I recently read “The 4-Hour Workweek” by Tim Ferris. Obviously, I’m late to the party here as the book has been popular for years. I’ve seen plenty recommendations for it, but a friend that read it (and said he really enjoyed it) had told me there was no point in reading it as I already live it. However, I was walking through a book store a couple of months ago, passed the newest version, and figured I’d give it a shot.
First, I’m not exactly living it. I work a lot more than 4 hours each week. And actually I think the chance of you working 4 hours a week and making enough money to survive is highly unlikely. I also seriously doubt Tim Ferris works anywhere near as little as 4 hours a week.
Apparently Tim built an e-commerce site in 2001 or so, selling nutritional supplements. Back in 2001, if you were so lucky as to have realized that possibility, you could have made a ton of money with relative ease too. I started my e-commerce site in 2005, and there was nearly no competition compared to these days. Anyway, Tim was able to outsource most of the operation of his site. Doing that, I can see how it’s possible to work 4 hours a week. But that would require you to be lucky…to have seen, had the time and knowledge for, and seized an opportunity very early on. Most of us aren’t quite so lucky. Most of us, if not all, did not start an e-commerce site where all operations could be effectively outsourced back in 2001.
For Tim to suggest that because he did it so early on, you can do it NOW…is a little misleading in my opinion. He’s written at least 2 books since then, promoted them everywhere, etc. There is no way he’s doing that and working only 4 hours per week! So that’s my primary complaint about the book. The main premise is misleading or not applicable to the vast majority of people. However, there are some excellent lessons in the book.
Retirement Is A Worst Case Scenario
This may have been the most valuable concept in the book. Most people (particularly in the US) spend their best years working hard as hell, taking only two weeks vacation each year, in order to enjoy themselves when they retire. But this thinking is really backwards.
First, it takes a LOT of money to retire and maintain or increase your quality of life. When most people retire, they downgrade their lifestyles due to having less money to live off rather than more. Second, when most people do retire they’re not in the shape they were in earlier in life…where they can physically enjoy what they missed in their younger years. They’re not as likely to fly as far, walk as far, or even able to eat and drink as much as they previously could. If you wait, you may not get the chance, both due to your finances and your health.
Retirement also assumes that you want to retire, that you don’t like your work. And that begs the question, why are you doing something you don’t like?!?! You should strive to do something for work that you enjoy. If you’re doing that, then there will be no reason to retire, other than being physically or mentally incapable. And that, as Tim writes, leaves retirement as a “worst case scenario”.
Instead, he advocates what he calls “mini-retirements”. These are 1-3 month vacations you take every few months. Although I very much agree with this concept, and my wife and I do it, I do have a couple of issues with it. Some people won’t be able to take 1-3 months off regularly because of the type of work they do. And some people won’t want to do it even if they can. I can take 3 months off, almost anytime I like. But I really don’t like to be on vacation for more than a month. My preference is to take one or two month-long vacations each year, with a couple of week-long vacations here and there. People with kids will also have more trouble with this than single people. But it’s a great concept. Enjoy yourself NOW. You only live once, and if you wait, you may not get the chance.
Tim writes a lot about the 80/20 rule, where 80% of your profits come from 20% of your customers or 20% of the work you do. If you can cut the 80% that’s responsible for only 20% of your profits, you free up 80% of your time and keep 80% of your profits. Then, you can either not work during that time (which is the only way you could even come close to 4 hours per week!), or you can focus more of that time on the 20% of activities that are bringing in most of your profits…dramatically increasing your earnings. It’s a nice idea, and you may be able to apply it to your work to some degree.
Obviously though, most people, from doctors and dentists to street sweepers and house maids, cannot cut out 80% of their work…because their time is in large part all spent on equal value/necessary pursuits. But if you’re working on the web, it’s likely you are working on things that don’t really make you much money…things that you can cut out in order to be more productive.
The difficult thing here is that we don’t always know what efforts will produce profits. For example, I have one site I made in a single day, four years ago, that makes $10K per year in Adsense income, every year. I do no work on that site, whatsoever. But I have other sites I spent weeks building that make nothing at all.
Sometimes it’s true that 20% of your work is responsible for 80% of your profits. But you don’t know which 20% that will be until it’s all said and done! So apply the concept where you can.
This is a part of the book that has already improved my life. I’ve wasted a lot of time with poor email management.
For years, I wrote the same responses to the same 10 or 20 questions I’d get from my e-commerce customers, over and over and over again. I knew I should create template responses. I kept telling myself I was going to do it. But I never got around to it. Until I read “The 4-Hour Workweek”. As soon as I got to the part of the book about standardizing email responses, I wrote about 20 different email templates. Now, when I get these common questions, all I have to do is select the template and click send. Over. It’s already saving me lots of time and mental effort. If you’re running a business where you have customers or users asking the same questions regularly, minimize this window, install something like Quick Text (I use Quick Text with Thunderbird), and make your templates. Do it right now.
The other advice Tim gave on email management, is to only check your email twice a day, once at 11AM and once at 4PM. He then goes on to say you should minimize that to once a week if possible (by outsourcing work email responses). That’s another great lesson for me. I used to check my email first thing in the morning, and I’d often get bogged down with it. Hitting my to-do list first, without even reading my emails, makes me about 10x more productive. In addition, I no longer leave Thunderbird open. So I don’t get notifications every minute that I’ve gotten a new email. If you’ve got 20+ email addresses you monitor, believe me, this is HUGE. The lack of interruption is really nice on your quality of work and life! I wish I had taken that advice years ago.
Multi-tasking & Working In Batches
No matter how much you think you can, you cannot multi-task. Or, maybe you can, but the quality of your work is going to suffer, along with your mental state. I’ve known this for a long time, but I don’t always practice it. Tim writes about the problems with multi-tasking, and why we shouldn’t do it. He’s right. Do not multi-task. Do one thing at a time, and don’t allow yourself to be interrupted.
Doing repetitive tasks in batches is another great idea in the book. If you do some repetitive task regularly, decreasing the number of times you do it, doing it less frequently but in longer bursts, is going to save you time. It also takes our minds time to shift from one task to another. So you’ll spend less time in total by batching a single repetitive task, and the quality of your work will be better.
Should You Get The Book?
There are several more great points in the book. While I did disagree with the premise, and I’m not sure how applicable many of the concepts will be to most people, I do think it’s valuable and worthwhile especially if you’re working online, working for yourself, or would like to.