Review of the book The 4-Hour Work Week

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In this post I distill the key concepts that I learned from the 4-Hour Work Week book by Tim Ferriss. I added some of my personal observations and experience, and I happily ignored things that don't apply to me.

Would I recommend this book? Yes Book rating 5/5

There are lots of great books out there. The 4-Hour Work Week is one of the books that had the most impact on me.

I think it was 2008 when I got the book from shop on the road to the sea, while on holiday. I still got it around, 10 years later. A four hour work week was definitely a catchy title!

At the time I was freelancing, taking 1-2 months long trips with my old motorhome working on the road, and I was not really satisfied with the status quo: even though I had all the freedom, I still had to work hard for a living, and as a freelancer I exchanged my time for money.

There had to be more, and the 4-Hour Work Week book was like a magnet to me.

First, let’s make one thing clear, the title is a bit misleading. The meaning is, work 4 hours a week on things that are necessary and a chore, and work all the rest of the week on things you enjoy doing. Don’t spend your life just working like a cog in a machine for someone else.

The book urges you to move from a life where you defer all the nice things, and work 40-50 hours weeks for “the man” with little to no control over some key things, to a life where you control the time, you control where you live, you control how much you work.

Defeat the assumptions

Decades and centuries of post-industrial revolution have shaped a good portion of humanity to think there is just “one way” of living life: you go to school, get good grades, good grades move you to better schools, later on, you are instructed with systems and notions that shape you as a cog.

It does not matter what your level will be once you get out of school, the school is the part of the system that shapes you and makes you ready to fit in the work system.

You are not born to fit, you are cultivated.

You might think that the “holy grail” is to work for yourself, be your own boss, work when you want, retire early, have the money to buy whatever you want, make gazillions of money.

The “retire early” thing is especially interesting. I see lots of people trying to save everything, spend very little, work really hard, to hopefully retire in 5 years.

Probably only to find out that they get bored to hell once they retire.

Wouldn’t it be better to find the work you love, spend the life doing it without burning out, and take regular pauses from work where you travel or just wander in the woods for 2 months?

The traditional cubicle work requires people to stay at their desk for 8+ hours every day. It does not matter if they completed their work of the day in 2 hours, they still can’t leave and go home when they are done. Do you know someone that spends half of their day job on Facebook or Reddit? I do.

People then might count the hours worked with pride, but maybe they have been productive just the 30%.

If you focus on being productive, and your work gives you the freedom you want, you can perform your job in 4 hours and go home, or do something else you enjoy doing.

Take responsibility. You will never grow if you always ask for permission for everything. Gain control, be more valuable.

If your job does not give you those freedoms, start working today towards the day that you will live this job behind, and move on.

You don’t have to settle. Challenge the status quo. If your job is boring and does not give you the right motivation, are you sure you want to spend 30-40 years doing it every day?

Wouldn’t it be better to have a work that gives you satisfaction, and the freedom to pursue any other dream you have?

Manage your time in a smart way

How can some people achieve so much on the same day that we have at our disposal? How can people be productive, inspiring, do the work they have to do for the day, plus pave the road for their future ahead?

They don’t work more hours. They work more efficiently than you do.

Do you read newspapers online? Forums? Spend the day in a chat room? Install a tool like RescueTime and pay special attention to where you spend most of the distraction time. Add those sites to a blocker like SelfControl and do the same on your phone, if you are a phone addict.

Turn data off on your phone when you work.

Start the information diet. Today. Stop reading newspapers, stop watching the news on the TV. There is nothing going on that you should care attention to, that should distract you and fill your mind. If there is something huge going on, you’ll eventually know as everyone will talk about that. An earthquake hits an island at the other side of the world. Does it really matter if you know about it or not?

Cultivate selective ignorance. You don’t need to be an expert at everything. Focus on the things you should know, and be the best at that. The rest can wait, or perhaps can continue to be ignored forever. Less is more. You don’t need to know how a computer works internally to be able to use it to create awesome things.

Eliminate all sources of distraction, and you’ll eventually have a lot of time for more important things.

Email. Close the email client. Turn off email notifications. Batch email processing 2 times in the day, preferably one time in the afternoon. Don’t check email when you wake up. It’s a nice habit, just focus on the work that needs to be done. Opening the email client you are going to let other people agendas drive your day. When you read an email with something you need to take action, you will think about that in the back of your mind until you do it.

Be ruthless with deleting emails that just waste your time. You don’t owe your time to anyone, except who you want to help.

Batch your time, you’ll find out that handling email all in one batch is much more time effective than being interrupted while you’re deep into some other task.

Focus, you’ll do a much better work.

Be more effective

People nowadays just assume you have to work from 9 to 5 because they were told so. It’s just a convention, but if we follow the 80/20 principle (the Pareto principle), 80% of your work can be done in 20% of that time.

Instead of performing 100% of the work you are supposed to do in 8 hours, you could perform 80% of that in 2 hours.

If you consider Parkinson’s Law, it’s safe to assume you can complete 100% of the work in 2 hours, or even less. Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion. We say we’ll work for 8 hours, and that’s what we’ll do! Even if that means staying on Reddit at work.

Focus on becoming more effective, do what moves you closer to your goal.

What’s the most important activity you need to do today? Focus on that. Ignore the other 10 minor things, focus on the core task.

Automate all the things you can

The goal to have all the freedom in the world is to have an automated revenue generating system, which works without hands-on involvement.

Finding a good niche and creating a product is out of what I’d like to point out here, but at some point, if you find the right thing to work on, you’ll get to a point where you spend lots of time during tasks that can be delegated.

You can delegate to 2 things basically: you can use technology and build (or have someone build) an automated system that does the work for you, or you can hire a person, a Virtual Assistant.

As a developer, I’m much more into the first option, and I currently enjoy doing the small tasks that require manual intervention, like answering emails. I can see a VA being an option in the future, but not now.

I am going to tell you how my business is currently automated: on a random day, I wake up early in the morning and write 1 blog post (a programming tutorial). It is usually a “quick” blog post, one that might answer a specific question, and I’m done by 10 AM.

I will write a new post in the afternoon, this time a longer post.

Both posts once done are marked with a data in the future, and pushed to GitHub. That’s all I need to do to keep the baseline of the business running.

Every day at 8 AM and 4 PM CET the posts are published to the blog by the system I built. I could prepare those posts in advance and take a week (or a month!) away from the screen, and the blog would still run on its own, publishing 2 posts per day.

And I do have a queue of posts ready to be published in case I can’t write for some reason.

Every time I post a new tutorial, it’s posted to Twitter by my IFTTT bot.

Also, another bot posts 2 of my old tutorials on Twitter during the night while I sleep, for my followers that live on the other side of the world. There is an automated system that goes through a list, which I fill every month with the new posts I write.

That’s the extent of the automation. I still do lots of work directly, including outreach, promotion, and the creation of more in-depth training programs in the form of ebooks and courses.

Automation lets you free a lot of time. It also allows you to do what Tim calls mini-retirements: months-long vacations and trips to do whatever you want.

This is key to the whole book. When asked what they would do if they became millionaires, people often imagine sitting on a beach for one month. You don’t have to be a millionaire to do that. Scale back and do it without having to retire first.

But before you can do that, your business needs to be set up in such a way that it can move on without you.

Final words

The Four Hour Work Week is an amazing book that made history. So many people were inspired by it, and you can hear it many times in business podcasts - people discovered the alternative world, and that made everything possible.

If you have never read that book, that’s a must even if it’s 10+ years old and some of the practical advice don’t apply anymore - many of its concepts will never get old.