How to Optimize Creative Output — Jarvis versus Ferriss (#159)

The Tim Ferriss Show with Chase Jarvis

“Routine, in an intelligent man, is a sign of ambition.” – W. H. Auden

This episode is a conversation/debate/trading of ideas between Chase Jarvis (@ChaseJarvis) and yours truly. We discuss a little bit of everything, including:

  • Optimizing creative output
  • Systems thinking
  • Quota setting
  • Celebrating the small wins
  • Success for type-A personalities
  • Meditation techniques
  • Absurdity
  • The details of the struggles of creating a high level
  • And much, much more…

If you enjoy this conversation, then I recommend you check out Here you can find incredible videos from people like Richard Branson, Seth Godin, Brené Brown, and many more. It’s free. Sign up now.

If you sign up by Friday, May 13th at 11:59 p.m. PT, you are entered to win a mentorship from me, Chase, and 3 other high-level performers for a year.  We will pick 1 winner on May 15, and I hope it’s you.

If you want a quick taste of what’s in this episode, here’s a story (I’ve never shared before) about the closest I’ve come to drop-kicking someone.


#159: How to Optimize Creative Output — Jarvis versus Ferriss

Want to hear another podcast delving into tactics for enhancing creativity? — Listen to my conversation with Whitney Cummings. In this episode, we discuss how she uses pain as fuel for her creativity (stream below or right-click here to download):

#84: How to Turn Pain Into Creativity (Whitney Cummings)

This podcast is brought to you by FreshBooks. FreshBooks is a bookkeeping software, which is used by a ton of the start-ups I advise and many of the contractors I work with. It is the easiest way to send invoices, get paid, track your time, and track your clients.

FreshBooks tells you when your clients have viewed your invoices, helps you customize your invoices, track your hours, automatically organize your receipts, have late payment reminders sent automatically and much more.

Right now you can get a free month of complete and unrestricted use. You do not need a credit card for the trial. To claim your free month, go to and enter “Tim” in the “how did you hear about us section.”

This podcast is also brought to you by 99Designs, the world’s largest marketplace of graphic designers. I have used them for years to create some amazing designs. When your business needs a logo, website design, business card, or anything you can imagine, check out 99Designs.

I used them to rapid prototype the cover for The 4-Hour Body, and I’ve also had them help with display advertising and illustrations. If you want a more personalized approach, I recommend their 1-on-1 service. You get original designs from designers around the world. The best part? You provide your feedback, and then you end up with a product that you’re happy with or your money back. Click this link and get a free $99 upgrade. Give it a test run.

QUESTION(S) OF THE DAY: What is your biggest frustration with the creative process? Please let me know in the comments.

Scroll below for links and show notes…

Selected Links from the Episode

Headspace | Calm

Hardcore History | Here’s the Thing (shorter episode length)

Jamie Foxx | BJ Miller | Patrick Arnold

Arnold SchwarzeneggerDerek Sivers | Kevin Kelly

Show Notes

  • On the success of The Tim Ferriss Show [5:56]
  • Systems inspired by Scott Adams [6:34]
  • How to use the question, “What would this look like if it were easy?” [9:08]
  • How can I set my ‘quota’ lower so that I can feel like I’m winning? [13:33]
  • How to celebrate the small wins [18:13]
  • Lionel Ritchie anecdotes [19:40]
  • Meditation techniques and practical tactics for dealing with the real world [23:38]
  • Absurdity as a synonym for creativity [29:17]
  • Why the masks people wear often tell us more about the person than the truth [33:03]
  • Details of our morning routines [40:58]
  • Evening routines and tools for better sleep [45:23]
  • How to deal with the negative or self-defeating voices in your head [50:53]
  • How to not “retreat into story” [55:24]
  • How to manage the complexities of life [59:28]
  • Why good content and good work is the best SEO in the world [1:05:18]
  • Why “It’s too late” is usually awful advice [1:06:20]
  • Embracing (and creating) the freedom to play and experiment [1:07:38]
  • A story that Tim has never told [1:11:03]
  • Why having certain constraints is necessary to actualize your highest potential [1:21:00]
  • How to use creative constraints to get rid of crutches and improve your craft [1:23:36]
  • If Tim could put up a billboard up anywhere, where would you put it and what would it say? [1:28:58]
  • Tim’s most-gifted book to friends, acquaintances, and family [1:29:27]
  • Something about Tim that most people would be surprised to learn [1:31:01]

People Mentioned



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.

Leave a 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.)

54 Replies to “How to Optimize Creative Output — Jarvis versus Ferriss (#159)”

  1. Oh how I love the ECA induced double leg dropkick story. This is probably the best interview I’ve ever heard with you, Tim. Forever a fan of your writing, show, and the podcast.

  2. I’m currently reading The Four Hour Workweek and, encouraged by the Princeton experiment, went to go and email Tim. However, his disclaimer on his contact page encourage me to come here and pose my question for the group, versus sending an email directly to him and having it lost amongst the thousands. So, hoping for some wisdom from the group, here’s my question: What would you do if you were fired from your job today?

    This hasn’t happened to me, yet, but there is a very good chance I’ll be losing my job within the week. I have many passions, but very little savings, and I am not interested in (and probably not able to) continue work in my current profession, which, by the way, is also impossible to perform freelance-style. Basically, it’s not an option. What would you do? What can I do? Any advice?

    1. Tim said in one of his recent podcasts that he actually ruined a relationship he was building with a high level professional early in his career by asking a very similar question.

      Not shooting you down at all but part of the most responsible answer is to say, “How the heck would I know the answer to that?”

      What I will say is that it sounds like you have an opportunity in front of you. Being employed often limits the search for a new job or career. If you get let go, seize the opportunity to go do…anything, or even…everything!

      Do you want to make a meaningful impact while you work? I’ve heard many success stories from employees of health-conscious grocery stores (Whole Foods, Trader Joes, etc.).

      Have you ever wanted to entertain? Go get a server job and start showing up to open mic nights for comedy or music.

      Do you want to travel for work? If you don’t have a professional degree you can join a cruise ship. The days are long but you typically dock at interesting and enjoyable places (Hawaii, etc.).

    2. Hard to say without knowing your circumstances. Are other people relying on your income or is it just yourself? If the latter, that gives you a lot more freedom. You say you have many passions, but a passion is not enough, if you are not talented and hard working at the things you are passionate for. If you are, there should be a way to create at least a modest income stream, if you are not look out for a way to develop more in one of those areas. It also depends on if you could do the work you want to do pretty much everywhere, or if you had to live in certain places to offer them. If all you need would be a stable internet connection you could live at a place with very low fixed costs and create more freedom.

  3. Very good! Absolutely love your podcasts and writing. I consider you a mentor of mine and would love for you to take a look at a couple blog posts I put up this week. Keep doing amazing work and I always look forward to reading or listening to your work. [Moderator: link removed]

  4. Tim – Thanks for all you are putting out there! There are many examples of how you’ve improved my life over the past two years with the podcast (saunas, meditation, thinking differently, too many others to mention!) – I have not missed an episode!

  5. Tim did you remove the small win involving your ex-girlfriend from the jar. Burn it. Just kidding. 2 cents worth: I got married at 37 and I would say getting married to the right person is more important than being worried about one’s age. Probably should have waited longer until I felt better about myself. You are an amazing person and Guru to many…so F her.

  6. Good stuff.

    Too much coconut oil turned the irritating backround chatter in my head, into a full on artillery barrage.

    Took me a while to work it out, but dropped from one and a half tablespoons, twice a day, down to less than one tablespoon full in the morning, less at night.

    I also think, it needs somewhere to go. If I don’t need to be on top form, I don’t take it. If I take it, and have no outlet for the extra mental or physical performance, I get irritable.

    Now I’ve got the dosage suiting me, the chatter is really easy to control. It still comes, but I can switch it off so much easier than I used to be able to.

  7. I LOVE SHOW NOTES, I don’t think they could be more wonderfully organised and practical. Thankyou to who ever takes the time to write them.

  8. [29:17] On creativity and absurdity: Hayao Miyazaki’s theory on creativity is based on acting more child-like.

    Here’s an awesome interview with him at Berkeley: (I’ve cut to the exact point in the conversation where he brings up this concept.)

    [45:23] About morning and evening routines: Instead of creating a task list in the morning, why not list tomorrow’s tasks when you wrap up work for the day (i.e. pre-bedtime routine or before evening social activities)? This might alleviate some of the anxiety when trying to sleep.

  9. Good interview Tim! You were fluid and frank This Farnam Street post on the Munger Operating System is a good distillation of his thoughts: Also, to your points on the subject of constraints, the main thing you learn in 4 years of art school is that every single project comes with constraints.

  10. Tim have you heard of Neil Pasricha? he wrote the Book of Awesome and more recently The Happiness Equation. Harvard grad etc and is a phenomenal speaker. Suggest you have a look and maybe an interview would be interesting and helpful for your Ferriss Followers! When the top google search is how to be happy this guy gives some practical approaches in today’s busy world.

    Im a fan of yours and think this would be a good fit.

  11. Parts of this struck me as overly philosophical–too in your own head. Maybe that’s just because you both have spent time codifying these ideas. So when I hear these abstract thoughts presented in a structured manner, it seems weird.

    Or maybe I just prefer practical application instead of philosophy. I’m not sure. Talking is hard.

  12. This was one of the best interviews of you. You were so in your element in this one, Tim Ferriss. I wrote a very long feedback first. It was a good one, but wasn’t sure about posting it here. But I ended up cutting all the text and pasting it in my morning journal instead. I don’t know if you mind reading long comments and I don’t wanna look like I am hovering over.

    Speaking of morning journal, that is where I write my wins and losses. I put a star next to important notes. No jars needed. Isn’t that the point of keeping a journal anyway? To evaluate and plan? Anyway, especially, in the USA, everyone is walking around repeating “I am type A.” like a broken record. With many new start-ups coming up, and people trying to find easier ways to be rich, “Type A” current meaning in the society is “I can’t digest someone’s being better than me. I need to one-up everyone around me.” When someone says “I am type A.” that is how I translate it because that is what I see. I am not saying that is how you are, Tim Ferriss. Not at all. In fact, you are true Type A. Driven to succeed. It is a good thing when what you are doing is beneficial to the society and yours is. I took Insights Discovery Personal Profile test. I am an Inspiring Motivator. It made so much sense, as I changed a lot of people for better. I didn’t even know I was doing it. If you ever feel like you need to get over yourself and calm down, just give me a call, Tim Ferriss. I will tell you what you need to hear with a flat face. That is a free service I provide to people on a regular basis. haha! Joke aside, I do that. And I always prefer hearing the truth back.

    I like that Chase Jarvis mentioned how he values spending time with his elderly cat. That was precious. Hi Dexter! Thank you both for providing this convo. It was inspirational.

    Best xx

    1. By the way, I didn’t write about what I learned from this episode, I wrote about what I would contribute, especially about creativity. That is not something you learn from books. And, being money and fame oriented has nothing to do with creativity. Life is about fulfilling your own desires, not about proving yourself to other people. Real artists don’t live that way. But in a world where some people even torture themselves physically to get attention, it would be very hard to understand a true artist’s world view. Good luck with the new book Mr. Ferriss.

  13. Thank you or should I thank you’re genious girlfriend, for the JoA. I use it with my family since learning it from you in a previous podcast months ago, and it has only brought us awesomeness. The JoA is a fantastic learning tool for teenagers.

    I am using the concept in my work in IT incident management related to training and workflows. The concept is applicable in many areas of life and work.

    Thanks again. Since learning who you were about 2 years ago, You and your “team” have significantly changed my life at 46 proving that an old dog CAN learn new tricks.

  14. Love your bit about the taking time in your morning to think about what you’re grateful for, especially the small things. I have set an alarm on my phone/watch at 5 PM each day as a reminder to think about 1 thing that I’m thankful for. Great for perspective, and I love how most of the things I think about are just basic, small things (i.e. toothpaste, my office chair, cute otters, etc.).

  15. First episode I listened to, and I enjoyed it! I’m a “career creative” (a term I just heard used in this episode) and I write fiction.

    Something I would add as a way to optimize creative output is to completely remove yourself from the work, to make it less of an emotionally draining experience, though this may apply more to fiction writers.

    Tim, your observations re: the archaic publishing system really strikes a chord with me (editing on hard copies printed out 😉 I started my own pub co. to solve this as well, and am now tackling book discovery.

    I also live in SF, and if you would ever like to chat about how to fix publishing and book discovery, I’d welcome that. Cheers—Michelle Z.

  16. Thanks Tim, as always.

    Have you ever considered interviewing Tim Minchin as a guest. You may not have come across him, but I think it would be a highly enjoyable for all parties.

    For a taster, this is a commencement speech he gave several years ago:

  17. Tim, thank you for your exposing me to your gift. You have assisted me on my journey to find myself so much. I am very grateful for your contributions. I am currently on my 4th listen of this interview and i am still finding many gems.

  18. Tim – My brother and I are entrepreneurs in the Real Estate space and we wanted to specifically thank you for your idea of the “Jar of Awesome.” We have implemented in our daily lives. This episode, in my humble opinion, is your best work yet. Thanks, and take care! Warm Regards,


  19. Jarvis briefly mentions ‘salting his water’ (if I’m not mistaken) when talking about his habits and drinking however much water it is he drinks. He also says, I believe, ‘thanks to Starrett.’ I tried to look this up but all I was able to come up with was the BalancedHydration product he developed with Nutriforce.

    Do you guys know if this is what Jarvis was talking about? It really seemed like he was talking about straight up salt, which actually sounds familiar and I think I remember hearing Starrett mention something like that before.

    I’m pretty interested in this bc although I drink plenty of water and eat a damn healthy, balanced diet I get cramps more frequently than I think I should.


    ps.: Keep up the fenomenal work Mr. Ferriss – listening to your podcast and reading your blog has truly changed my life for the better in every single aspect.

  20. Tim, I’m interested in the hot baths part of your routine and whether you have any concerns about its impact on fertility! I have looked at male infertility recently after a friend went through it and I came across some evidence that frequent hot baths may have an impact on spermatogenesis. Whilst there is no literature on the topic, it has become tradition in Japan that businessmen without offspring are not allowed to partake in meetings in the hot onsen. I take baths, I haven’t had kids yet, and I haven’t had a sperm count done but I’m thinking about it and thought id throw this to the master self experimenter. What do you think?

    1. I’ve been lead to believe it’s natural rock salt that is best to put in water, to stop cramps. Table salt is different stuff, not that I really know why.

      Rock salt works for me anyhow. Half a dozen grains in a litre of water when I come home from work. More if I’ve been really pumping the sweat out.

      Actually makes me feel a whole lot better too.

  21. Thoroughly enjoyed this. while I was drinking a Bonarda. Impressive self discipline Chase It is amazing how something one chooses as a side project or a way of release can also become the very thing that teaches you and takes you the next chapters of your life.

  22. Hey, dudes! For some great tricks on dealing with the voices in your head, check out Tara Mohr’s Playing Big. Mohr is writing to women but most of the tools/tactics are appropriate for all humans. Tim, you should have her on your show!

  23. Great podcast, I know it was a small part of the cast and that you did not really get too deep into it but the concept of trickster gods is actually incredibly fascinating. Think about what had to happen for that to be a consistency across the mythologies of several cultures. Enough people, from enough cultures had to share enough experiences to come to an agreement that they should identify that there were gods responsible for the universe to have the personality of a practical joker!!! That is crazy to me!! Along the same lines of logic that people used at the time to explain away thunder and lightning, tides and waves, earthquakes, and even the afterlife!! There were enough shared experiences that almost every culture from history has at some point tried to explain through the existence of a god (and usually one higher on the pecking order than one would hope) that was responsible for the appearance of the universe being a prankster. This perception has not faded!! People still say things like “God must be laughing” all the time. People from history made efforts to appease these gods because life would so often appear to have the ethereal equivalent of that uncle who put the whoopee cushion under the couch pillow. How many times must enough people slip on the metaphorical banana peel before they agree as a culture that there is “god” responsible for these occurrences!!!! One worthy of acknowledgment and a necessity to make efforts to appease this god. These trickster gods were not low on the hierarchy of many mythologies! They tend to be high ranking individuals. The most commonly studies historical mythologies ranked these gods as just beneath the deities responsible for the most terrifying natural phenomena. On par with the ones who dragged the sun across the sky or changed the seasons!!!!

    Even with the collective human consciousness having generally evolved past believing that a chariot pulls the sun across the sky or a man causes waves by stirring the ocean with a stick we still do not find much resistance to the concept that the universe has a bit of a pranksterish (I know that is not a word) sense of humor to it.

  24. Awesome interview, you guys had me cracking up at some points. It’s really awesome to see a friendship of two wise men talk about their routines, successes’s, habits, etc. You guys are a huge inspiration for me, i’m in my early 20’s and look up to both of you. Keep up it.

  25. Great idea to do your own Letters from a Stoic, you should definitely contact Jessica Hische for the Lettering and typohraphic work, she’s the best!

  26. WOWZA! total goldmine


    I hate to say best or favorite but most of this was EXACTLY what I needed to hear exactly right now.

    been over & overing it and still finding gems

  27. HEY DUDE…

    I am listening to your book The Four Hour Work Week… it refers to FORMS, CALCULATORS etc… everything i would need on your website. Where are they?

  28. Thank you Tim for this episode, I watched the Gaiman commencement speech and LOVE IT, I’ve been wanting to write poetry and have been lacking something to do it consistently, as I listen to any of these podcasts, I found an idea and am now committing to taking the next 130 days to write 100 peoms to my wife in a journal she made for me, as a first anniversary gift!! Thank you for pushing and nourishing my creative spirit. I bring your name up very often in my classroom of 8th graders all the time in attempts to expose them to a great role model!

  29. Amazing podcast, great info to be weened from this and to translate into everyday life. Your method of setting the bar low is a grat idea.

  30. Tim,

    There is research suggesting that mindfulness might NOT lead to lower, but higher performance, greater motivation (and of course well-being). Where can I send you the document?

  31. THANK YOU TIM FOR ROBUST AUDIO VOLUME ON YOUR PODCAST! Like you mentioned in this episode, audio volume is important. I have recently been struggling listening to other podcasts spending my time driving, adjusting the open window positions, and turning the volume to max disgruntled. Thank you for this attention and this fantastic episode with Ryan Holiday!