Sometimes, life seems upside-down.
I originally wrote this post months ago, but I’ve been too self-conscious to publish it until now. This quote convinced me to put on my big girl pants:
“The moment that you feel that, just possibly, you’re walking down the street naked, exposing too much of your heart and your mind and what exists on the inside, showing too much of yourself. That’s the moment you may be starting to get it right.”
– Neil Gaiman
So, here goes, and I hope it helps at least a few of you.
A few months ago, I had a birthday party.
A dozen friends and I gathered for several days of wonderful sun, beach, and catching up. On the last day, I didn’t get up until 11:30am, knowing full well that the last remaining friends were leaving at 12 noon.
I was afraid of being alone.
Like a child, I hid my head under the covers (literally) and hit snooze until reality couldn’t be postponed any further.
But…why am I telling you this?…
The Dangerous Myths of “Successful” People
We all like to appear “successful” (a nebulous term at best) and the media like to portray standouts as superheroes.
Sometimes, these dramatic stories of overcoming the odds are inspiring. More often, they lead to an unhealthy knee-jerk conclusion:
“Well… maybe they [entrepreneur/artist/creator painted as superhero] can do it, but I’m just a normal guy/girl…”
This post is intended to give a behind-the-scenes look at my own life. Though I’ve occasionally done profiles like A Day In The Life with Morgan Spurlock’s crew, I rarely let journalists follow me for a “normal” day. Why?
I’m no superhero. I’m not even a consistent “normal.”
In the last 3 months, I’ve:
- Cried while watching Rudy.
- Repeatedly hit Snooze for 1-3 HOURS past my planned wake time, because I simply didn’t want to face the day.
- Considered giving everything away and moving to Montreal, Seville, or Iceland. Location varies based on what I’m escaping.
- Seen a therapist for the first time, as I was convinced that I was doomed to life-long pessimism.
- Used gentlemanly (ahem) websites to “relax” during the day when I clearly have urgent and important shit to do. 1
- Taken my daily caffeine intake (read: self-medication) so high that my “resting” pulse was 120+ beats per minute. 8-10 cups of coffee per day minimum.
- Worn the same pair of jeans for a week straight just to have a much-needed constant during weeks of chaos.
Seems pretty dysfunctional, right?
But, in the last 8 weeks, I’ve also:
- Increased my passive income 20%+.
- Bought my dream house.
- Meditated twice per day for 20 minutes per session, without fail. This marks the first time I’ve been able to meditate consistently.
- I’ve cut my caffeine intake to next-to-nothing (in the last 4 weeks): usually pu-erh tea in the morning and green tea in the afternoon. I’ve had no more than 1 cup of coffee per week. More on this in a later post.
- With your help, raised $100,000+ for charity:water for my birthday. (Thanks to John Park for bringing the thunder!)
- Raised $250,000 in 53 minutes for a start-up called Shyp.
- Signed one of the most exciting business deals of my last 10 years.
- Added roughy 20 pounds of muscle after learning the pain and joy of high-rep front squats (and topical DHEA, courtesy of Patrick Arnold).
- Transformed my blood work.
- Realized — once again — that manic-depressive symptoms are just part of entrepreneurship.
- Come to feel closer to all my immediate family members.
Most “superheroes” are nothing of the sort. They’re weird, neurotic creatures who do big things DESPITE lots of self-defeating habits and self-talk.
Personally, I suck at efficiency (doing things quickly). Here’s my coping mechanism and 8-step process for maximizing efficacy (doing the right things):
1) Wake up at least 1 hour before you have to be at a computer screen. E-mail is the mind killer.
2) Make a cup of tea (I like pu-erh) and sit down with a pen/pencil and paper.
3) Write down the 3-5 things — and no more — that are making you most anxious or uncomfortable. They’re often things that have been punted from one day’s to-do list to the next, to the next, to the next, and so on. Most important usually = most uncomfortable, with some chance of rejection or conflict.
4) For each item, ask yourself:
– “If this were the only thing I accomplished today, would I be satisfied with my day?”
– “Will moving this forward make all the other to-do’s unimportant or easier to knock off later?”
5) Look only at the items you’ve answered “yes” to for at least one of these questions.
6) Block out at least 2-3 hours to focus on ONE of them for today. Let the rest of the urgent but less important stuff slide. It will still be there tomorrow.
7) TO BE CLEAR: Block out at least 2-3 HOURS to focus on ONE of them for today. This is ONE BLOCK OF TIME. Cobbling together 10 minutes here and there to add up to 120 minutes does not work.
8) If you get distracted or start procrastinating, don’t freak out and downward spiral; just gently come back to your ONE to-do.
Congratulations! That’s it.
This is the only way I can create big outcomes despite my never-ending impulse to procrastinate, nap, and otherwise fritter away my days with bullshit. If I have 10 important things to do in a day, it’s 100% certain nothing important will get done that day. On the other hand, I can usually handle 1 must-do item and block out my lesser behaviors for 2-3 hours a day.
It doesn’t take much to seem superhuman and appear “successful” to nearly everyone around you. In fact, you just need one rule: What you do is more important than how you do everything else, and doing something well does not make it important.
If you consistently feel the counterproductive need for volume and doing lots of stuff, put these on a Post-it note:
- Being busy is a form of laziness–lazy thinking and indiscriminate action.
- Being busy is most often used as a guise for avoiding the few critically important but uncomfortable actions.
And when — despite your best efforts — you feel like you’re losing at the game of life, remember: Even the best of the best feel this way sometimes. When I’m in the pit of despair, I recall what iconic writer Kurt Vonnegut said about his process: “When I write, I feel like an armless, legless man with a crayon in his mouth.”
Don’t overestimate the world and underestimate yourself. You are better than you think.
And you are not alone.
And If You Struggle…
If you occasionally struggle like me, these resources and articles might help you rebound:
The Prescription for Self-Doubt (Video)
Harnessing Entrepreneurial Manic-Depression: Making the Rollercoaster Work for You
Two Root Causes of My Recent Depression (by Brad Feld, one of my favorite start-up investors)
Did you find this post helpful? Please let me know, and if you have any particular strategies or quotes that help get you out of funks, please share in the comments!
Note from the editor: For more productivity advice, check out the following videos on YouTube from Tim:
- Any guy who insists he’s never done this should not be trusted. ↩
The Tim Ferriss Show is one of the most popular podcasts in the world with more than 900 million downloads. It has been selected for "Best of Apple Podcasts" three times, it is often the #1 interview podcast across all of Apple Podcasts, and it's been ranked #1 out of 400,000+ podcasts on many occasions. To listen to any of the past episodes for free, check out this page.
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1,019 Replies to “"Productivity" Tricks for the Neurotic, Manic-Depressive, and Crazy (Like Me)”
An extremely honest and insightful post. Thank you Tim.
It can be hard to remember that our idols and role models are fallible people just like ourselves.
Thanks Tim. This kind of busy procrastination is exactly my achilles heal, and your solution is exactly what we need — boldly confronting our fears and self doubts, while remembering, we aren’t alone in our insecurities, in fact, it unites us. Let’s all face our fears together — combined, our fears don’t stand a chance. Sincerely, a huge thanks Tim for your willingness to expose your vulnerabilities. I’m going to do more of the same, and I’m sure it will help me move past these tasks and ideas that are holding me back.
Love it. The two questions are important I think because that second one seems more neglected…
1. “If this were the only thing I accomplished today, would I be satisfied with my day?”
2. “Will moving this forward make all the other to-do’s unimportant or easier to knock off later?”
It’s OK to do little things if they enable you to do the big things. Good stuff.
absolutely agree with you Ben. The same is valid for me!
Word Up, G
I’ve always loved reading about the ACTUAL day-to-day struggles my “heroes” and successful people go through. It’s a nice reassurance that despite not yet achieving my version of success, it’s possible to do so AND be an armless, legless man with a crayon in my mouth.
I’ve found that blocking out ONE thing to do is really the game-changer. To hell with everything else; that one “must-do” will get done this way. Actually something I learned from your work.
Two of my favorite “get your ass in gear” quotes actually came from fortune cookies.
“You can’t build a reputation on what you are going to do.”
“Before the beginning of great brilliance, there must be chaos.”
Hope these resonate with others as well as they’ve resonated with myself. Thanks Tim!
Awesome quotes, Mark!
Need to get me some fortune cookies.
Getting up 1-2 hours before I normally would in the last month has been a more productive chunk of time than anything else during the day. This could be a welcome addition!
Thanks for opening up enough to share this. I breathed a sigh of relief; my productivity goes up and down, so this will help me to be more consistent.
You’re not alone, duder. Amen. Pass the mustard.
In a random psychic reading about 10 days ago, he simply told me this: your joy is in your crazy. Stop fighting it. People are waiting for you.
Whoops… didn’t mean for the dbaggery of not putting my real name up 🙂
Thanks for sharing your crazy joy!
It’s true, lots of us are waiting for you.
My day is better now:)
a) We love you Tim
b) this is an awesome post, super helpful and full of value. I’m going to start applying asap
Great post, Tim.
The steps you outlined are very close to how I’ve been approaching things, though I tend to make my list the night before.
However, I’ve noticed I sometimes use “the list” as a scapegoat (similar to how you mentioned) for true productivity; thinking that doing xx little things is equal or great than the one or two things I should really be doing.
Maybe I’ll write down that second sticky note you suggested. 🙂
This just popped up on my Facebook and you have hit the nail on the head! I have read your articles for years and 4HWW came across my plate just as I was heading on a walkabout. It definitely provided me with some comfort and direction.
Again great article and I too hit the snooze button a few too many times today.
This post definitely came at the right time, thanks so much for sharing. I always had to many things on my to do list, but finally realized that I get way more done if i stick to 2-3 really important tasks. Also waking up early in the morning has boosted my productivity a lot.
My best productivity tip that works for me is to stay healthy and do some daily exercise, like crossfit, dancing or running.
Keep up the awesome work!
I like that idea. I had the opposite reaction, deciding to go overboard and try a superhuman productivity effort for the next two weeks. It’s actually coming along okay, but I’ve realized how close I was to my ideal before, when I felt miserable and wasn’t accomplishing anything.
It just takes conscious definition of goals and some self awareness to realize how much you’re doing.
If you’re interested, I wrote about the Superhero Challenge in more detail here: http://zachobront.com/superman
Tim thank you for writing this. I struggle with depression and procrastination as well. A lot of the time I feel like even though I have had a fair amount of success in my life, like my difficulties consistently performing at a high level have held me back from really achieving the big goals I have.
It’s very resassuring to me to see one of the people who I look up to and whose general lifestyle and many thought processes I try to model my life after, to see that they also struggle with these same kind of issues. Thank you for opening up about this Tim, this is something that truly helps me know that I can make it.
You should read The Willpower Instinct if you haven’t.
You know what’s funny, Tim, I always attributed the rollercoaster of emotion/productivity to drug imbalances (I am/was/try not to be a high user of caffeine). Glad to hear “superhumans” like you experience the same “normal” feelings we do. Your guidance has helped me go from manic workaholic (SpaceX + 5 hour energies = depression city) to a successful and happy leader. Thanks for the inspiration!
I’ve been inspired and motived by your work but this is your best. I needed to hear this, Thank You Tim!
Thank you for sharing this post; I feel the same way many times and the true is that nobody talks about it and thats make it just worse. Self consciousness is helping me a lot ( on this matter I recommend the books: ” The power of habit” & “Your brain at work” )
One thing I´m using now ant it works great is to take a picture with my phone of the 3 most important things I have to do during the day and set it as my background picture on my iPhone…
learning a lot from you, thanks for sharing.
“take a picture with my phone of the 3 most important things I have to do during the day and set it as my background picture on my iPhone…” – what a brilliant idea!!! Thanks for sharing, definitely gonna borrow it from you:)
I agree Eduardo, the iPhone background idea is a great motivator!
This is a fantastic article Tim. Brutally honest. Going into the problems that so many people don’t think about but are so common among even the most successful people. I have gone through some tough times, in fact I find that every year or two I fall into a mood where my productivity falls and I just want to stay in bed all day. Slowly I overcome this and fall back into the grind. Everyone goes through tough times, and everyone can get themselves out of them. It is inspiring to see that you have the courage to talk about these issues. I’m sure it will only make you more popular among your fans, whatever you say, your a superhero to me!
Way to lead large Timothy Ferris.
Thank you. Sincerely.
This really helps!! I use this as my alarm every morning http://youtu.be/SuPLxQD4akQ
Thanks for sharing this!
Tim, thanks for being unapologetically open about your tendency to procrastinate. Its a healthy dose of reality for people to know there is a human side to you that so many can relate to (vs aspiring to).
I really resonate with what you say about email first thing in the morning being a mind (and focus) killer! Its been a big realisation for me to change habits from checking my phone first thing in the morning for up to 30 min a day, to focusing one the one most important thing for the day.
I’ve blogged about it here, and your thoughts in the past have helped inspire this:
Hope you like it.
And congrats on the new house, 20min X 2 daily meditations, and particularly to feeling closer to those you care about. Reminds me of your long island cooking story with your family from 4HC.
Always enjoy reading your post. Very ready for your tv series to air.
Please keep it ip and create us a podcast soon!
Great post Tim! Appreciate the transparency and honesty brother!
Love this post! And perfect timing really needed this one!! I appreciate your courage and transparency that’s why you my hero!! Thanks Tim!! :e))))
Hey Tim , thanks a lot for writing this , It takes a lot of guts to be publicly vulnerable I admire you now even more for doing it .
It´s very refreshing to hear from someone who has accomplished so much it also struggles sometimes to get stuff done. I´ll keep this post on my Evernote for those dark days.
Great post and actually very powerful! I worried at first that you might suffer tomorrow from “Jerry Maguire post-epiphany” syndrome. But after reading the rest of the post and it’s clear that you’ve got something here (and many of is can relate). Courageous and valuable. Thanks for exposing 🙂
It’s not possible to watch Rudy without crying
Ironically, this is the first thought I had about this post too! I would also say that Tim’s footnote could apply to this item even moreso: “Any guy who insists he’s never done this should not be trusted.” Any man who can get in touch with his emotions when inspired by a truly great feature film is MORE of a man…not less!!!
Tim – I am very impressed. It took some balls to write this post + I felt as if I was reading an email from a friend. It’s definitely something that made me think about my own life.
“…For each item, ask yourself:
– “If this were the only thing I accomplished today, would I be satisfied with my day?” – simple, but brilliant. I noticed myself that sometimes accomplishing this one uncomfortable, but critical task can give me more satisfaction and fulfillment than crossing 29 random items from my TO DO list.
Great dinner for the brain – live long Tim!
I’m a 20 year old entrepreneur from Vancouver. I have long carried the 4HWW with me, quoting your practices and using your methods. (Currently working on 2 products and collaborating on a third business!) Recently I’ve had a ton of self doubt myself. It’s tough seeing all your friends going to university pursuing “real jobs” while you spend the days at home, negotiating with manufactures and retailers, getting your products out there and trying to create passive income. I just want to say thank you for writing this blog post. It is very timely for me, and helps me keep on track, and realize that self doubt is normal and okay!
See you on the Shopify Build a Business Competition!
I hear you on consistency being the No. 1 difficulty with meditation. I’ve been fighting it for the last 4 years, despite having become a fairly advanced meditator overall. As for motivational content, I review Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art for time to time and it almost magically kicks my ass back into motion.
Firstly, there is nothing wrong with wearing the same pair of jeans for a week as long as they don’t smell.
Thank you for doing this post, it is exactly what I needed to read. Sometimes, when I’m about to chicken out of doing something I know I should do (that usually involves some chance of rejection), I think to myself “what would Tim Ferriss do?”. That usually gives me the push I need to do it. But it’s nice to know that even Tim Ferriss find it hard being Tim Ferriss sometimes.
WWTFD bracelets? There’s your muse.
Done. I’ll buy one.
Amen about the jeans Jared! LoL!
This may be your best post ever, and that is saying a lot! You have been such an inspiration to me, but it always seemed like you set a standard that a chump like me could never achieve. Thanks for sharing!
Life is spectacular, sometimes you’re flying high, other times you find yourself in the pit of loneliness, unhappiness, and extreme self doubt. When you hit that place, I find long meals with good friends and forcing positivity to be the best cures.
Your post was a friendly reminder. I drink 5-6 cups of green tea a day and I’m going to lower it because it makes me too jittery. I’m glad one of my worst problems at the moment is jitteriness from tea.
Thanks for sharing this Tim.
Tim, I’ll make it short:
For me and my personal life: Best blogpost ever!
Thank you for sharing and and convincing me that I’m not a complete freak having those problems I struggle with. (99 % of the part “In the last 3 months”)
Oh and what helps me quite often: Noah Kagan’s “GEBY” you both have been talking about on you video talk.
Ferriss, you seem to have the perfect post for what I’m needing to read! Thank you for your total honesty!
Thanks for sharing. It’s refreshing to see that ‘super heroes’ are human after all.
I’ve been listening to The War of Art by Steven Pressfield and he talks a lot about the resistance – that malign force that gets in the way of doing the work. Your technique sounds like an awesome way to combat it. Thanks for sharing! 🙂
Being one of my business and efficiently inspirations I often look to your work for guidance, nice to know your human.
Being ADD I have to really teach myself to focus and you hand massively helped.
1) Habitual Routine, build a habit and this will help you focus you transfer new tasks from the frontal cortex and pop them on auto pilot in the basal ganglia.
2) Moderate quite classical music – My current favourite is Viviladi Four Season this trick for concentration and memory function as I’m sure uih know jade been used for years in study Etc certainly helped me
Thanks as always Tim, keep crushing it!
Love it! Tim, rest assured this post helped at least one manic-depressive. Also, thanks for sharing the intimate (no pun intended) bullet points. It’s extremely rare to see/read/hear these things and I appreciate your willingness to shine a light on the reality behind the curtain.
Thank you, thank you. This was freeing, inspiring and incredibly helpful. The gap between my best and worst-performing selves is vast, and most every word you said hit home. Thank you for normalizing my struggle. Truly, I won’t forget this post.
get ready to cry
“Any guy who insists he’s never done this should not be trusted.” LOL, so true 🙂
Great read, and a greater way to approach my procrastination.
Mitchell and Webb also have some good productivity tips for working from home (probably NSFW) http://youtu.be/co_DNpTMKXk
Thank you for having the courage to be transparent. I appreciate you.
Have you ever heard of the Pomodoro Technique of time management? It’s what got me through paramedic school.
Where did you get the dhea cream? Break down the details for me please.
Thank You for sharing your experience – And Thank You for having the courage to share – It makes a difference and I can definitely relate.
I feel drawn to recommend a book that is somewhat related – “Power vs. Force” by David Hawkins – I would love to know what you think about it.
Tim, thanks for being unapologetically open about your tendency to procrastinate. Its a healthy dose of reality for people to know there is a human side to you that so many can relate to (vs aspiring to).
I really resonate with what you say about email first thing in the morning being a mind (and focus) killer! I had to prioritise changing the habit of checking my phone first thing in the morning for up to 30 min a day, to not checking it before I start work, instead focusing on the one most important thing for the day.
The 80/20 of this is mentally training a response ahead of time, and its backed by the latest science on this. I’ve found that recalling the experience (trigger) of when I am about to check my phone, and then retraining my response to that trigger works really well. It just takes 5 min to do ahead of time.
Thanks again and keep being superhuman in, or despite of your neurotic tendencies!
Can you point me to a copy of that research on mentally recalling the trigger, then retraining the response? I have patients that really struggle with habit change and it would be great to point them to the research to show how to help overcome it.
There has been quite a bit of research done on this in the literature on implementation intentions. I reference one article in a piece I did on Medium https://medium.com/better-humans/b150ccbe01ec.
All the best with helping your patients, ping me on twitter @tsungxu if you want more info.
I hear you on the caffeine. I was doing the 8-10 cups a day. I love coffee but it was making me crazy. Also coffee triggers stress. I switched to green tea and yerbe matte and doing a lot better. Caffeine withdrawal is a bitch. Do not do it cold turkey like I did. Gradual taper off is the best.
One of the best things I did was get an assistant and gave them all the work I did not want to do. I hired a friend that was out of work and paid them every week. this freed up a lot of time and got the things done I needed to do but kept putting them off. It was actually fun seeing how much got done with out me having to do it all.
You’re not alone. When I go to the exact place you described occurring over the last three months it has always been because of lost passion / direction in what I am doing. Truth be told that’s around the time I pick up some mind altering substances and discover what my “self” really wants and my ego has been fighting / ignoring. Then with the fire reignited in my soul I charge forth with renewed vigor and let go of the guilt associated with the time I pissed away.
Side note: For anyone reading this and looking to build a muse… please know that building a muse requires you to do things you find tedious, annoying, and frustrating. Put your head down and get it done. One. Step. At. A. Time.
Thanks for posting this. It makes many of my recent struggles seem more realistic. Been terribly overwhelmed these past two weeks too. It really helps me when my heroes admit humanity, as I have a tendency to imagine them above that.
There is a book that has helped me get much more done than really anything else. Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway by Susan Jeffers Ph.D. It has a really big impact on me and since I read it half a year or so ago I have thought about it every day.
The quote that has helped me the most is:
“He may enjoy the good; he should learn from the evil; but he must never give up, for nothing on this globe happens without good reason: everything that befalls him happens for a purpose, and always at the right time.”
Harper! It’s been a long time brother. Love the quote!
Great post! We need to remember to be gentle and kind to ourselves! Know our bodies and minds and ride the rhythm of the seasons.
Thanks for sharing this. It’s somewhat of a relief to hear that someone else/other people attend to the same kind of “funk” I’ve been trying to dig out of lately. And here is what I have found to be the most helpful and also pretty obvious solution. As it stands, I currently am working on creating passive income (a muse), trying to finish my first ebook, attend school full-time, and have an internship in LA for an internet start-up and I make an appearance once a week; I live in San Diego. For so long I was caught up in this routine where I thought I was doing everything right, trying to make the most productive habits, and really trying to create “a mind for success” when I wasn’t born with one or raised to believe I had one. This has caused me all kinds of stress, trying to force my mind into submission to try and mold it into what I thought it needed to be in order for me to be successful. With so many different projects, including school work, I was working on all them practically at the same time, in tiny increments of time. There was nothing organized or controlled about my system for “progress”. By working on something for an hour then moving on to something else I wasn’t able to see any real progress on anything. I was moving so fast mentally and physically trying to get everything done, but the projects themselves were moving at a much slower pace because of how little I did for each one each day. For about 2 months I just had this unshakable feeling of stress and anxiety and didnt know why. And not until about 3 days ago have I found an answer. On Thursday I completely checked out mentally and forgot about all the projects and school homework that needed to be. In other words I took a step back and basically forgot about everything I have been working on. Having so much space in between those things and myself, I was able to see why I was having trouble. I’ve since began working on one thing at a time, for extended periods of time – up to two or three days or a week, before moving on to something else. This helps me realize that I am making real progress on the one thing I decide to work on because my entire focus is on that one thing allowing me to concentrate deeply on it making the effort more admirable. So, my advice is to, when feeling overwhelmed or anxious/funky, take a step back from everything (mentally) and find a new approach. I almost immediately knew what was causing the stress and anxiety the moment I checked out and came back rejuvenated. Granted, I don’t have the same level of responsibilities as you, Tim, but was still in a funk nonetheless and found this actually very helpful. Thanks for letting me share.
This post is alarmingly scary. Everything except for crying while watching Rudy is what I experience as an Entrepreneur as well. I read your book 4 hour work week SEVERAL times. I was a productivity KING in corporate america. As a self directed entrepreneur I find procrastination is eroding away my life lol My biggest SINGLE challenge is taking action. I know exactly what to do and have helped many people launch successful businesses now (launched several small things myself). However, productivity and focus are my SINGLE biggest challenge hands down! I cannot believe how similar your experience is to mine lol It’s startling. Thanks for sharing. FYI. I too am a chronic snoozer. It’s gotten quite ridiculous lately.
Matt ( a great name, BTW ), I find that my single biggest challenge is also taking action. So many ideas, so many fragments, all in an endless swirl of What has value? What can be monetized? What would just be good for me? What will others think?
I wonder what others do to move from “get set” to “Go!”?
Also, we snooze to drift and dream. It is a time when your brain filters the mental malware that infects the entrepreneurial mind.
Thank you for not making me feel bad that taking a snooze is a waste of time. I’m 44 now and was one of those “sleep is a waste of time” guys for a long time. Yes for sure it’s needed. There is a great TED on why we need sleep.
I listened to Mastery by Robert Green on audible recently and one of the take aways is that you will know when action is needed and to relish in the process. There is a long process that comes before mastery in your field. Listening to that really helped me get over the anxiety that I’m too late or too old or too anything. I know Tim is all about maximum efficacy but my take is, if what you are doing takes 10 years to master, he’ll get you there in 8 or less:)
Thanks Tim………. hey, if becoming a musher is on your Tim Ferriss Experiment do-list, please look us up: http://www.valleysnowdogz.com 🙂
Really inspiring article. I really needed this. Definitely going to revisit this one many times.
Am I right to assume you started doing Transcendental Meditation? I started doing it 3 months ago after Russel Brand sold me on the idea. It’s had a huge impact on my life in a surprisingly effortless way.
Correct! I’m using TM, though I think any systematic (and accountable) system of meditation could likely work well.
Are there any good books or easy ways to get started on meditation? I’ve heard amazing things about TM but seems very expensive and time consuming to get started .
Just heard Seinfeld mention on Alec Baldwin’s podcast that he started doing TM when he was 22. Said it radically changed his life for the better.
wow..seinfield…who would have thought…
I wonder why he never acknowledged TM in his work..
Also heard Seinfeld discuss TM, as well as Paul McCartney and Howard Stern – Stern’s been practicing for 30 years, after he saw how it improved his mother’s wellbeing. Big fan of all these folks – and now TF?! – feels like all signs pointing toward trying it out. Thanks for sharing. t
I’ve played with meditation here and there, but never been able to get the consistency you talk about. Do you have any recommendations on how to start and how to keep the habit?
Fantastic post! I think Jared’s post summed it up perfectly for me: “I think to myself “what would Tim Ferriss do?”. That usually gives me the push I need to do it. But it’s nice to know that even Tim Ferriss finds it hard being Tim Ferriss sometimes.”
P.s. I bawled my eyes out both times I watched Rudy
I learned TM like 6 years ago but I’ve never been able to be constant. Right now I’m building the habit of 20 minutes every morning, but I can’t see how I’ll be able to also meditate at night.
Stefan – That’s easy: you schedule it. You can try TinyHabits for how to start the new habit and anchor it to an existing habit. http://tinyhabits.com/
If you’re out of time, then you have to identify something you’re currently doing, and cut it. But I assure you that you can do it.
Just examine your life as if you were an outsider, and that doing TM at night was 100% essential to your survival. So your task is to keep Stefan alive by allowing TM to happen: what can you cut?
Anything routine like this is possible if you want it enough.
I’ll try tinyhabits, I’ve read about BJ Fogg but never knew he had this program.
What’s a good way to get started with transcendental meditation? My google searching indicated that it’s usually taught via a course.
p.s. You SHOULD come to Montreal…. 🙂
Have you tried the advance techniques or the Sidha program? I found my focus,creativity and energy increased dramatically
Great post – very honest and it’s always a good reminder that we are biased towards success stories.
Your book / article recommendations have been very useful (1000 true fans, breaking the time barrier etc), so in a similar vein, what are your (say top 3) recommendations for gentleman friendly websites for those, like you, in need of relaxation?
Hey Tim, This post is alarmingly scary. Everything except for crying while watching Rudy is what I experience as an Entrepreneur as well. I read your book 4 hour work week SEVERAL times. I was a productivity KING in corporate america. As a self directed entrepreneur I find procrastination is eroding away my life lol My biggest challenge by a landslide is taking consistent and focused action. I’m VERY confident in launching businesses and have helped many people launch successful businesses now (launched several small ventures myself as well). However, productivity and focus are my SINGLE biggest challenge hands down! I cannot believe how similar your experience is to mine lol It’s startling. Thanks for sharing. FYI. I too am a chronic snoozer. It’s gotten quite ridiculous lately. FYI 2. the only and single best method I have found for productivity is to limit my task list as well and block a couple HIGH FOCUS periods of time w/o distraction to complete them. My blocks are as long as 90 minutes with 15 minute breaks. I can handle 2 to 3. However, I struggle to keep up the routine lol It breaks down after a week or two as procrastination takes over. Focusing is so hard lol You really hit the nail on the head.
When I first moved to San Fran after graduating, I would wake up and make my to do list and if course my not to
do list, however my list of things I wanted to acomplish that day was so long it became overwhelming. I wanted to acomplish so much that nothing really got done. At the end of the day I would feel that I had not achieved anything and would beat myself up as I was not exceeding my goals for the day. I recently made a website called getfinished.com which I based on Parkinson’s law. I still write my to do list, and they can be up to 20 items long some times. however now I will spend a good 10-15 minutes picking just one thing to get done that will bring me the ultimate growth in my life. I set the timer on getfinished.com and just do my one thing of the day. Once it is done the rest of the day is mine to what ever is like. totally agree with your point it is what you do not how you do something – ( sorry about the poor use if grammar on my way to Alcatraz hard on a phone on these waves) 🙂
Great article, I learn to do that from you, you wrote something similar in the 4HWW, but I adapt the system.
I wrote down the things I have to do in different post-its or small pieces of paper, and put it on a box, each morning I pick one from the box and I have to do that only thing during the day.
With this system I’m obligated to do that thing and don’t postpone the ones that I just doesn’t feel in the mood to do them. I forced myself to do not return to the box the task for the day I already got.
I just wanted to echo what everyone else has been saying. It’s uplifting to hear this from people like you who, on the outside, display great motivation, talent, mental fortitude, and success. I’m currently a student at MIT, and whenever people hear this, they think I’m a super-genius destined to invent the next wheel. But really, all I am is a motivated student who was lucky enough to be accepted into my dream school. I’m no different from anyone else in that I have days I simply don’t want to face.
Your idea of making it a day’s goal to finish ONE crucial task that we’ve been neglecting reminds me of a quote: “Always do what you are afraid to do.”
Thank you again for this great post!
You took your blogging to a whole new level.
Vulnerability suits you well:-)
This post has been your best yet. Sincere appreciation for sharing.
Here’s a list of great books that have helped remind me to stay positive during times of self-nulification.
Love Yourself – Kamal Ravikant (per your recommendation)
Choose Yourself – James Altucher
Buddha’s Brain – Rick Hanson, PH.D.
Before Happiness: The 5 Hidden Keys to Achieving Success, Spreading Happiness, and Sustaining Positive Change – Shawn Achor
Self-Hypnosis: Lifestyle with Positive Affirmations (Optimal Life) – Ross Jirgl (Recently written by a friend of mine)
Also, recently been watching some of Eric Thomas youtube inspirational speeches for a quick psych me up.
Hope my comment is helpful.
Thanks again Tim!!!
I have been reading your blog for years now….and this is your best post to date.
Thank you for being vulnerable. Not so we can say “see he sucks” but because now we can say “he is human…yet he overcomes his limitations…so we should as well”.
As a side note you might want to read Agile Results. Your process is very similar so you might benefit.
You’re one of the people I’ve endeavored to be like for years. I’ve always had the nagging feeling that I’ll never be “successful” in the way I wish, because I feel lazy and fatigued all the time. That nagging feeling’s always insisted that I’ll never be successful until I can learn to be as productive and energetically focused as you’ve appeared. I’ve even started seeing a psychologist recently for this very reason — wanting to feel productive and on-track instead of feeling like a procrastinating failure.
Your post here may well be the best “productivity” or even motivational post I’ve ever read. You flat out admit to having the same unproductive habits I have! And if you can accomplish everything you have in spite of that, then I know I can too. That’s powerful. As an avid follower since the first week 4HWW was released, I’ve learned a lot of life-changing concepts from you; hell, I’m 40lbs lighter than I used to be as a result of the Slow Carb Diet. But this may be more important yet. I don’t have to be someone different to make a difference.
Thank you, Tim. Your willingness to reveal your own weakness may be the most empowering thing you could do for countless others. That’s greatness.
Great post. As you bob up and around the ocean, sometimes it’s hard to remember that the shore never left you.
I’m glad you decided to post this. It’s this type of honesty that we all need.
Email is the mind killer…nice twist!
But in all honesty, thank you for this. I’m kind of speechless – I think I’ve wrote this damn comment like 20 times already, haha.
Well, how about this – I’ll be honest back, but if it’s too long, tedious or depressing to read, then skip ahead to the last paragraph so we can keep this relatively positive 🙂
I just came off a major drug experiment that reshaped my perception of efficiency in terms of how much pleasure or insight I’ve come to expect per unit of energy invested. Kind of like increasing my earnings, only on a biological level and in a way I didn’t see coming. And yeah, I know the phrase “drug experiment” sounds a bit sketch, but I had similar “successes” during that time too: added 20lbs lean mass, got funding for my business idea of +3 years, grew closer to family, blablabla.
The fact is, who gives a shit? I mean, those things feel good, but only for a bit and then they fade into meaninglessness – or rather the same problem that sits beneath every kind of achievement or success. It’s a weird place to be. I’m smarter, stronger, and better supported than ever before. I’ve literally hit and surpassed all my goals, but it only highlights how silly everything is. Like..what’s the point?
And I have no answers – which is why your post was so fantastic and hit me so hard. I mean, I’m literally looking at doing crazy shit, like taking up self-sacrificial love and spending my days with the poor. Not that I’m saying that’s a bad thing to do, but I’d prefer a more scalable way of helping people than handing out pamphlets and shit. Talk about hitting snooze and not getting out of bed. I’ve been pondering for what seems an eternity and I’m still not THAT rock bottom, haha. The scariest thought is whether or not I go deeper?
Well, I should probably wrap up the “Mark show.” I didn’t mean to rant, but your post really connected with where I am and I got so excited I had to share. Oh, and I read that Mother Teresa experienced a 40-year stint of this “dark night of the soul” thing, which has been helpful too. But she’s dead, so I can’t say thanks for her honesty, which is why I’m pestering you.
Anyway, for a while your posts have been feeling kind of…unbelievable. A little too good to be true, and I don’t read fiction. But what you did here was equally unbelievable. I’m really impressed by your openness and honesty.
I think this may be the most profound thing I’ve ever read from you other than your introductory timeline in the 4HWW – just because these are my two glimpses of the man under the myth. And I have to say, I’ve missed THIS version of Tim Ferriss. I mean, it’s not that I like to know you’re in pain, but just to feel like you are being honest with me. God, now I sound like a total asshole.
Oh well, thanks for opening up again, I’ll probably be back to read those first paragraphs another 50 times. Don’t worry, this is my only comment – I made it long enough to cover the next dozen posts you write. Hah!
This is an incredibly powerful post that will help a lot of people (myself included) to enjoy the journey and not get too caught up in the “arrival fallacy.”
Being significantly impacted by the 4HWW, I often feel that “superhumans” like you have it all figured out. I always assume that your day is spent hanging out with intriguing friends, experiencing awesome new things, and just kicking life’s ass. I appreciate you telling the other side of the story, too.
It is VERY helpful to know that once I do reach my financial goals that I’ll still struggle at certain times and life won’t necessarily be perfect. It’s a great reminder that I need to enjoy right now instead of postponing my happiness until I make $X/year.
Thanks for sharing Tim. It’s ok to be human. You’ve set your bar ridiculously high it must be a lot of pressure. Maybe it’s time for another walkabout? It seemed to work well the first time. Also, I went to an embassy event in DC this weekend and at the end of the night half of the people left via Uber. Everybody here is talking about it.
Thank you Tim. I feel you on the overwhelming self-conscious struggle of truly sharing the core of who you are and feel with the world — no matter how outwardly transparent you are in general. There’s so many things creatively and professionally I want to work and share with the world, but the mental loop always occurs: “it’s not good enough.” Not good enough to truly reach the level you aspire for. A feeling of insincerity or lacking direction in comparison to the work of those that inspire you. You know you have the raw potential and talent, a great foundation to craft everything from – it just never truly feels like the energy is there that brought the same life to the work you enjoyed so much, like it’s a misdirection.
I as well deal with the manic-depressive cycle as both an artist by night and entrepreneur by day. Being in my early 20’s and building a successful business with my partners, most would assume I would be happy and on-top of the world being so “successful” at my age. I’ve considering dropping everything the last month and starting fresh somewhere very far away much like yourself. Listening to Bowie’s Lodger on loop, I traveled to many places recently thinking perhaps I would find the glimpses of fulfillment elsewhere. I felt a great deal of excitement traveling and experiencing new things, but after peeling back the layers — this uneasiness, isolation and lack of fulfillment followed me wherever I would go. The other places were a distraction, something new. It wasn’t the career or the city — it was me. I’ve been trying to establish something to be able to finance the life i truly want to live: travel the world, work on writing and getting into the tea industry. Instead of doing that now and making it work,
Sharing the unrefined side of yourself like this I imagine is both freeing and terrifying. I greatly respect that courage, and from that I don’t want the noise to hold me back in my own passions any longer. Keep inspiring the world, and yourself.
Consider doing what dr oz does. He still performs open heart surgery once a week, then films the next day. He says it keeps him centered, and seeing people in their last moments of life motivates him to live life to the fullest.
Maybe consider becoming a part time paramedic or something. Perhaps you could even put your intelligence to work in regard to transforming urgent care.
I am personally strongly considering this, and you have given me a much-needed leg up physically and mentally through biomarker testing and diet advice.
Though I’m not in the same position, I struggled with similar issues. Between the articles I’ve read on your website on these issues and also a TEDx video where Shawn Achor tells his “Happy Secret to Better Work” (12 minutes long and worth watching), I now live better.
When I have mental anguish, instead of continuing to half-ass life and let the world start shaping me, I purposely unplug, putting me back in control. I take a step back and realize that nothing is life threatening (tea helps!). I rifle off as many things that I appreciate in my life (from as little as being grateful for shoes to as grand as being grateful for a new contract) until my mind picks up on the momentum my words are carrying and gets back on track. Regardless of if I am down, I spend each day listing off what I’m grateful for, and after 21 days, you’ve begun to train your brain to focus on opportunity and not despair, which helps me tackle my problems a lot easier. My lows, while still present, are not nearly as extreme due to these things- at least not yet!
From the video: “Your brain at positive performs significantly better than it does at negative, neutral, or stressed. Your intelligence rises, your creativity rises, your energy levels rise. In fact what we’ve found is that every single business outcome improves. Your brain at positive is 31% more productive than your brain at negative, neutral or stressed. You’re 37% better at sales. Doctors are 19% faster [and] more accurate at coming up with the correct diagnosis…”
For this strategy, the goal is to find a way to be positive in the present, and what I mentioned in the first part of this message works for me (coming from someone who battled some serious mental sh*t!)
I’ve never posted up on this blog before, though have been an avid reader. I tip my hate to you for having the guts to post this and make a lot of people feel like they aren’t alone with these feelings.
Thanks for sharing, Tim. I’ve been a fan/follower of your work since 2007, when, inspired by your book, I started a non-profit that advocates for mental health equality by providing education, resources and support. In 2008 I left my $100k/year job to run the org and become a solopreneur. It’s been a rough 5 years of ups and downs since I started down this path. I struggle daily with exactly the things you discuss here. But, it’s been worth every bit of it. And it’s nice to know I’m not alone.
P.S. Next week I’m spending a day at LIVESTRONG HQ to learn about taking the org to the next level. We’re getting some attention. It’s time to tackle that ONE big to-do that I’ve been putting off for ages.
Personal opinion…….. people want the structure, want something to do at all times. Having a choice, weird as it seems, actually freaks you out because you dont “have” to do something. You stalled when your friends were leaving so you had a “something” to deal with.
But the list of things accomplished is cool, and proof that you dont need to focus all the time to get things done. But you do need to do something.
I’m a man and I don’t frequent adult sites. I do occasionally lie though.
I’m about to go make my list and start driving forward.
That was an amazing post. Thanks for going through with sharing it. Looking forward to your show.
Thanks for posting this Tim. Exactly what I need to read. Lately, I’ve been procrastinating EVERY SINGLE THING POSSIBLE. My to-do list is about 1,000 items long, and just thinking about it all stops me from doing even the simplest things. I think of 1 thing I have to do, and then think of the other 999, and it just turns into this infinite feedback look of thinking about all the crap I have to do, until I’m rendered a helpless, hapless, depressed mess who opts for a nap instead of just doing something. It’s utterly incredible to me that a guy like you also experiences this. Thanks for deciding to post it.
180 on everything I do- kids movie theme if I am wrong that doing the opposite must be right.
Thanks for bringing the humility on this one. Humanizing yourself makes everything else you write/do much more impactful for me.
When feeling under-motivated and overwhelmed I tend to take a cue from Steve Jobs and visualize what I’m doing with a David vs. Goliath mentality. I am the underdog trying to change “the system.” It gives me the energy and renewed sense of purpose to keep pushing.
Also, setting very simple goals helps me to get things started (example goal: write one paragraph of the executive summary) and then I tend to just keep going and finish the whole thing. It’s all about getting over the mental inertia!
It takes Heroism to write AND PUBLISH a Pure Post like this!
Thanks & Congrats for Your Openness, Honesty & Sincerity! x
This encourages me to be more ‘productive’:
‘Swimming (or any physical activity for that matter) is best done when you do only the motions that matter, and eliminate the extraneous motions.
Stop thrashing, start becoming more efficient and fluid.
You do this by learning what matters, and cutting out the wasted activity.’
Dear Tim Feriss,
I have never left a comment before, but I want to thank you for sharing this. It has saved me.
Thank you for being BRAVE enough to be REAL!
I can’t tell you how much I needed this!
Good timing on this post Tim, I really needed to read it. Also its good to know that even you procrastinate – with all of your past achievments I was thinking you were part robotic lol
That was the first article, in a long time, which I’ve not been able to stop reading. Thank you for sharing.
As someone in their younger 20’s who is struggling with procrastination and finding it hard to focus (and I really need to at this point in my life), this article comes at a good time. The idea of focusing on 1 uncomfortable thing to get done is a gem.
Amazing…..thinks for the continued inspiration!
1. Guided meditations
2. Silent meditation
3. More naps
5. Hanging out in nature
6. Giving something to someone (complement, flower, attention, etc)
Just some off the top of my head.
I recently turned 26 and I challenged myself to think of the three most important life-lessons that took me approximately 26 years to learn (admittedly, some of these were rediscovered upon my annual reread of 4HWW):
1. You are the average of the five people you associate with most. Love others and make a habit of investing in people. But when it comes to your inner circle, choose wisely (marriage included).
2. Knowledge is cumulative. Take time to identify your strengths and intentionally develop them. Become a life-long learner, and as a word of caution, remember: doing something unimportant well does not make it important.
3. Focus less on answering the question “what do you want to do when you grow up,” and more on “who do you want to be when you grow up.” Relatively speaking, the former question pales in comparison to the latter.
Thanks for everything Tim.
Thanks for this post. It contains great advice that I needed, but is also much more inspiring than just advice. It seems like you are the efficiency master, so I know that if you also struggle with it but get past it, so can I!
Congrats on all the great stuff lately!
I’ve been reading a lot of “productivity” and “personal finance” blogs for years now, looking for ways to apply their lessons to my own problems of extreme disorganization, procrastination and anxiety. In the past month I’ve fused an idea from the 4HChef and Derek Sivers’s blog, and it works really well, like “learn-to-swim-like-a-pro-in-4-hours-a-week” well. I put info from the acclaimed cognitive therapy book “The Feeling Good Handbook” into Anki flashcards, which deliver them to you at different frequencies depending on how good you’ve memorized them. Many of them fall into the formula “when I think X, how can I untwist that thought?” I’d say my anxiety is down something like 60-80%. Basically the flashcards make the “rational thoughts” come almost automatically in your head, quicker and quicker as you get them memorized, until they come even faster than your own “irrational” thoughts. Thanks Tim for the inspiration!
Thank you for being beyond awesome and honest.
I cannot believe how spot on this is.
Found your book in a bookstore one day and decided to look you up on the interweb. Landed me to this beautiful spot where I actually read this blog post word for word (usually a quick skimmer). Powerful stuff and grateful for the advice.
The universe is telling me something … something amazing.
I use a rule of 3 method for each week: 3 big goals for the week on a post-it and stick it on a place that I know I’ll be in front of everyday (in this case my Macbook Pro). It has to be a physical post-it, handwritten and all otherwise it’ll be on a back-burner.
I feel like I am very average, I look at successful people and think I can never measure up to what my perception of ‘non-average’ people can achieve, I have had 18 months of turmoil and a huge amount of self-doubt, but like you I have recently learnt to break something that seems unachievable into smaller tasks. I have found that if I tell people I am going to do something I have duped myself into having to make it happen. I have put off so much through fear of failing. By taking small steps like booking in for a 5km run to help me get fit again and starting bootcamp, I feel physically and mentally stronger. My goal in life is to build a home from shipping containers over the last month I have built my first website and social media profiles to help me research, plan and design my dream home. Going anywhere is like a wheel, the hard part is getting it rolling forward.
This post was amazing. Thanks for always writing inspiring and interesting posts when I need them the most!
This is my favorite thing you’ve ever written.
Hi Tim, great post – I read “Eat That Frog!” By Brian Tracy at your recommendation and have found focusing on the essential extremely helpful!
Every time I meet someone successful in person, be it you through Donors Choose or Mark Pincus at work, I’m amazed at how everyone is just human, everyone makes mistakes, everyone wishes they could do better. It’s just a matter of doing the best you can and appreciating your own accomplishments. Thanks for the inspiration, it helps me to keep pushing forward.
My all time favorite “Get up and get going” quote is Theodore Roosevelt’s “Man in the Arena”. I’ll post it here for other readers:
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
“Added roughy 20 pounds of muscle after learning the pain and joy of high-rep front squats (and topical DHEA, courtesy of Patrick Arnold).”
Tim, How about elaborating on this experiment in the next post…
I can relate to your tip to sit down with a pen and paper. Recently I made a big (6×4′) whiteboard for my workspace. In the morning, or when I start procrastinating/”spiraling,” I’ll spend 30 minutes at the whiteboard – usually to map out a flowchart for what I’m working on. It helps in a lot of ways: gets me up on my feet; requires me to organize my thoughts/tasks; and gives me something analog/tactile to do away from my computer and phone. Thanks for the post!
It’s an excellent post that brings many of us closer to you, Tim. I wrote a post “You’re not Crying Alone” conveying a lot of what you said here.
Thank you for sharing You.
Thanks for having the courage to speak up about these issues. It gives others courage to know that they are not the only ones suffering.
Here is what I do to deal with depression. When I recognise its happening I promise myself to do at least one thing per day that contributes to change. If I miss the thing, I dont beat myself up, and I promise myself that I will try again tomorrow. One thing a day has been a faithful companion for many years now and has turned a real problem into the occasional day of enforced being kind to myself … (eg the well known mental health day)
Good luck, and again thank you for speaking out and your work in general which I have been following with much interest.
What an amazing post and the snapshots are also great. All this details you have mentioned will be very helpful