6 Brilliant Lessons from The 4-Hour Workweek

4HWW Book CoverRather than write a “review” of the 4-Hour Workweek, I decided to make a list of the main lessons I learned from the book.  My review would be, “Go buy the book and read it immediately.”  Tim Ferriss has earned a permanent spot in my Mt. Rushmore of authors, and this book is definitely in my top 5 of all time. Whether you are an entrepreneur, employee, productivity whiz, or anyone else, there is something for everyone in the book, and the lessons can be applied to many situations.

But, before jumping into the main lessons I learned from this book, you have to remove all pre-conceived notions and thoughts about the book.  I know after the initial release in 2007, there were many critical reviews, but that didn’t stop the book from being a NY Times Best Seller for 7 years and counting.  Not to mention, it is the most hi-lighted book in the Kindle marketplace.  Plus, every time I go into a Barnes and Noble, I’ll see the book in the “Best in Business” display of books, usually right at eye level.  Surely all these indicators point to something good, right?

However, some people get so wrapped up in the title of the book and immediately write it off as “impossible” or “unrealistic” etc…  But it is important to understand the purpose of the book isn’t to necessarily teach you how to only work 4 hours per week, nor is it saying that is the goal – but it is definitely possible.  The purpose is to teach you how to be more productive with your time and your life.  With this increased productivity, you can eliminate many hours of work from your week, and if you decided to work only 4 hours per week, that is fine.  Or you could work 20, 40, 80+ hours with more focus and productivity – its up to you.  The point is, by applying the lessons from this book, you will create time to enjoy life now, and not wait decades for your retirement.

While there are lots of things to be learned in this book, here are 6 of the main lessons that resonated with me the most.

1. The 80/20 Principle – Focusing on what is most important

I first heard of the 80/20 Principle or “Pareto’s Principle” in an economics class in college.  If you aren’t familiar with the concept, Vilfredo Pareto, the Italian economist who it is named after, concluded that 80% of the wealth and income was produced and possessed by 20% of the population.  But he also found the mathematical formula was applicable outside of economics as well. In fact, it could be found just about everywhere.

For example:

  • 80% of Pareto’s garden peas were produced by 20% of the peapods he had planted.
  • 80% of company profits come from 20% of the products and customers.
  • 80% of your complaints come from 20% of your customers.

etc…

But to keep it simple, you could say 80% of the output is a result of 20% of the input.  When I first realized the importance of this principle, I started to analyze everything I was doing to determine what the 20% was, and figuring out how to eliminate the 80%.  In college, I discovered I could be 80% prepared for an exam, by reading 20% of the textbook, so I just read the important parts to prepare for exams.  Later after starting a business, I realized 20% of my clients accounted for 80% of my revenue, so I focused my business on these types of clients.

Tim suggests 80/20ing everything in your life to help find where you can eliminate waste.  I now try to do this at least once a month, preferable twice, to really see where I’m able to optimize my time, energy, money etc.  This is, by far, one of the best things to do to really discover where you should put your focus.

In the near future, I’ll write a more detailed post solely dedicated to the 80/20 principle and best practices for examining your business and personal life.

There is another productivity lesson that goes hand-in-hand with the 80/20 principle. It involves these 2 truths:

1. Doing something unimportant well does not make it important.

2. Requiring a lot of time does not make a task important. What you do is exponentially more important than how you do it. While efficiency is important, it is useless unless applied to the right things.

It is important to focus on being productive and not busy.  You can come up with a million things to do, and rationalize each one of them, but unless it takes advantage of the 20% you should focus on, then you are just making yourself busy, and not productive.

After reading 4HWW I wrote the following questions on a sticky note and placed it on my computer & desk so that I would see it multiple times each day:

Am I inventing things to do to avoid the important?

Am I being productive or just active?

 

2. Batching

I remember what it was like before I started batching tasks.  It was pure chaos and getting things done in the most inefficient way possible.  Implementing a batching system is very simple.  All you are doing is grouping similar tasks together and then completing them at the same time.  The most consistent way I have used batching over the last 8 years has been with sorting through mail.  Before I started batching I would get my mail and open each piece every day. If I had 1 bill, I would pull out the checkbook and write a check immediately, then prepare the return envelope, and then mail it off… This was horribly inefficient if I did this several times a month.

When I started batching, I would collect all the mail into one large pile, then every 2 weeks or so, I would sort through the mail, separating junk from bills & other important pieces.  Then, after grouping all the bills together, I would write checks for each bill, one after another, then place them in the envelopes all at the same time, then add the stamps etc… very methodical, kinda like an assembly line.  The end result was that I saved time, energy, and could focus my attention directly on tasks without getting sidetracked by checking mail and paying bills randomly.  Now, with paperless billing, this makes things a lot easier, but I still sort through all other mail in the same way.  

By batching, I can focus on important tasks and not get distracted by menial tasks.  One of the most difficult things to batch is email.  We’ve been so accustomed to push notifications and responding quickly to email that we habitually check email without even realizing it.  Instead of checking email 20-30 times a day, Tim recommends checking it twice each day, and responding to all emails at the same time.  I’m still working on this one.

Sure this sounds like a good idea, but does it really make a difference?  Yes, there is science behind it.  In the book Tim says, “There is an inescapable setup time for all tasks, large or minuscule in scale. It is often the same for one as it is for a hundred. There is a psychological switching of gears that can require up to 45 minutes to resume a major task that has been interrupted. More than a quarter of each 9– 5 period (28%) is consumed by such interruptions.”

So if you can save 10 hours per week, and your time is valued at $100/hour, then over the course of a year, you will have earned back $50,000 by saving hundreds of hours of redundant work.  Don’t work harder, work smarter.

Ideas of things to batch: mail, email, bills, phone, planning, laundry, social media, cooking, cleaning etc.

 

3.  Why a deferred life plan is a bad idea

 Most people’s idea of life is working hard for 40 years to have a nice retirement where they can live out there dreams.  Although many people don’t have any dreams or goals in mind, they just know that one day, after decades of work, they will arrive.  This “plan” is referred to as a deferred life plan, where you slave away at a job (in which most people aren’t fully satisfied) so that you can retire and have freedom.  This is normal, and to many this is the only reality.  But, at Tim discusses in this book, there is an alternative option.  One in which you can enjoy life now, and take mini-retirements along the way.

To many, this may seem impossible, unless you are born into wealth.  But, that is not what Tim is suggesting.  By implementing strategies from this book to create a muse (defined by Tim as an automated vehicle for generating cash without consuming time), you can enjoy take mini-retirements and live your dreams today, not decades from now.  

The book is filled with story after story of people who have been able to start their muse on the side and generate enough revenue to replace their income at their job.  They then are able to leave the rat race behind. Then by optimizing their muse and outsourcing they are able to live a location independent lifestyle and take mini-retirements throughout life without having to worry about money or job security.  But this post isn’t about creating your muse; Tim dedicated 3 full chapters to that in his book & can explain it much better.  The lesson I want to focus on is why you shouldn’t stay on the deferred life plan.

The most obvious, but easily forgotten reason is that no one is guaranteed to live until they retire.  Wouldn’t it be awful to work for 40 years just waiting for retirement so you can live out your dreams, only to die, or become physically incapable of accomplishing them?  Another reason for not deferring life is if you are working 40-80+ hours per week without a break, you can easily miss the moments you can’t get back 40 years later.  Enjoying family and friends regularly shouldn’t be something you seldom do. Before you know it, your parents get old, your kids grow up, and you aren’t close with your friends anymore.  There is real opportunity cost involved in deferring your life.  

Here is a poem by David Weatherford that makes you really examine the path you are taking:

SLOW DANCE

Have you ever watched kids on a merry-go-round,
or listened to rain slapping the ground?

Ever followed a butterfly’s erratic flight,
or gazed at the sun fading into the night?

You better slow down, don’t dance so fast,
time is short, the music won’t last.

Do you run through each day on the fly,
when you ask “How are you?”, do you hear the reply?

When the day is done, do you lie in your bed,
with the next hundred chores running through your head?

You better slow down, don’t dance so fast,
time is short, the music won’t last.

Ever told your child, we’ll do it tomorrow,
and in your haste, not see his sorrow?

Ever lost touch, let a friendship die,
’cause you never had time to call and say hi?

You better slow down, don’t dance so fast,
time is short, the music won’t last.

When you run so fast to get somewhere,
you miss half the fun of getting there.

When you worry and hurry through your day,
it’s like an unopened gift thrown away.

Life isn’t a race, so take it slower,
hear the music before your song is over.

 I recommend re-reading that poem, but this time take it slower and really think about what the author is saying.

 

4. The cost of inaction

 What is it costing you to postpone taking action in your life?  Whether its quitting your job, starting a business, traveling, getting healthy, or anything else, what are the costs of waiting?  Consider not just the financial cost, but also the emotional and the physical cost as well. What will happen when 5, 10, or 20 years go by and you still haven’t even tried to achieve the things that excite you?  Time is finite, and you aren’t guaranteed the next day.  

Rolvagabonding-bookcoverf Potts, in his book Vagabonding tells the story of two Christian Monks living in Egypt who have always dreamed of seeing the world.  But since they made vows of contemplation, they couldn’t live out their dreams.  So, they satiated their desires by putting off their travels to a later time in life.  The problem was they would keep delaying their plans. In the summer, they would tell each other they would travel in the winter.  But when the winter came, they would delay further to the next summer.  They kept repeating this over and over for 50 years, and never left the monastery.  In the same way, most of us do the exact same thing.  We settle down in our homes and careers, getting caught up in the routine, only to waste the best years of our lives not doing what would be most fulfilling, only because we are “waiting” for the perfect timing.

Tim said, “Someday” is a disease that will take your dreams to the grave with you. Pro and con lists are just as bad. If it’s important to you and you want to do it “eventually,” just do it and correct course along the way.”

If you keep waiting on everything in life to be perfect, you will miss out on so much.  Don’t get caught up dwelling upon the “risk” that is holding you back.  Tim says it perfectly in the book, “If you telescope out 10 years and know with 100% certainty that it is a path of disappointment and regret, and if we define risk as ‘the likelihood of an irreversible negative outcome,’ inaction is the greatest risk of all.”  Don’t deceive yourself.  

 

5. Non-finishing and managing input

 One message that is instilled in a lot of people as they grow up is, “Finish what you start.”  Everything from your dinner to piano lessons, parents & teachers advise you to finish everything that you start.  After a while this becomes so instilled in you that you attach words with negative connotations like “quitter” to people to don’t finish something.  Until I read this book, I bought into this idea that you have to finish everything you start.  I wasn’t obsessive about it, but if I didn’t finish something, I might feel guilty to some degree.  That all changed after reading this book.

Tim challenges the idea of finishing everything.  He said just because you start something, doesn’t automatically justify finishing it.  If you are at the movies and get one of those $9 bags of popcorn and 64oz drinks that comes with free refills, you don’t have to finish just so you can get a refill.  Or if you start reading a book, only to find that all the good info is in the first 3 chapters and the rest of fluff, don’t waste your time finishing it just so you can say you finished it.

Its okay to stop something that is boring or a waste of time if it isn’t required as part of your job.

Another important lesson from this book that relates to non-finishing is managing input.  

Tim says, “Lifestyle design is based on massive action— output. Increased output necessitates decreased input. Most information is time-consuming, negative, irrelevant to your goals, and outside of your influence.”

Do you really need to watch the news every day? The world isn’t going to end because you don’t read the paper every day. You probably forget 90% of the news you consumed within 24 hours.  By drastically decreasing all the time, energy and brain power you waste on consuming things that are irrelevant to your goals, you are able to enjoy the things that really matter to you.  Spending more time with your family, reflecting on your dreams and goals, enjoying hobbies, are just a few things you can do to replace these old habits.  

In the near future, I’ll write a more detailed post on how to go on a media fast and how refreshing it can be. But for now, just be careful about consuming too much.  Tim suggests developing the habit of asking yourself, “Will I definitely use this information for something immediate and important?” Pair this up with your 80/20 analysis and focus on what really helps you, and eliminate the rest.

 

 6. Giving up control to gain freedom

As a perfectionist and recovering control freak, this was the lesson that has made the most difference in my business after I started implementing the steps to give up control.  Being able to live in a way that work gets done, your business keeps going and life goes smoothly, all without your constant contribution and effort is often a fantasy for many people.  But, by setting up systems to replace yourself, it is attainable.  Outsourcing many aspects of your life is not only a reality, but it is often easier and cheaper than you would think.  Whether you are hiring virtual assistants (VAs) in India, The Phillipines, or even in the US, you can delegate anything from managing emails to sending flowers, or even more complex tasks that require skills and knowledge in business, technology, writing etc. VA’s can do just about anything that doesn’t require their physical presence, which these days is a lot.

So, sure, it would be nice to have a VA, but is it really worth it? You have to think about it in terms of time and money.  Lets say you earn $100,000 per year (40 hours a week, 50 weeks a year), or $50 per hour.  If you paid an excellent VA $30/hr and they were able to save you 8 hours of work per work, how would that effect your time & money?  Well, we already know it would save you 8 hours of work each week, or essentially 1 day off.  But what about monetarily?  The 8 hours you are saving is worth $400 (8 x $50), and the 8 hours you are paying the VA to work only cost you $240 (8 x $30).  So, in this case by hiring a VA, you are coming out ahead $160 ($400-$240), plus an additional 8 free hours which you can do whatever you want.  This is how business works.  Huge businesses like Apple outsource the manufacturing of their products to China for a lot cheaper than it would cost them to manufacture here in the US.  Then they are able to focus on what they are best at, design and marketing.

In my business, this was one of the hardest things I had to learn.  I was always told, if you want things done right, you have to do them yourself.  So, if I needed something done, I would spend hours learning how to do it.  I essentially was a “jack of all trades, but master of none.” But when I found myself in a situation where I was very frustrated with some menial task, I decided to hire someone else to take care of it for me.  It cost me probably $50, but saved me hours of frustration.  Once they completed the task and the world didn’t fall apart, I realized how much time I could save by outsourcing these tasks that I didn’t enjoy and focus on revenue generating activities that helped my business grow.  From that point forward, I’ve tried to exclusively focus my time and efforts on areas of my business where I can contribute the most value, and hire experts to handle everything else.

Tim made 2 excellent points that are best left in his own words:

“Preparing someone to replace you (even if it never happens) will produce an ultrarefined set of rules that will cut remaining fat and redundancy from your schedule . Lingering unimportant tasks will disappear as soon as someone else is being paid to do them.

It is absolutely necessary that you realize that you can always do something more cheaply yourself. This doesn’t mean you want to spend your time doing it . If you spend your time, worth $ 20– 25 per hour , doing something that someone else will do for $ 10 per hour, it’s simply a poor use of resources.”

Each of these lessons really deserve their own post, so as I mentioned similarly in other sections, I will put together a separate post dedicated to outsourcing. But, for now here are 3 questions you can ask yourself to find areas of your life you can outsource:

  1. Look at your to-do list— what has been sitting on it the longest?
  2. Each time you are interrupted or change tasks, ask, “Could a VA do this?”
  3. Examine pain points— what causes you the most frustration and boredom?

Other Lessons

To keep this post from being too long, I’ve limited the lessons to six.  But there are many other great takeaways that deserve mentioning.  My best recommendation is to go read the book. Whether you get a physical copy, or download it on Kindle, I suggest hi-lighting sections that speak to you, so you can easily refer back to them later.  But for now, here are a few other lessons I learned from the book:

  • The crucial difference between relative & absolute income & why relative income is more important
  • Why selling premium, higher end products/services is better
  • Parkinson’s Law
  • How to set daily goals, the right way
  • How to become a top expert in 4 weeks
  • How to accurately determine if a product/service is viable as a business
  • The lose-win guarantee & how to sell anything to anyone

….among many other important lessons not listed.

These are the action steps I recommend taking to really increase your productivity, improve your time management, and live a better life today:

 

The 4-Hour Work Week action steps

 

  1. Do an 80/20 analysis on every aspect of your life to discover where to focus your time and energy
  2. Start batching tasks and activities together
  3. Write down the steps you need to take to get off the “deferred life plan”
  4. Stop delaying taking action and consider the costs of inaction and what it will be like 5, 10, 20 years from now if you don’t take action
  5. Manage your media input by only consuming information that directly relates to you goals. Remind yourself it is okay not to finish (books, food, movies etc)
  6. Find areas in your life or business to outsource. Let go of control and delegate tasks so that you can focus on higher value activities.
  7. Read The 4-Hour Work Week and take lots of notes.
  8. Go on 1 week media fast and reflect on your dreams and goals for your life.

Overall, there is a lot to be learned from this book.  I’ve found myself rereading the book several times over the years to refresh my memory and optimize new aspects of my business and life, and I encourage you to do the same.

If you enjoyed this post, please let me know.  Originally, my goal with this blog was to document experiences and notes so that I can refer to them in the future. But, it is always nice if I can help others by providing this information.  Thank you for reading.

 

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