Entrepreneur, Author, and Angel Extraordinaire: How to be as Effective as Tim Ferriss

“If you were to watch me, I look just as unproductive on any given day as most people,” Tim Ferriss says cheerfully in this Reddit AMA.

That is extremely hard to believe.

A few months ago, entrepreneur, best-selling author, and angel investor Tim Ferriss revealed his latest creation: The 4-Hour Chef, which famously boycotted by Barnes & Noble as Ferriss chose to work with Amazon Publishing. Ferriss went on a media frenzy to prove that it was possible to beat the traditional system. This resulted in some remarkably creative partnerships, including one with BitTorrent. The 4-Hour Chef continued on to premiere on many bestseller lists.

Ferriss maintains that he doesn’t pour in excessive hours. Instead, he maxes out on effectiveness. Here are some of the principles he follows:

1. POSITIVE CONSTRAINTS

In contrast to most entrepreneurs, Ferriss does two things differently: he sets a low daily quota (two crappy pages worth of writing) everyday and he recognizes that he has a maximum threshold he reaches after approximately four hours of work.

The reason for the low quota is so that he’s not so intimidated that he never gets started. He also recognized that an extremely low quota was the reason IBM had the most dominant salesforce in the tech industry. “They didn’t feel like their objective was so daunting that they couldn’t take that first step.”

“I don’t believe it’s possible, for me at least, to have more than four hours per day of productive creative output—synthesis—work,” he says in the Reddit AMA. He does acknowledge that he is capable of editing and other activities outside of this quota. “…and that is actually consistent across all of my friend, even those who are prolific writers.”

Not that he hasn’t tried. “I’ve attempted to push that envelope, but I just haven’t found it to be very productive,” explains Ferriss. “I find that the quality of the work, particularly as it pertains to writing, or code, or something like that, is often times more important than the quantity of the work.”

Additionally, Ferriss explained another benefit to setting a limit to work:

“I also find that having a positive constraint, meaning limiting yourself to a finite number of hours per day for a given activity, forces you to use 80/20 analysis for some of the most important things,” adds Ferriss.

The 80/20 analysis is another name for the Pareto Principle, and is an activity in which you examine which 20% of your efforts are causing 80% of the results. Ferriss tries to apply it in many facets of his life, and this extends to his writing.

2. TEXT TRAVELS FASTEST

Bestselling author Gordon Korman previously alluded to the merits of writing being a low cost and an extremely flexible method of storytelling over the growing popularity of video.

Ferriss was amongst the first to promote his books with video trailers. Yet he chooses not to make the leap to video: he continues to produce most of his work in text and book format.

“Video can be extremely compelling, but I think in some cases it’s better at creating or grabbing attention than it is at provoking action,” Ferriss observes. He has racked up around 2.3 million views from those two trailers alone (among many other of his viral videos). So why does he stick with the written word?

“I was told by a very successful blogger who had experimented with audio and video at one point that nothing travels faster than text, and I believe that’s true. It’s easier to share, and therefore if my goal is to have the greatest impact on the greatest number of people, my experience has been that is easiest to do with text.”

The merits of text are in provoking action and in the format’s shareability. There’s some food for thought for startups looking to maximize their content marketing effectiveness.

While books, articles, and texts are excellent sources of information, Ferriss has put a lot of effort into installing another mechanism to ensure he keeps learning every day.

3. PEER GROUPS

No man is an island. Our environments, specifically the people that surround us, have an extreme impact on our attitudes, outlooks, and productivity.

Despite Ferriss’ accelerated learning techniques and ability, he still believes an extremely significant part of learning is done through osmosis. “I had to very deliberately make a lot of choices to ensure that I have good people around me who are able to positively influence my life,” he explains. “That stems from the belief that you are the average of the five people you associate with most. Most of the learning in the critical areas of my life comes from the people around me, currently.”

Ferriss follows the principles of positive constraints, text, and peer groups to make himself extremely effective.

“I have all the same demons you do, make all the same mistakes that you do; I just pick my shots and identify what I’m not going to do, my not-to-do list very, very carefully,” Ferriss says to a Reddit user. While it’s extremely hard to imagine Ferriss wrestling with the same bad habits that we all succumb to, he still is human. He just patiently figures out what creates the most impact with the same amount of effort.

As expected, Ferriss continues planning to pick up a few skills this year. This includes a return to art and illustration, a passion he had stumbled on in his youth. All of a sudden, it’s not too hard to imagine Ferriss doodling on his notepad, just like one of us.