The 4-Hour Workweek

“infobox Book “
name The 4-Hour Workweek
image caption Harmony Books cover
author Timothy Ferriss
country America
language English language
genre(s) Self-Help
publisher Harmony Books
release date 2007
media type Paperback
pages 308

After college, Ferriss took a soul-sucking sales job at a tech firm. He left to start a soul-sucking business of his own. He went from working 40 hours a week for somebody else to working 80 hours a week for himself. He hated it. The pay was good, but the business left him drained.

After learning about the Pareto Principle (more commonly known as the 80-20 Principle), Ferriss had a revelation: he streamlined his business, eliminating distractions and automating systems until it was not only more profitable, but also took less of his time. Much less. He took a “mini-retirement”, and then decided to write a book about “lifestyle design”, about creating a life that balances work and play, maximizing the positives of both.

The 4-Hour Workweek describes the specific actions Ferriss took to implement these steps. This book actually is the complete embodiment of the 80/20 principle into an individual’s professional life. The 80/20 principle is the idea that 80% of your productivity comes from 20% of your time, and the other 20% of your productivity eats up 80% of your time.

Ferriss argues that by eliminating that 20% of productivity that eats up most of your time, you can live in a much more efficient fashion, and the entire book revolves around that concept in various ways, hence the title The 4-Hour Workweek. In some ways, the book itself reads like a blog, as it’s broken down into lots of little pieces: some of them step-by-step advice, some of them anecdotal, and some of them philosophical.

The 4-Hour Workweek is divided into four sections, each of which explores one of the components to lifestyle design:

  • Define your objectives. Decide what’s important. Set goals. Ask yourself, “What do I really want?”
  • Eliminate distractions to free up time. Learn to be effective, not efficient. Focus on the 20% of stuff that’s important and ignore the 80% that isn’t. Put yourself on a low-information diet. Learn to shunt aside interruptions, and learn to say “no”.
  • Automate your cash flow to increase income. Outsource your life — hire a virtual assistant to handle menial tasks. Develop a business that can run on auto-pilot.
  • Liberate yourself from traditional expectations. Design your job to increase mobility. This could mean working from home, or it could mean using geographic arbitrage to take mini-retirements in countries with favorable exchange rates.

Right off the bat, the book makes it clear that you should pick and choose from the material presented within, and that’s a vital caveat for any personal productivity book – but especially this one.

Step I: D is for Definition

Most of this section is devoted to divorcing yourself from the idea of working yourself to death for a gold watch and a pat on the back. Instead, you should abandon a few concepts such as retirement as a holy grail and that absolute income is the most important thing (relative income – i.e., the amount you earn per hour of work – is the most important thing in this book). These are assumptions that actually have a lot in common with books like Your Money or Your Life and the voluntary simplicity movement.

Here’s one key exercise from this section that really shows what he’s talking about. Spend about five minutes and define your dream. If it wasn’t for the things you had to do, what would you be doing with your life right now?

Now, spend another five minutes and define your nightmare in as much detail as possible. What is the absolute worst thing that could happen if you followed that dream?

If you take the dream and compare it to the nightmare, is that possible nightmare really bad enough to abandon your dream?

From there, the book goes into a very detailed process of breaking down that dream into tangibles and seeing how close you really are to that dream – and sets up the remainder of the book, which identifies things you can do to reach that dream.

Step II: E is for Elimination

In terms of techniques that you can really use to improve your day to day life, this section has the best advice. It focuses on some very straightforward techniques for eliminating most of the regular mundane activities that fill our professional lives. Here are seven examples:

  1. Make your to-do list for tomorrow before you finish today. When you add an item to this list, ask yourself if you would view a day as productive if that’s the only thing on the list that you got done. Then, when you start in the morning, just attack that list with vigor knowing that all of the stuff is worthwhile.

    2. Stop all multitasking immediately. This means when you’re trying to write, close your email program and your instant messenger program and your web browser and just focus on writing, nothing else. This allows you to churn out the task way faster.

    3. Force yourself to end your day at 4 PM or end your week on Thursday. Even if you have to come in on Friday, do nothing (or, even better, focus on something to develop yourself). The goal here is to learn to compress your productive time.

    4. Go on a one week media fast. Basically, avoid television (other than one hour a day for enjoyment/relaxation) and nonfiction reading of any kind (including news, newspapers, magazines, the web, etc.). By the end of it, you’ll discover that the media and information overload was giving you a mild attention deficit.

    5. Check email only twice a day. Combining this with the “no multitasking” principle enables email to only eat up a sliver of my time when it used to seemingly bog down everything.

    6. Never, ever have a meeting without a clear agenda. If someone suggests a meeting, request the specific agenda of the meeting. If there isn’t one, ask why you’re meeting at all. Often, meetings will become more productive or, if they were really time wasters to begin with, they’ll vanish into thin air.

    7. Don’t be afraid to hang up a “do not disturb” sign. This was something that seemed very natural to me, but for many people it’s not. If you’re being interrupted regularly by people popping in, you’re effectively multitasking and multitasking is a time waster, so if you have a task that requires your focus, literally hang up a “do not disturb” sign. People will get the message.

Step III: A is for Automation

This section is a lengthy description of how to become a little or no-value-added entrepreneur – in other words, a middleman. The idea is that if you set up being a middleman appropriately, you can create a stream of passive income that permits you to make money with very little effort.

While this is interesting to some people, the truth is that it’s not quite as easy as the author makes it out to be. It relies heavily on salesmanship (the ability to convince people you have a product that they want) and luck (stumbling into a market). If you have both (and the examples he uses have both), you can do quite well, but such things are never a guarantee.

Step IV: L is for Liberation

The final section ties the pieces of the puzzle together into an overall picture. In essence, it takes the dreams defined in the first part, the enhanced productivity of the second part, and the passive income of the third part and creates that titular four hour workweek.

The first step is to change your job so that you can work remotely. You can do this by getting efficient (as described in the second step), then demonstrating your efficiency during sick or vacation leave, then requesting some time away from the office as part of your routine, then gradually shifting to an all-remote life. This way, you can tackle the work from anywhere on your own terms. Of course, this may also lead you to quit your job if you are able to build up new opportunities (like those from the third section).

What do you do with the free time? That’s the entire point of this book, that time is the really valuable asset we have in our lives, not money. Time allows you to follow your dreams, and this entire book’s purpose (at least steps two and three) has been about moving more and more time into your own personal life so you can do these things.

Other key concepts

  • Ask yourself, “If this is the only thing I accomplish today, will I be satisfied with my day?”
  • How to double your reading speed in ten minutes.
  • Why it’s more productive to carry around a written to-do list than to keep one on your computer.
  • Learn the art of non-finishing. This is all about the sunk cost fallacy: just because you paid $10 to see Pirates of the Caribbean 3 doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to watch the entire thing.
  • How to be more efficient with e-mail.
  • How to reduce clutter from your life.
  • If you can’t define it or act upon it, forget it.
  • Life exists to be enjoyed — the most important thing is to feel good about yourself.
  • Why geographic arbitrage is a great way to enhance your relative income.
  • The value of a virtual assistant.


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