The 4-Hour Everything: How Tim Ferriss Tracks His Life's Data (Interview with Wired's Clive Thompson)

80 Comments

This is a short 20-minute interview from this week’s WIRED “Living By Numbers” Health Conference. It was a great event, and one of my favorite writers, Clive Thompson, interviewed me on how I track my life. Included are questions about the future of self-experimentation.

Enjoy!

What would you like to know more about? Please let me know in the comments.

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Posted on: October 18, 2012.

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80 comments on “The 4-Hour Everything: How Tim Ferriss Tracks His Life's Data (Interview with Wired's Clive Thompson)

    • I have a hard time using the awareness of my decisions (through measuring) for a positive purpose. For example I have tried to monitor my spending and while I realize I am spending money I don’t utilize the data I have collected to see where I can cut back or find a way to increase my income to match that extra expense.

      I wonder if anyone has any advice on over coming this or do I just need to work on my self discipline around analyzing the data collected?

      Like

      • Jason,

        You may need to work on self discipline, but a little automation and scheduling helps too. You don’t need to react to the data every day, often once a month is fine. For example, when I wanted to get my finances in check, I:

        1) Switched all my buying to cards, no cash (I prefer credit due to rewards and fraud protection, but if you spend more than you earn, stick with debit for now)

        2) Linked my cards to Mint.com which automatically breaks down my spending into categories

        3) Set a calendar reminder to check Mint after 1 month.

        4) Spent normally for a month, then checked.

        Now, instead of having to take the issue as “I spent too much today,” it becomes “This month I spent too much on eating out, on bars, and not enough on my retirement savings.” Three separate problems with multiple solutions. For eating out, you could a) do it less b) use Groupons, specials, etc c) use leftovers more. For bars, you could i) do it less ii) get to know happy hours, drink specials, cheap pitchers iii) bring a flask and order sodas (I know someone who does this!)

        Alternatively, you can do it the other way around: take your paycheck, cash it, and split up the cash into categorized envelopes: rent, food, clothes, bars, etc. Then stick to it.

        It’s also not clear from your comment if you’re tracking only how much you spend, or if you’re tracking how much you spend on WHAT. It’s always more actionable to have at least two variables in your data with a causative relationship. I ate X and now weigh Y. I ran 5 miles in 30 minutes yesterday, and did it in 28 minutes today.

        Like

      • Seriously, your answer to his question- made me want to say thanks too, straight up advice (that’s why I dig this site) take care!

        Like

  1. Hi Tim, great stuff as always. Are you aware of the correlation between introverted intuition primaries (such as yourself) and insomnia? I do some work that revolves around the Jungian cognitive functions. For all I know you may know them inside and out, but if you’re interested then shoot me a quick email and I’ll send over some insights that you may find quite interesting.

    Like

  2. Interesting interview Tim, and I do have a question of my own.

    What 3 things in particular do you think that the average person should track about themselves that would make the most difference to their life? Obviously this varies from person to person, but have you decided on any, say… general trends?

    Like

    • Finances, food intake, how your time is spent (work/ gym/ hobby/ leisure) would be my top three. From that you get a great breakdown and could look further into the minutiae.

      Like

      • Wow! My First FHWW Blog Post!

        @Chad When considering your top 3 metrics you need to ponder the following:

        1) What are my goals?
        2) What metric would best track my Goals and cause me to make changes in my life?
        3) What data could I easily acquire and track.
        4) How often do I want to check the metric to accomplish my goals.

        Point 3 is very important for you to consider. If what your tracking requires a lot of effort to acquire quality data you will be less likely to use that metric. Also it is very important to pick the right metric. Remember Peter Druckers saying “You can’t manage what you don’t measure.”

        Below are three metrics I plan to use to track my life:
        -Finances

        Net Savings or Net Worth. Net Savings would be easier to track and it is highly correlated with Net Worth. A positive Cash Flow will always lead to a (+) Net Worth in the Long Run. Also you can easily review it weekly and make minor adjustments to improve your success. I would track Net Worth Monthly or Quarterly.

        -Time Spent

        Due to the difficulty of tracking all your activities I would only track the time you spent working on your goals (AKA Your Billable Hours). Using the Eisenhower Matrix it would be the tasks in the Important/Non-Urgent or Important/Urgent Quadrants.

        -Health

        I would track your weight or number of steps walked in a day. Another idea would be to have a weekly quota of “junk food” you allow your self and track that. A couple of years ago I gave my self a quota of 1 Mocha Frappuccino a week. It worked pretty well.

        I would be more than happy to elaborate on any thing or bounce ideas via email or Skype. If you have suggestions on how to improve this please let me know. Looking to quantify my life next year.

        -David Gonzalez

        Like

  3. I’m highly appreciative of the in-depth talk of the data collecting. Where Stephen Wolfram’s fascinating “The Personal Analytics of My Life” blog post fell short was not providing information on the methods/tools used to actually track, sort, and make the data useful. I love tracking data, but so far the majority of this stuff and the resulting pattern recognition hasn’t been embraced by family/friends because they don’t know how to start and continue doing it.

    So I would really enjoy a blog post or video talking about the best methods you’ve found on how to do this. What tools (pen/paper, digital, etc), what systems you use or have created, etc.

    Like

  4. Would like to know more about how you find an attractive niche to design a product for.

    Any measurements besides frequency of repeat advertisers in niche magazines?

    Like

  5. Wow. Pretty extreme. Your tracking is pretty incredible.

    I use coconut oil as well and I have noticed an increase in energy.

    I’m particularly interested in improving my sleep ( feeling rested ). Any recomended reading?

    Like

    • I’ve had off and on sleep troubles for some time now, and have tried most everything.

      These days, I take a 80/20 approach and keep it simple: 2-3 caps of magnesium and 1000-1500mg L-Tryptophan taken 30 minutes before target bedtime works well.

      By giving the body raw precursors, instead of just directly taking something like melatonin (which regulates sleep, but is a chemical end-product), I’m able to get the most consistent and natural results. Give it a try if you’d like.

      Like

  6. Great interview, thanks. I want to second Chad’s request for your top 3 metrics to track, but also ask for more metrics.

    I read 4HB very closely, so I know what to track if I’m attempting fat loss, muscle gain, etc. But those metrics correspond to specific goals.

    As you said in this interview, “the act of measuring in and of itself makes you more aware of your decisions.” So what might we measure when we’re not working towards a specific goal, but want to maximize the potential for new awareness or insights? (Aside from regular bloodwork mentioned in 4HB)

    Right now I’m looking for general energy and productivity insights, and tracking: bedtime, wake time, meals, and daily energy and productivity on a subjective 1-10 scale. Also some body metrics less frequently.

    Like

  7. Tim I love how you make these crazy experiments seem like the normal and rational thing to do! Gives all us normal people confidence. Thank you.

    Like

  8. Your point about getting to a time when there is a financial incentive for developers to create software to better mobilize, expand, and analyze tracking data is a great one.

    At that point, I think we’ll see an explosion in self-tracking, similar to the boost it has received from your, and others, work.

    Like

    • I am web developer and since reading the 4HWW, have been working on a personal tracking app called me-trak.

      We are set to launch the beta version on November 1. Would love to get feedback from 4HWW fans.

      Like

  9. Really interesting info regarding the peak of glucose levels. Just recently started to eat before my morning workout and have observed positive gains as well.

    I wonder if 60 min is normal or if it varies per person and also on the type of food? My guess is does.

    Like

  10. I like the idea of measuring and tracking activities. It can be as simple as carrying a pen and paper with you throughout the day and monitoring the little things you do. It’s such a simple suggestion and easy advice to give, but kind of hard to follow. (Or at least it’s easy not to follow. It’s also great preparation for being a lawyer.)

    Like

  11. Interesting your comment about lacking any self-preservation. Wondered if you had looked at the balance of the social, sexual and self-preservation energies in enneagram theory? Also, have you seen Bob Whitehouse’s work on keeping more CO2 in us through longer exhales?

    Like

  12. Tim, great stuff. Check out Everylog. It’s a web app that allows you to create your own customized “Logs” to track your life data. You can even compete against or team up with others in your Logs if you choose. We’re still in beta so we’d love your feedback.

    Like

  13. Great post Tim!

    Have you ever gone back through your tracking notes and discovered a pattern that led to a change in your behavior? In athletic endurance training I find that it often takes a year or more or keeping a training log before some useful data manifests itself.

    Looking forward to the new book!

    Like

  14. 2 things:

    1) I want to learn mental hacks. How do I optimize my brain? (“Limitless” was a fun movie)

    2) what were the shoes worn in the interview?

    Like

  15. Dude! Yes! Loved the whole interview but I must say i think you channeled something in that last minute and a half!! Very well said and almost seemed rehearsed. ;) can’t wait for the new book!

    Like

  16. I have one question, around the 13min mark you mention measuring your body waste using a container and scales. Why didn’t you just measure your body weight before and after going to the toilet?

    I understand many common body scales are not as accurate as food scales. But still you can get some body scales that will measure in 5g units.

    Like

  17. You asked what I would like to know more about. I would like to know more about starting a business with an exit strategy. Also what book or books you would recommend for building or rebuilding a business to sell it?

    Like

  18. Very interesting interview Tim….thank you! Lots to take in and think about, but I was very interested in your comments about insomnia and sleep. Lack of proper is such a huge health issue ….. something I definitely have always had a problem with. Next book….The 8 Hour Sleep ???!!!

    Like

  19. Hi Tim,

    I’ve decided to begin tracking my behavior, but I was wondering:

    Would you say that finding the right things to track is uncovered mostly through trial and error?

    Are there particular criteria (blueprint / general rules, etc.) that you recommend that promote more actionable metrics?

    Thanks!

    (p.s. I still have my original gold cover 4hww! Keep inspiring!)

    Like

  20. Tim,

    In the interview you talked about the Myristic acid and other fatty acid breakdown in your lipid profile. I looked at wellness FX and they seem to just run a basic profile with addition of Lp(a) and ApoB. Was it something extra they did for you?

    I have a doctor who is extremely conducive towards getting lots of tests, and I’m going in soon for bloodwork. I asked for a lipid VAP to get the more detailed breakdown, but don’t see that it breaks it down by each fatty acid. Is it a different test?

    Thanks.

    Like

  21. @Tim Your celebrity status at Quantified Self might get you mobbed if you went to one of the conferences, but have you considered the one in Amsterdam next year, May? I have a feeling it would be more chill.

    Like

  22. Do you do anything special for anti-aging? For example, do you believe in taking human growth hormone or bio-identical hormones, etc?

    Like

  23. Being a 6’5″ long lanky athlete my whole life, I’ve managed to injure most different parts on my body wake boarding, playing rugby and just doing stupid things during my ‘invincible years’….now as a 33 year old physical therapist I am a self proclaimed anatomy and biomechanics nerd that tracks everything about my physical life….partly due to your influence and partly to help improve the physical well being in myself and my clients.

    You talk a lot about testing and measuring various blood markers….physiology lends itself to creating quantifiable data, but how have you monitored the various injuries you have had over the years or quantified your recovery with various treatments?

    I work on changing people’s behaviors all day as a physio….trying to teach them how to move properly….becoming aware and changing how you stand, sit, walk and breath all day are tasks that require mental awareness and persistence. I have tried to combine some of your advice from both your books: 80/20 principles, tracking things and creating a muse business. I spend my wednesdays developing my website to help people learn about their bodies and track what they learn along the way…I have started using Lift and found it helpful, but I was just wondering if you had any tips for tracking things that produce more qualitative than quantitative data.

    Book recommendation for awareness: Mindsight by Daniel Siegel
    Treatment recommendation: look up Intramuscular Stimulation (IMS acupuncture)

    Keep the info coming! Thanks Tim

    Like

  24. Hi Tim.

    Are you are still taking Astaxanthan? I started taking it after you mentioned in on a Random show, after doing a little more research of course, and find it gives me more energy and better cognitive function when taken with fish oil/algae supplements.

    Can’t wait for your new book! Looking forward to your crazy skill learning hacks!

    Like

  25. One question: this blog has 1,000,000+ unique monthly readers and an annual income of $75K+? The blog income seems low for the amount of traffic.

    Which concepts do you take into account in that number? Your product sales? Only direct income through third-party advertisements?

    Thanks for your insights!

    Like

  26. Hey Tim as a big fan I’d like to recommend a book for you to recommend to your readers. Cal Newport So good they can’t ignore you. Damn good. Best book since 4hww….no vested interest apart from you recommending the best to keep your readers tuned in

    Like

  27. Hi Tim,
    What do I want to know more about? Curing insomnia.
    You wrote about it in the past in a 5 point post but I know you’ve gathered more information about it.
    I can’t remember the last time I had a week of good sleep – I will enjoy a day here and there but never a few days in a row.
    Exercise and relaxation help but not always. I feel this is the most important performance hack I will ever need so your help and experience will make a difference in my life.
    Best,
    Ariel

    Like

  28. You mention in the talk three technologies you see taking off soon … and the interviewer interrupts you with a new question before you can name them. Can you tell us now?

    Like

  29. Hey Tim,

    Do you still use the moleskins for taking notes, or have you gone more digital as the market for digital note taking has expanded.

    Cheers

    Like

  30. Loved the whole interview; especially the end where you bite into the whole “snake oil” approach. Brilliantly done, I could kiss your face! To say that you’ve pointed me in the direction of personal enrichment and enlightenment in the past few years would be as understated as calling out the value of attention over time.
    Going over the 4 hrs (soon-to-be trilogy!) and taking notes on my notes. Really excited for your approach to skill acquisition. My Personal Learning Network & various developments have only taken me so far…

    Like

  31. Dear Tim,
    I am a 19 year old engineering student at the University of Arizona. I am posting here in hopes that this is the best chance of you reading what I am about to say.

    I admire your genius (more specifically the way you adapt cunningly and your revolutionary marketing capabilities) and aspire not to be like you, but certainly to learn as much as I can from you sir.

    I wish to ask you a few questions regarding your success because I am starting a blog in which I contact my idols, something I’m sure you can relate to (perhaps when you were at Stanford).

    I realize everyone wants to ask you a few questions so I really hope I stand out in some way (I bought 6 candy vending machines and placed them in local businesses when I was 16 after reading the 4HWW).

    If I am not convincing enough then perhaps you could give me a tip on an intriguing enough proposition to solicit a response from the great Tim Ferris.

    Like

  32. Hey Tim,

    Great post once again. It’s always fun and useful to hear how you approach quantifying your health, and how you use the data to make an improvement.

    I had an idea I thought I would post here for you.

    Would you consider a post here on your blog where you allow your readers to submit questions about the various topics you cover?

    Perhaps you could allow submissions up front, and then do a blog post answering 10-20 of the best questions. You could divide this up into individual topics (health, start-ups, self-quantification and optimization, skill acquisition, minimal effective dose, etc).

    You could even do a multi-part series for each topic.

    I think this would be a huge resource for your readers, as you could provide some great targeted info in addition to your valuable blog posts.’

    Just a thought. Keep up the great work.

    -Chris

    Like

  33. Any chance you’ll be going on Joe Rogan’s Podcast to promote the new book?

    I would love to hear a long form interview and/or conversation about your new biohacks.

    Like

  34. Great interview Tim. I really like what you said about turning data into information, because I think that’s such a problem we have these days. We have tons of data, but most people aren’t clever enough to make heads or tails of it. Thanks for the video!

    Like

  35. Hey Tim – You mentioned you had difficulty pulling data from your dexcom. You might be interested in Bodytrack, an opensource project at Carnegie Mellon which pulls data from many different tracking devices (Zeo, Fitbit, and many others) into one platform. It’s private beta but it’s pretty slick and if you’re interested I could get you in touch with my friends Anne and Randy who head the project. Shoot me an email if you’re interested.

    Like

  36. you look really good for 35 tim!

    you know what could make you look even better? a solid colored shirt.

    those stripes on your shirt appear “googlee” on video and distract from your handsomeness ;)

    Like

  37. Tim,

    I just watched Ramit Sethi crushing it on creativelive, He hammered out about 25 hours of intense training covering his book and work.

    I was thinking about your upcoming class, and considering trying to attend live, however your class is only listed as 2 days @ 3 hours each.
    With three books under your belt why such a short class surely you can Knock out three days with all your material.
    Were expecting you to crush it as well

    Like

  38. How annoying are these motherf&ckers!? Why do I watch this!? I admire them both for their accomplishments, but, my God, the egos! Especially the left one (their right). Of course, I’m jealous, so don’t even bother pointing that out. What an awkward friendship. Tim wants to drop-kick that dog off a bridge and Kevin knows it. It will remain an issue until Kevin gets married and then the real divide will start. How many weeks before she tells him “I think he’s a bad influence on you”? Anyway…thanks for tip about highlighted passages on Kindle. I’ll check it out.

    Like

  39. Bro. Ferriss,

    Here’s what I want to know more about: Investing & Advising.

    next book idea–The 4 Hour Angel.

    I don’t think I’m alone when I say I would love to have access to more interesting people and resources within the ” san fran-20-30 something tech startup” scene.

    could include:

    -a handful of case studies
    -your own experiences
    -biggest pitfalls
    -above all, what you do to 80/20 this area of your life

    you asked,

    Dan

    Like

  40. Wow, just had a sort of unrelated breakthrough in my life planning. Your mention of tracking got me thinking about habits I want to change. I hear you all the time mentioning that what gets tracked gets improved but it didn’t quite sink in until now as to how I should apply it. I have been trying to change a few habits, like keeping from interrupting people and asking more questions of others, but have been having trouble with it. I just realized that I was missing a good way of keeping track of how I was doing. I installed Lift on my phone and am hoping that using it I can track when I succeed (or fail) at making and breaking habits.

    Thanks again Tim for the useful info.

    Like

  41. Hi Tim. I’m currently 19 and can’t seem to figure out what truly excites me. My question to you is how do you know what really excites you to the point of making it your career?

    Like

  42. Hi Tim,
    Speaking about products, have you considered writing a workbook for FHW? I think a lot people would gain a lot from exercises etc. via workbook. Just a thought. Thanks and always a pleasure.

    Like

    • I like the sound of a workbook too – sounds like something one of us should make!

      “Brett Kelly wrote Evernote Essentials, a guide to the free Evernote software. His initial goal was that it would make $10,000 over the course of a year. One year later, it had made more than $100,000. Initial startup costs were essentially zero.” Credit to Chris Guillebeau for this story.

      Personally, I like what Tim said in the video at the end. People tend to buy something other than what actually ends up affecting them. I’m very interested in this, regarding my goal to inspire more people to start, join and support socially beneficial businesses.

      Best,
      Richard

      Like

  43. Just have to say Tim, thank you for introducing me to Sevendust. I eventually strayed from my 4HWW ideas to apply to medical school. However, Sevendust has become one of my favorite bands to listen to when I am gymming or studying for biochemistry. Love it!

    Like

  44. Hi Tim, I like the idea of tracking glucose continuously. I think it’s a great aid not only to test the effects of food on one’s body but also to be more conscious of what’s going on (denial is easier without a tracker). Do you have any recommendations on brands or rather, what to look out for with a sub-cutaneous tracker? Also are there other chemical reactions you track for, apart from glucose production? (I got my 4-hr bodyw a couple of weeks ago but haven’t gone through it yet. ) Love your blog and topics, thanks

    Like

  45. Hey Tim, was watching the CreativeLive interview with you and Neil Strauss the other day. – Very cool.

    You guys discussed the future of books, and how you could really incorporate different senses. I attended the TEDx Auckland in October with a presentation on just that: http://youtu.be/pz9kG1aUVe0

    I also blogged about the event and have all the videos embedded on the posts on my site if anyone is interested. (click my name to go to my site)

    Like

  46. Hi there Tim Subject: ( Topic Suggestion)

    Ive read your First book and am reading the Fat-loss sections of the 4HB.

    I noticed one topic thats extremely important and popular among men as well as the internet…

    And that is..Hair-loss ( That is halting it, mitigating it and regrowing it)

    You’ve hacked so many things.. Thats awesome..The 4HWW and 4HB as well as the blog..is a goldmine of wisdom

    Can you please research hairloss the “Ferris way”
    And get some good posts written on it?

    If the Ferris magic delivers in this, the world of men will forever be grateful to you ( Especially me :)

    I realise this topic might not be important for you… But Im thinking since its so important for 100s of millions of people…namely men… That it wud fit the criteria for the Ferris experiment.

    Thanks TIm

    Like