Book review: The 4-hour workweek
I am going to review a book titled ‘The 4-hour workweek: Escape 9–5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich’ by Tim Ferriss. The title kind of seems like a scam. Yes, it is 4 and not 40 and yes, it is a week and not a day. The first question that comes to our mind is: ‘Whaaaat?’. Okay, let’s expand that question into more specific questions. Forget being rich, can you even make enough money to survive by working just 4 hours in a week? If you can, what exactly are you going to do with the rest of the time?
In fact, as I read the book, it became clear that it is 4 hours of ‘unpleasant’ work. The goal is to spend more time doing what we really want to do. If you are already passionate about your 9-5 job, then you don’t really want to escape it in the first place. In my opinion, this book takes the work-life balance concept to a higher level. The book starts by defining the ‘new rich’. Turns out, the amount of money one makes in a year is not the only measure of richness. The true richness is defined by how many ‘W’s do we control: What we do? When we do it? Where we do it? And with whom do we do it? Most of us work too hard during our young age, so we can save for the retirement. The problem is, by the time we retire, we would be too old to do anything. The ‘new rich’ defined in the book, instead takes mini retirements along the way. They control all the ‘W’s in their life. They focus on freeing up their time and location. And just that automatically makes their money worth more. Tim starts with 8 principles and then a 4 letter framework for becoming a new rich. Let’s start with the principles.
Interest and energy are cyclical. The idea is that we need to alternate between periods of work and periods of rest. Basically, instead of looking for a retirement at the age of 65, we should incorporate mini-vacations along the way.
Less is not lazy. We want to be able to reduce the work time and get maximum work done in a tiny amount of time. Basically, focus on efficiency. Working more hours does not necessarily mean that we get more work done.
Timing is never right. We want to do a lot of things, try many different ideas, learn a lot of things. But we never get started. The tip is that the stars will never be aligned properly, the traffic lights will never be all green at the same time. Yes, there will always be issues, but if you start, you will figure them out as you go along. Quote from the book: “The universe doesn’t conspire against you, but it doesn’t go out of its way to line up all the pins either”.
Seek forgiveness rather than permission. If it is not going to cause irreversible damages, just do it. Another quote from the book: “Most people are fast to stop you before you get started, but hesitant to get in the way if you’re moving”. If something goes wrong, seek forgiveness.
Emphasize your strength rather than fixing your weakness. Although, I do think that we need to work towards fixing our weaknesses, but the main point is that we should focus more on using our strengths.
Money alone is not the solution. ‘I can’t do X because I don’t have enough money to do it’. Turns out, we can find cheaper solutions to a lot of problems. The book gives examples of how cheap is it to travel the world. We often don’t do things like that because of lack of time and other constraints related to our job/study/relations etc. But they all can be addressed if we want to.
Relative income is more important than absolute income. The relative income is the income per hour. So, Bob making $10k per month by working 80 hours a week is less rich than Alice making $3k per month by working 10 hours a week. But, keep in mind that the absolute income has to be enough that we don’t face survival issues.
Distress is bad, but Eustress is good. We don’t necessarily want a completely stress-free life. That hinders growth. We just want to avoid distress that causes mental health problems. Eustress, on the other hand, is something that drives our motivation and growth.
Now let’s look at the 4 parts to take controls of our ‘W’s. Use the 4-letter word: DEAL. Define, Eliminate, Automate and Liberate.
We first need to define our fears and goals. “Named must your fear be before banish it you can.” —YODA, from Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back. Most of us would rather choose to be unhappy than being uncertain. Here are the questions we should ask ourselves. What are the things we are not doing even though we want to do? Why? What are we missing by not doing it? And What is the worst-case scenario? For me, leaving my high-paying job to start the PhD was a risk. But as per my analysis, the worst-case scenario was me not being able to complete the PhD for some reason. Well, it is not so bad. I still will have the software engineering skills and operations research knowledge to get myself a good job that I can enjoy. On the other hand, forget the best, but even the probable case scenario would be me finishing my PhD and showing my work and potential to a large community. That is a massive gain. Just like that, in most cases, the worst-case scenarios are less probable and their effect is temporary.
The next step is to define our goals. The simple process in the book is as follows: Find out 5 things each for something that we want to have, do and be. That totals 15 goals. Pick 4 of them and define 3 action items. So far, this looks like a general motivation book script. But here is the key part. Of the three action items, one of them we have to do NOW. Starting them is usually the biggest barrier. It is easy to get going after we start.
We look at our tasks in terms of their effectiveness and focus on how efficiently we do it. Pareto’s Law: 80% of the outputs result from 20% of the inputs. This is very helpful to eliminate a lot of unnecessary tasks. In fact, there is a book written on this which I would probably read and review in some other post. The key idea is that 80% of our results typically come from 20% of our tasks. So if we eliminate the remaining 80% of the tasks, we would lose only 20% or our results. The goal is to identify what are those 20% tasks.
Another concept to keep in mind is Parkinson’s Law. “A task will swell in (perceived) importance and complexity in relation to the time allotted for its completion”. Give yourself a whole day to write an assignment, and it will take that long, even if it could be done in just one hour. So, be careful while assigning timeframes to tasks. A productivity tip is to bundle the similar tasks together to minimize the startup costs for those tasks. For example, check emails only twice in a day. Nothing dramatic is going to happen if we don’t check our emails every few minutes.
After eliminating the least productive tasks (and potentially customers, for entrepreneurs), it is time to use tools and people to automate things. Look for repetitive tasks and see if there can be a system, algorithm or tools that we can use to automate most (if not all) of it. If you are running a business, consider hiring a virtual assistant and assign them some tasks. The idea is to find a dollar value of our time and if it costs less than that value to outsource a task, do it. Remember to first eliminate the tasks before outsourcing it. There is no point in outsourcing useless tasks or tasks that can be automated by tools.
If you are an entrepreneur, then this step is a logical followup after automation. If you hire the appropriate people to run your business for you, your inputs can be minimized. This means that you have liberated your time. For employees, the book suggests doing this first before automation. The goal is to set up a system which allows you to work from a remote location at a time that is convenient to you. Most employers anyway care about what work has been done instead of how you did it. If you implemented the principles above, you should be efficient enough to get the regular work done in much less time.
Now that we have achieved control of our time and location for work, it is time to figure out what should we do with the remaining time. Go back to the ‘Define’ step. There are many goals we can set related to learning, travelling, etc. that we can use our ‘free’ time for. Don’t just stay idle. In fact, you won’t be able to. You will get bored. Leverage your control of time and location for work as much as you can. The key is to chase ‘excitement’ rather than just ‘happiness’. Again, if the work that you do already excites you, there is nothing wrong in using the time to do that.
Hope you liked the summary. It gives us a new perspective to look at our work. The book contains many specific examples and a big list of tools (some probably outdated). There were some parts which I didn’t completely agree to. For example, in the elimination, Tim also suggests not to read many books. I tried to cover the key ideas, but as always, reading a review or a summary is not a replacement for reading the book. Stay tuned for more and don’t forget to subscribe!