One Monday several years ago, while his company ran smoothly from various corners of the globe, Tim Ferriss '00 woke up at noon to breakfast in bed in Buenos Aires. He saw that his friend, an investment banker in New York City, had called him the previous Friday.
"Sorry I'm calling so late, but my Monday's been crazy," he told his friend when he returned the call. "You know how Mondays are." In fact, Ferriss had been up until 4 a.m. the night before, practicing for the 2005 Tango World Championship.
Ferriss maintains that his relaxed morning — and others like it — was possible because of a revolutionary lifestyle he has developed. Described in his recent bestselling book, "The Four-Hour Workweek: How to Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich," Ferriss' method involves an extreme version of outsourcing, in which he delegates almost all tasks to lower-level employees.
He only puts in an hour every 10 days with his own company, BrainQuicken, which develops and sells nutritional supplements for professional and Olympic athletes. Often, he spends that hour emailing employees about problems they were unable to solve.
In his free time, he has traveled the world, become an expert at tango, kickboxing and martial arts and learned five new languages.
Princeton students often fall into the trap of not delegating enough, Ferriss said. "I think it's very tempting for Princetonians to take a comfortable middle-management career path where they get paid a lot but there's very little excitement." He added, "That's a very seductive and dangerous game, and for most people, it's a slow death."
Ferriss himself experienced the woes of an overworked lifestyle for a time. An East Asian Studies major at the University, he started BrainQuicken shortly after graduation. Working up to 90 hours a week to build the company, Ferriss said, he realized that his workaholic lifestyle was "unsustainable."
He began to rethink his way of life. "The skepticism that I learned at Princeton helped," he said. "Princetonians are very good at asking hard questions about little things, but [they] often have trouble asking hard questions about more fundamental things. I was given the tools, but I had to practice them in a different context."
To research alternatives, he embarked on a 15-month journey around the globe, "collecting experiments in lifestyle design."
"I realized that there's an entire subculture of people who do things like outsource their lives," he said.
Returning from his travels, Ferriss put the lessons he had learned into action. He cut excesses in his company, partially by outsourcing and partially by eliminating "trivial activities" such as checking email too frequently. "I believe in elimination more than organization," he said.
With these new procedures in place, he said, BrainQuicken's profits increased nearly 30 percent in four weeks.
But Ferriss had never considered putting his ideas into print, he said, until he taught a class in Buenos Aires and a student jokingly told him he should write a book. "The idea just wouldn't go away," Ferriss said.
"What I tried to accomplish," Ferriss said about his book, "was to show people that they didn't have to choose between fun and profit. You can have both."
Ferriss said he thinks that idea should appeal to students at his alma mater. "I wrote this book for people like Princeton students who are very intelligent, do all the right things and 10 years from now, end up with a lot of money and very little life," he said.
Janice Dru '07, who attended a guest lecture by Ferriss as part of her ELE 491: High-Tech Entrepreneurship class, said Ferris helped her learn "not to lose perspective because it's really hard for me to think of a balance between wanting to get to the top and wanting to help everybody else."
Nevertheless, Ferriss cautioned that the "macho, workaholic" American culture can make it difficult to cut back. "It's very unpopular to admit that you're unhappy putting in 80 hours a week," he said.
Ferriss acknowledged that his method has faced criticism, directed especially toward his choice to outsource some of his company's jobs to other countries. "Most people consider outsourcing stealing Americans' jobs and forcing people in third-world countries into slave labor," he said. "None of that is accurate with what I'm talking about."
Ferriss added that he hopes his overarching message of liberation from the rat race will resonate with a wide audience. "You can be extremely disruptive and world-changing now," he said, "and there's very little need to wait."
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