9 Amazingly Simple Life Lessons from Timothy Ferriss

Timothy Ferriss is an American entrepreneur and the world’s leading expert on “lifestyle design”. His best-selling book The 4-Hour Workweek promises to help people escape the 9-5 grind, live anywhere they want, and get rich.

Do his methods work? The 25,000+ subscribers on Tim’s blog certainly seem to think so.

By the time you get to the bottom of this page, you’ll be able to judge for yourself.

What You’ll Learn:

  • Why you shouldn’t worry about having perfect timing
  • What Tim has in common with Google
  • The words Ferriss thinks you should tattoo on your forehead
  • The unusual way Ferriss comes up with book titles

9 Simple Life Lessons from Timothy Ferriss

#1 Don’t Wait for a Green Light

“Many a false step was made by standing still.”

Timothy Ferriss, The 4 Hour Workweek

It’s natural to want to wait until everything is just right before making that big change in your life.

For Ferriss, running a nutritional supplements company 80 hours a week meant that it was never the right time to do the things he really wanted to (like dancing the tango or riding a motorcycle).

Ferriss decided that life shouldn’t wait for perfect timing:

“For all of the most important things, the timing always sucks. Waiting for a good time to quit your job? The stars will never align and the traffic lights of life will never all be green at the same time… ‘Someday’ is a disease that will take your dreams to the grave with you.”

Ferriss picked an imperfect time to start cutting down on the amount of time he spent running his business and the rest is history:  Tim used the extra time to become a tango champion, motorcycle across China, and write a best-selling book.

Making a big change before everything is perfect is risky. The situations won’t be perfect. You’ll make big mistakes, but Ferriss isn’t worried. He says, “just do it an correct course along the way.”


#2 You Only Have to Do One Thing (Just be the Best at It)

“The startup that perfects their one feature and is the best at that is usually the startup that wins.”

Paraphrased from Mike Maples, Angel Investor

If you’re offering a product or a service, Ferriss probably thinks that you’re making it too complicated. This is what he told Derek Sivers:

“The biggest weakness I see is companies getting focused on implementing new features… They have a viable product that people are paying for and instead of identifying their cheapest avenue for acquiring profitable customers or focusing on polishing the product they already have, they focus on adding ten new features.”

Tim’s echoing Google’s company philosophy, which states “Simplicity is powerful.” At Google, programmers are taught that the best products “include only the features that people need to accomplish their goals.” (More on the principles behind Google’s success here).

But what if you’re customers are asking for a more complex product? Ferriss says only to add more features if the demand is overwhelming:

“If you are constantly chasing the vocal minority, you are never going to be done building your product. And you will constantly be a 5 out of 10 on all of your features and you will run out of money… Focusing on just one or two features is really important.”

If you attempt to be the best at everything, you’re inevitably going to be a jack of all trades and a master of none. But the Internet is such a big, big place – and so if you want to stand out from the crowd, you have to be absolutely great at at least one thing.

Pick a niche and stick with it.


#3 Your Niche Doesn’t Have to Box You In

Image by Gabriellap93 (http://www.flickr.com/photos/gabrielap93/)

“We live in a niche world.”

Leigh Steinberg

How small should your niche be? Internet entrepreneur Ryan Lee recommends narrowing your niche down twice:  “The more specific your niche, the easier it is to become number one in that market. You can come in and say, ‘I’m the world’s leading expert.’”

But the wrong niche can also make you feel suffocated, especially if you’re a person with a broad range of interests. Ferriss is an example of somebody who found himself in the wrong niche.

With the release of ‘The 4-Hour Workweek’ in 2007, Timothy Ferriss’ niche became productivity and time management for entrepreneurs. But Tim didn’t want to write about these subjects his whole life. He told 37 Signals:

“I don’t want to put out ‘The 3 1/2 Hour Workweek’ or ‘The 3-Hour Workweek.’ It would be boring for me to produce and it would be boring, I think, for many people to consume.”

Ferris has put a different spin on his niche by focusing on the ‘4-hour’ part. With the release of his second book ‘The 4-Hour Body’, Ferriss changed the subject matter completely – and shifted his niche to be about “lifestyle design”.

On his blog (which is subtitled “experiments in lifestyle design”), Tim feels free to write about everything from marketing to dance to practical philosophy. He’s even got a series of videos he calls “The Random Show” that’s about a niche-less as you can get. His upcoming book, ‘The 4-Hour Chef’, is billed as a “cookbook for people who don’t buy cookbooks.”

Don’t let yourself feel trapped by your own niche. There’s always a way to expand upon it.


#4 You are the Company You Keep

“You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.”

Jim Rohn

In my life, there’s nothing more important than my friends and family. I don’t say this just because I love them, but because they each set a powerful example for me. Without even trying, I follow their lead:  I act and think in the same way as the people who I spend my time with.

This is why Ferriss warns his readers so strongly about associating with certain people:

“Do not underestimate the effects of your pessimistic, unambitious, or disorganized friends. If someone isn’t making you stronger, they’re making you weaker.”

Giving your time and energy to negative people is “masochistic” according to Ferriss. If this sounds like your circle friends, maybe it’s time to meet some new people.


#5 Entrepreneurship Doesn’t Have to Be Risky

image by http://www.flickr.com/photos/grimages/

A lot of people want to be entrepreneurs but are afraid to take the leap. Ferriss insists that starting a business doesn’t have to be an “all-or-nothing” wager:

“You don’t have to sacrifice all of one to have the other. I think, for most people, it makes a lot of sense to moonlight and to test the waters for a period of time until you have income coming in, and you’re confident that you have what’s required — not only financially, but psychologically — to be an entrepreneur.”

Timothy Ferriss, From 37 signals

Being an entrepreneur in your spare time is a great way to learn, network, and start building a business without risking your livelihood. As Michael Dunlop has said, “If you start with nothing and end with nothing, then nothing was lost.”


#6 Testing is Your Best Friend

“I’m a big, big, big believer in testing.”
Tim Ferriss, from DerekSivers.org

The original name of Ferriss’ first book was, ‘Drug Dealing for Fun and Profit’ – but Tim’s publisher didn’t like the title.

Ferriss needed a new title. Over the period of a few weeks, Tim ran a Google Adwords campaign targeted at people who might be interested in his book. He created a dozen different ads, each using different potential book titles and subtitles as the ads’ text. By measuring click-through rates of each advertisement, a clear winner emerged: “The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-to-5, Live Anywhere and Join the New Rich”.

Did Tim’s unconventional titling strategy pay-off? Four years on The New York Times Best Seller List and 1.35 million copies sold worldwide suggests a resounding, “Yes.”

Ferriss shrugs off any notion that this is an overly sterile or inhuman method of naming your book, product, or website:

“You don’t need to sacrifice your artistic integrity to do this. All you’re doing is coming up with a number of options that you would be happy with as an artist, and then allowing the market to help you decide and choose among those options.”

If you’re looking to get started with multivariate testing, Ferriss recommends Google Adwords as an “easy and simple” place to start. If you have more money to spend, he recommends SiteSpect.


#7 Be Difficult When it Counts

“The bottom line is that you only have the rights you fight for.”

Timothy Ferriss, The 4-Hour Workweek

As a nice guy, I’ve never liked the idea that “nice guys finish last.” In fact, I believe that doing good and treating other people well is a key to entrepreneurial success.

But there’s a difference between being a nice guy and being a doormat. It’s a dog-eat-dog world. Unless you want people taking advantage of you, you have to learn how to stand up for yourself. Ferriss emphasizes this in The 4-Hour Workweek:

“Learn to be difficult when it counts. In school as in life, having a reputation for being assertive will help you receive preferential treatment without having to beg or fight for it every time.”

This stuff doesn’t come naturally to everyone. But if asserting yourself sounds scary, maybe that’s a good thing. After all…


#8 Fear is a Good Thing

Courtesy of Daniel Lee

What do you fear?

There’s a good chance it’s important – and that you’ve been putting it off. Ferriss says, “That phone call, that conversation, whatever the action might be – it is fear of unknown outcomes that prevents us from doing what we need to do.”

So why do I say fear is a good thing?

“I’ll repeat something you might consider tattooing on your forehead: What we fear doing most is usually what we most need to do.”

Timothy Ferriss, from The 4-Hour Workweek

Your fears can serve as indicators of what you need to be doing more of for your life and your business. Make a list of your fears and then set out doing them; you have a roadmap to radically improve your situation. Ferriss advises that you “resolve to do one thing every day that you fear.”

If you’re still scared, Ferriss recommends that you define the worst possible thing that could happen if you take on your fear. Understand it, accept it, and then proceed. As you continue to put yourself in uncomfortable and scary situations, you will be both making progress towards your goal and becoming less scared. Bravery goes a long way in life and in business.


#9 Your Wildest Dreams are More Possible than You Think

“The fishing is best where the fewest go and the collective insecurity of the world makes it easy for people to hit home runs while everyone is aiming for base hits. There is just less competition for bigger goals.”

Timothy Ferriss, The 4-Hour Workweek

Very few people chase after their true goals. As we get older, the voice in our head that used to say, “You can become an astronaut,” starts to say, “Be reasonable and lower your expectations!”

But as Ferriss points out, the competition is actually higher for the reasonable kind of success than the “in your wildest dreams” kind of success. That doesn’t mean that becoming an astronaut, rock star, or millionaire entrepreneur is easy – but it’s probably more possible than you think.

The Last Word

What do you think is the most important life lesson from Timothy Ferriss?

Is there anything that you’ve learned from him that I’m missing here?

Let me know in the comment section below.

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