The 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss, is a book with a pretentious -if not slightly unbelievable- title.
When I first became aware of the book about a year ago, I thought: oh yeah, another self-help book with the promise of becoming a self-made millionaire in the same time it takes for you to go through the Drive-Thru at MacDonald’s. Pass. I didn’t bother ordering it from Amazon.
Recently, I saw that my local Dymocks (an Australian chain of bookstores) was stocking it. I picked it up, leafed through, and promptly bought it for my daughter. She decided it was too much hard work before her trip to South Africa and then to uni, so she left it for me. Last week, I finished reading it and I’ve decided to write a more detailed review than I normally would. So here is what I found both useful and useless from the The 4-Hour Workweek.
The book tells the story, philosophy and techniques of Timothy Ferriss, serial job-quitter and self-declared hedonist. It tells you how he built a US $40K per month business and then outsourced himself out of the business and into a life of travel and self-development whilst still reaping the profits. In the book, he sets out his method for achieving this.
The ‘how-to’ parts of the book are full of Ferriss’s personal anecdotes (and those of others who’ve outsourced their lives). This apparently pisses off some readers (particularly the one relating how he became a Chinese kickboxing champion … in a totally unethical fashion). If you were to read the anecdotes alone, you could think that Timothy Ferriss is a bit of a wanker.
I enjoyed the anecdotes, so I didn’t have a problem with this. Although at times, his choice of hedonisms –in particular, tango dancing- made me want to puke!
The key principle used in Ferriss’s methods is the Pareto or 80/20 rule: 80% of your productivity comes from 20% of your time. It has inspired me to go and re-read Getting Things Done by David Allen and listen to The 80/20 Principle.
The Book’s Structure
A warning: Ferriss recommends that you take from his book what feels right for you and ignore what doesn’t. As I read the book, and in the discussion below, you’ll see that I’ve done just that.
Ferriss structures his book and his lifestyle formula on the acronym: DEAL
Below, I’ll summarize his main points for each of these points, with a few of my own observations.
Ask yourself the question: What do you want from life?
What would you like to do? Where would you like to travel? What skills have you always dreamed of learning?
What do you want in three months, six months, and a year. Don’t think beyond a year –Ferriss is not into making long term plans.
You ask these questions to uncover what’s most important to you, and to calculate the costs of financing these exercises/dreams. Ferriss’s point here is to demonstrate that achieving these things is often less expensive than you think and that being tied to a job and to one location isn’t what many people really should be doing as their days count down to zero.
Ferriss’s helps you to calculate the real cost of living the life of your dreams and often; as I pointed out above, it’s not as expensive as you think. You can download the spreadsheets for doing this task from Ferriss’s website, just click on the title of the book at the top of this post (the words, not the picture of the book) and go to the area on his website called ‘Resources’.
My observations: As I don’t live a 9-5 life in a big city, I don’t have a problem with this idea. To me, such a life would be … well … a kind of living death. In fact, living in a city is one definition of torture to me. (Another is being locked in a room full of Jane Austen, Robert Jordan and Mills & Boon novels). Some people might have a major issue with the idea that the fixed work hours model is the only income model for most people – I don’t. However, the no-fixed address, be super-mobile idea is not so practical for couples and families. Ferriss is a single guy with no kids. The hedonism and ideas espoused in the book often presuppose this.
This was the most useful part of the book for me. It’s about effective and efficient time management. If you combined Ferriss’s ideas with those of David Allen and Karen Kingston, you’d be amazed at the difference they’d make to your life.
Here’s a summary of the ideas I found most useful:
Batch similar tasks together and do them consecutively
Make your to-do list for tomorrow before you finish today
Learn to speed read
Force yourself to end your day at 4 PM or end your week on Thursday
Go on a one week media fast
Check email only twice a day
My observations: This section of The 4-Hour Workweek alone is worth the purchase price of the book. I will re-read these chapters annually, just as I re-read Karen Kingston’s Clear Your Clutter with Feng Shui at the beginning of every year.
I found this section of the book by and large, useless and irritating. It’s quite a long section, so peruse it carefully if you’re in the bookstore. In essence, this is all about how to research, test, and set up an online business selling something, and then automate it and retire.
My observations: Selling brain-enhancing pills, DVDs and CDs online doesn’t do it for me. I’m good at other things – writing, studying, teaching, for example. And languages. For some bizarre reason, I have a gift for learning languages. I have no desire, passion or motivation to figure out how to turn my skills into products and sell them online. Also, this section of the book is heavily biased towards North American residents. Selling products to America when you live in Brazil might not be quite as efficient as Ferriss makes out.
This section attempts to inspire you to work yourself out of your current job. This is done by combining your time management, passive income (from selling pills online) and finding a job that allows you to work remotely. Eventually, you create enough time to have mini-retirements and pursue your dreams. N.B. For those of us who live in the NT the term ‘working remotely’ means something very, very different to Ferriss’s connotations!
My observations: Yeah ok, convince your boss to let you work remotely. Not a new idea. But there are plenty of people who simply won’t be able to do this (think retail and hospitality staff … oh yeah and those people in the NT who actually do work remotely). And what if you’re the supervisor/boss? What about the social benefits from being at work or the issue that you’re not going to be thought of as part of the team if you’re only at the office one day a week?
Whilst Ferriss’s suggestions here are great for your mental health, they’re not likely to be widely applicable – especially in 9-5 suburbia.
Take what suits you from The 4-Hour Workweek and leave the rest. It really is a highly personal thing. I abhor the idea of a business selling nutritional pills or e-books online, but someone else might say hell yeah! I can do this.
The time management section of the book is awesome, and I devoured it. The ‘Liberation’ section of the book was less useful to me – although it was still an interesting read. The ‘Automation’ section was completely useless to me. The ‘Defining’ section was fun and useful to me – but ultimately, not realistic. Nonetheless, I would recommend the book for the time management section alone. (A hint – check Scribd if you’re not keen on shelling out $$ or read the many other online reviews of this book to glean a detailed synopsis of its contents. Also, check out Ferriss’s website which lists the table of contents and chapters available to download).