This is a good interview. Trust me. You’re not going to want to miss this. Just hit play now. Then grab a copy of Tim’s latest book – The 4-Hour Chef.
Timothy Ferriss needs no introduction. I interviewed him previously about his 4-Hour Workweek book, a runaway success that virtually every person I talk to has read. Today he joined me on the EJ Podcast to talk about his latest book, The 4-Hour Chef.
To be clear, this is NOT an interview about cooking.
Tim has cleverly used his own quest to become good at something he’s struggled with before – in this case cooking – and recorded his learning process as a tool teach us what is ultimately the most valuable insight: How we can learn to do anything.
Tim’s a genius at acquiring skills and knowledge quickly. Anyone who has read his books, his blog, chatted with him, or seen him talk at an event, will know that this is a guy who wants to squeeze every ounce from life. He’s mastered sports, dancing, his body, business and money, languages – pretty much whatever he decides to become good at. He always figures out a better way to learn and does so much quicker than most people do.
The most common question Tim has been asked, which is in fact one of the very first questions I asked him in this interview, is how can he cram so much into his life? How does he do so much and learn so much when he has just as much time available to himself as the rest of us? In fact he has much less time than a lot of people due his rising star of celebrity, which no doubt creates many extra demands as people vie for his attention.
With the 4-Hour Chef, Tim has attempted to teach us his concept of “meta-learning”, which he uses to acquire any skill he puts his mind to.
During the interview Tim explained that his quest with the book is to show people how you can master the big life skills you have always dreamed about – like learning another language, or a musical instrument – and do it in one year, instead of the typical three to five years of hard work.
What I Asked Tim
This was a fun interview for me because I was very curious about a lot of things in Tim’s life. Here’s a sample of the questions and topics we covered -
- I asked Tim to explain what a typical day in his life is like.
- How Tim got invited to Sniper School and why it was such a no-brainer to say yes.
- I was curious to know how Tim became a writer and how his latest book came together. This question opened up a door to some interesting insights into his process, including how he does research, what people he has working with him, how long the book took to create and why this book in particular almost led him to breaking point.
- While answering the previous question about writing the book Tim mentioned he had people who helped him. Since he’s known for outsourcing, I wanted to know exactly what these people did for him.
- At the start of the interview I asked Tim how he gets so much done in his life. He then surprised me and said he actually procrastinates a lot, but he knows what is important to get done using habits. This is a great answer to an important question, which really backs up many of the principles like the 80/20 Rule and Theory of Constraints.
Tim Ferris fans, people who have loved his first two books, anyone interested in productivity, lifestyle design or just curious what exactly the 4-Hour Chef is about, will enjoy this interview.
Claim Your Invite To A Live Call With Tim
As Tim mentioned on the interview, he’s doing a special for the upcoming holidays where you can get invited to an exclusive live 1-2-hour Q&A with Tim after launch week, if you purchase three print copies of The 4-Hour Chef and email the Amazon receipt to firstname.lastname@example.org.
This book would make a pretty good gift for the readers in your family or friendship circle.
- Older Interview with Tim Ferriss about the 4-Hour Workweek
- 4-Hour Workweek
- 4-Hour Body
- 4-Hour Chef
- Amazon Publishing
- New York Times Magazine
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Tim, thank you for joining me.
TIM: Oh, wow. Thank you for the very kind introduction.
YARO: [Laughs] I say fun because everything about your life seems to be fun, Tim. I don’t know how you squeeze it all in which is really what we’re here to talk about. Obviously, people would know you already. I’m sure there isn’t a single person listening to this who hasn’t heard of at least the The 4-Hour Workweek, that’s something I’ve talked about many times before in my blog; the 4-Hour Body, your sequel to that, and now, the latest book is the 4-Hour Chef. That’s what we’re here to talk about among other things.
I’ve done a quick little background check because I don’t know much about The 4-Hour Chef besides the obvious title. It’s got to have something to do with cooking. But, I can see there are two aspects to this.
￼You’ve got the cooking and you’ve got the productivity, lifestyle, design, how you learn to do things well quickly, is that correct?
TIM: Yes, it’s a cookbook for any skill disguised as a cookbook for food. That’s the short version because my readers have been asking me for a book on rapid learning for four to five years now and I thought the most entertaining way to do that would be to take a skill that involves all the sense, which is unusual, cooking; to take a skill that had kicked my ass several times, which a lot of people aren’t aware of. There are skills that defeat me. Cooking is it. And then to, from start to finish, travel around the world, meeting the world’s best chefs and fastest learners and take all their tips and tricks and put in one place.
YARO: Now, Tim, I’m amazed by the amount of things you actually get done in your life thus far. I was just listening to an interview with you, and I don’t know if I should say this publicly, but you did mention it publicly on the interview that you used to be a break dancer before you went to tango, which is obviously, a lot of people probably know about the tango part because you talked about that in your books.
But, break dancing, not to mention, Silicon Valley investor, obviously travelling around the world to interview and study on the chefs to then, write a book which is a full-time undertaking in itself, is writing a book.
How do you make all these happen? Do you not sleep?
TIM: [Laughs] No, I actually sleep a lot. I love sleeping. I really love sleeping a lot. So, I try to get eight to ten hours a night. It doesn’t always happen but, I think that the way I create the perception of getting a lot done, if you looked at me on a day to day basis, you’d be like, “Wow! This guy wastes a lot of time.” [Laughs]
YARO: [Laughs] I don’t want to hear that.
TIM: “He’s just procrastinating a lot.” No, but there’s a secret. The secret is
that I focus on being as effective as possible as opposed to being as ￼efficient as possible, or at least, I focus on choosing the right things to do first, and then, I can be, not mediocre in my execution but, if I procrastinate a little bit like everybody else, as long as I choose the right things then, I can get some pretty tremendous domino effects.
So, what I mean by that is if I’m looking at let’s say, a hypothetical to-do list, I’ll really take time to try to identify the one thing that if accomplished would affect everything else, or the one thing that if accomplished would render the other things I’m avoiding, null and void, and eliminate them, to find those force multipliers and there aren’t many. It’s like one thing every three months or whatever it might be that if done really just magnifies everything else like an Archimedes lab work.
I think I’m good at habitually just taking the time to do that and it allows me to get away with murder. [Laughs]
YARO: Can you explain with an example? What’s the most recent one thing that you did? Was it today or this week or…?
TIM: Yes. I’ll give you an example. In the case of let’s say, launching a book. So, we have The 4-Hour Chef. I’m prouder of this book than any book I’ve written and yes, I am proud of the other books but, this one I feel is like the bedrock that allowed me to do all the other stuff. I’m also being boycotted by Barnes and Nobles though, 600+ stores in the US. It’s the biggest retailer and because I’m the first major book coming out of Amazon Publishing, I’m being boycotted.
So, that means, I need to move, let’s say, in my week, which is the week is Thanksgiving super busy, 100,000 books probably to hit number one book- scanned which has been transferred to number one in Washington Journal.
New York Times is fickle so, I might not even hit the New York Times regardless of how many copies I sell because of the retail I boycott. So, I need to look at the critical few things that will allow me to multiply the number of sales.
￼One of those which I’ll be doing is a competition where I can turn my most devout readers and most capable readers into resellers of the book where they can sell let’s say, three-book packages, thirty-book packages, hundred-book packages, etc. and then, be placed on the reader board where I can select the most effective and have them fly them from anywhere in the world to San Francisco for two full days or something, who knows. I haven’t figured out all the details but, I know that if I execute that campaign effectively, it should have the potential to move between 10000 and 30000 books. So, that’s a moving-the-needle-type of endeavor, right.
So, if I have then another 1000 things that I could do to promote the book, let’s face it, like there are a thousand things you could do to promote a book and there are at least 100 of them that are pretty attractive. But, I will rank them in order next to that one critical campaign, that one critical initiative which is this group selling. That will be a good example.
YARO: Okay, so tell us a little bit more about the books, I don’t want to forget about this part too because obviously, your first book, the 4-Hour Workweek was sort of lifestyle design. It introduced you to the world at large in a lot of ways. That’s when I first heard about you.
From that point, we kind of learned that you were great at I guess, multi- tasking, I thought that was the way to describe it but, you picked up a lot of skills quickly. You had a business that was very low-labor intensive to make it work, or you set out different income streams that were like that and you taught people how to do this.
So, sort of an outsourcing lifestyle design, mini-vacations, travel, ultimately, a 4-Hour Workweek book, really big hit, hit the nail on the head and I think for a lot of people, opened their eyes to what is possible, certainly not having a job is a real possibility, thanks to the way we live our lives at the moment, the Internet.
Then, the 4-Hour Body was, I guess, hacking your body as your title described and I mean, I read that book, and I’m still amazed again how you managed to do so many different little experiments on yourself like it’s a little bit twisted to be honest on the stuff you did but, ￼everything from losing weight to gaining weight to you traveling down to third world countries to get medical procedures because it was cheaper there, things like that.
It was a nice extension, I guess of the first ideas introduced in the 4-Hour Workweek.
The 4-Hour Chef, what’s the big picture goal here? What are we trying to teach people?
TIM: Yes, the big picture goal is to teach people how to really double or triple at least their learning speed with any skills. So, rather than, let’s say, tackle the language and then, taking a lifetime to master, which is a common myth or believing that adults learn languages slower than children which is completely untrue, which you can prove with research, you can become functionally fluent in a language in eight to twelve weeks.
And so, I’d like to teach people how to do that and how to do the same with just about any skill. I’ve systematically taken this sort of the grand recipe of all, this meta learning process and applied it to like tango, break dancing, basketball, swimming… I couldn’t even swim until a few years ago. Now, I do it to relax.
The way that I tried to collect these methods and tips and tricks is by looking at people like Da Vinci, like Benjamin Franklin, Nikola Tesla who were really polymaths. I’m like, how do they do that? And then, I made a study on it.
So, it’s to teach people how to learn like the world’s fastest learners basically and Benjamin Franklin, in particular was really interesting because his trinity was, “healthy, wealthy, and wise.” There are only three main obsessions that I have that I think I’ve really did a deep dive on — healthy, 4-Hour Body; wealthy, 4-Hour Workweek, and then, wise is the 4- Hour Chef. It’s the book on maximizing learning potential and human potential.
￼That’s pretty much it and I’m using the vehicle of cooking a lot like Zen in the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance uses motorcycles to explain Zen and whatnot.
YARO: Hmm, that reminds me of that tennis book with Tim Galloway. It has a similar concept (the title has lost me). The meta-learning that you’re talking about here, can you explain a bit more about that?
TIM: Yes, yes, for sure. Over the last fifteen years, starting in college where I did a lot of experimentation of smart drugs of different types, vasopressin and desmopressins and synthetic version and was in neuroscience labs and whatnot. From the very beginning, I’ve been obsessed with how to accelerate learning and meta-learning is just a step-by-step process that you can impose on any skill to make it easier to learn.
The general acronym is DISSS, there’s 3 S’s. That means “deconstruction” which is figuring out the Lego Blocks of a given skill, breaking it down into different pieces, and that could apply to anything – poker, basketball, it doesn’t matter.
Second step is “selection” so, doing an 80-20 analysis to pick the 20% of those Lego blocks that produce 80% of the results you want.
Then, “sequencing,” so putting them in the right order, which is really important. It’s like a lot of people who play golf think they have bad form when in fact, they’re just moving pieces that the portions of their body in the incorrect order just what Stan Utley, a great golfer, talks about a lot.
And then, the last S is “stakes.” How do you failure-proof behavioral change or how do you failure proof practice so that, you create the carrot and the stick so that, there’s a consequence and building in an insurance policy that you actually do what you’re supposed to do whether it’s… cards or going out and lifting weights, or whatever.
￼Then, there are other parts in the advanced level of the meta-learning where you’re looking really closely at frequency, cramming, how to cram like six months of culinary school into 48 hours, which is something I actually did with the help of a couple of chefs so, that was super, super intense but, teaches a lot of interesting principles when you try something like that.
Or, encoding where you take really slippery material like Japanese characters or memorizing a deck of cards in 60 seconds or less which a one world champion in memory taught me how to do; how to take material that’s really hard to grasp and turn it into something that’s easier to grasp.
That’s the general process. It took me a long time to figure this out because if you look at, let’s say, me learning languages but first, I failed in Spanish for multiple years and decided that I was bad at languages.
Until, I stumbled upon a few things in Japan when I was there as an exchange student and I learned Japanese in a year using comic books and Judo textbooks. So, I learned Japanese to read, write, speak in a year. Then, I refined it, learned Mandarin in six months, refined it, refined it, tweaked it, refined it, German in three months and then, Spanish in about eight weeks.
So, I’ve just been refining this process over the last decade or so and finally feel confident enough in it that it can go in a book. That’s why it’s taken so freaking long.
YARO: Well, it’s an exciting proposition Tim. I’m looking forward to reading. I’d like to grab four or five languages in the next four or five well, what? Months? [Laughs] So, maybe my first attempt for me won’t be that quick but, I only speak this Canadian Australian language.
YARO: Now, is there an example right now that you could tell us that you’re personally learning, and I’m hoping because I just saw you update Facebook that you booked a private tennis lesson. I’m a big tennis fan that
￼maybe tennis is on the cards here for what you’re currently learning how to improve in. Is that something?
TIM: Tennis is one I’d really like to get better at, some kind of like a caveman whenever I tried tennis, I just hit it like a baseball [laughs] and it doesn’t work very well.
So, tennis is one I absolutely, I’m going to dabble with it, try it out, see if I enjoy deconstructing tennis and if I do, I’ll definitely stick with it. Surfing and Indonesian, actually Bahasa Indonesian and surfing, I’m very interested in because I could potentially be both at the same time if I go to Indonesia.
Those are two on the horizon for me, for sure and what I would emphasize is that, when people see my bio, they think that I’ve had this incredible life, start to finish and massing all these incredible skills and it’s just not really true like it’s about 80% of it is in the last few years and it’s because I’ve settled on this process for acquiring all these stuff.
When people finish 4-Hour Chef, what I want them to believe whole- heartedly is that rather than becoming world class in one or two things per lifetime, they could become world class like the top 5% of the world and one or two things per year. I really want people to believe that and to go after these things they’ve assumed that they could never be good at whether it’s playing the guitar or, who the hell knows? Anything.
Anyway, yes, I get it. People are passionate about this.
YARO: Now, I like that goal. I think that’s, I’m trying to think of the person listening to this who might still be at the phase where they’re working a 9-5 job and they’re raising a couple of kids and looking after a spouse or maintaining a relationship and just finding 30 minutes in a day to read your book is the first challenge for them, which seems quite distant from the idea of mastering one or two skills a year.
I guess, I want to know the answers to two questions, Tim like to answer the question for the person I just described, is there a process you would suggest they go through, maybe even read your books in order is the way
￼to do this to sort out the money, sort out the body, even sort out the wisdom for that person listening to us.
Mostly, I’m curious to know what an average day in your life actually is now when you get up and what you have for breakfast and what… do you go on the phone and talk about Silicon Valley deals you’re doing? Are you hopping on a plane to go learn surfing in Bali where you can learn the language as well? How does a day in the life of Tim Ferriss go?
TIM: Oh man, well, let me answer those in order. I think that, for somebody who only has 30 minutes a day, the good news is I always recommend no matter how ambitious someone is, is that they start with the smallest possible change that creates a big impact what they’ll actually do.
For fat loss, for instance, 30 g of protein within 30 minutes of waking up, just have a shake. You have 100 pounds to lose. Do not start with going to the gym. I took my dad from a mean of 500 pounds of average fat loss to 18.75 pounds in four weeks with just adding 30 g in the morning. No new exercise. Don’t worry about changing your meals. Just the protein. So, starting small is where you want to go.
In terms of the books in reading them in order, I think the order I wrote is probably a good order to read them in but, you could even read the 4-Hour Chef first because the good news is the underlying thread is 80-20 analyses and finding the 20% of activities for people who produce 80% of what you want in life, or the outcomes you want whether in business or elsewhere.
That’s the same in all three books. I feel like the principles that you can apply everywhere are reflected in each of the three books. That’s the good news. It’s the same tool kit for all three.
As far as my average day goes, man, I don’t really have an average day. I do have certain routines though. I mean, like this past weekend I was in Los Angeles taking a sniper course with snipers from the L.A. Swat Team.
YARO: Why? Why, Tim?
￼TIM: Because I was just interested in it and I’m met a navy seal who introduced me to the head instructor and he’s like, “Yes, I’ll go with you and I’ll coach you through it.” I was like, “Well, it’s not everyday that you get that kind of offer so, I’ll do it.”
It’s not very much fin bringing guns to the airport, I’ll tell you that much, shipping guns around. TSA does not like that very much but, for instance like this week. Well, this week is a very atypical because it’s sort of launch time but, 30 minutes… 30 minutes I’m waking up, and mix of… I wake up. I have pu’er tea. So, I put on the kettle and I have Chinese pu’er tea which has some really interesting health benefits, fat loss benefits and also light chip like a Christmas tree which is useful and, let’s see, a few days a week, I do three to five minutes of the… meditation seated but leaning back against the wall so, it’s very comfortable and I listen to one track, one music track, and I use that as my state cue. I just listen to one track, super short, 3-5 minutes, focusing on breathing and that’s it.
And then, for this week, I tend to batch task on a daily or weekly basis. So, rather than trying to do phone calls for half of the day, emails for quarter of the day and then, a quarter of the day going A,B,C,D, and E, I really try to do like today, all-day phone calls. That’s it. It’s an all-day phone calls. And, on other days, for instance Fridays, I try to reserve for all of my in-person meetings like catching up with people at lunches, drinks, happy hour, breakfasts, whatever. I try to do all my in-person stuff on the same day and I find the cognitive cost of task switching is really minimized that way and you can just be in the zone for a longer period of time because your brain gets in the flow of doing one type of thing.
And then, typically at night, I will use, I like one or two glasses of red wine as my habitual wind down and then, I like to either watch a comedy or read fiction before I go to bed to turn me off of problem solving mode.
I like to get out of problem solving mode and transport it outside of my head for the last 30-60 minutes of the day and then, pop in the mouth piece so that, I don’t grind my teeth, put on my eye mask and go to bed.
￼YARO: And, wake up and see where the next day brings. TIM: Exactly.
YARO: Right so, I’ve always been curious Tim about something, I’m sure you explain a lot about, have you always been a writer?
TIM: [Laughs] No, no way. Is there more to the question or is that it? YARO: There is. When did you start?
TIM: So, I never thought I was going to be a writer. I did take writing courses here and there partially because they were required but, I never thought I was going to be a writer.
I did take one class that very greatly influenced me however which was called The Literature of Fact in college and was taught by John McPhee who was a staff writer from the New Yorker and has won the Pulitzer Prize so, he’s good as he gets.
His course was really, really eye-opening to me for a few reasons. The first was that I remember when we got our first writing assignments back and he said, “Don’t be concerned. You’re all good writers.” And, I was just wondering as he handed them out like, what’s this preamble about? And then, I got my writing back and his red marks, there was more red ink than the original black ink I had put down [laughs].
He tore it to pieces and there were all these superfluous adjectives, and ridiculous adverbs and sentences that were flowery but, at the end, didn’t have any value. And, what was really fascinating about that was that, as my writing improved, as my writing became clearer and crisper, my thinking improved. And so, my grades in all of my other classes went up.
YARO: And, how old were you when this was happening?
TIM: This was senior year in college. So, I have no idea. Early twenties, I guess? Something like that.
￼And then, I had to write my senior thesis, learned to hate writing and yet again and promised after graduating that I’d never write anything longer than a short email for the rest of my life. Clearly, that did not work out as planned.
But, the only reason that I ended up writing the 4-Hour Workweek was because I enjoyed teaching and I was invited back to Princeton to teach a high-tech entrepreneurship lecture twice a year, which is one day each time and I had feedback forms. I always wanted feedback and that’s my thing, right? Tracking feedback.
Then, one of the students in the comments section or the feedback form, in pretty typical Princeton snarky fashion said, “I don’t know why you’re teaching a class of 50 students. Why don’t you just write a book and be done with it.”
So, I got this stupid idea in my head, that was the seed planted like, “What if I were to write a book,” like I don’t want to. That’s the last thing I wanted to do. That’d be ridiculous. But, I wonder what I would write like if I were to write a book, what would it be about?
YARO: What were you teaching at that class though, Tim? Was that 4- Hour Workweek principles or something different?
TIM: How to build a profitable startup or business without outside financing, and also how to use direct response advertising and things like that to do so. And, at that point in time, I actually taught that specific class from Argentina when I was doing tango and like having my own sort of crisis and walk about around the planet.
It started at night. I would go to bed and I would have these stupid ideas about the book and I just take notes on my bedside stand to get them out of my head so, I can go to sleep because I had a really bad insomnia at that time. And the stack of notes just grew and grew and grew and eventually, ￼I explained this to one of my buddies who was a writer, just jokingly, I was like, “Yes, I have a book’s worth of notes already.”
And he said, “Oh, well, you should send it to my agent, see what he thinks.” I was like, “Uh, okay.”
And so, I sent it to a few of his friends, not just one, who were agents. Everyone was like, “Not interested,” except for one guy, named Steve Hanson and he’s still my agent to this day.
He said, “Yes, we should make it a book, absolutely! Totally get it.” And, we put the other proposals, sent it out to twenty… God knows how many like a ton of publishers but, only a fraction replied – 27 people replied, 26 people said, “Hell, no!” in pretty rude terms usually and then, one, the final crown bought the book for a pittance and nobody expected anything. I think the initial print was 12000 copies and here we are, accidental career.
YARO: [Laughs] Amazing. And now, you’re a blogger, as well. You write some fairly lengthy blog posts.
YARO: Do you do any other forms of writing?
TIM: I’m not sure if you want to count Twitter and Facebook.
TIM: No, I’d say the blog and the books and I think I’m done with doing thousands of experiments on myself for six-hundred page books for a while because it takes a ton out of it. I think it’s just brutal.
I cut 250 pages from the 4-Hour Chef and it’s 672 pages still but, it’s a choose-your-own-adventure book so, a lot like the 4-Hour Body. I don’t expect anyone to read more than 100 pages at a time. You dip in and dip out the stuff that you want.
￼YARO: It is amazing that basically, your late night brain dumping to try to get to sleep was the catalyst to create a book and lead to the career you have with the 4-Hour series.
Can you maybe tell us though, I’m sure this is not how the 4-Hour Chef came together. This wasn’t late-night brain dumping and doodles on little coffee paper or anything like that. This was a coordinated experimental travelling around the world.
Can you explain from the point of conception of a book like this to going about the actual experiments and recording and tracking results to then, actually sitting down and writing a book? Did you batch process all of that the way like you’re doing a day of interview today? Did you do a month of travelling with chefs and then, a month of writing a book? How did you do it?
TIM: Yes, I did it mostly that way. One catastrophe would hit me which really screwed up my plans was my right-hand man like my COO, right in the middle of the process had a bunch of family crisis and had to stop working basically. And so, my shield against the outside world which was allowing me to focus on the book disappeared. That was a total disaster.
So, I really had to get good at time management and organization to an extent that was like multiple, multiple magnitudes of order beyond anything I’d done before. Total disaster. Definitely, I had not been to like the breaking point since like 2000 and this project definitely took me there but, I think some of my best work came out of it as a result.
The short answer is the book idea crystallized when a few things happened simultaneously. Number one, I really did want to write a book on learning but, I was looking for the most entertaining context to do that through.
A good friend of mine, also around the same time, said, “You know, it would be really fun because these other books like you go out and you try everything, you learn everything and then, you tell people.” He’s like, “It would be really fun for your readers just to see you start from total idiot in a skill, ground zero, clumsy and totally, totally terrible.”
￼And then, walk them through the process of getting good at it. And then, these all happened at the same time. I was also around that time feeling this very acute digital malaise where I wanted to start building things with my hands. It was just like closing the laptop and having done stuff virtually just wasn’t enough. I wanted to build something like a birdhouse or whatever. But, it was inconvenient to like go to a woodworking shop.
And then, I watched my girlfriend who learned to cook while watching her grandmother cooking. I was like, “Wow! Well, I eat three times a day. Cooking has kicked my ass many times. Maybe I should try cooking.” [Laughs]
Now, all of these things happened simultaneously and that’s how the idea started to come together.
YARO: When was this? Was it about a couple of years ago, Tim?
TIM: A few years ago, probably two years ago and the other thing that was happening is people who were on the 4-Hour Body were like, “Oh, I’m bored with this, this, and this,” like, “I need other types of foods.” I’m really bored of eating like canned beans everyday.
And so, I was like, what if I could make a cookbook that was actually a book on learning where all the recipes are slow carb compliant and nobody will know because they’re amazing and never be hungry except for the cheap deals. Those are epic but, that’s a separate story. And, I’m like, “What if I could wrap it all into one?” And, that’s was like a year and a half to two years ago.
And then, sold the book to Amazon Publishing which is a first for the New York Times Magazine and that was quite a process because Amazon is just getting into obviously publishing so, it was a big risk. But, my feeling was I’d done the traditional thing twice. I’d like to try something new like I’d like to experiment.
￼The actual writing process was very different from the first book. So now, I have tools and organization that I just didn’t have that time around. So now, I use Evernote, the application Evernote for almost all of my research and gathering all the bits and pieces, I use for any design elements or capturing visual inspiration or anything like that. I also use Evernote but, in addition to that for interacting with my teams, that was a huge headache with the last two books was all the email, and the Word documents, and uh! Terrible.
So, Evernote then, I use to write, I write in a program called Scrivener which is usually used by screenwriters and novelist but, it’s great. It allows me to have all of my documents in one view. So, I’m not like opening all these different windows in Word and having it crash and all that crap. So, Scrivener.
Then, for any kind of design feedback, because this book has well around 1500 photos in it, I use Skitch for screenshots where I can just point out things I want to move around or change.
I use ScreenFlow. The ScreenFlow allows me to take video of my screen as I talk over it with video or without video. That saves dozens of hours.
The heartbeat of all these, I have two main home bases for all of the stuff that I just mentioned.
So, one is Dropbox, so I put like all the videos, all the screenshots, everything into Dropbox so that, people can download them at their leisure and they’re all centralized.
Then, for communication, rather than relying on email, I use Basecamp. Basecamp by 37 Signals is what I use for, for instance, right now, I have one project is 4HC, The 4-Hour Chef launch, and that’s where all the information for my calls this week are and the calendar phone calls.
Then, I have 4HC site which is all the The 4-Hour Chef website related stuff. 4HC sidebars, that’s for editorial stuff and so on, and so forth. It’s very systematized now and that’s kind of my work flow for this current book and ￼probably the work flow that I use for anything I do moving forward, although, I’m taking a break from this book nonsense.
YARO: [Laughs] Before we talk about your future which doesn’t include books, how long would it take like, obviously a book like this is not narrative way telling a story, or maybe it is because you’ve been telling a story in your other books, your own story. Do you write all at once or do you sit down and do an experiment and write about that? How does it come together?
TIM: Yes, this book is highly, highly narrative really narrative because I really think that story-telling is the best way to teach. So, there is a ton of story-telling in this and the way that I write it is typically getting notes from anything hand-written to digital as quickly as possible. So, typically, I’ll take my notes by hand then, I’ll go through and I’ll highlight the pieces that I think are interesting.
I will number those and then, in the order that I think they should appear in a given section and then, I’ll put them into something like Evernote, for instance.
I find that all of my friends who write consistently and put out decent amount of content that’s good write best between 10PM and 8AM. So, they either go to bed really late, or they wake up really early. But, I think that’s really simple to explain. I think it’s because it’s easiest to concentrate when the rest of the world is freaking asleep. [Laughs]
TIM: It’s not on the Internet like knocking on your door.
I write best, I synthesize best after 10PM. What that means is I will do all of my interviews, all of my experiments, everything like that during the day and that I’ll do, if I’m doing synthesis, and sometimes like a week at a time of just experiment but, when I do my synthesis, it’s almost always between 10PM and I stay up late. So, that will be like 10PM until I run out of steam.
￼If the spirit is moving me and I’m in the zone, I’ll keep on going until I finish the plan. But, that’s my general process.
This is another key. When I’m structuring my books, the choose-your- adventure aspect to my books where you can read them out of the chapters out of order in many cases and so forth, is fun for the reader. It’s easier to digest, I think. But, it’s also easier for me to write because if I get stuck on a chapter, I can skip to something else and keep working on that.
If you’re writing a book that has a really strict sequence, it’s very difficult to do that because you could write one piece later and you go back to write something earlier like, “Oh man, I have to re-write this, this, and this because each piece is dependent on the next.”
So, I really try to make each chapter a self-contained magazine article, the beginning, middle, and then, end so, I can move it around.
YARO: I like that. It’s a nice way of feeling a sense of completion too as you complete each section.
TIM: Oh yes, it’s great. Otherwise, you’re just like, “Oh, a freaking book, really? Oh, my God!” And, it’s like looking at something on your Kindle where you’re like, “Really? Been reading for an hour. I’m only 0.5% through it. Oh, my God!”
YARO: So, you mentioned Basecamp and a group of people who are working with you. Who are they? What do they do?
TIM: Well, it’s different for different phases, right? So, for the actual book production side, I had probably maybe a dozen photographers working at different times, many of which I supervised. I had some photo shoots that I supervised in New York City and San Francisco myself. Illustrators, a handful of illustrators, and many chefs, people being interviewed who many of which were interviewed by me. Some of which were interviewed by people I hired as professional interviewers who had done journalism and work for magazines and newspapers and so forth.
￼For the launch and then, of course, designers and it was like running a startup. It was very much like running a 30% or 40% startup without a doubt and had all the hierarchy necessary to do that.
On the launch side of things, I have publicists in the US, publicists working overseas, some of which report directly to me, some of which report directly to an executive publicist that I interact with and then, I have a team of people that for instance, you’ve interacted with, I think Alex or maybe Ryan?
YARO: Yes, Ryan and Alex.
TIM: Yes, they were spearheading my digital organization for launch. Then, I have all the people at Amazon who have actually been awesome to work with because they were really like aggressive, their aggressive nimble tech company. You wouldn’t think of like a hundred billion dollar company as nimble but, they’re really fast.
Amazon Publishing has the benefit of being the startup. It’s new. They’re scrappy which I love. The director of marketing that I deal with there, editors and so forth, of course, but it’s yet another like SWAT team that I’m working with on the marketing and promotional side.
It’s super exciting but with a project of this scope, it’s been really, really important to find people, I think are world-class and bring them in to do things that not only I’d have the bandwidth to do but, things that they’ll do better than I can do.
I think I’d become better at selecting talent as well over the last few years which is a skill unto itself. The best book I’d found on interviewing for that type of talent is top grading but, the old edition, not the new edition which are upsells to like programs and nonsense.
TIM: The old edition in the book itself is what you want like the first edition.
￼YARO: The original top grading.
YARO: Okay, I guess that explains how you brought together your team and I assume that’s a mixture of local and contracting overseas – the old Philippines, Indians, Ukranians, is that?
TIM: Wherever is the best talent is, man. I don’t care where they care. I mean, I had people doing illustration in Singapore. I had people doing illustration in Australia. I had people doing audio for video that we’re putting together in Estonia, Lithuania, I don’t care where they are as long as they’re really, really good. So, yes, definitely, a mix of people – domestic and overseas.
YARO: Okay now, Tim, we’ll start to wrap this up. I’m excited about the book obviously. It’s amazing to see what goes into something like this, too when you hear it broken down like that. It’s a big job. It’s not a case of seeing the café and writing a couple of thousand words a day for a few months and you’re done. You’ve put a lot into this.
YARO: But, you’ve also said that this is potentially, well not your last book, but you’re not going to do it again for a while. Of course, you got to be very careful when you say things like that because you never know what happens next to you, right?
TIM: Yes, exactly.
YARO: What are you thinking then for the future like what still floats your boat? Is it shooting people in sniper school or..? [Laughs]
TIM: [Laughs] No, we were shooting still targets.
YARO: Okay, good you clarified that.
￼TIM: … when, you’re shooting and I’m like, ah! Abandoned kittens, they’re pretty slow moving. [Laughs] Those kittens… believe me. It’s like my IQ test. But, what I’m really excited about honestly is teaching and books are just one method of teaching.
I’m 35. I don’t have too many years left of this like running around doing crazy ridiculous stuff to myself. Once I have a family, I’m not going to want to do all the extreme human Guinea pig stuff because it’s just being nuts. It’s too much. I do all that pushing beyond the limits, my readers don’t have to, but I would still like to do some.
I really want to experiment with television and video and the visual media. I could see TV or some type of episodic teaching with crazy, crazy experiments and environments and settings as my next step. I think I’d really enjoy that.
I’ve done some TV in the past, and the idea of just being able to film an entire season in two months and to have the entire year to look forward to that stuff, and to have teams who are working on post-productions so I’m not like reading my own god-damn chapters 700 times myself, very appealing and certainly before, I’m not willing to take some of this physical risks and jump off buildings or whatever, I’d like to capture that. It would be kind of fun to have a diary of that stuff.
So, we’ll see but, that’s where I’m leaning.
YARO: You could even begin that with webisodes. That seems to be the place people start now.
TIM: Yes, yes, certainly could. I mean, it’s like I know if you look at somebody’s YouTube channels, I met some of the superstars, it’s just like they have five times as many YouTube subscribers as they would ever get on the cable show.
TIM: It’s amazing.
￼YARO: Yes, the leverage is there. There’s too many channels now for one show to get that big I think. So, something about YouTube.
TIM: That’s where I think I’ll probably be playing around next.
YARO: Okay, we’ll look forward to seeing that, Tim. I look forward to hopefully, one day getting down to San Francisco and hanging out with this crowd.
I’m assuming you have some interesting friends that you hang out with on a regular basis down there, too.
TIM: Oh yes. They make me look like decaf. What’s funny is that when I hear people say, “Oh man, you’re so intense and you seem so productive.” I’m like, “You should meet my friends.” [Laughs]
I’m purely a product of my peer group. They make me look like the laziest, most disorganized guy you can imagine. It’s a good crew out here. You should definitely come and hang out, have some wine and some good food.
YARO: All right, to wrap it up, Tim, obviously, 4-Hour Chef, where’s the best place to get info about that?
TIM: Yes, 4-Hour Chef certainly, I mean, Amazon is going to be the cheapest place to get it probably. I definitely designed it to be most optimal experience in print. The digital will be great like I kind of planned it by two- page spreads. But, fourhourchef.com, will have all sorts of goodies on it and one offer for people if they’re interested, if they buy three copies of the book, it is the ultimate Holiday book. I feel very comfortable saying that. I killed myself to make it that – 1500 photos, tons of illustrations, Calvin and Hobbes, supermodels, got something for everybody –
YARO: [Laughs] Calvin and Hobbes supermodels? Are those two separate things or… [laughs].
￼TIM: Yes, those are two separate things.
TIM: But, if you get three copies of the print book, two for gifts, just send the Amazon receipt to 3books@4 hourchef.com. I will invite you to an exclusive one to two hour Q and A, live Q and A with me the week after launch.
And, I’ll grab a bottle of wine. You can ask me anything that you want. If you get three books, there’s the ad as well but, either way. This is to want people to at least start pushing a little bit on the things that they’ve held off on trying to learn because there are adventures to be added.
YARO: [Laughs] And, you’re doing them all at the same time so, it’s inspiring Tim to say the least. I’ll put the links to clarify those details along with the blog post that goes with this podcast and the transcript as well.
Tim, that’s it. Are there any last words before we say goodbye? TIM: Ah, any last words?
YARO: Maybe, don’t say last words. I’m sure we’ll talk again but, for this session. [Laughs]
TIM: I would say is just, and this sounds morbid but, this is part of the reason why I really do, I don’t have any problem with hard work as long as it’s applied to the right things and I think that’s clear if you read the 4-Hour Workweek.
The reason that I bleed out my eyeballs for a book like the 4-Hour Chef, and this was really brutal process to put this thing together but, it’s because I’ve had some of my friends passed away in the last few years whether through accidents or sickness and it’s like, life is short and I think that the most incredible force multiplier that you can possibly have is by doubling or tripling your learning potential.
￼That’s something that you could pass on to your kids and everything. Sounds kind of somber, kind of serious but, it’s legitimate. I just encourage people to take life seriously. It’s not renewable at least as far as we know.
YARO: I think you’d be the first person to agree that just because you passed 30 or 40 or 50 doesn’t mean your learning capacity decreases, right?
TIM: Not at all. And, actually, you look it. I can prove that adults learn languages faster than kids. And, plus, it’s like talk to any three year old in English. Their English is not so hot but you can do a lot better. So, you absolutely can tackle anything. Kernel Sanders started Kentucky Fried Chicken when he was 60 years old. It’s never too late to get started.
YARO: Fantastic. So, fourhourchef.com is the place to get information about the book. It will be at Amazon and it will be all over the web when this goes out to no doubt because you’re a fantastic online marketer when it comes to doing a launch like this, Tim.
We look forward to reading the book and thanks for spending a bit of time talking about it here with me today.
TIM: Yes, this is great, man. Thank so much for taking the time.
YARO: And, if you’d like to grab the details that went with this podcast and all my other shows, you can go to Entrpreneurs-Journey.com or Google my name Yaro. Thanks for listening and I’ll talk to you soon. Bye-bye.