Scott Young is a Wall Street Journal bestselling author, podcast host, programmer, and entrepreneur. He has published weekly essays on his website to help people like you learn and think better. Scott is the author of the bestseller Ultralearning, a book that contains an essential guide to future-proof your career and maximizes your competitive advantage through self-education.
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 small town in Northern Manitoba. I grew up in a good family environment, but I found high school to be somewhat restricting. I think it was this experience of being somewhat isolated that pushed me to do more stuff online—the connection to communities of people interested in self-improvement, for instance, was a big help when I was far from cities where meeting those kinds of people in person was possible.
What is something you wish you would’ve realized earlier in your life?
I don’t have a good answer here. Not because I haven’t learned anything over time, but simply because I’ve learned too much. I see learning itself as the main path in life—to go back with the knowledge you already possess is, in a certain sense, to go back already having completed your goal. Figuring things out is the essence of life.
What is one thing that you do that you feel has been the biggest contributor to your success so far?
I think sticking with it has been my strongest point. I wrote a blog nearly daily for five years before I was able to make a go of it financially. It’s now been almost 15 years. I don’t think I’m a particularly talented writer or thinker, but I’ve outlasted a lot of people who might have had more talent but less patience.
What is your morning routine?
These days I’m usually up by seven, which is around the time our one-year-old wakes up. Morning routine is with family—breakfast, getting ready, and so on. I’ve had lots of different routines in time. I don’t think the particulars matter so much, but I do think the idea of having a routine is often helpful for establishing a rhythm for your day.
What habit or behavior that you have pursued for a few years has most improved your life?
The best habits to make are usually: (1) getting enough sleep, (2) exercising regularly, (3) having a productivity system, (4) keeping track of your finances. They aren’t exciting or novel, but I think they form a pretty good foundation.
What are your strategies for being productive and using your time most efficiently?
I think the most important factor is the projects you pursue. Being a workhorse and getting a lot done in limited time matters, but it’s something that is more heavily constrained. You can work really hard, boost your productivity by 50% or 100% temporarily. You can eliminate distractions and make sure you get everything done on your to-do list. Yet, there are limits here to what can be achieved. In contrast, choosing the right goals or strategy can have a 10x impact on your results. Thus, I tend to think productivity-as-getting-a-lot-done is typically overrated, whereas productivity-as-strategy is underrated.
What book(s) have influenced your life the most? Why?
This is a hard one! I tend to have the view that it isn’t so much one or two books, but a regular habit of reading a lot that impacts your life. So the question isn’t which book, but the habit of having read hundreds of books that really make the difference.
If I had to pick a few really good books, I’d recommend Atomic Habits, Deep Work, So Good They Can’t Ignore You, Getting Things Done, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, and The Effective Executive.
Do you have any quotes you live by or think of often?
“A ship is safe in the harbor, but that’s not what ships are built for.” Has always been a favorite.