Book Review: The 4-Hour Workweek

Imagine working only one day each week.  Further imagine that during that one day of work, you aren’t putting in a full eight hour (or more) day, but instead, you’re only working four hours, max.  To top it off, rather than going into the office, dealing with a horrible commute, gossipy coworkers, and bland coffee, you’re ‘working’ by checking into your business from an internet café in Paris, fitting it in between a tour of the Louvre and your weekly tango lessons.  Sounds like a dream, right?

Living that sort of life is the main point of The 4-Hour Workweek.  Timothy Ferriss writes about redesigning your lifestyle to ‘Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich,’ as noted by the book’s subtitle.  He promises to help us design the lifestyle of our dreams, and make a decent profit at the same time.  But is it just hype, or can he really show us how to remake our lives?  Let’s read on:

Summary

The book starts with a short FAQ to quell some of the questions that likely popped into the readers’ heads upon reading the title and learning the purpose of this book.  The book then opens with a story of Ferriss preparing for a dance competition as an introduction to the main goal of the book: allowing the reader to design their own ideal lifestyle as a member of the ‘New Rich’ (NR, as it’s frequently abbreviated).  He introduces his method of lifestyle design, DEAL: D for Definition, E for Elimination, A for Automation, and L for Liberation.  Before getting into the details for all these steps, he provides a short chronology of his life, how he built a successful business that started to consume his life, and how he finally learned to automate it and escape.  Then we get into his plan for us:

D for Definition

The first part of the book sets up Ferriss’s definitions of New Rich, and how they compare to ‘Deferrers’, those who follow the typical plan of working, saving, and eventually retiring.  He stresses that though wealth is possible (even likely) following the NR plan in the book, the more important issue is having regular cash flow without needing to work long to obtain it, and using that money to fund your dream lifestyle.  The second chapter is about changing the standard rules regarding work and retirement, particularly when ‘Retirement is a worst case scenario’; that half a lifetime of work in exchange for the possibility to enjoy life when you are old is a poor deal.  There are a total of nine other principles Ferriss attempts to challenge, from asking for forgiveness rather than permission to money not being the answer.

4-Hour Workweek

The third chapter chapter is all about dodging bullets, defining the worst that could happen if you follow this plan, and how to get your previous life back if something fails.  It asks you to imagine the worst situations you could find yourself in if you followed the advice in the book, in an attempt to show how easy it would be to recover.  The fourth chapter is called ‘System Reset’, and is all about reorienting your perspective to achieve the (seemingly) impossible.  It introduces ‘dreamlining’, the process of writing down your dreams and creating time lines with actionable goals in order to meet those dreams.

It’s also the first chapter than ends in a comfort challenge, where Ferriss encourages the reader to do a number of tasks that most people would find uncomfortable, in order to help them ‘develop the uncommon habit of making decisions’.  The rest of the chapters in the book end with a comfort challenge, ranging from making eye contact on the street (Chapter 4) to asking for the number of several attractive strangers (Chapter 6) to laying down randomly in the course of the day (Chapter 11).

E for Elimination

The next part of the book covers how to eliminate unnecessary activity from your life.  Chapter five focuses on Pareto’s law, the concept that twenty percent of your effort will result in eighty percent of your results.  The recommendation is to cut out the less productive portion of your effort (the 80% of your efforts that result in only 20% of your results).  It also brings up Parkinson’s Law, where tasks swell to fill the time allotted to complete them; the suggestion is to cut down the time allotted to the minimum in order to increase productivity.

Chapter six is rather short, which is appropriate for its subject: limiting information intake.  The message is to cut down on the amount of information absorbed, whether from books, newspapers, magazines, or the internet.  Chapter seven is about cutting down the number of interruptions and pointless tasks you have during the day.  It suggests ignoring unproductive information (meetings, phone calls, and email) as much as possible and dealing with vital information in batches.  It also suggests empowering employees so they can make decisions on your behalf without needing to contact you for relatively minor issues.  If you don’t have any employees, don’t worry, we’ll cover that next…

A for Automation

The next section of the book is all about automating your life and your income, allowing you to enjoy life without as many worries or troubles.  Chapter eight is all about outsourcing your life; it highly recommends getting a virtual assistant (VA), someone who can manage many aspects of your life via the internet.  The chapter expands on the concept of VAs, creating a step by step description of how to find a VA (or a team of VAs), whether to choose someone in a Western country or the developing world, and what sort of tasks they can handle.

The next three chapters cover the steps of how to create an ‘Income Autopilot’.  Chapter nine is about finding your muse; finding a niche to which you can sell and then choosing a product to sell.  You could resell a product, license a product, or create a product of your own, as long as it meets the need of your market.  In chapter ten, you microtest the product to ensure that is a demand, building websites, testing ads, and otherwise using low cost methods to test the waters to see if there is any desire for what you intend to sell.  Finally, chapter eleven focuses on how to remove yourself from the equation; when and how to shift management of the daily function of your operation onto others.  It also provides tips on how to smooth the transition and minimize problems as you work to make the business self-sustaining.

L for Liberation

The last section of the book focuses on how to escape from the office.  Chapter twelve covers how to slowly get your boss to allow you to telecommute, starting with a day or two each week (or a one or two week trial period), and gradually increasing your time out of the office until you never step foot in the office, and instead do everything remotely.  The focus is on using your improved productivity (from the Elimination part of the book) to get your boss to agree to the remote working arrangement.  If that doesn’t work, there’s always plan B: chapter thirteen is about killing your job, and mainly provides counterarguments to some of the major reasons that people don’t want to lose their employment.

Chapter fourteen provides one way to use your new found freedom from the office: mini retirements.  These are short periods (one to six months) of relocation, usually to another country, with the goal of living life to the fullest while you’re still young, and making them a regular part of your lifestyle.  The rest of the chapter covers the details of how to make such a trip work, including a countdown of how to get your finances, household, and important documents in order for an extended stint away from home.

Chapter fifteen provides more information on how to fill your time and feel fulfilled when you no longer have to work.  The suggestions range from learning for the sake of learning to helping various service focused charities.  The sixteenth chapter is a list of 13 mistakes made by the New Rich, including working for the sake of work and losing sight of your dreams.  The final, unnumbered chapter is a poem by David Weatherford, reminding us to slow down and enjoy life.  The book ends with a list of some recommended reading material and a list of further content provided on the accompanying websites (some of which seems a bit racy, but that’s a separate issue).

Pros

-Interesting, Unique Perspective: This book has a very refreshing perspective on money.  Rather than the typical money book, which makes the assumption that you’re going to be working for many decades before retiring to live off your savings, Ferriss tries to create a method by which you can retire much earlier, while still maintaining a standard of living as high (if not higher) than you had before.  It’s nice to see a fresh approach to personal finance, one which may appeal to those who feel ill served by traditional personal finance books.

-Good Sets of Resources: Each chapter provides a great deal of information to be used to complete the goals set out.  They all end in a ‘Questions and Actions’ section that provides next steps toward achieving a 4 hour work week.  There’s also a list of other resources (almost all online) at the end of nearly every chapter.   Even if you aren’t completely sold on the lifestyle described in the book, many of the suggestions could still be useful, from eliminating extraneous information to hiring a virtual assistant.

-Humorous and Entertaining…: The book is very entertaining, and makes a rather easy read.  It’s interesting and involving, drawing you into the methods and means with a gripping tone.  There’s also a strong element of humor (much of it Ferriss poking fun at himself) running through the book, making it read more like an entertaining biography than a how-to manual.

Cons

-…But Sometimes Annoying: At times, the stories about his exploits get annoying.  Yes, given the point of the book, trying to design your ideal lifestyle, it does make sense to show what he’s done with his own lifestyle.  Still, it doesn’t stop me from wanting to hit him at various points in the books, usually after he’s described one of his adventures traveling the world.

-Most Applicable to White-Collar Workers or Entrepreneurs: The techniques described in this book, from enhancing your productivity in the office to telecommuting as a lifestyle, are virtually limited to those who work in the office, and frequently to those who have underlings to whom they can delegate responsibilities.  If you are in a position where your presence is physically required (anything from blue collar work to quality control), or at the bottom of the totem pole at your company, there’s a limit to what you can get out this book.

-The Lifestyle is Not for Everyone: Not just because you may not want to gallivant around the world or create businesses with the goal of automating them as quickly as possible (although, that certainly could be true).  But there’s a more basic reason: the lifestyle design espoused by the book requires a large support staff; at one point, Ferriss notes that his company requires 200 to 300 people to keep it running.  Simple math tells us that, even taking outsourcing into account, only a small portion of the population (a few percent, at most) can join the ‘New Rich’ before society ceases to run.  Just something to consider as you read through the rest of the book.

Overall

The 4-Hour Workweek is a bit like an overstuffed buffet.  There’s a great deal of information to be considered, much of it stuff I’ve never seen mentioned elsewhere.  Even if the overall buffet does not seem quite to your tastes, there’s probably something worthwhile to consider, from eliminating some of the distractions in your life to hiring a virtual assistant, that you probably haven’t considered.  It’s worth a read through, just to see the variety of ideas and new concepts that are suggested, in order to see if any can apply to your situation.

(Note: The version of The 4-Hour Workweek that I read and used for this review was the 2007 edition.  Recently (in December 2009) a new version, The 4-Hour Workweek, Expanded and Updated, was released, which touts over one hundred pages of new material.  I haven’t read this new edition as of the time of this post (although it’s on my to-read list), but as long as the general concepts are the same, I imagine this review will still be applicable.  Still, fair warning that there is a newer, potentially significantly different version out there.)

3 Responses to Book Review: The 4-Hour Workweek

    • @Chris: Thanks for stopping by. I checked out the book you mentioned, and it seems almost a polar opposite of The 4-Hour Workweek; Godin is all about making yourself indispensable at work, while Ferriss wants you to pull yourself out of the picture as soon as possible. I’ll have to check out Godin’s work when I have an opportunity.

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