The truth about the 4-Hour Workweek: An interview with Tim Ferriss, bestselling author

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(Literal) Text Transcription of the video :

I’m Olivier, the French Entrepreneur. I wanted to share an interview with you that I shot a few years ago, in 2011 to be exact, with Tim Ferriss.

Now, I am not too much of a fanboy, but I have to say that the book of Tim Ferriss, “The 4-Hour Work Week”, completely changed my life because, before “The 4-Hour Work Week”, I was an average entrepreneur working sixty, seventy hours a week in my IT company. When I read “The 4-Hour Work Week”, I decided to change that. Now, instead of me working for my business, my business works for me. I work way less, and I travel 6 months a year while inspiring hundreds of thousands of people in French, hopefully soon in English.

I was very nervous when I met Tim, the content he’s sharing is timeless, I also asked him: Is “The 4-Hour Work Week” really about working 4 hours per week? His answer may perhaps surprise you. Here is the interview.

Olivier Roland: Tim, you are famous for your book, “The 4-Hour Work Week”. To begin this interview, can you tell us your definition of work? For example, is this interview work in your opinion?

Tim Ferriss: That’s a good question. Work for me is something that’s either primarily financially driven or something that I want to do less of. So, in that case, I don’t view it as work. It’s just a few minutes before breakfast; we have spent some time together this weekend. It’s more of a conversation between friends.

Olivier Roland: Great. In your book, you explain that you choose a title after testing it on AdWords Campaign and that it was the most appealing title, the most useful one, but correct me if I am wrong, the content of the book has nothing to do with the fact of just working exactly 4 hours per week.

interview tim ferriss tim 4-Hour Work Week

Tim Ferriss: I don’t make a real emphasis on the “four”, but I make one mention. The “four”, I was spending between two and four hours per week in 2005 managing my sports nutrition company from abroad, typically Argentina. It was actually the management time per week that I spent on my own business, which is in fifteen countries.

The goal is not to get people, every reader, to four hours. The objective is to use proper measurement and experimentation to increase the per hour output as much as possible. So, let’s say, you increase your per hour output ten times, which I think, many people can do.

If you do that, then you can either take your forty hours down to four, get the same amount done, or you can work the same forty hours and get ten times as much done, or you can do something in between. A lot of people who have read the book, you know, investment bankers, tech CEOs…they still work the same number of hours and just get a lot more done.

Olivier Roland: Yes, I think some people work less now, but a lot of people don’t realize because, I think, they don’t read the book too deeply. They don’t realize that you work as you don’t have to go to the beach every day. The focus of your book is to simply work on what is really important in your life, so you can free up time to live your passion. Do you agree with that?

Tim Ferriss: Absolutely, I think that the biggest misinterpretation of the book is people think the objective is being idle, the objective is sitting on a beach and snowboarding for the rest of your life. Those are fine as vacations, those are fun if you do it for a few months, after working for many years. That’s fine, but ultimately the goal is to have control of your time which is your scarcest, non-renewable resource. Once you control that time, certainly some people are going to waste that time, even when they have control of it, but hopefully, there will be a very high percentage of my readers who’ll apply it to make a positive dent in the world, to make an impact.

Tim Ferriss
Tim Ferriss

We’ve seen that. So, whether that’s building, after you have your muse, building a company that you then take to IPO or sell. I’ve had hundreds of readers do that, or people who decided to, let’s say, work in a non-profit or help to fundraise or find a cause; it has also been very common. We’ve had some fantastic case studies come out of it, but if after few weeks, few months, here and there, for snowboarding or for fun things like that, that’s obviously totally fine.

That’s part of the message to you: you can enjoy it as you go along. You don’t have to postpone it all for this retirement twenty or thirty years in the future.

Olivier Roland: So, how many hours do you work per week now?

Tim Ferriss: Well, this week is an exception.

Olivier Roland: Yes, of course.

Tim Ferriss: I tend to go through periods of — what’s very important to realize about me is that I really don’t do anything that I don’t want to do, simply because of finance. So, I am very busy. You know, I did this event, of course, which was a lot of fun, but it wasn’t just for money and…so, I’m very busy.

I’m about to go into my book deadline with the first book I ever published through Amazon, and that is exciting to me, but I would have done the deal even if it was no print distribution, half as much money, hypothetically, because it’s exciting to me.

So, I would say that in any given week, I am very active. I’m running around probably starting around 10:00 or 11:00 a.m., and I like to focus on different projects late at night. So, I might go an entire day, non-stop working on various fun projects, things that I find fun, but also at the gym, the swimming, and so forth.

It doesn’t bother me to take three or four weeks off, like I took three weeks off in Colombia recently: I had no email, no calendar, and no cell phone for three weeks. I can do that and nothing falls apart, everything is fine. So, I think that’s — the ability to say “no” is just as important as saying “no”, of course, prerequisite. I am very active, I like to build things.

Olivier Roland: You are better than me because when I go on vacation, I have to check my mail, at least thirty minutes a day. It’s my main goal to stop that. Do you use a personal productivity system?

Tim Ferriss: There are a few types of software that I use to help my productivity. I don’t use a system per se except for what is explained in the books: the different policies for email, different policies for the most important one or two to-dos in the first hour of the day.

Diet has a big role in productivity in my opinion, of course, like the 30g of protein within thirty minutes of waking up, Turkish coffee instead of regular coffee. A lot of these little tricks I use for productivity, but it’s actually just a coincidence. I use Evernote very frequently, on a daily basis. I use it for capturing information so that I don’t have different file folders, not saving in all different places.

Another trick that was taught to me which is very simple, when I download things, I don’t download them into folders. Ninety-nine percent of the time, I download everything into my download folder and simply search that. It’s a simple idea, but it saves a lot of time because you’re not putting things into different folders and finding them in different folders. I just don’t delete my download folder.

That was actually from Nivi, from Venture Hacks and AngelList, so thanks Nivi. That really does help me save a lot of time because I used to use the spotlight, for example on a Mac, to find everything, or Quicksilver or something like that.

Otherwise, people think of me as a time management guru. I think I’m more of a prioritization guru. As long as I know, as long as I measure things carefully so that I know which inputs have the biggest outputs, I am able to focus on the one or two things in my to-do-list that will affect everything else.

Olivier Roland: The 20-80 rule.

Tim Ferriss: Exactly. I think I am very good at being effective, choosing the right things as opposed to just being efficient and getting very good at doing many things. I am not very good at doing many things. Actually, I’m really terrible at it.

Olivier Roland: You are a fan of Stoic philosophy and you talk a lot about Seneca on your blog. How do you try to apply the Stoic philosophy in your life on a day-to-day basis?

Tim Ferriss: There are a few ways that I apply both Stoic philosophy and Epicurean philosophy. I think they complement each other very well in my daily life. The first is when I wake up, I lay in bed and I actually go through a list of the things that I am grateful for.

The first thing when I wake up and I remind myself, you always have more than enough time to do the things that are important. You always have enough time; that’s how I start my day. These seem to blend a bit, but I typically try to do — after I have a cup of coffee or a cup of tea – to do five minutes, it’s very short, of Vipassana meditation.

vipassana meditation tim ferriss interview

Olivier Roland: Vipassana?

Tim Ferriss: Yes, Vipassana meditation. These are all interrelated with the Stoic philosophy. Stoicism is about awareness and two things principally, I think.

Number one is training yourself not to emotionally over-respond to bad situations or things that are outside of your control, very important, and then…so, not to overreact emotionally to anything. That’s number one.

Number two is to train yourself to value those things, to truly value those things. Only those things that cannot be taken away. So, teaching yourself not to be attached to, let’s say, certain material things. The way you can practice that, I mean, I do this: every few months, I’ll give away at least two or three bags of clothing.

What I’ll also do is, then, perhaps for a week or two every two months, I’ll wear very cheap clothing, like white t-shirts that you can buy at the grocery store with one pair of jeans, and I’ll wear that for a week. I’ll eat very cheap food so that I am not concerned with the worst-case scenario.

When I have these hard decisions, these business deals, potential business partners, and I think about “ah, when I could make ten percent more money or twenty percent more money”, and when if I practice being poor, I realize that I don’t need any of that. So, it gives me the courage to make the right decisions, the right long-term decisions.

It’s a fantastic operating system, I think, for entrepreneurs. My favorite book of course, as you know, is “Letters from a Stoic”. So, “Letters from a Stoic” by Seneca is my number one recommendation.

Olivier Roland: I think you are one of the rare people that actually really like the Stoic philosophy. I mean a lot of people read it or study it but…

Tim Ferriss: Yes, I try, I try really hard. I think another person who does a very good job is Ryan Holiday, whom you’ve met. He is the Director of Marketing at American Apparel. He got the job first at twenty-one or twenty-two, a very productive guy. He’s very productive. I find it very practical.

So, if you’re going to read the one “how-to book”, I would say start with some of the classics and one of them should be “Letters from a Stoic”.

Olivier Roland: To finish this interview, can you tell us a little bit about your next project?

Tim Ferriss: The next projects are exciting. It’s “The Four-Hour Chef”, which was very unexpected. It came about in a very strange way, meeting a number of people: somewhere between five and ten people involved in restaurants, in cooking, and food, and slaughtering and so forth– hunting. I never had any interest in cooking, zero.

I thought it was difficult, time-consuming; you have to wash dishes, all of this stuff that kept me from learning how to cook. Scrambled eggs and that’s it, maybe some toast, you know.

I just became fascinated with food and help people relate to food, and how you can learn philosophy through food, how you can learn productivity through food. So, you can take cooking and turn it into a tool for teaching a lot of things, and that got me very excited.

There are also a lot of ways to cheat to make some amazing meals that take ten minutes or fifteen minutes. There are a lot of ways to cheat, in a good way.

So, “The Four-Hour Chef” would be, I think, one of the most unusual cookbooks ever made. I’m hoping it’s a cookbook for people who don’t cook.

Olivier Roland: Awesome, so I’m going to have to buy it.

Tim Ferriss: It’s going to be done with Amazon, and it’s the first book for their new New York City office. It’s very exciting; it was on the cover of The New York Times last week. Very exciting stuff. So, I feel very fortunate. I’ve had a pretty wild adventure in the last few years.

Olivier Roland: Cool, thanks, Tim. I really loved having this interview with you. Your book totally changed my life, and I’m really grateful. Thank you, Tim.

Tim Ferriss: Thank you for the interview, of course.

Olivier Roland: Bye.

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