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

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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.

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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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

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  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.

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  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.

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  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.

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  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?

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  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