Do the Opposite to Everyone Else: Entrepreneurial Advice from Tim Ferriss

Recruitment’s a game for entrepreneurs. From day one, you’re told running your own desk’s a lot like running your own business. It’s a tough job but the rewards are there for the taking. Your successes, and failures, are yours. And yours alone.

You get out what you put in.

And when it comes to entrepreneurism, the 21st century has given us a whole host of people to celebritise. Elon Musk. Oprah Winfrey. Gary f*cking Vee.

Tim Ferriss made being an entrepreneur cool, about a decade ago. He’s best known for writing ‘The 4 Hour Work Week’, a self-improvement bible for anyone looking to “escape the 9-5, live anywhere and join the new rich”.

Given that most recruiters can only dream about a 4 Hour Lunch Break, it’s probably more relevant to mention that Ferriss is an angel investor and advisor to companies like Facebook, Twitter and Evernote.

He’s been able to call himself a best-selling author every time he brings a new book out. His podcast, ‘The Tim Ferriss Show’, has been downloaded over 200 million times. He holds a Guinness World Record for tango dancing. Here he is sitting on a tree.

Tim Ferriss Tree

A self-proclaimed ‘human guinea-pig’, he’s not shy when it comes to sharing his tactics. The most recruiter-y of which could properly spice up your February, particularly after the unending slog that was January.

What even was that? Like a seven week month?

Batch your emails

Inspired to take arms against “the greatest single interruption in the modern world” combined with the fact that “office workers spend 28% of their time switching between tasks due to interruption, and 40% of the time, an interrupted task is not resumed within 24 hours”, Ferriss is an advocate for making email work for you. Not the other way around.

He recommends doing two things:

i) Turn off notifications and disable auto-send/receive

ii) Check e-mail twice per day, once before lunch and again later in the afternoon

But never before breakfast.

If that seems like a stretch too far, try to start an ‘on the hour, every hour, and no more’ routine. See if the increased productivity during the in-between time’s worth it.

Think of all the times you’ve been out on meetings. You’re heading back to base and your phone dies. The last thing you see on the screen before the battery goes is a text from a colleague.

“That lad you got the offer for’s called in – they’ve been countered and you need to fix it ASAP.”

There’s traffic. The northern line’s down. It takes two hours to get to your desk when it should have taken thirty minutes.

Wat happens when you finally get back? Does the deal fall apart?


Maybe it’s a doddle to sort and it’s up on the board before you knock off for the evening. The point is, even though things sometimes seem urgent, there’s a lot we do that isn’t desperately time sensitive.

And something as simple as keeping away from your inbox can mean time better spent elsewhere.

Getting elbow-deep in a particularly tricky search. Finessing a piece of marketing content. Or, just getting your admin out of the way. Without interruption or distraction.

From experience, it feels weird at first, but I guarantee that once you try it, you’ll be a convert. The same rules apply to LinkedIn and social media if you want to go totally off the radar.

And if it really can’t wait, that’s what phone calls are for.

Fear setting

Unlikely to feature in a quarterly review any time soon…

“As we approach Q2, what are you absolutely bricking it about?”

Defining your fears can be just as effective as setting targets when it comes to reaching your goals.

Tim Ferriss TED


There’s a 13 minute TED talk on the subject which goes more in to depth but the general principle is to thrash out three steps:

1. Define the fear. What’s the worst case scenario if I don’t achieve what I set out to?

2. Prevent it. What specific steps can I take to reduce the likelihood of that fear becoming a reality?

3. Repair the damage. What can I do to fix the issue if I fail? How do I get back to where I was? Who can I ask for help?

It’s contingency planning 101. And the idea is to be as specific as possible. Tim usually does this monthly and recommends listing between 10 and 20 different disaster outcomes per situation. By detailing what catastrophe looks like for your business you should be in the best place to stop it from happening.

And if the worst does happen – you miss a billing target / fail to agree terms with a new client / struggle to get a cold desk off the ground – you’ve got a bespoke action plan mapped out for how to get back on top in a jiffy.

Although if you’re prone to ‘target fixation’, a weird phenomenon where motorists are drawn towards crashing into hazards and obstacles they’re too focussed on, you might want to avoid doing this altogether.

I remember absolutely nailing a lamppost on a push bike when I was about ten. I’d been staring at it the whole length of the road. Came off looking like a right tit.

Do the opposite

In ‘Tools of Titans: The Tactics, Routines, and Habits of Billionaires, Icons, and World-Class Performers’, Ferriss spins us a wee yarn:

“In 2000, I was selling mass data storage to CEOs and CTOs in my first job out of college. When I wasn’t driving my mom’s hand-me-down minivan to and from the office in San Jose, California, I was cold calling and cold emailing. “Smiling and dialing” was brutal.”

He recognised that all of the sales guys made their calls between 9am and 5pm. He also realised that all of the gatekeepers worked from 9 to 5. And so he asked himself a simple question:

“What if I did the opposite of all the other sales guys, just for 48 hours?”

Instead of being on the phones from 9 to 5, he got into the office an hour early and left an hour late and kept busy with emails during core working hours. 9 times out of 10 when Tim called, the boss picked up. One nil, Ferriss.

So he ran with the idea of doing the opposite. Instead of pitching, he asked questions. He studied technical material to sound like an Engineer instead of a Salesman. He signed his emails with: “I totally understand if you’re too busy to reply, and thank you for reading this far…” as opposed to “I look forward to hearing from you”.

“The experiments paid off. My last quarter in that job, I outsold the entire L.A. office of our biggest competitor”.

The take away from this is, some trends are meant to be bucked. Even if it’s only for a day or two.

There are well over a hundred thousand recruiters in the UK at the moment. It’s a job where doing the opposite to the rest of the bunch will naturally make you stand out. 

What you’re able to do will depend on your company’s culture, your market and your competition. Entering the recruitment Bizarro world doesn’t have to be drastic, but changing things up every now and then could lead to some interesting results.

Tim Ferriss

I’m personally a big fan of recruiters posting candidate profiles instead of job ads.

LinkedIn gets a bit boring scrolling through bullet point lists. Market your candidates well enough and the good ones will want to be featured by you.

If you’ve got a picky client that asks for ten CVs for every role and then never hires, you can elitify your submissions by banking on one outstanding candidate. You’ve got to have them up your sleeve already but a single CV when every other recruiter is sending ten is a total power move.

Do all of your colleagues turn up to work ready to take the day by the throat? Why not turn up totally hammered? Oh you’ve tried that? OK, maybe not that one.

What about review meetings?

Does everyone at your firm go in full of optimism only to come out 45 minutes later a fleshy shell of their former selves? Save yourself the hassle and stop going altogether. You’ll see an immediate improvement in your general demeanour.

Ultimately, you’ll know what rules are there for a reason and which ones could do with a little inverting.

And if you’re already doing unconventional stuff anyway, why not go mainstream for two days and see how you get on?

Any time doing the opposite “just won’t work” because it’s not the norm is the perfect opportunity to try something fresh.

You might not stumble onto anything radical straight away, but the results could surprise you. At worst, you’ll have only lost two days and should be able to get back on course easily.

At best, you could be onto something.