What if you protected personal time as "family time"?


While you’re at it, can you please stick bicycle spokes in my eyes?

Bob Cramer has taken six tech companies to successful exits, IPOs or acquisitions. Here is how he negotiates family time, from “The Secret Life of a Serial CEO” in the January 2008 issue of Inc.:

“He recounts how he recently considered taking the CEO job at a database company with big potential. But the second round of interviews spilled into a schedule family vacation, and he refused to change his plans. When he returned, he learned the company had gone with someone else. He was a little surprised and disappointed but felt he had made the right decision. After all, he was just following another of his rules: ‘Never regret doing a family thing over a business thing,’ he says.”

Some people are excellent at protecting family time, but most are terrible at protecting personal time.

How would your quality of life change if you safeguarded personal time like Bob safeguards family time, even if you’re single?


Odds and Ends: More videos from Buenos Aires – Taxis and Tango

Crossing under the “obelisco” and flying across the widest avenue in South America, 9 de Julio.

This is the famous “La Viruta” tango club in Buenos Aires. It is 4am on a Sunday night (Monday morning), and these 100s of people have to work in a few hours. God, I love cities designed for night owls!

The Endless Summer: How to “Winter” Like Old Money

The best meat on the planet in Buenos Aires — $14 per person for all you can eat, including fresh vegetables, dozens of plates, hand-made pastas, and waiters in tuxes. La Bistecca in Puerto Madero. Noah Kagan at my right.

E-mail 1 (friend):

“You should come!”

E-mail 2 (me):

“Uh…. sure. It’s too damn cold here. I guess I’ll see you in 24-48 hours.”

That was on last Friday afternoon. I bought my ticket an hour later and arrived in Buenos Aires Sunday morning, greeted by 90-degree weather and a pleasant breeze through the stunning greenery now surrounding me.

Screw freezing rain in NYC.

“Where do you winter?” used to be a question asked only by blue bloods with old money.

The ultra-rich would leave their fancy digs in Nantucket or Central Park West once a year to go to the Caymans or somewhere equally inaccessible to most people who can’t live off the interest of their trust funds.

Not anymore. In a flat world, work and life and things you do and not necessarily places. Living the good life in an endless summer costs much less than you think. It also takes less work and prep than you think. Here are both for my latest escape:

-I bought a ticket from NY –> Buenos Aires –> Los Angeles fewer than 24 hours before departure. Total cost was $1,200, and I used nothing fancy, just the “multi-city” flight search on Orbitz. Just a few days earlier, those flights had been near $2,500. I almost never purchase airfare far in advance any more, as prices are better when the airlines get desperate to fill seats and panic. I’ve never missed travel because of this habit.

-I emailed BA4U Apartments and got a kick-ass apartment secured in less than three hours. Cost? $250 per week, the equivalent of one night at a comparable hotel in the posh area of Recoleta, which is where my apartment is located. Front and center. Check out the video below. Nothing third world about it. Tell Ralf I sent you — he is awesome.

-I arranged with my post office in CA to use Priority Mail to forward all of my mail to a friend in NY, who then sends me a weekly email describing anything I might need to respond my return on Jan. 15. Cost: $10 per week of forwarding with USPS, and I’ll buy my friend a bunch of drinks and gifts when I get back. If you have an assistant do this, it wouldn’t be more than an hour of work per week (thus, $10-15/week).

-For luggage and necessities, I practice the old Zen art of BIT travel. It ended up costing me less than $10 upon arrival.

Total for two weeks:

$1,200 for airfare

$500 for excellent apartment in the best central location

$50 maximum for mail handling


Let’s do a few more calculations to make this sexier.

You might be inclined say “$1,750! I don’t have that kind of money.” Don’t forget to subtract what you would have spent in the US or wherever you happen to be. This goes for exercise, too: before you exclaim “I burned 215 calories on the Stairmaster!”, be sure to subtract what you would have burned sitting on the couch watching Family Guy.

Back to our example…

If you go out to a good club for New Year’s Eve in NYC and buy a bottle of vodka for a table, you can count on $200-400 per bottle. I can get a table for six and unlimited champagne all night for $100 USD here in Argentina. If we assume two bottles for the evening, I just saved $300-700, which I can subtract from my airfare, etc.

Long story short: I will actually save money by wintering in Buenos Aires for two weeks instead of NYC or San Francisco. How cool is that?

Alrighty then, ladies and gents, I’m off to party like it’s 1999. Be safe, be grateful, and may 2008 be the best for all of us.

Here is a quote (and a hope for all of you) from the father of my friend and world-class Russian strength trainer, Pavel Tsatsaouline:

“May you have the two things that are so hard to have at once–time and money.”

Pura vida!

Other good spots for wintering:

Coiba, Panama

Phuket, Thailand

Bali, Indonesia

Queenstown, New Zealand

Sydney, Australia

Florianopolis, Brazil

Related links:

How to Live Like a Rock Star (or Tango Star) in Buenos Aires

How to Travel the World with 10 Pounds or Less

“Chapter 14: Mini-Retirements: Embracing the Mobile Lifestyle” in The 4-Hour Workweek

Get George Bush to Help You Skip Airport Lines

12 Filtering Tips for Better Information in Half the Time: RSS, Del.icio.us and StumbleUpon

OK, I need to clear something up…

Despite how orgasmic it makes Gawker feel, their ace of spades insult from my recent NY Times piece is a partial misquote: “Mr. Ferriss says he gets most of his news by asking waiters.”

The NYT article was very well done, but the truth is that I get some of my information from many different sources, including friends, professors, and occasionally — yes — even the much maligned service staff.

But it doesn’t stop there.

Let’s start with something we can all agree on: In a digital world, the race goes not to the person with the most information, but the person with the best combination of low-volume and high-relevancy information. The person with the least inputs necessary to maximize output.

So how do you do it?

For some, filters takes the form of a secretary. For others, it’s a matter of letting the Robert Scobles or Techmemes find the gems… or finding a virtual assistant who creates personalized executive summaries each week.

But what if you had hundreds of people with similar interests filtering for you? An army of attention gatekeepers? Bottom-up instead of top-down information distillation?

That’s just part of this article—collaborative filtering—covered by Ryan Holiday. Ryan, 20-years old and another friend from SXSW 2007, works for NY Times bestselling authors like Tucker Max and Robert Greene. Smart lad.


12 Filtering Tips for Better Information in Half the Time: RSS, Del.icio.us and StumbleUpon

by Ryan Holiday

In the search to stay informed but free and fluid, I’ve found a way to let collaborative filtering do the work for me. Here is how I do it:

RSS—Really Simple Syndication

This comes as a shock to everyone in the tech crowd, but most people don’t use RSS.

If you don’t use it, you should start. It can fundamentally simplify your online life.

Why would you check back to Tim’s site everyday to see if he’s posted when you can be updated only when it happens? RSS does to your web habits what Tivo did to your television–utterly revolutionizes it. Grab Google Reader and subscribe to Tim’s feed here.

Robert Scoble reads 600+ feeds a day, which nearly no one should, but if you subscribe to his feed, he’s filtering those 600+ for you, hence his nickname, the “human aggregator.” [From Tim, as true with all brackets: Rather than browsing the web for what you need and getting distracted by the irrelevant but interesting, RSS essentially gives you your own personal newspaper with carefully selected content. Here a general rule of thumb – The 70% Surfing Rule: if you surf vs. subscribe, assume you will spend at least 70% of your online time consuming interesting instead of actionable information, and 70% of the time, you won’t return to the task you initially set out to complete].

RSS is the first but casual line of defense in your war for efficient information consumption.

Tips for Using RSS Effectively:

1) Don’t Use Categories

Organizing all your feeds by genre is tempting but will burn you out. It is better to list them all out in a single view and use the “j” and “k” shortcuts [hitting the “j” key move you down, hitting the “k” moves you up] on Google Reader to navigate your feeds. This inserts variety into your daily read and lets valuable material stand out, as opposed to reading 30 posts in a row from the same author.

2) Don’t check it on the weekends

By batching it up and adding a sense of urgency to the process, you’re much less likely to waste time on crap. Be ruthless. If it’s good and you miss it, it will come back to you, I promise.

3) Clean House

You’re in charge. Your time is valuable. You’re too good to put up with someone who phones it in. If your friend told boring or pointless stories, would you call them up in the middle of the day and give them your uninterrupted attention? If an author isn’t delivering consistently, cut them out. If they ever improve enough to be worth reading again, you’ll probably hear about it.

4) If it Piles Up, Throw it Away

If you fall too far behind, don’t dedicate 4 hours to catching up on 1,256 posts. Just click “Mark All As Read” and move on. If you’re utilizing Delicious and StumbleUpon correctly, both later in this article, all the important stuff will come back to you.

Stumble Upon

StumbleUpon is a valuable tool as a reader or a blogger. As a reader, it allows you to hierarchically rank the Internet–thumbs up or thumbs down, Gladiator style. Based on your voting history and interests, it lets you “stumble” on to pages that you’ll like (somewhat like Pandora in music). The term “stumble” is a bit misleading because what you’re really doing is outsourcing your searching/filtering to a computer and to a highly dedicated crowd of 2 million people. They help you catch the crucial things you may have missed in your RSS reader.

As a blogger, SU is far superior to Digg, Reddit or any other service in terms of delivering traffic. Last month, Stumble Upon sent 23,000 people to three sites I work on to posts that are almost a year old. 91% of those visitors were totally new to our pages and 69% of them stuck around (31% bounce rate) compared to the abysmal 4% stick rate (96% bounce) that came from a front page story on Digg. This happens because they’re being sent to pages that fit with their interests–because the algorithm works.

Getting the Most Out of StumbleUpon

1) Actually Joining the Community

How can you expect to get returns from a service you never bothered to invest in? Everyone in your organization, even if it’s just you, should have an account, and you should be a regular contributor (which really means an extra click when you see something you like). If you develop a high-quality, genuine account, no one is going to have a problem with you voting on your own stuff–you do like it, don’t you? But your votes won’t mean anything if you haven’t voted often and voted well for other pages you actually think are worthwhile.

2) Guide, but Don’t Direct

If you’re not going to vote for your own stories, you should make sure they’re in the right category. When I looked over Tim’s pages, one of his best posts “The Art of Letting Bad Things Happen” was categorized under travel. It’s not about travel; it’s about living life on your own terms. So go through your archives and make sure anything that has been submitted is in the right place. By keeping up on this, you can optimize your site for the traffic it deserves.

3) Dial in Your Interest, Let Computers Do Your Work

Every time you vote, tag, and review a story, the Stumble Upon algorithm gets to know you that much better. Start by voting in all your favorites, sites who’s feed you subscribe too, and writers you read everyday. Knowing that you like psychology, that you recently voted for an interview with Richard Dawkins and a Wikipedia page on Cognitive Biases, allows Stumble Upon to serve you with Time Magazine’s newest story on evolutionary psychology instead of you having to subscribe to the magazine’s RSS feed, or worse yet, drive to the store and buy it.

4) Use Only the Essentials.

After you install the toolbar, get rid of all the excess. Go to “Toolbar Options?Position Options” and place it anywhere you want (I keep mine at the bottom in my status bar). And then uncheck little buttons in the same window and select “icons only”, and all you’re left with is the thumbs up, thumps down button–everything that you need.


Delicious, if you use it right, not only makes your bookmarking system [highlighting good pages for later reference] portable but it hires all your friends as personal news shoppers for you. If you were looking to outsource your morning read, but didn’t want to pay those Indian MBA’s, this is how you do it.

Making your Bookmarks Del.icio.us:

1) Use the “Links for You” section

Delicious’ killer app is its ability to facilitate sharing. When friends read a story they think you’d be interested in, they tag it to you and it shows up in your account to be read at your leisure. I’ve set it up so my network of friends and co-workers hit me with 5-10 of the day’s best stories–the things I can’t do with out. If done right, you’ll have an army of friends out searching for the things you need to read instead of you taking the massive burden on yourself.

2) Give to Receive

While you’re doing your regular read, keep your friends in mind. If you see an article that’s relevant to a friends business, tag it “To:UserName” and it shows up in their account.

3) Mark them “To_Read”

When you see something that you know you have to read, but don’t have time for now, set up a category that delineates that you’ll go back to it. Think of it as a DVR that saves the stuff you need to watch but didn’t want to be chained to the clock for. I mark stories “To_Read” and every few days I go back through and get caught up. The last thing you should do is rush through something important when you can go back later and get the most out of it. I also have “To_Do” tag that I use to mark things I need to install or complete.

4) Be Simple

Use the Classic Del.icio.us buttons and nothing else. In Firefox, it puts them right next to your navigation bar, one for tagging and the other to view your bookmarks. Use as few tags as possible. Use the description section to highlight the meaty part of the article. And lastly, only befriend people who provide quality material. The last thing you need is the website equivalent of chain-emails showing up in your account.

The Bottom Line

Each one of these services is useful in and of themselves, but used in combination, they can dramatically improve your results while simultaneously cutting the bulk of your information load.

RSS is your first line of defense. You pick the sites that deliver quality content and are informed when they’re updated. No need to live and die by it–treat it like scanning the newspaper headlines.

Then, by employing collaborative filtering, you use other people’s time to weed out the things that would waste yours. In fact, Del.icio.us and Stumble Upon polls your friends and people with similar interests for the most crucial sources of information and anything else you might have accident skipped over. If The Wisdom of Crowds has taught us anything, it is that a large group of people is drastically more efficient than you’ll ever be on your own.

Unless you enjoy grinding yourself to the bone, use this principle—whether you call it “crowdsourcing” or otherwise—to stop drinking from the information fire hose. It’s not more information, it’s better information, that distinguishes the real winners in business and life.

Related resources:

Download Google RSS Reader

Subscribe to this blog’s RSS Feed

How to Create a Paperless Life, Never Check Voicemail, Never Return Another Phone Call

How to Take Notes Like an Alpha-Geek

The 10 Most Common Words You Should Stop Using Now


Odds and Ends: Anyone in Punta del Este?

Looks like I’ll be in South America for a bit enjoying some surf and turf. Does anyone have a room or house in Punta del Este available the first or second week of January? I’m happy to share (same true for good wine), and the closer to La Barra, the better 🙂 Just email amy-atsymbol-fourhourworkweek.com or leave a comment.

New Year, New You: How to Travel the World with (or without) Kids in 2008


From cold weather land to never-never-land. (Photo: hschmid)

Incredible world travel isn’t limited to 20-something singles.

Dan Clements knows this, but his take on travel is well worth reading for singles as well.

Moving from structure to no structure, issues of timing and career, and more — these are the same issues solo travelers and families both face.

I convinced Dan, author of the new Escape 101, to let me reprint one of his chapters — Escaping with Children — here. I think it’s a good treatise on life-affirming escape in general and perfect for the holidays, when millions — in between resting and reflection — promise themselves to reevaluate work-life for 2008 and beyond.

What if you just did whatever you’re considering?

Enjoy 😉


Don’t limit a child to your own learning, for he was born in another time.

-Rabbinical saying

I WAS A LITTLE freaked out. After nearly 36 hours of travel, we were finally nearing our sabbatical destination. Five years of planning had culminated in a jarring drive down a precarious dirt road bordered by sugarcane fields and coco trees.

We had arrived in South America.

As we looked out the windows of the van, eager to catch a glimpse of what would become our home for the next five months, I glanced nervously over at our daughter.

Late the night before we had pushed Eve, our five year-old, through Paraguayan customs on a luggage cart. After a long flight, she was exhausted, and had curled up and fallen asleep on our suitcases.

The trip was tiring, but she was amazing. She exceeded our expectations every step of the way, and just her presence alone made things easier, as customs officials first in Brazil, then Paraguay, pulled us to the front of long lineups, smiling brightly at the precocious little girl in her pajamas clutching a stuffed yellow duck.

Still, despite Eve’s super-traveler status and my calm demeanor, I was seriously nervous on the inside. What were we thinking? I thought. This is crazy, bringing a kid here. We have no idea what we’re getting into.

To a large extent this was true. We’d agreed to come to Paraguay, a relatively low profile country in South America, over coffee. It was as simple as that. We weren’t really sure exactly how things were going to be, but we knew that there were kids for Eve to play with, and I knew that I trusted (for no identifiable reason) the missionary who’d invited us.

Now, though, our “gut instinct” decision to come seemed ill-considered. This wasn’t like our other sabbaticals, traveling alone or as a couple. We had a kid! If this went poorly, the consequences would be far more painful.

The van turned onto a beautiful property just as the sun set, and we approached a brick home in the distance. Eve looked at me. “Where are all the kids, daddy?”

“I don’t know, sweetie. I’m sure they’re here somewhere.”

Moments later, as the van came to a stop, more than a dozen beautiful children appeared from nowhere, smiling, cheering, and shouting happily in Spanish. We emerged from the van, and were swarmed with hugs and warm welcomes. Eve looked at me, astonished, and then began to laugh with joy at the happy chaos.

Within minutes, little Eve, without a word of Spanish, was off happily playing.

The tension flooded out of me. It’s going to be fine, I thought. It’s going to be great!

And it was.


For many families, there’s a convergence point on the timeline of life where children and careers collide. The addition of kids to the existing stresses of work and modern culture can be overwhelming for many families. In fact, many don’t make it.

In their book The Two-Income Trap: Why Middle-Class Mothers and Fathers are Going Broke, authors Elizabeth Warren and Amelia Warren Tyagi reveal the debilitating cycle for middle-class parents who buy into neighborhoods they can’t afford in order to provide access to good schools for their children. The homes cost more, the taxes are higher, and the requisite level of accessories climbs as well. The only way to make ends meet is for both parents to work full time (at least).

Furthermore, as more and more couples have children later in life, prime earning years have begun to overlap with prime rearing years, resulting in a whole new level of rat race intensity. Nights with less sleep are followed (far too quickly) by earlier mornings that have all the soothing tranquility of an air raid. The easy days are the ones that you can simply skip lunch and overwork yourself without having to pick up a sick child from school, hit a soccer game or make an orthodontist appointment you can’t afford.

It’s absolutely the last time anyone would dream of taking a sabbatical.

But it’s also one of the best times to do it. The benefits for families taking sabbaticals are endless; they can build character, health, relationships and values in a way that’s very difficult to achieve by any other means.

Like the other barriers to your hiatus, though, the sabbatical rock of children is a tough one to get rolling, and highly emotionally charged. In an effort to shift the boulder a bit, let’s challenge the status quo on the biggest concerns about taking children on sabbatical: their safety, their schooling and your sanity.

Concern #1: Safety

Is it safe to take your kids on sabbatical? The answer is another question: what does safe mean? Safe is a term that really means, “a level of risk that I’m comfortable with”.

Different sabbaticals have different levels of risk. Moving your family from Miami to San Diego for a sabbatical is more of a logistical challenge than a safety issue. New school, new friends, new house.

If you’re considering a sabbatical with kids in a Second or Third World country, however, you’re undoubtedly already worried about safety and access to adequate health care. For most people, other countries mean “more risk”.

Worrying about your kids is easy. It’s normal—every good parent wants their child to be safe and well. What’s not healthy is worrying yourself sick about it. And what’s not so easy is assessing the real risk in other countries while you’re still sitting at home in First World comfort.

This is not an attempt to convince you there is no risk—it’s a suggestion that you carefully consider the context of the information you receive, and how it fits with your sabbatical plans. Consider what follows as a set of discussion points to review before you discount traveling with children because of safety concerns.

Danger is a Squeaky Wheel

Bad news, drama, danger and catastrophe make news. Your main sources of information on another country will tend to come from sources that have a vested interest in reporting the unpleasant side of life. Vaccine producers, newspapers, websites, doctors and even your friends and family will have plenty to say about crime, communicable disease and natural disaster. They’ll have far less to say about families who forged new bonds and created lasting memories during Second and Third world travel.

This isn’t to say that these sources are all nasty. It’s simply how the world works. If danger wasn’t a squeaky wheel, a lot more of us would fall victim to it. Focusing on threats is a built-in survival mechanism, and it works wonders for keeping us alive.

At times, however, it also works wonders for keeping us in our homes in front of televisions (watching more unpleasant news) instead of exploring the world. The trick is to recognize that you’re only seeing one side of the story. You’re not hearing about the enormous percentage of people leading safe and happy lives. You’re not hearing about them because they don’t make the news.

Seeking Safety and Dodging Danger Are Not The Same

Ironically, when you go searching for information on safety in another country, you actually tend to search for information on danger. We don’t, for example, tend to look for infant immortality rates, we look for mortality rates. We don’t ask how many people didn’t get malaria. The same goes for crime. It takes only a few minutes on the internet to find the number of murders in a given country—it’s a lot harder to find the number of people who didn’t die. I challenge you to find the statistics for the number of non-victims of crime, disease and natural disaster for any country—the stats don’t exist, yet the non-victims outnumber the victims many times over.

The result is that the information we get is almost entirely negative, because that’s what we’re looking for.

Your Circumstances Are Not the Same

When you leave the First World for the Third, you’re not becoming a Third World person. Your existing level of health, your access to resources and your background and education provide you and your family with an enormous advantage over many inhabitants of less developed nations. You can afford health care. You can afford good food. You can afford clean water. You can afford decent housing. The same statistics don’t apply to you.

Take the time to consider the whole picture before you discount a sabbatical because it’s too dangerous for children.

Concern #2: School

Face it: North America hasn’t cornered the market on schools. Schooling options are plentiful around the world. You can home school, if that suits you, or put your children in a local school. Many countries have English-speaking private schools for expatriates that tend to be expensive, but of good quality.

Remember that education doesn’t have to mean sitting at a desk, either. By discussing your time away with teachers and school administrators, you may be able to use your travel as a form of education in itself. What sounds more educational to you: reading a textbook in class about indigenous South American people, or hiking to Machu Picchu to see the Incan ruins first hand? Which experience do you think has the most staying power?

The trick to getting comfortable with alternative forms of education is to get educated. Talk to teachers, parents and your kids about how they feel. And remember that little kids are…well, they’re little kids. Your preschooler isn’t going to suffer if they miss a standardized test or fall behind in reading for the time you’re away.

Give your little ones a chance to be little ones.

Concern #3: Staying Sane

Although modern living can be crushingly difficult at times, it also contains an entire infrastructure of sanity-preserving resources that have evolved around the need to integrate child rearing with income earning.

The school system, daycare, sports teams, nannies, television, video games, playgrounds and DVD’s all provide a cushion between our insanely busy lives, and the wondrous but demanding exuberance of kids. And regardless of your opinion of these safety valves, it’s worth considering what your sabbatical will be like without them.

The average kid watches several hours of TV per day. If that’s not part of your sabbatical, what will your day be like? I’m not suggesting it’ll be better or worse, only that it will be different, and it’s worth envisioning what that “different” will be like, and how you’ll deal with it.

What Kids Really Need

If the thought of going from Nintendo to no Nintendo sends you into a panic attack, consider for a moment what kids actually need to be fulfilled and happy.


Although it may not be easy to believe, particularly with teenagers, your kids really want you. What they lose in DVD releases on sabbatical, they make up for with pure, unfettered time with you. Your time away can easily create and strengthen bonds with your children that will last a lifetime—all it takes is a little time.

Other Kids

Kids are social creatures, and just like parents need adult time, kids need kid time—they need to interact with other children.

Our daughter is an only child. For this reason, we chose a destination for our most recent sabbatical that would have many other children around. It was the smartest thing we could have done. From the moment we arrived, the children took Eve under their wing, and despite the language barrier, had an incredible time.

The message is a simple one: kids are kids, all around the world. If you’ve got an only child, or kids of diverse ages, or siblings that don’t get along, don’t worry. Find a place with kids, and the kids will find their place.

(Some) Structure

Children tend to gravitate towards some structure. Rules and routine are a way for them to test the world out, and figure out how things work. Just as touching a hot stove equals pain for a toddler, staying out late without calling home equals disapproval for a teenager. They’re all forms of poking and prodding the world to find out how it will respond.

Too much structure can be stifling. Too little can be unrewarding, or even scary.

How does this apply to sabbaticals? Most families transitioning from rat race to sabbatical life may find themselves moving from too much structure and routine to too little. It can make for a difficult transition.

Recognize that while you may relish the idea of having absolutely zero rules, restrictions and obligations when you wake up on the first day of your sabbatical, your children may feel otherwise. Keep them informed and involved. Even if there are no plans whatsoever, tell them, “The plan is to have no plan so we can just relax and enjoy ourselves today.”

Good Intentions

Unlike many adults, children are remarkably intuitive. Babies know far better than adults when they’re hungry. Toddlers know exactly what they want (even if they can’t get it), and even moody, confused teenagers have a remarkable ability to gravitate towards what they like. We grown-ups, on the other hand, have had the pleasure of being completely desensitized by the incredible world that’s evolved around us—a lot of our intuition lies dormant.

The result is that kids are sensitive to the environment around them. They have a natural ability to pick up on emotions and intentions. For this reason, one of the best tools for travel with children is your attitude for travel with children. If you tell yourself that a 12-hour flight is going to be rough with your kids, then it’s almost a sure thing. Your kids will pick up on the subtle signals you send out—your body cues, your emotional tone, and your choice of language. Conversely, tell yourself that the cross-country RV trip is going to be fantastic, and it will be. Kids are the shortest route to self-fulfilling prophecy on the planet.

The Perfect Age is Any Age

What’s the secret to choosing the right age? Don’t discount any ages. Just as there’s no perfect time to take your sabbatical, there’s no perfect age for kids either. It’s going to be great at any age. Don’t assume your toddler is too young, or your teen too old. Young children provide an opportunity to skew the decision-making towards what you’d like to do, which tends to make things easy, but older kids represent a communal planning opportunity that can’t be beat.

Sabbaticals and kids go together like peanut butter and jelly. The natural curiosity of kids, their desire to engage with life can take you to places and things you might never have dreamed of on your own.

Do your children a favor. Don’t wait until they’re gone.


Odds and Ends: Tim on Donny Deutsch on Dec. 26th, BNET video, OLPC, books winner…

Round 2 with Donny Deutsch!

I will appear on The Big Idea with Donny Deutsch on a panel on December 26th at 10pm EST and 1am EST. For those of you who missed my first encounter with Donny, when Matt Lauer interviewed both of us on The Today Show, here’s some background on all of the excitement that cropped up. This visit should be less heated, but you never know. LOL…

BNET Video of Tim and 4HWW

This is a very cool (I think) book brief on the 4HWW, with some hysterical CGI and green screening. The folks at BNET did a great job. I only wish I hadn’t had to wake up at 5:30am to get to the studio on time. Make-up!

One Laptop Per Child – Get a $100 Laptop:

Looking for a very unique, last-minute X-mas present? Get an OLPC laptop and send one to a deserving child in a developing country. It isn’t normally possible to get one of these cool durable Linux laptops — real feats of engineering — but here is your chance: the “get one, give one” program, which ends Dec. 31. I just ordered mine, and it should arrive in early January. My current idea, which was suggested by a reader (thank you!), is to try and run my businesses from the OLPC laptop as I travel the world, proving it not just as a viable educational tool, but also as a viable tool for spreading entrepreneurship worldwide in developing countries. We’ll see…

Have a room or house in Punta del Este?

Do you have a room or house I can use/rent in Punta del Este the end of Dec. and first week of January? If so, please put “Punta del Este for Tim” in the subject and e-mail details to amy(at sign)fourhourworkweek.com. Mil gracias por adelantado, che 🙂

Want a free virtual assistant for 2008 to help create time and balance?

Enter Elance’s competition and you could. Just answer the question: How would you use a virtual assistant to grow your business or improve your personal life? I like simple questions that are big questions. This is one of them.

“How to Save Your Weekend” 36 Book Winner:

James Toepel is the 36-book winner for his real dream weekend he actualized based on this post. There were some other awesome weekends planned and made reality on short notice, so thank you to all who made it happen. Hopefully, as with all of the contests I issue, participating was also its own reward. Well done, all!

Why I Started Punching Jerks Again

Men, please take this as the verbalization of fantasies I know everyone of you has had. Ladies, take this as an inside look at the hardwiring of the male mind…

Perhaps it’s too much flying monkey or watching mating battles on Planet Earth, but I’m beginning to think (once again) punching jerks might not be such a bad idea.

The current issue of Esquire brought out my inner Tyler Durden with a hysterical article called — I believe — “Why I Started Punching Jerks Again.” I believe? I believe so because the online editors changed the title to “In Defense of the Fistfight.” Shame on them. The original makes more sense, as it’s first-person… Continue reading “Why I Started Punching Jerks Again”

10 Random Gifts That Please Almost Everyone

The Slingshot Monkey is guaranteed to make anyone a 6-year old. What could be better?

I love Christmas.

Bright colored lights, snow, butter cookies, multicolored socks, scarves, pine trees, garland, the warmth of flames in the fireplace and uplifting cheerful music that gets everyone tapping and smiling… ah, X-mas!

But… sometimes it’s hard to figure out what to ask Santa for or what to tell Santa to get for other people… Continue reading “10 Random Gifts That Please Almost Everyone”

How to Negotiate like an Indian — 7 Rules


Guess who won?

Indians have founded more engineering and technology companies in the U.S. during the past decade than immigrants from Britain, China, Taiwan and Japan combined (Source: Where The Engineers Are, Vivek Wadhwa, 2007).


The entrepreneurial abilities of Indians in general has amazed me for years. It seems that Indian culture produces an uncommon blend of innovative thinking, business-minded aggression, and comfort with numbers. But there is another ingredient…

Two weeks ago, I saw a screening of the film 2 Million Minutes, a new comparative documentary that examines education in the US, China, and India. The filmmaker, Bob Compton, also wrote a book titled Blogging Through India, which I thumbed through before the movie.

Lo and behold, it contained this great little description on one of the greatest skills Indians bring to the table:



In India, every transaction — EVERY transaction — is negotiated. Merchandise, cab fare, restaurant bills, wedding doweries — the list is endless.

As our guide Vishnu explained, “In India, we bargain to the level of the individual vegetable purchase.”

While awkward and uncomfortable to most Americans, that level of negotiating can be quite valuable.

Hotmail founder Sabeer Bhatia, a CA transplant from Bangalore, credited the bargaining skills he learned in vegetable markets at home for getting Microsoft to push its acquisition price for his company from $160 million to $400 million. Bill Gates’ eye teeth were floating in tea with that deal.

Here are a few rules for bargaining on the buy-side when in India… Continue reading “How to Negotiate like an Indian — 7 Rules”

How to Get George Bush or the CEO of Google on the Phone

The below article, titled “Fail Better” and written by Adam Gottesfeld, explores how I teach Princeton students to connect with luminary-level business mentors and celebrities of various types. I’ve edited it to be shorter and clearer in a few places.

People are fond of using the “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know” adage as an excuse for inaction, as if all successful people are born with powerful friends.


Here’s how normal people build supernormal networks…


Most Princeton students love to procrastinate in writing their dean’s date [term] papers. Ryan Marrinan ’07, from Los Angeles, was no exception. But while the majority of undergraduates fill their time by updating their Facebook profiles or watching videos on YouTube, Marrinan was discussing Soto Zen Buddhism via e-mail with Randy Komisar, a partner at the venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield and Byers, and asking Google CEO Eric Schmidt ’76 via e-mail when he had been happiest in his life. (Schmidt’s answer: “Tomorrow.”)

Prior to his e-mail, Marrinan had never contacted Komisar. He had met Schmidt, at Princeton University trustee, only briefly at an academic affairs meeting of the trustees in November. A self-described “naturally shy kind,” Marrinan said he would never have dared to randomly e-mail two of the most powerful men in Silicon Valley if it weren’t for Tim Ferriss ’00, who offered a guest lecture in Professor Ed Zschau ’61’s ELE 491 “High-Tech Entrepreneurship” class. Ferriss challenged Marrinan and his fellow seniors in the class to contact high-profile celebrities and CEOs and get their answers to questions they have always wanted to ask.

For extra incentive, Ferriss promised the student who could contact the most hard-to-reach name and ask the most intriguing question a round-trip plane ticket anywhere in the world.

“I believe that success can be measured in the number of uncomfortable conversations you’re willing to have. I felt that if I could help students overcome the fear of rejection with cold-calling and cold e-mail, it would serve them forever,” Ferriss said. “It’s easy to sell yourself short, but when you see classmates getting responses from people like [former president] George Bush, the CEOs of Disney, Comcast, Google, and HP, and dozens of other impossible-to-reach people, it forces you to reconsider your self-set limitations.”… Ferriss lectures to the students of “High-Tech Entrepreneurship” each semester about creating a startup and designing the ideal lifestyle.

“I participate in this contest every day,” said Ferriss. “I do what I always do: find a personal e-mail if possible, often through their little-known personal blogs, send a two- to three-paragraph e-mail which explains that you are familiar with their work, and ask one simple-to-answer but thought-provoking question in that e-mail related to their work or life philosophies. The goal is to start a dialogue so they take the time to answer future e-mails – not to ask for help. That can only come after at least three or four genuine e-mail exchanges.”

With “textbook execution of the Tim Ferriss Technique,” as he put it, Marrinan was able to strike up a bond with Komisar. In his initial e-mail, he talked about reading one of Komisar’s Harvard Business Review articles and feeling inspired to ask him, “When were you happiest in your life?” After Komisar replied with references to Tibetan Buddhism, Marrinan responded, “Just as words are inadequate to explain true happiness, so too are words inadequate to express my thanks.” His e-mail included his personal translation of a French poem by Taisen Deshimaru, the former European head of Soto Zen. An e-mail relationship was formed, and Komisar even e-mailed Marrinan a few days later with a link to a New York Times article on happiness.

Contacting Schmidt proved more challenging. For Marrinan, the toughest part was getting Schmidt’s personal e-mail address. He e-mailed a Princeton dean asking for it. No response. Two weeks later, he e-mailed the same dean again, defending his request by reminding her that he had previously met Schmidt. The dean said no, but Marrinan refused to give up. He e-mailed her a third time. “Have you ever made an exception?” he asked. The dean finally gave in, he said, and provided him with Schmidt’s e-mail.

“I know some of my classmates pursued the alternative scattershot technique with some success, but that’s not my bag,” Marrinan said, explaining his perseverance. “I deal with rejection by persisting, not by taking my business elsewhere. My maxim comes from Samuel Beckett, a personal hero of mine: ‘Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.’ You won’t believe what you can accomplish by attempting the impossible with the courage to repeatedly fail better.”

Nathan Kaplan ’07, another participant in the contest. was most proud of the way that he was able to contact former Newark mayor Sharpe James. Because James had made a campaign contribution to Al Sharpton, the website www.fundrace.org listed James’ homes address. Kaplan then input James’ address into an online search-by-address phone directory, through which he received the former mayor’s phone number. Kaplan left a message for James, and a few days later finally got to ask him about childhood education.

Ferriss is proud of the effort students have put into his contest. “Most people can do absolutely awe-inspiring things,” he said. “Sometimes they just need a little nudge.”

Adam Gottesfeld ’07, a Woodrow Wilson School major, is from Los Angeles.


Here’s how impressive networks are built: one superstar at a time.

It’s another case of working smarter and not harder. Readers will recognize that I discuss this topic of contacting mentors at some length in The 4-Hour Workweek, using John Grisham as an example.

Forget about your 500+ connections on LinkedIn. More is often less.

If you could choose only five people in the world to get to know in the 2008, who would they be?

Here are a few I’d enjoy meeting, among others:

The Crystal Method band members

Rick Rubin

Jeff Corwin


Francis Ford-Coppola

Hayao Miyazaki

Do you know them? If you do and think a meeting might be fun, please e-mail me via my assistant at amy-at-fourhourworkweek.com Danke!

E-mail-Free Fridays and How to Save Your Weekend

First, the 4-minute mile couldn’t be broken. Then, men couldn’t land on the moon. Now, most have accepted e-mail as the permanent bane of their working existences.

But not all of us.

The following came to me via the prodigal Cameron Johnson, originally in USA Today. Below it are my recommendations for making this weekend one to remember:

SAN FRANCISCO — Overwhelmed by e-mail? Some professionals are fighting back by declaring e-mail-free Fridays — or by deleting their entire in-box.

Today about 150 engineers at chipmaker Intel (INTC) will kick off “Zero E-mail Fridays.” E-mail isn’t forbidden, but everyone is encouraged to phone or meet face-to-face. The goal is more direct, free-flowing communication and better exchange of ideas, Intel principal engineer Nathan Zeldes says in a company blog post.

E-mail-free Fridays already are the norm at cell carrier U.S. Cellular (UZG) and at order-processing company PBD Worldwide Fulfillment Services in Alpharetta, Ga.

Prominent techies are tackling the problem individually by declaring “e-mail bankruptcy” — deleting or archiving an entire in-box and starting over. Among them: prominent tech bloggers Jeff Nolan, Michael Arrington and Vanessa Fox, and venture capitalist Fred Wilson.

E-mail overload is caused by the sheer volume of messages zipping around the globe. Each day, about 39.7 billion person-to-person e-mails, 17.1 billion automated alerts, and 40.5 billion pieces of spam (unsolicited commercial e-mail) are sent worldwide, researcher IDC says. White-collar workers often receive 140 messages a day, executive coach Marsha Egan says.

E-mail can be a useful communication tool, and people who write a lot of it are more likely to receive it, IDC (IDC) tech analyst Mark Levitt says. But it can quickly get out of hand.

“I didn’t even have time to figure out where to start,” says Edward O’Connor, a Web developer from San Diego who declared e-mail bankruptcy two weeks ago. O’Connor had about 750 messages dating back three years, almost all of which needed a reply. “I was completely overwhelmed,” he says.

Egan says even the busiest e-mailers can, with care, keep control of their in-boxes. Her tips:

•Don’t use e-mail to avoid unpleasant tasks. “I couldn’t believe people who had never talked to each other but worked in the same office,” says Scott Dockter, CEO of PBD. Dockter started e-mail-free Fridays about a year-and-a-half ago. Since then, the number of messages his 400 employees send has dropped by about 75%.

•Don’t constantly check for new messages. It can take four minutes to refocus on work after checking an e-mail, Egan says. Jay Ellison, chief operating officer of U.S. Cellular, estimates that his 7,000 employees spend about 1½ hours a day on their in-boxes. E-mail-free Fridays give them more time to solve customers’ problems, he says.

•Respond to important messages first — even if they’re difficult. Less-pressing issues can wait until a free moment, Egan says.


So, how to save your weekend from e-mail or — worse still — the mediocrity of “what should I do?” and having it end before it starts?

I’m just as lazy as the rest of the world about weekend planning, so here’s the trick: I asked people to describe dream “dates” in detail in the second-to-last post. Now, in the comments, you have beautifully detailed itineraries for having an unforgettable 24 hours in dozens of cities and states, including:

Las Vegas



New York City

Washington, D.C.


Los Angeles

Toronto, Canada



Munich, Germany

Seattle, Washington

Perth, Australia

Sydney, Australia


New Orleans

Portland, Oregon




Sedona, Arizona

Sydney, Australia

Cambria, California

Raleigh, North Carolina


Esfahan, Iran

Here’s the challenge: using the comments as samples, create at least one day this weekend that is truly amazing and put it in the comments here.

The reader whose description I like the most will get at least 36 copies of the 1st printing of The 4-Hour Workweek as early X-mas presents. First-edition manuscripts have sold for more than $1,500 on eBay, so these are nice stocking stuffers 🙂

Photos on Flickr, videos on YouTube, and such are not required, but some evidence will help prove the experience wasn’t just your imagination.

So, make haste — plan now and play hard!

[P.S. The winners of the dream date competition are mthorley, malia, AF, donovan, andrewrogers, ryanmcknight, macewen, and adam (seattle date). Please check your inboxes for further instructions.]

The Personal Outsourcing Olympics: Bangalore Butler or American Assistant?

So good I had to show it to you again.

This past Tuesday, I was part of a segment on the CBS Early Show on personal outsourcing called “Average Joes, Janes Outsourcing Tasks.” Check out the video, one of the best I’ve seen on the topic, here. It includes case studies.

Two of my favorite articles on personal outsourcing — one from The Wall Street Journal and the other from the NY Times — compare different tasks and common problems.

I’ve outsourced everything from hardcore business functions to personal chores, emptying my inbox, and even online dating (see my “extreme outsourcing” article for the last).

One big question still remains for most:

Where the hell should I go to get started?

All personal outsourcing companies are not created equal… Continue reading “The Personal Outsourcing Olympics: Bangalore Butler or American Assistant?”