I have hated Tim Ferriss for a long time. I have hated him since we both had editors at Crown Publishing who sat next to each other and I heard how difficult he is.

I didn’t blog about it because first of all, I’m sure the buzz about me is that I’m difficult, too. And also, his book, The 4-Hour Workweek, was a bestseller and mine wasn’t. So I figured people would say that I’m jealous. And really, what author is not jealous sometimes? I mean, every author wants to write a bestseller.

But at this point, two years later, my hatred goes way beyond jealousy. My hatred is more selfless than that. And while I do understand that Tim is great at accelerated learning, the time management tips I have learned from him stem from the energy I have spent hating him:

1.Don’t hang out with people who don’t respect your time
This all started at SXSW conference in 2007, right before Tim’s book came out, when he was promoting the hell out of it to bloggers. Of course, this was not a bad idea, and to be fair, Tim was brilliant to start this book marketing trend. But that is beside the point. He approached me after my panel and said, “Can I get you coffee? I’d love to talk with you.”

I said, “Uh. No. I have plans.”

And he asked who with.

I wasn’t really sure. I knew there were cool people to hang out with after my panel, though, and I knew he wasn’t one of them. I gave a vague answer.

He said he was also meeting three people, and he name-dropped them. I can’t remember who they were. But they were fun, interesting, and I wanted to have coffee with them. So I said okay.

Then Tim couldn’t find them and I had coffee with only Tim.

Then I realized this was his strategy all along.

I told myself not to be pissy. I told myself bait-and-switch is the oldest sales tool in the world, and it’s my fault for falling for it.

I even wrote a blog post that included his book.

2.Cut to the chase: Tell people who are full of sh*t that they’re full of sh*t
When his book came out, there were vacuous, annoying comments all over my blog directing people to his book. Like, “The topic of priorities is an interesting one. I like how Tim Ferris handles that in his new book,blah blah” and then there’s a link to the book.

At this point I knew Tim, sort of. And I called him on his phone and told him to tell his employees to stop spamming my blog.

First he implied it was his fan base and he had little control.

I said that I thought he was full of sh*t.

He said he’d make sure there were no more comments like that on my blog.

3.Self-centered people are more likely to waste your time
Really, when I found he was spamming my site, I didn’t call him first. First, I emailed him. And I got some sort of crazy response about how he is only checking email twice a day and then instructions on what to do.

I emailed him back to tell him that I do not want automatic emails from him every time I try to contact him.

Which generated another, identical response about how he doesn’t check mail.

So I called him to tell him that he is generating spam back to me to tell me about his email checking and I don’t care. If he wants to check twice a day, fine, but don’t clog my in box with emails about it.

He said he’d take me off his list.

I am STILL getting this sort of spam from him. But the scope has widened. For example, now, he has commented on my blog and he forgot to say that he doesn’t want to be alerted to new comments. So every time there’s a comment, he spams everyone in the comments string, telling them that he doesn’t answer his email.

It’s insane. I cannot believe how many automated announcements I receive saying that Tim does not have a Blackberry. (Yes, the email really says that.) What if we all sent automated emails like that? Email would be totally nonfunctional. What if Tim just shut up about his email and if he thinks its fine to answer twice a day, then he should do that? And not spam everyone about it.

4.Productivity is about meeting your goals, not getting out of doing work
The week that Tim actually works a four-hour work week will be a cold week in hell. Tim got to where he is by being an insanely hard worker. I don’t know anyone who worked harder at promoting a book than he did. But the thing is, he didn’t call it work. Somehow, sliming me into having coffee with him to talk about his book is not work.

Fine. But then his four-hour work week is merely semantic. Because everything Tim does he turns into what the rest of us would call work, and he calls it not-work. For example, tango. If you want to be world-record holder, it’s work. It’s your job to be special at dancing the tango. That’s your big goal that you’re working toward. How you earn money is probably just a day job. So most weeks Tim probably has a 100-hour workweek. It’s just that he’s doing things he likes, so he lies to you and says he only works four hours. He defines work only as doing what you don’t like.

It’s childish. It’s a childish, semantic game. And it reminds me of him winning the Chinese National Kickboxing Championships by leveraging a little-known rule that people are disqualified if they stop outside the box. So he pushed each of his opponents outside the box to win.

He is winning the I-work-less-than-you game with a similarly questionable method: semantics.

5.Time management is about making time to connect with people
The idea of time management only matters in relation to how important the stuff is that’s competing for your time. The stuff that makes time management the most difficult is relationships. Which Tim does not excel in.

Fine. Not everyone has to be good at making real connections.

But Tim runs around telling people who have lots of relationships competing for their time how to think about work/not work, forgetting that in the real world, where people are not assholes, time management is not an equation or a semantic game because relationships really matter. And figuring out how to judge time in terms of competing values is the hardest thing of all.

Tim is all about time management for achievement and winning. But there are not trophies or measurements for relationships. There is only that feeling that someone is kind. And good. And truly connected.

And Tim is not.

1054 replies
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  1. The Office Newb
    The Office Newb says:

    I read the 4-hour workweek and was really excited about it at the time. But the more I thought about Tim’s advice the more I realized that his were not really strategies to “work smarter” but more along the lines of “how to push your work off on others.” It’s a potent strategy, one I’ve seen used successfully many times in the workplace. But I ultimately decided it’s not a strategy I’d like to employ for myself.

  2. Torley
    Torley says:

    Unless you have Asperger Syndrome or something like that, controversy is a mindjail for human attraction. It can be sick and twisted, yet nonetheless true.

  3. Ray
    Ray says:

    Our company nearly collapsed after the owner read The 4 Hour Work Week. Tried to outsource everything.

  4. JMB
    JMB says:

    This is only my second comment to your blogs. I wonder if your content is a reflection of your life. If so, you must be in utter turmoil. I started reading your blog over 1 year ago and the mode was upbeat, authoritative and informational. It has since degraded (apparently around the time of the divorce) to regular rants about your unhappiness. I wish only great things for you but until you start to take control of your life I fear the worst.

    Good luck to you in all that you do. I hope things improve, but it’s up to you.

    “The minute you alter your perception of yourself and your future, both you and your future begin to change.”
    * Marilee Zdenek

  5. F
    F says:

    Tim,

    I am sure you’ll read Penelope’s post in great detail. I doubt you’ll make it my comment, but if you do, why not do what you should have done much earlier: apologize to Penelope. To Penelope: you have every reason to feel abused, but please consider your own behaviour here: a mud-throwing article, which reveals your refusal to communicate with him to work things out. A bit childish isn’t it? Not that Tim should complain: that’s what happens when you’re so full of yourself (I admire his accomplishments though).

  6. kleinm
    kleinm says:

    Though I often have negative comments to write, I have to agree wholeheartedly with this one.

    I can’t stand Tim Feriss and could never understand why people weren’t able to see through hid bullshit from the beginning.

    He is like the 5:45pm piece on the 5 o’clock news. Promises to be great, but after you take a look, it’s all fluff and over too quick.

  7. Angela
    Angela says:

    Tim Ferris’ book “The Four Hour Workweek” is a HUGE seller for people who do the kind of work that I do. That’s because everybody wants to have that sort of lifestyle.

    I suppose anything’s possible if you have enough money to pay people to do pretty much ALL your work for you. lol

    Angela from Aberdeen

  8. Lobsterclause
    Lobsterclause says:

    I can’t really say that “hating” someone makes you right. I hope you don’t think you are.

  9. d099
    d099 says:

    I’m quite happy that someone writes this comment on Ferris.
    This guy’s idea is only “outsource your work”.
    OK it is great for some jobs (basically homeworking) but it is obviously not relevant for many, many others:
    police, firemen, soldiers, doctors, etc.

    I hope you’ll write a comment on another “genius”: Steve Palina…

  10. Doc Kane
    Doc Kane says:

    Wow. I think you’re way off base on this one, Penelope.

    Tim is far from the maniacal double-talker you make him out to be. . .in fact, if you do ever get to know him outside your short coffee (which by your own admission you wanted to avoid in the first place), I think you would find him to be a warm and generous guy. Just take a look at all the fund-raising he does, for example.

    Also, to put it plainly, the underlying theme of Tim’s book, and a great deal of his philosophy from my standpoint at least, is INDEED sharing yourself with your friends and family, living life to its fullest, and removing one’s self from many of the distractions of life. Not removing one’s self from its people.

    Take a breather. . .that’s a lot of bottled up angst.

    I’m also in complete agreement with @Mike Waling on your choice of the word “hate”. Seems like a great use of semantics to draw attention to your own opinion, don’t you think? It works both ways. Plus, hate. . .jeez. . .such a nasty and vitriolic word.

    Cheers,
    Doc

    • Markus
      Markus says:

      I wouldn’t exactly call someone generous who tells other people to give their money to a cause he decides is a good one. He’s generous if he gives something – money, time, emotional support – of his own, something that’s a sacrifice for him. Just as a politician isn’t generous because he took money from other people by force and redistributed to other people, for his own glory or votes.

  11. Maggie
    Maggie says:

    LOVE this post! I never thought about him this way, but you are totally right. For instance, I never thought about the email thing that way before, and it totally makes him look like a moron now that you’ve pointed it out. He’s so arrogant about the whole email auto-response thing–like it’s such a revolutionary idea. Really, how many people who work for someone else (which most of us do) can really do his whole “I check email once a day” thing and get away with it? And frankly, who would want to? I check my email constantly–who cares?

    Frankly, his book is pretty dated now–in this day and age of everyone being connected all the time, I think it’s more of a liability than a plus to be totally unreachable much of the time. There are so many successful people who are accessible via twitter or whatever 24/7; if someone is inaccessible then there’s always someone else available right at that moment, waiting to take that business or establish that relationship or whatever.

    The thing about Tim Ferriss is that he is a true narcissist–and proud of it. Sure, it helped him become rich and famous–as a result of his own relentless self-promotion. And the thing about the 4-hour work week? You are so right–the book should be called the 24/7 work week because he is always “on” and therefore always working. Sure, he’s not chained to a desk answering to a boss 40 hours a week, but every minute of his waking life is devoted to furthering his success. That’s work.

    And the whole outsourcing thing has always struck me as exploitation.

    When you get right down to it, his book is mainly about being a bull$hitter and getting ahead by taking advantage of people.

  12. Andrew
    Andrew says:

    This amuses me by the simple irony that I bought both of your books at the same time, and… they’re were both actually physically touching on my bookshelf when I opened this.

    What doesn’t amuse me is that the 5 points above seem thinly veiled around a desire to vent about a personal relationship… jealousy or not.

    “4. Productivity is about meeting your goals, not getting out of doing work”

    While this is true, the two aren’t at all mutually exclusive. I’ll take both whenever I can. I think Tim would agree.

    In any case, this post doesn’t detract from what I’ve learned from Tim’s book any more than your other personal relationship posts detract from what I’ve learned from yours. I continue to find value in both.

  13. MelissaB
    MelissaB says:

    Oh, Snap!

    I haven’t read the comments yet (later, though)—-and I didn’t have an opinion either way on Tim Ferriss (okay, maybe a vague opinion about cheesiness and schlock–but nothing too venomous)—

    but this is Pure Gold.

  14. Aanda
    Aanda says:

    This is a surprisingly effective rant. When does someone actually rant and make clear, concise points as the same time?

    I also have to agree with Meredith’s comment – his book comes across as a gimmicky, cheap way to make money. Heavy on the hype, light on the content. Good for making the author money, but perhaps lacking an honest desire to really improve the lives of the people who were suckered into buying the book in the first place.

  15. Michael Covisi
    Michael Covisi says:

    I doubt that Penelope is any more jealous of Tim Ferriss than she is of Danielle Steel. We would all enjoy Ms. Steel’s sales figures, but few would aspire to her literary accomplishments. By the same token, those who seek to make a genuine contribution to the field of career development have little respect for the narcissistic dilettantes who occasionally blast their way through the best seller lists with “lifestyle design manuals” and various other pop culture offerings.

    Penelope often speaks truth to power. As an expert in her field, it is good that she occasionally speaks truth to misguided adoration.

    Popular acclaim does not reflect genuine value. The unwashed masses will latch onto a sound bite (or a book title) and break into wild applause. In the case of an entertainment figure or sports celebrity, this is harmless enough. In the case of someone offering a list of irresponsible gimmicks disguised as a legitimate philosophy, there comes a time for the wiser among us to call the bluff.

    • adboy
      adboy says:

      Did you seriously just refer to the general population as “the unwashed masses”? Who the f#&* are you? And you’re calling out Tim Ferris? What a little bitch you are.

  16. Bryant Keefe
    Bryant Keefe says:

    I never thought the book title was about only working 4 hours per week. In fact Tim talks about working a ton to build the business that he was able to turn over to others to run while he lived his life they way he wanted. He did remind me to spend less time “re-acting” and to be “pro-active” in my business. Go get the work instead of waiting for the e-mail/call to arrive. I admire his success and enjoy watching his dance around the world. His book inspired me to re-work my business so I can spend 3 months in Paris and then 3 months in Argentina later this year.

    I read 5-6 books a month and thumb through another dozen. I find very few that have as much interesting content as the author thinks they do. Most contain 2-3 good ideas and the rest is filler. Tim Ferriss has a Donald Trump thing going. People love him or they hate him. Think Rush Limbaugh and Howard Stern. The success is out of the edge. Most of what I have read in this post and comments is from the middle. The mediocre, the unfulfilled.

    Tim had achieved a success few authors ever see. I applaud his marketing, creativity and grabbing life as he wants to live his life.

    I hope you get a chance to rock that black dress!

    Warmly,

    Bryant Keefe

  17. Caitlin
    Caitlin says:

    Be irritated by him by all means, but why bother hating him?

    Can’t you just filter his annoying ‘I don’t check email’ emails where they belong – the spam filter?

    Very amusing post though and it’s also nice to see someone poking the sacred cows of productivity gurus. I quite like David Allen’s GTD system though.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      I like Getting Things Done as well. That last link is to a post by David Allen, author of Getting Things Done, — about how time management is about making hard decisions about what our priorities in life are.

      -Penelope

  18. Chris Mahan
    Chris Mahan says:

    I read most of his book. Lost interest at the end.

    I like the stressed Penelope because the veneer is stripped away and the real shows. And it’s refreshingly human.

    Keep at it!

    And even if your company does fail: keep at it, try, try again. There is no success without failure.

  19. Sean
    Sean says:

    FINALLY…thank you for indulging in a bit of a rant, and hopefully this will lead to more critical evaluation of Ferris’ methods.

    The only time I ever came close to meeting Tim Ferriss was at SXSW last year. He was flexing his biceps (no kidding) for a cadre of adoring fanboys surrounding him in the hallway. This was an amusing vignette, but very much in character.

    He’s always struck me as kind of the Martha Stewart of productivity/’lifestyle design’ – collecting and rehashing secondhand ideas, wrapping it all up with his on personal ego-driven brand.

  20. Erin A
    Erin A says:

    This post is why I love your blog. My husband calls you my girl-crush. Penelope keeps it real – yo!

  21. Marianne
    Marianne says:

    I did buy his book. Started reading it on a flight from San Francisco to Portland. Left it on the plane – did not miss it. Waste of a good flight…

  22. Trev
    Trev says:

    P

    I understand that you are quite respected in the blog world and as an author…Having said that you really have just done Timmy a great service by placing attention to his work and probably providing extra income to his lifestyle!!!(thereby potentially creating a 3 hour work week instead of a 4 hour work week!) Relationship are important, but being selective is probably even more important when time really is equates to your life…would you waste your time/life on people that do not resonate with your higher purpose? oops you did,that was with Tim! You are right he probably did work incredibly hard and now he pursues what he wants to do…sounds like really bad grapes…but I ll buy your book if it helps!

    • Mark W.
      Mark W. says:

      I think she would have linked to and discussed her book in this post if she wanted you to buy it as a result of writing this post.

  23. SaraH
    SaraH says:

    I wonder – did you purposefully spell Tim’s last name two different ways?

    :-) That was a fun read. Way to be constructive with an annoying and energy-sucking situation!

  24. Systeria
    Systeria says:

    Ok, truth told, I’ve picked up a few tips from Tim Ferris’ book that were useful to me, even as I arched my eyebrows at his more questionable tactics, like how he practically browbeat the teaching staff at Princeton with interrogations in order to ensure good grades.

    But, your piece here is a gem, it really is, mostly because it comes from the gut, and that is the kind of writing I connect with best.

    What it is eye-opening for me, also, is what you say about selling a book. I just sort of thought Tim Ferris wrote the book and then someone else marketed it for him and then the royalties came rolling in. Duh, I now know. From what you recount here, there’s much more to being a successful author than writing stuff that people want to read. That’s a little daunting.

    • adboy
      adboy says:

      You really never considered that promoting your work was an essential part of being a writer. You. Are. An. Idiot. Why do I get the feeling that most of the people criticizing Tim here are simple, naive and just plain dumb?

  25. Mimi
    Mimi says:

    I loved this post. I never read Tim’s book because the concept of a 4-hr work week is absurd. Striving for it only seems futile. However, I now know that I actually have a 4-hr work week, because I love what I do all day and night. (Heck, maybe I’m down to a 2-hour week!)

    Here, I thought I was killing myself with work and needed to try to cut back my “work” hours…Achieve a work/life BALANCE (not blend). Instead, since I actually like what I do in all those hours, I’m not really working at all! Glad I could find out by reading your blog and not picking up a totally useless book. :-)

  26. Eva
    Eva says:

    I was expecting this to be a post about the lessons you can learn despite how you feel. Instead you made it about tearing someone else down because you disagree with how they do business.

    I too read 4HWW and thought his tips were just tricks. I found myself thinking, “If he has to find ways to love him job, maybe he’s in the wrong career path.” I see it everyday: people that do what they’re good at instead of what they love and that’s how Ferriss presented himself to me.

    But it doesn’t mean he got it ALL wrong. His method is perfect for other people like him. Today you reminded me of something my grandfather taught me when I was younger:
    You have to let yourself learn from every open source. Look at someone and say: I want to do this like them, but I don’t like the way they do that so I want to find my own way.

    Hate to say it, but I feel like you still have more to learn from Tim Ferriss.

  27. Aishwarya
    Aishwarya says:

    Fantastic post! Thank you so much for exposing the real Tim Ferriss for the rest of us who were puzzled by his super human capacity to get things done in 4 hours a week. Hah! What a joke! After hearing only foolish praises about his work for far too long, the truth finally emerges. Great job, Penelope :)

  28. Dennis at Retailsmart
    Dennis at Retailsmart says:

    (I can’t believe I found your blog only in the last month – but there you go.)

    I have a new definition of irony:

    Brazen Careerist + 4HWW are listed on Amazon is ‘titles frequently bought together :-)

    Hilarious irony is that the 3rd title is ‘The Dip’

    Don’t know what says about Amazon’s algorithms if your book wasn’t a best seller? Love your writing and would have bought the book if I was interested in the topic.

  29. If all else fails...
    If all else fails... says:

    If the economy is going down the tubes and your business is failing start a war. As a strategy it isn’t new and it has worked for quite a few countries.
    I guess it will be interesting to see if it works for your blog. I guess by the number of comments that you have at least woken everyone up from the holidays and no mention of gob jobs.

    Congratulations.

  30. John
    John says:

    Trev said:

    > P

    > I understand that you are quite respected in the blog world and as
    > an author –

    Really? You mustn’t Google much.

  31. John-777
    John-777 says:

    What an utterly bitter and childish way to try to direct more traffic here.

    Penelope, once your blog was good, contained tips and insights to make one think about a lot of things. Now it seems that along with your company and personal troubles it has sunk to pure non-sense.

    Tim spams you? How about setting up a simple mail rule? All email programs (as well as services) alows you to do that and then you would be gone instead of getting angry about it. Take a lesson from Guy Kawasaki, that guys never writes an angry post and seems to be an overall nice guy – hatred does not get you anywhere.

  32. sexythinker
    sexythinker says:

    Example of why TF’s ideas suck:

    I remember trying to score a lunch date with you last year at a conference we both were speaking at. I had just read Tim’s book and added the same auto response to my email. After you agreed to meet me you got my “I don’t check email” reply, then got pissy with me. I immediately removed the reply and joined the “Tim Ferriss Sucks” club.

    Needless to say, you blew off lunch. We still met but only because I conference stalked you.

    Thank you for teaching me this that day:

    “5. Time management is about making time to connect with people
    The idea of time management only matters in relation to how important the stuff is that’s competing for your time. The stuff that makes time management the most difficult is relationships. Which Tim does not excel in.”

    I’ve used this story 100 times to demonstrate that point.

    p.s. you still owe me a lunch date

    Amanda Hite

  33. Barbara
    Barbara says:

    Invent a new word for “work” and what it means, and then I will think you are onto something.

  34. Matt
    Matt says:

    I think I love you, well, at least if adding you to my RSS reader is a sign of anything.

    Want to have coffee? I’m meeting with a few really interesting people. I’ll tell you more after we find them and sign the NDA’s. Seriously, you don’t want to miss this.

  35. Alain
    Alain says:

    This is my first comment on this blog. I followed a tweet by Steve Rubel to get to this piece.

    For the record, I did read Tim’s book and I did like it. I also thought it was about 50% bull*/%t. But that’s true of most “do-this-to-achieve-amazing-success books. I could say the same about this post. I think about half what you said was valuable info, the rest is “blog-posting 101: write a controversial post about someone popular and get plenty of readers and comments.

    Not that I’m faulting you for it. It works doesn’t it? Look at all these comments. Only problem is…this is the sort of thing that Tim would also advocate doing.

    Sorry, I was just following your point number 2…

    I am still going to subscribe to your blog by the way.

  36. KeepingItReal
    KeepingItReal says:

    I don’t know much about you or Ferriss (yet). But if anything you say is actually true, I LOVE your style. Saying it like it is. Calling someone out. Just like the old days in Brooklyn, NY where I grew up. Trash this PC b.s.

    It was a fun read.

    P.S. If you are being satirical, I feel foolish!

  37. Alexey
    Alexey says:

    Good post, but I can’t help but note:

    You use Amazon’s referral program to link to Tim Ferris’ book. That’s a little like saying, how I learned to stop drinking alcohol, which you can buy here. Just saying.

  38. Don B.
    Don B. says:

    This post and the previous post generated some traffic, as in the past, suggesting a need to stay more focused on career. As a reader what I have noticed by the variety of topics is that they all fit because you can not separate career and life. We all have likes, dislikes, sex, love, kids, play and various things that make up our life. It is not possible to separate our career from our life as they are too interconnected. As such the variety of Penelope’s posts are a reflection of the fact our career though not our life is too much a part of us to not include apparently unrelated issues when thinking about or discussing our career. I found the last two posts quite enjoyable.

  39. Michelle Singer
    Michelle Singer says:

    Penelope I adore you! I couldn’t finish Tim’s book. I like the concept of free time; but, only to make time for more meaningful connections.

    You go girl! -michelle

  40. Julie
    Julie says:

    Good for you Penelope. I remember his blog marketing blitz and it was brilliant, but the book (or plan or whatever) was obviously snake oil.

  41. Sydney
    Sydney says:

    Nicely done P, yet another post that makes me proud to be part of the Brazen community.

    I always enjoy reading your posts, but this week in particular, I’ve really enjoyed reading the comments. You have some very polarized readers here; Tim-lovers and fellow Tim-haters and then some that are in the middle of the road.

    Your writing is refreshing and continues to be relevant to your blog’s niche. Relating oral to work and Tim’s douche-ness to time management is a talent and I wish more people could see that.

    Keep it up!

  42. Harry Joiner
    Harry Joiner says:

    Not to pick sides, but this is the most entertaining blog post I have read in a good while. For shear entertainment value, I give it an 11 on a scale of 10.

    QUESTION: You say that Tim’s employees were spamming your blog. Is this what PR people do these days? Like, did Tim retain a PR agency for this? And, was it done strategically, on a few blogs like yours and Guy’s and Seth’s, or on a wide, indiscriminate scale?

    I get a ton of PR spam, like “Harry, we are big fans of your amazing blog MarketingHeadhunter.com, and we thought you might like to know that the New England Journal of Medicine has just released an important new study on ginkgo biloba and lower back pain and we thought your readers might want to know …”

    Just curious.
    Harry

  43. Epictetus
    Epictetus says:

    106 106 106!

    Agree with all the above. I love Tim too – for his brazenness. But Penny you come across as some one I’d actually like to get to know.

    “Epictetus”. London

  44. Carol Saha
    Carol Saha says:

    I love your commenters. Well, most of them. Of course you have a few sad, pathetic people that only have negatives in their life and comments. Anyway, I’m subscribing to your comments now.
    Carol

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