Testing The "Impossible": 17 Questions That Changed My Life (#206)

Learning to zig instead of zag during horseback archery in Japan. (Photo: David West)
My life has been a series of questions and odd experiments. Here, horseback archery in Japan. (Photo: David West)

The following is a sample chapter from my new book, Tools of Titans: The Tactics, Routines, and Habits of Billionaires, Icons, and World-Class Performers. Any page numbers are from the print edition.

Audio version is first, then the full text is below that.


Testing The "Impossible": 17 Questions That Changed My Life (#206)

Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.
— Mark Twain

Reality is largely negotiable.

If you stress-test the boundaries and experiment with the “impossibles,” you’ll quickly discover that most limitations are a fragile collection of socially reinforced rules you can choose to break at any time.

What follows are 17 questions that have dramatically changed my life. Each one is time-stamped, as they entered the picture at precise moments.

#1 — What if I did the opposite for 48 hours?

In 2000, I was selling mass data storage to CEOs and CTOs in my first job out of college. When I wasn’t driving my mom’s hand-me-down minivan to and from the office in San Jose, California, I was cold calling and cold emailing. “Smiling and dialing” was brutal. For the first few months, I flailed and failed (it didn’t help that my desk was wedged in a fire exit). Then, one day, I realized something: All of the sales guys made their sales calls between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. Obvious, right? But that’s part one. Part two: I realized that all of the gatekeepers who kept me from the decision makers—CEOs and CTOs—also worked from 9 to 5. What if I did the opposite of all the other sales guys, just for 48 hours? I decided to take a Thursday and Friday and make sales calls only from 7 to 8:30 a.m. and 6 to 7:30 p.m. For the rest of the day, I focused on cold emails. It worked like gangbusters. The big boss often picked up the phone directly, and I began doing more experiments with “What if I did the opposite?”: What if I only asked questions instead of pitching? What if I studied technical material, so I sounded like an engineer instead of a sales guy? What if I ended my emails with “I totally understand if you’re too busy to reply, and thank you for reading this far,” instead of the usual “I look forward to your reply and speaking soon” presumptive BS? The experiments paid off. My last quarter in that job, I outsold the entire L.A. office of our biggest competitor, EMC.

#2 — What do I spend a silly amount of money on? How might I scratch my own itch?

In late 2000 and early 2001, I saw the writing on the wall: The startup I worked for was going to implode. Rounds of layoffs started and weren’t going to end. I wasn’t sure what to do, but I’d been bitten by the startup bug and intoxicated by Silicon Valley. To explore business opportunities, I didn’t do in-depth market research. I started with my credit card statement and asked myself, “What do I spend a silly amount of money on?” Where did I spend a disproportionate amount of my income? Where was I price insensitive? The answer was sports supplements. At the time, I was making less than $40K a year and spending $500 or more per month on supplements. It was insane, but dozens of my male friends were equally overboard. I already knew which ads got me to buy, which stores and websites I used to purchase goods, which bulletin boards I frequented, and all the rest. Could I create a product that would scratch my own itch? What was I currently cobbling together (I had enough science background to be dangerous) that I couldn’t conveniently find at retail? The result was a cognitive enhancer called BrainQUICKEN. Before everyone got fired, I begged my coworkers to each prepay for a bottle, which gave me enough money to hire chemists, a regulatory consultant, and do a tiny manufacturing run. I was off to the races.

#3 — What would I do/have/be if I had $10 million? What’s my real TMI?

In 2004, I was doing better than ever financially, and BrainQUICKEN was distributed in perhaps a dozen countries. The problem? I was running on caffeine, working 15-hour days, and constantly on the verge of meltdown. My girlfriend, who I expected to marry, left me due to the workaholism. Over the next 6 months of treading water and feeling trapped, I realized I had to restructure the business or shut it down—it was literally killing me. This is when I began journaling on a few questions, including “What would I want to do, have, and be if I had $10 million in the bank?” and “What’s my real target monthly income (TMI)?” For the latter, in other words: How much does my dream life—the stuff I’m deferring for “retirement”—really cost if I pay on a monthly basis? (See fourhourworkweek.com/tmi) After running the numbers, most of my fantasies were far more affordable than I’d expected. Perhaps I didn’t need to keep grinding and building? Perhaps I needed more time and mobility, not more income? This made me think that maybe, just maybe, I could afford to be happy and not just “successful.” I decided to take a long overseas trip.

#4 — What are the worst things that could happen? Could I get back here?

These questions, also from 2004, are perhaps the most important of all, so they get their own chapter. (See “fear-setting” on page 463 in Tools of Titans.)

#5 — If I could only work 2 hours per week on my business, what would I do?

After removing anxieties about the trip with fear-setting, the next practical step was removing myself as the bottleneck in my business. Alas, “how can I not be a bottleneck in my own business?” isn’t a good question. After reading The E-Myth Revisited by Michael Gerber and The 80/20 Principle by Richard Koch, I decided that extreme questions were the forcing function I needed. The question I found most helpful was, “If I could only work 2 hours per week on my business, what would I do?” Honestly speaking, it was more like, “Yes, I know it’s impossible, but if you had a gun to your head or contracted some horrible disease, and you had to limit work to 2 hours per week, what would you do to keep things afloat?” The 80/20 principle, also known as Pareto’s law, is the primary tool in this case. It dictates that 80% (or more) of your desired outcomes are the result of 20% (or less) of your activities and inputs. Here are two related questions I personally used: “What 20% of customers/products/regions are producing 80% of the profit? What factors or shared characteristics might account for this?” Many such questions later, I began making changes: “firing” my highest-maintenance customers; putting more than 90% of my retail customers on autopilot with simple terms and standardized order processes; and deepening relationships (and increasing order sizes) with my 3 to 5 highest-profit, lowest-headache customers. That all led to . . .

#6 — What if I let them make decisions up to $100? $500? $1,000?

This question allowed me to take my customer service workload from 40 to 60 hours per week to less than 2 hours per week. Until mid-2004, I was the sole decision maker. For instance, if a professional athlete overseas needed our product overnighted with special customs forms, I would get an email or phone call from one of my fulfillment centers: “How should we handle this? What would you like to charge?” These unusual “edge cases” might seem like rare exceptions, but they were a daily occurrence. Dozens per week hit me, on top of everything else. The fix: I sent an email to all of my direct reports along the lines of “From this point forward, please don’t contact for me with questions about A, B, or C. I trust you. If it involves less than $100, please make the decision yourself and take a note (the situation, how you handled it, what it cost) in one document, so we can review and adjust each week. Just focus on making our customers happy.” I expected the worst, and guess what? Everything worked, minus a few expected hiccups here and there. I later increased the threshold to $500, then $1,000, and the “reviews” of decisions went from weekly, to monthly, to quarterly, to—once people were polished—effectively never. This experience underscored two things for me: 1) To get huge, good things done, you need to be okay with letting the small, bad things happen. 2) People’s IQs seem to double as soon as you give them responsibility and indicate that you trust them.

#7 — What’s the least crowded channel?

Fast-forward to December 26, 2006. I’ve finished writing The 4-Hour Workweek, and I sit down after a lovely Christmas to think about the upcoming April launch. What to do? I had no idea, so I tracked down roughly a dozen best-selling authors. I asked each questions like, “What were the biggest wastes of time and money for your last book launch? What would you never do again? What would you do more of? If you had to choose one place to focus $10,000, where would you focus?”

I heard one word repeatedly: blogs. They were apparently both very powerful and under-appreciated. My first question was, “What the hell is a blog?” My next questions were “How are people currently trying to reach bloggers?” and “What’s the least crowded channel?” The people pitching bloggers were generally using email first and phone second. Even though those were my strengths, I decided to experiment with in-person meetings at conferences. Why? Because I felt my odds would be better as one out of five people in a lounge, rather than one email out of 500 emails in an overflowing inbox. I packed my bags and headed to Las Vegas for the Consumer Electronics Show in January, which had more than 150,000 attendees in 2005. It’s like the Super Bowl of technology releases, where all the geeks get to play with new toys. I never even walked in the front door. I parked myself at the offsite Seagate-sponsored BlogHaus lounge, where bloggers were invited to relax, recharge their laptops, and drink free booze. I sipped alcohol, asked a lot of dumb questions, and never overtly pitched. I only mentioned the book if someone asked me why I was there (answer: “I just finished my first book, and I’m really nervous about the launch. I’m here to learn more about blogs and technology”). Famous tech blogger Robert Scoble later described my intricate marketing plan as “get drunk with bloggers.” It worked surprisingly well.

#8 — What if I couldn’t pitch my product directly?

During the 2007 book launch, I quickly found that most media rightly don’t give a rat’s ass about book launches. They care about stories, not announcements, so I asked myself, “What if I couldn’t pitch my product directly? What if I had to sell around the product?” Well, I could showcase people from the book who’ve completely redesigned their lives (human interest); I could write about unrelated crazy experiments, but drive people to my book-focused website (Google “Geek to Freak” to see the result. It was my first-ever viral blog post); I could popularize a new term and aim for pop culture (see “lifestyle design” on page 278 in Tools of Titans); I could go meta and make the launch itself a news item (I also did this with my video “book trailer” for The 4-Hour Body, as well as the BitTorrent partnership for The 4-Hour Chef). People don’t like being sold products, but we all like being told stories. Work on the latter.

#9 — What if I created my own real-world MBA?

This kicked off in 2007 to 2008. See page 250 in Tools of Titans for full details.

#10 — Do I need to make it back the way I lost it?

In 2008, I owned a home in San Jose, California, and its value cratered. More accurately, the bank owned the home and I had an ill-conceived adjustable-rate mortgage. On top of that, I was on the cusp of moving to San Francisco. To sell would have meant a $150,000 loss. Ultimately, I picked up and moved to San Francisco, regardless, leaving my San Jose home empty.

For months, friends pressured me to rent it, emphasizing how I was flushing money down the toilet otherwise. I eventually buckled and followed their advice. Even with a property management company, regular headaches and paperwork ensued. Regret followed. One introspective night, I had some wine and asked myself: “Do I really need to make money back the same way I’m losing it?” If you lose $1,000 at the blackjack table, should you try and recoup it there? Probably not. If I’m “losing” money via the mortgage payments on an empty house, do I really need to cover it by renting the house itself? No, I decided. I could much more easily create income elsewhere (e.g., speaking gigs, consulting, etc.) to put me in the black. Humans are very vulnerable to a cognitive bias called “anchoring,” whether in real estate, stocks, or otherwise. I am no exception. I made a study of this (a lot of good investors like Think Twice by Michael Mauboussin), and shortly thereafter sold my San Jose house at a large loss. Once my attention and mind space was freed up, I quickly made it back elsewhere.

#11 — What if I could only subtract to solve problems?

From 2008 to 2009, I began to ask myself, “What if I could only subtract to solve problems?” when advising startups. Instead of answering, “What should we do?” I tried first to hone in on answering, “What should we simplify?” For instance, I always wanted to tighten the conversion fishing net (the percentage of visitors who sign up or buy) before driving a ton of traffic to one of my portfolio companies. One of the first dozen startups I worked with was named Gyminee. It was rebranded Daily Burn, and at the time, they didn’t have enough manpower to do a complete redesign of the site. Adding new elements would’ve been time-consuming, but removing them wasn’t. As a test, we eliminated roughly 70% of the “above the fold” clickable elements on their homepage, focusing on the single most valuable click. Conversions immediately improved 21.1%. That quick-and-dirty test informed later decisions for much more expensive development. The founders, Andy Smith and Stephen Blankenship, made a lot of great decisions, and the company was acquired by IAC in 2010. I’ve since applied this “What if I could only subtract . . . ?” to my life in many areas, and I sometimes rephrase it as “What should I put on my not-to-do list?”

#12 — What might I put in place to allow me to go off the grid for 4 to 8 weeks, with no phone or email?

Though wordy, I have asked variations of this question many times since 2004. It used to end with, “. . . allow me to go on vacation for 4 to 8 weeks,” but that’s no longer enough. Given the spread of broadband, it’s extremely easy to take a “vacation” to Brazil or Japan and still work nonstop on your business via laptop. This kind of subtle self-deception is a time bomb.

For the last 5 years, I’ve asked myself, in effect, “What can I put in place so that I can go completely off the grid for 4 to 8 weeks?” To entrepreneurs who are feeling burned out, this is also the question I pose most often. Two weeks isn’t enough, as you can let fires erupt and then attempt to repair things when you return. Four to eight weeks (or more) doesn’t allow you to be a firefighter. It forces you to put systems and policies in place, ditch ad-hoc email-based triage, empower other people with rules and tools, separate the critical few from the trivial many, and otherwise create a machine that doesn’t require you behind the driver’s wheel 24/7.

Here’s the most important point: The systems far outlive the vacation, and when you come home, you’ll realize that you’ve taken your business (and life) to the next level. This is only possible if you work on your business instead of in your business, as Michael Gerber might say.

#13 — Am I hunting antelope or field mice?

I lifted this question around 2012 from former speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, Newt Gingrich. I read about it in Buck Up, Suck Up . . . and Come Back When You Foul Up: 12 Winning Secrets from the War Room, written by James Carville and Paul Begala, the political strategists behind Bill Clinton’s presidential campaign “war room.” Here’s the excerpt that stuck with me:

Newt Gingrich is one of the most successful political leaders of our time. Yes, we disagreed with virtually everything he did, but this is a book about strategy, not ideology. And we’ve got to give Newt his due. His strategic ability—his relentless focus on capturing the House of Representatives for the Republicans—led to one of the biggest political landslides in American history.

Now that he’s in the private sector, Newt uses a brilliant illustration to explain the need to focus on the big things and let the little stuff slide: the analogy of the field mice and the antelope. A lion is fully capable of capturing, killing, and eating a field mouse. But it turns out that the energy required to do so exceeds the caloric content of the mouse itself. So a lion that spent its day hunting and eating field mice would slowly starve to death. A lion can’t live on field mice. A lion needs antelope. Antelope are big animals. They take more speed and strength to capture and kill, and once killed, they provide a feast for the lion and her pride. A lion can live a long and happy life on a diet of antelope. The distinction is important. Are you spending all your time and exhausting all your energy catching field mice? In the short term it might give you a nice, rewarding feeling. But in the long run you’re going to die. So ask yourself at the end of the day, “Did I spend today chasing mice or hunting antelope?”

Another way I often approach this is to look at my to-do list and ask: “Which one of these, if done, would render all the rest either easier or completely irrelevant?”

#14 — Could it be that everything is fine and complete as is?

Since starting deep work with “plant medicines” in 2013 (see James Fadiman, page 100), I’ve doubled and tripled down on cultivating more daily appreciation and present-state awareness. The above is one of the questions I ask myself. It’s accompanied by complementary tools and rituals like the 5-Minute Journal (page 146), the Jar of Awesome (page 570), and thinking of “daily wins” before bed à la Peter Diamandis (page 373). To reiterate what I’ve said elsewhere in this book, type-A personalities have goal pursuit as default hardwiring. This is excellent for producing achievement, but also anxiety, as you’re constantly future-focused. I’ve personally decided that achievement is no more than a passing grade in life. It’s a C+ that gets you limping along to the next grade. For anything more, and certainly for anything approaching happiness, you have to want what you already have.

#15 — What would this look like if it were easy?

This question and the next both came about in 2015. These days, more than any other question, I’m asking “What would this look like if it were easy?” If I feel stressed, stretched thin, or overwhelmed, it’s usually because I’m overcomplicating something or failing to take the simple/easy path because I feel I should be trying “harder” (old habits die hard).

#16 — How can I throw money at this problem? How can I “waste” money to improve the quality of my life?

This is somewhat self-explanatory. Dan Sullivan is the founder and president of a company called Strategic Coach that has saved the sanity of many serial entrepreneurs I know. One of Dan’s sayings is: “If you’ve got enough money to solve the problem, you don’t have the problem.” In the beginning of your career, you spend time to earn money. Once you hit your stride in any capacity, you should spend money to earn time, as the latter is nonrenewable. It can be hard to make and maintain this gear shift, so the above question is in my regular journaling rotation.

#17 — No hurry, no pause.

This isn’t a question—it’s a fundamental reset. “No hurry, no pause” was introduced to me by Jenny Sauer-Klein (jennysauerklein.com), who, along with Jason Nemer (page 46), co-created AcroYoga. The expression is one of the “9 Principles of Harmony” from Breema, a form of bodywork she studied for many years. I routinely write “No hurry, no pause” at the top of my notebooks as a daily reminder. In effect, it’s shorthand for Derek Sivers’s story of the 45-minute versus 43-minute bike ride (page 190)—you don’t need to go through life huffing and puffing, straining and red-faced. You can get 95% of the results you want by calmly putting one foot in front of the other. One former Navy SEAL friend recently texted me a principle used in their training: “Slow is smooth. Smooth is fast.”

Perhaps I’m just getting old, but my definition of luxury has changed over time. Now, it’s not about owning a lot of stuff. Luxury, to me, is feeling unrushed. No hurry, no pause.


So, kids, those are my questions. May you find and create many of your own.

Be sure to look for simple solutions.

If the answer isn’t simple, it’s probably not the right answer.


Tools of Titans is available at Barnes & Noble, AmazonBooks-A-MillioniBooksIndiebound, Indigo, and more. If you enjoyed the above, I guarantee you’ll enjoy the whole thing. Thanks for reading!

The Tim Ferriss Show is one of the most popular podcasts in the world with more than 900 million downloads. It has been selected for "Best of Apple Podcasts" three times, it is often the #1 interview podcast across all of Apple Podcasts, and it's been ranked #1 out of 400,000+ podcasts on many occasions. To listen to any of the past episodes for free, check out this page.

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111 Replies to “Testing The "Impossible": 17 Questions That Changed My Life (#206)”

  1. These are really great questions. I liked especially the one about what I’d do if I had $10 million. That completely changed my thinking. It’s amazing what I do so that I can support myself and how my mind sometimes goes into survival mode.

  2. Love this post, Tim!

    Biggest takeaway: Am I hunting field mice or antelopes?

    I’m so excited to dig into this new book, Christmas has come early!


    PS. I’ve been using the lacrosse ball that you sent out in an early Quarterly box and it’s cured chronic upper back pain. It’s one of my favorite possessions.

  3. Tim, cool list. Strange that you don’t ask any fundamental questions about love or relationships–the only real reason we come to live here.

    1. Thank you TF for NOT going into “love and relationships” –some of us care more about self love, discovery, improvement. Only comes with being comfortable–alone. And loving one’s self above all–self care. There’s enough out there, a slushpile of women’s rags/sites/books especially, about love and relationships. How we all need it. Yawn. Your sharing, work and words, what/whom you choose (including you)–are rare and invaluable.

  4. Tim! I would say good luck with the book, but good fortune is something you don’t seem to rely on so much. Thanks for putting out so much easy to read content that can improve our lives. I am grateful for you, being a guinea pig and letting us understand smart avenues to improve life. Thanks Tim!

  5. #11 about subtracting instead of adding is having an impact on me. It seems that most problems can be solved by adding in a missing component. I’ve seen the occasional time when simplifying (subtracting) brought clarity and a winning solution, but it had never occurred to me to apply this to every problem and see what might happen.

    Thanks, Tim, for again giving my mind something new to chew on.

  6. We ask a lot of people questions, but not enough of ourselves. Great reminder of that Tim. I know it’s fun to share the expertise of others, but good to get a dose from you as this is super helpful.

    Holy Shit Jar aka Jar of Awesome. My wife and I started doing this since having a baby and feeling like the days were blending together. Forces us to sit and think about cool things that happen every day and how lucky we are. Now that my son is 2 it is super fun to read these at dinner. Great way to incorporate gratitude for those that vomit at the idea.

  7. LOVED today’s fourhournewsletter email. The questions prompt some serious reflection and thinking outside the box (or simply ditching the box altogether). Thank you for moving minds out of the safety zone and into a larger space.

  8. Fantastic questions, Tim. #10 was something I read in 4HWW and helped me get the mindframe to relocate to Costa Rica for a month without worrying about my condo.


  9. Another incredible post from an iconoclastic unconventional icon. I wonder what he’ll do next. This will inspire me to write even more amazing blog posts on my personal development blog.

  10. Very effective email today about your book. I can’t wait to read it. Between you and Dave Asprey, I am reading like crazy and learning so much. Thank you!!

  11. This may be the most useful email/post I’ve received in months! A really excellent read that I will be sharing with my friends. I’m looking forward to digging into Tools of Titans (just arrived) when I get home. A multitude of thanks for the writing, podcasting and recommendations you share.

    All the best,


  12. This may be the most useful email/post I’ve received in months! A really excellent read that I will be sharing with my friends. I’m looking forward to digging into Tools of Titans (just arrived) when I get home. A multitude of thanks for the writing, podcasting and recommendations you share.

    All the best,


  13. I was lucky enough to stumble upon your work in early stage of the Four Hour Week. Not that it worked for me as fast as your quick brain would suggest, but it worked. It was also aided by the the post by James Altucher “Why you should leave your job in 2014” that shed the light on the real workings behind the corporations which do not really care about humans, no matter how high they sit. It also helped that I went through a sexual harassment at work by the owner of the business, that was scaring my sense of self-worth and brought upon a big confusion. I overshare here just to emphasize through how many setbacks we all go in our daily lives and how great it is to have other humans support us through sharing their insight. I am thankful and grateful to be able to “claim” your support for the last 8 years. Thank you. Btw Greeks and Romans had a proverb too about moving slowly “Festina Lente”

  14. Thanks Tim. Just a FYI. Some countries (even one as so called advanced as Australia) don’t protect the mail very well in transit. Recent storms have meant water damage recently. My new copy of 4hr body copped it. Hoping Tools of Titans will be safe. Alas you cant control the weather or local post incompetence but perhaps you have a say in pre-delivery wrapping.

  15. Thank you Tim! I subconsciously internalized few of your questions/rules of thumb when read 4hww, which affected my thinking since then. #15 is my go to:) Another variation of it that I find useful is to ask “What if it was something I love doing?”. I instantly remember a Derek Sivers’ explanation of how running is perceived by people who loves/hates it: if you love it, you just put your shoes on and run.. Helps silence the doubt and take an action when needed:)

    Btw, Times Square Ad is phenomenal! Congratulations on your new release!! Hope everyone buys TOT!


  16. I really can’t thank you enough for this post and these questions. This is the best email I’ve received in months. So grateful for you, Tim. Wishing you and yours the very best.

  17. Thank you for this post Tim! One of my favorites so far. Focusing too long on achievement becomes a burden. Reframing with these questions is extremely effective in shifting my mind back to essentialism, “what’s important now”. Great wisdom.

  18. 1,4,5,17 have gotten me through a lot of crazy adventures already. Thanks to 4HWW and early reading of the blog.

    Putting these questions into play is always scary on the front end, so I’m planning to take this article on piece-meal! The 95% perfect approach by itself is priceless but scary. Life changer for me.

    As always, thanks for simplifying and passing along Tim! Can’t wait for my copy of Tools!

  19. I’m still astounded by how principled and steadfast your mental framework has been internalised. I remember many of these questions from the 4HWW and the fact remains principles rarely change. The quality of my life good, bad and everything in between has always come down to two simple things;

    1) The quality of the questions I not only ask myself but force myself to answer with brutal honesty. (The fact is the truth often hurts…)

    2) What I allow myself to focus on.

    The importance of this book will likely be impossible to quantify, its ultimate impact will likely be magnitudes higher than what you have allowed yourself to imagine.

    I personally would like to thank you for what you have done and continue to do. I know that the knowledge to be gained from what you’ve been able to methodically deconstruct & distill will be the reason for countless exponential successes for years to come; I can only hope mine will be included within that matrix.

    At the end of the day, this single book will likely provide more real-world, actionable knowledge which the average person can apply immediately to improve the quality of their lives & effectiveness than anything that has been published or produced to date, period…

    No small accomplishment; and one I’m personally grateful for.

    Thank you Tim….

  20. #2 is what I’m fixated on these days. I have eczema, but over the past 12 years have discovered eco-friendly and cruelty-free products and mental/emotional coping strategies and reframing to help me manage it and not be controlled by it. I have a desire to share this knowledge with others with sensitive skin and to create a business around it somehow. I spend so much on skincare and organic food and books on skincare and beauty products, but also want the scientific knowledge to back up my positive experiences with recovery and mental self-control from scratching. I’m trying to save up for herbalism school next year as one step in the right direction since Chinese herbs were a big party of my turning point in recovery and control. But, I also have a desire to conduct studies on factors/variables that affect eczema outside of conventional ideas. I’m wondering what you would advise in terms of moving forward with connecting with reputable people, doctors, scientists, chemists to studying eczema and various factors that affect it as well as experimenting with unconventional/yet-to-be-popular ideas of handling it beyond toxic steroidal creams and ointments?

    You seem to be the man who can do anything and do it quickly and efficiently. Figure it couldn’t hurt to put this idea out there.

    I’m also a proud Bay Area native and 4-Hour Workweek was inspirational to read. Working on creating my dream lifestyle into reality one step at a time. Thank you for the information and sharing your and your clients’ stories!

  21. I’m a huge fan don’t get me wrong. But I have so many questions. What companies do you support for altruistic reasons only? Fuck the monetary purposes, I only want to see companies you get 0 monetary or marketing benefit from. Im curious if any of my questions will post or are they filtered toward benefit as well. I hope you aren’t a scam

  22. THANK YOU!

    It´ll probably take at least two years till I internalise these questions. Then I’ll make space for the book.:)

  23. Great read. I just started following your blog and every post seems to help me in some way or another. Question: I am asking all my influencers the same question, which is, how can I make money in my sleep?

    Thanks Tim

  24. Great write up Tim! This is definitely a saved post for me.

    I know your odds of reading this is slim, but I appreciate what you do man. I, myself and in the book writing process and starting a blog and am constantly inspired by you to do so.

    Thank you!

  25. Sold! So many great nuggets here. Thanks for taking the time to share what you’ve learned/are learning with others.

  26. My 16 year old son seems be depressed and I’ve been wondering how to help him. As I listened to these questions, I realized the type of direction he needs could be found in many of these questions. As always, thank you for adding such rich value to my life. love you long time xoxo

  27. Is there such a thing as a provocative oasis? Reading your work is like getting a poke in the eye with one hand and a margarita with the other. And I mean this as a compliment… !

  28. Thank you you for sharing these with everyone. A lot of people have always criticized me for always asking too many questions. It’s nice to know that it might not be such a bad thing after all!

    With Aloha,

    Brian Boltwood

  29. Tools of Titans

    #1-What if I did the Opposite for 48 hours

    Not sure if you are familiar with Naomichi Yasuda.

    He seems right up your alley.

    Created a sushi empire in New York and then suddenly, mysteriously and unexpectedly returned to his home of Tokyo, at age 52 to open up shop again from scratch.

    He started out and excelled as a marital artist and competed in bare knuckled competitions.

    He quit martial arts because he said he was tired of hurting people.

    He does his “thing” backwards, like you have done so many times. He believes that the “freshest fish” is not the best fish. In sushi that means everything.

    I found his story on Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown Tokyo.

    If you don’t know he, I thought you might like to.

    Love, Gigi [Moderator: email address removed]

    Thank you for all your share with us. x

  30. Hi Tim,

    thanks for the podcasts. I love them, they are also very good for keeping my English up. (I’ve been teaching English for some 20 years.) Have a great show tonight in New York.

    I just ordered Tools of Titans, I am sure it’s worth it because I have listened to most (maybe all) of your podcasts. I am wondering how many copies of your new book will be sold. I think it’s going to be a huge success. I’m curious how you’re going to go on about your podcasting and life, especially after this Titans hit. As you once said – funny thing about podcasting is that you don’t know the people (me and others) at all, but we know you pretty well – like a friend because we’ve heard many details of your life from your birth till the Titans.

    So keep having a joy in creation and life, plus inner tranquility.

    Greetings from Europe. Jiri B.

  31. Tim,

    how do you solve the apparent contradiction between “No Hurry No Pause” and the Eustress principle you advocate in the 4HWW?


    1. I don’t think it is a contradiction. This applies to stress, rather than eustress. And you can have eustress-inducing experiences, without the stress that could come with them (e.g. starting or trying something new/daunting would be the eustress; freaking out about it would be the stress — their separate entities).

      1. I was struggling with this in my journal this morning. The struggle between “No hurry, no pause” and facing the pain of the Resistance (see War of Art). Here’s an excerpt of what I wrote, if you were interested. Would love if Tim could chime in here too:

        “…So focus on the 20%, the most valuable few. The stuff that’s easiest to procrastinate on, that the Resistant is so good at protecting.

        Be a Pro, step-up to the Resistance. Cultivate the strength to face it.

        Yet how do I balance this with a sense of ease? With the idea of “No hurry, no pause”. With the idea “Slow is smooth. Smooth is fast.”

        Maybe it’s about the way I approach the task. If it was easy I wouldn’t feel the Resistance, nor the need to push hard. But because it’s difficult, it’s here I can apply the principle…

        So approach the same tasks, the same responsibilities with a sense of equanimity. A sense of ease, like that of meditation. Let go of striving, of a result, of getting it done, and instead, focus on doing it well. On applying myself creatively to the task at hand (Robert Rodriguez). Effectiveness over efficiency.

        Easier said than done. But that’s the point I was making. The most impactful insights from TOT are those that require significant change. A change in habit, in who we fundamentally are.

        So develop that skill. Cultivate quality, mindfulness, a sense of ease. And with it, hopefully, a better quality work and a greater sense of satisfaction. Tranquility.

        But for now, over and out. AMOR FATI”

  32. Having followed your work for years, I’m well familiar with some of these questions. They’ve helped multiple aspects of my life, from personal to business. I was surprised by some of the newer ones, like “No hurry, no pause” or “What if I could only subtract to solve problems?” — they’re incredible and definitely things I need to incorporate more often.

    Here’s a few more I like to consider:

    – Matt Mullenweg’s “What’s the natural conclusion of this?”

    – Peter Attia’s asymmetric risk: “Are you running in front of a bulldozer or tricycle, to get a penny or a gold coin?” (see the Easter Island podcast for context)

    – Tony Robbin’s: “How is life happening for me (not to me)?”

    – Does getting upset provide you with more options?

    – What’s the option C you haven’t considered? (ala Mullenweg or Edison)

    – How can I still win if this is a failure? (ala Scott Adams or #9)

      1. By considering the variables, for example the environment and the incentives.

        The example Matt used was for WordPress’s plugins. He could have made it a marketplace like Apple’s App Store, charging for plugins. But the natural conclusion would be few free plugins because developers would have no incentive to create plugins for free. This would have limited WPs growth, particularly early on, and even though it would’ve provided revenue, they decided to forgo it for the long-term benefit (WP now powers 25% of the web, from this website to the NYTs, and countless others).

        I’ve applied this to business (“What behaviours does this referral program incent for my customers? Could it make them do unethical things, or devalue my offering?”) and my own personal life (“How will pursuing x goal influence how I spend my time, or limit my other options?”).

        Amanda Palmer talks about a similar thing with regards to her choices. Yes she would like to look as good as Lady Gaga does, but does she want to be the person that spends 2 hours doing her makeup everyday and before every show. The answer was no, and a trade-off she was willing to make.

        Check out the clip at 11mins of Matt’s first interview: http://fourhourworkweek.com/2015/02/09/matt-mullenweg/

  33. Tim – Once again, you say the right things to me at the right time. Of course, you make these podcasts for me alone! 🙂

    I’ve been chasing mice…so sad…

  34. Big fan Tim. Not sure the best place but I have a request. I recently saw an MMA fight with Ryan Hall. He appears to have a unique style unlike any other. While not a “titan”, perhaps yet, it would be interesting to understand his process for developing this style as it reminded me of your kickboxing and Josh Waitzkin’s jiu-jitsu success. May be an interesting viewpoint to see the approach in process rather than deconstructing/dissecting titans post success.

  35. Tim, your conclusion moved me “Perhaps I’m just getting old…”

    I thank you for helping me always when I need it the most.

  36. Dear Tim

    You said you want help supporting your book. I have personally sold 3 copies because I love it. However you Should have a referral program where people get a free copy after 3 others have purchased 😉

    Just a thought win win is powerful stuff.

  37. Loving this book! Brilliant for its intended purpose, a quick into to a great variety of things, with pointers for where to learn more. There is however one severe (but possibly easy-to-rectify) shortcoming. There’s SO much fabulous info here, from SO many people, that this book desperately needs a comprehensive subject index. Huge, time-consuming PITA to put together, right?

    I know what you’re thinking: Did he fire six shots, or only five? Is he really left-handed?

    Sorry, what I meant to say was–

    What would this look like if it were easy?

    Well, easier?

    I think it might look crowdsourced.

    You have the fanbase, and a huge number of people reading the book now or in the very near future. Multiple readers tracking any given topic or reviewing any given chapter (or both) can help ensure overall accuracy and speed the final check. The biggest hurdle is getting everyone to index by the same terms. Then put the result–where else?–on the website.

    You spoke to these Titans, and even you sometimes have trouble recalling (during podcasts) which previous guest said what. When readers remember something they want to go back to, they’re going to remember the topic, not (in most cases) the name of the one-in-two-hundred people who talked about it over the course of 670 pages. Particularly if they’ve not heard the podcasts themselves.

    This really, REALLY needs a kick-a** index. Because it’s a really, REALLY kick-a** book.

  38. Epic podcast and amazing book. I hope you continue to read chapters. It is fun hearing them in your voice. Maybe you could even get a few of the Titans to read their particular chapters as well. Pretty much all of these questions resonate, but particularly the two hours per week question (#5) and what if I could only subtract to solve problems (#11). Thanks Tim!

  39. Don’t know where else to write this…

    After going through the 4HB audio book, I started taking cold showers in the evening before bed to help me sleep. My wife informed me that my snoring was also reduced by almost half following those showers. I am wondering if there are any other body “hacks” that can help sleep and reduce/stop snoring?

    1. There’s a good deal you can do with sleep hygeine.

      Here are some ideas:

      Blocking blue light with glasses at night

      Getting light/exercise early in the AM (normalizes cortisol)

      Raise the head of your bed

      No stimulants after X hours (experiment)

      Positional therapy (keeps you off your back)

      Weight loss and nasal strips can help with snoring. You also might want to look into sleep apnea in case this is causing your sleep issue

  40. #17.. slow is smooth, smooth is fast.. is also a phrase or mantra many amature and professional racing car drivers use as a guide to getting the fastest lap possible. Minimal smooth inputs on the wheel and pedals equates to maximum tracking on the racing line. See Skip Barber book – “Going Faster” for detailed explanations. Thanks Tim for the book. 1/7 through so far and it’s amazing!!! All the best!

  41. Hello, Tim! I am writing here after starting your ToT book. First, let me say that book is god-sent for me and I’ll tell you why. While I do love your podcast, I can not listen to it.

    No, seriously, I CAN NOT because I’m hearing impaired. A lot of people are or will be. It’s clear that you take a lot of note sand re-listen to podcast so I was wondering if you’d consider doing transcripts after each podcast. I’d pay for a transcripted subscription!

    PS: I asked James Altucher about it and he likes the idea, might implement soon. I hope as many podcast will start do this as civilized, good practice!

    Thank you for reading!

    1. I think on the blog or maybe the podcast website there is a link for every show transcript. It may take a min for the transcript to appear of course (transcribing takes a little time) but I am pretty sure I have seen the links on there. Let me find it and I will link it here.. https://fourhourworkweek.leadpages.co/leadbox/144965c73f72a2%3A14629fe93b46dc/5681034041491456/

      there you go… its a email sign up thingy for the transcripts. Not sure about them being updated or whatnot but it will get you started. All the best!


  42. re: #14 “…you have to want what you already have”

    I can’t agree with this.

    For a very long time, I been really unsatisfied with the way my life’s been going. I’ve tried different things and thought I was getting somewhere in a few aspects of life. But then a less-than-ideal personal experience a few weeks ago brought that crashing down. As a result, I see how bad things actually have been, how far I still have to go, and how far behind I feel compared to my peer group.

    Why want what you already have if you keep losing?

    1. I think this is what Tim was getting at:

      There’s a difference between wanting/accepting and giving up. It’s always good to understand your situation and work to change it. However, change can be quite slow and may even never come. In the meantime we should do our best to enjoy our present

  43. LOVED This

    Love hearing about your nitty gritty stuff.

    I think that is why I LOVE your interviews with Derek Sivers, Josh Waitzkin, Cal Fussman and their ilk, because those guys go with you and go deep.

    (And, naturally, have a philosphy that aligns with mine, hence the connection)

    Of course we will run out of material if all we get is you talking about what you do, but it IS a delightful punctuation mark in your podcasts.

    For those of us who would love to devour your journals and diaries from years gone by, this is gold.

    Thank you.

  44. Hi Tim, absolutely love the book. Two question, both around your fascination with psychedelics.

    1) Doesn’t real life offer enough thrill, curiosity, and euphoria? Do we really need foreign substances in our brains to “clear the cobwebs and open our minds?”

    2) Do you think there are people that read the book and try the mind-altering drugs without supervision and end up hurting themselves (and others) under the influence of these drugs?

  45. So awesome! Since reading this a number of days ago I’m stuck on “What if I did the opposite for 48 hours?” – Perhaps the question is “What IS the opposite of what I am doing?”

  46. I actually just had it drummed into me again how 80% of my intake are a result of 20% of my actions. Which Actions? I am just about to dissect this beast. So that I enter 2017 with a clearer less crowded less time consuming workflow. I love blogging, I am working on fixing my google analytics code and of course driving more traffic…who doesn’t! So glad I literally stumbled upon your blog Tim. Thank you so very much!

  47. My favorite part of 4hww were the questions you posed, which in turn created new questions for me to ponder. I was reading some of your marketing for Tools of Titans and came across “My suggestion is that you spend real time with the questions you find most ridiculous in this book .” And therefore, it’s going on the Christmas list. But I don’t want to wait, so it’s going on my birthday list (12/21) 🙂

  48. Oh, Tim, how you distill. Thank you.

    And “you have to want what you already have” [for anything approaching happiness] will be on my mind for some time to come!

  49. #17 “No hurry, no pause”: It’s interesting, I’ve heard variations on this advice (or sentiment) for years now, but the first time I encountered it was probably 10-15 years ago and it was attributed to Johann Wolfgang von Goethe as “Do not hurry; do not rest”. I dug around in my notes and online but could not find where it was originally written. I pretty certain Annie Dillard quotes Goethe as saying this in her book The Writing Life, which is itself and brilliant short read. That quote of Goethe might also come from the book Conversations of Goethe, by Johann Peter Eckermann (which was one of Nietzsche’s fave books of all time). It’s funny, when you start to dig in and trace an aphorism back to its source, you often find they are misatributed, distorted, or completely transformed to something else (like the children’s “telephone” game). Anyway, just thought I’d share.

    Thanks, Tim, for all you’ve given us and shared over the years.

  50. Justin

    Thanks for pouring another bucket of disruption over our heads Tim.

    “What if I did the opposite for 48 hours?” seems like something that would be useful for me to remember.

    I am trying to come up with a collection of aphorisms to brainwash myself into a better me. I rephrased your question as “If you aren’t thriving on the highway go off road”. I like the picture that evokes, but it is a bit too lengthy to drill into ones head. Do you have a way to remind yourself to try the road not traveled?

    1. Maybe try to think of every decision as a fork in the road. Physically decide to take alternate paths in life whether on the way to work or just on a walk. Choose different paths in the supermarket… walk the perimeter only rather than through the aisles. Then maybe switch it up and walk the aisles only and steer clear of the perimeter. I think it is called a decision tree where you start with a question and then branch off the two answers.. from there branch off two answers to those two answers. I would do one logical answer and one completely off the wall answer… There are many ways to go “off-road” literally and figuratively.

      1. Thanks John. Your answer fits my software developing mind quite well. Hopefully this will help me remember the idea better!

  51. Thank you Tim, Question #5 has had a transformative impact on my results at work since reading 4HWW.

    It’s an unbelievably simple and effective way to prioritise what actually matters (and what is actually effective).

  52. Tim, I used to like your content and gained a lot of value from the 4HWW.

    However, this podcast is the last thing I will ever listen/watch/read from you. You sounded conceited and pompous with your constant sipping of coffee and other bodily sounds you were making. You were frustratingly coarse with bad manners throughout the podcast. You’ve just lost a long-time buyer of your content.

  53. I just bought your book tools of titan and man am I glad I did. I look forward to making 2017 my bitch with the help of your book Tim! Thank you!

  54. So good!

    #2 really resonated. My wife and I just opened a new smart-gym concept in Nashville, TN and when I read this question it summarizd the impetus of the business perfectly. Although I need to get more focused on running it now and quit scratching more itches!

    So far we have exercise equipment that provides perfect resitance for the entire range of motion, thereby providing a killer total body workout in 10 minutes per week. As well as an infrared sauna, neurofeedback and shelves of some of the best health and supplement products around.

    The rest of these questions should be really helpful with evolving the business even more, so thank you!

  55. I really like this list. Very nice, and I’m excited to read some new insight in this post. Thanks for reminding us of #12! I’m working on a project right now, and I’m at a point where I am either going to build myself “in” to where I really need to be active and involved on the day-to-day OR I can go back to how I originally wanted to set it up where I could theoretically take weeks off and still have it working for me.

    Gotta resist the temptation. I know I’ll be happy I set it up to automate once things start really rolling.

  56. Tim: Your #15 “What would this look like if it was easy?” is really helpful. Will be pairing it with my go to “What question, if answered, would make the difference?”

  57. Just ordered Tools of Titans-Canada. Question-Aging-Injuries-Fitness-Will you be doing any podcasts on how to continue to keep fit while mother nature has other plans? Like osteoarthritis, torn rotator cuffs etc. How do you keep fit and healthy, when your body has other plans as you age?

    Love your books and podcasts!

    Thank you

    Cathy from Canada

  58. You wrote: ‘Alas, “how can I not be a bottleneck in my own business?” isn’t a good question’.

    It got me wondering: what exactly is a good question?

    I want to learn the fundamental skills of asking good questions instead of memorizing a few good ones! How would I go about doing that? Based on the quote above, I assume “how can I ask better questions?” is not really the way to go?

    I feel that good questions have to be specific enough that you don’t shoot in the blind while trying to answer them. I also feel that they should be about challenging the status quo and/or putting things into perspective.

    Any feedback on this would be greatly appreciated!

  59. Tim, I’m a huge fan. Thanks for all of your work – your books, your podcast, your relentless experimentation and willingness to share.

  60. Hey Tim, I have been listening to your podcast the last few weeks and I love it. I refinish hardwood floors and I get about 6 hours of time behind my floor sanding machines and I get to listen and learn. Really good content. Hopefully we get to cross paths someday. You ask great questions. Hopefully I can be like you someday.

  61. Tim, I wanted to thank you for this list. I am in technology sales and I used this line at the end of my emails. “I totally understand if you’re too busy to reply, and thank you for reading this far”. I also added if this is not a good fit for you or you are not interested please let me know and I will take you off my list.

    Accounts that I have not been able to break into for over a year have started to open their doors to me and I have uncovered over $500k worth of opportunities in just a few weeks.

    I still have to close these deals but I have made huge progress towards my goals.

  62. Tim, Thank you for the list and all of the great insights you’ve shared over the years. This post alone made me get Tools of Titans and refer to it as if it were life’s manual. Why not treat this post as an evergreen page and add to it with a question here and there? It would keep all of us who got value from it coming back, expand its keyword portfolio for search further, and provide a ton of value for many new fans to come. It would help this page cast an even wider net.

  63. This is serendipity, I have been reflecting on less is more, creating great results with effortless hard work, smooth is definitely fast, so now is the time to drop the fear, be excited about being different, letting go and having some fun creating amazing stuff…………..

  64. Hi Tim – why is Tools of Titans not in audiobook format and do you have any plans to release ithe audiobook- Pascal

  65. Awesome blog – thoroughly enjoyed it! Got your latest book but haven’t gotten around to reading it yet. Will have to do it now!

  66. Hi Tim,

    I wasn’t sure how to ask you a question, but I think I remember you saying to leave a comment, so here I go.

    I was interested to know how many of your guests were dyslexic? As a dyslexic, your podcast has dramatically accelerated my ability to learn and I’m truly grateful. As many of your guests seem to be from professions where dyslexia is common (e.g. creative arts, engineering, entrepreneurship and science). I thought this might be and interesting angle to look at and promote as it could help younger dyslexics to fear less.

    Thanks for the everything you do.


  67. Mostly commenting because I’ll be the 100th comment on this post. But also, because I wanted to thank you for this post as I plan to begin reading this before going to bed to make my subconscious thoughts begin building new thoughts.

  68. In regard to your question “What if i did the opposite for 48 hours?” (which is just great), why “48 hours” ? Any specific reason for that? Thanks

  69. Tim, I so enjoyed your podcast with Brene’ Brown!!!! I had actually not heard of you before (so sorry!). Evidently my daughter had heard of you because she sent me the link to the podcast not knowing I loved Brene’s work. She thought I might like it. So thankful she acted on that still small voice. I devoured and digested every word of the podcast because Brene’ was the guest and now I understand fully why you are known for having the #1 podcast. I had subscribed before the podcast was even half done. I went to your website and subscribed to your email newsletter where I read the 17 Questions. All of this rambling to say, thanks for being you and for sharing your life with others. Thank you for positively impacting my life! I already see that I can learn volumes from your experiences and insight. Thank you, thank you, thank you for being you!

  70. I love the zen character of “what if I could only subtract?”. It reminds me of the Wu wei chinese philosophy and a very nice book called: the natural way of farming from Masanbu Fukuoka. This guy stripped away everything from modern agruculture and still made the same harvest than modern neigbhoring fields.
    Very helpful idea, but sometimes hard to translate in real life situations.

  71. Love the article. The last sentence really resonates with me:

    “If the answer isn’t simple, it’s probably not the right answer.”

    We may be trying too hard, especially in the corporate world. Simplicity is the best approach.

  72. Hi Tim! Thanks for creating such an awesome blog post which I proudly link to from my first blog post lol It’s been there awhile, since February 1st, 2018. Today I revisited my first blog post for good reason which brought me here. Today I’m asking myself, “What if I did the opposite for 48 hours? : ) which brings a warm heart and BIG smiles! Thanks again! Happy Friday!!