I first met Tim Ferriss in 2007. I hesitate to say he was just a guy then, but he was and I was even less of a guy (I was another guys assistant and couldnt legally buy a drink). Within a few months, Tim would go on to publish one of the biggest business books of the last decade and segue it into investments in Uber, Twitter, Facebook and WordPress. Whether youre a fan of his writing or not, thats an objectively impressive accomplishment.
In the ten years weve known each other, Ive watched Tim sell several million copies of his books, listened to hours of his podcast (so have 100M other people), and been lucky enough to spend a lot of time with him. Needless to say, Ive learned an incredible amount. This week hes publishing Tools of Titans which looks at all the things hes learned from billionaires, athletes, filmmakers and creators hes interviewed over the years. Theres some good stuff in there, but I thought I would take the time to articulate the lessons I learned from watching and working with Timbecause they could fill their own book.
What Do You Do With Your Money?
Around the time I was starting my marketing company, I had a conversation with Tim. He asked me what I was working on and what I was trying to accomplish, and I gave your typical answer: I wanted to be financially successful. Then he asked me something Ive never been asked. Ryan, he said, What do you do with your money? Basically I just put it in the bank, I told him. Then why are you doing so many things you dislike to earn more of it? he replied. This insight changed the course of my business as well as my life. Making money is easier than most people thinkknowing why and what for, and not being driven in the wrong direction to get it? Much harder.
They just announced the development of what will be Tims third crack at a television series. I probably would have walked away in frustration after the first negative experience. But hes at it again. Because its something he wants.
Overdeliver. Overdeliver. Overdeliver.
His books are long for a reason. His blog posts are long for a reason. He over-delivers. Probably an unhealthy amount.
Quid Pro Quo Should Never Be Explicit
When Tims blog was just starting to take off, I emailed him and asked him if he might include a link back to mine. I laid out this clear case as to whythe things Id done for him in helping launch his book, how many copies it had sold, places Id secured links for him. He replied really quickly, Ryan, he said, Ill link to you because you askednot because of these reasons. In fact, in the future, youll have better luck when you ask for things if you dont try to make it seem like the person owes you. No one likes that. It was a technique Ive used many times since. There is an art to asking for and trading favorsthe most essential part is the social decorum around obscuring the very thing you are doing.
Sleep Is Important
Tim routinely gets 8-10 hours of sleepsomething Im happy to have copied early on and have not fallen into the lack of sleep as a badge of honor trap.
Treat Everyone Like They Can Put You On The Front Page Of The New York Times
Tims network is pretty astounding. His media opportunities are the secret envy of almost every entrepreneur or author. How does he do it? Tims strategy is simple: He treats people well. Especially the people that other people ignore. I remember watching Tim going around SXSW and getting to know people who would go on to become some of the most influential investors and founders in the world. You never know who might help you one day with your work. His rule was to treat everyone like they could put you on the front page of the New York Times…because someday, you might meet that person. Networking is not about finding someone who can help you right this second. Its about establishing a relationship that can one day benefit both of you. And often the best people to do that with arent the busy, important people. You want to meet the people who arent well known but should be and will be. Its not about who has the biggest megaphone. A great example for me was meeting Tim. He hadnt sold millions of books then and didnt have a huge platform. Now he does.
Batch Activities Together
I first learned about batching from Tim (he recommended it for email) and I now group all my phone calls together in large blocks of time and go for long walks.
You Dont Have To Be First, You Just Have To Do It Well
Tim wasnt early on Twitter. He wasnt early on podcasting. He didnt have an email list until about two years ago. Yet he has 1.37M followers, has one of the biggest shows in podcasting and his email list is close to a million people (and I now get a bunch of 5 Bullet Friday ripoffs). The lesson to me is that being early is much less important than being right and being great.
Unreasonable Goals Drive Accomplishment
Anyone who has worked with Tim knows that almost every project starts with a goal that seems completely impossible. On the digital launch of his TV show, he wanted to be #1 on all of iTunes. In 2007, I remember him talking about building a huge blog that would publish people other than hima la the Freakonomics blog. Im sure with this new book he has an enormous sales goal. Whether or not these goals are reasonable or not, there is no question that they drive him to accomplish incredible things. Sometimes he hits them, sometimes he doesnt. But he almost always ends up further than most people would have if theyd started in the same position.
Get a Win Every Day
Ive always loved exercising, but Tim has pointed out that exercise is a great way to get a guaranteed win every day. Now I consider it part of my job.
Champion Other Peoples Work
In the creative professions, its easy to fall into the trap of thinking that someone elses success threatens your own. Artists can be petty, jealous and small-minded. Tim is a great example for shattering this viewpoint. As I said, his early goal for his blog was to publish other people. Not many sites do that. As his platform grew, he used it to buy the audiobook rights to some of his favorite books and market them to his fans (I was lucky enough to be on the receiving end of this). His podcast is Tim interviewing and showcasing other people instead of him himself. In publishing, theres even something called the Tim Ferriss Effectthe way he can move the needle for other people. Youd think this would have the effect of benefiting others more than Tim. On the contrary, its made him an indispensable resource for his fans. Sharing and championing other peoples work not only creates allies and makes you an important gatekeeper, but it builds your own fan base. You might hate Tims books but you can still get good recommendations for other titles from him.
Quit While Youre Ahead
In 2015, Tim told me he was quitting angel investing. I was surprised. Arent you doing really well? I asked. He wasbut it was taking too much of his time. It was distracting him from what he really liked doing. So he walked away. While he was ahead.
Try New Things
Of all the clients Ive ever worked with, Tim is the most open to experimenting. Sure, we can pirate my book on Bittorrent and see what happens. Why not try to give my audiobook away for free too? Who needs a traditional and established publisher anyway? There are of course also the infamous videos of him on YouTube swallowing 25 pills at once, getting a biopsy tube into his thigh and implanting sensors in his body. Its no surprise to learn that Tim even has unique spices created just for him.
Seek Out Negative Feedback
Anyone who has ever been asked to edit something in Tims writing gets this question first: What should I cut? He wants to know what people didnt likeso he can improve or get rid of it.
Cut. Cut. Cut.
Speaking of editing, if Tim ever edits your work it will come back covered in redlines. He doesnt make a lot of edits, he just tells you whats unnecessary (and there is always unnecessary stuff to cut). I think he cut close to 10% of and Im grateful.
Most Important Things First
I start my mornings writingwhether a chapter from a book or an article. Its the most important (and uncomfortable) task of the day but once thats accomplished everything else that day is gravy. As Tim asks in his popular post on productivity, If this were the only thing I accomplished today, would I be satisfied with my day?
Get a Dog
After 10 years, whats the one thing that Ive seen have the biggest positive impact on Tims life? He got a dog. It was something I talked to him about a lotand I knew hed love having onebut I had no idea how much it would change his life for the better. Hes happier, kinder, more relaxed, more connected and Molly, his mutt, is a big part of the reason why. If youre thinking about getting a dog, get one. Or a goat. Or a donkey.
Eat Right To Feel Right
I dont need to sell you on his dieting advice, but it has worked for me. Ive eaten some version of the Slow Carb Diet for going on 7 years and its great. I used to eat terribly and felt terribly as a result. Now I dont.
Some Stuff Is Just For You
Tims writing is full of inside jokes. 99% of readers miss them. But he loves it. He told me that its what keeps him going through the dark days of a manuscript. Hes right. You have to have some stuff in your work just for you. Who cares what other people think. Its just for you.
Who Do You Want To Be Famous To?
Tim once asked me: Would you rather have 100,000 people in the US, selected at random, consume your content once and know your name, or the entire audience at TED and Davos listen to your podcast at least once a month? To me, the answer is the latter. His question gives me really valuable clarity as a writer.
Take Vacations from Stuff
If you email Tim, you might get an auto-response saying Hes taking a vacation from email. If you ask him for a blurb for your book, he might tell you hes taking a blurb vacation. If you asked him to loan you some money, hed probably tell you hes taking a vacation from giving random people money. Its a great line and an easy way to say no without feeling like youre being a jerk (which is always hard to do). I cannot count how many times I have borrowed this strategy from him, but its massively improved my life.
Evergreen, High Quality Content
Tim has always stressed the value of evergreen long-form content. As he told me in my interview with him, Long-form content isnt dead; its simply uncrowded and neglected. I double down when formats are out of favor. He sees thousands of readers discover him through his enormous backlist of posts and its a strategy Ive adopted early on as well.
Dont Let It Change You
My last point is simple: After all the success Ive seen Tim have in the last ten yearsselling millions of books, becoming a celebrity, getting in on the ground floor of one of the most valuable private companies in the worldhes essentially the same person (except better in a lot of ways mentioned above). He does what he does because he enjoys it, and hes compelled to create, experiment and improve because thats who he is. Tim is still Tim. Most people are made worse by success, and thats a shame. It has suited Tim well and thats a model I aspire to.