Adam Grant — The Man Who Does Everything (#399)

Photo by Pasi Salminen

“When you feel like you’re not productive, it’s not necessarily because you’re lazy or because you have bad habits; it’s because you’re not working on the right projects and you haven’t found the ones that are intrinsically motivating and meaningful to you.” Adam Grant

Adam Grant (@AdamMGrant) is an organizational psychologist at Wharton, where he has been the top-rated professor for seven straight years. He is an expert in how we can find motivation and meaning, and lead more generous and creative lives. He is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of four books that have sold over two million copies and been translated into 35 languages: Give and TakeOriginalsOption B, and Power Moves. His books have been recognized as among the year’s best by Amazon, The Financial TimesHarvard Business Review, and The Wall Street Journal and been praised by J.J. Abrams, Richard Branson, Bill and Melinda Gates, Malcolm Gladwell, and Malala Yousafzai.

Adam hosts the TED podcast WorkLife, and his TED talks have been viewed more than 20 million times. His speaking and consulting clients include Google, the NBA, and The Gates Foundation. He has been recognized as one of the world’s 10 most influential management thinkers, Fortune’s 40 under 40, and a World Economic Forum Young Global Leader, and received distinguished scientific achievement awards from the American Psychological Association and the National Science Foundation. Adam writes for The New York Times on work and psychology and serves on The Department of Defense Innovation Board.

He received his B.A. from Harvard and his Ph.D. from the University of Michigan, and he is a former magician and junior Olympic springboard diver.

Please enjoy!

Listen to the episode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Overcast, StitcherCastbox, Google Podcasts, or on your favorite podcast platform.

You can find the transcript of this episode here. Transcripts of all episodes can be found here.

#399: Adam Grant — The Man Who Does Everything

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Want to hear an episode with the author of one of Adam’s most-gifted books? Listen to my conversation with Susan Cain about her love for minor key music and how she became a public speaking introvert. (Stream below or right-click here to download):

#357: Susan Cain — How to Overcome Fear and Embrace Creativity

QUESTION(S) OF THE DAY: What was your favorite quote or lesson from this episode? Please let me know in the comments.



  • Connect with Adam Grant:

Website | WorkLife Podcast | Twitter | Facebook | Instagram


  • Adam began his career as a professor who was so nervous he made his students physically shake in their seats. What was he teaching, and how did soliciting feedback from these students help him improve his form? [06:59]
  • What is Adam’s challenge network, how did he assemble it, and what tips does he have for our listeners who want to not only survive criticism but grow from it? [18:03]
  • What kind of informal challenge network do I currently utilize — especially when I’m writing? [27:36]
  • What do the structure and frequency of Adam’s challenge network look like? [29:41]
  • How does Adam turn praise — faint or otherwise — into something he can actually use? [31:54]
  • Why does Adam keep a resume of his failures? [32:58]
  • How did Adam accidentally write his first book, why did he throw away the majority of its first draft, and what simple advice did his agent offer that made him a more engaging writer by the time he was ready to write a viable second draft? [34:25]
  • In spite of the fact that Adam doesn’t consider himself a wizard of time management, he still manages to get a lot done in a day. What does he manage well instead? [39:36]
  • The efficacy of chunking or sprinkling good deeds, how Adam minimizes the chance he’ll break a time commitment, and how he makes up for it when it does happen. [47:47]
  • How has the way I renegotiate broken commitments changed over time, and how has this changed the way I react when others have to break commitments to me? [54:19]
  • What’s proper email protocol: inbox zero, or inbox infinity? [59:36]
  • What are Adam’s processes for dealing with email? [1:02:55]
  • How does Adam prioritize who gets time out of his day? What correspondence earns a categorical no? What common lie does Adam refuse to tell? [1:06:17]
  • How does Adam ensure he’s not spending the majority of his life answering emails? What would prompt an intervention from his triage team, and where does an email go from there? Who makes up the triage team? [1:08:21]
  • How does Adam choose projects? What’s the appeal of writing a book over a series of articles? [1:12:31]
  • How does Adam determine if a project has succeeded or failed? For that matter, how do I? [1:15:49]
  • In what ways can projects that seem like failures lead to success — or pay unexpected dividends? [1:17:39]
  • What books does Adam recommend and gift most often? [1:26:12]
  • Other tools and questions that have helped Adam further seek out his own blind spots. [1:30:43]
  • Adam points out that not only do we have blind spots about our weaknesses, but we often have them about our strengths. He calls them bright spots. We compare how the Reflected Best Self Exercise and 360 interview process examine our blind and bright spots and guide us toward appropriate use of the information uncovered. [1:34:32]
  • I reveal the typical structure of my weekly routines, and Adam weighs in on routines he’s changed up lately — including a conscious attempt to become less routine-driven. [1:41:31]
  • Favorite bedtime podcasts. [1:46:10]
  • What does Adam’s workout regimen look like, and what prompted the former junior Olympic springboard diver to recently revisit diving after a hiatus of more than a decade? [1:46:44]
  • What would Adam’s billboard say? [1:48:12]
  • A common productivity mistake Adam sees people make and how to navigate around it. [1:49:23]
  • Adam asks me what big projects are currently in my sights, and what dream guests would I love to interview in the not-too-distant future? [1:51:34]
  • Parting thoughts. [1:56:47]


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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23 Replies to “Adam Grant — The Man Who Does Everything (#399)”

  1. Hi Tim, I’ve just wanted to take the time to thank you for all your incredible work so I hope this comment gets to you. Without doubt your immense generosity of constantly sharing information in the most friendly of fashions has changed my life and my way of looking at things. It seems that you just never stop giving. This is not a ‘slime’ email or comment as one would say in Holland where I live. But a genuine, huge THANK YOU for turning up, again and again and again, with new stuff, daring stuff, fun stuff and always with that great attitude you have. I believe I’ve listened to almost all of your podcasts and have read a couple of your books (of course written reviews). So just to say, keep up the great work and know what a difference it makes. Best wishes and a hug from Holland, Jackie Reardon

  2. Hi Tim, I would like to suggest interviewing Dr. George Pratt. He is the psychotherapist who worked with Dara Torres to help her return to the Olympic games in her forties, and he also helped Larry King after his heart attacks. I am reading his book “Code to Joy” and it has been super helpful.

  3. I really like the podcast. I’ve got to pull out my “4-hr work week book”. I read it a long time ago but remember it was a good book and need to read it again.

  4. Really a great experience listening to this interview. Loved the discussion of looking for feedback on when a person’s at their best not just focussing on their weaknesses. Do you agree that rather than spend a lifetime working on fixing your weaknesses, a person should simply leverage and play most of the time to their strengths?? Considering this in the context of what Peter Attia said in your interview with him on the topic of personality change as we age/grow/mature or all three of those…. some weaknesses are best addressed but I do think MANY are best deked around and just avoided. Best quote: when you’re not that productive, it might be that the project is the wrong project… mind kinda cracked open with that! Thanks, supremely great work as always.

  5. Remembering we are all just trotting along the best we can on this big spinning rock hurtling through space and pondering on Marcela Ot’alora’s “What would this feel like if the ego was not the most important thing?” combined with Adam’s “The most meaningful way to succeed is to help others to succeed” is how I might be able to get out from underneath the pain of mindless hurt caused me by a couple of people who I’d called my friends earlier this year.

    Thanks for filling my living room with the voices of brilliant humans, Tim.

  6. Thanks for the insight on Texas coffee Traders. I’m actually in Austin at a sub par hotel, eating sub par food, drinking wretched coffee when reading this…then the plastic fork I’m using to eat this ????food breaks and I don’t need any more insight. I headed to Traders for some real Java.

  7. 12.6.19 – 5 Bullet Friday. Can you tell me which publication the David Whyte passage is from? I connected with it and would like to read more. Thank you!

  8. Tim, as a reader and your fan I know you since summer 2007 when I first found your book in Barnes and Noble and quitted my job, even though the book wasn’t finished then yet. Thank you for showing me and millions other the light in a tunnel.

    Recently i’ve been reading a huge lot about Karma, and surprisingly find that most people find strange or don’t get the idea of what it is and how it works in real life (giving / paying forward). I remember your tip about $5-10 towards next in line in coffee shop (and whole article), and these smallest and coolest gestures are still quite rare in daily life. why? looks like this is karmic level 3-4, which for many is a big leap. for example, my wife hadn’t understand your tip until she found this and practiced it for a week or so [Moderator: link to facebook page (about picking up a piece of trash for someone else when you throw your own trash away) removed.] it worked somehow for her to get a feel of it, so i called it karmic level 1.

    I am researching it myself now and wondering if you have in mind and can share some ‘level 1’ tips in your friday letters. I now feel showing and practicing the very small karmic deeds daily does make the world a better place.

  9. The British History Podcast can send my wife to dreamland in 5 minutes flat. His voice is perfectly warm and soothing. (Apologies to Jamie if you see this: my wife and I use old episodes for sleep).

    Be warned though: he enjoys bookending his podcast with heavy metal or other loud music. Program your player to switch off before the credits.

  10. Good content but this guys speech patterns give me a headache. Maybe a speech coach could help him. It is like riding in a car with a 16 year old driving a stick shift for the first time.

    1. Adam Grant’s an exceptional person, that’s kind of like saying the Mona Lisa needs a little more yellow and purple.

  11. Tim Ferriss I read 4hsweek, it looks to work very fine when u work receiveing dollars. Does it still works with a coin worth four times less? The retirements and VAs become 4x more expensive and u loose the exchange difference advantage for mobility.

  12. Great conversation as usual. Adam’s comment around listening to a podcast to help him fall asleep. Do you know how Peter Attia or Matthew Walker would feel about that and the impact it may have on the quality of sleep. I am one who likes to fall asleep to something but am trying to change this habit due to the ill effects of screens on sleep quality. I am thinking that listening to a podcast could be a safe alternative but wonder if the continuous play after you fall asleep impacts the quality of your sleep?

  13. Really enjoyed the sentiment of bright spots, it’s so easy to focus on improving and not just celebrating. I have a question for you. Do you have something that is purely playful to you? How do you inject fun and lightness into your day? And who is the most playful person you know? Really enjoy your show. Thank you from London!

  14. Good conversation with Adam.

    I like the line around 1:23 which you said “success cannot be kept from you” referring to focusing on people and learning. That is a great theme in life when considering new jobs and projects.

    Question: one thing you said around the same time (1:23) was when you were promoting the 4-hour chef book, you were “looking for the uncrowded – undervalued high-leveraged avenues for promotion…” I’m a marketing guy and entrepreneur, how does one go about finding the undervalued, highly-leverageable avenues for promotion? Can you share what you’ve learned?

    Thanks Tim!

  15. You mentioned towards the end of this episode you were thinking about disappearing for a while. Have you ever thought about an apprenticeship? It would be like an extended version of the knife metal smithing workshop you took, but possibly more physically intense. In my field, potters will study under a ”Master Potter” and emerge themselves having mastered a holistic process: digging clay, adding water, twisting clay into a cup, firing the cup with only wood, up to 2400 degrees Fahrenheit and then enjoying tea from it. My teacher apprenticed for four years, and his teacher apprentice for four years (in Karatsu, Japan) but I wonder what you might accomplish in four months.

  16. Thank you Tim great podcast i really learned a lot.I was wondering if you heard of this self help [Moderator: link removed.]. Iwas just looking for some options before I made my decision.By the way I love the content you been posting,

  17. I can’t tell you how much I got out of this podcast. Ideas for podcasts, ideas for productivity/goal-setting and some great book recommendations, including by both Adam and Tim. My only quibble is with something Adam said at one point about not “wasting” time psycho-analyzing why you have certain work habits/tendencies etc. and just starting where you are and working from there. I must disagree. For most people, their relationship to work is deeply psychological and so habits/time-management/email practices etc can ONLY change once they understand why they do what they do. Then and only then can they begin to set goals and be productive around those goals – otherwise they will remain in a rut. Just wanted to add that corrective to what was a brilliant show. Thank you.
    Delia Lloyd

  18. Great podcast. I really like it. Feeling good to know about the Adam Grant. He is really a nice personality.

  19. Please remember your audience. This is a useless advert for… I’m not even sure. Adam Grant, maybe? Not a good rep of him even. I learned nothing. Did you listen? There’s a twist at the end… everything you’ve heard could be wrong… WTF this is non-sense.

    I listen to and have read your stuff since the 2010’s cause you are an amazing gatekeeper to keep this shit out of my life. It’s slipping. What happened here. Hope you made a bunch of cash off of letting this through the filters.

  20. Superb Post! Really Adam Grant is superior Man. I enjoyed to read this post. I like it because its different one for me!