The 4-Hour Workweek, by Timothy Ferriss
From what I heard about the “4-Hour Workweek”, it was gimmicky and not worth reading. After hearing many similar comments from close friends, I decided to personally investigate. My conclusion: the claims are true. However, I don’t think that the whole book is a waste. It has many valuable recommendations and insights. For example, one of my favorites is regarding the “low information diet,” that is, avoiding news and television. Overall, this book was easy to read. The book’s feel is gimmicky, and it’s easy to get the impression that Tim is advocating for dishonest work. In actuality, Tim advocates for working more efficiently, not dishonestly. Nevertheless, Tim describes most jobs as painful, toilsome, and full of agony. I think that jobs become classified as such when people lose sight of their purpose and don’t recognize the value that they are providing.
My biggest area of disagreement is with Tim’s view on the purpose of life. According to Tim, the purpose of life is “to be enjoyed, and the most important thing is to feel good about yourself.” I think that this comment accurately summarizes everything that is wrong with the book. I don’t think that the purpose of life is to seek enjoyment, and I certainly do not agree that it is acceptable to manipulate other people so that you “feel good about yourself.” I think that we were created by God, and that our purpose is glorify our Creator and His Kingdom. However, I think that the religious argument falls on deaf ears for many, because most people seek purpose outside of religion. Forbes described Tim’s book as “everything that’s wrong with the modern world” because it promotes hacks, shortcuts, and fake-outs. I would agree with this summary.
A few key takeaways
“The 4-Hour Workweek” is based largely on Tim’s experiences founding his nutritional supplement company, BrainQUICKEN. Just from reading the book, I was not convinced that BrainQUICKEN sold a useful and legitimate product. I got the impression that the supplements sold by BrainQUICKEN were nothing more than snake oil. And I feel like Tim’s approach in this book is: do anything you can to make a dollar. While this embraces the entrepreneurial spirit, I think that it can easily slide into manipulation and dishonesty, such as selling snake oil.
While this book is filled with hacks, fake-outs, and gimmicks, it also provides some valuable ideas. I think that every person can take away at least one recommendation from Tim. However, not everything in this book is applicable to every person. My personal favorite piece of advice is to maintain a “low information diet.” Tim says that television and news eat up your time, and that it is best to avoid these things. If something world-shaking happens, you will hear about it from your friends and co-workers. If you must consume news, then make sure that your sources are tailored to a very specific purpose.
If you want to become an expert in a specific field, then read the top 3 books in that field, and you’ll already know more than 95% of the population. I wonder how true this is? I want to believe it. And since most people do not read, and they do the bare minimum, I think Tim’s claim is probably true. However, I disagree with the concept of doing anything you can just to make a buck. I think that you should be striving to create value through your work.
Tim poses some good challenges throughout the book. The purpose of the challenges is to make yourself uncomfortable, place yourself in uncomfortable situations, and learn how to deal with the feeling. One of the challenges is to reach out to 3 hard to reach people, such as celebrities and CEOs, and get a response to your question. He recommends scouring the internet for a personal email address or phone number. Then, read that person’s blog or other material they have written, and ask a simple, yet thought-provoking question regarding what you read. You only need to read 2-3 pieces of writing by that person to develop a good question. I think this is a good idea. Personally, I need to get better at reaching out to strangers. I tend to be shy and reluctant to make cold-calls and cold-emails. However, I think this is a fear I need to conquer. One of the other challenges is to stare directly into the eyes of strangers when you walk pass them on the street. Again, this practice is extremely uncomfortable. If they question your staring, you can simply say something like, “I’m sorry, I thought you were somebody that I knew,” and go on your way.
In addition to training yourself to be comfortable in uncomfortable situations, Tim also recommends that his readers get comfortable at making decisions. Most people want to defer decision to somebody else, because there is always the chance that somebody will not agree with your decision, and we fear rejection. Practice making decisions. Don’t cling too tightly to your ideas. If your idea is wrong, then admit it was a bad idea, and re-adjust. To practice making decisions, you can offer restaurant suggestions and movie suggestions. When a friend asks, “where should we eat?” try offering a suggestion with assertiveness. Don’t defer to the group. I think this is another good tip from Tim.
One of the practices that Tim advocates for is automation. I completely agree. If it can be automated, then it should be automated. Tim primarily talks about automation with regards to email. He hired some Indian personal assistants to answer most of his emails, and for him, it worked out wonderfully. When his personal assistants made a mistake, which happened occasionally, then Tim would address the problem. However, most of the emails and other tasks that Tim automated via his virtual assistants were relatively simple. Tim also implemented a strategy where he only answers his own email once per week. He started by only answering emails twice a day, then reduced to once per day, and then reduced to once per week. He was able to do this by using automated emails and voicemail messages to train his clients not to expect immediate responses. Using this approach, Tim was able to create larger blocks of time to work on high priority tasks. I use a similar approach with my email, and I think it works wonderfully. I only answer my email once a day, and sometimes only once every two days, depending on the number of other tasks that I’m working on. By avoiding email, I am able to focus on the things that need to get done. However, I don’t think that automating my email is possible. In my situation, most of the emails that I receive are technical in nature, and cannot be solved by a virtual assistant. I think that Tim’s ideas about automating emails are applicable to some jobs and not others. However, I think that everybody can experience increased productivity by spending less time looking at their email inboxes, just like you can get more productivity by avoiding your phone and social media. These things are time sinks that provide little to zero return value.
At the end of most chapters in the book, Tim lists some useful resources related to that chapter. Unfortunately, the book was published in 2009, and many of the resources are out of date.
I’ll close on a positive note and one of Tim’s recommendations that I agree with. He says that the greatest predictor of well-being is meal times with friends and loved ones. Make time every week to eat meals with people. Have at least one meal, it can be served with drinks, that is at least 2-3 hours long.