Nat Eliason seems to live my perfect life. He thinks (and rebuilds cities) for a living, has figured out how to leverage the internet in all kinds of clever ways, and writes about close to every single topic I’m interested in, from entrepreneurship to productivity, Roam, investing, philosophy and much more.
Suffice to say, if you enjoy my writing, you’ll love Nat Eliason’s. This post is an introduction to his best ideas.
Who is Nat Eliason?
Nat is probably a kind and loving young man living his best life in Austin, Texas – but don’t take my word for it. I don’t know much about offline Nat. For me, Nat Eliason is first and foremost a smart dude on the internet.
Thanks to a set of similarities, I feel a certain kinship with Nat, although I’ve never met him. We’re the same age. We read the same books. We hang around in the same Twitterverse. We’ve both founded agency businesses that help other businesses grow (through marketing and innovation, respectively). We’re thinking about many of the same topics – arguably fueled by a one-way stream of influence, as I read most of the stuff Nat publishes.
Speaking of publishing – Nat has an uncanny ability to publish blog posts, tweets, courses and ideas that are circulating around in my head, right before I sit down to get them out there myself. It’s very inspiring, and sometimes a little annoying – I feel like I’m sprinting along his train of thought to catch up, caught in the ever-lasting Nat Race.
What does Nat do?
Very cool shit.
He worked at one of my favourite companies in the whole wide world, Zapier, as a content writer back in the day.
He used that gig to sharpen his writing and SEO skills, which he then used to build his personal website to tens of thousands of visitors each month. His motivation for doing this? The strongest motivating force known to Homo Sapiens Entrepreneurectus – to avoid having to take a classic consulting job right after college.
Then he travelled. A lot. Which, surprisingly perhaps, saved me a few years of travelling mindlessly around the world. More on that in a moment.
Since SEO worked like a charm for his own site, he created a content marketing agency to help others achieve similar results. Just to prove to potential clients that he knew what he was doing, he casually set up a website about tea, which – you guessed it – took off like a rocket ship, and went from zero to 150.000 visitors a month in a just 8 months.
Then Roam Research came out. Don’t ask me how, but Nat got exposed to it pretty early. And he, like so many after him, fell in love with the tool. But unlike most others, he decided to make an online course about how to use Roam. That course became The Course on Roam Research overnight. He struck a deal with the Roam founder which made everyone who bought the $100 course eligible for a $100 discount on their Roam subscription. You don’t need to be a math wiz to see that buying the course became a no-brainer for every early adopter of Roam who had a pulse during the spring of 2020. What you might need to be a wizard to have predicted though, was what this course would lead to – revenue enough to buy a big house!
Yet none of this is as epic as Nat’s current project – Creator Towns. This is an experiment in urban planning, community building and intentional living all at once. Nat and friends are rebuilding and revitalising small, desolate towns from scratch, made for and by creators and creatives of all types. The tag line says it all:
“Creator Towns is an initiative to grow small towns by leveraging the digital economy. Imagine a walkable town filled with creatives, entrepreneurs, and remote workers, where you can have a strong sense of community and connection with nature.”
Sounds pretty good to me.
The Very Best of Nat Eliason’s Writing
As promised, this post is an introduction to some of Nat’s best ideas. If you’re new to Nat’s writing, these are the articles I suggest you start with.
“When faced with any kind of recurring task or process, there is usually some way to set up a system to handle it for you.”
I’ve wanted to write this exact article for years. Then Nat did, and he nails it.
The article is about what a “systems mindset” is, and how and why you might go about cultivating one. In short, a person with a systems mindset looks for things he can do today to save himself time, money, energy or focus in the future. He looks for ways to replace himself with systems that can operate without him. This gives him leverage, which gives him much better results than his non-systematic conterparts.
My own systems mindset is relatively well developed in terms of replacing myself using technology (apps, Zapier automations, robot vacuum cleaners…), but replacing myself with other people remains a struggle. This article is the type of nudge I need to start taking hiring and onboarding more seriously:
“In my experience, every area where I’ve thought “oh that’d be really hard to hire someone for or train someone to do” has been the highest leverage thing to focus on finding help for. The biggest pain points are also the biggest opportunities for building a system to replace yourself.”
Thanks Nat (I’ve already scheduled a call with a marketer and a nocode developer based on this one sentence)!
(For more from Nat on how to implement systems in your business or your life, read this post on “personal leverage”)
“One downside of pursuing this lifestyle is that I lost many of the hobbies I had. When you work for yourself, free time becomes an opportunity to do more work, and when your idea of leisure is “learning programming” or “starting side projects” it’s easy to get sucked in and lose the ability to just play and goof off. Even reading, the closest thing I had to a hobby, was at least half productive.”
This post hit home for me. I’m chronically in learning and growing mode, for better and for worse, and can completely lose sight of small pleasures, fun and “unproductive” pursuits during my day-to-day life. Nat calls this “malicious productivity”, and offers a simple and powerful question as a cure:
“I’m asking myself the question “why am I working on this?” more. If the answer isn’t “because it’s fun and I’d do it anyway” then I have to cut it out. And if I catch myself feeling guilty for being unproductive, I have to remind myself that the point of working is so that I can have those moments of unproductivity. It’s not that I want to work less hard, just that I want to get better at being okay with not working. That I want to get away from the malicious productivity that is so common among people in this space.”
I mentioned earlier that one of Nat’s posts saved me a few years of mindlessly travelling the world. This was that post. It led me to question WHY the 4-hour workweek digital nomad lifestyle appealed so strongly to me, and when I got to the bottom of that question, much of the appeal disappeared. I realised that investing in building a geographic home base (relationally and professionally) was a better use of my time than jetting mindlessly around the globe to seek fun and adventure. Which leads me to the next recommended article from Nat’s library..
This post is about something that gets a bad rap in our culture. It’s about commitment. But Nat very elegantly flips it around to be about something most of us can put a positive spin on: investment.
“Forget commitment. Think about what you want to invest in. A meaningless semantic difference? Perhaps. But I find the distinction useful. Investment requires thinking seriously about where your resources should be allocated, having criteria for de-allocating them, and then sticking with your investment until those quitting criteria are met.”
I’ve fallen prey to the maximization fallacies Nat describes here countless times – in business in relationships and various other aspects of life. It’s an easy trap to fall into, especially when you live a comfortable life full of options and no strong incentives to shut the door on any of those options. But, as Nat points out, shutting doors and sacrificing the fun stuff that may lie behind those doors is necessary if you want the important stuff to grow and develop:
“Investment and foregoing options is necessary for any growth. If you want a business to grow, you have to sacrifice the freedom to work on anything you want. Don’t commit to something. Invest in something.”
Read this article. Then reflect. Then invest for the long term.
Part of my motivation for getting my own website rolling comes from this article, where Nat explains how his own site has become a serendipity machine which brings him opportunities on an ongoing basis – a sentiment often repeated by David Perell and others in the same Twittersphere.
Nat lays out how and why to get started with writing online, and explains why everyone should do so, even people with zero interest in entrepreneurship or building an online business:
“It’s something everyone can, and should, do. It doesn’t matter what field you’re in, whether or not you want to be an entrepreneur, or whether or not you ever intend to make money from it. A well-developed site is your resume, your real estate, your time machine, and your second brain. It helps anyone learn more about you, how you think, and why they should care. And for you, it helps clarify your thoughts, share what you know, and build a reputation.”
I couldn’t agree more.
This is not one article, but rather a continuous stream of interesting ideas delivered every week in the form of a newsletter.
Nat is extremely consistent, and delivers the goods every time. It’s the only newsletter I read religiously every week, regardless of how full my inbox is. If you’ve enjoyed any of Nat’s posts, you’ll love the Medley too. You can click here to sign up if you’d like.
Nat launched a podcast a few years ago, focused on what to do with your life in a time when the traditional college path isn’t as safe and appealing as it used to be. Or, to put it bluntly like Nat does – “College is Broken, So What Should Young People Do?”
The podcast hasn’t been updated recently, but the conversations in the backlog are still great. My favourite was with the author of a wonderful book called Excellent Sheep, which you can listen to here.
As mentioned, Nat Eliason is a smart dude on the internet. In this interesting age of internet-enabled personal leverage, we should all aspire to be more like smarter dudes and dudettes online.
From Nat and other folks like him, we can learn how and why to use the internet to write and share ideas, create personal monopolies, and invite serendipity to strike. We should be inspired by those who have gone before us, but not so inspired that we doom ourselves to copying, unoriginality and general hucksterdom. It’s a fine balance.
(Hey Nat, if you’re ever in Norway – drinks are on me!)
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Also published on Medium.