James Altucher is all over the place, and I mean that in the best way. He’s not only an investor, hedge fund manager and entrepreneur several times over (to the tune of founding 20 companies), but his writing on business, family, health and creativity shows up everywhere from the Financial Times to Thought Catalog.
He’s also written 11 (!) books, the newest of which came out just this month. I had to find out how James does it all and still manages to get nine hours of sleep each night. Here’s what he had to say.
Location: I live 112km north of New York City, right on the Hudson River. Directly across from my house, across the river, is West Point. I’m not really a nature person so this was the only way to get me to do anything at all outside of NYC.
Current mobile device: Samsung Galaxy Note II. It happens to be a computer with a phone app on it.
Current computer: Samsung Galaxy Note II. Oh, and a Macbook Air.
One word that best describes how you work: Discipline.
Current gig: I’ve started 20 businesses and failed at about 17 of them. So I guess “persistence” is my current gig. I also write and have had a book out this [month] called Choose Yourself.
The basic idea is that in order to achieve success, or even happiness, you have to choose yourself for it. Nobody else is going to do it for you. When that happens — when you build the foundation for choosing yourself — your current gig becomes magic. I make money now on investments, on advising, on writing, on being a board member for both private and public companies that employ (altogether) over a million people, on speaking, and on a variety of things I could never have imagined I would make a living at. I hope to be a stand-up comic when I grow up. I’m 45 years old.
I’ve changed careers 10 different times since I was 25. I’m heartened by the fact that Henry Ford didn’t start the assembly line until he was 60. Raymond Chandler didn’t write his first novel until he was 52. Colonel Sanders didn’t start franchising until he was 65. And on and on. Everyone wants to know what their “purpose” in life is. This is a man-made myth. We don’t have to have a purpose.
Best is to take a step back. To be healthy physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. This makes you a beacon. A beacon has no idea what ships on a foggy night it helps bring to shore. It’s just a beacon. This is how you choose yourself. Not “choose yourself for success.” But “choose yourself today.” Every day.
What apps/software/tools can’t you live without?
A web browser and a Kindle.
What’s your workspace like?
I have a tiny desk with a laptop. I’m surrounded by comics and paintings and action figures that inspire me.
Pictured above: One of James’ favourite images. He says: “It’s a photo of the 1957 World Champion of the Asian game “Go”. I love his tooth. His intense concentration. The brutality on his face. I hope I can concentrate on anything in my life as well as he can in that moment. I have this photo always hanging next to wherever I work.”
What’s your best time-saving trick?
No TV. No third meal of the day. No news. No web surfing. No gossip. With these simple things you save about five hours a day.
What’s your favourite to-do list manager?
I buy 1000 waiters pads from restaurant supplies websites for 10 cents a pad. I write at least 10 ideas a day on them. They’re great for meetings, because I have to keep concise lists and they’re always good conversation starters.
Besides your phone and computer, what gadget can’t you live without?
My electric razor. I tend to daydream when I shave myself and I cut myself a lot with a regular razor. One time I had to meet a billionaire who was thinking of putting money in a company I was raising funds for. I cut myself right before the meeting with a razorblade. The entire meeting he had to watch blood oozing out of my chin and then a waiter came over to give me a napkin to put on my chin and the waiter kept replacing the napkin. The billionaire put money in the company.
What everyday thing are you better at than anyone else?
I’m good at realising the things I’m not good at. And for each person I meet, I try to figure out what they’re better at than me so I can learn from them. For instance, I’m a poor negotiator. So I’m really impressed when I meet good negotiators that I can learn from.
Oh! I’m really good at sleeping. I used to not be good at sleeping. But now I am. 9-10 hours a day.
What’s your sleep routine like?
Around 6pm I shut down all screens. No computer, phone, TV. No more eating for the day. I read, relax, maybe take a walk by the river. By 8 or 8.30 I’m in bed reading and quickly fall asleep. Then I wake up around 5.30 and begin reading. By 7, I’m writing.
What do you listen to while you work?
I love to listen to a lot of things. But, when I’m working, I need silence. I think listening to music while working is somewhat equivalent to multitasking and I’m not very good at multitasking.
Pictured above: Another favourite image. James says: “It’s the 1963 sketches that artist Joe Harris used when he pitched the TV show “Underdog”. I bought this and always have it next to me, because there’s never been a situation in my life where I didn’t at least start off as the underdog. So I’m happy to say he’s my favourite superhero.”
Are you more of an introvert or an extrovert?
I’m an introvert that’s very good at pretending to be an extrovert. I’m really scared to meet people in person but I very much enjoy writing to lots of people and speaking in front of large audiences.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
If you don’t write your own rules, someone else will. And the results won’t be pleasant.
Is there anything else you want to add for readers?
Every day I know that if I take care of myself, everything else will ripple from that to distant shores.
If I stay physically healthy: eat well, sleep well, exercise.
If I stay emotionally healthy: being around positive people who love me and who I love.
If I stay mentally healthy: come up with 10 ideas a day. Read a lot.
If I stay spiritually healthy: always think of the things I feel grateful for and the things that bring abundance into my life. For instance, I’m really grateful to be doing this. Thank you.
We’ve asked a handful of heroes, experts and flat-out productive people to share their shortcuts, workspaces and routines. Every week we’ll feature a new guest and the gadgets, apps, tips and tricks that keep them going. Want to suggest someone we should feature or questions we should ask? Let us know.