Three takeaway lessons from Tim Ferriss’ new book ‘Tools of Titans’

Full disclosure, I am a bit of a self-help addict – I read millions of Medium articles on productivity, listen to podcasts about mindfulness and have even got a class on “potential” booked at the “School of Life”*

*This, by the way, is not bragging – I am still not THE MOST PRODUCTIVE PERSON EVER but you know what they say “God loves a trier”.

So, when I heard that Tim Ferriss, author of ‘The 4 hour work week’ (in itself infamous amongst self-help/life-hacky people like me), had released a new book, I was on Amazon quicker than you can say “Oh my god Tim Ferriss has a new book I must buy it immediately”.

Now, this book is huge – I mean, seriously, it’s a tome – the pain it causes me when holding it on the train is one of the reasons I regret refusing to buy a Kindl (I just like books, ok?!). This is perhaps no surprise considering the breadth and depth of the topic, which, as the subtitle quite nicely summarizes is “The tactics, routines and habits of billionaires, icons and world-class performers”. These are lessons gleaned by Ferris during his extremely popular podcast “The Tim Ferriss Show”, a platform he uses to have frank and insightful conversations with some of the world’s most successful people.

Despite the physical pain it inflicts on me, this book has quickly become my life lesson bible. So much so that I actually keep my Evernote app open and make notes as I go along. One of the reasons for this is that it gives you an opportunity to learn from people you wouldn’t normally be listening to – you will see the five points I have mentioned here come from a WWE champion, a programmer and a Progressive House musician – not necessarily people I would normally seek out for advice.

So, with a spot to fill in the Nosto content calendar, I thought I would take the opportunity to share some of my key takeaways thus far. They’re not strictly ecommerce related but, let’s face it, while click through rates and conversion are of the utmost importance, in the competitive ecommerce world it takes more than that to get ahead. Companies need to consider how effective they are as a whole, what their leaders inspire, and the productivity of their individuals…

“If you don’t do something well, improve it, eliminate it or delegate it.” (p131)

Paul “Triple H” Levesque, World Wrestling Entertainment champion

Ok, let’s start on an individual level because, for me, this was a really powerful lesson and quite a freeing one. You see, some people are pretty good at everything and others, like me, have areas where they excel but also areas where they struggle. I, for example,  love to write and am quite creative but am pretty much totally bamboozled by numbers. And don’t get me started on Excel. This would (and should) be fine, except for the fact that modern life can be seen to dictate that we need to be good at everything, in our personal lives and in the workplace. In fact, from my past life as a recruiter, I can tell you that left to their own devices companies will create “desired skills lists” that include everything from big data skills to being able to make your own potpourri.

But finally, here, we are given three options that don’t include “just carry on and pretend like you know what you are doing”. For a company, this should be embraced –  because employees should be encouraged to lean into their strengths and be able to honestly identify their weaknesses, which they should then be given help to improve and, if that fails, the freedom to re-assign to others who are better suited. It is about creating a team that compliments each other and plays to their strengths.

For business leaders, it is important to think how you manage and inspire your teams to function to this end so that they are the most effective unit when collaborating together and using their unique skill sets to the advantage of the wider group.

But we can take this lesson a step further by applying it to an organization as a whole. Is there an area of your business where you simply aren’t performing as well as the competition? If so, then apply the above – making it part of your strategy to improve this area, stop doing it all together or outsource it to a company that has the expertise. If you spend all your time and effort as a company struggling with the things that you don’t do well, you will ultimately fail at those you do.

“It’s not what you know, it’s what you do consistently.” p185

Derek Sivers, described in the books as “philosopher-king programmer, master teacher, and merry prankster” (see also Tony Robbins, p110)

It’s a simple enough notion, but one that I think many of us fail to live by. And actually, it’s what the success of this book, and the people within it, is hinged upon. It’s not called “Things that billionaires, icons and world-class performers talked about a couple of times but never actually got around to doing” is it? It is about tactics, routines and habits. Or, in other words, approaches to life that these high-achievers tried, tested and chose to consistently apply because they got them closer to where they wanted to be. In that sense, this one line can be seen to be the lynchpin that all the other lessons are based on.

Perhaps the most famous example of this from the business world is Google’s 20% rule. Google knew that to be an innovative company, they needed to commit time consistently to being innovative. For that reason, they allowed their engineers to spend 20% of their time on projects outside of their core work assignment. The result? Some of their most famous offerings, including Gmail.

While few companies may be willing to go this far, the key is still to have a process – one that means you stop talking and start doing. Of course, it’s about being selective – if, for example, you tried to emulate all the positive habits outlined here… well, you wouldn’t actually have time for anything else. Your morning routine alone would take 24 hours to complete.

Whether you are applying this lesson to your personal life, professional life, or an entire business, the following will help;

  • Decide what your long term goals are. What are the big things that you want to achieve? This could be a key project (such as a website redesign), an ongoing aim (such as increasing sales) or a broader attribute that you want to encapsulate (such as positioning your company as a thought leader).
  • Identify the consistent actions that will help get you there. What are the things that, if done regularly, will help you to achieve the goals that you have now identified?
  • Put the structures in place that will help those actions become a habit. What will help you do those things regularly? It could be as simple as scheduling them so that time is consistent;y put aside (we’ll come to this later). Or perhaps, it will help to make yourselves or others accountable by sharing the aims and steps needed with the rest of your team or company.

These are guidelines, but what it means, in reality, will largely depend on you and your goals. For example, on a personal level, my goal was to become a better writer so I identified three things that I felt that, done regularly, would help me achieve this. This included a daily writing ritual called “morning pages”, re-starting my personal blog and ditching, to some extent at least, my smartphone and instant messengers systems so that I could achieve “flow” while writing. I then put in place measurable goals around these habits- three pages a day, one blog a month and less than an hour a day on my phone. Finally, to give myself a chance of remaining consistent I adopted another, cornerstone, habit – a journal with an inbuilt habit tracker. This provided me with a much-needed structure.

The problem for both companies and individual is that sometimes we feel like we don’t have the time to stop and identify these key areas and put the necessary actions in place – good ideas are raised in quarterly meetings and never actioned, company values are bandied around in workshops but then nothing is done to make them a reality. But if these things are a priority, you have to make the time, which neatly brings me onto our last point… (Don’t you love it when a plan comes together?!).

“Put the big stones in first” (p330)

Kaskade, Progressive House musician.

This is an oldy but a goodie. It wasn’t thought of by Kaskade but it is something that he uses as a guiding principle in his life. Remember, this book it is not about what these people know but what they choose to action (see point 2, if you for some reason skipped ahead).

It is based on the following visual metaphor;

“Imagine you have a large glass jar. Next to it, you have a few large rocks, a small pile of marble-sized pebbles, and a pile of sand. If you put in the sand or pebbles first, what happens? You can’t fit the big rocks in. But if you add the big rocks, then the medium-sized pebbles, and only then the sand, it all fits.”

Seeing as you came here for actionable life advice and not tips on how to make weird stone decorative jars I guess I better explain what it all means….

Well, as we all know too well, our time is finite – we only have so many hours in the day. Yet, it can often feel like the requests placed upon us are never ending. How do we balance these two facts? The answer, apparently, is all what order you fill the time you have.

The big rocks are the most important things to you and they should be given priority – if we look at this broadly it might be your career, your family, your health. But now (because this is a B2B blog, remember?!) we will apply it specifically to business. In which case, they are your major projects – things that will take your business in the direction it needs to go. A big rock isn’t always about the size of the project, however – it is about its importance and the benefits it will bring

For example, a rebrand may be a huge task but not actually do much to increase the number of products you sell. A small change to your website, however, such as personalization (yes, that’s a plug but seeing as we are being hypothetical I think it is allowed), despite being less work, could deliver more sales. And so if more sales are your immediately aim, this becomes the big rock. It all depends on your goals.

But to make sure you are able to prioritize these your goals you need to work on protecting and assigning your time. As a business, you might do this on a yearly or quarterly basis but from an individual perspective, you should also do it daily/weekly.

This links nicely with another point made in the books which is “if it isn’t scheduled it doesn’t exist” (Noah Kagan, p327). The problem with your schedule is that often it isn’t built up of your priorities at all – it is instead full of meetings you don’t really need to be in, favors you are doing for other people and so on. This stuff can be seen to be the pebbles we discussed earlier – it’s not that they aren’t important, but they aren’t your priority. Which means they should only be fit in AROUND the big stones. In the modern workplace, this means blocking out your calendar and being strict about it. You have decided these things are priorities so stick to the decision to treat them as such.

Every week when I write the Nosto blog, I block out the time in my calendar – that time is holy and no other requests are allowed. Not only that, but my slack and emails are totally neglected. Do you know why? Because these things are the sand – the stuff that, if you let it, will take up all your energy and move you no closer to your larger goals. Take it back out to a business level for a second and these things are often the time consuming but small tasks that you should look to outsource, as mentioned at the beginning).

So, there we have it – just three of the lessons I have taken so far from this book. Please note, this doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of the insight it contains and so don’t consider this blog to be a cheat-sheet which means that you no longer need to read the book yourself. In fact, the lessons written here are based on less than a page of writing from the book.

Expect a follow-up post at some point…

I hope you found this week’s blog useful. Are you reading Tools of Titans? What are your key take aways? I would love to know – tweet me @LottieColtman


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