If you want to work less hours for more money and free yourself from the office, The Four-Hour Workweek by Timothy Ferriss claims to be written for people like you.
With talk of mobile work, automation, outsourcing, eliminating distractions and putting your income on auto-pilot, it’s a book created with the web worker very much in mind.
I’m not going to make you read a thousand words before I volunteer some kind of opinion on the book. I liked it a lot.
It’s certainly not perfect, but as someone who’s dream is to work less, travel more (often while working), live comfortably and be my own boss, it resonated with me.
Some of you will have already read the book, others will have thought about it, others may never have thought about it and some of you may have decided that it’s not for you.
What I want to do here is introduce some of the book’s main ideas in such a way that they might prove useful, or at least get you thinking, even if you never touch the book.
The structure makes The 4-HWW seem, at first glance, like another get-rich-quick manual. D is for Definition, E is for Elimination, A is for Automation, L is for Liberation, spelling out D-E-A-L. It’s a little jerky, but I found the content of each chapter to be a lot less-so.
D is for Definition
The purpose of this chapter is to get you thinking differently. If you’re unhappy with your current job, it explains why that might be the case and what you should do about it.
The chapter argues that you should aim to work as little as possible while earning enough to do the things you dream about.
‘Work’ = things you do just for income. The suggestion isn’t that you should be idle the rest of the time.
1. Examine everything.
Don’t do anything because it’s ‘the done thing’. Common-sense is not always right. Intense examination will often reveal commonly done things as not worth doing, the difficult to be easy, the seemingly important to be unimportant and so on.
The primary idea challenged here is retirement as a worthwhile goal — that you should spend the most physically capable years of your life waiting for distant future where you can eventually idle.
The ideas in the book are aimed to let you balance work with ‘mini-retirements’.
2. Practice dreamlining.
‘Dreamlining’ is a process whereby you attach timelines and costs to your dreams. Work out what you want to have, what you want to be and what you want to do, then work out what you’ll need to do and pay to get those things.
Once you start attaching hours and dollars to your dreams, you can start to work out how much time you need, and what your Target Monthly Income (TMI) should be — roughly equal to cost of dreams + living expenses.
3. Focus on relative over absolute income.
Someone who makes $52,000 a year and works 10 hours a week at $100 an hour is richer in terms of relative income than someone who earns $104,000 a year, earns $2,000 a week and works 60 hours at $33 an hour.
Many of the ideas Ferriss advances in this chapter were things I had already accepted personally before reading the book, so much of it felt like affirmation rather than a revelation.
I found myself most engaged with his ideas on testing assumptions and examining your actions — ideas expanded upon in the next chapter.
E is for Elimination
This chapter asks you to reject the concept of ‘time management’. Essentially: don’t do more in less time. Do less and focus on what’s really important.
Ferriss argues that being efficient and being effective are two different things. The book is very strong in this section: it contains some of the best and most radical productivity advice I’ve read. Some key ideas:
4. Be mindful of the 80/20 rule.
The argument is that 80% of outputs come from 20% of inputs, 80% of results come from 20% of work, and so on.
Approximate and untestable statistics are a pet-peeve of mine, but the meaning is still there: a minority of what you do produces most of the results. Focus on that 20% and on eliminating the 80% (then add a little more of the good stuff to bridge the gap).
5. Follow a Low-Information diet.
Information can be like calories — consume more than you need and your body can’t process the excess. Cut down to only consuming information you need and can act on.
6. Minimize interruptions and learn how to say no.
An oldie but a goodie: turn off auto-notifiers and other things that interrupt you. Check email less and process it in batches because, let’s face it, most of your email can wait. Learn to value your time and become more comfortable with saying ‘No’ to requests.
The central idea here is that if you want to lead a full life, you need time. Most of us could be a lot better at choosing where to spend our time and on what tasks.
Once again we’re asked to examine why we’re doing something — even the most minute of tasks — and to evaluate whether it’s worth doing.
In my opinion, most productivity talk focuses far too much on the hows and not enough on the crucial whys.
I’d hate to become the ultimate master at doing a particular task well and quickly, only to discover a year later than the task wasn’t really worth doing in the first place.
A is for Automation
On first read-through I found this section least relevant to me. It deals with things like outsourcing and setting up a business that allows you to earn an income on autopilot.
All exciting ideas, but this wasn’t a direction I saw myself going in. If outsourcing work and online business bores you, this chapter will bore you. Initially, I dismissed it as irrelevant.
For some reason, though, the ideas from this chapter seemed to come alive in my mind after I’d finished reading the book for the first time.
I started to think about the potential of virtual assistants (I decided to get one). I started to think about a low-maintenance online business (I decided to start one).
I re-read the book and found this chapter a whole lot more profound the second time through. The central ideas:
7. Consider outsourcing.
If you can outsource an hour’s worth of menial work for $20, then free up an hour you then use to make $100, outsourcing pays for itself many times over.
8. Explore business models that require very little maintenance.
The primary model suggested is an online business aimed at an easily-reachable niche market which you’ll service through reselling a product, licensing a product or creating a product — there’s also a cool little section devoted to information products like eBooks — and selling the product through online advertising.
If $10 of PPC advertising results in $20 in sales you can scale up the advertising and grow your profits. If you’re dealing with online orders there’s not much work involved, either. The nature of the business also makes it easy to outsource.
9. Start micro-testing.
To ensure that you don’t invest in something that isn’t going to yield a profit, Ferriss suggests using the AdWords keyword sandbox and other tools to test supply and demand for different products.
10. Creating a self-sustaining business.
By outsourcing, automating and eliminating processes, it’s possible to create a business which chugs along and turns a profit with very little work.
Once you have a business idea this chapter is dynamite. In terms of finding an idea, though, the chapter doesn’t offer much help (and it’s not much use without one).
I’d hold-off reading too much into the ‘hows’ of automation until you’ve got an idea that you think could work.
L is for Liberation
The ‘work anywhere’ section, this part of the book is all about negotiating remote working agreements or taking your solo show on the road.
11. If you love your job, you’re not asked to give it up.
There are a few solid tips here on how to convince your boss to let you telecommute.
12. If you want complete freedom, you can ‘kill your job’.
Advice and re-assurance on quitting your job, taking the leap and trying to fly — solo.
13. Embracing the mobile lifestyle.
Once you have mobility, you can start to work from almost anywhere. The first part of this section is aimed to persuade you to do it.
My question is: who needs persuading? There’s reassurance on the cost of traveling abroad, overcoming excuses not to travel and achieving more ‘lightness’ in your life — getting rid of the things you don’t need so you can take almost everything important with you.
There’s also good advice on preparing for a big trip starting three months before the day you depart, right up to two days before.
14. Adding life after subtracting work.
How to use your free time in meaningful ways and enjoy a sense of achievement without constant work.
At 308 pages the ideas I’ve mentioned above are just the tip of the iceberg. I loved the book, but let’s put that into context: I want to spend some of 2009 working from a laptop overseas, I have a VA, I’ve wholly embraced productivity by elimination, I’m working on an automated online business and I love to travel (and not all those things are the result of reading the book).
It’s no surprise that I liked The 4-HWW: the important question is whether it’s relevant to you.
Who I would recommend it to:
- People who found the above ideas resonated with them.
- Those who feel over-worked.
- Those with the security to take risks and experiment.
- Those who want a more exciting life.
- Those who are in or who want to transition to a mobile working arrangement.
- Those who’d like to learn more about productivity by elimination.
- Entrepreneurs who’d like to create a low-maintenance online business.
- Anyone who enjoys the author’s blog. That’s how I found out about the book.
Who I wouldn’t recommend it to:
- Anyone who has no interesting in changing their work/life. If you’re completely happy where you are, it probably won’t inspire you.
- Natural home-bodies who aren’t excited by the idea of mobility.
- Anyone who sees a time-minimal work-week as lazy.
- People who’re annoyed by Tim Ferriss. His personality is very present in the book.
- Anyone bored by the author’s blog. The book reads like an epic post-series. Chapter 16’s title, for example, is: ‘The Top 13 New Rich Mistakes’.
If the book sounds like it might resonate with you, borrow it from your local library. If you like to own books, it’s $11.97 on Amazon as I write this (though prices do go a little up or down quite regularly).
If you want to sample some of his writing, the author has a regularly updated blog. The posts are very similar to the kind of content you’ll find in the book.