To get big things done, let small bad things happen
July 4, 2011
I’ve long believed our culture has it backwards when it comes to retirement. Why work myself to death during my youth and save all the fun until I’m old, less energetic and less mobile? Worse, what happens if I work my entire life only to drop dead at age 65, just when I’m ready to have fun? (Which makes leaving my job to backpack through Africa a no-brainer, right?)
Backwards, I tell you. So I love that Tim Ferriss echoes these sentiments in his book, The 4-Hour Workweek. I had low expectations for this read because friends told me Ferris was a scam — and I see their point. The book title in itself feels scammy because there’s no way I’m going to get my workload down only work four hours a week.
But the themes in this book resonated with me. And compared with most books on this topic, which tend to be short, punchy and so general that they’re not helpful, Ferris’ book includes lots of gems that I’ve already begun to implement in my own life.
Ferriss writes about the phenomenon of working for work’s sake, of putting in 40-hour (or 80-hour) weeks just because everyone else does, even if your work doesn’t require it or if — gasp — you don’t want to. Essentially, he accuses our nation of in-the-box thinking when it comes to work and making money. And I totally agree.
“Fifteen to thirty years of soul-crushing work has been accepted as the default path,” Ferriss writes. “What is the pot of gold that justifies spending the best years of your life hoping for happiness in the last?”
One of his best points is the title of this post: To get big things done, let small bad things happen. That means if you’re on a roll writing a chapter, don’t interrupt yourself to return a movie to avoid a $1 fee; pay the fee and write the book. If you’re enjoying an awesome trip to China, don’t check your email obsessively because you’re worried about missing an important message; live in the moment and risk missing the note. And if you have one big priority, don’t waste your day away whittling down your to-do list; tackle the big project and let the to-do list slide. Sometimes, focusing on the things that really matter requires letting other, relatively inconsequential tasks fall to the wayside. Ferriss says that’s not only okay, it’s encouraged.
Other points Ferriss makes in the book that really stuck with me:
- While we tend to put off the leaps we want to take in life because we’re paralyzed by fear, the risk-to-potential-benefit ratio is actually super low. What do you risk by doing what you really want to do? What’s the worst-case scenario? You risk having to pick back up where you left off, go back to a profession you quit or admit you failed. That sucks, of course, but it really isn’t that bad. The potential for positive, life-changing gain, however, is huge. Huge! You might find a new passion or perspective that changes the course of your life. When you put it that way, taking a leap looks like the obvious choice.
- We’ve talked about this before, but it’s worth repeating: For all the important things in life, the timing sucks. To have a baby, change careers, follow your dream — the timing will never be right. Don’t bother waiting for the perfect storm, because it will never arrive. Accept that the timing will always suck, which makes now the right time to do what you’ve been waiting on.
- Most of our problems are caused by a small group of people or commitments. (Ferriss calls this the 80/20 rule.) In other words, a few sources are responsible for a disproportionate number of problems that lead to unhappiness. There’s a reason why you think you have to deal with those people or commitments even though they’re an energy-suck; maybe you don’t want to give up that client or you feel a moral obligation to a long-time friend — but that approach is inefficient. Cutting out the people and commitments that cause you a disproportionate amount of stress is a sure-fire way to increase your happiness.
- The art of non-finishing = I love! I’m not one of those people who finishes a book just because I started it; in fact, I probably stop reading nearly as many books as I finish. I simply can’t justify reading a boring book when I have a dozen more reads waiting for me in a pile (literally). But Ferris reminded me that the art of non-finishing applies to other parts of my life, too — and I’ve already taken the opportunity to practice. When a free Webinar I signed up for last week turned out to be way too elementary for me, I stopped watching it rather than sticking with it until the end, hoping it would get good. In cases like this, not finishing is far more effective and efficient than finishing. So I ditched the Webinar and worked one of my projects instead.
- I often write about how saving money makes it easier to take a leap. And one way you can save money is by living minimally. But Ferris points out that living below your means makes sense for another reason, too: it helps us take risks without fear. Living with less minimizes fear because we have fewer things we’re afraid to lose. If you already know you can go without that cup of coffee every day, it’s easier to leap into self-employment even if you might not be able to afford the morning goodness. If we don’t “need” $500 to spend on clothes each month, it’s not so scary to leave the full-time income behind to write a book. Recognizing our true needs frees us from fear, making our goals more attainable.
- “Being busy is a form of laziness — lazy thinking and indiscriminate action.” Uh, guilty, right here. I’m always busy. This really made me ponder, Am I busy because I’m bad at identifying my priorities and sticking with them? Do I chip away at my to-do list because I need to get those things done or just to feel productive? If I made more conscious decisions about how to spend my time, would I have more of it?
Ferriss also writes extensively about how to manage the beast that email has become — and since I already had a post in my queue about how email is taking over my life, I figured I’d incorporate his suggestions into that. Watch for it later this week.
If you’ve read The 4-Hour Workweek, I’d love to hear what you thought of it below.