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Are You Hunting Antelope or Field Mice?
Tim Ferriss - Productivity, Digital Lifestyles and Entrepreneurship Tim Ferriss - Productivity, Digital Lifestyles and Entrepreneurship
For Immediate Release:
Dateline: San Francisco, CA
Thursday, May 2, 2024


Am I hunting antelope or field mice?

I often ask myself this, and I lifted it from the most unlikely of sources: former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, Newt Gingrich.

Now, I don’t know Newt, and I strongly disagree with a lot of his politics and deliberate hyper-polarization, but he had periods of nearly unbelievable effectiveness. He is considered by some to be one the most influential conservative leaders in the history of the Republican Party. How did he do it? And how did he even cross my radar?

Around 2012, I wandered into a used bookstore and chanced upon Buck Up, Suck Up… and Come Back When You Foul Up: 12 Winning Secrets from the War Room, written by James Carville and Paul Begala, the political strategists behind Bill Clinton’s presidential campaign war room. At the time, I was thinking a lot about strategy, and, first and foremost, this is a book about strategy.

It’s worth noting that Newt didn’t always have the nicest things to say about Clinton, to put it mildly. Nonetheless, James and Paul felt it important to include a story about him in their book.

Here’s the excerpt that most stuck with me:

Newt Gingrich is one of the most successful political leaders of our time. Yes, we disagreed with virtually everything he did, but this is a book about strategy, not ideology. And we’ve got to give Newt his due. His strategic ability—his relentless focus on capturing the House of Representatives for the Republicans—led to one of the biggest political landslides in American history.

Now that he’s in the private sector, Newt uses a brilliant illustration to explain the need to focus on the big things and let the little stuff slide: the analogy of the field mice and the antelope.

A lion is fully capable of capturing, killing, and eating a field mouse. But it turns out that the energy required to do so exceeds the caloric content of the mouse itself. So a lion that spent its day hunting and eating field mice would slowly starve to death. A lion can’t live on field mice. A lion needs antelope. Antelope are big animals. They take more speed and strength to capture and kill, and once killed, they provide a feast for the lion and her pride. A lion can live a long and happy life on a diet of antelope. The distinction is important. Are you spending all your time and exhausting all your energy catching field mice? In the short term it might give you a nice, rewarding feeling. But in the long run you’re going to die. So ask yourself at the end of the day, “Did I spend today chasing mice or hunting antelope?”

If you look at your calendar for the last month, or your to-do list for next week, or the lack thereof, are you hunting field mice or antelope?

Another way I often approach this is to look at my to-do list and ask: “Which one of these, if done, would render all the rest either easier or completely irrelevant?”

Separately: Which undone item, if done, would liberate the most energy for you personally?

Reread The 80/20 Principle for good measure.

And if all of that yields no fruit, you might find that the to-do item you’ve been avoiding the longest, punting from week to week or month to month, is precisely the antelope you should be tracking tomorrow morning.

Happy hunting.

This short post was adapted from “Testing The ‘Impossible’: 17 Questions That Changed My Life,” a chapter in my book, Tools of Titans: The Tactics, Routines, and Habits of Billionaires, Icons, and World-Class Performers. You can read or listen to the chapter for free here.

The Tim Ferriss Show is one of the most popular podcasts in the world with more than one billion downloads. It has been selected for "Best of Apple Podcasts" three times, it is often the #1 interview podcast across all of Apple Podcasts, and it's been ranked #1 out of 400,000+ podcasts on many occasions. To listen to any of the past episodes for free, check out this page.

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Name: Tim Ferriss
Title: Author, Princeton University Guest Lecturer
Group: Random House/Crown Publishing
Dateline: San Francisco, CA United States
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