#30: Anne-Laure Le Cunff – From burnout to mindful productivity and quickly building an audience

October 20, 2020

#30: Anne-Laure Le Cunff – From burnout to mindful productivity and quickly building an audience
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Anne-Laure Le Cunff is an entrepreneur, an ex-Googler, and a neuroscience student.

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Anne-Laure Le Cunff is an entrepreneur, an ex-Googler, and a neuroscience student. She’s the creator of Ness Labs and a Masters of Science in Applied Neuroscience candidate at King's College.

She writes a lot about "mindful productivity," and every week she sends a newsletter called Maker Mind with practical content at the intersection of neuroscience and entrepreneurship. Her work has been featured in WIRED, Forbes, FT, Rolling Stone, and more.

In this episode we talk about how Anne-Laure quickly grew her Twitter audience, Ness Labs, and how Mindfulness has allowed her to be prolific in her writing while getting a graduate degree in applied neuroscience.

Transcript and show notes can be found here



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Anne-Laure Le Cunff 0:00
I think after something like five weeks, 20 articles, I already had a few thousand subscribers. I was like, whoa, man, there's something here.

Jay Clouse 0:12
Welcome to Creative Elements, a show where we talk to your favorite creators and learn what it takes to make a living from your art and creativity. I'm your host, Jay Clouse. Let's start the show.

Jay Clouse 0:38
Hello, welcome back to another episode of Creative Elements. You know, if I'm honest, I spent a long time on the productivity train. I was the guy trying to wake up early and go for a run and come back in journal, and then work for a few hours. But over the years, I've started to realize that I felt more like machine than man a lot of the time. And I'm really proud of my ability to do things well and get them done on time. But I was getting tired of being so obsessed with this perfect buisiness that I was creating for myself. And thanks in large part to my girlfriend Mallory, I started peeling back some of this emotionless productivity armor, and feeling more human again. And today I'm talking with someone who writes a lot about this tension between being productive, and being human. And her name is Anne-Laure Le Cunff. And she's the creator of Ness Labs. Anne-Laure is studying to get her Master's of Science in applied neuroscience at King's College. Every week, she sends a newsletter with practical content at the intersection of neuroscience and entrepreneurship. Her work has been featured in Wired, Forbes, Financial Times, Rolling Stone, and more, in a lot of her writing centers on the topic that she calls mindful productivity, which she discovered the hard way.

Anne-Laure Le Cunff 1:54
It comes from a personal experience when I was working at Google, and then later on when I worked on my own startups, I went through burnout a few times. And that was a very difficult experience first, because I didn't have any of the keys to be able to recognize the signs while that was happening. And also because once I actually identified what the problem was, there were very few resources at the time to help me navigate that challenge that I was going through.

Jay Clouse 2:29
On the show, I'll admit that I talked to a lot of writers, but Anne-Laure's story is really unique. And I want to bring her on, because she's only been writing for the last couple of years. And she's very quickly found a lot of success.

Anne-Laure Le Cunff 2:42
In one year, I gained about 20,000 subscribers.

Jay Clouse 2:46
Yeah, you heard that right. In one year, she gained 20,000 subscribers. And if you're like me, you're probably thinking, whoa, 20,000 subscribers in one year, how did she pull that off?

Anne-Laure Le Cunff 2:57
I am very grateful to Twitter. In terms of growing my audience, I don't think I would have that many subscribers if it wasn't for Twitter. And I think out of all of the platforms out there, when you compare it to Instagram or any other social media platform, Twitter is slowly very welcoming to new people, you can start from scratch very easy.

Jay Clouse 3:20
So in this episode, we get into the weeds of how Anne-Laure quickly grew her Twitter audience, Ness Labs, and how mindfulness has allowed her to be prolific in her writing, while getting a graduate degree in applied neuroscience. I'll be sharing some of my favorite articles from Anne-Laure's newsletter in our creative elements listeners group this week. So click the link in the show notes to join our Facebook group, if you haven't already. And as always, I'd love to hear your thoughts on this episode. As you listen, you can find me on Twitter or Instagram @JayClouse, let me know you're listening. And now, let's hear from Anne-Laure.

Anne-Laure Le Cunff 3:58
Mindful productivity is something I care about a lot, because I've noticed that I was not the only one to felt that tension between being very passionate about your job, being very ambitious, wanting to create and work on something interesting. But also at the same time being able to take care of your mental health. And this is something I've noticed with lots of creatives creators, I would say. And by creators, I mean, really, anyone who does the kind of work where there's nothing and they create something, so that could be really a developer or writer and artist and illustrator or a designer. All of these, I think, are creators. And it's very, very common amongst these kind of people to experience burnout point or another and mindful proximity is really an answer to that. It's really about doing your best work while taking care of your mental health.

Jay Clouse 4:53
It seems like so many people who are into productivity, are also talking about optimization and they're optimizing for just like getting the most done out of every hour of their day. And I love this approach, because you also hear about mindfulness. And it almost feels like a polar opposite. And you're kind of meeting things in the middle. And I don't hear that a lot. Like that kind of sounds intuitive. But what's the hardest part of pairing these two things together?

Anne-Laure Le Cunff 5:20
First, I want to say thank you. And I'm so glad that you're mentioning the other extreme, which I called productivity porn, and which is all of this content out there. When people tell you, you see successful entrepreneurs telling you that they woke up at 5am. And then they went for a run, and they made their own smoothie. And then they got all of their inbox cleared by the time it's 8am. And you look at this, and if you're a creator, or an entrepreneur, and you think, oh, man, like I'm really not good at this. I'm like, I'm not doing all of this. I'm not good at productivity. So taking mindfulness, which I agree with you something that looks like the polar opposite of productivity, and applying these principles to productivity gives you a much healthier approach to work in general, the hardest part about it, to answer your question is really about making sure that you apply these principles consistently. And it's the same for everyone, you, we often have the best intentions, we want to create these mindful routines. But then life happens. And I think 2020 is probably one of the best examples of this where all of your plans don't happen the same way you have to imagine them. And that creates trust. And it's really hard sometimes to keep on persisting in keeping on using this healthy routines when things don't go according to plan. So for me, that's the hardest thing, because mindful productivity can help you deal with anxiety with stress, with procrastination, but lots of challenges that we face in our work. But these challenges also can make it harder to keep on using those mindful productivity principles. So it's a bit of a chicken and egg thing. And that's a big challenge.

Jay Clouse 7:10
Anne-Laure just mentioned stress, and I want to dig into that a little bit more. 2020 has been an unnaturally stressful year for all of us. But stress can often get a totally bad rap. And Anne-Laure has written in the past about the difference between the negative experience of distress versus the positive experience of eustress.

Anne-Laure Le Cunff 7:31
Stress itself is a completely neutral term. It's not positive, it's not negative. Stress literally just means your body's reaction to an external stressor. And that external stressor can be positive, or negative, which will result in eustress or distress depending on if it's positive or negative. So the misconception that lots of people have about stress thinking that it's always a bad thing can be unhelpful in dealing with trust in general. So it's pretty important is to figure out when you're feeling stress, what kind of stress is it? Is it the good kind that's making me perform better? that's giving me this little adrenaline rush that's actually useful? Or is it the backhand that is leading to anxiety that is leading to lack of sleep, that is leading to all of these symptoms that we associate with stress, but they're really just symptoms of distress? And what can be helpful to is that instead of just debugging your stress, and trying to figure out what kind of stress is it or how am I going to deal with it is that you can even be more proactive, and seek good stress in your life. Examples of good stress include learning a new skill, which is totally something that gets you out of your comfort zone. So it is stressful. It is but in a good way, or moving cities moving to another city is stressful. But for most people, it is actually good stress. Because you're going to experience a new culture, you're going to have to learn about a new CD, you have to learn you have to make new friends. And that's a good thing in life. So not only you can use this distinction between eustress and distress, to just understand better your stress and manage it. But you can also start seeking good stress in life.

Jay Clouse 9:20
You just use the phrase debugging, which I love, because that kind of connotes this idea of, I'm noticing something and I'm very intentionally trying to understand what's happening. But as you've learned more about how the brain works, how much have you improved and began paying attention to like intuition, as opposed to really thinking about what is happening here.

Anne-Laure Le Cunff 9:43
I think it's really important in general to remember that tools and frameworks are just tools and frameworks. And sometimes the best tool we have is actually our intuition. So I feel completely comfortable sometimes when I'm navigating. a situation where like, I don't have a mental model for this, I don't have a framework, I have nothing in my thinking toolbox that is based on my experience, I can just apply to this specific situation. And human intuition can be really wrong. Sometimes we make lots of mistakes, because we blindly follow our intuition. But sometimes it's just the best tool we have. And it's okay to use our intuition. And as much as I am an advocate for thinking about thinking for metacognition, for always seeking that setback to improve your thinking, I think the role of intuition and emotion is also really important. And that it can actually be harmful to always rely on our the rational part of our thinking, and not on our emotional thinking, which can be super helpful.

Jay Clouse 10:48
I wonder how much intuition we can actually train? You know, it's metacognition being better at understanding intuition that we kind of have innately? Or is by thinking about thinking, does that actually train our intuition to be more discerning? I don't know the answer to that. I wonder if you have any thoughts.

Anne-Laure Le Cunff 11:09
I think as, as often in life, it's a little bit of both. metacognition can help you spot patterns. So you can look at what happens, make space for self reflection, and realize that, Oh, wait, every time I did a, it resulted in B, there's something going on here. So I can either if B was the result I wanted to obtain, I can keep on doing a in the future, but in a more conscious way. Or if B was not the result that I wanted, I can try a different approach. So it's both about understanding, or mental models, or cognitive biases, and just kind of like looking behind the curtain and trying to understand what's going on there. And it's about them consciously decided to change or reinforce some of these patterns. It's a bit of both.

Jay Clouse 12:03
When we come back, Anne-Laure and I talk about her own system of mindful productivity, and then we dig into how she started building an audience around her work. So stick around, and we'll be right back. Welcome back to Creative Elements a minute ago, Anne-Laure and I were talking about the gurus who focus on ultimate productivity through every hour of the day. But Anne-Laure has a different system. And it boils down to one Post-it note every week.

Anne-Laure Le Cunff 12:30
Every week at the beginning of the week, I write down on a Post-it the three top things that I want to focus on for the rest of the week. And these are not necessarily tests, per se, or goals, per se. They're more like areas of work that I really want to focus on. So it can be for example, neuroscience, my neuroscience studies, and plus some admin stuff. For example, I had weeks where my inbox got so bad that I worked inbox on this like as a general, a general theme for the week, say inbox. So I picked three things. And they're the three general themes for the week. And they really helped me prioritize what I'm going to do. So for example, here, I have podcasts right now. And this conversation we're having is the sixth one. And today's because I, I put them all this week, I've been saying no to everyone for podcasts for a month. Now. I told everyone if you want to do this, it's going to be this week. And if you're not available this week, well, you'll have to wait for another week, which is completely fine. There's nothing urgent, right? So podcast is a theme this week. And I'm doing a lot of them. Which is great, because there's other work that I don't worry about, because it's not on that list. So yeah, I do that every week. And I pick that and it really helps me decide yes or no, am I going to work on this? Does it fall under the umbrella of one of those three things on my post it note or not? And it's really good, it really lowers the cognitive load of deciding what I can work on this week. I have a problem with the flavor of productivity that's really focused on just the amount of outputs. And that's really about quantity versus quality. I am very prolific. And I know that I do write a lot. But I'm also very intentional as to where I put my efforts. And in my case, it's writing. And I don't have more hours than anyone else has. I also study neuroscience. On the side, I run my company, I do consulting, I have a big family of friends, I have a life. So it's not even that I spend all of my day writing. I block time in the morning to make it happen. But I decided to make this a priority. And for me, it is so important that when I decide between two things I could be working on I'm going to write or my going through that thing right writing is always is going to be the most important thing. So, to me, mindful productivity is also about that. And that's also part of metacognition of, instead of mindlessly going through my tasks, I always ask myself, is it the best thing I could be working on right now? Does it really matter to me? Am I going to enjoy this? Is there a better person? And me to do this? Should I delegate this, should I do it later? And just ask myself these questions, it may seem on the surface, that I'm wasting time by with asking these questions. But in the long run, I feel like I'm saving so much time, because it ends up in me focusing on the right things.

Jay Clouse 15:41
I really challenged my own thinking, as I was reading about your process around this, this idea of constantly questioning, is this a task that I should be spending my time on right now. And so I was kind of doing an inventory of the tasks that I find myself spending a lot of time on in small, small doses. And I think where I lose, a lot of it comes down to just responding to things like Slack, email, text messages. And a lot of that comes with the client work of my freelancer consulting clients, or even communities that I helped to run. So how do you think about those small tasks that really add up over time? Do you just not worry about it? And it happens when it happens? Or do you batch that because I know in your line of work with all the email responses, you must get your own community that has to happen sometime.

Anne-Laure Le Cunff 16:28
I see all of these little tasks as time monsters, they're just here to to eat away at your time, little by little, I really try to avoid them as much as possible. But I'm also conscious of the fact that it will happen, it will totally happen during the day, I'm not a machine. I get distracted. Also, as everyone does. So again, it's really about asking myself, what are the important tasks that I need to work on. So for writing, for example, I will always close all of the other tabs on my laptop, and I will put my phone in another room. And I know that I can't go and get my phone back until I'm done writing this particular article that I'm working on. And then when it comes to engaging with communities, it's fine. If I do it, I do let myself get distracted. When I'm doing emails, that's completely fine. I'm doing emails, and then they send it on Twitter, I open Twitter, I have a look, that's fine. But for me, answering emails is not something that requires a lot of creative focus, and a lot of mental energy. So that's completely okay. And actually, there's research showing that we roughly on average, all of us have about four hours of deep work deep creative work in us per day. And that's it. And you could see this as a bug, I see it as a feature that I work around. And I usually in the morning, I'm very focused, but in another room, writing, doing any kind of creative work, I'm going to do brainstorming when I freelance, that's also when I try to really focus my client work. And in the afternoon, I open my inbox and Okay, let's look at this thing that's trying to build what's going on here. And that's fine, not as much mental energy required. So I think the fact that we do get distracted, the fact that we have all of these committees that were part on, should none of this should be seen as this horrible thing that we need to just completely kill and destroy. But it just should be managed. And as long as you managed to create a workflow for yourself, where there's four hours of deep work of space during the day that is dedicated to them, I think you're good.

Jay Clouse 18:41
I want to talk a little bit about when you struck out on your own and started doing this consulting, because I think that will inform a lot of the rest of this conversation. What year or so did you start doing this marketing consulting? Let's start there.

Anne-Laure Le Cunff 18:57
I started doing this in 2018.

Jay Clouse 19:00
So really recently, and similarly, I know that you really started writing in earnest recently to When did you and why did you decide to make writing such a focus for you?

Anne-Laure Le Cunff 19:11
In 2018, I decided to go back to school to study neuroscience. And in 2019, as part of my studies, I stumbled upon a concept called the generation effect. And what the generation effect says is that we understand and remember concepts better if we create our own version of them. So he tried to understand remember something one of the best ways to go about it, is to write your own version of whatever concept you're studying. And so I decided to apply this and that was about a year ago, Summer 2019. I decided to start writing articles based on what I was studying and unique about neuroscience. And I also decided to create a newsletter as the first thing mechanism to be consistent cause I am someone I wish sometimes that I was the kind of person who didn't care. But I hate disappointing people absolutely hate it makes me feel deeply uncomfortable. So I created this newsletter where I told people every Thursday, you can expect something from me in your inbox. And for me, that's a great way to have this motivation to not disappoint my readers. And to my surprise, the newsletter group pretty quickly. And yeah, it's become pretty central part of my work. And my life and it only started as a almost as a studying device.

Jay Clouse 20:40
A lot of people listening to the show are probably freelancing, or maybe working at a job that uses a lot of their creative energy. And they have a small amount of their time and energy to focus towards their own work. And that's kind of the reality of a freelancer in the beginning. So can you talk about the the nature of the work that you do, and how you put that in a space that doesn't drain all of your energy from you.

Anne-Laure Le Cunff 21:06
I used to actually feel pretty strained. Because the work I was doing, as part of my personal work around neuroscience was very different from the work I was getting paid for as a consultant, I used to do a lot of marketing consulting, because in my past life at Google, that's what I was doing. And this is something I'm really good at, I'm really good at marketing, especially the brand marketing and community building, etc. So, for a while I had the work that was actually paying the bills, which was the marketing, financing and consulting. And I had to work that I really enjoyed doing, which was all of the writing about neuroscience and building the next steps, community, etc. And I really felt strange, it was really hard for me to to balance the two. And this is why I've been progressively and I think I'm now 90%. They're trying to shift my freelancing work towards stuff that I actually wanted to work on. And so Nowadays, most of the consulting that I do, is around mindful productivity for companies that want help in helping their employees managing burnout, and doing workshops, those kinds of things. So I'm not saying that that's what everyone should do. But it's not always possible short term. But long term, I do deeply believe that trying to align the work you do to pay your bills with the work you do, because you love it is one of the best things you can do. I don't know if you're familiar with the concept of a ikigai.

Jay Clouse 22:44

Anne-Laure Le Cunff 22:45
So it's a Japanese term, that roughly means way of life. And if you imagine a Venn diagram with four circles, finding your ikigai is about finding something to work on. And it's something that you're good at. People want to pay you for, that you enjoy, and that the world wants. And I've noticed that it's completely fine if you're missing one of them. Very typical example, in nonprofits. It's something the world wants and needs, you're doing something mission driven, you enjoy doing it, you're really good at it, but you're probably not making a lot of money. So that's an example. Conversely, you have people who make a lot of money at their at their job. And they're really good at it, and they enjoy it. But they work for a petrol company, for example, something that's not necessarily good for the world. So it's usually fine to have one missing out of the four. But if you start missing two, this is where you feel like you're losing meaning and purpose in what you do. And this actually can be a source of burnout. So in my case, I realized that I had one part of what I was working on that was missing quite a few things on the the ikigai spectrum. I was making money, and I was good at it. But I was not enjoying it. And I didn't really feel like what I was doing was something the world needed. And so I shifted my focus. And this is something I encourage everyone to do. It doesn't necessarily mean you're going to end up shifting your focus, but again, in the spirit of metacognition, taking the time to take that step back and think about the work you're doing right now and asking yourself as honest as possible. How many of those four things does the job I do right now? It's an it's very few of them. Do I want to focus on something else?

Jay Clouse 24:40
After a quick break,Anne-Laure talks about avoiding imposter syndrome, and how she built her newsletter and Twitter audience right after this. Welcome back to Creative Elements. Anne-Laure told us that she began writing publicly as a mechanism for taking advantage of generation effects, a psychological principle that says we were Remember things better when we create our own version. But for a lot of creatives, it's scary to begin sharing things publicly if we don't feel like we're an expert or authority on a topic. So I asked Anne-Laure, if she struggled with this type of imposter syndrome.

Anne-Laure Le Cunff 25:14
I never really struggled with this. But I also do realize that this is something lots of people struggle with. So I'm so glad you're asking this question. I am a deep believer in learning in public. I think that if everyone was more comfortable learning in public, the world would be a better place. And unfortunately, I don't think it's anyone's fault individually if they don't feel comfortable learning in public, because traditional schools, that traditional educational model has been designed in a way that encourages perfectionism, you're supposed to only publish work that you're really proud of, you're supposed to take exams where you have the correct answer. And there's nothing to in our system to encourage thinking in public working in public building in public failing in public and learning in public. I think it's a very, it's very sad, actually, I really wish that we all felt more comfortable doing this. So in my case, I actually not never really struggled with this, because I've always made it a point to be very transparent with people. It's everywhere on my website that I'm a student, I don't try to pretend I'm more of an expert than I am. And this is the invitation I give to people, I tell them, Hey, I'm on this learning journey want to come with me? That's, that's a contract with my readers. And I also love it, have people answer to my emails and say, Hey, actually, this research paper that you cited, has been kind of debunked by this other research study. All right. Amazing. Thank you so much, I actually learned something, thanks to the fact that I put my work out there. And I openly invited feedback. So no, I didn't struggle with it. But I think lots of people do. And I really hope, also to contribute to the conversation around learning in public, and maybe help some people to take that step towards working more publicly.

Jay Clouse 27:20
Do you have any guidance or advice for people who are able to get through this step? They're saying, Okay, I'm going to put myself out there and say, I'm learning in public, they get that first email or message or whatever that says, this is why you're wrong. That first message stings a lot. So how do you recommend people sit with that and not immediately shut it down and say, I quit? This sucks?

Anne-Laure Le Cunff 27:41
Absolutely. I remember the first ones, I thought, ah, how could I publish something so wrong? The the advice I would give to, to people on a similar journey to mine of learning in public is to embrace that discomfort, because the more you're experienced it, the less it stings. And this is also why you'll see on my website, I actually don't just edit the article, I make a note at the top of the article saying, Hey, here's the version below that I published. And here's what's wrong about it. I love that. But I also want you to see, you know, the version history, I want you to see how my thinking and go around this. And I think if you have this intellectual honesty, of saying, Hey, I was wrong, and thanks to you, I read this, you also invite in your audience, the kind of people who have this, I don't know what the word would be what I want to say, the kind of people who have this intellectual kindness, where they actually genuinely want to help you learn. And the tone of the emails is very nice, actually, they're saying, Hey, thank you so much for putting the time for doing the research, by the way, you're missing this or this is wrong. And as a way to thank you. And because I'm grateful for all your work, I am taking the time to send you an email and to tell you that this could be improved in this specific way. And the dynamic is actually very positive when you think about it.

Jay Clouse 29:14
And that type of feedback is a generous act on their behalf. Like I really strive to be very open and very grateful for feedback, even when I disagree with it. But that's a gift. You know, it's it's up to you to take and use that however you want or discard it. If you think that you know, it doesn't apply. But I think it's always good practice to be as open to feedback as possible. You know, you read about these people who do rejection therapy, where they they go and do things that elicit so much rejection that they become numb to it. And I've never gone that far on the end of the spectrum. But this morning, I got an email that was like a rejection for a speaking event. And I didn't flinch. And I was like, Man, I'm so glad I'm in this place now where I can just take shots, know that most of them are going to miss when I get that rejection. I'm just going to move Write on. It's awesome. But it does take a lot of time. And I think if I can add a thought, and maybe you have something written around this, something I've noticed about my own brain, when I do get negative reinforcement, we'll call it, I have an emotional response. And sometimes that emotional response makes me want to take action and say you're wrong. But if I just like pause, and don't do that and sit with it, then I can actually be grateful for that feedback and say, thank you for this, even if I disagree with it.

Anne-Laure Le Cunff 30:29
I think this is part of what you're describing is part of what's called emotional agility, where it's also about being able to sit with your emotions, whether they're good or bad. And I want even to take it a bit beyond that, realizing that there's no really good or bad emotion. any emotion is just a piece of information from your mind from your body telling you hate I'm feeling this way right now. Do we want to do something about it? And that's it. And anxiety, stress, anger, they're all opportunities to sit down and think, okay, what's going on here? Why am I feeling this way? Why is this making me feel angry? Why is this making me feel anxious? Yeah, absolutely love what you just said about sometimes, you know, okay, I'm just going to, you know, not react. And that's it. I'm just going to thank you for your feedback. And sometimes it's also good to go a little bit deeper and understand why did I have this first reaction in the first place,

Jay Clouse 31:31
To this point, Anne-Laure and I have talked a lot about the mindfulness that she brings to her work. But at some point, she made the mindful decision to transform her blog from an accountability mechanism for learning into a platform that serves an audience. And so I asked her when she began to realize that there was an opportunity to build an audience around her work.

Anne-Laure Le Cunff 31:51
Pretty early on, I, I think after a few weeks, I wrote for a few weeks. So at the time, I gave myself a challenge of writing five articles a week, until I reached 100 articles. And I think after something like five weeks, 20 articles, I already had a few thousand subscribers. I was like, Whoa, man, there's something here. Interesting. And as I okay, I could either just keep on doing what I'm doing and being passive about it, or I could be a little bit more productive. And from that point on, I always made sure that I would post new articles on Twitter, on various platforms where I knew knowledge workers and creators were hanging out. So it became a bit more of a practive process. I've never, though, really applied any of my true marketing skills to this. If I was an employee, or it concur, next labs and being purely in charge of marketing, I would do so much more, there's so many things that I can do. But as of now, the part of the process I enjoyed the most is the research into writing. And so I do the bare minimum for marketing, but I still do it. And I only started doing the bare minimum a few weeks and.

Jay Clouse 33:10
How much of that research is a direct result of your studies versus you branching out and saying, I'm learning about this, because I want to be learning about this and writing about it.

Anne-Laure Le Cunff 33:17
It has shifted a lot in the first few months, it was probably 80%, based on what I was studying at uni. And now I think it's probably 20% stuff I study at uni and 80% stuff that probably my curiosity about it probably started somewhere stems from something I studied at some i've been, but I've started branching out so much in different directions that I'm curious about, you know, when you fall into Wikipedia of black holes of just say, yeah, content. And so that is that's what's been happening and and now there's much more I write about the it's just the result of my own personal curiosity versus stuff that I'm being taught in uni.

Jay Clouse 34:00
I can hear my audience, just like screaming, ask her how ask her how this actually happened. So when you put up this this page, I assume instead, I'm writing about this, and people started subscribing and mass. What was the what was the hook that pulled people in? Or what are some of the mechanisms that are actually getting people to say, here's my email.

Anne-Laure Le Cunff 34:19
I think one very important thing was that I was very transparent in terms of what people would get. I was saying, Hey, this is me. I'm a student. I'm not an expert. I'm learning this and I'm just going to share it with you as I go. And I've heard lots of good feedback about that, where people always say, it felt really welcoming, versus intimidating. I was like, Oh, that's awesome. I am also a student. Everyone is a student. When you think about it, I'm curious about this and instead of having this expert looking down on you, you feel like your fellow students learning together. So that was one thing that I got really good feedback on and I think helped people give me their email. Second thing is the consistency. I've had people, it's a bit meta, but I was writing about creativity and productivity, while demonstrating how everything I was writing about works in my case. So you hear and read or watch videos from lots of productivity gurus online, where you're like, Okay, cool, but does it actually work? Do you actually use what you preach? Or are you just trying to sell me an expensive course or something. And I think in my case, I was both writing about these topics, and demonstrating everyday by showing up by writing five articles a week by sending a weekly newsletter by engaging with the community, that what I was preaching could actually work. So I think those were the two main things the which both when I think about it, they both fall under the umbrella of authenticity, I was authentic, both in terms of contracts, and saying, This is what you can expect , this is who I am, and I'm not trying to pretend I'm more of an expert than I am. And being authentic in the sense of saying, whatever I write about whatever advice I give you, um, as the say, at Google, I'm eating my own dog food.

Jay Clouse 36:17
I'm getting really into the weeds now. But one point of clarification, was there an expectation of if I give you my email address, I'm immediately getting some sort of PDF or resource or was it purely I write every week, and this is what you can expect in that writing?

Anne-Laure Le Cunff 36:31
I did both. If you go on the main newsletter subscription page, this is where I have a long description of the contract or is like, this is me, this is where you're going to get enter your email here. And then at the bottom of every article, I have a very short version of this my Hey, are you interested in better understanding how your mind works and to make the most of your mind, enter your email here, and by the way, and I put that below the email books, and by the way, if you do that, I have a few PDFs, ebooks that you're going to get when you subscribe. So yeah, I did both. And I do think that the, the ebooks can be helpful, but at the same time, so I'm, I like them as a marketer, but also, as a writer, I'm not sure I like them so much, because it is just an intuition for like the kind of people who subscribe because they want a free PDF, and not necessarily as engaged as the people who subscribe because

Jay Clouse 37:32
it's much more transactional.

Anne-Laure Le Cunff 37:33
The more you see my stuff every week, exactly, it's much

Jay Clouse 37:35
less relational. That makes a lot of sense. And sorry, I'm getting so specific now. But like I said, a lot of people on the show, they've been doing it for 12, 14 years. And it seems like they kind of caught an early wave where there was less competition for attention. They caught some SEO breaks. And your story is so powerful to me, because beginning to write, you know, 2018, even close to 2019. And to have this type of success is really remarkable. And so I wanted to also ask for people listening that again, they say, Okay, I am going to learn in public, I'm going to be authentic to me, I'm going to make it clear what I'm offering, they still need to get that message in their work in front of people, and everyone starts from zero. So what have you learned about building you know, your own distribution or getting in front of people? That's, that's the biggest struggle for so many people trying to get started and share their work? What worked for you in terms of getting in front of people?

Anne-Laure Le Cunff 38:30
Absolutely. Twitter is my biggest acquisition channel, I would say that something like 30 to 40% of my new readers who subscribe come from Twitter. Do you

Jay Clouse 38:41
think they come to your profile, click the link and then subscribe from there? Or do you think it comes from the sharing of your articles from yourself and from others, and they subscribe from having read the first article?

Anne-Laure Le Cunff 38:53
It's hard to tell. But just looking at my own behavior on Twitter, I don't usually visit people's profiles, I engage more with content and my feed. So intuitively, and I'm not sure if that's the case or not, I would say that it's more about my articles being shared versus hearing about me going on my profile, and then clicking the link to subscribe to my newsletter.

Jay Clouse 39:14
If people listen this interview, and they go and look at your Twitter right now they're gonna say, Oh, she has 30,000 followers. That's a great starting point. But I don't think that was the starting point. We started writing. Can you give us a benchmark for what that looked like for you when you began writing?

Anne-Laure Le Cunff 39:26
I can't remember exactly how many followers I had. But I think I was probably six or eight or something like this below 10. And that had to happen in the past year. I have been on Twitter since 2008. On and off my first tweets, I was 18 at the time, and I think I literally have tweets about how I ate an apple. It was really very cringy ones. I haven't deleted any of them. But I yeah, very bad tweets. And then you sit down A little bit more when I was at Google. But I couldn't really post anything of what I was thinking myself, because you have very strict rules in big corporations as to what you can say or cannot say, as an employee. So it was mostly corporate stuff that I was posting. And about a year and a half ago, I started really using Twitter as a platform to learn in public, I started being much more transparent, I started removing some of the filters in terms of drafting tweets. And I started asking questions when I learned how to code I was always posting questions, but JavaScript and stuff like that. It really worked. People were engaging, I think, all of a sudden, they were like, Oh, this is an actual person. And we can engage with her. And she's asking questions that I was asking myself, but I didn't feel comfortable asking. So it really helps being more again, being more authentic, really helped in in growing my Twitter account. So for people who are listening, If like me, you want to make the most out of Twitter to grow your audience, have one little piece of advice that I think is very helpful, instead of just posting on your own feeds just tweeting into the void, because at the beginning, you don't have any followers, go hang out in the replays of people you admire, whose work you really like, and whose kind of audience is similar to the one you want to build, go make friends there, just go there, put some comments be active in this way. And at the beginning, it will be a little bit of a trickle of getting new followers. So then you start noticing this snowball effect. Because when you start posting on your own profile, these people who follow you are going to retweet you amplify you to their audience. And I got to a point, it took a little bit of time, but not that long, where I could confidently post something that I thought was interesting. And I knew that at least a fraction of my followers would retreated to their own followers. And that's the snowball effect that I'm talking about. And I think only on Twitter, because only on Twitter, you can retweet stuff. The word comes from Twitter, on the on Twitter, you can have this snowball effect.

Jay Clouse 42:11
Besides Twitter, what are some other places that you share your work?

Anne-Laure Le Cunff 42:17
I also share my work on Hacker News. But I used to but I'm not doing it as much as possible because I looked into my analytics recently. And I saw the conversion rates of these people coming from Hacker News. And I think it was something like 0.03% conversion. So only 0.03% of people finding my articles through Hacker News, end up subscribing to my newsletter, versus something that is more like 3% or 4%. For any other channel.

Jay Clouse 42:47
That's crazy. I have another podcast and for a while we thought how can we grow a podcast audience because audio is just difficult to find. We decided what if we did a quarterly written publication on behalf of the podcast and try to get it's easier to share written articles. Maybe that will convert into a podcast audience. One of those articles from one of those quarterly publications hit number one on Hacker News stayed there all day. We got more page views than we've ever gotten before. literally no discernible effect on podcast subscribers. It was like, Okay, I guess we're not doing this anymore. Like we literally stopped doing the publication after that.

Anne-Laure Le Cunff 43:26
Crazy. I'm not surprised at the same time. It is so bad. I don't know why. But this audience is so hard to convert.

Jay Clouse 43:32
So hard, so hard, so fleeting. Well, the last question I want to make or one of the last questions that I want to ask, even the act of sharing your work on Twitter, sharing your work on Hacker News, some people will get hung up around that because they're afraid of self promoting. What would you say to them to people who are getting hung up on what they call an up in air quotes self promoting as the sort of bad thing.

Anne-Laure Le Cunff 43:56
I don't think they should see it as self promotion, they should see it as content creation. And it's the same with like the Pareto rule of 80% 20%. The 20%, and I think it's actually much lower than this, but a very small fraction of internet users are creating the content that the rest of the population is consuming. So instead of seeing it as self promotion, think of it as which side of this barrier, this content creation barrier do I want to be on, don't be one of the consumers or don't want to be one of the creators. And if you're a creator, it only becomes really meaningful if you have people actually consuming the content you create. So just kind of reframing it from self promotion to content creation can really help I think.

Jay Clouse 44:41
Okay, this last question. It almost sounds too simple. Make content tell people that you're making it, share it on your social media, and yet you've seen incredible results. Is there anything else that you would add to what we've already discussed? For people who are saying that sounds easy, I can do that. Are there any other ingredients that you think they should add into the mix?

Anne-Laure Le Cunff 45:00
Yeah, consistency. And that's the real secret ingredient is that I agree with you, everything I described is very simple. There's nothing magical secret complicated to it, it's not that I kind of found this way to go about it that no one knows about. The reality is that when I look around me, and then look at creators attempting to do the same thing I'm doing, they quit. After one month, after two months, they quit, because they're not immediately seeing the results that they're looking for. So the real, magical secret ingredient is consistency. And I genuinely think that anyone who consistently puts out good content out there regularly consistently makes the effort of posting it on Twitter, or somewhere else, if they're better on another platform is Twitter. In my case, they will see results similar to me, there are so many people on the internet today, it's really a matter of providing content that's useful to them that brings them value and finding them. And if you do that consistently, you will also be able to grow an audience.

Jay Clouse 46:09
This was a really cozy interview, I can actually feel myself becoming more relaxed. Anytime I'm talking with somebody who puts such an emphasis on mindfulness. There were a couple things that really stuck out to me about this conversation. And the first is that it all sounds so simple. three priorities a week on a note card, blocking off a few hours each day to do creative work, sharing your work and a couple of places. It almost feels hard to believe that it can be so simple. But the discipline you need to be consistent with those activities week after week is where the magic happens. The second thing that stood out was Anne-Laure's humility and her positioning. She's saying hey, I'm a student, and I'm here trying to learn just like you. It reminded me of my conversation with The Budgetnista, Tiffany Aliche. When she said she didn't want to be your financial guru. She wanted to be your financial girlfriend. More and more. I'm convinced that humility and being very human is a real advantage as a creator. If you want to learn more about an Laura's work, you can visit Nesslabs.com which will be linked in the show notes. Thanks to Anne-Laure for being on the show. Thank you to Emily Clouse for making our artwork for this episode. Thanks to Nathan Todhunter for mixing the show and Brian Skeel for creating our music. If you like this episode, you can tweet at me @JayClouse and let me know and if you really want to say thank you, please leave a review on Apple podcasts. Thanks for listening, and I'll talk to you next week.