The 4-Hour Workweek

The 4-Hour Workweek is as much a guidebook to “lifestyle design” as it is a motivational book.  It’s a no excuses, no holds barred re-examination of the standard 40-80 hour work week and the mindset it can create so quickly.  In 291 pages, Timothy Ferriss turns the corporate world on its head, challenging every aspect of the lifestyle we take for granted.  And he does it with a sense of fun that practically radiates from the pages.

Aside from  a catchy title, The 4-Hour Workweek is truly a roadmap to a different life.  With clear, systematic programs and logic, Ferriss strives to open his readers’ eyes to the potential for “something more”.  Why work your whole life for the carrot of retirement?  Why follow the standard 9-5 schedule because it’s “just the way things are done”?  Without being an anarchist, Ferriss challenges all our social norms, and makes us aware of the fact that there is another way to live.  He shows how to remove (in 48 hours!) the arsenal of time wasters and procrastination tools we’ve spent our adult lives accumulating.  Without being mean about it, he strips away all the reasons and justifications we’ve created to avoid living the lives of our dreams.  And he does it with the confidence that comes from experience.  He’s truly a remarkable guy.

Taken directly from the back cover of the book jacket, here is a brief overview of Timothy Ferriss:

“Timothy Ferriss, serial entrepreneur and ultra vagabond, has been featured in the New York Times, National Geographic Traveler, Maxim, and other media.  He speaks six languages, runs a multinational firm from wireless locations worldwide, and has been a world record holder in tango, a national champion in Chinese kickboxing, and an actor on a hit television series in Hong Kong.  He is thirty years old.”

The 4-Hour Workweek, back inside jacket cover

He’s an accomplished individual; one who has discovered a clear path to running a successful business, while working no more than 4 hours per week.

Ferriss breaks his book into four distinct sections; Definition, Elimination, Automation and Liberation (DEAL).  In other words – Understand what you want from life (Define), eliminate all the unnecessary clutter from your current routine (Eliminate), outsource and automate the rest (Automate), then cut the shackles and live the life that’s waiting for you (Liberate).

The Big Idea

Live YOUR life.

Ferriss is an adventurer, no question.  He’s not content to stay in one place for an extended period of time, and if he’s not learning a new language, a new martial art form or becoming world champion of something, he’s bored.  The important point to note though is that the ideals and strategies taught in his book are by no means limited to the adrenaline seekers of the world.  Ferriss’ whole mandate is to live the life that you want to live.  Now.  Not when you retire, not during your two weeks of vacation a year, but now, and all the time.  The first step is defining what that life would look like.  It’s important to do this so you know what it is you’re working towards.  In order to create your ideal lifestyle now, you will be required to challenge your fears and hesitations in changing your habits.  Having a clearly defined reason for doing so makes that considerably easier.  Ferriss has 40 pages dedicated to helping you define your goals, short term and long.

For our time stressed world though, the most fascinating and potentially life altering section of Ferriss’ book is Elimination.

Insight #1

Focus on being Productive, rather than Busy.  (Embrace the 80/20 Rule)

As a first tangible step at cutting down to a 4 hour work week, Ferriss encourages us to look at our daily lives with a critical eye.  How much of your work day is spent doing things strictly for the sake of doing rather than accomplishing?  How many times a day do you check your e-mail, and to what end?  How much time is spent in idle chats with co-workers rather than accomplishing your set tasks?  Many of you have no doubt heard of Pareto’s Principle; otherwise known as the 80/20 rule – the rule that 80% of the wealth is possessed by 20% of the world.  80% of the work is done by 20% of the people.  It goes on and on.  In most situations, the 80/20 rule holds true.  The office is no different.  80% of the tasks you spend your time on only accomplish 20% of your goal.  Conversely, 20% of your tasks account for 80% of your results.  In his book The 4-Hour Workweek, Ferriss teaches us how to identify and eliminate the 80% that wastes our time.

Here are a couple of thoughts on cutting down on some of the “office fat”:

1. Come to work with a short list.  Just before leaving the office for the day, compile a list of tasks that you are committed to completing the next day.  This list should consist of only the things that will work towards accomplishing your larger goals.  Here’s the clincher – your daily list should consist of no more than three tasks.  Impossible?  I thought so too at first blush.  But seriously examine your daily routine.  If you’re honest with yourself, you’ll be amazed to see how tasks that occupy so much of your time can be batched, outsourced, or otherwise completely eliminated.  It’s a deceptively easy exercise; try it.

2. Limit email interaction to twice a day.  (pg 93)  “Absolutely impossible.”  That was my first thought.  “I have clients, suppliers, co-workers and bosses.  What would happen if they sent an email and didn’t hear from me for half a day?”  And THAT is one of the fastest ways to create panic – the dreaded “What if?” question.  Honestly?  The world won’t end if you don’t check your messages every five minutes.  And you know what?  Everyone can be trained.  Ferriss’ suggestions are, again, deceptively easy.  First, turn off your email automatic send/receive and any audible alerts that would indicate you have a message.  Then, create an auto-responder to communicate your new plan to your contact base.  Effectively, it should let people know why you’re restricting your email communications (to improve efficiency and effectiveness) and when they can expect to hear from you (put in two times – Ferriss suggests 12pm and 4pm).  Here’s the point – e-mail is the single largest interruption of the modern world.  It can’t be eliminated completely, but by batching your emails you’ll be amazed how much time you can free up.

Insight #2

Utilize Parkinson’s Law.

Parkinson’s Law is the adage that “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” A more succinct phrasing also commonly used is “work expands to fill the time available.” (Wikipedia,

Here’s an interesting phenomenon – the complexity and importance of a particular task will grow to fill the time frame you allow for it.  Think back to being a student – when did you usually complete a particular assignment or project?  If you were given 2 months to complete a project, when were you most often actually working on that project?  If you’re like me, and most of the world, it was usually a cram session immediately before the project was due.  The night before, maybe a couple days before.  How large and complex did the project become in your mind?  The truth of the matter is that the longer you allow a project to sit in your mind before completion, the more daunting it can become.  Focus on assigning short, yet manageable timeframes for particular projects.  If you utilize the couple suggestions in insight 1, in regards to eliminating all but the 20% of your day that truly makes a difference, and then challenge yourself to accomplish those tasks in compressed timeframes, you’ll impress yourself (and your boss/co-workers) with how effective you become.  Remember – effectiveness and efficiency are not the same thing.  As Ferriss states,

“1.  Doing something unimportant well does not make it important.

2. Requiring a lot of time does not make a task important.”

The 4-Hour Workweek, page 68

Identify the tasks that will make the largest difference, and do them in a compressed timeframe. Focus on doing less, and accomplishing more.  You’ll be amazed at the results.

What makes Ferriss’s book great is that he speaks from experience.  He strips away all excuses, all procrastination tools, and zeros in on how to truly make your life unique.  I love his passion and no-nonsense attitude.  It’s a book beautifully laid out in a clear concise manner, then jam-packed with direction, guidance and a plethora of real resources that can lead you to the life of your dreams.  Here’s a prime example of his attitude – at the end of each chapter, Ferriss supplies a list of “Q & As”; Questions and Actions.  The 4-Hour Workweek is not a book for discussion.  It’s a book for action.  I wholeheartedly believe this is THE book that will unlock the secret for a great many people and let them get out of their own way.  I encourage you to be one of them.

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Chris Taylor

ABOUT Chris Taylor

Founder of Actionable Books, Chris Taylor is a writer, entrepreneur and speaker. He spends his daylight hours helping consultants and employees alike find meaning in their work and discover rich team relationships through his company, Actionablebooks...
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