Can you really work just a 4-Hour Workweek?

Dough is the time-saving money blog. One way I save you time is read books on your behalf, condensing the key messages down and give you bite-size snippets that give a taste of the information you need.

The four hour work week is a book that has been around for a few years but carries a message that links closely with the content of this blog. Therefore well worth condensing for you.

Firstly the author- Tim Ferriss. Tim is known as the "Oprah of Audio" and the first place I came across him is his podcast. On it he interviews world class performers in various arenas of life and tries to dissect what makes them tick. He's written multiple books and is a bit of a self help guru, who incorporates plenty of other's wisdom in what he does. He has a strong track record in investing and has links to some of the biggest names in business (Uber, Facebook, Twitter, Alibaba). 

One of Tim's books is called the 4-Hour Workweek. (apparently it's the tenth most highlighted book ever on kindle- so clearly plenty of people like what it says!) It's all about how to earn more, for less effort. "Lifestyle design" is the message. You can choose how your life looks.

Here's a picture of a beach:

4 hour work week summary of key points
Photo by Rowan Heuvel on Unsplash

The book's aim is this. You want to be here, right? Or at least have the option of being here when you want to. You don't want to be in your office, working the daily grind for your pay-cheque. You want to be free to make your own decisions and live the way that you want.

Of course you do. Who wouldn't? So what are the steps to get there?

In summary:

  1. Find, design, make, develop, come up with a product which people will buy from you. Preferably something not too expensive (as people have higher standards for expensive stuff), but not too cheap (as you need to sell a lot to make money).
  2. Work out whether people actually want to buy your product. If they do, ideally get some pre orders. 
  3. Find a manufacturer who will build the product for you.
  4. Sell the product on the internet.
  5. Outsource everything, from attracting people to your website, to returns, to storage and dispatch of stock, to customer service. Use overseas staff wherever possible.
  6. Sit back and watch the money come in, checking in every once in a while to make sure everything is going a it should. 
  7. Work a 4 hour week

Clearly there is far more detail in the book about how to do this, and a load of time saving techniques which peaked my interest.

Here are my 4 key takeaways and 3 holdups with what he says.

Key Points

1. You don't have to follow the crowd

Far too many people spend their time working in their life, rather than working on their lives. They move from one job to another, fulfilling all of the roles that their family, friends, work, society places on them without ever really stopping and asking the really important questions. 

Why am I doing this? Is there a better way of living? How can I be more fulfilled? What would be best for the people around me?

Tim's book is brilliant at shaking you out of the "daily grind" 9-5 mindset and lifting you up to other possibilities. What do I want to do with my time? Is there a better way of making money which would free me up to do the things I really want to do?

2.  You should use your time better

Tim is a firm believer in the 80:20 rule (or Pareto Principle). This is the rule that roughly 80% of results come from 20% of our time. It's present in nature, sport, economics, all sorts of things. But in particular it applies to our time. We get most of the results from 20% of our effort and time. 

"Doing something unimportant well does not make it important"

By working out what those important things are, what we do to create those results, we can do more of that, and cut out the unproductive areas that don't yield the same results. Three really helpful questions to ask yourself a few times a day:

  • Am I being productive or just active?
  • Am I inventing things to do to avoid the important?
  • If this is the only thing I will accomplish today, will I be satisfied with my day?

Use your time as well as you can. Time is the most scarce and valuable resource we have on this earth. It should be treated as such.

3. You should stop finishing everything

He follows that up with some comments on the art of non-finishing. We can have this mindset of finishing everything that we start. Whilst this is admirable in some respects, too often we push through with things which really aren't worthwhile. 

Is the book rubbish? Put it down. Is the film dull and predictable? Turn it off. Are you fed up of the TV show? Don't watch the next episode. Are you full? Stop eating. 

We can waste our lives finishing things which we realise part way through don't do us any good. You don't have to see everything through to the end.  

4. You should find ways to automate your life.

One of the ways to still get the less important jobs done is to outsource or automate as much as possible. There's loads of ways of doing this, from apps and email controls to virtual assistants. This means you can spend less time on less important items, and more on the areas that really matter.

Obviously this was worth exploring further. Discovering that I can have my own personal assistant to do all of the jobs I don't want to do so I can focus on more important things. It was certainly worth exploring.

So I submitted a quick query to Brickwork India to find out how much it would cost me for 2-3 hours a week of virtual assistant time, for doing some research, a small amount of blog maintenance and other admin tasks. I received a quote of $15 per hour (£12ish) for the first couple of months. 

Now whilst that's not astronomical. It's certainly more than I'm in a position to pay at the moment but it's a helpful challenge. How much is your time worth? How much would you pay to save an hour of time?

It's £4 to get my car washed close to where I live. This saves me an hour or so of time and achieves a much better result than I would. So I do it. I don't pay the £15 to have the gardener come and cut my grass every week. It takes me just under an hour to do a reasonable job. So my line is somewhere between £4 and £15. Where is yours? It's worth thinking about and will might help you think about how you trade time for money all the time.

There's other ways of saving time and automating areas of your life. Here's a blog post I did at the start of 2018 with some of the ways I'm now saving time.

Tim also has an interesting youtube video on "batching" - how to save time by saving up jobs to do all together. The simplest example is scheduling specific times to check email or social media to avoid switching tasks.

In addition to the above takeaways, there is a great little story about a Mexican fisherman and an American investment banker. It deserved a post all to itself. 

Mexican Fisherman Money Banker


There are a few caveats to add to the above good bits.

1. Demographics

The book appears on first glance to be largely aimed at 20-30 year old single men who probably work in an office and earn quite a lot. Tim wrote it targeting a couple of friends that fitted that demographic. That comes through in his stories, aims and writing style. 

It doesn't mean that it hasn't got valuable lessons for others, as mentioned above there are plenty of good takeaways, you just might need to work a bit harder if you don't fit into that category.

2. Is your office really that bad?

There is also a huge assumption that offices are terrible places to be. That we should be doing everything possible to avoid being there. I actually quite like my workplace. I quite like the people I work with. There's also creativity, efficiency, learning and entertainment to be had from being around other people. Different types of work benefits from different types of situation, and something important is missing if work occurs solely alone or using email/phone to communicate.

There also seems to be an assumption that you can't find fulfilment in work itself, and by minimising the amount of time you work, you can find something more fulfilling to do. I think this hugely underestimates the enjoyment and fulfilment you can get from the job that you do. 

What about police, firefighters, doctors, nurses, binmen, plumbers, electricians, builders, mechanics, barbers, basically anyone in an industry that isn't office based. There isn't a shortcut for these jobs, they can't be done remotely and they can't be outsourced. 

3. It's hard work

Almost no one who chooses to start a business, however small and straightforward, would say that it is easy. You need a good idea, you need to learn a lot, and you need to work really really hard. It is a rare opportunity that comes along where you can earn a lot of money without doing much towards it in the long run.

People who have made this sort of thing work have put in a lot of up front time and effort, in order to make it happen. It isn't easy, especially if you are busy working in your day to day life as well. The book does mention this, however it doesn't give it the emphasis it deserves. It isn't right for everyone and many people don't want to live that way.

It is an inspiring book. You should read it. You will come away from it challenging yourself regarding whether the way you are living is the best fit for you. It might well be, but there's certainly helpful questions to ask yourself, about what you do, how you do it, and why you choose that lifestyle. 

Is the way my life looks at the moment the way I want it to be? Can I think a little outside the box to line it up better with my priorities?
As ever, give Dough a like on Facebook if you haven't already. You'll be the first to know about future content.