4 Hour Work Week Summary

In this 4 Hour Work Week summary I will quickly condense some of the fantastic steps Tim Ferriss offers to help you gain not just a work life balance, but true independence and freedom from work.

4 Hour Work Week Summary – My Hesitation

I had resisted the urge to buy this book for a long time given its obvious clickbait title. But as I gradually grew into the title of “digital marketer” and started consuming large volumes of content from podcasts and gurus it became very clear that a great number of the experts I followed attributed their success, or at least the first step towards their success, as the 4 Hour Work Week.

It’s very cheap if you get the Kindle edition and I burned through it. I was hooked.

It is important to note when reading the 4 Hour Work Week that Tim Ferriss was already a successful entrepreneur in his late 20s with his supplement brand. It was when he found himself burned out that he went travelling and had to make his business work in such a way that would give him the freedom to enjoy life rather than consuming it.

As such it’s quite clear throughout the book that Ferriss has two audience personas in mind. One is employed in a rat race day job and the other runs their own business. This is immediately quite problematic because Ferriss also makes a lot of assumptions about these personas.

I found the employee was distinctly pitched as someone comfortable in middle management on a decent salary, while the entrepreneur had overcome a lot of the bootstrapping necessary to build a sustainable business. But I’m sure Ferriss did not intend to limit his audience in that way.

All his books are toolkits – one even called Tools of Titans. The Four Hour Body ranges from weight loss, to muscle gain and a range of other processes and Ferriss specifically says do not read it from cover to cover but just pick the sections that are most relevant to you.

The Four Hour Work Week is not a textbook designed to help everyone become a digital marketer but it is packed full of very helpful “hacks” to help you work more efficiently. In fact Ferriss rejects the term “efficient” as “If effectiveness is doing the right things, efficiency is doing things right.” 

4 Hour Work Week Summary

The Pareto Principle

Inspired by Richard Koche’s book 80/20, the biggest teaching of the 4 Hour Work Week is that business, and indeed the world, is very inefficient if left to its own devices. In 1896 Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto found that 80% of Italy’s land was owned by 20% of the population. Other commentators have since found that observation of 80% of outcomes coming from 20% of inputs is applicable to a vast array of situations. See if any of the following statements sound true to you.

  • 20% of the work you do brings 80% of the results
  • 20% of your friends bring you the most happiness
  • 20% of your leisure activities give you 80% of your satisfaction

Tim Ferriss urges you to use that principle to your advantage. And trust me, it works. Condense your work time to focusing on the 20% of activities that produce the most results. Normally that will be your most creative activity, rather than the checking, admin, emails and other padding we use to look busy. Doing this alone will massively improve your life. He uses the example of a hypothetical man who after suffering a heart attack is told by his doctor that he can only work two hours a day – what would you do to meet that requirement? What if it were just four hours a week?

By focusing on essentials, it is perfectly possible to have the same if not more impact in your work by focusing on what gets results and eliminating everything else. A large part of that is eliminating needless emails, meetings and saying no to more. In our culture we feel obliged to say yes all the time to those who pay us, but sometimes saying yes means you are spread to thin and cannot achieve the real goals you are capable of.

Work From Home

Working from home has historically been associated with slacking off. But on the contrary, working from home will typically save you two hours a day (given the average commute in the UK is 58 minutes) and spare you all the distractions of the office. Studies have shown that working from home will often increase productivity and employee retention.

Nicholas Bloom, a senior fellow at the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research, conducted a study in 2015 with Chinese travel agency Ctrip. He found that giving a sample of employees the choice of working from home resulted in a 13% increase in output and a 50% reduction in quit rates, which when rolled out to the whole company resulted in a 22% productivity increase.

Now Tim Ferriss prescribes that once you have honed your workday to a hyper-efficient couple of hours that will massively outpace the results of your colleagues, you need to work from home to take advantage of it. Otherwise all those hours you’ve saved will be stuck in the office. He offers a number of ways of persuading your boss to consider this – having a few days off sick and then telling your boss how much easier it was to work at home. In all Ferriss’ works he is good at offering a simple solution to change minds and habits – propose a short trial. Make sure your work from home trial is much more productive than your time in the office.

Start a Muse Project

Perhaps the most interesting part of the 4 Hour Work Week is the introduction of “muses”. These are sidehustles that are not directly designed to be startups aimed at making huge sums of money. Instead they are simple systems designed to provide passive cash-flow with minimal time investment.

That might sound like the holy grail – “no shit Sherlock, what could be easier than an idea that creates passive income?”

But thanks to the internet there are loads of opportunities for these muses. Ferriss mainly advocates a physical product – a business model usually referred to today in online entrepreneurship as “FBA” thanks to Amazon’s fulfillment program.

You design or improve upon an existing product, get it manufactured abroad and get it shipped to a fulfillment centre that handles your logistics. All you have to do is sell it. You can hire a virtual assistant (see next section) to handle customer service.

The 4 Hour Work Week is a bit dated here as Ferriss basically says you can set up ads on Google and you’ll be set. Plus the whole chapter is a little brief on the actual implementation of muse projects. Today all online advertising is much more competitive so you’re unlikely to be successful with ads alone. Instead my own view would be to work on building an organic following.

I myself am a huge fan of Search Engine Optimization, which is why you’re reading this having searched something along the lines of “4 Hour Work Week Summary” and I have paid nothing to get you here.

Physical products are also pretty complex to work out when you’re working on design, import and export and logistics before you even get to marketing. But there are plenty of other options for muse projects that deserve multiple future posts.

My top tip would be to look at an online business brokerage like Empire Flippers to see what’s possible. Go into the listings and see where they say how much time the founder spends working on the business. Most of them are genuine 4 hour work week success stories.

There is huge value in a muse project once you have found one. Not only do you have cash coming in, but you can start a side hustle muse while full-time employed. That makes a huge difference to your wellbeing knowing that your boss doesn’t own you anymore. Asking for a pay rise or to work from home and saying no to non-essential tasks are much easier when you know you have a backup.

Outsourcing

Outsourcing always seems like a dirty word – it costs livelihoods when jobs are moved abroad. But outsourcing is also a huge opportunity to improve your own livelihood.

If you are employed in a good job or have your own business, there are doubtless loads of admin tasks that don’t use any of your skill but take up a lot of time.

Virtual assistants can be found all over the world and can take over all sorts of tasks from research to accounting. Ferriss even recommends empowering yourself by giving a virtual assistant fun tasks – such as buying flowers or booking a restaurant.

It’s not just admin work either. When you start a muse project you may think you need skills in design, marketing, accounting and more but in reality there are thousands of gig workers happy to help you out for just a fraction of what it would cost to employ someone.

Outside the 4 Hour Work Week – Silicon Valley VC Naval Ravikant (who happens to be a friend of Ferriss) gave a now legendary tweet series on how to get rich without getting lucky. One of the principles is that you should know your hourly rate as an entrepreneur. If something is cheaper to outsource than to use your time, then outsource it.

A classic example is cooking or cleaning. Dining out may cost you, but think of the time you free up to be used for more productive things. How much you value time and money will vary – if you’re an employee then your time value is pretty set. But if you are an entrepreneur then the future earnings of your company could be directly linked to your time.

Dreamlining

Tim Ferriss is a big force not only for business success but also personal fulfillment. A lot of his principles are derived from legendary motivational coach Tony Robbins. In written works and his podcast he really breaks down exactly what success means and how you can achieve it.

In nearly every case, the problem is not money. As taught by both Ferriss and Robbins, you do not need money to live a more fulfilling life.

Most people talk about working hard throughout their life to then travel in retirement. To Ferriss that simply doesn’t make sense. Travel doesn’t have to be expensive and if you work from home or have a successful muse then you can travel while you work.

But it’s not just travel. Tim Ferriss recommends a process a calls “dreamlining” whereby you identify the things you really want to do and learn – like languages, sports, musical instruments – and break down a schedule of how you will achieve that.

The issue is not time or money – although it can often seem that way. Instead you have to make time, and make the decision to commit to that dream. Starting is the hardest part here. But again with 80/20 and focusing on the minimum requirements rather than getting caught up in details, it is amazing what you can achieve.

Stewart Vickers
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