6 Productivity and Creativity Tips from Tim Ferriss and Neil Strauss

August 14, 2013

11:12 am

Buried in YouTube under the title “Tim Ferriss and Neil Strauss Talk Writing, Creativity on creativeLIVE” is a video that’s about way more than writing and creativity. With less than 52,000 views, this engaging conversation between two passionate and charismatic bald guys goes over a river of topics relevant to entrepreneurs: finding your passion, secrecy before launching a project, figuring out your product, how to get a mentor, simplicity and “killing your baby,” and time management – among others.

Strauss is a New York Times bestselling author whose books include The Game: Penetrating the Secret Society of Pickup Artists and Emergency: This Book Will Save Your Life. He’s also a contributing editor at Rolling Stone. Ferriss is an entrepreneur, life hacker and tracker, and author of the Four-Hour series of books (mostly recently, The Four-Hour Chef).

If you’re not enthralled by these guys at the halfway mark, maybe they’ll win you over when they fulfill an audience member’s dream by inviting him to have a beer on stage.

Here are six of the snappiest, most useful insights from the video.

Schedule all your meetings on one day

For creative professions like writing, you need uninterrupted blocks of time to really get the juices flowing. So Strauss schedules all his meetings on Monday and reserves the rest of the week for writing.

But the same is probably true for many other jobs: programming, for example, or coming up with creative ideas for your startup. No one is a good multi-tasker, they say. So reserve a day or two a week for your meetings or, at the very least, schedule them at times when they won’t interrupt your flow (either at the beginning or the end of the day).

Condense all your social obligations

Instead of seeing friends individually, both Strauss and Ferriss schedule a group get-together to pack all that social time into one evening. Strauss does a dinner on Wednesday; Ferriss does a happy hour on Friday. Entrepreneurs have less time to socialize, so really make it count.

Set small goals 

Writing a book is an overwhelming task; that’s why Ferriss’s goal is to write two crappy pages a day. Of course, he almost always surpasses it – the same way that getting yourself to floss one tooth means you’ll probably do the whole mouthful.

Launching a product or building a business is a huge, overwhelming task, too. And the overwhelmingness isn’t helping with motivation. So set a small goal for the day that seems tackle-able – recruit one client, write one blog post, or fix one bug. Once you blow past that goalpost, you’ll be ready to hit another.

Set deadlines with consequences

Everything always takes longer than you expect – we all know that. Except, perhaps, when there’s something big on the line.

Strauss helps friends stick to their goals by giving them an incentive: he’ll refuse to read their book, for example, unless it’s done by the end of March.

Especially if you’re doing a startup as a side project or a solopreneur, find someone to hold you accountable to your own timelines. Or try tools like Beeminder to make the consequences real.

“Assume no one cares”

This is Strauss’s motto when writing a book, and perhaps the reason he has seven New York Times bestsellers. When writing, he assumes no one cares about him, his ideas, the topic, whatever. When he goes through the third editing process, he's editing for the “haters”: all the people who will have critiques or jabs or snores.

The same could be said of your product. Although you’re ideally solving a pain point for customers, assume they don’t care. They’ve coped until now without your solution, and you’re just an unknown whom they can’t trust. If you assume they don’t care when designing your website, crafting your emails, and giving your pitches, maybe they just might prove you wrong.

“The insecure way is the secure way” 

This isn’t so much a tip as an inspiration. It’s a quote from writer and mythologist Joseph Campbell, which Strauss explains thus:

“Most people’s parents say, ‘Get a good job, try and make some money, make a good living' because they think that’s secure. . . . But if you do a job and you make money and you lose that job, then you lose the money and you have nothing. What [Campbell] says is if you choose your passion, it actually doesn’t matter whether you make money or you lose money because you’re always going to have your passion to be happy.”

Startups are certainly insecure, but what is the alternative for you? A desk job bringing someone else’s ideas to life? Pursuing your dreams may be less risky than you think.

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Kira M. Newman is a Tech Cocktail writer interested in the harsh reality of entrepreneurship, work-life balance, and psychology. She is the founder of The Year of Happy and has been traveling around the world interviewing entrepreneurs in Asia, Europe, and North America since 2011. Follow her @kiramnewman or contact