As promised, I had an IM interview with the highly-successful author Tim Ferriss. Tim (among his many incredible feats) released a book called The 4-Hour Work Week, and it has instantly become a mega-hit. Fortunately, I was able to catch up with the renaissance man for about a half an hour. While this may not seem like much time, for Tim it’s astronomical.
Since Tim only works 4-Hour Weeks, and the norm for the rest of us suckers is 40, that means we need to multiply the time by 10. By my calculations, Tim essentially spent 5 hours on the interview. Needless to say, I’m very grateful for Tim’s time. ;)
Instead of asking Tim all of the normal questions (IE “How did a first-time author like you get Random House to publish your book?!!”), I thought I’d focus more on the creative process of actually writing the book. I’ve already written a review on the book and its basic arguments, so I won’t rehash those. I’d recommend reading it so you can get a better idea of his concepts. Oh, and be sure to pick up the book (Barnes and Noble, Amazon). Tim’s on the verge of national bestseller lists, and we love to help a brotha out as much as we can.
So without further ado, on with the interview!
Ok Tim, this little book you’ve written is creating quite a stir among slaves of the 9-5 work day. Where did you get the idea for this book? What was the “tipping point” for your decision for writing it?
The ideas came to me after a few years of giving my guest lectures at Princeton in high-tech entrepreneurship. I had reached the limits of my business model at the time (hours in, income out) and began to realize that our overwork ethic is based on assumptions that are completely unfounded and obsolete. I began experimenting with alternatives — mini-retirements, outsourcing life, firing customers — and the results were astounding. I made me furious that I’d wasted so much time doing what was popular instead of what worked.
Creative ideas (like the one behind your book) mean nothing unless they’re put into motion. You’ve certainly done a great job of doing this with the 4HWW. How did you put book into motion? Did you have any tricks that helped motivate and keep you focused on your goal?
The first key is to find models: sample book proposals, marketing plans, and actually books that you can emulate. The last can be found in bookstores, and the first two can be found by making friends with successful authors and agents.
Second, I never outline with a computer. Technology is a tool used to accomplish a practical task. Digital tools are overestimated and overused — they’re generally very linear and don’t model brainstorming well. I outlined everything on paper, and I had both a Table of Contents and chapter summaries before I started writing chapter 1.
To complete a book, I believe income as a motivator is insufficient. It is a brutal, time-consuming process, and publishing is not an efficient vehicle for income generation. I wanted to do one thing: affect more people the way I’d affected my students at Princeton. To show the millions of people dissatisfied with our live-to-work culture that it isn’t necessary. There are other options.
Interesting. Ok, so I’ve found that some of my best ideas never seem to come at opportune times. This seems to happen to a lot of “creative types” like yourself. Can you think of any specific times or unrelated activities that seemed to stimulate creativity for the book?
Two things. 1) Going for a bike ride of at least 30 minutes outside. Stationary bikes don’t cut it. 2) Watching comedies. I tend to do the first in the morning after an espresso but before doing any work, and the latter late at night (10pm+) after training for fighting.
Interesting. I’ve never heard of using comedy as a creativity instigator. I’ll have to try that ;)
Most succesful people fail many times before they succeed. Like you mention in your book a few times, you are no exception. How many business ideas have you failed at before you actually became “successful”? (This is to give hope to the rest of us ;) )
LOL… more than I’ll admit in this interview! No, seriously — I’d say a good half dozen. That said, I’ve never lost much investment because I am a compulsive micro-tester. I test small and then ramp ideas that return a specific ROI. I’m ruthless with this. It’s very popular, for example, for media (TV, radio, magazines, etc.) to claim that you need to repeat advertising to see an ROI. “Research shows that someone needs to see your ad an average of 27 impressions before they’ll act” and so on. Nonsense. Good advertising with a proper call-to-action will work the first time every time. Measure, measure, measure.
My precise process for micro-testing any product for less than $500 is laid-out in detail the book, something I was advised not to do.
Very interesing. I like the idea of manageable failure.
Ok, this next question goes out to all the productivity tools blog readers. What’s your favorite method to storing ideas, thoughts, tasks, etc. What’s worked best for you?
Simple: stitched notebook. I try and keep one concept, interview, or finding per page, and I number the pages and create an index on the inside cover as I go. For contacts and calendar, I use Outlook and a PDA with — this is important — NO internet connectivity. I use the Palm Z-22. For tasks, I use Outlook calendar for appointments with specific times, but I use paper for the important tasks with no pre-set deadlines. I’ll fold an 8.5 x 11 piece of paper until it’s about the size of my palm, put the top 3 to-do’s for the day on it, number them in order of importance, and keep this list in my pocket. Whenever I find myself distracted or wondering what to do, I pull this piece of paper out. It’s important to have your single most important task selected. For each task on your list, just ask yourself “if this were the only thing I accomplished today, would I be satisfied with my output?” Go down the list until you find a good answer and complete this task before lunch.
I’m guessing that while you were writing your book, you were under some fairly rigid deadlines. Did you find those deadlines helpful? Many people hold to the fact that constraints really help foster creativity.
I don’t know if deadlines help creativity, but they force execution of the important. Recall Parkinson’s Law: the perceived complexity and difficulty of a task will swell to fill the time you allot it. I actually didn’t have too many set deadlines with the book until the manuscript was submitted, so I needed to breakdown the process into 24-48-hour tasks and milestones. I treated each chapter as a magazine article and approached it as such. I turned in my book early and had no major editing needed after-the-fact.
Deadlines are sacred. The alternative is no deadlines, and that doesn’t create the time pressure that forces execution. It’s deadlines or nothing.
Wow, great stuff here. Tim, thanks so much for your time, and good luck with your book launch!
My pleasure. :)