One-sentence summary of “The 4 Hour Workweek”. The majority of people remain employed throughout their lives, and work from 9 to 5 for 40 years before retiring at the age of 60 (or more). This book explains how to break out of this paradigm, by significantly reducing our work time, by freeing ourselves from geographical constraints. Thereby allowing us to live anywhere in the world – and by automating our revenue, to enable us to take mini-breaks whenever we feel like it and to fulfill our dreams.
By Timothy Ferriss, 2006 (first edition), 2009 (current revised edition), 380 pages
What’s new for those who have already read the first edition of The 4 Hour Workweek? Approximately 80 additional pages, essentially listing dozens of case studies from reader testimonials, pending my own testimonial. A selection of the best articles published on his blog, and an update to the tools and resources data. Is it worth buying the second edition if you have read the first one? Yes, definitely, considering the ridiculously low price of this book in comparison to the value it offers.
Chronicle and summary of “The 4 Hour Workweek”
Step 1: D is for Definition
Tim Ferriss begins by telling the story of an encounter he had with an American tycoon named Mark at several thousand meters in altitude, in the first class cabin of an airplane.
Mark owned service stations, grocery stores and casinos. He and his friends had been known to lose between 500,000 to one million dollars in a single weekend in Las Vegas, he told him.
When Tim Ferriss, whose curiosity was aroused, asked him which of his businesses he preferred. Mark was quick to answer: “None of them”.
And Mark explained how he had spent 30 years of his life with people that he did not like, doing business that he did not enjoy to buy things which he did not need.
Mark was one of the living dead. And this is precisely the purpose of this book: to avoid becoming like that.
What is the difference between what the author calls the New Rich, and the Deferrers, those who save up everything for the end only to find that life has slipped through their fingers?
A number of things, which define their philosophy of life and therefore their objectives and priorities:
Deferrers: Work for yourself.
New Rich: Have others work for you.
Deferrers: Work when you want.
New Rich: Avoid work for work’s sake and do the minimum required for maximum effect.
Deferrers: Take early retirement.
New Rich: Take mini-retirement periods throughout life. Do what we are passionate about.
Deferrers: Buy everything you want.
New Rich: Do everything we want, and be all the things we want to be.
Deferrers: Be the boss rather than the employee.
New Rich: Don’t be the boss or the employee, be the owner.
Deferrers: Have more.
New Rich: Have better quality and fewer useless things.
Being financially rich and having the capacity to live like a millionaire are two separate things.
The value of money is multiplied by four things that you need to check – 1) what you do, 2) when you do it, 3) where you do it and 4) with whom you do it. This is the multiplier of freedom.
Because freedom – the capacity to choose – is real power.
Chapter 2: Rules That Change the Rules: Everything Popular Is Wrong
Very often, we don’t question things that already exist, because if millions of people are doing things this way, then it must be the best way to do things. But it’s not the best way; it’s just the usual, average way.
Earl Nightingale, Lead the Field
The author tells us about how he won a gold medal for Chinese boxing 4 weeks after taking up the sport, by analysing the rules of the championship and finding the flaws that allowed him to win the medal easily. Something that 99% of those who had 5 to 10 years of experience had never been able to do.
Tim Ferriss uses this story as a departure point to explain to us the importance of challenging the status quo.
The average, what everyone is doing. Obviously, it must be challenged intelligently: just because everyone around the world walks on their feet doesn’t mean that we should start walking on our hands.
Walking with our feet is working pretty well. If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it. The author tells us what he considers to be the 10 basic rules of the New Rich, which call the consensus into question:
1 – Retirement is rainy day insurance: it should be viewed as capital to be used in the absolute worst case scenario, in other words, total physical inability to work. The vision of retirement as the ultimate redemption is flawed from the outset because 1) it asks you to sacrifice the best years of your life on tasks that you do not enjoy. 2) In the majority of cases people who retire have to adopt a mediocre middle class lifestyle. And 3) if, on the contrary, you ensure that you have a good lifestyle for your retirement, there is a strong chance that you are an ambitious work machine, and that one week after you retire you will be so bored that you hop on the first opportunity to take on a new job.
2 – Interest and energy are cyclical: you have to alternate between periods of activity and rest, because capacity, interest and mental endurance ebb and flow. That is why the New Rich aim to sprinkle a series of mini-retirements periods throughout their life.
Note: For example you can watch this video of the designer Stefan Sagmeister as he explains to us how he introduced systematic mini-retirement periods in his life and how they help to develop his creativity:
3 – Less is not lazy: doing less meaningless work to allow you to concentrate on the things that really matter to you is not laziness. Laziness is the fact of putting up with a life that is not made for us, letting circumstances and others decide for us.
And being busy and being productive have nothing in common: as Stuart R. Levine said in Cut to the Chase – if you and your team spend the day pushing the Eiffel Tower and hoping to move it, you will have been very busy but not very productive. Do not confuse the two.
4 – It is never a good time: for most important things, the timing is never right, because if the universe has nothing in particular against you, it is still not going to align the stars just to give you the green light. “One of these days” is a disease that will take all your dreams to the grave.
5 – Ask for forgiveness and not permission: if it is not going to devastate everything around you, then get started and justify yourself afterwards. People often reject on an emotional basis things that they would accept once they are faced with the “done deal”. Learn how to become a troublemaker, and to apologise if you mess up.
6 – Focus on your strengths rather than trying to fix your weaknesses: as the authors of Strengths Finder say, most people are good at a handful of things, and very bad at everything else. It is much more lucrative and fun to take advantage of your strengths rather than attempting to fix all the chinks in your armour.
7 – Taking things to excess turns them into their opposite: you can have too much of a good thing. Therefore, what we want becomes what we do not want if we have too much of it: lifestyle. The art of living, is therefore not meant to create too much free time, but to increase your free time and allow you to use it positively.
8 – Money is not the only solution: “if only I had more money” is one of the most commonly used excuses in order to procrastinate and prevent people from living their dreams. Being obsessed with money is a convenient way of making it look as though it is the answer to everything. It cleverly creates a constant distraction that prevents us from seeing how vain everything is. The problem goes much deeper than money.
9 – Relative income is more important than absolute income: absolute income is defined with a single variable of annual and monthly gain. Frank earns €100,000 per year and Marie earns €50,000 per year, so Frank is twice as rich as Marie. Relative income brings a new variable: time, so look at the hourly wage.
Frank makes €100,000 per year, but works 80 hours a week for 50 weeks, which equals an hourly wage of €25, while Marie earns €50,000 per year but only works 10 hours per week over 50 weeks, so she makes €100 per hour: Marie is therefore 4 times richer than Frank.
Obviously, the relative income has to be sufficient to achieve our objectives: this is difficult if we work just one hour per week, even at a €100 an hour.
10 – Stress and Eustress (positive stress): stress is not always a bad thing; it is important to distinguish between negative stress which weakens us, lowers our self-confidence and our capacities, and Eustress – from the Greek prefix “Eu” which means “healthy” (as in “euphoria”) – which exerts positive pressure on us. Like models that push us to excel, constructive criticism or the excitement of risk-taking that takes us outside our comfort zones. There is no progress without Eustress.
Chapter 3: Dodging Bullets – Fear-Setting and Escaping Paralysis
To do or not to do? Most people prefer dissatisfaction to uncertainty. Tim Ferriss tells us that for years, he set objectives and took resolutions to change direction, with no effect: he was as unsure of himself and frightened as everyone else.
So, in 2002 he found himself at the head of a company that he had founded and which brought him much more money that he could spend. Approximately $70,000 per month – but which took up absolutely all his time, and with defects in its design that made it unsellable (he went on to sell it in 2009, as he points out the new edition).
He felt both stupid and trapped and wondered why he was not smart enough to find a solution to escape his 15 hour work day, to escape the prison that he had built for himself.
Then he had an illumination: a trip. It was just what he needed. But for 6 months, he engineered his way to find thousands of excuses and reasons why this project could never work.
A period that he describes ironically as “his most productive”. And one day, he had an idea: why not try to precisely define his worst nightmare – the worst thing that could happen because of his trip?
And then something happened: as he imagined all the disasters which could befall him, he also began to imagine simple solutions to all these problems, and to put them into perspective.
None would be fatal, far from it, and on a scale of 1 to 10, 10 being “my life is completely and utterly turned upside down for ever”, his worst “my life is ruined” scenario got a score of just 3 or 4. And there was probably only a one in ten million chance that it would happen.
So he made his decision, and bought a one way ticket to Europe. This was the starting point, not of the ultimate disaster that he had envisaged, but of the fairy tale that his life would become.
His businesses thrived as he almost forgot about them over the course of the 15 months that they paid for him to travel around the world. In fact, he took a risk of 3 or 4 to make a profit of 9 or 10 on the positive side of the utterly and completely turned upside down scale.
So, define your fear, and give it a score between 1 and 10 on the scale of “my life is completely and utterly turned upside down for ever”, then imagine solutions to prevent the worst from happening and weigh up the expected benefits. Then: What are you waiting for to act?
Chapter 4: System Reset – Being Unrealistic and Unambiguous
The highest summits are pretty deserted places: 99% of people are convinced that they are incapable of achieving great things, and therefore set themselves low objectives. That is why, paradoxically, there is much less competition for unrealistic objectives than for realistic objectives (Note: This is what David J. Schwartz professes in The Magic of Thinking Big).
What’s more, Tim Ferriss confesses that he doesn’t know what he wants: if he is asked the question “What do you want?” he is incapable of answering. Why? Because the question is not specific enough.
If you ask him what he wants to do over the next five months to learn new languages, now he can answer much more precisely. But the question goes deeper than that: in the end, this general question asks what we are fundamentally seeking. Most people will answer: happiness.
But according to Tim Ferriss, happiness is a concept that has become too ambiguous from overuse. You can buy happiness with a bottle of wine. And what is the opposite of happiness? Sadness? No. They are two sides of the same coin, like love and hate.
The opposite of happiness is boredom. What do they mean when people say “What counts is to live your passions”? They mean: “What counts is to do what you are enthusiastic about”.
So, according to the author, the question we must ask is not “What do I want?” or “What are my goals?” but “What am I enthusiastic about?”
But this is not enough: we must answer the question precisely, and ensure that our objectives are no longer vague desires, but specific steps.
To do this, the author proposes a 6-step methodology that consists of defining your “chrono-dream”, namely 5 things that you want to own, 5 things you want to do, 5 things that you want to be in the next 6 -12 months, calculate the cost of each of these things, then choose 4 dreams and define 3 steps to achieve them.
Step 2: E For Elimination
Chapter 5: The End of Time Management
Forget the concept of time management. The goal is not to fill every second of every day with a ton of work, and to do more and more every day.
Being busy is often just an extremely common way to avoid doing the important, yet unpleasant things that we should be doing. Being busy is therefore one of the most common and subtle ways of procrastinating.
And there are thousands and thousands of ways to be busy, and overwhelmed: making cold calls by telephone to a hundred unqualified leads, fiddling with your iPhone or your Galaxy, reorganising your inbox, walking the length of your company to get a document that will be of no use to you, etc.
Because there is a fundamental difference between efficiency and performance: efficiency brings you closer to your objectives, while performance involves accomplishing a task using the least amount of resources. And performance without worrying about efficiency is the basic operating mode the world over.
That is why a top door-to-door salesman performs well but he is inefficient: he could make much more by sending a postal or email mail shot.
So, what we need to remember is that doing something that is unimportant well does not make it important, and that an unimportant task that requires a lot of time… is still an unimportant task.
Here the author introduces the Pareto Law or the 80/20 law, discovered by the Italian economist and sociologist Vilfredo Pareto. It posits that 20% of the countries in the world share 80% of the wealth, and that within those countries 20% of people share 80% of the wealth.
This law can be generalised to the extreme, with the following formula: 80% of results are produced by 20% of causes. Obviously, this specific ratio of 80/20 is rarely exact, but there are often results that are in the vicinity of this distribution, and it is possible to have even more unbalanced results, like 90/10 or even 95/5!
When I discovered The 4 Hour Workweek in March 2008, I analysed the distribution of my business income among my clients, and discovered that 17% of my customers represented 81% of my company’s business!
Even if I knew confusedly that some clients were more profitable than others, this distribution took me totally by surprise and become the point of departure for a great many changes in my business and in my life.
Richard Koch has written a whole book on the subject, Living the 80/20 Way, a practical book that is easy to read, and I recommend it over his first book The 80/20 Principle, which is more theoretical and complicated.
When Tim Ferriss discovered this principle, he asked himself two questions:
What are the 20% of sources that cause 80% of my problems?
What are the 20% of sources that cause 80% of my happiness and the results that I want?
He spent a full day analysing everything using these questions, from his customers to his communication strategy, not forgetting his leisure activities and his friends. Then, over the course of the following 24 hours, he made various decisions that were emotionally difficult, but which changed his life overnight.
In particular he stopped contacting 95% of his customers (and he even fired 2%), to focus on the most productive 3%, a productive minority whose characteristics he analysed to find other identical clients.
The result? In one month, he went from managing 120 customers – many of whom were a pain in the neck – to 8 customers who placed orders all by themselves without ever bothering him, and his monthly income increased from $30,000 to $60,000, while at the same time his time spent working each week dropped from 80 to 15 hours.
Not quite a 4 hour week, but a pretty good start! And he felt at peace with himself, more optimistic and freer than ever. Magic, right?
Tim Ferriss goes on to share Parkinson’s Law, invented by the British historian and essayist Cyril Northcote Parkinson, who stipulated that “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion”. In other words, if you assign two hours to complete a task that only requires one, then you will still spend two hours accomplishing this task.
The author shows us that it is possible to use these two laws together to 1) identify the small number of essential tasks which offer the greatest return, and 2) assign them a deadline that is very precise and very close in time.
Chapter 6: The Low-Information Diet – Cultivating Selective Ignorance
Tim Ferriss begins this chapter with a confession: he never watches the TV news, and in five years he has only once bought a daily newspaper (in an airport, to get a free Pepsi). He practices what he call a low-information diet, by carefully selecting his sources of information and his reading, and leaving other people to tell him about the rest.
This allows him to free his mind from information which otherwise would only transit through it without triggering any action and which would be forgotten after a few weeks or even a few days.
Note: I detail how I applied Tim Ferriss’ media diet and what it brought me in the article “3.5 simple techniques for less nonsense and more intelligence with the media diet”. This kind of diet is also excellent to avoid being influenced by pessimism and the prevailing gloom of the media, as I explain at the end of my article The Recession: Why It Doesn’t Touch ME – And Why It Affects YOU.
Chapter 7: Interrupting Interruption and the Art of Refusal
An interruption is any element that prevents you from completing a task in one go. There are three main categories:
Things that waste your time: all the things that can be left to one side with little or no consequences, such as meetings, phone calls and emails that are not important.
Things that take up time: all the repetitive tasks or queries that you need to handle properly but which interrupt more important work.
Included among these are: the obligation to respond to clients when you are focused on another task, reading and replying to your emails, surfing the Internet, etc.
The failures of delegation: when one of your employees needs validation from you for small things that s/he could very well manage all alone, such as resolving a client’s problem, small expenditures, etc.
Readers of this article also read: 5 Tips to Optimise Your Productivity as a Young Entrepreneur
Every task requires some preparation time, “a warm-up” which we have to go through before we become fully focused and productive. Any interruption can break this focus and compel us to go through the whole preparation time again.
For example, if you need a quarter of an hour before you are really focused on a task and productive, any 2 or 3 minute interruption will in fact make you lose more time, since you will need to re-focus on the interrupted task.
For each of these categories of interruptions, there are ways to prevent them. Let’s examine them:
Things that waste your time. Solution: become ignorant.
Interruptions in this category are the easiest to prevent and eliminate. You must make yourself less available, and ensure that all communications only serve an immediate action. In particular, the author recommends:
Cutting off the audible or visual signal from your messaging software, so that you will no longer be informed automatically when you receive a new email.
Disabling the automatic receipt feature in your email software (Note: you can read the article Kicking Your Email Addiction to find out how to do this).
Only check your inbox twice per day. The author recommends at 12 noon and 4pm. Then only go through it once a day as quickly as possible.
Filter telephone calls, ideally using two phone numbers, one desk phone – non urgent – and one mobile – urgent. Always leave the office phone on silent and answering machine mode.
If it’s a call to your mobile, then it must be urgent. Pick up, but make sure to minimise the interruption time as much as possible by getting straight to the point – don’t let your correspondent start chatting about the weather.
Spend as little time as possible on meetings; they are the most widespread time thieving activities in companies. Tim Ferriss offers a 6-step programme to avoid taking part in meetings without your colleagues minding too much if you work at a company where meetings are very commonplace.
Things that take up time: group things together and do not falter.
Many entrepreneurs fall into this trap and face huge difficulty delegating (it’s not for nothing that nearly 55% of French companies have only one employee.
The aim of delegating is to ensure that employees can carry out as many tasks as possible without employer intervention. The latter has a supervisory and monitoring role.
Rather than being a one-man band and doing everything poorly. You take on the role of orchestra director.
Overseeing everything so that all the instruments play together harmoniously.
Tim Ferris says that when he outsourced his customer order monitoring department in 2002. He kept all the answers to the questions about the product in his head. And because of that he had to handle 200 emails per day, with volume that increased 10% per week.
And why was it not scalable? Because there was a bottleneck in the system: him.
All the more so because many of the emails that he received were from the people to whom he had delegated the order management!
He then took a radical decision: he sent an email to the new company handling the emails and the basic message was: “Make the customer happy”.
They were to solve any problems that cost less than $100 by themselves. The result? The number of emails he received dropped from 200 per day to fewer than 20 per week. At first he analysed the results every week, then every month, then every quarter.
Note: the book The E-myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don’t Work and What To Do About It describes this trap in an absolutely brilliant way. A trap that catches too many entrepreneurs, who create a job rather than creating a business and who end up working 70 hours per week for a poverty wage.
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