The 4-Hour Workweek: Still relevant in 2018?
The goal was never to be idle. The goal is to spend as much time possible doing what we want.
Timothy (better known as Tim) Ferriss’ The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich completes 10 years in 2017. It has sold more than a million copies, and it has been featured on the bestseller list of The New York Times for more than 75 weeks. This alone is a strong indicator of the quality and the comprehensiveness of its content. The general theme of the book also contributes to its widespread success: who doesn’t want to work four hours and be free from the chains of corporate life? Tim Ferriss uses the book not only as a guide for success but also as a personal diary to expose his very own experience in implementing the advice he gives. In fact, the book can be approached as a list of successful techniques the author used himself.
Introducing the Author: Tim Ferriss
Tim Ferriss does not write something just off the top of his head: he has lived every single step from the book. The work is such a strong guide for the readers exactly because it is built on the real experience of the writer, and as such, it offers a very concrete dimension. In fact, looking at the life of the author shades light on a big revelation: the 4-hour workweek state was reached only after a lot of hard work. Ferriss would often commit around 14 hours a day on his business during as much as three years.
The book can be read in two or three days, but it will not make you successful in such a short timespan. People want to be liberated from their work agony as soon as possible, and they sometimes take impulsive decisions like buying a one-way ticket to a random country in Asia without having any plans on how to actually implement their journey to freedom. This is, in fact, a collateral effect of this type of book, but I must make it clear that this was not the initial intention of the author.
The message Tim Ferriss wants to leave is a very clear one: draw the picture of the life you want to have, set a time frame, and develop an actionable plan. Be rational and practical: set realistic goals and work hard to get them. Then, and only then, enjoy the real benefits of the 4-hour workweek.
Meet the Book: The 4-Hour Workweek
The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich is not a theoretical work. You will hardly ever find any pure theory in the book. The volume is a collection of personal experiences, lessons, and insights that the author had during his own journey. As such, it works as a very practical guide with a lot of relevant recommendations. You will find a series of frameworks, how-to guides, mistakes to avoid, and many other types of content that appeal to the practical reader.
The book is structured in four sections: Definition, Elimination, Automation, and Liberation (DEAL, in short). Keep this acronym in mind, as it is the cornerstone for remembering the teachings of the author.
Step I: D is for Definition
Tim Ferriss starts by redefining the concept of being rich and labeling the new idea the “New Rich”. In his perspective, New Riches are not people who make a lot of money, but people who live the life they would live if they had a lot of money. The concept might sound confusing, but it is actually very interesting. The common-sense perspective is that we must work hard to accumulate money so we can spend it afterwards. We should work hard to have a large inflow of cash, and then spend all the accumulated resources once we retire.
The cash flow perspective of the New Rich is different: the inflows and the outflows of cash happen by turns. The inflow of cash obtained during a short period of work is used to finance what the author calls “mini-retirements”: leisure activities that are spread between several work periods instead of concentrated at the end of your life.
The concept of the New Rich is very appealing, but there is a downside: it requires freedom, and this freedom is almost never obtained if you don’t abandon the traditional corporate life. The New Rich state can only be achieved by those who are willing to let go of corporation ties, and not everyone is ready or able to do so. The book does not come without its dangers, and this is one of them: it makes the process look easy and universally achievable.
For those, however, who are willing to take the risk, the advice that follow this new definition is extremely precious.
In the second chapter, Rules that Change the Rules: Everything Popular Is Wrong, Ferriss defines ten important rules of the New Rich mindset, among which the following five really caught my attention:
- Interest and energy are cyclical. Our body and mind need periods of rest in between productive journeys in order to reach maximum productivity. By defining relaxing periods, we are able to increase our productivity while dedicating fewer hours to the tasks at hand.
- Less is not laziness. Being productive is very different from being busy. Bruce Lee once said: “It is not daily increase, but daily decrease. The height of cultivation always runs on simplicity.”
- Ask for forgiveness, not permission. How many of us let potentially life-changing opportunities simply pass by because we are too afraid of taking the risk? Ferriss gives us a great advice: take calculated risks, and if things go wrong, ask for forgiveness. Permission is much harder to get than forgiveness, so focus on the latter.
- Things in excess become their opposite. The goal of The 4-Hour Workweek is not to create an excessive amount of idle time. The ultimate goal of the book is to set you free from what you have to do and empower you with the freedom of doing what you want to do.
- Money alone is not the solution. Money is a proxy in the sense that it is only useful if it actually brings you to a happier state. Having money just for the sake of having money will not make you happier, so forget about accumulating wealth and start focusing on getting the most out of your cash.
When changing your mindset to the New Rich, it might be difficult to overcome your fears and anxieties around the uncertainty of your income and near future. For that, Ferriss presents a simple exercise that resembles the basics of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: think about the worst-case scenario, your “worst nightmare”, and then think of simple steps you would have to take to recover from it in case it happened. Once you see things more objectively and you put a backup plan in place, you will notice that the nightmare does not seem so bad anymore. This will give you the courage, the strength, and the security to face this big change in your life.
Time to Move to Practice
While the theory sounds good and encouraging, you will get nowhere if you don’t actually implement it. The 4-Hour Workweek proposes a practical framework for you to implement what is called “dreamlining”: putting a timeline on your dreams to motivate you to do the change. If you need any help with defining your timeline, Ferriss provides a free dreamlining document that can be found here.
- Start by creating a timeline for the next 6 and 12 months. For each of them, write down five things you want to have, five things you want to be, and five things you want to do. This will give you 15 items per timeline.
- Once you have the list, circle the four most important ones, the ones that you believe would bring the most happiness and change to your life.
- Now it is time to get down to research and funding. How much does each of these four items cost per month? Write this down in your plan.
- Once you have the net monthly costs, add them all up, multiply by 1.3 to have some safety and savings margin, and divide everything by 30 to get your required daily income.
- Once you know how much you need to earn, it is time to define what you need to do. Write down the three most important steps to achieve your 6-month timeline, and start doing them now.
Step II: E is for Elimination
Doing something unimportant well does not make it important
A big misconception we all carry to a greater or lesser extent is that the more we do, the more productive we are. This could not be further from the truth, and productivity is a very different thing from being busy. In fact, a person who is too busy is very likely to be very unproductive.
We all have the same 24 hours in the day (or 16, if you follow the highly recommendable advice of sleeping 8 hours per day), and it is simply not possible to do all we want when we want. We must learn how to set priorities.
This is what the Step II of The 4-Hour Workweek is about: focusing on your most profitable activities and clients, and eliminating the unnecessary work. For that, Ferriss resorts to a very well-known concept in economics: the Pareto Principle. In simple terms, the Pareto Principle tells us that, in any field of endeavor, 20% of actions are responsible for 80% of outcomes. This is valid for both the positive and the negative dimensions: 20% of your customers are responsible for 80% of your profits, and 20% of your inefficiencies are responsible for 80% of your losses.
This can also be applied to our daily life. To help you identify the “20% tasks”, consider asking these two questions:
- Which 20% of activities bring 80% of my problems and concerns?
- Which 20% of activities bring 80% of my happiness and desired results?
Once you identify the most beneficial and the most harmful activities, you have a very good starting point for prioritizing tasks and eliminating wastes.
The author also touches the point of information overload. This is particularly interesting since the book was written 10 years ago and this was already considered a problem. As you might expect, the situation did not get better: we have many more emails to deal with, the internet is bombarding us with more information than ever before, and side distractions such as television have become ubiquitous.
The best remedy to this overburden is also the simplest: eliminate them. Eliminate the television, turn away from the news, look at your emails only once or twice per day. In Chapter 7 of his book, Ferriss presents several techniques and concepts that are highly valuable for whoever wants to eliminate such inefficiencies.
The bottom-line is very simple: instead of always saying “yes”, change your default and immediate response to “no” for any request. Should you consider the task important, give it a “yes”, but don’t make it your normal response.
Step III: A is for Automation
Once you have eliminated the most harmful time wasters from your routine, it is time to focus on the most profitable activities. The New Rich idea revolves around outsourcing a big part of your activities to other people or companies. This is the idea behind automation:
- Start by doing the work yourself.
- Create high-quality standards and processes.
- Train someone else to do most of your tasks while keeping the high standards.
Ferriss suggests looking for low-paying virtual assistants (VAs) in developing countries. While this might sound like labor exploitation, it is a fact that life in developing countries is considerably cheaper than in the United States or Europe. This allows you to find people willing to work for less and still being better off than without any job.
The two most important aspects to keep in mind when delegating are:
- Delegate only what remains after eliminating your inefficiencies.
- Make sure you give time-consuming and well-defined tasks.
It is in this section of the book that Ferriss talks about finding your most profitable product. He defines three phases for the process.
The first one, Finding the Muse, focuses on finding the right product. You should start by defining a specific and reachable niche market, and then developing a product with them in mind. This involves a “brainstorming without investing” process, which should take four constraints under consideration:
- The benefits of the product should be very easy to explain.
- The selling price should be high enough to create a good profit margin, but not too high as to raise doubts in your customers about the real value of your solution.
- The production process of the product should be relatively fast, so it is easy for you to adapt to the demand.
- You should fully explain your product in an online FAQ.
Once you have these components in place, it is time to move to phase two: Testing the Muse. In this stage, you still want to avoid the actual production of your product. You want to test whether your customer is willing to purchase it or not. For that, Ferriss presents a very simple process that involves setting up a simple yet attractive website, and moving your customer through the buyer journey. Once the last step is reached, you can simply present a message informing that you are on back order and will contact the customer as soon as the situation is normalized. This will allow you to measure how much demand there is for your product, and whether your target market is actually willing to pay for it.
Finally, the last stage is called Managing by Absence, and it involves indirectly selecting the customers by creating constraints around shipping, product variations, and other variables. By offering limited options, you avoid getting problem customers with high expectation who will immediately start complaining should something go wrong.
Step IV: L is for Liberation
The final step on Ferriss’ The 4-Hour Workweek is targeted at setting you free from your 9 to 5 job and giving you the freedom to manage your routine as you want.
Escaping the office involves a transition that might be seen as harmful by your boss or colleagues. The best way to handle the situation is by implementing it gradually and, most importantly, by showing better results when working remotely than when working in the office. Once you establish an out-of-office good reputation, your boss will be more willing to give you the flexibility you need to work on your personal projects.
Quitting the job might seem a daunting step for those who rely on their work for financial security and stability. In fact, you should not quit if you don’t have enough savings for at least a few months of uncertain income. Ferriss names four fears that haunt those who think about taking this major step:
- The fear that quitting is permanent. This can be easily solved by applying the worst-case scenario exercise we discussed earlier.
- The fear of not being able to pay the bills. This is why you should not quit if you don’t have enough money to keep you going for a few months. On the other hand, reducing expenses is very easy if you take it seriously: what are the absolutely necessary things for you and how can you cut costs on everything else?
- The fear that health insurance and retirement accounts will disappear. These two factors can be easily solved by getting a private health insurance and by transferring your 401(k) form (if you are in the United States).
- The fear of having a ruined resume. You are not quitting your job to become idle. You are quitting your job to work on what you are really passionate about. This should add value to your resume instead of destroying it (should you ever need a resume again).
In this liberated state, you are finally able to live the life you really want. By being able to alternate periods of work with the already mentioned “mini-retirements”, you will be able to achieve your dreams in a much shorter timeline and in a much lower budget. The author mentions several adventures he did and that cost him much less than you imagine: sailing in the Caribbean, living in Thailand, and riding a motorcycle in China, all done with less than $3.000.
It takes less money than you think to do the things you always dreamed of (except if these things are Ferraris and mansions next to the beach), and The 4-Hour Workweek presents you a great framework for achieving this so desired freedom.
Is a 4-Hour Workweek Still Relevant in 2018?
Reality completely changed during the decade that followed the publication of Tim Ferriss’ book, and the natural questions are: is his advice still relevant? Are people still able to free themselves and live their dreams? Isn’t everybody just doing the same?
The short answer is: yes, the book is still incredibly relevant and the strategy sound, but the tactics for reaching the 4-hour workweek has changed.
The two main ideas of The 4-Hour Workweek are (1) be free to do what you really want to do, and (2) get enough income from this activity so you can pursue your dreams now instead of in the future.
We must not forget, however, that Ferriss had to work really hard to implement his 4-hour workweek. He is at the top 1% that actually have the willpower to go all the way through the path to freedom. The remaining 99% will take the first step moved simply by strong emotions and initial will power, but due to a lack of actual planning and realistic expectations, they will quickly return to their old lives.
Implementing the 4-hour workweek is not easy. The decade that followed the book, however, considerably increased the possibilities for those who are willing to realize their dreams. Increased connectedness, more integrated supply chains, more flexible online communication and tools, and many other positive developments are on your side.
You might think that the competition also increased, but this is not entirely true. More people are trying the 4-hour workweek lifestyle, but very few are completely aware of the effort they will have to put to actually implement their solutions. They want the final freedom state, but they don’t want the temporary overburden of developing your product while still working in your office. They are targeting the classic “quit your job, move to Thailand or India, travel, and relax under a palm tree at the beach” stereotype. This is a big misconception, and Ferriss makes it clear that you must find the meaningful activities that meet your very personal expectations.
So it might not have become more difficult from a mental point of view, but competition has dramatically increased. The 4-hour workweek has its foundation in the early days of the internet where it was relatively easy to start an online business and make money. This has changed. Developing, launching and growing an online product today has significantly increased in difficulty and competitiveness and would in many cases require long hours and many years in order to become a business which you could run on a 4-hour workweek. On the other hand, creating a service oriented, online focused business (such as a digital marketing consultancy, recruiting services, lifestyle coaching, etc) have not increased in difficulty. This is due to the fact that even though there are more people providing these services there are also an increasing demand from an increase in the online population as well as the.
The fast-moving, high-information reality of 2018 should not scare you away from pursuing your dreams. Instead, it should encourage you to do so: take the expanded possibilities as a strong motivation for establishing the life you actually want to live. But think hard about the tactics. Ask yourself some critical questions: Which business would be easiest to start with? How fast can I start to generate income? Do I have the resources, time and skill to successfully execute this? – Even though that multi billion app idea seems as the most attractive idea to focus your time on, the chance for it to allow you to build a 4-hour workweek is probably much slimmer than if focusing on the things that can generate income from the beginning.
In conclusion, the book offers extremely valuable advice on many areas, but you should not follow it blindly just hoping that what worked for Tim Ferriss will also work for yourself. Reading the book is definitely a must, but it is even more important to think through and ponder the many tools and techniques the author offers. Make sure you have a clear goal in mind – a deeply desired life state – and use the teachings of The 4-Hour Workweek as a platform to maximize the return on your efforts!