In certain circles, Tim Ferriss is something of a demigod. He is primarily known for his phenomenally bestselling book, The 4-Hour Work Week and others in the series that follow the basic premise of minimizing effort in a way that maximizes output – whether it refers to perfecting your management workflow to give you more time to enjoy life outside of work, or sculpting the body you want.
But before he wrote the book that was rejected by 26 publishers before being given a limited press run by the last one, Ferriss had to put his radical ideas to the test in his own life.
Much of what he advocates in The 4-Hour Work Week stems from his experience in learning to automate the running of his then-company, the dietary supplements supply company BrainQuicken. While he was bringing home significant amounts of money ($40,000 a month according to one source) he was also working himself ragged with non-stop work, seven days a week.
“I think time management as a label encourages people to view each 24-hour period as a slot in which they should pack as much as possible,” Ferriss says in a 2013 interview with Inc.com’s Tom Foster.
This, he realized, was no way to live a life. In order to re-evaluate his own life, he decided he needed to take a soul-searching break for four weeks in Europe, and began to automate and outsource the daily operations of his business. (Ferriss is also an investor in the outsourcing start-up TaskRabbit, where he found his personal assistant.)
When he discovered how incredibly efficiently his autopilot program was working, four weeks off turned into 15 months of travelling the world – essentially living the life most people aspire towards – and his business went from selling nutritional supplements to selling people an idea. Namely, that there is a way to maximize what you get out of life in a way that requires less input, and gives you more time to enjoy life now, versus waiting to enjoy it after you retire at 60.
This has led to three consecutive best-selling books on radical lifestyle design – The 4-Hour Work Week, The 4-Hour Body and most recently, The 4-Hour Chef.
Becoming the go-to self-help guru of the Internet generation has made it pretty hard to follow his own advice to take a month off for every two worked. In 2013 he took a one-month vacation – one of his own advocated “mini-retirements” – leaving behind his laptop and assigning all his daily activities to be managed by an assistant. He then travelled to Bali, where he lived with an Indonesian pig-farming family with the aim of learning the language fluently by the end of the four-week trip.
With that example, Ferriss walks his talk. First, by stepping back from his work to see how well it functioned without his constant hands-on attendance, he was able to ensure that the system was running at peak efficiency, and second, in his effort to master a language in four weeks, he was living out one of his primary driving principles of maximizing output in minimal time frames.
Not for nothing has he been compared to a high-tech Japanese auto factory in the rigidly efficient way he tackles running his own life.
While there are many lessons to be learned from the man who’s been considered this generation’s pre-eminent self-help guru, let’s take a page from his book and distil them into a couple of key points:
Strategic, focused effort is key.
For Ferriss, interpreting Pareto’s Law to hack your life means recognizing that 80% of your productivity comes from 20% of your efforts.
As Tom Foster writes,
“For maximum productivity, in his view, people should focus on doing less, not more. The point is to maximize the outcome, not the amount of work…Ferriss has his own version of a high feed conversion ratio, in which he goes native and absorbs as much of an experience as possible, as quickly as possible, with a kind of obsessive discipline.”
The key here is to discover how to concentrate as much energy as possible on the most productive 20% of your time, and cut loose any causes of wasted, inefficient time for drastically increased productivity.
You can’t just set up systems and not test them.
This, in Ferriss-speak, refers to his emphasis on the need to constantly test and re-evaluate the your life hacks in order to improve efficiency, in much the same way security firms might hire a hacker in order to spot weaknesses in the system so as to strengthen them.
This is seen most clearly in his Bali trip, but also pops up in other aspects of his personal and professional life. While writing The 4-Hour Body, for example, he was obsessive about measuring and tracking data, even going as far as to weigh his own feces! But this is the kind of testing that allows you to know when you’re making measurable progress – after all, how else will you know when to break out the celebratory champagne?
Success is as much about building the right relationships as it is about hard work and talent.
Ferriss is known as a consummate salesman. When his first book was published, the publishing house only released an initial run of 12,000 copies. The history-making sales all came from the walking, talking, self-marketing machine that is Tim Ferriss. It’s public knowledge that his first and subsequent books gained more success from the bloggers who reviewed it than the major news outlets that covered it – simply because he had already invested time in cultivating relationships with the former on an individual level.
Tim Ferriss is his own best advertisement; it’s this type of concentrated lifestyle design that he embraces in everyday life that we aim to learn from here at Year One.
While not all self-help programs can be identically ported to your own life, it’s important to be able to recognize what’s attainable in your current situation. While Ferriss’ upper-class upbringing and Priceton education sets him in a different situation from someone who may struggle to afford student loans, there are admirable qualities in advocating hustle and making your work life more efficient.