At the risk of overstating the case, Tim Ferriss helped usher in an era of maximizing productivity. From outsourcing tasks to automating functions to the best way to peel a hard-boiled egg, Ferriss turned doing more by doing less — the whole “optimal minimal” thing — into a movement.
4-Hour Workweek: A guide to maximizing per-hour output. 4-Hour Body: A guide to maximizing physicial conditioning and health. Tools of Titans and Tribe of Mentors: Success tools, tactics, and strategies gleaned from a host of extremely successful people.
So yeah: Ferriss is seen as the king of personal productivity and self-optimization. (Even though he’s always been much more — much deeper, for want of a better way to put it — than that.)
When I told a friend I read about 100 books a year, he immediately said, “What’s your process?”
“I don’t have one,” I said.
“Of course you do,” he said. “There’s no way you can read that many books without a process. Do you keep a prioritized list? Do you put the three books you’ll read next on your calendar? Do you use a spreadsheet to track things? Do you set reminders on your phone to make sure you get your reading in every day?”
I cringed. I don’t have a process. The only “process” I have is that if I see a book I want to read, I buy it immediately. Then, when I finish a book, I look at my “library” (I use the Nook app on an iPad) and start whatever seems interesting at that moment.
If I read solely for self-improvement, I probably would have a process. Sometimes I read for work. Sometimes I read to learn But sometimes I read for fun. (Hi, anything written by John Sanford.) Reading makes me happy. That’s my goal.
Which means my reading “process” doesn’t need to be optimized. In fact, “optimizing” it would probably reduce the fun.
Sometimes, productivity does matter. If you have to do something, finding ways to do it as effeciently and effectively makes sense. In fact, finding ways to be as efficient and effective as possible can actually be fun, turning what could be drudgery into a competition, if only with yourself. (Which is usually the best kind of competition.)
But if you want to do something, efficiency and effectiveness shouldn’t always to take precedence.
As Ferriss now says, “I am not focused on maximizing productivity because that begs the question: to what aim? I’m revisiting those questions and my answers to those questions during this time.”
As Ferriss now says, “Not everything that is meanignful can be measured.”
Nor should everything that is meaningful be measured.
Because sometimes the measurement can actually destroy the meaning. If I felt like I had to read — if I felt like I had to optimize every minute of reading — I would probably read a lot less.
Optimize my morning routine? Absolutely. Not only does that help me, it also feels good to hit the ground running. It works… and it works for me. Optimize how I respond to questions and inquiries? Absolutely. Not only does that help me, it also feels good to have the time to be able to help a few more people. It works… and it works for me.
But I still cut grass with a push mower. It’s takes more time and effort than a riding mower, but I enjoy the process more. I still paint with a roller, not a sprayer. It takes more time and effort, but I enjoy the process more.
Whenever possible, I do the construction and plumbing and electrical work on our rental properties myself; while 4-Hour Workweek devotees would argue outsourcing those functions is a better use of my time, in a world filled with virtual outcomes, it’s fun to look at something concrete and say, “I built that.” So I’ve worked to get good those things — not get good at outsourcing those things.
Whether it’s less optimal, or not.
Because not everything that is meaningful can be measured.
Before you optimize a task or function, take a step back and consider the goal. If extreme efficiency is the only goal, by all means optimize away — because that will make you happy.
But if a personal component is involved — purpose, or meaning, or satisfaction, or fulfillment, or self-awareness, or any number of other emotional rather than quantifiable outcomes — then make sure optimization doesn’t require too high of a cost.
As Ferriss says, “I know centi-millionaires and billionaires who are utterly miserable.”
So do I. Because efficiency is an answer, not the answer. Productivity is an answer, not the answer. Optimization is an answer, not the answer.
Especially to the question, “What makes you happy?”
For a few goals, the answer might be efficiency, productivity and optimization. For a few others, the answer might be personal fulfillment, meaning, and gratification .
For most goals, the answer will be a combination of all those factors.
And the only right answer will be your answer.
Because only you can decide what will make you happy.