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

header_5.jpg__548×230_

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 700 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.

Leave a Reply to Mike Williams Cancel reply

Comment Rules: Remember what Fonzie was like? Cool. That’s how we’re gonna be — cool. Critical is fine, but if you’re rude, we’ll delete your stuff. Please do not put your URL in the comment text and please use your PERSONAL name or initials and not your business name, as the latter comes off like spam. Have fun and thanks for adding to the conversation! (Thanks to Brian Oberkirch for the inspiration.)

1,015 Replies to “"Productivity" Tricks for the Neurotic, Manic-Depressive, and Crazy (Like Me)”

  1. I never comment on posts but felt this one was superb. I have a lot of business interests and my days just disappear and a lot of them doing exactly what you describe which is nothing whilst the real issues do not get addressed. I like the achieve one thing, kind of what I do but nice to have it reaffirmed and to hear other people have the same issues.

    Good post, well done.

  2. The best productivity tool I have is a kitchen timer. Not only do I use it for the Pomodoro Technique,I also do the following.

    When I am having anxiety-based trouble getting started, I set it for ten or fifteen minutes, a very short time, and then work intensively on the project at hand for that time. It is amazing what one can get done when one just determines to stick with it and not allow distractions, These small time bursts not only help to get things done, they also create momentum so that what began as an anxious day begins to feel under control and that makes all the difference.

  3. Isn’t there a link to really low fat ratios and depression?

    But hey, there’s nothing wrong with being bipolar, if that’s the cause. You can get a lot of shit done, It’s just the low energy downturns that keep you in bed late. Don’t worry, you’re just building up your seratonin levels.

    NEVER feel guilty about sleeping in. You have organised your life so you are not a nine-to-five person who needs to get up at 6.30 every day. Enjoy it. It might even be one of the main reasons you have done all this.

  4. Hey Tim Tim,

    Man, you are a good dude. My appreciation for the balls that you have shown in a) writing this article and b) rocking out with you cock out whilst perusing gentlemanly websites, is genuine and sincere.

    Personally, I am invested in your story/success as I live vicariously through your adventures. Gals and guys like you give me the balls to live life on my own terms; your example helps me to keep working towards the realisation of my dreams.

    For the longest time I engaged every atom of my being in fighting to win ‘my personal war.’ I believed that victory would bring peace and happiness; now I know that victory simply heralds in the start of a new ‘war.’ What I came to understand is that I had moulded myself into a (non-violent) fighter. I don’t do comfort. I don’t do blissful happiness. I stress over detail. I stress when I am not battling against an adversary greater than myself. Why? Because I see the beauty in the world and I want to add to it. I am enthused by the fact that we are fortunate to live in a period of time in which we will see many concepts envisaged in great works of science fiction realised.

    Your vulnerability is reflected in my truth; I too am in need of more bro-dates.

    P.S. Dude, I’d love to see you appear on David Choe and Asa Akira’s podcast DVDASA. Dave is the king of bromance.

    Peace Homie.

  5. Hi Tim,

    thanks for sharing this with your fans. Martin recommended the book ‘Brains versus Capital’ of Guenter Faltin. I just found, that you meet him in Berlin some time ago and he interviewed you.

  6. Hi Tim,

    Well this is probably one of the top ten posts you wrote in my opinion and great to see some of your original content rather than guest posts.

    There is danger in taking “new age / self help / traditional productivity” advice as discipline that can solve everything.

    In my experience, and without the confessions of people like you or Leo B., that type of advice can lead to more frustration.

    Reading this puts me at ease as many of the things you mentioned are challenges I face as well.

    Before I can comment in more detail I’ll have to try this for a few weeks.

    Cheers for now and keep up the awesome work!

    Ariel

  7. Tim, you say “In the last 3 months, X :(” but then follow up with “In the last 8 weeks, Y :)” … so are you basically saying you had a one-month lull but have been on track for two months, or are we talking about a 5-month period? I feel like you’re saying the former, but I find it odd that you went from months to weeks, even though the time scale can be expressed in months. This post is nice but that feels like a deliberate obfuscation…

  8. I get this every day almost.. I get up around 10am.. breakfast and slow walk to the laptop.. do email and facebook.. for 1hour + 40 ish minutes.. then its lunchtime.. and then a siesta.. to calm the lunch, its almost 1pm before any actualy productivity starts… then i sit at the laptop open up my DAW (digital Audio Workstation) and continue some music production from the night before.. except lurking in the back of my mind.. and eventually finding its way to the front is.. “how to pitch X Idea to ________ investor” ” why is the net slow today (could lead to calling the net company or doing a little pc maintanace) then i think of chokolate..so i forrage.. then think “ahh ok, now im truly set.. did so n so , so im free to work on the music.. baum baum !! (insert game show X X sound) the Gentelmans Website pops up while hunting for a sound file i need.. so.. its highly unlikley that once in your head that will just walk away so its better to tame the lion than let it roam free in your mind.. by then its about 3pm and parent number 1 gets home.. starts on me for not remembering … well almost everything she said while i was asleep at 7am.. then a phone rings, i forget to be somewhere.. nothng ever gets done.. lol its rediculous.. then i might see one Cute kitten Video on youtube and go on a 2 hour bender about cute kittens, cats, jungle cats, humand doing amazing things, humans failing, and the only thing that stops that is a really crap video when i realise.. “what, am, i, doing watching this junk.. ” so i throw on a motivational speach by will smith or some musitian i like.. but that turns into a few hours itself because i feel GREAT just listening to these people.. its a mess..

    only time i get stuff done is when i turn OFF the internet.. or move to a place that has no internet.. and tell my friends im going away for the weekend only call me if its super important.. and they know its a 3 hour drive to my holiday house so they dont bother to call.. im to far to help anyway..

    my tips for being productive..

    1. Turn off Internet and Phone. (if you need ot use them for productivity, get a GOOD pop up blocker.. i use adblock plus in crhome.. work wonders.. reduces ads to maybe 1 in every 100 pages.. no ads in facebook,gmail, youtube.

    2. whatever your hacking away at.. if its a long term goal like weight loss, or flossing, or checking your stocks when market opens.. you NEED to make it a Habit!!

    think about it.. everything you d is a habit.. be it big or small.. habit of waking up late, brush teeth, breakfast.. then email? for some its.. smoke before getting in the car to head to work.. mini habits rolled into one.. so make your new goal a habit.. start with it 1st thing on the list.. and let time build on it.. till it becomes am must do action..

    3. I dont call my friends while they are at work… so ive told them , sms during business hours. (and i leave the phone on silent anyway so bad luck) this follows that post about saying NO!! to people..

    4. how bad do you want it? I kow when im getting ready to go to the Formula 1, or overseas, or Go Karting.. Im early to the function and rearing to get started.. maybe you dont need to do this task afterall? maybe there is something better you could be doing.. thats wll thats saying.

    5. if you must do it.. get it over with any means possible.. can it be outsourced? can you hire someone while you do something more exciting/important?

    Ive designed an Iphone app thats going to be the next big thing (all entrprenuers think this) but really.. it will be.. i just need to set up this Kickstarter thing.. problem is im not a US citizen.. so im hunting for one.. (any takers? )

    i hope my logic has helped at least 1..

    make it a habbit.. and replace the old non functional habits with new habits to make for better habiting.

    peace. Aussie Andy..

  9. i Sincerly appologise fo rthe leng of that post.. the posting section is small so it seems to me i thought i only had a few words in there lol

    sorry Tim.. sorry peeps..

  10. Inspirational Tim, for the information, and the personal sharing.

    I still find myself asking, how do you make things uncomfortable enough to stand out when nothing does? I grasp at too much, and find it constantly slipping through my fingers. I stared out my window for 10 minutes coming up with “anxious and uncomfortable” or just urgent to dos. Too much aspiration = bad for progress?

  11. Good points, I love the simplicity of it. Simple yet, a little outside the box. A tad outside the realm of conventional thinking. Pretty cool.

    I made a mental list for my day while I was reading, wow, ok. Now onward I go to end my day feeling accomplished. Woot!

    Funny how the first thing on the list is quite simple, finish the darn laundry already.

  12. Tim,

    Thanks brother for the candidness. Because of my position and business, people expect me to be the perfect embodiment of a bodhisattva, but I always remind them an ordinary guy with an extraordinary tool set (“Vivation” in my case). I tell my clients, that if all else fails, just be your bad ass self.

    All the best,

    Paul Hughes

    Director, Vivation International

  13. Hi Tim,

    What a wonderful post. Up until now, I have never been inspired to respond to anyone’s blog before.

    From my perspective, being as vulnerable as you were in your post, demonstrate amazing strength.

    Your post brought home for me the point about not underestimating yourself and overestimating others. You are one of the people (in the past), that I felt I could never measure up to. I really appreciate you taking yourself off of the pedestal that I had put you on 😉

    For someone that still as a somewhat strong self critical pattern running, I can’t tell you how helpful this post was to read.

    You are truly one of my biggest heroes and sources of inspiration! I continue to hold you out as such (as well as a great role model) to my 11 year old son. Whom by the way, was excited to see you doing parkour in the clip about your upcoming show as he is a big parkour enthusiast.

    As for one of my strategies for getting out of funks, for the past 10 years I have found Re-evaluation Counseling to be the fast track (hack) to healing from earlier hurts which can create patterned behaviours. I literally can feel myself getting my mind back from places it was stuck.

    You can contact me for info (although I am not a certified teacher and merely a student) or go to http://www.rc.org/.

    Thanks again for all your hard work and sharing it with the rest of us.

    Love and gratitude,

    Stephen

  14. Thank you so much for writing this. It’s so refreshing and helpful to know that the people I look up to struggle with many of the same things I do, and that it’s possible to rise above it.Thanks again.

  15. I have been reading your blog off and on for several years. I have never made a comment.

    I just wanted to say that this is one of the best posts you’ve ever made. It came at a critical time for me. The second sticky note in particular really hit home. I will be printing out the entire article and putting it in my binder of important stuff.

    Congrats on the dream house, by the way.

  16. Thanks a ton, you really spoke to me with this post. I have often had those thoughts about the super-human do-er’s, such as yourself, and how despite all my positive attributes I am just too “manic-depressive” to do anything “big”.

    thanks!

  17. Hey Tim,

    Thanks for sharing, puts things into perspective. I find myself in that pit of self-doubt, loneliness and worry somedays. This is funny because most people usually describe me as being smart, confident and cool …. I kind of get embarrassed when I hear these. But I find that being with my family and doing simple things…. like going back home (mom’s house; hour away).. and helping her make dinner or watch a show really makes me happy, sort of like a jolt of optimism and full of love. At least that works for me…..

    Later

  18. Hi, I love you work and wanted to read your blog but am having technical problems you might not be aware of?

    FYI, at the top of the page the pull down menus for the topics (4HW, 4HB….etc) pop up in the middle of my screen and so when I leave the topic to click on one of them, they disappear. I can’t access anything on those menus.

    Am viewing on Firefox. Just checked Chrome. Same thing. Hope you can fix it! I love Tim’s stuff and will bookmark and check back in a few days.

  19. When you are in a hypomanic state you feel lots of energy

    en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hypomania

    A serious manic episode is negative, the energy end exaltation does not feel good and is dangerous, like in the movie Mr Jones

  20. Tim, like you said in the post, you are not consistent with “normal,” but that depends on what society defines and we accept as “normal” doesn’t it? In reality, I think it’s normal to have internal struggles, just like it is “normal” to avoid talking about it because others may think less of us or (even worse) start offering unsolicited advice.

    Just like guys who deny using “relaxation” techniques should not be trusted, people who deny experiencing internal struggles should not be trusted.

    Anyway, thanks for this post! It’s always refreshing to see some content online that covers both positive and negative sides of life without the “superhuman” hype. Posts like this are really necessary to help remind us that we are all human and thus have both strengths and weaknesses.

  21. I’ve been a devoted follower of this blog for several years now, and seen my effectiveness increase exponentially from the advice given here. That said, this post has likely been THE single most helpful and worthwhile piece I’ve seen here so far. Thanks!

  22. Thank you for being so truthful. It has come at a great time, I started a business 2 months ago as a result of reading 4HWW and the stress levels I’m experiencing (3 young kids, my mother with recent cancer diagnosis, no help with my business and never done it before!) are through the roof. I have OCD and therefore awful perfectionism/self-criticism/paralysis of thought when under major stress. I always assume everyone else – be it entrepreneur or mother – is doing a much better job than me and is doing it happily and calmly. Now I’ve read this I realise it’s the same for everyone, just doesn’t look that way from the outside. Interesting you are meditating – that’s on my list of things I should be doing and feel guilty about not doing!

    Thank you so much.

  23. I’ve had those days. I am up 3am most days but there have been some days when I just sleep the day away. It usually happens once a month. I usually hate myself afterwards though. Very honest post. I’m glad I’m not the only one who experiences the ups and downs of “success”.

  24. 1. The Sign of a True Gentleman. One who admits to ‘Relaxing’ while visiting certain websites!

    Awesome post dude!

    – P

  25. And I thought I was the only one who scheduled only 3 things TO DO per day. I’m in good company then.

    I came to the conclusion that too many things on the list play havoc with my mind. And my mind doesn’t like to be messed with. Three things is very doable, digestable, and attainable.

    Thanks for confirming I’m not crazy, Tim! 😉

  26. Hey Tim,

    This post was a breath of fresh air.

    Funny though, I just talked with a buddy of mine who says he worked with you on The Tim Ferriss Experiment and he told me that out of all the celebs and big names that he’s worked with, you are actually the most pleasant. Coming from him, that’s a huge compliment (we both work in reality television).

    I’ve been reading your blog, listening to T4HWW daily and generally just trying to improve on all these areas in my life but sometimes I really feel exactly like you described; a big bag of steaming cat shit. It’s harder than hell to get out of that rut and feel like you’re being productive/accomplishing things again.

    I usually just get past it by saying to myself “Alright. I accept this situation, this moment and this shitty feeling just as it is.” And kind of let it settle in for a moment (even though that sounds counter-intuitive). After that I just move forward and get on with my day. Those feelings eventually dissolve. Sometimes I feel great afterward. . .talk about manic depressive. I sound like a nut case right about now.

    Keep up the good posts and thanks for being real with your readers. Looking forward to reading more.

    Seth

  27. Hi. I’m confused. I have a 4hww forum account that dates back to 2011. My account has been de-activated for posting. I see other people with newer accounts than mine who CAN post.

    You can delete this comment, as it’s obviously not relevant to this post.

    Please reinstate my privileges on the forum. I have valuable stuff to share and questions to ask.

    Please help. My forum account handle is “Artwealth”.

    Thank you.

    Norman

  28. When I’m feeling less than superhero I read this blog. I always find inspiration in Tim and my desires to succeed and improve shoot through the roof. Even if he isn’t a superhero some time. After all, that’s really why we like him.

  29. As always… stellar advice, Tim! Especially the bit on time-blocking; something we all can surely benefit from in a multitude of ways.

  30. Wow Tim.

    This was very unexpected and equally refreshing.

    I’m appreciating your courage so much.

    Thank you for posting.

    As I’m writing this I’m looking at my night stand. Sitting on top is a book called “There is Nothing Wrong with You” by Cheri Huber. I haven’t read it yet, but it comes with recommendations from a friend. Self-compassion has been a theme for me lately.

    Much love!

  31. Great post. I avoided reading this for a while because the title seemed boring. I had no idea that it would be such an honest and refreshing insight into your life. Respect.

  32. Wow!

    I have come to expect great posts and writing from you but this is one of my favourite posts of yours!

    Brutally honest and a fascinating insight into the mind of someone so many of us aspire to be just a fraction of a percentage as productive as!

    Keep up the amazing work!

  33. Tim, Thank you so much for sharing this. Love your “do the one important thing” rule. I am often very busy-lazy for just the reasons you describe.

    This kind of humanizing view of someone who is so obviously successful is very helpful and encouraging.

  34. Cudos for laying yourself bare like that. I’ve probably come across this same advice dozens of times in different forms (probably a half dozen times from your material). Yet this particular post really hits home. It was the proverbial lightning bolt for me. Maybe it’s because you were so honest with your shortcomings, and I recognize my own while reading it. Thanks for sharing. I am rejuvenated.

  35. Great post. I’ve always had a great power to focus but also a great power at procrastination and doing the “lazy busy”.

    My most productive periods in my life have always had a direct corilation to working out first thing in the morning. Even if it’s 50 pushups and some chinups. I purchased a Concept 2 Rower this year can rip off a few sets of 500meters for a killer workout in minutes. I don’t know it does exactly but the energy lasts, the focus stays, the positivty is for the whole day. It really is like a switch for me. I’ve gotten back into this habit and it’s unreal how much more effective I have become again.

    I recently saw an interview between you “Tim F” and Noah Kagan. Noah mentioned GEBY. Gratitude (Write down 3 things you are greatful for, E – Exercise first thing, B – Breakfast (I prefer 3 whole eggs, Trader Joes pre cooked Lentils and spinach), Y – You plan something for yourself and do it each day (Meditation, playing with your dog, whatever..mine is coaching high school football after work right now).

    GEBY is my new routine.

    In the interveiw Tim states “Noah why do you pronounce it Geb-ee not Geb-ewww” Noah replies “well You starts with Y.” Or something to that nature. I’m guessing on that day Tim didn’t get his morning exercise. He did run off set and pump out some push ups after that.

    Thanks for another great post.

    Walt

  36. Just do one thing. Took me a long time to figure that one out.

    It’s amazing how you can fill your life and time up with crap.

  37. God! Thanks Tim! You can’t imagine how much I needed to read this today. I’m starting a new business right now based on one of my inventions, I’m broke, exhausted, and assailed by incredible self-doubt. If it weren’t for encouragement like this, I would seriously just park my car on the tracks.

    Keep up with the honesty – without it, you start to look superhuman, and we start to lose hope.

  38. “Being busy is a form of laziness”

    I am too busy of a person. And I tend to throw too much on myself. Does anyone have any suggestions on how to control myself?I I’m in college, fearing the future slightly. I’m mostly afraid I’ll get too busy with work and neglect my family. Any advice about how to balance, take steps, whatever. I’d like to stop this crazy spiral before I get in too deep.

  39. As I read your blog late at night after working side by side with a friend on our respective businesses I couldn’t help but to smile. We don’t work in the same field but earlier in the day had shared thoughts on what being “disciplined” meant to us and our perceived inability to “stick to it” . Funny thing is that hours after our conversation I looked over my laptop to see my friend Tom frantically working on his laptop. We both had been working diligently for more than a few hours. This all happened after cooking a nice meal and sharing more than a few life experiences and laughter with my house guest. So we sat in my home, three people: an entrepreneur, a film maker and a realtor (me) all with different professional goals sharing individual successes we had not even noticed. I realized as I sit here alone that the one thing we have not been able to “stick to” is defeat. That each one of us in our one way have succeeded at pursuing dreams, overcoming challenges and keeping our eye on the price despite circumstances. As we consistently rise to a new day our manic energy, need to create, compassion and the love we receive builds a collective productivity that cannot be matched by the “disciplined” . It’s with happiness that I recall the words of that famous undisciplined geek : “Here’s to the crazy ones “

  40. Hey Tim, thanks so much for this post.

    I appreciate that it wasn’t easy to ‘expose’ yourself like this, but I found this helpful. Turns out that I’m not that different to you and you’ve just set me up on the right foot again.

    Thank you.

    Martin

  41. Hi Tim,

    Thanks a million times for the post. Thanks to this post I’ve just knocked off two tasks that I’ve been avoiding for weeks. I feel like a superhero 😉

    My 80/20: There seems to be three parts to this:

    1. Process

    2. Emotions

    3. Boundaries

    1. Process:

    Set up process goals, not end goals:

    It’s impossible to magically lose 5kg’s. It is possible to stop eating anything that’s white or could be white, have cheat days, use ice packs for 30 min at night etc. (Recommended reading: Dan Pink’s book “Drive”).

    Break big tasks down into manageable tasks.: I get overwhelmed when I try to catch up on EVERYTHING that I should have done but haven’t. But one task at a time…no problemo.

    Your strategy feeds nicely into that second one – making a good choice on what to do next.

    . Emotions:

    Fear is the one that paralyses me most. Here’s how I’ve been dealing with it.

    Ask “What is the underlying fear/need?” Get it met:

    If the task I’m avoiding involves conflict, learn about conflict. If it’s constancy, wear one pair of jeans for a week straight. If you don’t want to be alone, set up a skype conversation with that crazy friend of yours in Timbuktu before you go to say good bye to your friends.

    Practice self-compassion:

    No amount of internal bullying or self-criticism has ever gotten me to do anything.

    The most effective way of doing this that I’ve found was from research by Paul Gilbert & Sue Procter (Compassionate mind training for people with high shame and self-criticism: Overview and pilot study of a group therapy approach). By working with the sentence below (taken from their text) and changing it as necessary some scary stuff stopped being scary:

    “It is sad that I feel frightened/worthless/confused but this is understandable given the fears I’ve been confronted with. However, if I’m kind and gentle with myself I can focus on…; and it would help me to do…”

    A useful if somewhat counter-intuitive affirmation (due to this, I’ve been able to tackle bigger challenges and do better): It’s ok to fail.

    Here’s what I do when I hit rock-bottom and nothing else seems to work:

    “I can’t do [insert super-intimidating task here] but I can do [insert related but smaller task here].”

    This often helps to get me out from under the covers and into the shower. Suddenly, I’m making breakfast and the next task isn’t so big and scary anymore.

    3. Boundaries:

    I (and it seems a lot of other people) have very unrealistic ideas of how much I can accomplish in a day.

    Your strategy solves the problem…blammo! Just do one nasty a day.

    Schedule “play days” as religiously as cheat days. I’m not a robot, I like to play. Somehow, I keep on forgetting that.

    Cheers & keep up the awesome blogging.

  42. Hi Tim,

    Thanks a million times for the post. Thanks to this post I’ve just knocked off two tasks that I’ve been avoiding for weeks!

    Procrastination/Productivity Lessons – my current 80/20:

    I find it helpful to break it into three parts:

    1. Process

    2. Emotions

    3. Boundaries

    1. Process

    Set up process goals, not end goals: It’s impossible to magically lose 5kg’s. It is possible to stop eating anything that’s white or could be white, have cheat days, use ice packs for 30 min at night etc. (Recommended reading: Dan Pink’s book “Drive”).

    Break big tasks down into manageable tasks: I get overwhelmed when I try to catch up on EVERYTHING that I should have done but haven’t. But one task at a time…no problemo.

    Your strategy feeds nicely into that second one – making a good choice on what to do next.

    2. Emotions

    Fear is the one that paralyses me most. Here’s how I’ve been dealing with it:

    Ask “What is the underlying fear/need?” Get it met:

    If the task I’m avoiding involves conflict, learn about conflict. If it’s constancy, wear one pair of jeans for a week straight. If you don’t want to be alone, set up a skype conversation with that crazy friend in Timbuktu before you go to say good bye to your friends.

    Practice self-compassion (a bit “soft” but it’s definitely part of the 20%):

    No amount of internal bullying or self-criticism has ever worked. Not once. So cut it out.

    The most effective way of practicing compassion that I’ve found was from research by Paul Gilbert & Sue Procter (Compassionate mind training for people with high shame and self-criticism: Overview and pilot study of a group therapy approach). By working with the sentence below (taken from their text) and changing it as necessary I’ve broken the procrastination cycle on more than a few occasions:

    “It is sad that I feel frightened/worthless/confused but this is understandable given the fears I’ve been confronted with. However, if I’m kind and gentle with myself I can focus on…; and it would help me to do…”

    A useful if somewhat counter-intuitive affirmation: It’s ok to fail.

    Here’s what I do when I hit rock-bottom and nothing else seems to work:

    “I can’t do [insert super-intimidating task here] but I can do [insert related but smaller task here].”

    This often helps to get me out from under the covers and into the shower. Suddenly, I’m making breakfast and the next thing begins to seem doable.

    3. Boundaries

    I (and it seems a lot of other people) have very unrealistic ideas of how much I can accomplish in a day.

    Your strategy solves the problem…blammo!

    Schedule “play days” as religiously as cheat days. I’m not a robot, I like to play. Somehow, I keep on forgetting that.

    I still find it hard to stick to one thing a day.

  43. Hi Tim,

    Thanks for writing this. I empathize completely, and for what it’s worth your work has had a big impact on my life. I mean that in terms of helping me improve my workflows, my overall situation, and my health.

    I recently wrote a post on my own site about how I was able to be very productive — and even incrementally “happy” — during a difficult period. Owe a lot of that to you.

    So thanks and continued good luck wrestling the demons. Here’s that post if you have a moment to take a look:

    http://mdibiasio.com/2013/11/02/riding-the-wave-balancing-life-and-creative-productivity/

    If you happen to read, you’ll note I came to the same conclusions about caffeine and also turned to therapy and meditation 🙂

    Michael

  44. Thanks for the post, Tim.

    I also think of Neil Gaiman’s observation as sage advice.

    To answer your plea at the end of the post: in my bag of tricks I have one thing that tops everything else. Read Moshe Feldenkrais’ books and Somatics by Thomas Hanna. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

    Best

  45. Your best ever writing Tim. Thank you. We all have our breakdowns. They are the precursors to the breakthroughs. Let go of as much as possible emotion around the situation I find is helpful in embracing the “bad” part so that we can create a mental emptiness to see “something” we can do. I love the “do one thing” concept you offer too btw, reminds of @zenhabts MITS. THANK YOU SO MUCH btw. Is there a new book in this topic perchance?

  46. Hi Tim, this is my first time reading your log and I haven’t read your books, but now jam inspired to do so.

    I appreciate these productivity tips. It makes perfect sense to schedule only 3 things and do those well. And the number 3 is magical, too.

    Meditation calms the anxious mind and instead of full out neurotic without the meditation, with meditation, thought doesn’t have the same power. Flow is more easily obtained!

  47. Thank you so much for this post. I’ve been staring at the screen trying to think of a way to describe all the reasons I find this post so powerful. The biggest thing I can say is a sincere thank you for sharing these inner workings, doing it so articulately and setting the example. Thank you.

  48. “If I go crazy then would you still call me Superman.” -ThreeDoorsDown

    I know how you feel. Excellent, useful post for so many people.

    I wish you all the peace you can get.

    Paul

  49. “Gentlemanly” websites! lol Ladies do this too. If you haven’t read “Think and Grow Rich” please give it a look. There is a chapter on sexual energy and how important it is to channel it correctly. It is power.

  50. On the money post Tim, that’s exactly how I go about avoiding stuff.

    Very powerful to know that getting one a day out of the way will add up and won’t seem like such an insurmountable task

    S.

    P.S.

    Your fifth bullet point is a documented threat to getting a muse off the ground.

  51. Interesting to see an inside look. Guess even when you are San Frans “Superman” life isn’t all sunshine and roses

  52. I meant to post this here 🙂

    Tim your are truly an inspiration! You make success easy because you know that failure comes first! Anyone can highlight their pluses, but it takes a real person to tell the world about their bad days Thank you for reminding me to walk down the street naked.

  53. Hey Tim,

    I love your article.

    I was wondering how much DHEA cream you use (whats your regime) and what brand?

    If you don’t have time to answer I hope you do an article about it and the front squats.

  54. Tim, I really want to thank you for sharing this with total honesty.

    Sometimes I feel like I’m losing my freaking mind building a start-up. Its certainly not as easy as they say.

    And in spite of the self help gurus I’ve met, courses done & books read, its a constant daily grind most of the time just to move forward.

    Many times my mind plays tricks on me and resistance kicks in. I honestly have to go to war with my thoughts sometimes to make headway on my current projects and my greatest enemy is self doubt because I feel I’m going it alone.

    It is reassuring to know from you that this is normal for us. Just to hear that you go through these feelings too is comforting because I know these internal battles are ok. Its good to have someone else in the trenches to relate to.

    Thank you

    Regards

    Sean

  55. Tim,

    I admire your honesty and candour almost as much as your achievements. It takes a lot of guts to bring each of them into the world.

    I work as an IT manager for a large company. My day is filled with other people’s priorities and system emergencies. For the last 6 months or more I’ve felt increasingly out of control of my working day.

    Can you offer any suggestions for those of us in such externally-driven work situations?

    Thanks again. Adam

  56. Tim, How do you handle the little things? like meditating twice a day. For me it is easier to complete big tasks and harder to make the little stuff everyday. Can you help me out with this?

  57. Hi Tim,

    I came to your talk at Yelp while you were releasing 4 Hour Chef. We chatted at the end briefly about your section about “effective baseball swings”. I found you to be honest and refreshing. Thank you for all of the inspirational work. I’m not going to lie, I’ve felt less engaged with your message lately (I was a bigger fan when you were the underdog :)). This post is all too relevant to current events in my life. It totally reminded me why you’re truly one of the great inspirations to my generation.

    Thanks!

    Chad S.

    1. Thanks very much for the kind words, Chad. It means a lot. I’m beginning to think that the more we successful we *appear*, the more important the reality checks are… especially for ourselves.

      Hope all is well!

      Tim

    2. Chad,

      You’re comment really resonated with my feelings toward Tim lately and how this post has turned that around.

  58. 1st time reading your blog, Tim and impressed at how open you are about your less than superhuman moments. You are a lot more accessible this way and will help far more people. Thanks for the post!

  59. Thank You Tim, I can personally relate to the Neil Gaiman quote and Im glad to see more smart people like yourself developing a daily meditation practice.

    -nick

  60. Thanks Tim. Just amazing. I’m doing this tomorrow. The first thing I have been doing is the 5 Minute Journal. That sets up the day just right. Great recommendation!

  61. I remember a while back Tony Robbins said that an attitude of gratitude is a key to fulfillment. It’s what helps us balance the scorecard. Otherwise, it’s easy to focus too much on what we don’t have or haven’t achieved.

    What I found especially interesting though is this:

    Tony Robbins starts his day by practicing an attitude of gratitude.

    He starts with a power walk, breathing with a specific pattern, while thinking about all the things he’s grateful for. This gives him unshakable confidence and extreme energy to tackle his day.

    Gratitude is a better place to start the day from than overwhelm, or underwhelm.

    Also, a lighter feeling is a big deal.

    Recently, I read The Abundance Book: Learn to Let Go of any Negativity in Seconds, by Larry Crane. It’s interesting in that he focuses on getting and maintaining “a lighter feeling.” It’s not a heady thing. In fact, Crane says that’s the problem. He says, the key is to build a habit of letting our feelings flow through us versus hold on tight.

    When we hold on tight, we get heavy. When we release, we get lighter.

    If you know what it’s like to travel lighter, whether a lighter backpack, or even lighter shoes, you can imagine the value of traveling emotionally lighter on this journey we call life.

  62. It’s all about priorities and for me it’s a really hard task to deal with. I mean for example, okay, I’m mainly busy with language things to do, but also, I’m interested in psychology, so these two things are important equally to me. I’m not sure how to manage that problem…

  63. To be honest. I’m a little shocked. Scared even. I thought I had to “hold it all together” to be a successful person. You’re suggesting I can just be me. I like the idea except I don’t know if I like me. This will take some getting used to. Thanks for the inspiration.

    Don

  64. Tim, love this post. I love the short style.

    One thing that’s really helped me avoid the manic-depressive feelings is focusing on my core skills and what I’m best at. That’s helped me feel energized by my work a lot.

    Here’s the 2 tests that helped me isolate this stuff (I sell high end masterminds and consulting to local businesses as well as people who sell information products online)

    Kolbe Index A test (google it b/c I’m not sure if I’m allowed to link to it)

    This test focuses on “what you’d do if left to your own devices”…very insightful for getting into “flow” and doing things your way.

    Perry Marshall’s Marketing DNA Test

    This showed me I should focus exclusively on face-to-face and phone sales for my business. It’s also helped me realize that if 80% of my day are these 2 things my income levels SOAR.

    Everything else should be designed to serve these 2 core sales functions for me.

    Those 2 tests seriously have helped me tremendously.

    My personal goal in this business is to sell over $1 million worth of consulting packages from Nov 1, 2013 til Dec 31, 2014 (about 14 months ish). Because I’ve isolated these 2 core functions and how I communicate while i sell (empathetic and best in “on the fly” situations) I will blow through these goals with minimal “work” b/c i’ll be doing what I love.

    Honestly man, that’s helped me more than anything.

    To give you one quote that one of my “energy mentors” gave me about 2 weeks ago…”you are everything you need, right here, right now, you don’t need anything else, no other goals matter, but what you are right now”.

    That has centered me soooo many times when I’m quick to be anxious and it helps me get back to my core energy state of “selling and serving”.

    Trust me, there’s a lot of stuff that you can do by minimizing your life/days as well that will help you prevent your ups and downs brother…the downs too must be recognized as your body and mind telling you that you’re not doing what you know you should be doing. Embrace those feelings because honestly man they’re treasures.

    Without darkness, there is no light. (that phrase always helps me when I”m down)

    Hope that serves you buddy!

    Brad Spencer

    1. Thanks for sharing that stuff Brad. I’ll be using a lot of that going forward. I’ve often had the thought, “What activity would I have the least resistance towards right now?” I use this question just to give myself some direction on aimless days.

  65. The goal is not the goal. Like with meditation, eventually you realize it’s all the stuff around getting to the cushion; that is where most of the insight happens at least for the first years. One of the things I like to use is passive learning. For instance, with meditation I find it really helps to passively listen to inspiring words. Don’t try to do anything about it. Don’t take notes or worry about remembering everything. Just listen. Accepting the way things are really helps to relax the grip we have on the steering wheel of life. This is not personal.

  66. Seriously endearing read. Your honesty is refreshing in a world of stylized selfies meant to capitalize on facade.

    Also—does it get worse in Autumn? I’m much more crazy then…and I don’t think it’s just me.

  67. I’ve immersed myself in the realm of understanding creativity for the last several years. I’ve learned that without fail, across all disciplines, it’s messy. Messy, complicated, full of u-turns and restarts.

    Your work, your world that you’ve created to inspire us all, is the world and work of a Creative. So’s mine, and likely everyone else reading your blog.

    It’s messy. And always will be. And you talking about it here is THE best thing I’ve read all year. Thank you.

  68. Hi Tim-

    If you continue the therapy and find you’re not getting the results you want, you may want to look into hypnotherapy. Often a much faster/more straightforward way of getting core issues resolved. Important to be a smart shopper though – lots of BS out there in the field. Best of luck with it.

  69. Hi Tim,

    What you said about wearing your heart on your sleeve really stood out to me. I’m an ex-Berkeley computer science major who just dropped out to see what I can make of my life, and I would really appreciate some feedback. My website is listed, and contains all the info about what I’m doing now, but I’m always open to more suggestions. Basically I took to heart Larry Smith’s TED talk on Why You Will Fail to Have a Great Career. My passion has always been writing/self-improvement, but I’ve been pushed into financial security through being a lawyer, etc., my whole life. I finally decided enough was enough. If I fail, fine, I’ll go back to the trail of mediocrity, but I won’t do it until I know I can’t make it on my own. I currently use social media to get my work out there, but I’d appreciate ANY feedback whatsoever, about anything. That goes for all the other readers too!

    Thanks,

    Ji-Min

  70. I applaud you, Tim, for your very honest post! It is also very helpful and comes at a great time to me as I am trying to get my first business going.

    I wish more of the successful “gurus” out there would talk about their struggles, because they often give the impression they have no resistance and push through all obstacles without ever having a single shadow of self-doubt or other negative emotion. I was starting to think I wasn’t meant to do this, but I see I was wrong. I now know I can do this.

    A big thanks and a big hug from cold Denmark.

    Pau

  71. Tim, I stopped reading your blog at some point because I convinced myself we were two different species and we weren’t governed by the same laws.

    I love this post and how similar your downward spiral looks to mine. Thanks for putting it out there.

    My favorite trick for funk-busting is inspired in part by the book Bird by Bird. I ask myself what is the smallest thing I can do right now and I do it. Completing that one small item inevitably builds some momentum towards the next thing. Tony Robbins also deserves some credit here for his “build on small wins” approach.

  72. Very helpful advice. I am a neurotic workaholic and this type of thinking has been very helpful in focusing some of my energy. I am a professional musician with a very broad skill set predominantly in the creative areas (music, art, cooking)

    I haven’t found any posts about music and harnessing this 4-hour approach to creative areas.

    I’ve been reading a lot of posts on this blog and find them all very helpful and incredibly broad. I’ve recently been attempting to apply these methods to music practice. Although I’ve already been a virtuosic and atypical musician, I have found these ideas very helpful in really breaking through barriers.

    I’ve known many musicians and artist types who have a very difficult time creating or improving with any degree of consistency or efficiency.

    If anyone would like to hear more about some of the things I’ve been working on please let me know!

  73. Great post! I loved the idea of the post it notes. I am very new to blogging and just starting to get my ideas on life management out there. I am soaking up as much good information as possible, and enjoy reading your posts. Thank you for sharing.

  74. Brave post and extremely honest. I can’t wait for the follow up post on caffeine. I am interested to hear what you have to say about it.

    Thanks Tim!

  75. I’ve never ever commented on anything, ever. But, I had to say a heartfelt thank you for this post. It is this kind of honesty and willingness to be vulnerable that changes lives and saves lives- you saved mine today.

    Thank you, Tim. Truly.

  76. Many entrepreneurs don’t want to admit it to others when they are struggling with emotions or lack of productivity.

    This is a very honest post and it took a lot of courage to hit “Publish” I”m sure. This is a post to which many entrepreneurs can relate in an unspoken way.

    If we can share what we are insecure about, we can support each other when we’re not feeling motivated or successful.

    Thanks Tim!

  77. I am very happy you decided to post this. Reading this has helped me understand that many times we are all fighting a similar fight within ourselves.

    Cheers Tim!

    Lindsey

  78. Not now, but when I graduate from college in one year, I would appreciate the opportunity to shadow you for one week.

  79. Yea, I feel like that all the time recently, but only when things are not going great…which has been all the time in the last few months.

    It’s very helpful to know that already successful millionaires feel the same way. I even recently signed up with simpleology.com…but only did day 1 and haven’t followed up. So helpful Tim, thanks for being honest.

  80. So glad you decided to post this. After failing army financial services launch, I am back to working a 9-5 to pay bills. Ouch. My biggest downfall was failing to manage fear, overwhelm and perfectionism, and I’m quite discouraged about my lack of discipline and emotional intelligence. In fact, I don’t really even know where to start to get back on track, I just know that I wont quit until I succeed. Your post is timely and encouraging.

    What did I so when I don’t even know what’s broken?

  81. Excellent article! The best I’ve heard to help me from my often distracted mind. Add this to my procrastination tablet that I can jot distractions on and I think I’ll be improving my limited productivity time! Thank you!

  82. Very cool post. resonated with me, as after reading your book (4 Hr Workweek) and being inspired by it. I see you as one of those super heroes. Thanks for posting.