Nikita Voloboev giving a TED talk
Nikita Voloboev
Entrepreneur, Programmer
August 02, 2018

Interview with Nikita, an entrepreneur building a website to learn anything

Nikita is an entrepreneur working on his startup while optimizing his productivity—learn how he organizes his life and work to maximize happiness

How did you get started with remote work?

I started with working remotely quite naturally. The only real 'job' I had was university in that I had to actually physically go there and be present at times.

However I was always working on some personal ideas I had in form of various projects. I discovered GitHub a few years ago and fell in love with how easy it was to share projects I made there. It didn't have to be code and I could write something in a README file and git push and it was online for the whole world to see. I started sharing my notes on GitHub, first as normal files then, in form of mind maps and later it grew into an actual website with code that I helped work on in a team.

Working remotely in that sense was completely natural since Learn Anything is an open source project, there is not one single place I have to be to make any changes to it and improve it. I just need an internet connection and a laptop.

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What are you working on?

My current main project is Learn Anything. It's a very ambitious project with many ideas that I hope to implement.

In short the goal is to make a kind of Netflix for learning where you can learn anything in the most optimal way considering the things you know already and what you want to know and achieve.

I also am very passionate about good tools and macOS so I build a lot of personal projects that boost my productivity in some way. Usually that happens in form of Alfred workflows that I then also publish on GitHub.

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What's your typical work routine?

I like to be very methodical in anything I do and as I am deeply passionate about optimizing things. I try to always be aware of how I spend my time.

As far as optimizations go, I try to optimize my happiness first and foremost, which includes looking after my body with exercise, following a mostly whole foods pescetarian diet and fostering great relationships.

I also am very focused on cultivating good habits, one of these habits is waking up and going to sleep at approximately the same time. Waking up in the morning, not using the phone in bed, exercising for 1 hour every morning either by running, playing tennis or going to the gym.

I also am working towards a habit of eating two salads every day and tracking all the food I eat. I greatly automate all parts of that so tracking the food I eat takes seconds as I have a big collection of recipes I choose from saved in Paprika that I later transfer to MyFitnessPal once I eat the meal.

I also work on one task at a time and track all the time on my computer and with iOS 12 on phone too. I then analyze this data and make adjustments to my routine and life based on it and use tools like Focus to block out any apps or websites that I find myself spending too much time on.

I also have a unique workflow where I have Focus app activating automatically for 90 minutes every two hours. I can only work on the things I need to work on during this time. At the end of it, I track the time in Timing and can take a small break. Make some tea, exercise or quickly look at any news or messages waiting for me.

Nikita uses the Timing app to keep track of where he's spending his time.

Nikita uses the Timing app to keep track of where he's spending his time.

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Do you have a dedicated space to work?

When I work from home, I do have a dedicated space I work from.

It's a simple desk that only has my macbook (as I found it harder to focus with multiple monitors). And I have a small meal cup with water or tea by my side at all times.

I try to fully focus for 90 minutes and then take small breaks where I can do what I want and even check news that get unblocked for me for that time.

I always put my phone in do not disturb mode as I found ringing notifications to be the worst offender to productivity. In fact I keep my phone in DND mode throughout the most of the day as I try to practice a more proactive approach to life rather than reactive. In this way the recent features added to iOS 12 were amazing.

For working from home, the desk I use is not currently a standing desk as the ones I did find were quite expensive but in future I would love to use an adjustable standing desk and vary long periods of sitting with standing. I also found myself to be more productive when standing.

Nikita working on his website Learn Anything

Nikita working on his website Learn Anything

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How do you decide priorities?

One of the best additions I have added to my workflow was a Trello board I made called 'Focus'. It's a simple board that has four columns: Temp & Always projects, Goals and Always.

I then mark the cards I want to focus on completing in this moment in time and work towards it.

Usually everything is done in context of my bigger and more long term goals although I don't plan too much ahead of time and just try and make things and see where that leads me.

The approach that worked tremendously well in staying productive is GTD

In that I keep nearly nothing in my memory that is not related to solving the problem I have at hand. Everything else is determined for me already with software (2Do task manager in my case) and I just choose what problems I want to solve today and work towards solving them.

Nikita uses a private Trello board where he outline things that he want to focus on in life and achieve.

Nikita uses a private Trello board where he outline things that he want to focus on in life and achieve.

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What tools do you use to stay productive?

My absolute favorite tool for working remotely is GitHub.

GitHub allows the entire world to collaborate on working on code projects no matter where you are located. I use Bee app to stay on top of all my GitHub projects and their issues and I apply a GTD approach there so I sort the issues I want to work on based on priority.

I use many tools that all help with working remotely but one of the big issues with working remotely is having proper communication channels. For that I personally love and use Telegram and the open source project I am working on (Learn Anything) uses it primarily. I dislike Slack/Discord for their lack of native apps on macOS.

Other than those tools, Fantastical, 2Do and Trello let me focus my time in the way I see fit and that helps working tremendously.

I also share nearly all the Trello boards I use publicly so anyone can get a feel for what my workflow with the tool is like.

Nikita shares his Trello boards publicly so you can see how he works.

Nikita shares his Trello boards publicly so you can see how he works.

I also have a habit of documenting everything. Everything I know is documented somewhere that both I and the entire world can reference. Currently this is achieved through writing articles on Medium and keeping a constantly up-to-date personal wiki with GitBook.

For example, check out my list of amazing macOS apps.

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How do you stay on task?

Aside from my highly streamlined workflow of where my ideas/tasks go and how I can start working on the one by one.

Practicing mindfulness throughout my day is one of the best returns on investments I made in life.

I use Oak app and often listen to sounds of fireplace or rain when working. It helps me keep focus and minimizes distractions.

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What do you like about remote work?

I like the freedom of being able to work from anywhere.

Not being bound by any location and also time is a really great thing. Although it does require discipline to be effective with this freedom.

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What do you not like about remote work?

I like working with people and solving problems together. Brainstorming on white boards and generally talking with other people about interesting things.

Remote communication lacks the human element I find.

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Nikita Voloboev

Nikita, Founder of Learn Anything, an open source website to learn anything most efficiently. He loves open source, macOS and building and using great tools.

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