4. ‘The 4-Hour Work Week’ by Timothy Ferriss

4-hour work week timothy ferrissI read The 4-Hour Work Week out of the library because one of my clients – a self-confessed workaholic – recommended it. I was not expecting such an emotional rollercoaster!

After several failed jobs, Timothy Ferriss started a health supplement company, BrainQUICKEN, and it became a financial success. There was just one problem: Ferriss was unhappy and close to burnout. So for his own sanity he decided to go travelling, and if the business failed then it failed. It didn’t, and he found an entirely new way of living.

The main purpose of The 4-Hour Work Week is to show its readers how to become a member of the ‘New Rich’ – those who have automated their income so that they have loads of free time to travel the world, work towards their dreams and do just exactly what they want. Ferriss divides his book into four parts, using the acronym ‘DEAL’: D is for ‘Definition’, which overturns long-held assumptions about success, work and wealth; E is for ‘Eliminate’, which is about cutting out unnecessary, time-consuming tasks; A is for ‘Automate’, which reveals how to create a business that runs itself; and L is for ‘Liberation’, which talks about how to spend all that newly discovered time.

There were a lot of things I agreed with in the book. For example, the opening explains that a scary change like leaving a job you dislike isn’t actually that big a risk after all, and is in fact entirely doable. It’s like a rallying cry for independence, and I was nodding along with it because I left my job over a year ago to become full-time freelance and I love it (although, God knows, it isn’t for everyone). He also talks about how life shouldn’t be one long stretch of exhausting work followed by the end goal, retirement, when you finally get to relax and enjoy yourself. I’m sure most people would agree that you should have fun along the way, either in work or outside of it, rather than aiming for a particular number on your pay check and permission, at last, to stop.

Ferriss also has lots of really good advice about how to work more efficiently, including making yourself less available so people are forced to prioritise what they contact you about, and setting a designated (short) amount of time for a task because, left to its own devices, all work will expand to fill the time you have. He talks about removing yourself as a bottleneck in your own business and allowing your employees to make decisions for themselves, and he also points out that working 9-5 is a totally arbitrary rule that is often the enemy of efficient working. (The funny thing is, quite often, I still do this, even though some days I could work more efficiently and finish the day at 3pm if I wanted.)

So, I found all of this stuff inspiring and thought-provoking, with just the occasional red flag that, despite his good advice and humorous writing style, I didn’t actually like Ferriss very much as a person. (For example, if he got less than an A in college, he’d question the tutor about the subject for 3 hours, so they’d think twice before giving him a B next time. Hmm.) And then I got to the large middle section about automating your income and the whole thing made me distinctly uncomfortable. That says more about me than Ferriss, of course, but I have a couple of ideas about why I felt that way. First, I think he makes it sound so easy to set up a business and get it earning loads of money, and I feel jealous/slightly stupid that my own business hasn’t made me a millionaire yet (even though I know why: I’m basically selling my brain, and there’s only so much of that ‘product’ I can shift in a day). Second, I think I’ve got some latent idea that, if I earned loads of money without doing much work, I’d feel like I didn’t really deserve it. Which is silly, surely – if that possibility exists, why not take it?

After that middle part, Ferriss got me back on board again with his ‘Liberation’ section, in which he talks about the importance of education and service to happiness, the need to focus on either work or play at once rather than always splitting your attention between the two, and how crucial it is to slow down and enjoy the small, happy things.

This is a really interesting book – in places it inspired me, and in other places it pissed me off. Still, I have since recommended it to a snowed-under friend, and I certainly think it’s worth reading because I’m sure everybody could get something useful out of it.

“If you can’t define it or act upon it, forget it.”

Have you read this book? I’d love to know your thoughts!

Want to read them? You can buy The 4-Hour Work Week here.

2 Comments on “4. ‘The 4-Hour Work Week’ by Timothy Ferriss

  1. When I set up my own business, I read this and lots of other books (and attended teleseminars and conferences) on this subject, especially the bit about automating your business and creating a steady income stream independent of you. I genuinely believed in it for 1-2 years, but then I realised that this was predicated on me being ‘God’s gift to humankind’ type of beliefs and/or a pyramid scheme of telling other budding entrepreneurs how to get rich if they follow your tips and techniques.
    How about those of us who do not want to grow a business ad infinitum, who are quite happy to not be millionaires, simply enjoy both work and life and the flexibility of the freelance world?

    • Yes! It did come across a little like a pyramid scheme. Like, ‘Isn’t it amazing how much money you can save when you employ people on the other side of the world for $5/hr!?’. You nailed it.

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