The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich by Timothy Ferriss (Book Summary)

Jun 29, 2022

I recently re-read The 4-Hour Workweek as part of my entrepreneurial journey. It's interesting how different my key takeaways were back in college vs now. This book is a blueprint for entrepreneurs to free yourself from the traditional 8-5 job, stop postponing your life until retirement, and instead create the life you desire now. The question he sets out to answer in this book is: how can you achieve the lifestyle of a millionaire, without having a million dollars in the bank? This book is about how to free up the most time and automate your income.

While I found much of the information dated and recycled from other sources, I still found value throughout the book. Although many reviews view Ferriss' writing as narcissistic, I enjoy his direct, and punchy tone. He simplifies many concepts that I've learned in entire books into less than a page. Ferriss takes the dreams defined in the first part, the enhanced productivity in the second part, and the passive income in the third part to create the four-hour workweek.


 The Big Ideas

  •  The New Rich philosophy defines the most valuable assets as time and unrestricted mobility (not money), and cycling between periods of activity and rest (mini-retirements).
  •  Decide what’s important. Define your stretch and SMART goals. Ask yourself, “What do I really want?” Get comfortable with doing less and start building interests outside of work.
  •  Be effective, not efficient. Identify the few critical tasks that create the most income (Pareto’s 80/20 Principle), and then schedule them in with very short, clear deadlines (Parkinson’s Law).
  •  Manage time better by batching/time-blocking and not multitasking, limit your availability, deflect inappropriate interruptions, eliminate distractions via apps, employ auto-responders
  •  Automate cash flow, outsource tasks, and develop a business that can run on autopilot
  •  Practice mini-retirements and immersive travel instead of binge traveling to escape life and redistribute throughout life. Adopt a minimalist lifestyle, lower cost of living by living abroad, and fill the void of work with rich life experiences.

The New Rich vs. Deferrers

  •  Deferrers work until they retire, and wait until then to live their dreams
  •  The New Rich find ways to make money with less work, giving them more time to live their dreams now
  •  Alternating between periods of rest and activity is essential. The New Rich distribute ‘mini-retirements’ throughout their life, instead of hoarding it all for retirement.
  •  Money alone is not the solution. Relative income (money + time) is more important than absolute income (money). 
  •  The New Rich assess wealth based on relative income (money + time) and unrestricted mobility to choose a life truly worth living
  •  Distress is harmful stress that weakens. Eustress is beneficial stress that promotes growth. The New Rich seek out eustress and reject distress.
  •  The fear of failure is why most people choose unhappiness over uncertainty. Questions to ask yourself to help you overcome your fears:
    1.  What is your absolute worst-case scenario?
    2.  What could you do to repair the damage if this came to pass?
    3.  What are the temporary and permanent outcomes and benefits of more probable scenarios?
    4.  If you were fired today, how could you take care of your finances?
    5.  What are you putting off due to fear?
    6.  What is the cost (emotionally, financially, and physically) of postponing action?
    7.  What are you waiting for?

System Reset

  •  Free-write for five minutes and define your dream. If it wasn’t for the things you had to do, what would you be doing with your life right now?
  •  Be clear on your aspirational vision (what Ferris calls your ‘muse’ aka stretch goals), then break them down into defined steps
  •  Get comfortable with doing less. Less is not laziness. You shouldn’t be trying to fill every second with work. Focus on activities to fill the vacuum of work once it’s removed. Living like a millionaire requires doing interesting things, not just owning things

Elimination & Time management

“Doing something unimportant well does not make it important. Requiring a lot of time does not make a task important… What you do is infinitely more important than how you do it. Efficiency is still important, but it’s useless unless applied to the right things.” 

  •  Be effective, not efficient
    •  Pareto’s 80/20 Principle: 80% of output results from 20% of input. Focus on doing a few things that will bring you the biggest progress
    •  True productivity comes down to less being more
  •  Parkinson’s Law: The perceived importance of a task will increase in correlation with how much time has been allotted for its completion. Shorten your work time and limit your projects only to those that are important.
  •  Identify the few critical tasks that create the most income (Pareto’s 80/20 Principle), and then schedule them in with very short, clear deadlines (Parkinson’s Law).
  •  Practical tips:
    •  Create systems that limit your availability and deflect inappropriate interruptions. Ex: Never have a meeting without a clear agenda, schedule meeting times using apps (Calendly, Doodle), replace a meeting with a concise email, replace “how are you” with “how can I help you”
    •  Make your to-do list for tomorrow before you finish today. When you add an item to this list, ask yourself if you would view a day as productive if that’s the only thing on the list that you got done. In this post about Smarter Faster Better, I share how more effective to-do lists include the “why” 
    •  Stop all multitasking immediately. Time-block and batch tasks to create more time and limit costs. Especially checking email and social media. In this post about Digital Minimalism, I share how "Every time we shift our attention from one thing to another (multitasking or task-switching), the brain has to engage a neurochemical switch that uses up nutrients in the brain; this is called attention residue. Research shows that we lose about 20% of our cognitive capacity to task-switching and that it takes about 25 minutes to refocus our attention. We are wired to be monotaskers, focusing on one task at a time without distraction. Multitasking, or rapidly shifting from one thing to the next, depletes neural resources and negatively impacts our short-term memory, leads to increased anxiety, inhibits creative thinking, inhibits a flow state, and causes more mistakes and less productivity."
    •  Learn to compress your productive time by limiting your work hours.
    •  Don’t be afraid to hang up a “do not disturb” sign, or set digital devices on DND with an autoresponder
    •  Eliminate distractions: use an app like Evernote to clear paper clutter, close open tabs, unsubscribe from email lists

The Low-Information Diet

“Information is useless if it is not applied to something important or if you will forget it before you have a chance to apply it.”

  •  Learn to be selectively ignorant. 
  •  Ignore all information that is irrelevant, unimportant, or un-actionable. Most information is time-consuming and redundant. 
  •  Critically assess what you look at, read, or watch daily and establish whether it’s contributing to your goals.
  •  Develop the habit of asking yourself if you will use this information for something that is both immediate and important. Learn when to stop absorbing. If you’re reading a poorly written article, don’t continue to read it.
  •  Ferris recommends that you go on a one-week media fast immediately. This means, no newspapers, magazines, news websites, television, non-fiction books, and unnecessary web surfing. I’ve discusses my experience with this in detail in the blog post Becoming a Digital Minimalist

Automation

  •  Learn how to replace yourself within a system, but remember to eliminate before you delegate. Never automating something that could otherwise be eliminated, and never delegate something that could be automated.
  •  Outsource to a service, assistant or VA (virtual assistant) to do things that have been on your to-do list for the longest time, things that cause you the most frustration or boredom, and the most time-consuming tasks. These can be non-work or personal tasks too! 

Liberation

 “Our goal isn't to create a business that is as large as possible, but rather a business that bothers us as little as possible.” -Tim Ferriss

  •  For employees who want to work remotely: Increase your employer’s investment in you, prove increased output offsite, demonstrate a quantifiable business benefit, and gradually shift from part-time remote to full-time remote
  •  Use the extra time to build a business which may eventually fully support you, or pursue things you desire
  •  When identifying potential businesses
    •  Pick an affordable niche market, identify your customers, then develop a product for them. Brainstorm products between two industries that you’re familiar.
    •  Validate your business idea. Conduct a survey, use cheap ads, set up a quick landing page to collect potential buyers. Before you go out and build any product or service, make sure people give you money for it, then micro-test products.
    •  Once you have a product that sells, it’s time to automate it by contracting outsourcing companies. It’s important that the structure of your business allows others to autonomously problem solve. 
    •  Charge a premium for your business idea to make your life easier. The hardest part of making a sale is moving prospects to customers; when your charge premium prices, you need fewer customers. The people willing to pay a premium are low-hassle clients.
    •  Promise high quality and deliver!
  •  Build credibility: join 2-3 related trade organizations, read the three top-selling books on your topic and summarize each on one page, give free seminars at a local university or company and collect feedback/testimonials, and join ProfNet to connect with journalists so you can be quoted and featured in media outlets
  •  Find a superstar mentor: attempt to call or email outside of business hours, get your foot in the door and ask for one specific piece of advice, then ask if you can keep in touch via email (to open the door for future contact), let the mentoring relationship develop from there

Mini-Retirements

  •  Instead of engaging in binge travel and waiting to use retirement until the end of your career, go on several mini-retirements and redistribute throughout life
  •  Relocate to another place for six months to re-examine your life instead of escaping it
  •  This requires a mindset shift from materialism, comparison, and money towards freedom from the traditional in pursuit of experiences
  •  Finance mini-retirements through adopting a minimalist lifestyle (eliminate excessive belongings/services to save money), living abroad to save money, and using automated streams of income
  •  It’s normal to experience a void when you remove work, so prioritize re-engaging in leisure, hobbies, and personal development. Consider learning mini-retirement in combination with local volunteering (service, healthcare, farming), or immersive learning of a language, cuisine, or physical activity. See more about the importance of solitude, boredom, and leisure in Becoming a Digital Minimalist.
  •  Spend some time DOING NOTHING! After a lifetime of conditioning, you may have a speed addiction. It’s hard to recalibrate your internal clock without taking a break from constant overstimulation. Slowing down doesn’t mean doing less, it means cutting out counterproductive distractions and the perception of being rushed. Consider attending a short silent retreat (3-7 days), during which all media and speaking is prohibited (ex: Art of Living, Kripalu Center). Learn to turn down the static of the mind so you can appreciate more before doing more.

Summary 

  • Opportunities open up once you accept that life is not a problem to be solved or a game to be won. You can recapture the magic of your childhood!
  •  The New Rich philosophy defines the most valuable assets as time and unrestricted mobility (not money), and cycling between periods of activity and rest (mini-retirements).
  •  Decide what’s important. Define your stretch and SMART goals. Ask yourself, “What do I really want?” Get comfortable with doing less and start building interests outside of work.
  •  Be effective, not efficient. Identify the few critical tasks that create the most income (Pareto’s 80/20 Principle), and then schedule them in with very short, clear deadlines (Parkinson’s Law).
  •  Manage time better by batching/time-blocking and not multitasking, limit your availability, deflect inappropriate interruptions, eliminate distractions via apps, employ auto-responders
  •  Automate cash flow, outsource tasks, and develop a business that can run on autopilot
  •  Practice mini-retirements and immersive travel instead of binge traveling to escape life and redistribute throughout life. Adopt a minimalist lifestyle, lower cost of living by living abroad, and fill the void of work with rich life experiences.
  • I absolutely loved the poem shared in the last chapter: Slow Dance by David L. Weatherford. Hope you like it!

Have you ever watched kids
On a merry-go-round?

Or listened to the rain
Slapping the ground?

Ever followed a butterfly’s erratic flight?
Or gazed at the sun into the fading 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’d 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 good friendship die

Cause you never had time
To call and say, “Hi”?

You’d 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 the day,
It is like an unopened gift thrown away.

Life is not a race.
Do take it slower.

Hear the music
Before the song is over.


If you enjoyed this post and want to read more about optimizing well-being, check out some of my other posts!

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