The 4-Hour Workweek: Book Review

A review of “The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape the 9-5, Live Anywhere And Join the New Rich by Tim Ferriss.

This book pops up frequently in productivity, time management and lifestyle design circles.

I had seen it and heard it mentioned many times over the last ten years or so, but never felt the compulsion to purchase it, simply because of the preconceived ideas I had.

I try my best not to be all Judge McJudgey and judge a book by its cover, but the title was a huge turn-off for me.

It’s that mix of sensationalist and cringeworthy that immediately put it in the same category as all the other get-rich-quick books that do a great job in getting the authors wealthy without providing any valuable and actionable information to help the reader get to that point too.

One of those books that offer hope, but rarely delivers anything tangible.

However, I picked it up a few months’ ago on a whim and then read it through again this week, so I thought I would share my opinions with you here.

What is the 4-Hour Workweek about?

In a nutshell, The 4-Hour Workweek challenges the cultural norms of working life and the assumptions most of us have about it.

It presents the possibilities beyond the nine to five grind and working towards an end goal of funding retirement and opens your mind to the benefits of shifting your focus from the value of money to the value of time.

The core topic of this book is about how to design a lifestyle that enables you to escape the drudgery of office cubicles and living for the weekend.

The message is that life is for living, retirement planning is flawed and that money won’t fix all of your problems. And then he lays out an escape plan, which is an interesting read, but a little off-topic in relation to this blog.

However, I found that there is some really good content that can be applied to improving both your time management and productivity.

Therefore, in this review, I have focused on the useful takeaways relating to managing time more effectively, rather than on the main topic of the book.

Tim Ferriss on Time Management

Ferriss’ method for escaping the rat race follows four steps with the acronym DEAL, which stands for Definition, Elimination, Automation and Liberation.

In the chapter relating to the second step, Elimination, there is a section entitled “The End Of Time Management” that, for obvious reasons, immediately piqued my interest.

This first line is as follows: “Just a few words on time management: Forget all about it.”

Hmm, so Ferriss says we should forget about time management.

And yet, he then goes on to explain over the next thirty pages or so how you free up your time . . . which in my eyes at least, is time management!

I guess it comes down to semantics and how people interpret the term ‘time management’, which I have mentioned in some other posts.

Anyway, there’s some good stuff there.

This is Tim Ferriss on . . .

Being Effective versus Being Efficient

Efficiency is about performing a given task in the most economical manner possible, whereas efficacy is about doing the things that get you closer to your goals.

There is a big distinction between the two and if you want to manage your time well, you need to make sure you are focusing your efforts on the former.

Two great considerations to keep in mind are:

Doing something unimportant well does not make it important.
Requiring a lot of time does not make a task important.

Ultimately what you do is infinitely more important than how you doing.

In order to stay on track with being effective, Ferriss recommends putting a Post-it on your computer screen or setting an Outlook reminder to alert you at least three times a day every day with the question:

Am I being productive or just active?

So simple, yet so effective!

Tim Ferriss on . . .

Using the Pareto Principle

The Pareto Principle, aka the 80/20 Rule or the Law of the Vital Few, comes up again and again in all kinds of business, sales and management contexts. I’m sure you’re familiar with it, but if you’re not, it can be summarised as 80% of the outputs result from 20% of the inputs.

Ferriss encourages you to apply this principle to your business and your life in order to free up time for other things. The chances are, you’re spending big amounts of time on the wrong things, so take the opportunity to analyze how you are spending your time and eliminate the stuff that brings value.

Check out this post: How to Audit Your Time >>>

Tim Ferriss on . . .

Using Parkinson’s Law

I think that this book is the first time I encountered this ‘law’. I have covered it in this post, but the gist of it is that work expands in relation to the time allotted for its completion.

As you will see in my post, the original notion has been warped a little, but the concept as it is accepted today is valid.

To deal with Parkinson’s Law, Ferriss suggests that we identify the few critical tasks that contribute most to income (or goals) and schedule them with very short and clear deadlines.

Check out this post: What Is Parkinson’s Law? >>>

Tim Ferriss on . . .

A Low Information Diet

Ferriss proposes the idea of developing selective ignorance by developing and maintaining what he calls a “low information diet”:

“Just as modern man consumes both too many calories and calories of no nutritional value, information workers eat data both in excess and from the wrong sources.

Lifestyle design is based on massive action—output. Increased output necessitates decreased input. Most information is time- consuming, negative, irrelevant to your goals, and outside of your influence. I challenge you to look at whatever you read or watched today and tell me that it wasn’t at least two of the four.”

Tim Ferriss, The 4-Hour Workweek

And I couldn’t agree more.

The fact is, we are inundated with information and distractions and in order to focus on our own agendas within the time we have each day, some of the inputs have to be eliminated.

Don’t waste time on the news, bad books and movies.

Tim Ferriss on . . .

Speed reading

Despite the call for a low information diet, there are, of course, times when it is necessary and useful to read. Learning how to speed read is a huge time saver and Ferriss outlines a quick and relatively easy way to do this, as well as pointing us in the right direction to learn more formally.

Now, some people claim that speed reading courses are a scam.

And maybe some of them are, but I can tell you that I bought one several years ago and while I didn’t complete it or practise the method enough for it to become a habit, I did learn enough to increase my reading speed quite considerably and today I still find that I am able to read much faster than most people around me and still retain information.

Or maybe it is more to do with the ability to focus?

Anyway, I think this is a worthwhile skill to learn, but I plan to do some more investigation and will publish my findings here at a future date, so watch this space!

In the meantime, here’s yer man (in a strange beanie that makes him look like a bald man wearing a headband) talking about the basics of speed reading.

Tim Ferriss on . . .

Dealing with interruptions

Ferriss covers some useful methods to eliminate interruptions to your work flow. When it comes to interruptions, he identifies three main offenders: time wasters, time consumers and empowerment failures.

1. Time Wasters

These are things that can be ignored without any real consequences. Common examples include meetings, discussions, phone calls, and e-mail that are unimportant.

Ferriss suggests turning off notifications and alerts, checking emails just once per day, for example. I have covered this in my post about the Inbox Zero method of email management. It has been a real game-changer for me.

Check out this post: Does Inbox Zero Work? >>>

2. Time Consumers

These are the repetitive tasks/requests that need to be completed but often interrupt more important high-value work.

Examples include dealing with emails, making and returning phone calls, customer service, personal errands and all and any necessary repeated actions and tasks.

A good solution is to create systems to limit your availability by phone and email. So, for example, use “out of office” voice and email messages that state how often you deal with emails and when to expect an answer. You might be surprised at how well this actually works.

3. Empowerment failures

This is where someone needs approval to make something small happen, e.g. fixing customer problems, cash expenditures, etc. If you are the one that gives the approval, it can waste a lot of time.

The basic solution is to stop micro-managing and delegate responsibility to someone else.

This will save you a lot of time and will enable to focus your attention elsewhere, instead of dealing with daily administration and fire-fighting tasks.

4. The art of refusal

This is about saying ‘no’ to create more time and enable you to focus on your tasks. I cover this topic in detail in another post.

Check out this post: How To Say ‘No>>>

5. Time batching

Time batching is a great time management/productivity tool.

Batching tasks similar in nature helps you to focus and stops you from jumping around from one task to the next and multi-tasking, which as we all know, is not an efficient way to carry out your activities.

6. Outsourcing & Automation

This is related more to entrepreneurial business ventures, but potentially big-time savings can be made here.

Outsourcing tasks and activities can be a great return on investment. Ferriss recounts his experiences using Indian call centres and VAs to deal with all kinds of administrative matters and believes it to be a massive time-saver.

Time Hack Hero Takeaway

Firstly, a few general thoughts about the book as a whole, which I haven’t reviewed above.

I suspect the appeal and success of The 4-Hour Workweek come down to the fact that it is a form of escapism. The notion of living off a passive income while travelling the globe and doing as you please is romantic and wonderful – kind of a #goals type manifesto, but I am not convinced about the feasibility real-world application.

Ferriss relates his story with survivorship bias and as we know, that does not mean the model he outlines is replicable by everyone else.

I am not sure that many (or any) people that have read the book have successfully executed the stuff Ferriss talks about and created the life described in the book, but if you have, feel free to comment below!

Ferriss may come across as a bit arrogant in places within the book, but I don’t think it is intended. The fact that I had listened to many of his podcasts before reading this book meant that I could hear him narrating in my head as I read and I was familiar with the way he expresses himself.

The other thing is that I question what details were left out.

I believe Ferriss got to this point, but it was only after a huge amount of hard work, time and effort. It’s a bit like those FIRE movement bloggers who have either inherited money or accumulated a lot of wealth by working in investment banking or something and then blog about how easy it is to save money and retire early – they kind of skip over the part where they were already financially stable and have you believe that your Average Joe with a family earning $50k per year is going to be able to replicate this.

But anyway, I don’t really suppose he cares what I think.

With regard to the time management element, I think there is some really solid advice there and the book provides many examples and more concrete actions that I have outlined in this review.

So, would I recommend this book?

Yes, it’s worth a read, but if you’re expecting an actionable blueprint to work just four hours a week, you’ll be disappointed.

The book does, however, provide a number of solid principles and methods that can be applied to those on the path of entrepreneurship. I think that some of Ferriss’ exploits should be taken with a pinch of salt, but nonetheless, it is an entertaining read.

Like Reading? Check out these other book reviews.

Eat That Frog! By Brian Tracy
Deep Work, by Cal Newport

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