Napoleon on News and Information Management (Plus: Video on Outsourcing E-mail and More)

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(Photo: Dunechaser)

Napoleon, though mostly known as a little man with a funny hat, is regarded as one of history’s great commanders. He was also well-known for his unusual but effective methods of information management.

Here are just two examples from Ralph Waldo Emerson’s essay entitled “Napoleon, or The Man of the World“…

His instructions to his secretary at the Tuileries are worth remembering. “During the night, enter my chamber as seldom as possible. Do not awake me when you have any good news to communicate; with that there is no hurry. But when you bring bad news, rouse me instantly, for then there is not a moment to be lost.”

It was a whimsical economy of the same kind which dictated his practice, when general in Italy, in regard to his burdensome correspondence. He directed Bourrienne to leave all letters unopened for three weeks, and then observed with satisfaction how large a part of the correspondence had thus disposed of itself and no longer required an answer.

(hat tip to Ryan Holiday for the source)

He was also a source of excellent quotes that can act as decision-making guideposts. To wit:

“Nothing is more difficult, and therefore more precious, than to be able to decide.”
“Death is nothing, but to live defeated and inglorious is to die daily.”
“He who knows how to flatter also knows how to slander.”
“Never ascribe to malice that which is adequately explained by incompetence.”

Read more on Napoleon’s military strategy here, aptly referred to as “Napoleonic strategy”.

###

Odds and Ends: Short Interview from London, Comment from the Philippines

Ryan Carson interviewed me in London yesterday, and we covered a number of topics more and more people have asked about, including: favorite software and tech, more detail on outsourcing e-mail and the inbox (the fundamentals are in “The Holy Grail: How to Outsource the Inbox and Never Check Email Again“), application of 4HWW and lifestyle design during a recession, and much more.

If the video doesn’t display for you below, it can be found here. I hope you enjoy it.

I’ll let this comment, from another post on the blog (The Art of Letting Bad Things Happen, which I reference in the video), speak for itself. From a virtual assistant (business process outsourcing) in the Philippines:

I am a writer in the Philippines employed by a BPO company which caters to clients in the US needing virtual assistants, and I speak on the latter’s behalf as I get to observe them everyday.

I am sorry to disappoint AAndrews, but as “laborers” in the Philippines “making the cost of Americans’ dream activities less and so affordable”, a VA’s life is not all that bad so there really is no need to guilt Tim Ferriss and others like him who rely on virtual assistants. The VAs in our company may get just a pittance of what personal assistants get paid in the US, but it is still a win-win situation because the cost of living here is after all not as high as the US’s. This case with the VAs and others like them is not the vile, repulsive thing that child labor is.

Those of us in BPO companies are professionals happy to be able to stay in our country doing work we like. We are aware of the gulf between our pay and yours, but you see, with our salaries, we get to live like your average young professionals. We make rent, send our kids to school, enjoy time with friends, indulge in hobbies, dress decently.

Here as in anywhere else, your lifestyle is a choice you make.

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86 comments on “Napoleon on News and Information Management (Plus: Video on Outsourcing E-mail and More)

  1. Vimeo video was really choppy on your site as well as on the vimeo site. Could be an isolated issue, but I’ve never had one of your vids play so poorly before. Can you post elsewhere too? thx!

  2. I have found in my travels that there are a lot of people in the world (meaning most people) who make nothing near to as much as people do in the US and the Western World.

    The difference is that first it is so much cheaper to live that they do not need to make as much as they do in the US, and secondly they are much more happy than us Westerners.

    Don’t feel bad about making money and paying someone what they want to be paid. They are happy, and so are you.

  3. Trevor Nevitt Dupuy’s Evolution of Weapons and Warfare has a pretty insightful breakdown of Napoleon’s principles of warfare.

  4. A day has passed and my rebuttal to a poster’s comment supporting child labor has not been published (while other comments have been published). LOL Not that you’re required to publish my comment on your blog but I’m curious, is there any particular reason why my comment has not been published?

  5. I noticed that my last comment when straight through. I will try to resubmit my other comment.

    Arne said:

    “Child labour as in work in sweatshops is vile and repulsive only to narrowminded and unenlightened westerners. To those who scavenge garbage dumps for a living it is a dream…the idea that those who buy stuff made in sweatshops are somehow exploiting and/or harming the workers in those factories is an idea that deprives children living in extreme poverty from the chance for a better life sweatshop labour can give them.”

    My response:

    I have to speak out against this statement which received 4 thumbs up (a fact that reflects the conscious of the commenters/readers here). Let me first say this, my father immigrated to this country from Jamaica, an impoverished third world country much like the countries that use child labor and sweatshops. I have family (including siblings) who still live there and suffer the daily indignities of poverty. They, nor do I believe that child labor or sweat shops is a “dream” under any circumstances including extreme poverty. Poverty and the desperate measures that some take to alleviate poverty is always HELL. I know because I grew up VERY poor. Poverty is always humiliating. My father encourages education not sweatshops as the road to a better life.

    Regarding using off shore labor…I don’t see a problem with it as long as the human rights of those workers are protected. It is my responsibility to make sure that those I do business with are treating their workers fairly, if that is one my values, which it is. On that point, my sister worked in a “free zone” in Jamaica and recounted the daily humiliations and indignities suffered by these mutli-national corporations. You see, the poor suffer even when they are given money but treated terribly. Jamaica eventually expelled these companies because of their abuses.

  6. FANTASTIC summary from the virtual assistant (BPO) in the Philippines. Well written and great thought for the day.. “Here as in anywhere else, your lifestyle is a choice you make.”

  7. Please approve this post. I tried to contact Ferris on this but was told to try here in the comments. I honestly want input on this. I would love to hear some ideas.

    I negotiated a work from home position (step one) and I am currently making 80k from home and often have lulls of empty time during the day. This may sound like a dream come true for many but I have no idea how to fill my spare time now that I have so much of it.

    What the heck can I do with my spare time? I have tried some daytrading and selling here and there on eBay but I actually miss the social environment, due to the boredom. Somebody please help me out, I feel like I have all the resources to become a millionaire, but none of the guidance.

    I even have some invention and product ideas but have no idea where to get started on following these ideas. Any ideas on what a man should do to keep sane and productive with automation in mind in a well paid work from home position are very very welcomed.

  8. Hey Tim,

    Has there ever been an incident where a VERY important detail or business mistake was overlooked due to neglect or irresponsibility on the part of one of your VA’s?

    I ask out for no reason other then my own curiosity.

    You’re the man, keep on doing what you’re doing!

  9. In much the same way that you’re using Text Wrangler in that video, there is a great app called WriteRoom which “provides a distraction-free writing environment”.

    “Green text on a blank, black screen, with a square, blinking cursor. This was how most of us wrote on a computer in the early 1980s, and it’s resurfacing a quarter of a century later.” — Rob Pegoraro, Washington Post

    Worth checking out.

    http://www.hogbaysoftware.com/products/writeroom

  10. Hi Tim, I just want to say, from spain, that your book has served me to fill the existential void that I felt at the start of the university without knowing very well what I wanted to do with my life, and thanks for thinking differently than most and encourage people to get their objectives and be optimistic. It’ s a pleasure. Bye

  11. @ Dan
    Hi Bro,
    well…I don’t know if they will pass this answer, but assuming you are single, nothing will eat up time and money as fast as pretty girls you like taking on hot dates :)

    Your question may sound strange to lots of people but actually i think it’s a valid one. Take time out to figure out what your passions in life are. Find out by trying new stuff. take up dance classes, or martial arts, or write a book or learn a new language, do day-trips, or since you can work from home, do month-long trips to other countries.

    If travel, exercise (sports, the doing, not the watching), philosphy (writing and reading) and the opposite sex do not give you enough meaning and distractions then I strongly suggest you donate half your cash to me and at least live happily in the knowledge you have succeeded in making at least ONE person VERY happy on this planet :)

    Oh. One last thing. As far as having problems go…yours is a kick-ass problem to have man. Well done.

  12. @G

    Haha. Thanks for the response. I am not yet in a position to give back, but kudos on offering your “service” of collecting some of my pay.

    My question may sound strange because it is so vague. When I listened to FHWW I was hit with a ton of tools and ideas but was unsure of how to use them. I know it is very tough to answer such a question but you did hit on a few key ideas of things I can do. Believe it or not I am looking to increase my productivity and become totally independent over time. i had been thinking that recreation would subtract from this effort. Perhaps taking up more leisure activities might be the catalyst for new business oriented ideas. Eureka!, as it where.

    I realize my problem is a great one to have also. I am thankful. Ennui aside, this is a perfect spot to be in. i just need to mold my remaining time now. I wish I had a mentor. If I can find the right combination of variables I will take some of my earnings and risk it on a startup attempt. The key is in finding a product/service people demand and then delivering it using some of the methods Tim breaks down in his book.

    I am looking forward to more real life examples next round. I suppose if it was easy, everybody would be in Tim’s position. Obviously it takes a certain persistence, ability to take a risk, and the ability to find a unique, marketable idea.

  13. Tim,

    I like your blog and the book is very interesting (I live in Poland so I had to order it via a bookstore in Germany). But I’m suprised with this information about the revised/expanded version of FHWW.

    1. What I mean is that from a marketing point of view it is fine. Sell the same thing all over again. Steve Jobs does it with Apple, musicians do that with compiled CDs. It is the ideal muse that you write about. However, as an author, don’t you think you are underperforming, at least just a little bit. From what I understand you can do much better than that. For the sake of decency, call it FHWW – Part II or FHWW Even less work or Even shorter workweek (if you decide to use one of these send me free copy :) or it is time for a completely new book. Have a trip, find some inspiration.

    2. You should really visit Poland. Our languange would be a challenge – extremely difficult – some call it European Chinese.

    Best regards,

    Tom

    • @Tom,

      Thank you for the comment, and yes, I would like to visit Poland. Just to clarify, the 4HWW expanded and updated is needed because 1) there are resources that are outdated, new resources that have come up in the last 2 years, and 2) there weren’t really any case studies of readers in the first edition. It won’t make the first edition completely outdated, but it will provide a much better book for future readers.

      Hope that helps explain things!

      Tim

  14. @Tim

    Tim,

    Thank you for the answer. This really explains a lot. Maybe I will even buy the expanded edition then :) Anyway, the blog is great, acctually first I find interesting. Best of luck with writing.

    Anytime in Poland, just let me know. At least, I will be able to answer some of your questions or give some directions.

    Best Regards
    Tom

  15. So essentially what you are saying is that a key aspect of his information management strategy was to be ruthless.

    In todays day and age it would be pretty ballsy to not open your mail until 3 weeks after it was received.

  16. Beverly said;

    My response:

    I have to speak out against this statement which received 4 thumbs up (a fact that reflects the conscious of the commenters/readers here). Let me first say this, my father immigrated to this country from Jamaica, an impoverished third world country much like the countries that use child labor and sweatshops. I have family (including siblings) who still live there and suffer the daily indignities of poverty. They, nor do I believe that child labor or sweat shops is a “dream” under any circumstances including extreme poverty. Poverty and the desperate measures that some take to alleviate poverty is always HELL. I know because I grew up VERY poor. Poverty is always humiliating. My father encourages education not sweatshops as the road to a better life.

    Regarding using off shore labor…I don’t see a problem with it as long as the human rights of those workers are protected. It is my responsibility to make sure that those I do business with are treating their workers fairly, if that is one my values, which it is. On that point, my sister worked in a “free zone” in Jamaica and recounted the daily humiliations and indignities suffered by these mutli-national corporations. You see, the poor suffer even when they are given money but treated terribly. Jamaica eventually expelled these companies because of their abuses.

    ————————————————

    WHATEVER. To quibble wheter it’s a dream or not is silly. Millions of chinese people from the country sides have in the recent decade gathered in the big cities to work in sweatshops. VOLUNTARILY. Their willingness to work hard trough long hours at the factory is their competive advantage. Hundreds of millions have been lifted out of extreme poverty by using this comparative advantage. If no one would buy stuff produced with sweatshop labor this would have been impossible. Hundreds of millions would have remained in extreme poverty. If I was king of the world and could decide that the rich should just give their money to the poor isntead of having them work so hard for it. If I could send all of the third world to school with the money of developed nations I would. But I am not the king of the world. The rich are not gonna start financing an international welfare state on their own anytime soon. Until this happens no one should try to ‘help’ the poor by not buying stuff from the people they have voluntarily choosed to work for. This does not help them.

    I took time to write it because free trade is good for the worlds poor, and well meaning people are trying to stop free trade. If you don’t believe me, please research the history of chinas economic growht in the last decade and how it has helped the chinese people.

  17. I definitely identify with the VA’s comment. I personally have been criticized by my American friends for outsourcing my admin work to Asia for “only” a couple bucks an hour. The reality is it is a fair wage in the country where work is being performed. Welcome to the global economy my silly little American friends.

    And by the way, I just gave my US-based VA an unsolicited 30% raise yesterday… proof I do have a heart.

  18. Tim,

    I just got finished reading the 4HWW. My very first book. My roomate has been pestering me to read it for a year now. I have an issued patent on a Scuba diving safety device, and I must say your book could have saved me countless hours in preparing my business plan. Your section on E-com was very informative and will help with the new direction of my company. Your book has inspired me to keep going, and get infront of the venture vultures and angels. I will be purchasing your second revised copy as soon as it is availible for future referance. Any fav dive spots you could point me too would be great. All the best.
    T.

  19. Hi Tim,

    Great interview! I wanted to ask you about the outsourcing of your email. I tried this for about 6 months. It was very sort of a rough experience. I set up a processing rules document like you had suggested with a Q & A in it. At first I have my assistant call me every day, but soon found out calls going for 30+ minutes, and ran into longer discussions. So I later changed it to have my assistant just send me a Day End Summary that was loaded into Gdocs. That way I would review it in the evening, and then replied via JOTT instead. Then proceeded with reply like #1 – No, # 2 – Yes, and do such and such. We later discovered that this took more time for the person to the other side to handle. So now after a year of trying this several ways, I now handle my email myself again and follow the process of Take Back Your Life Using Outlook, by Sally McGhee.

    Do you feeling disconnected from people and our responsibilities by having someone intervine with your personal email?

    Perhaps you could share briefly a tip might work better for me, as I run an outsourcing company in South East Asia for my United States clients.

  20. I hadn’t read the Emerson essay that you quote. Great stuff, Ralph Waldo is still relevant.

    About the three week mail rule: I confess to neglecting my mail but not as a strategy – I thought it was just procratination. Perhaps I’ll reframe my neglect as a positive choice rather than an avoidance. It will serve me better. I love it.

    Thanks for the post.

  21. A famous Napoleon quote is a reminder that even the best prepared can be victims of fate’s whim: “Give me lucky men for my generals, I can teach them everything else”

  22. Hey Tim, great post as always, I don’t know how you continually think outside the box. Are you doing any speaking gigs or parties in the UK over the next few weeks?

  23. Let me tell you, the three week email thing is totally true. If it wasn’t for me emailing myself papers that I need to write every month or so, I would never end up checking my mail. Oh and I start ALL my papers the night before they are due. Haven’t got anything less than a B… yet lol. Hurray stress! Who the hell says your all bad? Wish me luck on my next paper! (its due in 8 hours… lazyness:)

  24. Tim-

    I have 2 thoughts I wanted to present you with while I brainstorming my muse. I heard of your revised edition writing & hopefully you might address or want to address in you new expanded edition of 4HWW. Perfect timing, eh? I work in music I see several collations with music and information products.

    THOUGHT 1:

    What’s your take on digital distribution channels to deliver products, especially informational? With working with Sony Music with internet marketing under my belt, I’m very aware of tech, vendors, and pros & cons to digital distribution. know this was starting to take shape while you wrote the first book, so I thought it relevant to ask now. Here’s what I have…

    PROS:
    Full control over distribution channels and pricing for exclusivity.
    Instant gratification for customer orders.
    Increased visibility with webtools such as web widget for selling and product sampling.
    Shorter revenue streams from customers to your bank account. Cut out more middle men than ever before.
    “Long tail” products: Have products with only the need for cheap digital storage.
    Access to your sales channels remotely.
    Increased sales reporting and easier accounting.
    Ability to distribute almost any digital file type and size. HD audio & video, PDFs, Excel sheets, Zip files, etc. I forsee products like eBooks, video tutorials, Excel workbooks, music files, etc.

    CONS
    The ease of consumers to spread your product illegally with digital copies, thus lowering the value.
    Easier for competition to possibly duplicate your product.
    Do you think having “digital only” products hinder sales or is it based on your niche/demo/market?

    THOUGHT 2:
    What are your thoughts on blogs, podcasts, and free information? How can you supplement/sample your info product without giving too much of it away? Do you think viral word-of-mouth marketing of great blog entries help sell the info product better? What determines what makes it on your blog and what stays in your head for the “next” book (or product)? Do these channels help solidify you as a expert to potential buyers by sampling what information you have to offer?

    Thanks for your time, Tim. This book has nothing but complemented my personality. I wish you had an affiliate program because I know I recommended it a dozen+ times.

    Cheers,
    -Z

    • Dear Zach,

      Great questions! I will definitely be including more info for downloadable products and models in the revised edition. I’m still thinking through the details, but most of your questions should be answered in there. Dowloadable products can be great, if even for testing, and a blog can help (as you’d expect me to answer), but not everyone is designed to be a writer. It’s a pain in the ass if you don’t enjoy it, so a video blog or other form of sampling your product could be the answer.

      Thanks again!

      Tim

  25. Hello,

    Tim’s advice for independent business people is priceless and so I want to reach out to this community to let it know of a dangerous bill in Congress that aims to make life difficult or impossible for independent operators in the organic foods industry.
    Even if you do not care about eating organic food or growing food in your home garden, the right to do so is very important and is at stake. What Congress is planning to do with the new Food Safety Administration is reduce choice and quality craftsmanship in the marketplace, intimidate small businesses to close, and squash the independent business person; all while creating another bloated, expensive, incompetent federal government agency to take away states’ rights to legislate and stick their noses into everyone’s kitchen.
    This bill is written by big agricultural-industrial companies so that they they can effectively make their competition illegal. It is so broadly written that it could make gardens and home canning illegal. If you don’t want to just eat starchy foods, low quality meats and canned veggies at every meal, call your congressperson to vote against this bill. The chances are that they have not read it, will not read it, and will vote yes on it because it has a benign title. The language is confusing, yet insidious and dangerous. The organic foods economy is worth billions and produces healthy and delicious food — it must survive!

    US House and Senate are about (in a week and a half) to vote on bill that will OUTLAW ORGANIC FARMING (bill HR 875). There is an enormous rush to get this into law within the next 2 weeks before people realize what is happening.

    Main backer and lobbyist is (guess who) Monsanto – chemical and genetic engineering giant corporation. This bill will require organic farms to use specific fertilizers and poisonous insect sprays dictated by the newly formed agency to “make sure there is no danger to the public food supply”. This will include backyard gardens that grow food only for a family and not for sales.

    If this passes then NO more heirloom clean seeds but only Monsanto genetically altered seeds that are now showing up with unexpected diseases in humans

    The name on this outrageous food plan is Food Safety Modernization Act of 2009 (bill HR 875).

    THIS IS REAL, FOLKS! PASS THIS ALONG TO ALL CONCERNED ON YOUR MAILING LISTS & CALL YOUR SENATE REPRESENTETIVES TODAY! Get on that phone and burn up the wires. Get anyone else you can to do the same thing. The House and Senate WILL pass this if they are not massively threatened with loss of their position…. They only fear your voice and your vote.

    The best thing to do is go to http://www.house.gov/writerep all you have to do is put in your zip and it will give you your congressperson and how to get in touch with them. When you call their office someone will answer the phone, just tell them (politely) that you are calling to express your views on HR 875. Tell them your views, they’ll take your name and address and pass your comments along to the congressperson. The following link http://www.senate.gov/general/contact_information/senators_cfm.cfm is a list of the U.S. senators and their contact info.

    More revealing details at: http://www.campaignforliberty.co/blog.php?view=12671

    This is the link to the insidious bill itself: http://www.govtrack.us/congress/billtext.xpd?bill=h111-875

    Please forward this info and ask people to call their US representatives.

    Thanks,

    Joe

  26. In one of Tim’s presentations he spoke of an outsource company in Jamica that uses Americans. Please tell me the name of that company?
    Best Regards,
    Frank Harris
    Cell 407-970-6764