The Art of Letting Bad Things Happen (and Weapons of Mass Distraction)


The menu in the Slovak Republic: full-contact video below.

Long time no see! I just landed back in CA from a long overdue mini-retirement through London, Scotland, Sardinia, Slovak Republic, Austria, Amsterdam, and Japan.

Some unpleasant surprises awaited me when I checked in on the evil e-mail inbox. Why? I let them happen.

I always do.

Here are just a few of the goodies that awaited me this time:

-One of our fulfillment companies has been shut-down due to the president’s death, causing a 20%+ loss in monthly orders and requiring an emergency shift of all web design and order processing.

-Missed radio and magazine appearances and upset would-be interviewers.

-More than a dozen lost joint-venture partnership opportunities.

It’s not that I go out of my way to irritate people — not at all — but I recognize one critical fact: oftentimes, in order to do the big things, you have to let the small bad things happen. This is a skill we want to cultivate.

What did I get in exchange for temporarily putting on blinders and taking a few glancing blows?

-I followed the Rugby World Cup in Europe and was able to watch the New Zealand All Blacks live, a dream I’ve had for the last 5 years.

-I was able to shoot every gun I’ve ever dreamed of firing since brainwashing myself with Commando. Bless the Slovak Republic and their paramilitaries (video at the end of this post).

-I was able to film a television series pilot in Japan, a lifelong dream and the most fun I’ve had in months, if not years.

-I met with my Japanese publisher, Seishisha (Tel: 03-5574-8511) and had media interviews in Tokyo, where the 4HWW is now #1 in several of the largest chains.

-I took a complete 10-day media fast and felt like I’d had a two-year vacation from computers.

-I attended the Tokyo International Film Festival and hung out with one of my heroes, the producer of the Planet Earth television series.

Once you realize that you can turn off the noise without the world ending, you’re liberated in a way that few people ever know.

Just remember: if you don’t have attention, you don’t have time. Did I have time to check e-mail and voicemail? Sure. It might take 10 minutes. Did I have the attention to risk fishing for crises in those 10 minutes? Not at all.

As tempting as it is to “just check e-mail for one minute,” I didn’t do it. I know from experience that any problem found in the inbox will linger on the brain for hours or days after you shut-down the computer, rendering “free time” useless with preoccupation. It’s the worst of states, where you experience neither relaxation nor productivity. Be focused on work or focused on something else, never in-between.

Time without attention is worthless, so value attention over time.

Here are a few questions that can help you put on the productivity blinders and put things in perspective. Even when you’re not traveling the world, develop the habit of letting small bad things happen. If you don’t, you’ll never find time for the life-changing big things, whether important tasks or true peak experiences. If you do force the time but puncture it with distractions, you won’t have the attention to appreciate it.

-What is the one goal, if completed, that could change everything?

-What is the most urgent thing right now that you feel you “must” or “should” do?

-Can you let the urgent “fail” — even for a day — to get to the next milestone with your potential lifechanging tasks?

-What’s been on your “to-do” list the longest? Start it first thing in the morning and don’t allow interruptions or lunch until you finish.

Will “bad” things happen? Small problems will crop up, yes. A few people will complain and quickly get over it. BUT, the bigger picture items you complete will let you see these for what they are–minutiae and repairable hiccups.

Make this trade a habit. Let the small bad things happen and make the big good things happen.

[This post kicked up some strong comments! If you’d like to see my responses, just search for “###” in the comments.]

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Odds and Ends:

Here is another signed original 4HWW manuscript with the bonus stories that didn’t make it into the published version! Perhaps you saw recently that a 1st-printing Harry Potter fetches more than $40K. 4HWW is no Harry Potter yet, but unedited manuscripts are a rarer item. The Ebay auction is here, and you have 72 hours. The last one sold for $1,525 and there were 8 copies available. Now there are only 6 left. The total winning bid will be donated to this school in Nepal, where your name will appear on a plaque on the door. If you would like to skip the auction, just PayPal $2,000 for however many copies you want (max of 5) to The total will also be donated to education. If someone beats you to the punch, I’ll refund you.

-For those interested, I’m featured on pg. 67 of this month’s Men’s Fitness. Nothing fitness-related, just 4HWW stuff.

-I did a fun interview on .SAP INFO, where I talk about all things quantifiable.

Weapons of Mass Distraction: boys love guns. I’m sorry, but that’s how we are wired, especially at $80 for a full Soviet arsenal, complete with anti-tank machine gun. Don’t worry, I’m just a target shooter. No strapping guns to my bed just yet.

Posted on: October 25, 2007.

Watch The Tim Ferriss Experiment, the new #1-rated TV show with "the world's best human guinea pig" (Newsweek), Tim Ferriss. It's Mythbusters meets Jackass. Shot and edited by the Emmy-award winning team behind Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations and Parts Unknown. Here's the trailer.

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188 comments on “The Art of Letting Bad Things Happen (and Weapons of Mass Distraction)

  1. Tim,
    Welcome back! Congratulations on the book in Japan, that is awesome.

    One of my muse stalled this week, due to the manufacturer of my product falling off the face of the earth… depressing, but this post reminded me to let it go and get on with trying something else. Great post, as always.



  2. Tim, awesome post!

    Congrats on your new TV pilot…my brother signed a deal with Much Music in Toronto to shoot the pilot for “Glam Rock Cage Fighter” in November. We’re taping him at a submission grappling tournament next week, plus sparring with some ex-IFL fighters and a guy from Chute Box. He’s a monster at 135 lbs…if the pilot gets picked up in 2008 we’ll fly you in, plug the book and roll a few rounds!


    Awesome! Congrats and count me in :)



  3. Tim, this is your best post by far! It shows that your mini-retirement worked. It’s awesome to see that you’re actually living what you teach. After reading your book I went on an e-mail fast but after a while I reverted to old habits of checking emails every so often… I noticed the immediate drop in productivity. Like you said… it lingers in the brain for hours and days. Your concept of bad things/big things reminds me of Stephen Covey’s principles in the 7 Habits book… of the quadrant of ‘Not Urgent-Important” things we never seem to pay enough attention to!


  4. Tim – looks like the gun video got pulled …any clue as to why? (for those of us who enjoy shoot, we can probably guess).


    Hi J,

    Thanks for the comment! The video should be up and working. Anyone else having problems?

    All the best,



  5. Excellent advice that I have been following with my website. I’ve been focusing on the projects I wanted to get done and allowing the bigger distractions to just happen. Great book Tim. Thanks.


  6. Right on, Tim!

    This one was such a good reminder for me at the perfect time. I so get it after an experience I had last week. I checked my email before my dinner and planning to have a relaxing email and I got an email in which someone was kinda pissed off at me (rightly so). Having read it, I obsesssed all evening and all night (losing about 3 hours of sleep the night before facilitating a big/exec meeting). I didn’t have to read my email…I was done for the day. I should have just shut if off and enjoyed my evening. Instead I ruined my evening, my night’s sleep and put my performance the next day in jeopardy (saved by caffiene only).


  7. Tim,

    I’ve read your book and scrolled through most of your blog, but this blog entry finally frosted my butt!

    What! You couldn’t have solved some of those “challenges” and saved some customer relations in 10-15 minutes? Sorry, the stuff you described as being “urgent” and “life changing” are just plain selfish. I guess I’m still too “old-school.”

    Valuing people (other than yourself) over attention and time must win out sometime in your life – no?



  8. “time without attention…” wow! i have lived this struggle without having been able to put a title to it. with core values of “freedom” & “value” the glue that binds these together seems like it would be “attention.” if i can’t be focused on the present, with angst and worry thwarting my plans, i am not truly free, because my freedom has no value.


  9. Friend of mine’s dad always said, “If it’s a hurry up answer, the answer is no.”

    If someone can’t wait 10 days on a JV, then they want a hurry up answer.


  10. I thought the Rugby World Cup was in France but you didn’t say you went to France. Where did you see the All Blacks play?


    I saw them play in Edinburgh — Scots vs. New Zealand. The World Cup happened all over, but France was the host country. Fun stuff. Those boys hit hard.



  11. Tim,

    Thanks for sharing. What do you say to people that remind you that as a company owner/CEO/leader you have employees who’s livelihood depends on the success and growth of the company? Could it get to the point where an owner/CEO/leader says “sorry Bob that we lost the big account that would have let you send Sally to college, but I just didn’t want to check email.”?


    • The difference between the two philosophies is that in one, you own the work, tasks and the outcomes. In yours, however, the work owns you. In the latter case, a sense of being hostage eventually sets in and the resentment that comes with it. I have said that in our workplace we now regrettably have all become a 24/7 business model. That may be your reality, but that also works against the notion many have that they really are in control or even could be. And it sure ain’t healthy. And the day your company shows you to the door for because of what they say they need, despite all that obsession, the lesson will come home about what your investment really produced.


  12. So when are we going to get “How to Live Like a Rock Star in Tokyo?”

    $80 for that entire arsenal — wow. Geoarbitrage to the extreme.