"Productivity" Tricks for the Neurotic, Manic-Depressive, and Crazy (Like Me)

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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

University of the Arts Commencement Speech

So, here goes, and I hope it helps at least a few of you.

Reality Check

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.

The Point

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:


  1. 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 500 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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1,001 Replies to “"Productivity" Tricks for the Neurotic, Manic-Depressive, and Crazy (Like Me)”

  1. I’ve been battling with mental illnesses, since I was 10 years old or perhaps younger (you lose track at some point), being a shy female asian kid, things become more prevalent as time progressed. I’ve always felt that I was struggling with polar opposites images of myself (externally and internally) different episodes of competing ideas, decisions, spirituality, negative thoughts, finding my purpose while aligning with my inner wisdom? I don’t the correct term and so forth. At age 36, I remain somewhat feeling the same as I did when I was 10, yet, finally, I am trying to complete my University Degree. I’ve listen to a few of your podcasts, and I truly appreciate your gift-giving to the world who is in search for some hope! It helps. So thank you!

  2. I read this in your book and have been doing it for thr last six months with great results. Thank you as always Tim, my silent mentor!

  3. Dear Tim,

    How refreshing to see some honesty about living with manic depression. Finally someone had the guts to open up! Thank you for fighting the stigma by sharing this. You have inspired a fellow manic depressive to do the same.

    Warm regards,

    Tabitha du Plessis

  4. Genial! me senti identificado con tus palabras, expusiste de una buena hasta simpatica manera los pensamientos de una persona Emprendedora o super heroe, muchas veces son vistas como que sus 24 hs de esos heroes son con comportamientos correctos e ideales, esas montañas rusas ayudan para cambios feroces! thanks you Tim… pd: soy nuevo en tu pagina, ¿Estan traducidos tus publicaciones? o hay alguna forma de traducirlas aqui? me seria de utilidad (en este momentos al escribir me siento como el hombre sin extremidades y con un lapiz de color en la boca)

  5. I know this is old, but this article feels like gold to me, and it went straight to my heart

    I am so grateful for your honest vulnerability and disclosure. It really helps.

    You are a wonderful & brave human being and such an inspiration.

    And you are beautful just the way you are (including any quirks you may identify with).

    Thank you for allowing us to take a peek behind-the-scenes :).

  6. I cannot thank you enough for your quote about being successful despite self-defeating habits and self talk. This really hit home. I am totally neurotic, and manic, and productive, and lazy and all of that. Thank you.

  7. Absolutely, Tim. It is easy to make gods of ordinary humans. But a bigger lesson is each of us has our frailties and strengths, so just copying the habits of successful people doesn’t work–we have to find our own positives and negatives and work of them. [Moderator: Additional text removed.]

  8. I’ve experimented with this kind of human mood. Being maniacal, or depressed was part of my life for a long time. I can say the sleep is very important as well as wake up early in the morning. And I consider your 5 morning rituals recommendation very useful. It is almost a long life battle. But is worth to win every day. Sport and good food are important as well. Thanks 🙂

  9. “Used gentlemanly (ahem) websites to “relax” during the day when I clearly have urgent and important shit to do. 1”

    Tim, I’m pleading with you on behalf of the MeToo folks, don’t write this sort of thing. Although guys find it funny, it very subtly encourages a predatory mindset.

    That aside, I heard you discuss your 4-hour workday on a podcast (Social Innovations? Commonwealth Club?) months ago, and was happy to find your page through the GoToTravel website, and will continue to enjoy and be inspired by many of the offferings on your blog.

    1. oh good grief! He’s making a comment about a desire to stop himself from that, and you’re busting him for mentioning it at all? The idea that porn use encourages non-consented sexual violence in the average man has been discredited… the REAL affect is that it can give men some self-image problems, odd fantasies, occasional stimulation issues, and unrealistic expectations about performance (you can look that up) … The demonization of the topic however, has encouraged men to seek opinions on it from less and less reputable sources and a degradation of the conversation. I have convinced men to limit their porn use, and give thought to how they are using it, but NEVER by trying to mute the topic. Instead I point out the role of porn in sex trafficking and the treatment of women post porn… heck talking about computer viruses you can get from those things is more affective… Tim has said some off color things that concern me on occasion, but this is NOT one of them. — a female.

  10. I don’t know how many times I have come back to this since it was published, but the audio version of this post has become my go-to whenever I am feeling task-overwhelm, and “being busy is a form of lazy thinking and indiscriminate action” has become a personal mantra. It’s soooooo helpful for beating off both monkey-mind and depression.

  11. I get in here looking for ways to trigger a manic episode, ’cause I literally thought I have so much things to do that only tricking myself into mania I can get things done. Instead, I read this… I think I can cope with what you learn me on this article. I need to write it down and really compromise me with this list and way of thinking. Just discovered I’m bipolar, not use to it.

  12. I only made it to “I cried while watching Rudy” & had to find the comments section! BTW – Me Too! Maybe it’s the type A, over achiever part of me that relates to Rudy. I believe in the quote “If people aren’t laughing at your dreams, you’re not dreaming big enough.” Anyway, Rudy represents what I want… a chance to SHOW everyone that my “silly dreams” , endless effort, & forever optimistic belief in myself (Yes, I said it… MYSELF), was & is worth it! LOVE ❤️ that movie!

  13. Your best and most relatable post yet, Tim. Thank you for this. Having been through several months of this myself (with severe PMS added to the mix fuelling self doubt flames by 10X!) I can deeply empathise. So it’s super comforting to know we are not alone in these struggle. Wearing your heart on your sleeve, your soul totally exposed is perhaps the one most important act of life in itself. PS- NZ is still offer for to visit. We do the best coffee, have the best people and Im sure we can find the best duvet for you to and under for 12 hours of the day.

  14. Thanks for reposting this on NYE. Great read for end of year review and 2019 planning.

    I really appreciate what you contribute to the world.

  15. Tim, I come back to this regurally and send it out often (hence why I’m commenting 6 years after the last comment) but I just want to say how much your work has done for me. I once had a colleague say “If Tim Ferriss walked in here and asked you to kiss him, I don’t think you’d hesitate”. Haha while she was being a bit cheeky, I speak of you often and come to your work for grounding inspiration. If your reading this, thank you friend.

  16. Hi Tim,

    Spot on my friend! I am at least one “of the few you’d hoped you might help”. Thanks for having the courage to share so authentically. I love how within this piece you are able to articulate the dichotomy that is Manic/Depression i.e. the bipolor spectrum. I lived undiagnosed Bipolor II, until the age of fifty. Ten years have elapsed! I’d love to meet with you and share experiences with possibility of collaborating on a book to together

  17. As far as the ‘pit of despair’ & being in a funk goes, I love this quote:

    Life is like a bicycle, in order to keep your balance you must keep moving.

    ~Einstein

  18. Hi Tim,

    This really got me –

    We all like to appear “successful” and the media like to portray standouts as superheroes.

    True. Because of this we often put so much pressure on ourselves.

    Thanks for the tips Tim!

    That was surely one productive week you have there despite the setbacks.

    I’ve always been on the lookout for time management tips as a matter of fact I started my own blog here [Moderator: link removed.] 🙂

    Thanks!

  19. somehow i came across this when i was feeling like a bad mom a bad doctor bad human being and i read it while listening to augustana boston and it just felt wonderful reading it…like a cool cool breeze that set everything right with the world…keep going tim God bless you

  20. The timing of this article is awesome. I’ve finally aligned with and embraced my crazy quirks, (at 40). Ironically, doing so has allowed me to break free of the crippling self-consciousness I battled for decades, and dive into my entrepreneurial ventures. Being honest, (even embracing), the undesirable parts of my inner workings, allows me to move forward; focusing on what I’m capable of, rather than being hyper focused on hiding those things that are embarrassing. Self-awareness is the most powerful, liberating tool in one’s arsenal.

  21. Just subscribed. The tackling manic depressive behavior tips sounds exactly what I’m going to start immediately.
    The logic behind the reason so much doesn’t actually get done fits to a T.
    Ive come to the point where I only take advise on improving my life from people with the same problem but were able to overcome or better the situation.
    No physc. BS from Dr.s who live in glass houses.
    Thanks man
    Douglas Krause