It’s easy to see why Four-Hour Workweek is a New York Times, Wall Street Journal and BusinessWeek bestseller – working four hours a week and having a comfortable lifestyle is just short of winning the lottery in terms of fantasy freedom.
After I heard author Tim Ferriss speak at MediaBistro Circus, where he shared many of the ways he’d marketed himself and his book to success, I decided to read Four-Hour Workweek to see what all the fuss was about.
While the book really got me thinking, I have to apply a big caveat. Ferriss suggests some techniques to cut back on hours worked at a traditional job that I think at least in my culture might get me fired. For example, he suggests using an e-mail autoresponder to tell people you’re checking e-mail just once or twice a day and asking them to call you if it’s an emergency, then using two phone numbers, one for routine matters and one for urgent issues, always letting the routine one go to voice mail to check twice a day.
But while I think my colleagues expect a greater level of responsiveness, the philosophy behind his approach rings true for me: “being busy is a form of laziness – lazy thinking and indiscriminate action.”
Instead of filling your day with low-level busy work, Ferriss advocates choosing effectiveness and efficiency. Focus in on the activities that you and only you can do, using the classic 80/20 principle which says 80 percent of results typically come from 20 percent of actions or customers or products.
Delegate or automate as much of the rest as you can. It forces you to get clear and consistent about your processes instead of manually doing work that isn’t contributing value.
It’s what “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” describes as the difference between urgent and important. A ringing phone feels urgent but if you let it distract you from your most important task just because it’s ringing, is that a good choice?
If you had a health issue that required you to cut back to working two hours a day, what would you do in that time? And maybe more importantly, how would you manage the rest? Would you delegate? Would you do a better job of documenting solutions so customers or employees could solve their own problems without you? Would you realize it’s possible to complete some tasks in a lot less time than you currently spend?
Ferriss asserts many of us are addicted to the information overload of constant e-mails, phone calls, IMs and the like. It makes us feel important to convince ourselves that we’re so invaluable that we have to be involved in everything we can. To counter that, he suggests a one-week information fast, cutting out as much input as possible just to see that the world continues spinning on its axis.
Could you do it?
Ferriss also rails against the stereotypical American approach to work and leisure – work like crazy until you’re 65 so that you can finally enjoy the fruits of your labor. Dream all year of your one or two weeks away on vacation.
Instead, he prescribes detailing exactly the things that you aspire to. Is it a month in Italy? A custom-made guitar? A personal chef? Then do the homework to find out how much those things would cost. Ferriss asserts that often our aspirational purchases aren’t that far out of reach.
Then he goes into detail on how to enjoy those dreams now, especially by funding them with a “muse.” Ferriss’s concept of a muse is a low-overhead business that can be automated to take almost no time, to help generate the cash you need to pay for the dreams you might otherwise delay.
For example, he tells the story of a woman who makes an exercise video targeting the rock climber niche. She launches a simple, inexpensive website to sell the videos, buys some search term advertising and works with a supplier to do fulfillment of the videos.
The key to a muse is not investing too much up front and not demanding much of you for maintenance. So a consulting business or selling homemade cupcakes or hand-crafted furniture wouldn’t work because your time is a key input. The way you make more money is to invest more of your time, so it doesn’t produce income that allows you the leisure to enjoy it.
Here’s Ferriss showing examples of several muses in a YouTube video. He doesn’t give a lot of details on the businesses because this video kicks off a series on case studies, so if you want to learn more, check out his follow-ups.
Whether it’s for a muse or a more traditional job, Ferriss pushes the reader to reconsider traditional norms.
- If there’s some dream you’re deferring, why not think about how you could do it? For example: If you’re waiting until your 60s, or later, for retirement, why not consider mini-retirements sooner? If you would love to travel but think you don’t have the money, can you travel in a way that actually cuts your living expenses and set up your professional life so you’re still generating income remotely?
- If you feel overwhelmed by your job, is it your own choice? Are you filling up your days with low-level tasks you could delegate or ignore?
- What about your life is within your power to change if you’re willing to think differently? For example, could you hire a virtual assistant to manage your mundane tasks and free up your time to do what matters most? Are the limits in your life real or self imposed?
It’s this challenge of the status quo that made me love Four-Hour Workweek.
I’ve already made some moves myself – trying to refocus my time on top-priority tasks, trying to remove myself as the speed bump on a few issues where I don’t need to be involved, thinking about ways to plan travel so it generates rather than burns income – and my wheels are still turning.
What do you think? Have you read the book? Applied any of the ideas? Did they work for you or not, and why? Are you a doubter?
I welcome your thoughts, your questions and your conversation. Think of this as your virtual book club, so pour a glass of wine and chat!