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Interview with Tim Ferriss of The 4-Hour Workweek – Part 1

Interview with Tim Ferriss of The 4-Hour Workweek – Part 1
Tim Ferriss

If you heard of a new book called The 4-Hour Workweek, you know who is Timothy Ferriss. Tim speaks six languages, runs a multinational firm from wireless locations worldwide, a national champion in Chinese kickboxing, and has been a popular guest lecturer at Princeton University since 2003. Recently his book caught my attention. The title itself is very attractive to me who work at least 40 hours per week (if not more). There are positive reviews about the book around blogosphere, and it is currently on #9 of the Amazon best-seller list. So I sent him a quick email to setup this interview and just get to know him more.

In Part 1 I ask Tim about some general questions, including his view on productivity and 20/80 rules. In Part 2, Tim gives me some great answers on his views on lifestyle, work life, and outsourcing.

Q: Tim, you have done a lot in your life – you are a kickboxing champion, a world record holder in tango, as well as running a multinational firm. What other things have you done in the last few years? Which are the things that you are most proud of?


TTT: There are a few fun ones that stand out, like finally training in kendo in Japan, where I killed myself last September and fulfilled a life-long dream, but I’m definitely most “proud” of conquering two fears.

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Learning to surf in Florianopolis, Brazil, was a huge win for me because I can only use one lung fully (due to being born prematurely), and I’ve always been deathly afraid of drowning. One good friend and I actually reserved a VIP table at the world-famous night club Confraria there — $60-100 USD per night — so I could finish editing my book over red wine and dancing locals at night. It was incredible, and I owe a lot to my friend, Chris, for keeping me from panicking in the water.

Second, writing this book required me to conquer serious inner demons. I was mildly dyslexic at a young age and still have a lot of trouble with dygraphia: miswriting and mixing up letters. Finishing my senior thesis in college almost killed me, and this book was more than twice the length. I’ll just remember the advice my former professor and Pulitzer prize winner John McPhee gave me when I first sold the book: “When it seems like writing is really, really hard, just remember: writing is really, really hard. I sit in front my my typewriter from 9 to 6 each day, and most of the time, I get nothing done.”

      Q: Your launch of your book, The 4-Hour Workweek, is extremely successful. Why do you think it is so popular and the idea is widely accepted?

      TTT: There are a few reasons. First, the topic hit at the right time. Forbes recently reported the new average workweek as 70 hours, and this will only increase. It’s unsustainable, just as I realized in 2004, and people want alternatives to postponing life for 20-30 years for a nebulous “retirement”. The 4-Hour Workweek offers a different menu of options — mini-retirements, outsourcing life, etc. — many of which people haven’t really seen before.

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      Second, I didn’t follow a top-down, Oprah-as-messiah PR and marketing plan. I’d love to be on Oprah, but seeking that stamp of approval is a gamble for a first-time author. For those familiar with Glenn Reynolds book “An Army of Davids”, I embraced a few groups of Davids and took an bottom-up approach, embracing thought leaders where possible, to harness the most efficient word-of-mouth network in the history of the world: social media. I give away plenty of ideas and stir up discussions — and arguments. I just want people to talk, and when you create enough noise, the books move. It hit the NY Times and Wall Street Journal lists based on the first 4 days of sales with no offline PR or advertising, and it’s been in the Amazon top 15 or so for five weeks now. I hoped for this, but I never could have expected it all to come together so well. Plenty of luck involved, I’m sure!

      Q: I love preaching about productivity, but you are taking productivity to the next level – wow, the 4 hour work week. I would say it is the holy grail of work-life. What are your tips to achieve this kind of productivity in your life?

      TTT: Think instead of react. Take frequent breaks and strive to constantly eliminate instead of organize. Create not-to-do lists and cancel, fire, subtract, and eliminate, eliminate, eliminate. If you remove all the static and distraction, priorities become clear, execution becomes a one-item to-do list, and time management isn’t even necessary. Honestly, this is the holy grail. It took me a long time to figure out that, in a digital world of infinite distraction and minutiae, he who has the least number of programs running in mental RAM wins. Every time. I’ve interviewed everyone from gold medalists to CEOs who make $100 million a year, and their one common characteristic is the ability to “single-task” without interruption. It’s deceptively hard if you don’t have a solid method.

      Q: I am a fan of the 20/80 rules, as you are. I realize it is not a scientific formula, but it gives an air-horn alert on what should we really be focusing on. People ask me how to effectively identify the 20% of work which produce the 80% of the output. What are your key factors to assess this?

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      TTT: Before we analyze, we have to answer the question: what are the metrics that matter? The metrics that matter are those that measure your progress towards a well-defined goal. Is it $X in profit? Is it a certain income-to-hours ratio? If you can’t measure it, you don’t understand it. To quote Peter Drucker: “what gets measured gets managed.” Let’s say it’s income-per-hour. I would first apply the 80/20 principle to a few areas: what are the 20% of customers/products/distributors that are producing 80% of the profit?

      Then we do the less common; we apply 80/20 to the negative: what are the 20% of activities and people that consume 80% of your time? Fire high-maintenance, low-profit customers; create communication barriers for time-consuming colleagues; train your boss to value performance over presence with clever documentation, create a not-to-do list of your “crutch tasks”, and outsource the rest.

      There is another approach for determining the critical few. Limit time. Here’s where we apply the lesser-known Parkinson’s Law, which dictates that a task will swell in perceived difficulty and complexity in direct proportion to the time we allot it. For example, if you suddenly find out that you have an emergency and need to leave the office at 2pm, what happens? You miraculously get the most important work done three hours early. In other words, we can use the 80/20 principle and Parkinson’s Law hand-in-hand. We use the 80/20 principle to limits tasks to the important to reduce time. We also use Parkinson’s to reduce time (short deadlines) to limit tasks to the important. Pretty cool — and jaw-droppingly effective — when used together.

      Q: You mentioned elimination is the key element in your productivity system. How is it different than optimizing process or system to save time? What type of people should take one or the other approach, or both together?

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      TTT: I think they’re the same thing — in my world. “Optimize” should mean removing the nonessential and minimally important until you’re left with the bare essentials necessary for producing the target result. This is what Arthur Jones, founder of Nautilus, would call the “minimum effective load”. Think 37 Signals and Occam’s Razor.

      Unfortunately, this word “optimize” is so overused as to be meaningless, so people usually use it to justify endless addition — of features, customers, options, rules, etc. — that complicates instead of simplifies. I wanted to be a comic book artist, a penciler, for almost a decade, and I still stick to the philosophy one New Yorker cartoonist taught me ages ago: when in doubt, black it out. Fewer is better and less is more. Perhaps you have an issue, a product, a situation, or a person that is extremely difficult to fix? Consider just eliminating them.

      We will cover part 2 of this interview tomorrow. Stay tuned!

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      Last Updated on June 20, 2019

      50 Businesses You Can Start In Your Spare Time

      50 Businesses You Can Start In Your Spare Time

      Most people want a few more dollars in their wallets. But between an employer and family, the time most of us can devote to a second job is severely limited. Running a small side business can provide a few more options: you don’t have to show up at a set time and you can use skills you already have. Not all will be perfect for everyone, of course, and I’m sure that you’ll have a few ideas of your own after reading this list. If you’d like to share any other business ideas, please add them in the comments.

      1. Selling collectibles — From antique books to teddy bears, there are plenty of opportunities to buy and sell collectibles. It’s important to familiarize yourself with the collectible of your choice but if you choose something that you’ve been collecting for a while, you’ve got a head start.
      2. Locating apartments — It can take time to sort through apartment listings, but you can make some money by finding the perfect apartment for a renter.
      3. Baby proofing — New parents often prefer to bring in an expert to make sure their home is safe for a new baby.
      4. Calligraphic writing — If you’ve got elegant handwriting, you can pick up gigs writing or addressing wedding invitations, holiday cards and more.
      5. Selling coupons — Search on eBay for coupons right now and you’ll see thousands of listings for coupons. It’s just a matter of clipping and listing what you find in your Sunday newspaper.
      6. Pet training — A surprising number of people don’t know where to start in training a pet. Even teaching Rover simple commands like ‘Sit’ and ‘Stay’ can bring in a few dollars.
      7. Running errands — A wide variety of people want to outsource their errands, from those folks who aren’t able to leave their homes easily to those who have a busy schedule.
      8. Researching family trees — Amateur genealogists often call in experts, especially to handle research that has to be done in person in a far off place. If you’re willing to go to a local church and copy a few records, you can handle many family tree research requests.
      9. Supplying firewood — The prerequisite for selling firewood is having a source of wood; if you’ve got some land where you can cut down a few trees, you’ve got a head start.
      10. Hauling — As more people trade in their SUVs for compact cars, hauling is becoming more important: people have to rent a truck or hire a hauler for even small loads.
      11. Image consulting — Image consultants provide a wide variety of services, ranging from offering advice on appearance to teaching etiquette.
      12. Menu planning — For many people, the trip up in eating home-cooked or healthy meals is knowing what to prepare. Meal planners set a schedule to solve certain dietary problems.
      13. Microfarming — Cultivating food and flowers on small plots of land allows you to sell produce easily.
      14. Offering notary public services — Notary publics can witness and authenticate documents: a service needed for all sorts of official documents.
      15. Teaching music — If you’re skilled with a musical instrument, you can earn money by offering lessons.
      16. Mystery shopping — Mystery shoppers check the conditions and service at a store and report back to the store’s higher-ups.
      17. Offering research services — Just by reading up on a topic and compiling a report on it can earn you money.
      18. Personal shopping — Personal shoppers typically select gifts, apparel and other products for clients, helping them save time.
      19. Pet breeding — Purebred pets can be quite value, especially if you can verify their pedigree.
      20. Removing snow — During the winter months, shoveling walks can still be a reliable way to earn money. You might be asked to take care of the driveway too.
      21. Utility auditing — As people become environmentally-concious, they want to know just how efficient their homes are. With some simple testing, you can tell them.
      22. Offering web hosting services — Providing server space can be lucrative, particularly if you can provide tech support to your clients.
      23. Cutting lawns — An old standby, cutting lawns and other landscaping services can provide a second income in the summer.
      24. Auctioning items on eBay — Want to get rid of all your old stuff? Stick it up on eBay and auction it off.
      25. Babysitting — Child care of all kinds, from babysitting to nannying, can offer constant opportunities.
      26. Freelance writing — If you’ve got the skills to write clearly, you can sell your pen for everything from blogs to advertising copy.
      27. Selling blog and website themes — Do a little designing on the side? Customers that don’t want to pay full price for a website will often pay for a template or theme.
      28. Offering computer help — Particularly with people new to computers, you can earn money by providing in-home computer help.
      29. Designing websites — It may require a little skilled effort, but designing websites remains a reliable source of income.
      30. Selling stock photography — For shutterbugs, an easy way to put a photography collection to work is to post it to a stock photography site.
      31. Freelance designing — Check with local businesses: you can provide brochures, business cards and other design work and get paid a good fee.
      32. Tutoring — Math and languages reamin the easiest subjects to find tutoring gigs for, but there is demand for other fields as well.
      33. Housesitting / petsitting — Stopping in to check on a house or pet can earn you some money, and maybe even a place to stay.
      34. Building niche websites — If you can put together a site on a very specific topic, you can put targeted ads on it and make money quickly.
      35. Translating — The variety of translating work available is huge: written word, on the spot and more is easy to find even on a part-time basis.
      36. Creating custom crafts — No matter what kind of crafts you make, there’s likely a market for it. Etsy remains one of the easiest places to sell crafts.
      37. Setting up a wi-fi hotspot — With a little bit of equipment, you can set up a wi-fi hotspot and charge your neighbors for the access they’ve been ‘borrowing.’
      38. Selling an e-book — You can write an e-book about almost anything and put it up for sale online.
      39. Affiliate marketing — If you’re willing to market other companies’ products, you can earn a cut of the sales.
      40. Renting out your spare room — From looking for a long-term roommate to listing your guest room on couch surfing sites, that spare room can make you money.
      41. Offering handy man services — Handling small household tasks can provide you with plenty of work, although you’ll probably be expected to have your own tools.
      42. Teaching an online class — Share your expertise through a website, an online seminar or variety of other methods.
      43. Building furniture — For those with the skill to create handmade furniture, selling their creations is often just a matter of advertising.
      44. Providing personal chef services — Personal chefs prepare meals ahead of time for customers, leaving their customers with a full freezer and no mess.
      45. Event planning — From planning corporate events to bar mitzvahs, an event planning business can require plenty of work and offer plenty of pay.
      46. Installing home safety products — Particularly as Baby Boomers age, people able to install handrails and other home safety products are in demand.
      47. Altering / tailoring — If your sewing skills are up to par, altering garments is coming back as people try to stretch more wear out of their clothing.
      48. Offering in-home beauty services — Hair cuts, makeup and other beauty services that can be performed at home have a growing demand.
      49. Business coaching — Helping others to establish and develop their businesses can provide many opportunities to earn money.
      50. Writing resumes — Writing resumes can provide a reliable income, especially if you can put a polish on a client’s credentials.

      There are plenty of offers that claim to provide you with the opportunity to make thousands of dollars a week. Unfortunately, none of these businesses will provide that sort of income, but they aren’t scams either. They were chosen because they all require a minimum investment to get started — some require nothing more than a flyer advertising your business. Even better, if you do enjoy any of these businesses, there is a potential with most of them to continue to expand — perhaps even to the point of going full time.

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      Featured photo credit: Omar Prestwich via unsplash.com

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