If I had to characterize the book, I’d say it’s less of a “how-to” guide to success and productivity than a “how not to” book. It’s largely about eliminating the things that distract you from achieving your life goals, so that you can spent more time actually achieving and enjoying those goals.
About a year after his book came out, Ferriss wrote a much-shared blog post about the top things he suggests not doing. In the ensuing eight years, his readers have added comments with even more smart suggestions. (Note, Ferriss also did an audio version on his podcast, which you can find here.)
Here are the top 19 things I learned from this whole exercise, culled and updated for 2016. Let me know in the comments if you can come up with a great No. 20.
1. Find a way to work less.
In the spirit of FHWW, this one goes first. Your time is your number one, most valuable asset, and thus the thing you need to reclaim. As Ferris puts it, when you feel overwhelmed, the least effective and efficient option is often simply to work more. So set your priorities and stick to them.
“If you don’t prioritize, everything seems urgent and important,” Ferris writes. “If you define the single most important task for each day, almost nothing seems urgent or important.”
2. Shut off your phone.
I can’t remember the last time I went an entire day without a mobile phone, and frankly this one might be outdated. Back in 2007 when Ferris first wrote this, the first iPhone was only about two months old, and the App store was still a year away (same thing with Google Play). But even if the specifics seem less realistic now, the spirit is still valid.
“So what if you return a phone call an hour later or the next morning?” he writes. “As one reader put it … ‘I’m not the president of the U.S. No one should need me at 8 at night.'”
3. Don’t answer calls from phone numbers you don’t recognize.
Personally, I never answer calls unless I know who’s calling. Because of that, I’m happy to give our my number (well, one of my numbers) to just about anyone. I even had it on my Twitter profile for several years.
You can call me anytime at (424) BILL-MUR(phy), which is also (424) 245-5687. Chances are I won’t pick up, but you can leave me a voicemail that will be transcribed and sent to me automatically. I invite you to give it a try!
4. Don’t waste time with “low-profit, high-maintenance customers.”
The book focuses on this in the context of running a business, but it truly applies to just about everything in life–if you can manage it. Spending time out of habit on things that you don’t truly enjoy? Maybe it’s time to quit. In a bad relationship? Cut it off.
“The surest path to failure is trying to please everyone,” Ferriss writes. “Do an 80/20 analysis of your customer base in two ways: which 20% are producing 80%+ of my profit, and which 20% are consuming 80%+ of my time?”
5. Don’t check e-mail first thing in the morning or last thing at night.
Yes, I know many of us are glued to our devices. I’m putting the finishing touches on this article at 11 p.m. on a Monday evening, so I’m not exactly practicing what I preach. But this one is still smart if you can manage it–and it’s not as much about breaking the digital habit as it is about maintaining control.
Checking email in the morning “scrambles your priorities and plans for the day,” Ferriss writes, and checking it at night “just gives you insomnia. E-mail can wait until 10 a.m., after you’ve completed at least one of your critical to-do items…”
6. Don’t agree to meetings without a clear agenda or end time.
Again, this is about not letting the most important asset you have–your time–be squandered, and about maintaining control of your schedule.
“No meeting or call should last more than 30 minutes. Request [objective and agenda] in advance,” and if people balk, tell them it’s so you “can best prepare and make good use of the time together.
7. Don’t let people ramble.
I’ve never actually talked to Ferriss. However, I’m guessing that if I had a phone call with him, he might take it but say something like, “I’m in the middle of getting something out, but what’s going on?”
As Ferriss puts it, “a big part of GTD [getting things done] is GTP — Getting to the Point. ”And one important way to do that is to insist that people you deal with cut to the chase.”
8. Do not check e-mail constantly.
Again with the email! “I belabor this point enough,” Ferriss writes. Besides simply not being a slave to your email application, he suggests trying to train people you communicate with often not to expect a quick reply.
“Set up a strategic autoresponder and check twice or thrice daily,” he suggests.
9. “Do not expect work to fill a void that non-work relationships and activities should.”
Many of us have good friends that we first met at work or school. In fact, a few of my best friends fall into this category. But, as much as I value those relationships, the vast majority of people you meet through work are not necessarily going to become true friends.
So don’t count on these kinds of relationships to fill up your life. And as a corollary, Ferriss writes, “schedule life and defend it just as you would an important business meeting. Never tell yourself ‘I’ll just get it done this weekend.'”
10. Adopt the five-sentence rule.
Now we start to move into the inspired-by suggestions. One is to adopt a personal policy that you will not send emails that are more than five sentences long. Or four, or three. You get the picture.
11. Don’t try to save everything.
Reader Jason Peck of South Africa suggests: “Save documents you think you might need on your computer and then throw the hard copies away. They create way too much clutter and then you have to waste more time just organizing them on your desk. Throw things away. You can always print stuff out later if you really need it. Or just read it on your computer.”
12. Cull your social contacts.
“At the top of my Not to Do list is associate with the people who perpetuate and enable bad habits of any kind,” writes Jason DeFillippo, “whether it be bemoaning their shitty jobs or people who just like to get by and not change their situations. Even spending time alone and working on your dreams is preferable in my opinion.”
13. Control the time you budget for tasks.
A reader who calls herself Renata says: “Do not do something ‘for as long as it takes.’ [Instead,] decide beforehand how much time you’re going to spend (e.g. 3 minutes for an email, 20 minutes for a blog post, 30 minutes to practice the first mov’t of a Beethoven sonata). Nothing gets you focused like a deadline.”
14. Don’t work for a**holes.
“Life is too short,” writes one reader.
15. Avoid passivity.
This one, by a commenter identified simply as Matthew, is quite a list, but it’s compelling:
The fastest way to being dull, bored and unhappy is to constantly engage in passive habits or activities. Some examples are watching TV excessively , playing online games excessively, drinking alcohol or eating when you are bored instead of as an occasional treat , driving everywhere instead of walking, using drugs , not exercising, gambling … following manufactured drama in the news or on TV, having no activities in your life that challenge you to grow , having negative or unchallenging relationships with other people.
16. Find time for silence.
A reader named Bruce suggests you stop “filling your life with noise. Every once in a while, turn everything off, and I mean everything. Listen to the silence. Think! Crazy as it sounds, you’re not wasting time doing this. Obviously, you can’t do this all the time, but at least once a week, shut it all down.”
17. Don’t be a paper hoarder.
“Never handle the same piece of paper/email more than once. Only handle a paper document/email if you can finish the task you are about to start,” suggests Damien M.
18. Don’t clean your house.
“It really makes my day to be able to come home to a nice clean and fresh smelling house everyday that I did not have to clean,” writes Joshua Abernathy. “But, it can be quite a task … so get somebody else to do your cleaning for you.”
19. Don’t feed trolls.
In this election season, this might be the most useful item on the list. “Don’t waste a moment of your life arguing with trolls on the Internet,” suggests a writer identified simply as NPE.
Amazon link to the book: