Many of us never question our reality. We do what we do because that’s what everyone else around us is doing. But following the crowd rarely results in success. Most people are average. Following them won’t get you outstanding, or even above-average results. At best, you’ll be average. To stand out, you need to do something different. That’s what Tim Ferriss’ 17 questions are for.
Tim Ferriss’ 17 Questions: Their Origin
The 17 questions Tim Ferriss asked come from turning points in his own life. They are all questions he asked himself at some point or another. The answers changed his life.
Summary of the 17 Questions that Changed Tim Ferriss’ Life
1. What if you did the opposite for 48 hours?
Tim’s first real job was as a salesman for data storage systems. Instead of making sales calls from nine to five like all of his colleagues— which wasn’t working— Tim decided to make his calls outside of the normal working hours (from 6 am to 7.30 and 6 pm to 7.30 pm). This approach yielded marvelous results.
And his question to you is this: What are you doing over and over again in your life that isn’t working? What would happen if you changed your approach?
2. What do you spend a lot of money on? How can you turn yourself from a buyer of that product to a seller?
Tim’s first business was manufacturing and selling supplements. And how did he come by that idea? He realized that he was spending $500 a month on supplements while reading his credit card statement. And he suggests you use the same approach when thinking up business ideas.
You’re going to have an easier time identifying and addressing shortcomings in products that you use regularly. This will help you create a superior product which you will in turn have an easier time selling.
3. What would you do if you had $10 million? What’s your real Target Monthly Income (TMI?)
Tim’s girlfriend dumped him because he was a workaholic. In the post-breakup reflection, he realized he had been working too hard for too long and the load was killing him. He asked himself what his dream life was and how much it would cost.
Once he did the math, he realized he didn’t need to work 15 hours a day to achieve it. Don’t grind endlessly. Calculate how hard you need to grind to get what you want and slow down once you have it.
4. What is the worst thing that could happen? And if it did, could you get back to where you currently are?
How would your life change if you lost everything and had to start over from scratch? How bad would it be? Could you get back up? How long would it take?
Tim suggests asking yourself these questions as a thought experiment every couple of months. He calls it fear setting. He did it when he felt he couldn’t leave his business for more than a few hours without it going belly up. Answering those questions allowed Tim to take a big leap. It might help you too.
5. If you could only work for two hours per week, what would you do differently?
As a first-time business owner, Tim felt compelled to do everything himself. This was very draining. Then he learned of the Pareto Principle (80% of your results come from 20% of effort).
This allowed Tim to ask himself the question: if he had a gun to his head and could only work on his business for two hours a week, what would he do? And once he answered that question, he decided to only do those things and either automate or cut off everything else.
Ask yourself the same question. Is everything you do really necessary or are you just busy for the sake of being busy? Identify the things you could do without and reduce your workload accordingly.
6. What if you let your subordinates make minor decisions?
This is an interesting one of Tim Ferriss’ 17 questions and is an extension of the above question. Tim used to make every single decision in his supplement company. After realizing he didn’t need to do everything himself, he began delegating decisions of $100 or less. Then $500. Then $1,000.
You can use the same techniques in your life by establishing systems that delegate away all the busywork. You can either use the freed-up time to relax or do other more productive things.
7. What is the least crowded marketing channel?
When gearing up to launch his book, The 4-Hour Workweek, Tim was exploring marketing channels. Throughout his conversations with other authors, he concluded that traditional media was a waste of time. He found the one potential marketing avenue that everyone else had overlooked: blogs.
This was 2006 so do update that information for the modern day. Blogs aren’t as underrated as they used to be. Find the potential marketing avenues that have been overlooked and use those. It’s easier to stand out when you don’t have to compete with a thousand other ads.
8. What if you couldn’t pitch your product directly?
When launching The 4-Hour Workweek, Tim learned that the media and people, in general, don’t care about product launches. So what did he do? He created stories centered around his book.
One was a viral blog post titled Geek to Freak, a tale of how a skinny geek gained 34 pounds of muscle in 28 days. People loved the story— something that helped the favorability of the book it was associated with.
9. What if you created your own MBA?
Rather than spend $120,000 attending business school at Stanford for two years, Tim Ferriss decided to become an angel investor. He broke what would have been his business school tuition into smaller chunks and spread it out over a bunch of Silicon Valley startups for the same two-year period he would have spent in business school.
Tim didn’t invest for the returns. He invested for the learning experience. As far as he was concerned, practical real-world business experience was more valuable than an MBA. He fully expected to lose the $120,000 just as he would have “lost” it if had spent it on tuition.
This advice comes with an obvious caveat: Don’t try this at home unless you have $120,000 you’re willing to lose.
10. What if you cut your losses instead of trying to cover them?
Some of Tim Ferriss’ 17 questions require you to be brutally honest. Caught with a mortgage that cost more than his house was worth following the 2008 financial crisis, Tim was severely tempted to rent out his house. He could use the rent to subsidize mortgage payments. Or he could sell the house and take the loss on the chin all at once instead of delaying the inevitable by living on hope.
Tim chose to sell, an action that allowed him to focus his full attention on other income-generating ventures. Are there losers in your life that you’re unwilling to cut because you’re not ready to accept the reality that they’re losers?
11. What should you simplify?
Tim once needed to redesign the website of one of his startups, The Daily Burn. It would have been time-consuming to add new elements to the site to improve conversions. Lacking the manpower to make those additions, Tim did the easier thing: removing stuff. He removed 70% of all clickable elements, focusing only on the most important ones. His conversion rates went up by 21%.
And his question to you is this: What unnecessary complexities can you simplify to improve your results?
12. What can you put in place that would allow you to go completely off the grid for 4-8 weeks?
As a business owner who was chained to his laptop for 15 hours a day, even on vacation, Tim began looking for a way out. He settled on a solution: Creating systems that would allow his business to function completely without him.
Once these systems are in place, you will suddenly find yourself with a lot more time on your hands—time you can either spend on productive tasks or leisure instead of busy work.
13. Which tasks, when pursued and done, would render everything on your to-do list irrelevant?
To illustrate this point, Tim uses the analogy of a lion choosing to hunt antelopes over field mice. While a lion can easily hunt and kill mice, the payoff (meat) isn’t worth the effort.
Lions, instead hunt antelopes. While antelopes are harder to kill than mice, they provide far more meat. A lion would need to hunt dozens of mice a day but it only needs to kill one antelope every couple of days.
If you haven’t made the distinction between your antelopes and your mice, now is the time. Don’t waste your energy hunting mice. Go for the antelopes.
14. Do you want what you already have?
Sit down every day and count your wins. Constantly focusing on the future might blind you to the wins of the present— something that creates anxiety. This dissatisfaction can be easily assuaged by counting your wins.
15. Are you trying too hard?
I’ll summarize this in one sentence: Don’t ignore the simple path just because you feel something should be “harder.”
16. How can you throw money at a problem? How can you waste money to improve the quality of your life?
When you start out, you spend time earning money by working for a set hourly wage. But once you have money, you should spend it to earn time. You can always make more money. You can’t make more time. If spending a couple of dollars is going to save you from an hour of pointless drudgery, do it.
17. No hurry, no pause
Last but not least of Tim Ferriss’ 17 questions. Tim uses the analogy of a bike ride to explain this point. You could cover a set distance in 43 minutes by pedaling as hard as you can. Or you can go a little slower and cover that distance in 45 minutes.
It’s a two-minute difference but when you pedal hard, you’re going to be huffing and puffing by the time you cross the finish line. If you pedal a little slower, you’ll cross the finish line breathing normally and feeling fine. If you can get the same results without killing yourself, why try too hard?
Why does Tim Ferris ask these 17 questions?
These questions allow you to examine your life from a very different perspective. The Pareto Principle, for example, is an excellent one.
Most of us go through life like zombies. We have a jam-packed schedule with dozens of things on the to-do list. But we never stop to ask ourselves: “Are all of these things necessary? If I don’t do Item 74 on this list, what will happen?”
What are the pros and cons of asking Tim Ferriss’ 17 questions?
The biggest pros of asking these questions is that they give you a perspective on life that you may never have considered.
The con is that asking certain questions might leave you depressed. While a self-employed entrepreneur like Tim Ferriss can just stop doing anything he finds pointless, it’s not a luxury everyone has. If your boss gives you a set of useless tasks, you will have to do them even if you think they’re useless because the alternative is losing your job. This sense of powerlessness may lead to disillusionment and bitterness.