Well then, you’ll probably really love The 4-Hour Workweek, a 2007 book by Timothy Ferriss. On the other hand, if you love your job and wish you could do more of it, there’s not much here for you but a few handy email-management hints.

I read most of it and skimmed the rest on the plane back from Ontario, and it’s the kind of book that I don’t feel guilty about reviewing after skimming.

Mr. Ferriss doesn’t come across as very likeable. For example, he seems to regard having won a division of the Chinese national kickboxing championship as a triumph. He accomplished this by gaming the weigh-in rules to compete in a division two below his actual weight, and gaming the scoring rules to win by pushing lighter opponents out of the ring. Way to go, guy.

The premise is that if you’d rather go around the world studying kickboxing and staying in nice hotels, what you need to do is, rather than run a business by doing actual work, to own a business and collect the rent, hands-off.

I have no gripe at all with people who don’t like their work and want to minimize it. I’m just not one of them. I also have grave doubts that there are that many business models out their that will support this sort of hands-off management. Among other things, the people doing the actual real work may become disgruntled at the absentee landlord. But hey, if it works for you...

I found two pieces of good advice, useful even to those who enjoy their work, in the book (maybe there were more in the parts that I just skimmed). First, money is a means not an end. Almost everyone would like more, and people are willing to do extraordinary things to amass it. Ferriss’ advice is to ask yourself what you want the money for, consider just going and doing whatever it is, or at least figuring out if there’s a better way there than building up money.

Second, he advises doing less email. In particular, if you’re under pressure to deliver, just turn the damn email off and do it once or twice a day, or even less. Then, for things that matter, get on the phone instead and actually talk to people.

I can’t disagree with that at all; nor with doing less work if you don’t like your work. But I’d add one more piece of advice: If you’re not happy with your job, instead of re-organizing your life so you can be a vagabond, consider looking for a more interesting line of work.


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From: Marc (Jun 14 2009, at 13:57)

Thank You! Those were exactly my thoughts when I read this book. I already started thinking that I am maybe not modern enough (I am 29) to live in this web 2.0 society ;-)

Maybe Mr. Ferris cheated not only with his kickboxing fights, but with his whole book. My guess is that his vagabound-live works, because people are WILLING to believe that the stuff he wrote down actually works.

So I'd like to add to your blog post: If you don't like your job, consider a new one - or write a book ;-)


From: Ryan Cousineau (Jun 14 2009, at 14:27)

With regard to Ferriss' Chinese kickboxing exploits, I should note that "making weight" is a totally normal and accepted part of just about every weight-graded sport, and in particular single-combat sports like boxing, mixed martial arts, and (I assume) Chinese kickboxing.

Ferriss has spent a lot of time optimizing his approach, especially for an amateur competitor, but the process of weighing in up to 24 hours before competition practically invites such abuse.

As one of his commenters point out, some wrestling programs are now doing "at the mat" weigh-ins to reduce the opportunity for such shenanigans.


From: df (Jun 14 2009, at 14:39)

Amen Tim (B.)


From: rick (Jun 14 2009, at 14:53)

I mostly agree. The thing is, though, that some people find something they love to do and which will pay the bills.... and some don't. The former group often looks at the latter and says 'Do what you love!" but the latter group may not have something they LOVE that's easily translatable into work. For example, if you really like helping people (whether it's learn to read, garden, etc) there's not a well-defined career path. If you love to program computers, there is. If you love to dance there is. But not everyone has that enthusiasm for something that leads directly to a career.

Where Ferris goes wrong, I think, is assuming that being a vagabond with no focus is attractive to most people or over the long term. It's the functional equivalent of winning the lottery - sure travel around and do random stuff for a few years. Now you're 32 or 45 or 51... do you really want to do that for the next few *decades*?


From: Ryan (Jun 14 2009, at 15:07)

His business was also "selling supplements", which is basically regulatory/moral arbitrage.

"Real" drug dealers can probably work much less than 4h/day and do well enough; the supplement market basically consists of either fraud (ineffective products) or short-term profits on something which will soon be regulated (and which might be a retroactive legal problem).

Even 4h/day doing something you hate seems unbearable; 18h/day doing something you enjoy (even if some parts are dull/boring/painful, knowing how they fit into the overall plan makes them ok) is great.


From: Jonathan (Jun 14 2009, at 15:40)

I haven't ever even seen the book, let alone skimmed it, but I think I can safely say that a crucial step towards attaining the 4-hr work week that does /not/ appear in the book is: write a self-help book with a catchy title that you can sell to the masses. I assume if his stratagems were really all that effective he wouldn't have wasted a couple hundred hours (i.e. a year, at his pace) writing a book about them.


From: Charles Oliver Nutter (Jun 14 2009, at 16:01)

My feelings exactly. I've been at two conferences/events where Mr. Ferris was speaking about his "how to be lazy and still profit" and both times I found it repugnant. This was part of my great disappointment with Foo Camp 2007, where 90% of the presentations were from people trying to do less work and make more money, or find a way to fund a new startup with a product of questionable value.

And though I understand some people don't necessarily find a career that fits what they love, I think it's always possible to find a career you can learn to love. Too many people seem to fall into Mr. Ferris's category: studying for, working toward, and interviewing at jobs solely for the purpose of making a buck. Life's too short to set your career path based on how much you'll make or how little you'll have to work.


From: Tony Fisk (Jun 14 2009, at 17:05)

Your description of Fetriss' model strikes me as a variation on those pyramid scams that do the rounds: the carrot is that they do work, *if* you're the one starting it (ie writing the book)

Next plane trip, if you haven't already done so, you might prefer dipping into one of Ricardo Semler's works ('Maverick', 'The Seven-Day Weekend') He's hands-on, *and* another audiophile. Furthermore, any business model that survived Brazil's meltdown in the nineties probably has a few pointers.

Given the option, I'd quite happily work less hours for less money, rather than follow the more, more, more mantra.


From: df (Jun 14 2009, at 17:17)


Interestingly enough writing a self-help book DOES appear in 4HWW. He recommends against the supplement business because people ask too many questions about what they are going to ingest. He suggests an information based product ala Tony Robbins (at which point you realize that you, the reader, are in fact taking part in a recursive get rich quick scheme).


From: Darrel Davis (Jun 14 2009, at 18:38)

Actually I agree. As a software developer who had another career before, I’m not interested in gaming the system. I love what I do and am mostly interested in making enough money to be unencumbered so I can continue to work. It’s true that someday I’d like to be a freelance developer so I can work wherever I’d like but not necessarily just hang out. Mr. Ferris’ existence seems a bit shallow to me. Strictly my opinion, of course..


From: Kamal (Jun 14 2009, at 21:46)

In my opinion, you just try and adjust yourself to the job you do; if you fail, then try and change your job or the path.


From: Mike (Jun 14 2009, at 22:43)

Tim, cutting weight is a standard practice for any competition that uses weight classes.

Even high school wrestlers do it.

Most people have no clue about this, but it is true.


From: len (Jun 15 2009, at 07:17)

Old School Management:

If your job is just a job, your family is dead weight.

If you call it work and they pay you to be there, everything else is play and you pay them to be there.

Your happiness is your problem. Unhappy employment is your employer's problem.

A wise employer has an expert and an expert-in-training. It works for software and theatre. It doesn't work for painters. Rebrand.

The successful employer has the resources to fire geniuses.

You can retire at any time. It is a matter of lifestyle.

The John Birch Society is typified by the downwardly mobile.

The worst part of waking up is soldiers in the truck.

"You are a fluke of the universe. You have no right to be here. Whether you know it or not, the universe is laughing behind your back." - Deteriorata


From: Another perspective on Ferriss (Jun 17 2009, at 11:36)


"Fine. But then his four-hour work week is merely semantic. Because everything Tim does he turns into what the rest of us would call work, and he calls it not-work. For example, tango. If you want to be world-record holder, it's work. It's your job to be special at dancing the tango. That's your big goal that you're working toward. How you earn money is probably just a day job. So most weeks Tim probably has a 100-hour workweek. It's just that he's doing things he likes, so he lies to you and says he only works four hours. He defines work only as doing what you don't like."


From: Jerry (Jun 20 2009, at 10:34)

Sounds like a book I won't bother to read!


From: Don Marti (Jun 26 2009, at 09:10)

I read this book, and all he does for "work" is meta stuff: setting up stuff for other people to do. Someone actually has to make the product, take the calls, and handle everything else real.

The time management stuff could he helpful for people who actually do something real: get your meta down to 4h/week and spend your work day on what you really make.


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