Lessons from Timothy Ferriss’ “Tools of Titans”

Tools of Titans” is Timothy Ferriss‘ latest book, compiling lessons he has learned from interviewing over 200 world-class performers in his ‘The Tim Ferriss Show’ podcast. It is massive, and the number of takeaways he’s given away in the book is as plenty as it’s size. Like his “The 4-Hour Workweek” title, several of the ideas in it got me thinking deeper into how I’m living my own life, asking myself which projects and goals actually matter. Plus there’s bonus notes on other interesting things, like physical exercises that provide bang for the buck and the profound effects of using psychedelics in healthy doses.

Some favorite lessons:

  • The quality of your questions determines the quality of your life.
  • Do your kids remember you for being the best dad? Not the dad who gave them everything, but will they be able to tell you anything one day? Will they able to call you out of the blue, any day, no matter what? Are you the first person they want to ask for advice?
  • If you don’t do something well, don’t do it unless you want to spend the time to improve it.
  • Accept that quality long-term results require quality long-term focus. No emotion. No drama. No beating yourself up over small bumps in the road. Learn to enjoy and appreciate the process. This is especially important because you are going to spend far more time on the actual journey than with those all too brief moments of triumph at the end.
  • It’s not what you know, it’s what you do consistently.
  • When you’re thinking of how to make your business bigger, it’s tempting to try to think all the big thoughts, the world-changing, massive-action plans. But please know that it’s often the tiny details that really thrill someone enough to make them tell all their friends about you.
  • If this were the only thing I accomplished today, would I be satisfied with my day? Will moving this forward make all the other to-dos unimportant or easier to knock off later?
  • You can sacrifice quality for a great story.
  • People who have plenty of good ideas, if they’re telling you the truth, will say they have even more bad ideas. So the goal isn’t to get good ideas; the goal is to get bad ideas. Because once you get enough bad ideas, then some good ones have to show up.
  • The way you teach your kids to solve interesting problems is to give them interesting problems to solve. And then, don’t criticize them when they fail. Because kids aren’t stupid. If they get in trouble every time they try to solve an interesting problem, they’ll just go back to getting an A by memorizing what’s in the textbook.
  • Commit, within financial reason, to action instead of theory. Learn to confront the challenges of the real world, rather than resort to the protective womb of academia. You can control most of the risks, and you can’t imagine the rewards.
  • Choose projects and habits that, even if they result in “failures” in the eyes of the outside world, give you transferable skills or relationships.
  • For anything important, you don’t find time. It’s only real if it’s on the calendar.
  • When deciding whether to commit to something, if I feel anything less than “Wow! That would be amazing! Absolutely! Hell yeah!”—then my answer is no. When you say no to most things, you leave room in your life to really throw yourself completely into that rare thing that makes you say, “HELL YEAH!”
  • Great creative work isn’t possible if you’re trying to piece together 30 minutes here and 45 minutes there. Large, uninterrupted blocks of time—3 to 5 hours minimum—create the space needed to find and connect the dots. And one block per week isn’t enough. There has to be enough slack in the system for multi-day, CPU-intensive synthesis. For me, this means at least 3 to 4 mornings per week where I am in “maker” mode until at least 1 p.m.
  • Don’t try to please anyone but yourself. The second you start doing it for an audience, you’ve lost the long game because creating something that is rewarding and sustainable over the long run requires, most of all, keeping yourself excited about it. Trying to predict what an audience will] be interested in and kind of pretzeling yourself to fit those expectations, you soon begin to begrudge it and become embittered—and it begins to show in the work. It always, always shows in the work when you resent it.
  • You can’t blame your boss for not giving you the support you need. Plenty of people will say, ‘It’s my boss’s fault.’ No, it’s actually your fault because you haven’t educated him, you haven’t influenced him, you haven’t explained to him in a manner he understands why you need this support that you need. That’s extreme ownership. Own it all.
  • The world is this continually unfolding set of possibilities and opportunities, and the tricky thing about life is, on the one hand having the courage to enter into things that are unfamiliar, but also having the wisdom to stop exploring when you’ve found something worth sticking around for. That is true of a place, of a person, of a vocation. Balancing those two things—the courage of exploring and the commitment to staying—and getting the ratio right is very hard.
  • Any great idea that’s significant, that’s worth doing, for him, will last about 5 years, from the time he thinks of it, to the time he stops thinking about it. And if you think of it in terms of 5-year projects, you can count those off on a couple hands, even if you’re young.
  • The way you do anything is the way you do everything.
  • To blame someone for not understanding you fully is deeply unfair because, first of all, we don’t understand ourselves, and even if we do understand ourselves, we have such a hard time communicating ourselves to other people. Therefore, to be furious and enraged and bitter that people don’t get all of who we are is a really a cruel piece of immaturity.
  • It’s better to be in an expanding world and not quite in exactly the right field, than to be in a contracting world where peoples’ worst behavior comes out.
  • In any situation in life, you only have three options. You always have three options. You can change it, you can accept it, or you can leave it. What is not a good option is to sit around wishing you would change it but not changing it, wishing you would leave it but not leaving it, and not accepting it. It’s that struggle, that aversion, that is responsible for most of our misery.
  • 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.”

Takeaways from Timothy Ferriss’ “The 4-Hour Workweek”

Timothy Ferriss‘ “The 4-Hour Workweek” might be my favorite book this year. Tons of lessons about how to be productive, as well as how to enjoy life to the fullest, and reading the book has left me excited about the future while reconsidering many of my other choices.

Some favorite takeaways:

  • The perfect job is the one that takes the least time. The goal is to free time and automate income.
  • ‘If only I had more money’ is the easiest way to postpone the intense self-examination and decision-making necessary to create a life of enjoyment – now and not later. Busy yourself with the routine of the money wheel, pretend it’s the fix-all, and you artfully create a constant distraction that prevents you from seeing just how pointless it is. Deep down, you know it’s all an illusion, but with everyone participating in the same game of make-believe, it’s easy to forget.
  • What are you waiting for? If you cannot answer this without resorting to the previously rejected concept of good timing, the answer is simple: You’re afraid, just like the rest of the world. Measure the cost of inaction, realize the unlikelihood and repairability of most missteps, and develop the most important habit of those who excel, and enjoy doing so: action.
  • Retirement as a goal or final redemption is flawed for at least three solid reasons:
    1. It is predicated on the assumption that you dislike what you are doing during the most physically capable years of your life.
    2. Most people will never be able to retire and maintain even a hotdogs-for-dinner standard of living. Even one million is chump change in a world where traditional retirement could span 30 years and inflation lowers your purchasing power 2-4% per year. The math doesn’t work.
    3. If the math doesn’t work, it means that you are one ambitious hardworking machine. If that’s the case, guess what? One week into retirement, you’ll be so damn bored that you’ll want to stick bicycle spokes in your eyes.
  • If it isn’t going to devastate those around you, try it and then justify it. Get good at being a troublemaker and saying sorry when you really screw up. Ask for forgiveness, not permission.
  • Ninety-nine percent of people in the world are convinced they are incapable of achieving great things, so they aim for the mediocre. The level of competition is thus fiercest for ‘realistic’ goals, paradoxically making them the most time- and energy-consuming. So do not overestimate the competition and underestimate yourself. You are better than you think.
  • Doing something unimportant well does not make it important. Requiring a lot of time does not make a task important. What you do is infinitely more important than how you do it. Efficiency is still important, but is useless unless applied to the right things.
  • Remember that most things make no difference. Being busy is a form of laziness – lazy thinking and indiscriminate action. Being overwhelmed is often as unproductive as doing nothing and is far more unpleasant. Being selective – doing less – is the path of the productive. Focus on the important few and ignore the rest.
  • If you haven’t identified the mission-critical tasks and set aggressive start and end times for their completion, the unimportant becomes the important. Even if you know what’s critical, without deadlines that create focus, the minor tasks forced upon you (or invented) will swell to consume time until another bit of minutiae jumps in to replace it, leaving you at the end of the day with nothing accomplished.
  • The key to having more time is doing less, and there are two paths to getting there, both of which should be used together:
    1. Define a short to-do list
    2. Define a not-to-do list
  • Don’t ever arrive at the office or in front of your computer without a clear list of priorities. There should be no more than 2 mission-critical items to complete each day. Never. It just isn’t necessary if they’re actually high-impact.

A Mismatch Between Expectations and Practices

We want performant, scalable, and quality software. We wish to build and test applications that our customers profess their love to and share to their friends.

And yet:

  • We have nonexistent to little unit, performance, API, and integration tests
  • The organization do not closely monitor feature usage statistics
  • Some of us do not exactly feel the pains our customers face
  • We don’t have notifications for outdated dependencies, messy migration scripts, among other failures
  • Some are not curious about understanding how the apps they test and own actually work
  • We have not implemented continuous build tools
  • It is a pain to setup local versions of our applications, even to our own programmers
  • We do not write checks alongside development, we lack executable specifications
  • Some still think that testing and development happen in silos
  • It is difficult to get support for useful infrastructure, as well as recognition for good work
  • Many are comfortable with the status quo

It seems that we usually have our expectations mismatched with our practices. We’re frequently eager to show off our projects but are in many instances less diligent in taking measures about baking quality in, and therefore we fail more often than not. What we need are short feedback loops, continuous monitoring, and improved developer productivity, ownership, and happiness. The difficult thing is, it all starts with better communication and culture.

Practicing Awareness

It’s easy to learn something when you’re genuinely curious about it, no need to look for any other external motivation. On the other hand, it’s terribly difficult (often a waste of time) to teach something to someone who is not interested in the subject at that given point in time.

Software tester and programmer pairing in bug fixing or feature-writing situations is supposed to be a fun experience for both parties. Either of them getting frustrated at what they’re doing means something is blocking them from being able to perform well as a duo. Maybe they don’t know enough about the needs of the other person or how to fulfill those needs, maybe they don’t understand enough about the thing they’re building or how to build it in the first place.

If the people using the software have qualms regarding a feature update, maybe there happened to be a miscommunication between clients and developers about what feature the customers really want built. Solving that communication problem matters, maybe more than writing feature code quickly, definitely more than pointing fingers and blaming other people after the update’s been released.

Testing with deep understanding of why the application exists the way it is and how features actually work in both user interface and code helps us perform our testing more effectively, especially in situations with time constraints.

Pair testing happens more often than I initially thought it does, only not as explicit as how I imagine it happening.

For whatever you wish to be master of, it pays to have mentors, people you follow and respect and trust and provide feedback. If there aren’t any in your place of work, find them online.

If You Want To Change

Then start small. Really, small.

Sure, write your big goals on (physical or digital) paper, and dream about all the great things you can do when you’re slimmer and healthier, more skillful in your art, more financialy secure, or more social, but please don’t expect those changes to just magically happen because you listed and thought about them. They’re necessary steps for the new you that you’re excited to be, but incomplete. All artists want to draw better, all musicians dream of playing music in the grandest stage, all writers think about being successful authors, all of us want to be fit, want to be less socially awkward, and want to travel more. We all want to make a living where we both have fun and generate enough income for our families. Big goals are fun to think of, but they can be overwhelming. Vague goals are easy to list but they are difficult to implement in our lives.

So start small. Pick the most important goal that you have in your list, and if it is big, split, slice, break it down to incredibly tiny, specific, chewable pieces. Instead of drawing better, you could re-write your goal to draw one portrait (or landscape or idea) for an hour every Saturdays of January in your favorite place. If you want to lose some pounds, you could start by religiously running every morning of every other day of this month just for 30 minutes in a park somewhere near, before everybody else wakes up. If you want to write a novel, you could timebox yourself to writing something about it every day for one month just for an hour right after you wake up, before going to work. If you want to learn a new skill, give yourself 30 minutes to research and practice it everyday at work. Test yourself, experiment for a month without excuses, see if you can do these small things and like your results. If you do, then do them again. If you don’t, ask yourself why. The thing to remember here is that in order to make big stuff come true, you need to make small changes first, no shortcuts. You should make few but bold decisions, you need to re-build your systems of working, you must review and replace habits that don’t work with ones that do, because that’s where it all really starts.

Repetition, Routine, Habit

Repetition is underrated because it sounds boring, and routines, by nature, do not feel exciting. But they’re the stepping stones to achieving great things, to mastery, to become an expert at something. Look at how some athletes go to practice everyday without fail to train, to be in shape, to win tournaments; see how some artists become better over time by drawing day after day after day. Habits are undoubtedly what makes us into who we are, and to become the kind of person we desire to be means to hone our daily practices accordingly.