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: Gladly. Gladly so. I mean, download Houseparty, the app’s going viral in the moment.
Dr. Ali Abdaal: Oh, yeah. I downloaded it. I haven’t used to it, but I’m getting notifications every five seconds from it.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: Everyone’s in the house. I’ve been spending a disproportionate amount of time on the app I would say, since locked down. I think my need to socialize has to be met. So yeah where can people follow you.
Dr. Ali Abdaal: Oh, YouTube search for Ali Abdaal, which will be linked in the show I am sure.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: And any departing wise words, you’ve said a lot of quotes there, is there a quote you want to end with, anything that comes to mind.
Dr. Ali Abdaal: There’s a nice quote that I sometimes come back to: “If you’re nice to people, people will think you’re nice”.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: That sounds quite profound.
Dr. Ali Abdaal: I love truisms like that. Just like this quote that has a lot of wisdom behind it.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: A lot of meaning. Thank you Ali, it’s been brilliant having you on.
Thanks for listening to another episode of the Body Clock podcast by Owaves. If you enjoyed the show, please leave us a five-star rating on your podcast app. Please also remember to download the free Owaves app on the Apple App Store. Please tell your friends and your family. It’s a great tool to help you optimize your life and to effectively plan your day. Thanks, as always, for listening and hope you join us again next time.
Owaves is the World’s First Wellness Planner!
In October of 2017, three scientists won the Nobel Prize for the new and up-and-coming science of circadian rhythms.
Owaves is the first calendaring system designed to optimize your own personal circadian rhythm, also called the “body clock”.
We help you plan meals, exercise and sleep in a unique, 24-hour pattern.
Owaves is a physician-designed calendar that helps you discover, maintain and optimize your body clock. Built in teamwork with
award-winning game and puzzle app developers, the interface is beautiful, sleek and easy-to-use.
FREE for iPhone, iPad and Apple Watch:
Download. For Android, please join our waitlist
here. To join our virtual wellness community, connect with us through
We love to your hear your feedback at: