Mark Barnes is a longtime educator and bestselling author. He is a Founder and CEO at Times 10 Publications and the popular Hack Learning Series. Mark is a leading advocate for the no-grades classroom and feedback for learning.

Where did you grow up and what was your childhood like? Did you have any particular experiences/stories that shaped your adult life?

I grew up in a tiny suburb on the near west side of Cleveland, Ohio, in the 70s. The movement to desegregate schools was in full force, and this played a huge role in my school life. Students were uprooted from their home schools and bussed across town to other neighborhoods, where they didn’t want to be. This created tension, chaos, and a lot of fear. Teachers didn’t know how to handle it, and I grew to hate school. This experience helped me realize that I wanted to be a teacher because I believed I could make the kind of impact on kids that my teachers failed to make on me.

What is something you wish you would’ve realized earlier in your life?

How to manage and invest money. I made many mistakes that were costly, both to my bank account and my creditworthiness. I was actually bankrupt in the early 2000s, due to some unwise real estate investments, during the housing crisis. Had I taken the money I used to buy overpriced investment properties and put it into a few solid companies, I would have positioned myself to help a lot of people with the profits. I could have been financially independent, when I was in my thirties, rather than starting over with nothing. We do not do nearly enough in education to teach kids about money management and investing. I’d love to see this change.

What are bad recommendations you hear in your profession or area of expertise?

Many so-called startups and passive income experts say you can self-publish a book for little or no money and make a fortune. This advice is inaccurate and reckless. In order to be a successful book publisher, you must pay fair wages to professional editors, designers, and proofreaders. Unless you have a massive audience, you need to invest significant marketing dollars to put your work in front of potential buyers. If you edit and design your own work, put it on Amazon (this part does indeed cost nothing), and put no marketing dollars behind your project, it is destined to fail. In my experience, any successful business venture needs a substantial investment in time and money. There are very few legitimate shortcuts.

Tell me about one of the darker periods you’ve experienced in life. How you came out of it and what you learned from it?

As mentioned earlier, I bought rental properties at a time when you could use very little money and purchase numerous properties in a short time period. Long story short, I moved much too quickly, didn’t properly vet each purchase and the people involved, and I lost everything in a few years. I overcame financial ruin by seeking out trusted family members and friends, who helped me dig out of a very deep hole. They also advised me on how to rebuild my credit and my finances. I married a woman who helped ground me and put me on a more secure path to success. When I started my business more than a decade later, I remembered that quick decisions and partnering with bad people are a recipe for disaster. So, I built very slowly and found the best people to help me. My investment in a solid mission and in great people has led to a strong company that does a lot of good for teachers and learners around the world.

What is one thing that you do that you feel has been the biggest contributor to your success so far?

The single biggest factor in my company’s success is working with great people, who believe in our mission—helping educators help kids. We’ve turned down several projects that I think could have made us a lot of money because I didn’t believe in the people. Having the right people and a mission you believe in is the most important part of success.

What is your morning routine?

I’m typically up at around 7 AM. I start with exercise (a few minutes of calisthenics), as soon as my feet hit the floor; this wakes me up and gets the blood pumping. I meditate for 5-10 minutes and then drink coffee and read. I check my calendar and to-do list over breakfast and plan the rest of the morning. Any company meetings are typically in the morning when all parties are at their best.

What habit or behavior that you have pursued for a few years has most improved your life?

I listen to books, while I exercise or do household chores, like dishes or laundry. I started this about three years ago, and it’s been life-changing. I read more than ever, focusing on productivity books, success stories, and memoirs. I used to read only a few books, outside of the ones Times 10 produces. Reading audiobooks, mostly at 2x speed, has increased my volume of books read yearly by about fivefold. Many of the books I’ve read have made me a better businessman, husband, father, and person.

What are your strategies for being productive and using your time most efficiently?

The most important strategy for being productive is focusing on one thing at a time. It’s impossible to multitask. Reading emails, text messages, or social media posts, while trying to complete important projects only erodes the work. I start one thing and focus on it for a set period of time. This is the key for me.

What book(s) have influenced your life the most? Why?

Drive by Daniel Pink and Untamed by Glennon Doyle.

The Drive helped me understand what motivates people, including kids, and this played a crucial role in how I rebuilt myself as an educator.

Untamed helped me see the world through the eyes of a marginalized woman, struggling with her place in a prejudiced society. As a privileged white male, I believe understanding the plight of all people helps me grow and become a more empathetic and productive person.

Do you have any quotes you live by or think of often?

“Tolerance of intolerance is cowardice.” — Ayaan Hirsi Ali