Count me as skeptical of Tim Ferriss and his book The 4-Hour Workweek. A self-described serial entrepreneur, Ferriss’ ventures include the BrainQUICKEN nutritional supplement sold online (“a lab-tested performance product scientifically engineered to quickly increase the speed of neural transmission and information processing”). His book’s subtitle […]

The Four Hour WorkweekCount me as skeptical of Tim Ferriss and his book The 4-Hour Workweek. A self-described serial entrepreneur, Ferriss’ ventures include the BrainQUICKEN nutritional supplement sold online (“a lab-tested performance product scientifically engineered to quickly increase the speed of neural transmission and information processing”).

His book’s subtitle “Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich” makes me think he’s trying to get rich by the age-old technique of selling get-rich-quick books. I fully expect to see Ferriss join the ranks of motivational infomercial giants like Tony Robbins and Carleton Sheets one day.

Yet there’s something appealing about the ideas he outlines, though his approach goes against my more sober and conservative instincts. His suggestions align well with the burst culture of work enabled by the Web, where output matters but where, when, and how much you work doesn’t.

Don’t write this book off just because you’re not aspiring to the lifestyle of the New Rich, pursuing international adventure while minimizing your work time and annoying colleagues with email auto-replies announcing that you only check email every two weeks. You can get a lot out of this book even if you’re happy with a forty-hour work week and don’t have any intention of tango dancing in Argentina.

Here are a few of the unconventional ideas you’ll find in The 4-Hour Workweek.

Shorten your work time to limit your work to only the important. This flows from Parkinson’s Law which states that work expands to fill the time available for its completion. Writing blog posts conforms to Parkinson’s Law. If I need to do one on a deadline, I will get it done faster than if I don’t do it on a deadline. With limited time, I skip the extra surfing and checking email. I focus on the most important task: writing a solid blog post.

Some tasks, however, benefit from more time and more work, not less. Sometimes blog posts, for example, benefit from being set aside for a couple of days and then revisited with a fresh eye. Besides that, there are many pleasurable work activities that suffer when squeezed down to their most minimal effort. Ferriss takes the stance that you should work for income, not for satisfaction. That perspective won’t suit everyone, as many find flow and engagement in daily work.

Practice the art of nonfinishing. Ferriss addresses this in the context of his recommended low-information diet recently taken up by Brian Oberkirch; he aims it specifically at our reading habits. However, it’s wise to practice it in all aspects of our lives. If you start a project or task — or even a full-time job — and the value isn’t there, you shouldn’t continue just because you’ve already put time in. That time is what economists know as a “sunk cost.” You can’t recapture it, but you can better allocate your time going forward. Get in the habit of checking in with yourself as you go about your day, and don’t slavishly stick with an activity just because you started it.

Try the hourglass approach to creating a remote work arrangement. If you’re working as an employee and want to free up some time and give yourself some mobility, Ferriss suggests demonstrating to your manager how productive you can be when you work remotely. He calls one pattern for doing this the “hourglass approach,” where you fabricate a reason to work remotely for a chunk of time, then return to the office and make your case for working remotely on an ongoing basis.

While I found some of his suggestions overly manipulative and wonder if they’d really overcome managerial reluctance to allow telecommuting, he does offer a concrete approach that gets beyond the standard “write a memo to your boss about why and how” advice.

Build a self-sustaining virtual architecture for a company. The 4-Hour Workweek leads you through the steps from figuring out a niche market that you can effectively address given your interests and background, to finding or creating a product to sell, to gauging demand with pay-per-click advertising, and then eventually setting up online order management and automated fulfillment capabilities supported by virtual assistants.

This section of the book fascinates and enlightens, especially if you thought that building a Web 2.0-style to do list application was your best bet at startup success. I’m not about to go launch my own online store but after reading his tutorial, I feel like I could. Ferriss walks you from gleam in your eye to embryonic startup to full-grown income stream, making it seem feasible for anyone with the nerve to try it.

If you’re skeptical about The 4-Hour Work Week, start with Tim Ferriss’ podcast from SXSW and see what you think.

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  1. I came across this author recently and had similar take aways. I kept looking for something not to like but had trouble finding anything.

    Also who can deny that the guys is good when he tested out one of his dream jobs of being a Monkey Trainer?

  2. This is possible. We set our company up that everything is virtual. We can divert our phones to anywhere in the world and we do.

    Our server is in a data centre and we use Printeranywhere Basecamp and GMail as our backbone.

    I could process orders in Bangkok and print them on a printer in a warehouse in Dublin. If someone dropped a bomb on our warehouse all our home offices and stole each and every one of our computers we could be back up and running that day in internet cafes. Its that flexible.

    The 4 hour work week is possible. The only barrier I can see is the old perception barrier.

  3. Yaw, the guy FEELS wrong… If you read his bio you’ll find that he claims to be a champion cage fighter, a world record Tango dancing champion (how do you get a RECORD in Tango?), and a hit actor in China.


    I’m almost convinced that he and the “Impossible is Nothing” guy (search for him on youtube) are the same person.

    Of course, no need to sacrifice the message because of the messenger… Enough people have said good things about the book that I’ll probably pick it up.

  4. Joel Strellner Monday, April 23, 2007


    I too ran into him recently and walked away not convinced enough to buy the book. Based off of what you have read, do you recommend the purchase? If so, why and if not, why not?


  5. Oliver Ruehl Monday, April 23, 2007


    Not sure what to say about this guy.
    I’m from Germany and his ideas are not bad in principle, but I’d need a tank and some rockets to push through changes like: “Install an Auto Reply to your email.” It just won’t work (yet).
    I guess it needs a more “fine tuned” approach and more time for me and a lot of other people who are stuck in the old mechanisms of work life in 2007.
    With an email responder like his I’d be out of business and stamped “NUTS!” in no time.

    I was also shocked about his “army in bangalore”.
    Pretty strange calculation dont you think? Earn 25$ -> spend 4$ in India -> spend the rest on my luxury lifestyle. He seems like a strange guy to me.

    Reminds me a little bit of Chuck Norris. I’m sorry :-D

    I’d rather find a way for myself – even if it takes a few years longer. Who cares? :)

  6. Anne, thanks for starting the discussion, and thanks to all for participating! Let me see if I can provide a few answers and ideas:

    1. I know it seems unbelievable, but nothing in my bio is made up. To address the question about the tango world record, I set it on Live with Regis and Kelly for Guinness, and the video is on my site. For cage fighting, I used to train and compete with Shooto fighters in Tokyo (including Kiguchi Dojo and those from the original Japan Vale Tudo), and I was a police officer in the Chinese series “Human Cargo” — we shot US-based scenes in Oakland — which was broadcast in the mainland and HK around 4-6 years ago.

    2. The outsourcing is definitely a multi-faceted socio-economical and political topic. I recently spoke at the Ignite keynote for Web 2.0 last week (www.web2expo.com) and was approached by a Swiss gentleman who works at UBS, the investment bank, in Zurich. While we were talking, another person walked up and asked if I felt bad about taking jobs from Americans to give to Indians, and the Swiss gentleman answered it for me. He said, “Tim, you’re actually in social development. In Switzerland, a recent study showed that for every white-collar job that was outsourced to India we were bringing 25 people above the poverty line.” He explained that five people could be paid the same wages as one Swiss, and five people depend on each of those five. The Swiss would be provided for by social services in Switzerland until he or she got another job, where the Indians did not have that provision.

    Please note that the wages paid to these overseas workers are often the highest-paying jobs available in their countries. $5/hour doesn’t should like much here, but in India — even in a place like Argentina, where I used to live — it can go quite far. There are plenty of Americans overseas who work for $5/hour, and I’ve used them as well. It’s not underpayment; it’s just payment in another economic structure. I don’t in any way recommend exploitation in the book — I recommend being someone who “moves resources from low-yield areas to high-yield areas,” which is precisely how J.D. Say originally defined and coined the word “entrepreneur.”


    I don’t blame people for being skeptical, as I’m a skeptic myself. The whole premise seems impossible, but as Billy and the dozen or so case studies in the book will attest, it isn’t. It’s just uncommon. To respond to Oliver’s last two sentences, the book is all about finding your own path, not about being Tim Ferriss. Most people have no interest in tango or cage fighting, and I push the principles to extremes, but people can use time however they please once they create it. I just want to give them options.

    Hope that helps!

    Tim Ferriss
    P.S. I actually dig the Chuck Norris comparison ;)

  7. Hi Chu.. Tim,

    Thanks for the reply and clearing things up.
    I see a few things different now. I’ll be a LOT slower next time with my comments.

    Let’s hope we all find a good way to improve on our work / life balance.
    Have to go now. Installing Auto-Reply haha ;)

  8. On non-finishing, I have to disagree. You see I agree with that *other* pillar of wisdom, Dr Phil.

    By following simple advice heard from Dr. Phil show, you can find inner peace. Dr. Phil says: “The way to achieve inner peace is to finish all the things you have started and have never finished.”

    So I looked around my house to see all the things I started and hadn’t finished, and before leaving the house this morning, I finished off a bottle of merlot, a bottle of white zinfandel, a bottle of Bailey’s Irish Cream, a bottle of Kahlua, a package of Oreos, the remainder of my old Prozac prescription, the rest of the cheesecake, some Doritos and a box of chocolates.

    Naturally I am working a 4-hour work week. And you have no idea how freaking good I feel! ;-)

  9. i would Absolutely love to work from home, my (well i say my) i will rephrase, the company that i work for would see my having remote access being installed at home as an excuse to get more work out of me, coupled with them giving me a devilmachine Blackberry thingamy (prob with a homing device implanted in it) i dont think it would work for me,i am going to have a look at the book though as it does seem rather interesting

    thanks for the post


  10. [Productivity Workflows] » “You productivity guru […] can do this in all of your spare time” Tuesday, April 24, 2007

    [...] the book, has a very lucid analysis in the post she published in the Web Worker Daily yesterday: Rethink Your Relationship to Work: Ideas from The 4-Hour Work Week. Bookmark [...]

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