In Part One of WEALTH magazine’s spotlight on best-selling author Timothy Ferriss, we’ll look at how Ferriss entered his 15 minutes of fame and came up with what he calls his “lifestyle redesign.” In Part Two, we’ll take a look at Ferriss’ recommendations for creating your own lifestyle redesign.
Is it possible to have fun in life without waiting for retirement and still generate the wealth you need to live comfortably?
Thirty-one-year-old Timothy Ferriss wholeheartedly says “yes,” and he wrote a little book that topped the sales charts to prove it. The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich was released in 2007, not long before Ferriss turned 30, and got the business community buzzing. While critics call Ferriss too inexperienced or even a “one-hit wonder,” the big picture outlined in The 4-Hour Workweek resonated with millions and turned him into a post-modern sage whose blog is followed religiously by 20-something world travelers and Fortune 500 CEOs alike.
The heart of Ferriss’ message is that people should quit waiting for retirement to live out their dreams and instead should design their lives so that what they really want can be achieved now. He says that time and mobility are the main currencies of life — and that by applying creative outsourcing and starting virtual businesses, you can live like a millionaire on much less than seven—or even six—figures a year.
By applying traditional business and economic principles, Ferriss believes that anyone can cut down the hours they work and spend more time pursuing pleasure — whether it’s time with family and friends, learning to speak Arabic, or scaling Mt. Everest.
He is a living example of his own theories. A former self-described CEO of his own start-up, “working 80-hour-weeks in Silicon Valley,” Ferriss began outsourcing his administrative tasks and peeled himself away from the daily grind, taking two years to travel to 20 countries. He automated his business, checked email once a week, and interviewed other “lifestyle designers” who had “figured out how to ‘hack’ life in a digital and flat world,” Ferriss has said.
That makes Ferriss nothing if not interesting. According to his MySpace page (which hasn’t been updated in a while), he is a self-proclaimed geek, single, and interested in mixed martial arts, wine, travel, breakdancing, language, and rock-climbing. It lists his hometown as East Hampton, New York, and the schools he graduated from as St. Paul’s School in New Hampshire (an independent private high school that stresses academic achievement) and Princeton University. He graduated from Princeton with a degree in Asian Studies in 2000 and is a member of the Greek Fraternity, Pi Kappa Alpha. Ferriss is no slouch in the brains department, but it’s his entrepreneurial spirit and enthusiasm for thinking differently that set him apart.
In his early 20s, Ferriss developed a nutritional supplement to aid college students in studying, but soon found that it also resonated with collegiate athletes to improve performance. His success as CEO of BrainQUICKEN (the supplements company) led to a position as a Princeton University guest lecturer.
After redesigning his life, Ferriss set out to conquer other things — things that stirred his interests and passions. He became the first American to hold a Guinness World Record in tango dancing (set on Live with Regis and Kelly for the most tango spins in one minute). He is a national Chinese kickboxing champion, and has even performed as an MTV breakdancer in Taiwan. He speaks several languages (although he admits, not fluently) and has friends everywhere from Taiwan to Timbuktu.
Last December, Ferriss starred in Trial By Fire for The History Channel, a special where he attempted to learn a skill in one hour that typically takes years. For the pilot, he traveled to Japan to attempt the samurai sport yabusame, or Japanese horseback archery. Filmed in Tokyo and the mountains of Nikko, Ferriss barreled out at full gallop, with no hands, no safety gear, and with wooden poles lining the track on either side of the horse. He warned viewers: “Please don’t do this at home.”
The Pareto Principle
In The 4-Hour Workweek, Ferriss reexamines “The Pareto Principle,” a concept named after the turn-of-the-20th-century Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto. Pareto had applied himself to studying income distribution as related to individuals’ choices. American management expert Joseph Juran expanded Pareto’s work when Juran coined the “Pareto Principle” in 1941, applying Pareto’s theories to quality issues. From Pareto and Juran’s works came the commonly known “80/20 Rule,” which states that 80 percent of a problem is caused by only 20 percent of its causes. It has also been interpreted as the “law of the vital few,” meaning that 20 percent of the people in any venture contribute 80 percent of the effort. In sales, the principle has become an accepted “truth” that 80 percent of sales will come from only 20 percent of the customers.
So how does this apply to cutting down your workweek and getting more pleasure from life now?
Ferriss found that his life changed when he combined the Pareto Prinicple with the adage known as “Parkinson’s Law,” which loosely purports that the demand for a resource tends to expand to match the supply of that resource. By putting the two together, Ferriss asked himself — and encourages his readers to ask — the following two questions from Pareto’s Principle. When they get the answers, it’s time to apply Parkinson’s Law:
1. What are the 20 percent sources that are causing 80 percent of your problems?
2. Which 20 percent of your sources are producing 80 percent of your desired outcomes and happiness?
Give yourself less time for a task you need to do immediately, and you will get results that are just as good or better than if you allotted more time, because you will be more focused in accomplishing it.
By combining these two strategies, Ferriss says he limited his to-do list to the important to shorten work time AND shortened work time to limit tasks to the important. Does he always work only four hours a week? No, because Ferriss also despises laziness and advocates always learning, always doing something. It’s just that the “something” doesn’t have to be “work” in the traditional 9-to-5, too-much-overtime, taking-it-home-on-the-weekends formula applied by so many Americans today.
In Part Two of WEALTH magazine’s spotlight on best-selling author Timothy Ferriss, we’ll examine how Ferriss redesigned his lifestyle based on Pareto’s Principle and how he recommends that others can redesign their lives and businesses to get the most out of every minute.