Learn about Productivity, Outsourcing and Enjoying Life

An extraordinary book about ‘life style design’, time management, personal productivity, learning, outsourcing, travelling, enjoying life, taking mini-retirements and making the most of our time on earth. It also has lots of links to interesting, practical resources.

“I’ll repeat something you might consider tattooing on your forehead: What we fear doing most is usually what we most need to do. As I have heard said, a person’s success in life can usually be measured by the number of uncomfortable conversations he or she is willing to have. Resolve to do one thing every day that you fear.”

After college, Ferriss took a soul-destroying sales job at a tech firm. He left to start an even more soul-destroying business of his own. He went from working 40 hours a week for somebody else to working 80 hours a week for himself, and hated it. He was earning a lot of money, but the business left him drained.

After learning about the Pareto Principle (the 80-20 Principle), Ferriss had a revelation: he streamlined his business, eliminating distractions and automating systems until it was not only more profitable, but also took much less of his time. He took a “mini-retirement”, and then decided to write a book about “lifestyle design”, about creating a life that balances work and play, maximizing the positives of both.

The 4-Hour Workweek describes the specific actions Ferriss took to implement these steps. This book is the complete embodiment of the 80/20 principle into an individual’s professional life. The 80/20 principle is the idea that 80% of your productivity and profits comes from 20% of your time and business.

Ferriss argues that by eliminating that 20% of productivity (and 80% of unproductive business) that eats up most of your time, you can live in much more efficiently, and the entire book revolves around that concept in various ways, hence the title The 4-Hour Workweek.

Whether you’re an overworked employee or an entrepreneur trapped in your own business, The 4-Hour Workweek is the compass for a new and revolutionary world.

“The vision is really about empowering workers, giving them all the information about what’s going on so they can do a lot more than they’ve done in the past.” Bill Gates

The 4-Hour Workweek is divided into four sections, each of which explores one of the components to lifestyle design:

  • Define your objectives. Decide what’s important. Set goals. Ask yourself, “What do I really want?”
  • Eliminate distractions to free up time. Learn to be effective, not efficient. Focus on the 20% of stuff that’s important and ignore the 80% that isn’t. Put yourself on a low-information diet. Learn to shunt aside interruptions, and learn to say “no”.
  • Automate your cash flow to increase income. Outsource your life — hire a virtual assistant to handle menial tasks. Develop a business that can run on auto-pilot. (In practice, the virtual assistant may work for some of us only, and building a business which can run without you is not as easy as he makes it sound.)
  • Liberate yourself from traditional expectations. Design your job to increase mobility. This could mean working from home, or it could mean working from exotic locations round the globe while you’re on mini-retirements, ideally in countries with favourable exchange rates.

“The best first step, the one I recommend, is finding someone who’s done it and ask for advice on how to do the same. It’s not hard.” (Tim Ferriss)

Extracts from The 4-Hour Workweek

The book makes it clear that you should pick and choose from the material presented, a vital caveat for any personal productivity book.

The contents covers his steps: Definition, Elimination, Automation, Liberation and his key concepts.

Step 1: D is for Definition

Most of this section is devoted to divorcing yourself from the idea of working yourself to death for a gold watch and a pat on the back. Instead, you should abandon a few concepts such as retirement as a holy grail and that absolute income is the most important thing (relative income – i.e., the amount you earn per hour of work – is the most important thing in this book). These are assumptions that actually have a lot in common with books like Your Money or Your Life and the voluntary simplicity movement.

Here’s one key exercise from this section that really shows what he’s talking about. Spend about 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?

Now, spend another five minutes and define your nightmare in as much detail as possible. What is the absolute worst thing that could happen if you followed that dream?

If you take the dream and compare it to the nightmare, is that possible nightmare really bad enough to abandon your dream?

From there, the book goes into a very detailed process of breaking down that dream into tangibles and seeing how close you really are to that dream – and sets up the remainder of the book, which identifies things you can do to reach that dream.

Step 2: E is for Elimination

In terms of techniques that you can really use to improve your day to day life, this section has the best advice. It focuses on some very straightforward techniques for eliminating most of the regular mundane activities that fill our professional lives.

“Companies go out of business when they make the wrong decisions or, just as important, make too many decisions. The latter creates complexity.” (MIKE MAPLES, cofounder of Motive Communications, founding executive of Tivoli (sold to IBM for $750 million), and investor in companies such as Digg).

He recommends 7 actions:

  1. 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. Then, when you start in the morning, just attack that list with vigour knowing that all of the stuff is worthwhile.
  2. Stop all multitasking immediately. This means when you’re trying to write, close your email program and your instant messenger program and your web browser and just focus on writing, nothing else. This allows you to churn out the task much faster.
  3. Force yourself to end your day at 4pm or end your week on Thursday. Even if you have to come in on Friday, do nothing (or, even better, focus on something to develop yourself). The goal here is to learn to compress your productive time.
  4. Go on a one week media fast. Basically, avoid television (other than one hour a day for enjoyment/relaxation) and nonfiction reading of any kind (including news, newspapers, magazines, the web, etc.). By the end of it, you’ll discover that the media and information overload was giving you a mild attention deficit.
  5. Check email only twice a day. Batch your emails. Combining this with the “no multitasking” principle enables email to only eat up a sliver of my time when it used to seemingly bog down everything.
  6. Never, ever have a meeting without a clear agenda. If someone suggests a meeting, request the specific agenda of the meeting. If there isn’t one, ask why you’re meeting at all. Often, meetings will become more productive or, if they were really time wasters to begin with, they’ll vanish into thin air.
  7. Don’t be afraid to hang up a “do not disturb” sign.

“Exact numbers aren’t needed to realize that we spend too much time with those who poison us with pessimism, sloth, and low expectations of themselves and the world. It is often the case that you have to fire certain friends or retire from particular social circles to have the life you want….”

“You are the average of the five people you associate with most, so do not underestimate the effects of your pessimistic, unambitious, or disorganized friends. If someone isn’t making you stronger, they’re making you weaker.” (Tim Ferriss)

Step 3: A is for Automation

This section is a lengthy description of how to become a little or no-value-added entrepreneur – in other words, a middleman. The idea is that if you set up being a middleman appropriately, you can create a stream of passive income that permits you to make money with very little effort. He calls this a ‘Meuse’. This is not as easy to do as he suggests and clearly includes risks.

“Never automate something that can be eliminated, and never delegate something that can be automated or streamlined.” (Tim Ferriss)

Diani Beach, Kenya

Step 4: L is for Liberation

“Excitement is the more practical synonym for happiness, and it is precisely what you should strive to chase. It is the cure-all. When people suggest you follow your “passion” or your “bliss,” I propose that they are, in fact, referring to the same singular concept: excitement. This brings us full circle. The question you should be asking isn’t, “What do I want?” or “What are my goals?” but “What would excite me?” (Tim Ferriss)

The final section ties the pieces of the puzzle together into an overall picture. In essence, it takes the dreams defined in the first part, the enhanced productivity of the second part, and the passive income of the third part and creates the four-hour workweek.

The first step is to change your job so that you can work remotely. You can do this by getting efficient (as described in the second step), then demonstrating your efficiency during sick or vacation leave, then requesting some time away from the office as part of your routine, then gradually shifting to an all-remote life. This way, you can tackle the work from anywhere on your own terms. Of course, this may also lead you to leave your job if you are able to build up new.

Clearly, this suits some jobs more than others. Some work relies too heavily on contact with people to make this possible and it is a flaw with this message.

What do you do with the free time? That’s the entire point of this book, that time is the really valuable asset we have in our lives, not money. Time allows you to follow your dreams, and this entire book’s purpose (at least steps two and three) has been about moving more and more time into your own personal life so you can do these things.

Other key concepts

  • Ask yourself, “If this is the only thing I accomplish today, will I be satisfied with my day?”
  • How to double your reading speed.
  • Why it’s more productive to carry around a written to-do list than to keep one on your computer.
  • Learn the art of non-finishing. This is all about the sunk cost fallacy: just because you paid £10 to see Pirates of the Caribbean 3 doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to watch the entire thing if it’s no good.
  • How to be more efficient with email. He has interesting tips and views on email.
  • How to reduce clutter from your life.
  • If you can’t define it or act upon it, forget it.
  • Life exists to be enjoyed — the most important thing is to feel good about yourself.
  • Why geographic arbitrage is a great way to enhance your relative income.
  • The value of a virtual assistant.

The description of Tim Ferriss’s book is taken from Wiki Summaries – many thanks – with quotes added from my own review of The 4-Hour Workweek.


To summarise his book from another perspective, Tim Ferriss teaches you:

  • How to outsource your life and do whatever you want for a year, only to return to a bank account 50% larger than before you left.
  • How blue-chip escape artists travel the world without quitting their jobs.
  • How to eliminate 50% of your work in 48 hours using the principles of little-known European economists.
  • How to train your boss to value performance over presence, or kill your job (or company) if it’s beyond repair.
  • How to trade a long-haul career for short work bursts and frequent “mini-retirements”.
  • What automated cash-flow “muses” are and how to create one in 2-4 weeks.
  • How to cultivate selective ignorance—and create time—with a low-information diet.
  • Management secrets of Remote Control CEOs.
  • The crucial difference between absolute and relative income.
  • How to get free housing worldwide and airfare at 50-80% off.
  • How to fill the void and create meaning after removing work and the office.

“I BELIEVE THAT life exists to be enjoyed and that the most important thing is to feel good about yourself. Each person will have his or her own vehicles for both, and those vehicles will change over time. For some, the answer will be working with orphans, and for others, it will be composing music. I have a personal answer to both—to love, be loved, and never stop learning—but I don’t expect that to be universal.”

TO LIVE IS to learn. I see no other option. This is why I’ve felt compelled to quit or be fired from jobs within the first six months or so. The learning curve flattens out and I get bored.”

Who is Tim Ferriss?

Tim Ferriss, nominated as one of Fast Company’s “Most Innovative Business People of 2007,” is author of the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and BusinessWeek bestseller, ‘The 4-Hour Workweek’, which has been sold in 33 languages.

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