The Tim Ferriss Superpower


in Make Money, Productivity, Stories

Last year, I had the honor of helping my friend Tim Ferriss run the marketing strategy for his New York Times bestselling book The 4-Hour Chef.

Helping to craft such a powerful campaign was a master class on its own, but the real lessons appeared while running through the streets of New York at breakneck speed with Tim.


Because while I was fumbling with my phone between apps, trying to organize two dozen emails and generally feeling overwhelmed, Tim was calm.

One of the core tenets presented in The 4-Hour Work Week is that of leveraged time: Using tools, systems and automation to delegate the things you don’t want to handle amd streamline your focus.

But what happens when you’re working on a major project that requires your personal input — or the task at hand requires a careful finesse that an outsourced assistant (or machine) just can’t deliver?

Well, short of cloning yourself, there’s no way to multiply your time.

Yet somehow, in the middle of the biggest book launch of his career, Tim was able to use a forgotten (some may even call it archaic) tool to chop his giant to-do list into pieces — in just 30 minutes a day.

What was this super power?

A new productivity method, perhaps?

A cutting edge nootropic, maybe?

I’ll give you a hint…

This guy knows Tim’s superpower and he’s really excited about it.

Give up yet? Good.

The Tim Ferriss super power is: ACTUALLY CALLING PEOPLE.

As in, on the phone.

Ok, I think half of everyone reading this post just left.

Before you dismiss something so simple, take a closer look. The reason why this method is so effective is more about the psychology behind calling somebody than it is about the actual phone call itself.

Think about how the we communicate on a day-to-day basis. We feel more connected than ever with social media journaling our every waking moment and thousands of texts sent back and forth. But the reality is that we’re more guarded than ever.

Be honest: How many times have you used an alternate form of communication to get in touch with someone or played “text tag” for days because you wanted to avoid an uncomfortable real-time conversation?

(There are even apps that allow you to go directly to someone’s voicemail in order to avoid a conversation that you don’t want to have.)

Perhaps you’ve tried to resolve a problem via email that could’ve been taken care of with a 5-minute phone call, but instead, ends up taking days of broken replies to resolve.

I do these things all the time. And the worst (or best?) part is after using all these inefficient ways of communication, you can still claim, “I’ve been trying to get in touch…the other person must be busy.” Now, not only can you avoid an uncomfortable conversation…but since you “tried,” you can satisfy your psychological guilt about not getting in touch. It’s their fault, not yours.

Very satisfying, but totally counterproductive.

Two side benefits of using The Tim Ferriss Superpower

Side benefit #1: You can fit it in during your “Dead Time”

Let’s jump back to my time working on the 4-Hour Chef campaign.

Tim and I would be in a cab. He’d look at me and say, “I’m going under.”

Then, he’d open up the notes application on his phone and attack it with the ferocity that a man can only muster with 300mg of caffeine and a definitive purpose.

In 30 minutes, he would knock out 10-15 two-minute phone calls that would have taken 5 back and forth emails EACH to resolve (that’s 50-75 total emails saved). Now, when we got back to the office, he would have 75 fewer emails to read, and could easily shift his focus to his highest leverage tasks.

Side benefit #2: You look like a boss

When you step up and actually start calling people in person rather than hiding behind 10 emails or shooting endless text messages, people recognize you as someone who likes to handle things promptly and up front — so the more you call people, the more you “train” them to be direct and responsive to you.

From a psychological standpoint, it’s also much harder for someone to ignore or delay when they see an incoming call from you than it is to delay responding to a text message or email.

Significant lag time between texts and emails is par course with busy people — it’s not seen as ignoring someone. But repeatedly avoiding a phone call from someone feels much different. You’re more likely to get someone’s attention quickly with a phone call.

Why don’t we just pick up the phone to handle business anymore?

I’m curious: Have you experienced betters response to a direct phone calls than text messages or emails?

What were you trying to accomplish — and what ended up happening?

Let me know in the comments.


Bruce May 30, 2014 at 10:16 am

Maneesh, this is a welcome and relevant reminder. Email is great (Tim recommends it in H4WW among other authors) but it’s amazing what can be achieved in a 5 minute phone call.

Here’s my question for you: what is your strategy for getting on the phone with interesting people like Tim Ferriss? Can you share your methodology on how you applied this superpower?

P.S. your comment “I always find myself giving them more attention than emails, if only because they are so rare.” is right on the money.


Maneesh Sethi May 30, 2014 at 10:40 am
Gabriel April 16, 2014 at 6:41 pm

There is definitely a correlation between time saved emailing and calls made. Sometimes messaging and emailing can become tedious and annoying, that’s when most people should pick up the phone, oddly not many do. Like you said, that kind of communication allows people to get rid of the guilt and say they tried without any worry of having a conversation go wrong. The on-the-fly skills that phone conversations require are very useful in business.


Christianne February 20, 2014 at 7:16 am

Great post. Phoning customers is spot on. Especially in sticky situations, better to convey your sincerity over the phone that emailing the love.


Paul February 17, 2014 at 5:20 am

You’re spot on. 10 years ago I loved making work calls. While running a small business we had a major supply problem thanks to a shipping strike. Every customer call I made, or took, for a month sucked! It was so scarring that my heart would race if I just heard the phone ring. Getting rid of that bad habit was a long process. One call at a time.


Toku February 12, 2014 at 8:29 pm

I totally prefer calling people, but I’ve found that many people won’t return a phone call, but will return a text or an email so even though I prefer it I’ve stopped doing it as much.


Sam February 4, 2014 at 4:31 pm


Great post…..I have been thinking and realising this alot recently.

It is so easy to hide behind emails and just ignore what comes in.

I am a DJ and Music Producer and I get such a better response when I call people I am trying to get in contact with. I think hearing someones voice is a big part of trusting someone too.

Great post :).



Jessica Waters February 4, 2014 at 1:24 pm

What I am getting from this post and the subsequent comments is that there seems to be an art and science to which mode of communication to use and when/to whom/to which type of situation. My takeaway was to put calling people back into the mix. For me , as a professional organizer, I recognize thst my time is valuable and want to be laser efficient in my communiques. If I need to impart or get a quick byte of info, I’ll use trxt, if I want a paper trail , it’s email, and if there is a multi-part snafu, phone’s the thing.


David February 4, 2014 at 12:41 pm

After months of posting my resume and filling out application online, I found my dream job, with a single phone call after getting a lead from…an email. Pick up the phone and talk to people once in a while, you will be amazed.


Mark Lancaster February 4, 2014 at 8:12 am

I would hazard a guess that calls that can be made in under 2 mins are to contacts that Tim has built up a rapport with. He can skip courtesy and get results without seeming rude because he has spent time building a mutually beneficial relationship with his 20/80 contacts. I imagine his business conversations are rather like arranging a night out with friends succinct and specific. Correct me if I’m wrong though 🙂


Alex. February 4, 2014 at 1:51 am

I definitely see the potential value in this approach. It almost parallels the way a hand written letter stands out. Gonna try this one on for size.


Jennifer February 4, 2014 at 1:18 am

I find it obnoxious and arrogant someone calls me – what makes them think they have a right to interrupt my workflow with their issue? Tim himself advises in the 4- Hour Workweek not to use the phone – to answer all calls with the question “Is this urgent?”


Maneesh Sethi February 4, 2014 at 1:25 am

Different strokes! I am sometimes annoyed by calls as well — but no matter what, I always find myself giving them more attention than emails, if only because they are so rare.


Janne February 4, 2014 at 1:08 am

I’d have to disagree. In the last couple of years I’ve mostly stopped answering calls, and it seems to be working. Before it was maybe 60 superfluous calls a day that all ended up in “great, let’s both email each other with what we agreed during this call+ specifics we couldn’t get to in phone call.” That was up to 3 hours of time wasted! A lot of young people consider calling someone without a very good reason (emergency) rude, and they’re right: calling means you expect the receiver to reserve this particular 2–5 minutes for you and that the matter cannot effectively be solved via email.


Chris February 3, 2014 at 8:34 pm

Awesome post


gasparo February 3, 2014 at 8:13 pm

i work with highly successful older people who consider the whole email, sms, constant looking at your f/b blah blah phone mildly ridiculous- in fact the greatest lesson i’ve learnt is to see the world from this angle. one thing for sure, nobody important is gonna play email/sms tag with you for very long.


Sean February 3, 2014 at 5:34 pm

I read this post earlier today and this afternoon I found myself responding to an email from a customer about a convoluted situation. Your post gave me the presence of mind to delete my response and just call the customer. The whole issue took 3 minutes to resolve over the phone. It would have taken me 20 minutes to respond to all the issues via email. Thanks for putting 17 minutes back in my day!!!


Kalin February 3, 2014 at 5:14 pm

Great post! A phone call creates a much more visceral and emotional connection between people than other types of long-distance communication. It is also much more difficult to say no to somebody who is on the other side of the line than to somebody who just receives an email. And it saves time. Lots of time, if you know how to talk and think with focus.


Chetan B Singh February 3, 2014 at 2:31 pm

Great post Maneesh! I have noticed that people who I admire are all very comfortable getting on the phone & calling people especially people they have never met before & when they are pitching/selling. I think it’s definitely a skill we are losing with the times & one that needs to be talked about more. Emailing has become a very “sexy” word in recent years and I think it’s about time we go back to our roots & talk about the skill of calling people on the phone.


SB February 3, 2014 at 1:37 pm

Definitely agree- I find myself resorting so often to text messages and emails in lieu of actually picking up the damn phone! I always thought it was because I was English though 😀


Denny Chapin February 3, 2014 at 12:55 pm

Maneesh, this is the only way successful people in Business Development roles work. Highly encouraged for anything. Also ESPECIALLY encouraged for hiring –> are they willing and ABLE to comfortably chat on the phone about the weather, their family, and their job for 10 minutes? It says a lot. Great post


Josh February 3, 2014 at 12:44 pm

It definitely helps with getting ON the phone and calling people. Like hand-written letters, it seems like the “magic sauce” that makes the biggest difference now in an ever-connected world.

The only problem I have had is in trying to reach certain people at certain times. Like Tim talks about in the 4HWW, it’s better to go on a blitz like you mentioned in this article at a specific time (ex: 8-8:30 am), rather than just shotgunning calls throughout the day.


Shannon February 3, 2014 at 12:42 pm

The problem comes when the person on the other end is being careful with her own time and not answering phones at the moment. I would think many/most of the calls would end in a voice message and the conversation to be continued.


Gray February 3, 2014 at 12:42 pm

Huh. Never expected that to be the superpower. I do find myself using texts and emails (and Twitter DMs and FB messages) way more than I necessarily. I think the worry is that I’ll be drawn into conversations that are outside of the scope of what I’m actually needing to find out/schedule/work on. I guess I’d like to see the subset of skills with this superpower: keeping phone convos on track, how to say goodbye without sounding rude, and maybe even best practices for juggling a phone, note-taking apps, and your elbows in a cab barreling down 42nd…


Eric February 3, 2014 at 1:51 pm

Read Tim’s book “The 4-hour work week”. This is one of the key issues he tackles. There are lots of good concepts in there, both for the self-employed and office workers.


Jacqueline February 3, 2014 at 12:37 pm

One of my current frustrations has been the lack of phone number for a previous client of mine, so I’m all about calling right now! We emailed or I went to their office (35 minute drive, one way.) I need a quick answer about an important topic and no one will email me back and it doesn’t seem worth a 70 minute drive for a 2 minute conversation!


Marv February 3, 2014 at 12:13 pm

When I call folks or meet up with folks I find that I get a bit antsy and things don’t go as planned. I don’t know why, just get a little nervous. Hiding behind a phone works. Gotta change that soon!


Chris February 3, 2014 at 12:01 pm

I try and call people as much as possible. I think often the hardest part about it is training those people to actually answer their phones or call you back. Its always frustrating to call someone, leave a voicemail and get a response back via email or text. Completely agree with you though!


Jonathan February 3, 2014 at 11:32 am

We don’t pick up the phone anymore because knowledge workers (which I suspect many of your readers are) require approximately 15 minutes to get into flow and one interruption to get out of it. If you call someone and interrupt them then you have interfered with their day and their productivity, even if they wanted to hear from you. This is one reason that phones have “do not disturb” settings now.


Lou February 3, 2014 at 11:03 am

I have a hearing disability and some cell phone calls end up being a lot of “could you please repeat that”, or “Say again”. Agreed, text messages involve a lot of back and forth but aren’t nearly as frustrating for some of us.


Edwin February 3, 2014 at 11:03 am

Direct phone calls are always work better for me when trying to resolve tough issues. People use text/email to avoid confrontation and rejection. The illusion is that text/email is quicker, but like you said, they often end up taking more time


Varia February 3, 2014 at 11:02 am

I agree 100%. BUT I want to call out that calling people is really difficult – I thought I was one of a few people with a phone phobia but I’ve been finding out it seems to be a problem common to our generation… thanks Internet 😉


Kimanzi February 3, 2014 at 10:59 am

Several times I had coaching clients had a question through email, I knew it would take 5 to 8 emails back and forth to answer the questions, so I called. Problem solved in minutes, you’re spot on with this post.


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