his books (and himself) and advising and invest-
ing in tech start-ups, an existence that earns
him, he says, “comfortably many millions a
year—more than three and less than 100.”
The story of how Ferriss got to this
point is something of a legend by now.
After running BrainQuicken for a cou-
ple of years, he was bringing home about
$40,000 a month and working nonstop
seven days a week. He realized it was making
him miserable and resolved to remove himself
from day-to-day operations as much as possible,
automating or outsourcing everything. He started
with a plan to spend four weeks in Europe to clear his head
and wound up traveling the world for 15 months. His business
continued to thrive without him. When he returned, he kept
the company on autopilot and started the process of writing
about how he had managed to take back his life. Twenty-seven
publishers passed on the book before one finally made a small
bet on it and printed a paltry 12,000 copies. Then Ferriss the
self-promoter got to work, and the book took off.
But if the autopilot version of running BrainQuicken
afforded Ferriss a life of leisure—or at least a lifestyle he
could tout as leisure while he was busy working on his next
act—the business of being Tim Ferriss, Self-Help Guru, is
not quite as accommodating. In The 4-Hour Workweek,
Ferriss advises taking regular “mini retirements,” ideally a month
off for every two months of work. But he hasn’t had a proper
mini retirement in more than a year now.
Hence the Bali trip, which is an attempt to apply that core
principle to his new life and keep from looking like someone
who doesn’t live by his own advice. Over four weeks, he’s
planning to become fluent in Indonesian, learn to play
gamelan music, exercise or do yoga at least one hour per day,
and immerse himself in the life of the family compound. He
didn’t bring a laptop and swears he won’t touch his phone or
email or calendar. He has a personal assistant in California
handling his day-to-day affairs, and he alerted the founders
of the companies he advises that he would be unreachable.
“This is the first real complete power reset in the past year,”
he says. “You can’t just set up systems and not test them. So
this is a stress test.”
t’s not hard to understand why Ferriss’s message
has achieved mainstream success. It promises
an easy path to big rewards—in Ferriss’s case,
quality of life as defined by Corona ads,
with or without the attendant riches.
What’s less obvious is why The 4-Hour
Workweek became a runaway success in
the technology start-up world and has
given Ferriss vast credibility in Silicon Valley.
On the surface, there’s a disconnect between
most ambitious entrepreneurs and the audience
Ferriss seems to target in The 4-Hour Workweek.
The book is about, and for, people who dislike what
their work has done to their lives. A lot of tech entrepreneurs,
on the other hand, want nothing more than to work.
But there are also similarities between Ferriss’s approach
to lifestyle and the hacker mindset of Silicon Valley. Both are
looking for the shortest path to a desired outcome, and both
take it as an inherent good to exploit an existing rule to your
benefit, or, better yet, to write an entirely new set of rules.
“The 4-Hour Workweek was really about hacking your time,”
says Mike Maples, founder of the venture capital firm Flood-
gate and an occasional co-investor with Ferriss. “The book
could have just been called Time Hacks. 4-Hour Body could
have been called Body Hacks. To some degree, even though
those weren’t the titles, the idea immediately resonated with
that hacker mentality.”
One of the key ways Ferriss tries to disrupt how people
think about productivity is by urging them not to think in
terms of time management. “I think time management as a
label encourages people to view each 24-hour period as a slot
in which they should pack as much as possible,” Ferriss says.
For maximum productivity, in his view, people should focus
on doing less, not more. The point is to maximize the out-
come, not the amount of work. (See “Stop Doing That” on
One of Ferriss’s more heretical pieces of advice is based on
what he calls the 80/20 rule. Eighty percent of your productivity
comes from 20 percent of your efforts, and likewise, 80 percent
of your wasted time comes from 20 percent of the possible
causes. So eliminate the 20-percent time wasters, and spend as
much energy as possible on the productive 20 percent. Ferriss’s
favorite example of acting on this phenomenon
comes from his BrainQuicken days, when he real-
ized two customers were the source of nearly all of
his work stress, and the effect was carrying over
into his personal life. He read those customers the
riot act. One reformed. The other Ferriss fired.
Immediately, he had more time for his healthier
business relationships, and his bottom line grew.
“That passage just leapt off the page for me,”
says Tobi Lütke, the CEO of the e-commerce
platform Shopify, another company Ferriss
“You can’t just set up
systems and not test them.
So this is a stress test.”