Matt Mullenweg on how small changes to behaviour can create big differences

On today’s show, I speak to Matt Mullenweg. I feel like Matt is kind of like internet royalty because he is a founding developer of WordPress, which is the Open Source software used by over 31% of the web. He also founded Automattic which now employs around 700 people. Matt has been named one of PC World’s Top 50 People on the Web and Business Week’s 25 Most Influential People on the Web.

In this conversation, we cover a whole bunch of topics such as:

  • Matt’s innovative approach to consuming books
  • How Matt stays focused on important tasks
  • Matt’s approach to meetings
  • Techniques to create healthier habits
  • What’s on Matt’s smart phone home screen
  • Matt’s favourite productivity apps
  • Why Matt still uses a paper notebook
  • The podcasts Matt is listening to and books he is reading

And a whole lot more.

You can find out more about Matt via his blog or via Automattic.

Here are links to a bunch of the things Matt mentions during the show:

Apps, shows, tools:
Calm (meditation app)
Nanette by Hannah Gadsby
Wunderlist and Todoist (to do list apps)
Overcast (a great app for listening to podcasts)

The Knowledge Project
On Being
On Margins with Craig Mod
The Tim Ferriss Show
Peter Attia – Drive

Farnham Street
Peter Attia
Craig Mod
Long Now Foundation

How to Write an Autobiographical Novel
Black Box Thinking
The Conquest of Happiness
The Paper Menagerie

Finally, here is a full transcript of the show.

Matt Mullenweg: I find as well, it’s not necessarily tie myself to the mast, but even things like if what is closest to me in the bed when I wake up is the Kindle and not the phone, I’m more likely to read, but if the phone’s on top of the Kindle I’m more likely to look at the phone. But if I can reverse that order it’s a bit better. So, just little hacks like that. And I think it’s good to look at every aspect of your life and say, “Okay, where’s something that I can kind of make it easy to do the thing that I wanna do”.

Amantha Imber: Welcome to How I Work. A show about the tactics used by leading innovators to get so much out of their day. I’m your host, doctor Amantha Imber. I’m an organizational psychologist, the CEO of Inventium and I’m obsessed with finding ways to optimize my workday. On today’s show I speak to Matt Mullenweg. I feel like Matt is kind of like internet royalty, because he’s a founding developer of WordPress, which is the open source software used by over 31% of the web. He also founded Automattic, which now employs around 700 people and Matt’s also been named one of business weeks 25 most influential people on the web.

Now, I found out a lot of fascinating things about how Matt works during this chat and something I particularly loved hearing about were some of the really simple changes he’s made to create better habits. Like how he only has certain types of apps on the home screen of his phone. So, without further ado, over to Matt to find out how he works. Matt, welcome to the show.
Matt Mullenweg: It’s a pleasure to be here.

Amantha Imber: Now, you’re of course the co-founder of WordPress and I’ve read recently that you’ve just ticked over the 30% mark in that over 30% of the worlds websites are built on WordPress. Is that correct?

Matt Mullenweg: That is correct and we’re looking for it to getting the other 70%.

Amantha Imber: Amazing, amazing. Look, I’d love to start with what a typical morning looks like for you and also whether there is such a thing given that I know you travel so much?

Matt Mullenweg: That’s a good question. So, I would say that the thing that is my favorite morning routine is probably reading actually, which is nice because I can do that really anywhere I am in the world. If I can carve out … some people wake up early to work out, I like to wake up a little bit early to get a better reading time in. ‘Cause I’ve learned that sets my brain up in the right space for everything I need to get done the rest of the day.

Amantha Imber: I love that. I was actually reading on your blog. I was counting that you read, I think about 30 books last year. And I was gonna ask how you fit in that reading time. Are there other times in the day that you also book out for reading or does it tend to be more of a morning ritual at the moment?

Matt Mullenweg: Often when I travel is really good for that. So, I’m actually reading a lot more this year than last year. I’ll probably end up with 45 or 50 books this year. And it’s travel time, it’s down time. I started experimenting a bit with, Audible has a sync feature with the Kindle, so I can be reading and then switch to audio and it’s exactly where I left off and then when I switch back to reading it’s exactly where the audio stopped. So, you can kinda go between audio books and written books without really losing any words or anything.

Amantha Imber: That’s really cool. And when do you find … What’s the scenario where you’d use the written book in the Kindle versus the audio? Like what is typical scenarios for both?

Matt Mullenweg: Written is definitely my first choice. So, that could be anytime I can sit. Waiting. I generally always have my Kindle in my backpack. So, if I’m on, sometimes a train if it’s a longer train ride or subway ride. And the audio book’s really great for those between times, so, walking. When you’re going to and from the gates or boarding or if I’m driving, which is not too common if I’m traveling, but if I’m in Houston Texas, which is my home, I drive a lot. So, those are perfect times for more audio content.

Amantha Imber: Yeah, and when you’re reading on the Kindle, do you speed read, do you have techniques to finish books faster or are you just like reading like the rest of us?

Matt Mullenweg: When I listen, I’m generally listening at one and a half to two X speed. But when I’m reading I feel like I read very normally. I’ve tried faster reading in the past and I often lose things. And a lot of my reading these days is for pleasure. So, it’s novels and other things that don’t really lim themselves for all the speed reading, in fact, sometimes you wanna stretch it out because the words are just so beautiful you wanna savor them.

Amantha Imber: Yeah, I love that, I love that. And I think I read somewhere that you’ve often got several books on the go at the same time, is that still true?

Matt Mullenweg: Yeah, I find that sometimes I’ll just get stuck in a book and so, by switching to something else, it can provide just a little bit of variety. I’ll usually also have like a non fiction and a fiction going at the same time. And just depending on my mood or what kinda mode I’m in. Different books lend themselves. So, like some books are very, like short stories. Like you know that there’s gonna be a good stopping point. And then the novels I don’t wanna start unless I have a few hours blocked out because I know I’m gonna get completely lost in it.

Amantha Imber: And getting back to the mornings. Like how long would you typically spend reading, like doing uninterrupted reading?

Matt Mullenweg: I try to get in at least a chapter, which is, again it depends so much on the format of the book, but call it 15 to 20 minutes.

Amantha Imber: Fantastic, love it, love it. And I remember hearing that you were experimenting with meditation. I believe you’re an investor in Calm. I’m not sure if that’s still the case, but where’s your meditation routine or habit at, at the moment?

Matt Mullenweg: I like to get that in, in the mornings, but sometimes I just can’t. So, otherwise I’ll sneak it in throughout the rest of the day. As long as it’s not night time or I haven’t had a drink beforehand, I find it can be very effective in other parts of the day. If it starts to get later, I just doze a little. I guess it’s good, I get into a very relaxed place very quickly.

Amantha Imber: Yes, dozing’s very relaxing. Excellent. I wanted to ask about how you ward off distractions. Because you obviously work with technology for a living, but it can also be such a source of distraction. And I’m wondering when you’re trying to get deep focused work done, what strategies do you use for tuning out the rest of the world and particularly digital distractions?

Matt Mullenweg: It’s funny, ’cause I have friends that are like, “Oh, you’re so productive, how do you be so productive”. And I feel like the most unproductive person. So, my approach is generally like a Ulysses, where I tie myself to the mast, plug my ears so I can’t hear the sirens and yeah, I find that I’m way better at planning ahead than actually resisting temptation. So, if I can just close out the apps or it’s not like I’m getting lots of notifications and not looking at them, is that I’m just hiding the notifications for myself so that my brain doesn’t even have to use the will power to not engage with them.

Amantha Imber: And do you have notifications constantly turned off or do you switch them on when you are in more of a responsive mode?

Matt Mullenweg: I have notifications, but they generally don’t buzz me. So, the phone doesn’t have any visible or I guess haptic feedback whenever something comes in. And then on the computer I’ll just generally close apps out if it’s not relevant, including Slack some times. That’s maybe my biggest distraction, because I kinda keep it on when I’m working or having conversations, but of course then anything can come in. I find as well it’s not necessarily tie myself to the mast, but even things like if what is closest to me in the bed when I wake up is the Kindle and not the phone, I’m more likely to read, but if the phone’s on top of the Kindle I’m more likely to look at the phone. But if I can reverse that order it’s a bit better. So, just little hacks like that. And I think it’s good to look at every aspect of your life and say, “Okay, where’s something that I can kind of make it easy to do the thing that I wanna do”.

Amantha Imber: I like that. What other aspects of your life have you made that simple changes that have led to better habits?

Matt Mullenweg: If I have sweets or things like that in the house, I don’t have them visible. And their generally like in a drawer or buried away a little bit. So, I can get them if I’m entertaining or having a party or really, really want it, but it’s not just something that’s just staring at me all day saying, “Eat me, eat me”. That’s kind of a common thread that your phone’s not buzzing saying, “Look at me, look at me”. The tasty food is not saying, “Eat me, eat me”. Just kind of out of sight, out of mind. That’s not a 100% true, but is very helpful.

Amantha Imber: Definitely, definitely. And what else do you do to focus? So, you’re closing down apps that you’re not using and the notifications are switched off. Like is there anything else that you found to be effective to stay focused?

Matt Mullenweg: Going offline is really great. I do this unintentionally sometimes on airplanes. But then occasionally at home I’ll just turn off technology network. The wifi or the Ethernet. Like literally unplugging it. And I’m just forcing myself to look at all the things that are there in front of me. So, start closing down more tabs than I open. Or looking at those files that are on my desktop for several months and saying okay, what’s gonna be the way to do that. Kinda carving out that time, even if it’s unintentional, really savoring whatever’s available to you at the moment I find very helpful.

Amantha Imber: And do you still have a playlist to help get into flow that you listen to?

Matt Mullenweg: So, I have a few, I guess at this point they’re like deep house focus playlists that are just standard ones on Title and Spotify that I’ll go to. Because there’s no words or very few words and they have kind of a nice beat behind it. But if I really need to get in the zone, my general thing is just picking a single song and having that on repeat. And that can be really anything. So, it can be Hip Hop, it can be Jazz, it can be really whatever. But just having that on repeat for a while. And it just has to be a song that I like and then something often that I really like. And so, it’s pleasurable to have it there, but your mind backgrounds it after the first or second listen. So, I just found that to be a really effective technique.

Amantha Imber: And do you have any songs that you’re going through a lot at the moment?

Matt Mullenweg: A recent one is this new Drake song, Nice for What.

Amantha Imber: Oh, yeah.

Matt Mullenweg: It’s just so fun and has some kind of natural breaks in it where the style goes between things. And it just has that great fore flowing beat in the way they do the lowering hill sample and just lovely.

Amantha Imber: I wanna move on to looking at how you decide on your priorities. I would imagine in what you do and with your profile you’re probably getting approached with different opportunities left right and center and I’m curious as to how you decide what you say yes to and what do you say no to.

Matt Mullenweg: It gets easier actually, because the thing that I am quite keen to say yes on are growing over time. The company’s growing, we’re now over 750 people. Your group of family and friends, people who you love very much, you really wanna be there for them and you appreciate that time more as you get older. So, that kinda naturally crowds out a lot of other things. And in terms of the other yeses, probably my biggest weakness is saying yes to some place that I want to go. So, it’s events or I know some people that I wanna see will be there or it’s a place that I wanna go ’cause I haven’t been before. And then as it approaches, I’m like, “Where did I sign up for this”. That’s probably my biggest weakness. We ran into each other at an event, didn’t we?

Amantha Imber: We did at Ted, that’s right, in Vancouver.

Matt Mullenweg: Ah, that’s a good example of one that ahead of time, and they very smartly sell you the tickets like a year ahead of time.

Amantha Imber: I know, I know.

Matt Mullenweg: This year I actually didn’t wanna go, but I had purchased a ticket almost a full year before and it’s also quite pricey. And so, I felt very obligated to go. So, this year I’ve been trying to avoid that by actually not purchasing a ticket and probably will not attend next year. Not because it wasn’t wonderful and I got to meet awesome people like yourself, but just because it was a lot of time out of it. So, what I try to avoid is just whatever I’m doing just try to be fully there and really, what’s a good word for it, I try to get the most out of whatever you’re doing. Like do it with vim and vigor.

So, if I’m at the conference or if I’m going to go to a conference, like I don’t check my email during that. Like I really try to be present. Like get the most out of that conference. And if doing so, I find myself very bored or disengaged, maybe that’s a good reason to not go, versus agreeing to things and then being on calls or emails or otherwise distracted the whole time, because that I’d rather do, to be honest, at home.

Amantha Imber: Would you ever just cut your losses at one of these events that you’ve said yes to, because you thought it would be a good idea in the lead up and then you get there and you’re finding that’s there no value. Would you ever just cut your losses and go early? Or once you’re there, you’re committed.

Matt Mullenweg: That I’m terrible at. So, I’ll finish bad movies, I’ll finish bad books. I try to make the best of it, but yeah, I’m not good at leaving.

Amantha Imber: That’s interesting.

Matt Mullenweg: So, that’s why I have to be careful what I start, like I would say TV series are a good example of this. Like I know starting a TV series is a big commitment ’cause you’re signing up for tens of hours of things that are kinda tugging at the back of your brain like, “What happened to so and so”. So, I’m very, very, very discerning on starting those. That’s why I prefer, even shorter things on Netflix like the documentaries, which tend to be like an hour and a half or comedy specials which are usually an hour.

Amantha Imber: That’s interesting.

Matt Mullenweg: Actually amazing what just came out of Australia. You might have heard of Hannah Gadsby called Nanette.

Amantha Imber: Oh, it’s brilliant, I saw that live at the comedy festival a couple of years ago. Yeah, that’s fantastic.

Matt Mullenweg: Wow, wow, I can’t imagine.

Amantha Imber: It’s interesting what you say about once you start it’s hard to stop. How do you apply that to work,
because I imagine so much of what you do for Automattic and WordPress is starting something and being in that experimentation mode, but then inevitably some experiments fail. So, how do I guess do you … ’cause I imagine you must be much better at it with work in terms of starting something and then abandoning it versus TV series.

Matt Mullenweg: I would say it’s actually a weakness at Automattic as well. And probably many of my colleagues would agree with you. It’s something that I have an eye on now is that … The good news is for projects, especially software, it’s typically measured in weeks or months, not just like an hour or two. Or there’s something repetitive. So, one thing I’ve actually been working on a lot this year is allowing myself and other people to say opt out of a meeting for example. Not just go into a meeting because it’s what we do every week or every other week or every month, but saying, “Hey, do you feel like you got a lot out of this”? And if so, please come back and if not, it’s okay to opt out. And just making meetings optional is interesting.

And if you do a good job about having an agenda beforehand, people can read it and choose to opt in or of course you can reach out to someone and say, “Hey, I think it’s important for you to be part of this conversation”. But by making it more optional, it’s a good balance between people not feeling excluded, but also not wasting time for yourself or others. And then for projects, just trying to be more explicit at the start with how long we expect it to take. I can think of an example, we’re in the middle of one right now and one that just wrapped up. Where something that started and we thought it was a four or five month thing and actually the worst case ended up going close to 18 months.

And so, in many points along that path we should have had, I think this is called the Sunk Cost Fallacy, like we should have said, “Oh, if we had known it would have taken 18 months from the beginning, we wouldn’t have done it. So, we should stop it now, even though that’s painful and people wanna finish it”. Or it always seems right around the corner. But for other things we’re being a lot more explicit now. Like okay, we started this because we thought it was a three month project. If it were a six month project, would we still do it. And then saying yes or no before you start. And then if it stretches to six months, you can say, “Okay, that’s still within the primers of what we said was worth it”. But when it starts to go beyond that, that’s when you say, “Oh, not worth it”. Also that being it clear to everyone involved so that they know that the deadline really starts to become much more of a deadline once it goes beyond that place that you wouldn’t do it from scratch.

Amantha Imber: Yeah, I like that approach. And I was curious as to what you said about meetings as well and people being able to opt out of meetings. Certainly puts the onus on the meeting organizer to make it a really good meeting. Have you had many people opt out of meetings after giving that permission?

Matt Mullenweg: Oh, for sure. And I opt out of a ton. So, I think that it’s something that … it’s not necessarily … You want to have a culture where it’s an okay thing to do and doesn’t have like other hidden meanings. So, obviously it’s like it’s some sort of passive aggressive I don’t like your project or something like that would not be productive. But if it’s really just, “Hey, I’m happy to be part of this, I’ll read the notes”. You can stay engaged for that, needing to take that real time interaction. When you have a meeting you need to think of the time, multiply it by the number of people there. So, if you have eight people in the meeting, that’s a full workday worth of work. It’s eight hours, even if it’s just an hour long meeting.

Amantha Imber: Yeah, absolutely, absolutely. I wanted to come back to something that you mentioned before about how when you are at an event you’ll be present, you’ll switch off email and I wanted to know what is your approach to managing your inbox? And I get that you’ve obviously got Slack as well and I imagine that’s mostly for internal
comms, but what’s your approach to managing your inbox?

Matt Mullenweg: I don’t know if I’m a great example here, because my workflow and systems are very, best spoken, unique. I have two assistants so for help of scheduling things and things like that or sometimes just raising things that I might have missed, they’re able to jump in. I have an email system which actually goes through, if you can believe it, a WordPress plug-in. So, when you email me it gets hyped through WordPress actually. But then does a database look up on the sender. It has records of all my sent mail, so if I interact with this person recently and then based on that and other characteristics or kinda regular expressions I write, the email might get filtered into several different boxes.

Obviously an inbox, which is the easy one. But then there could be an unknown box, low priority, high priority, shopping. All these receipts and things. So, having a lot of that filtering done automatically means that I spend very little time categorizing things or filtering things. But it’s still pretty in-neatly organized. I’m not an inbox zero person, although the thought of it is very appealing to me. And right now I have, let’s see, a 120 things in the inbox. And so, that’s a combination of maybe some subscriptions or things I follow that I really wanna read and then people who I really want to reply to or that are important. And I check, to be honest I’m not great at email in that I probably only work on it every couple of days. I might do like little bits of maintenance over the course of the day, but really digging in and sending replies is at best once or twice a week.

Amantha Imber: Wow. Does that take discipline or is that easy to not be in it too much?

Matt Mullenweg: I find email incredibly easy to ignore. Often to the detriment of myself and others.

Amantha Imber: Excellent. And what are your favorite apps or tools or technology for getting more done, being more productive? ‘Cause I’m loving the sound of how your email is organized. That sounds amazing.

Matt Mullenweg: Well, I think it’s worthwhile especially if you have the ability to code or invest in someone who does. To actually invest in workflow and other things like that. So, there’s a number of areas where, as I like my life as, significantly easier, ’cause there’s just things that are being automated or coded. I guess my go to, have I mentioned Calm already, and that’s kind of a great meta investment and the Kindle, Audible and Overcast for consuming audio content, either books or broadcast. My other go-tos. I use both Wunderlist and Todoist. Wunderlist for collaborative lists and Todoist for my personal. I use Simplenote a ton, which is actually an Automattic product for keeping notes throughout the days and if I need to do something very collaborative.

Like let’s say a person who I work with quite a bit, we’ll often have a shared Google document that we’ll have open if we’re ever having a meeting. And then also so it can function almost more like a whiteboard or shared notes we’ll use as an agenda for our next meeting. And then we can just put open items there. So, if they’re waiting on me or I’m waiting for them on something, we’ll make sure to mark that down with a date so that it can be tracked. Internally we use a ton of WordPress. So, that’s really how we communicate, it’s more WordPress than anything else. And just trying to have like the home screen on my phone doesn’t have anything that’s distracting. It’s only like good habit apps.

Amantha Imber: Like what’s some examples of those?

Matt Mullenweg: So, instead of Facebook I’ll have Kindle or audio apps, Runkeeper. My bottom bar is Lift, Google Maps, Todoist and calendar. So, all things that are very productive, in fact I removed the Google app from there, which I like using for searching for things, because when you launch a Google app it also shows you interesting news stories. So, I just wanted to change my muscle memory and move it around. I find that if I find myself using something too often or getting addicted to it, just moving it can sometimes break that pattern. So, my thumb … I’ll actually accidentally click on the thing I replace it with. Just ’cause you get in these patterns and by knowing how the patterns work, I think it makes it at least more possible to break them. I won’t say it makes it easier, but it makes it at least that you can recognize yourself sometimes in it.

Amantha Imber: I like that. I’ve definitely experimented with what goes in that bottom bar as well. I heard that you, in terms of keyboard, you don’t use a qwerty keyboard, which is the traditional keyboard layout, but you use a Dvorak, I don’t know if I pronounce that correctly, keyboard. And I’m wondering, can you explain what that is and why you made that move? And also just how you made the switch? How do you learn a new keyboard system?

Matt Mullenweg: Oh, it’s much like learning to type, so however you learn to type or I find that many people actually haven’t learned to type properly. There’s tons of stuff for free online. I think back in the day there were apps like Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing, if you remember that one.

Amantha Imber: Yeah.

Matt Mullenweg: But you can basically, including for Dvorak learning, you just Google and there’s a bunch of free online stuff where you practice letters. So, you do like on Dvorak, maybe you do an A, A, A, A, A, O, O, O, O, O, E, E, E, you kinda train yourself to learn. And it’s actually not hard to know multiple ones, just like many people play multiple instruments that might be slightly different. Like the clarinet and the saxophone. Like some of it is of course the [inaudible 00:27:01] and the other parts of it, but a big part of it is the fingering and where you go and after I would say, not that many hours of dedicated work, call it 15 to 25 of like deliberate practice, you can be easily at a useful typing speed. Call it 40 or 50 words per minute, which is what I call like thinking speed.
Often we’re not limited by our typing speed, but really like our ability to know what to say or what to code. And then of course with practice, I can type probably up to maybe in the 120’s words per minute, but I almost never do, because again I don’t think that quickly generally. And the theory behind Dvorak is it’s just a more modern keyboard layout. Qwerty was crated in part to make it that so when you type letters that very frequently occur together like T and H, which is the most common letter pair in the english language. Remember the arms that used to come up, those arms are right next to each other, they could get stuck on each other and jam your typewriter. So, qwerty is optimized a lot more for having those common pairs further away from each other or in arms that would not run into each other.

This is actually useful for thumb typing. So, I don’t think qwerty is bad for mobile and i actually use it for that, but then on desktop you of course wanna have your different fingers or different strengths, if you’re in the home rows more efficient than if it’s in a place where you move your finger to and you can do things like for example T and H in the Dvorak keyboard is your right hand middle finger and then the finger right next to your thumb. Is that
a ring finger? No, I guess it’s the index finger.

So, you could just … if you just do that right now, push down your middle finger and then your index finger, it’s a very natural movement and doing those right after each other is almost like you might tap on a desk if you are just fidgeting. So, having those most common vowels and consonants on the home row and then the most common pairs next to each other is very, very useful. And that’s the design of Dvorak. I switched to it when I was much, much younger, because when I was a teenager I thought, well, I’m probably gonna type the rest of my life, so even if I
can become 10% more efficient, that will be a worthwhile investment.

And I have many colleagues who have switched in a more modern era. And my only advice there is to go cold turkey. So, really force yourself to use the new layout as much as possible and then put in as you can a bit of time every day to actually deliberately practice. And there’s a [inaudible 00:29:45] in returns, so, 30 minutes to an hour a day is probably really good, four hours a day would be a waste of your time. But if you can put in a bit of practice and then force yourself to use it the rest of the day where you’re just painfully slow, but picking it up, you’ll be there certainly in less than a month.

Amantha Imber: That’s cool, that’s encouraging. I’m quite inspired to give that a go.

Matt Mullenweg: If you’re gonna give it a go by the way, there’s one that’s slightly more efficient. So there’s a keyboard layout called Colemak.

Amantha Imber: Ah, yes, I’ve heard of that. Yes.

Matt Mullenweg: Actually has a lot of overlap with Dvorak, but Dvorak was invented prior to world war two and using some great technology at the time, but then they didn’t have computers and such. And so Dvorak is, I’m gonna make these numbers up, but let’s say way more efficient than the qwerty, like, much, much, much better. Colemak’s maybe 5% more efficient than Dvorak. So, even using their ancient methods of research and efficiency, they got pretty darn close to the ideal. But if you were starting today I would say, go straight to Colemak. And these layouts are built into every modern computer system.

Amantha Imber: Yeah, I was gonna ask. And have you ever thought about making the change to Colemak?

Matt Mullenweg: I have definitely seriously considered it. Because I’m so fast on Dvorak and there’s not that big a difference. I question whether it’s worth it, so I haven’t done it yet. But if I had … I do still think about it sometimes and I might still do it, so, we’ll see.

Amantha Imber: And for creative work, I think I heard that you use an analog notebook. So, you move away from the keyboard completely. Is that correct?

Matt Mullenweg: I find it really satisfying to cross things of on a paper. And also if I am in a meeting even if it’s a video call, which is many of my one on one meetings. I think for both sides typing can feel very distracting and certainly if in person and someone’s typing things down. It just feels like they’re not present. But writing doesn’t have that same effect. So, that’s why I take a lot of notes is because it helps me to remember. Occasionally I type them up afterwards or might translate them into a computer to-do. But yeah, just for in the moment it’s great to have paper.

Amantha Imber: I like that, I like that.

Matt Mullenweg: Like at Ted for example they even discourage having your phone out, so I would keep a note book in
my pocket the whole time. So, if I need to write anything down or take a quick note, I could.

Amantha Imber: And so, that’s interesting. So, you’ll type up some of the notes, but not others. Like after Ted for example, what did you do with the notes that you took from Ted?

Matt Mullenweg: I’m trying to think. I probably do a quick glance over them. Sometimes I write them down just to remember them, not to actually look back at them. But the act of writing helps me distill a little bit. And then other times I’ll really go back and turn it into some to-dos. So, like for example if let’s say you and I were having a one on one meeting and you’re in direct report of mine. So, we worked very closely together. I would take written notes. Then I’d actually post the meeting as one of my … As you probably tell, I like meetings to be time well spent. So, I usually like to have a bit of time beforehand to prepare and then budget a bit of time afterwards to process everything that came out of the meeting and do any follow ups or at least track where those follow ups should be.

Sometimes I’ll even use a voice memo for that. So, there was a time a few weeks ago, I was really back to back in New York and going between things very quickly. So, I was literally almost running between meetings. Not quite, but they were very important meetings, so, I really wanted to make sure I captured all my thoughts from them. So, just as I was walking down the street I did probably like a five or eight minute voice memo that was much like things I would write down, but were just thoughts and things from the meetings. And actually once it’s one your iPhone voice memo, I was able to send that to my assistant and she was able to type it up. So, then that made it easy for me to turn it into written follow ups and notes for my colleagues that I wanted to share the notes from the meetings with.

Amantha Imber: I like that. Yes, very cool. I use voice memos quite a bit myself. I wonder, I wanna finish with a few quick question to understand what are you consuming right now. Because I can think it can be so hard for the average person to know what are the best and most inspiring and most interesting sources of information given it’s just a little bit overload. So, to start with, what are a couple of Podcasts that you’re currently loving and consuming?

Matt Mullenweg: I’m gonna get a plug on the first one, is a Podcast called Bundyville that Longreads, which is an Automattic product did it with the MPR and it’s a really fun narrative.

Amantha Imber: Awesome.

Matt Mullenweg: Yeah, I love Farnam Streets. And there’s a Podcast called the knowledge project that’s from the same site. It’s probably one of my top sites and Podcasts in the world. Really thoughtful guy named Shane Parrish. Actually Canadian, but just one of the smartest people you’ve ever met and really dives into Charlie Munger, Warren Buffett and other people who have been successful really over decades versus many of the folks if you pick up a magazine, they’re talking about who’s successful that year, there’s not a longevity to it. So, I get far more interested with what’s happened over decades. So, you find yourself drawn to folks like Ben Franklin, Charlie Munger or firms that have succeeded over a long time. Even like the Coke brothers. And you’re like, “Okay, there’s something working here that goes beyond even one or two business cycles”.

Amantha Imber: Love it.

Matt Mullenweg: I love On Being with Krista Tippett. Probably one of my top ones on margins with Craig Mod. I listen
a lot to Tim Ferriss of course. He’s a good friend. And a new one that just started that I’m very much enjoying is a doctor named Peter Attia. And I think his Podcast is called Drive, the Peter Attia Drive. And he is a doctor, obviously an MD, but also really studies wellness and longevity. And so, I would call him very much on the, maybe bleeding edge isn’t a good word to use with medical terms, but like the very up to the minute on all the latest papers and science and everything like that. And so, he engages with folks like my Rhonda Patrick, who are literally driving the science for what helps you be your healthiest. And so, that I just find really, really fascinating.

Amantha Imber: I’m gonna check that one out, that sounds really interesting. E Newsletters that you’re actually looking forward to receiving. You mentioned you might have a few waiting in your inbox to be read. What are your favorites?

Matt Mullenweg: Oh, it’s actually a big overlap with the things that I just said. So, Peter Attia has one. Farnam street has a newsletter that I read.

Amantha Imber: Yes, I get that one, it’s great.

Matt Mullenweg: And there’s one other that’s kinda new for me that I joined. Craig Mod has one. It’s funny, it’s almost all the same … If I like them enough to listen to their Podcast, I probably am willing to get an email from them. One of the others that’s relatively new and someone that I’m a huge fan of is Kevin Kelly. He has a website, Again, someone who’s done interesting things over decades. Including being one of the co-founders of Wired magazine and walking hundreds of miles through Asia in the 60s and 70s. And way before anyone else was on things. Studying virtual reality in the 70s and 80s. So, he has one called the Recomendo, which is he and two other folks who are also very interesting go through and recommend just a few things each week that might be a book, it might be a thing, it might be a movie or a Netflix thing. So, I found that to be really high.

Amantha Imber: I recently subscribed to that one and I must say, I’m loving that. And finally what’s-

Matt Mullenweg: I’ll say one more. Can I put in one more?

Amantha Imber: Yeah, sure, absolutely.

Matt Mullenweg: It’s called the Long Now Foundation, which is actually one of the places where I’ve gotten to know Kevin Kelly through. And they do a series of talks. It’s a foundation literally dedicated to long term thinking. And so, yeah, you can imagine their talks being really great and the things they publish on their website being also excellent.

Amantha Imber: That’s cool, that’s cool. And finally it sounds like you’re gonna hit about 45 books this year, what’s a good one that you’ve read recently?

Matt Mullenweg: I’ll try to recommend some ones that aren’t like the ones that everyone knows. Like I just finished Sapiens, but everyone knows Sapiens, right. A really great collection of non fiction essays, which is called, How to Write an Autobiographical Novel by a relatively new Korean American author named Alexander Chee is really fantastic. In terms of a business book, I read one called Black Box Thinking by Matthew Syed. Really enjoyed that. Kind of combined a lot of … it was a lot of business books. They are duplicative or could be a good article. He did a great job of bringing together lots of great research in other books and putting them into one nice package. I like reading older stuff.

So, I recently reread The Conquest of Happiness by Bertrand Russell and Ficciones, I don’t know how to pronounce it in Spanish, originally in Spanish, by Jorge Luis Borges that were both really, really good. And then if anyone loves Sci-Fi, probably the most amazing collection of short stories in Sci-Fi I’ve read is called The Paper Menagerie by this artist, he is an artist, but author named Ken Liu. L-I-U. Who is probably more famous for being the translator of The Three-Body Problem from mandarin to english. So, he has his own fiction that he’s written that is kind of a mix of Sci-Fi, speculative fiction and just history actually that was one of the most thought provoking things I’ve read in many, many years.

Amantha Imber: Fantastic. Loving all those recommendations. Look it’s been so brilliant talking to you Matt. If people want to find more about you or about WordPress or Automattic, where is the best place to do that?

Matt Mullenweg: Sure, if you would like to be distracted by me on Twitter and Instagram, I’m @PhotoMatt. P-H-O-T-O M-A-T-T. And Twitter’s probably the one I use a bit more there. I post very rarely to Instagram and use Instagram very rarely. And of course my WordPress blogs are great places to find me. So, I have two. and then MA.TT, which is a special extension. So, just type in MA.TT. No dot com, no anything like that is my main sites where I share things I’m reading, articles, quotes and the occasional longer thoughts.

Amantha Imber: Fantastic, fantastic. Well, thank you so much Matt. Thank you for being on the show. I’ve just loved our chat.

Matt Mullenweg: Thank you very much. Bye, bye.

Amantha Imber: Hey there, that’s it for today’s episode. If you’re looking for more tips to improve the way you work, I write a short monthly newsletter that contains three cool things that I’ve discovered that help me work better. Which range from interesting research findings through to gadgets that I’m loving. You can sign up for that at That’s And you’re probably sick of Podcasts telling you to give them a review in iTunes if you like the episode. So, I promise I won’t ask you to do that, but if the route you, then go for it. And if you like this episode and you want more, just hit the subscribe button. See you next time.