By Sheryl Smolkin
The 4-hour work week was originally published in 2007 and an expanded and updated edition was released in 2009. But I just heard about this #1 New York Times bestseller recently and became curious enough about the author’s philosophy to order a review copy.
Ferriss coins the term “New Rich (NR)” which means people who abandon the “deferred life” plan and create luxury lifestyles in the present, using time and mobility – the currency of the NR. He also says his journey from a grossly overworked and severely underpaid worker to a member of the NR is at once stranger than fiction and simple to duplicate.
His methodology is structured as a 4-step DEAL:
Step 1: D is for definition
To join the NR movement Ferriss says you need to learn a new lexicon and challenge the status quo. For example:
- Negotiate a remote work schedule based on productivity that allows you to achieve 90% of the results in 10% of the time, thus freeing up time for sports and family travel.
- As a business owner, eliminate the least profitable clients and projects, outsource as many functions as possible and travel the world while working remotely.
- Set up a website business to sell a product with virtually no overhead that takes about two hours a week of your time to maintain.
These arrangements seem far-fetched for the average individual, particularly if you work in a lab, construction site or on a farm where you have to be physically present to do your job. Nevertheless there are lots of interesting anecdotes and examples of how many people have successfully applied these principles.
Step 2: E is for elimination
Ferris advocates getting rid of needless busy work to become more effective and more efficient. Adapting the Pareto 60/20 proposition, he says look at your job and your life through the lens of two questions:
- What 20% of your sources are causing 80% of your problems and unhappiness?
- What 20% of your sources are resulting in 80% of your desired outcomes and happiness?
For example, he advises freeing up time by “cultivating selective ignorance,” i.e. don’t watch the news and eliminate reading newspapers. I must confess he lost me on this one because I’m a journalist and a news junkie.
But I do buy into his chapter on avoiding interruptions and the art of refusal. Since I’ve retired from the corporate world I’ve managed to almost totally eliminate useless meetings. And checking email only twice a day coupled with a suitable email auto response to “train” your co-workers and clients seems like a laudable (if unattainable in my case) objective.
Step 3: A is for automation
This fascinating (but politically sensitive) chapter explains how not only large companies can outsource and offshore business processes and mundane personal tasks. AJ Jacobs, an editor-at-large at Esquire magazine explains how he outsourced many necessary but non-productive tasks.
He hired the company Brickwork in Bangalore, India that offers “remote executive assistants” to research articles. He also retained Your Man in India to pay his bills, make vacation reservations, renegotiate his cell phone plan and make online purchases.
I’m not sure I can justify the cost of outsourcing as many tasks as Jacobs does but every month when I have to enter data and balance my company bank account, the concept is really tempting.
However, I do outsource transcribing digital interviews by uploading them to the website transcribeteam.com. Less than 24 hours later the transcripts appear in my mailbox at a charge of U.S. $1/minute.
Step 4: L is for Liberation
Once you have eliminated needless busy work and automated or outsourced as many of your job functions as possible, this chapter explains how you can negotiate a remote working arrangement that will allow you to travel and work from anywhere in the world.
Again, the primary premise is that your current job (or any future business) truly doesn’t require you to be physically on the job. Ferriss says:
- First of all, ensure you are a valued employee by performing well and taking advantage of as much in-house training as possible.
- Next, call in sick for a couple of days but work from home to show how productive you can be.
- Finally, make the business case for working at home at least a few days a week.
Then he says you can propose a revocable trial period and eventually ask to increase your remote working arrangement to the full week.
Will this work? Maybe in some cases, but face-to-face interactions with team members can create valuable synergy. And many employees don’t want to be away from the action and opportunities for promotion.
According to Ferriss, the top 13 mistakes the NR make are:
- Losing sight of dreams and falling into work for work’s sake.
- Micromanaging and emailing to fill time.
- Handling problems outsourcers or co-workers can handle.
- Helping outsourcers with the same problem more than once or with non-crisis problems.
- Chasing more customers, particularly poor prospects when you already have a good customer base.
- Not having a dedicated work space for sleeping, living or relaxing.
- Answering email that won’t enhance their business and can be handled by an auto-reply message.
- Not performing an 80/20 analysis every two to four weeks for their business and personal life.
- Striving for perfection rather than great or good enough.
- Blowing minutia and small problems out of proportion as an excuse to work
- Making issues that are not time sensitive urgent to justify work.
- Viewing one product, job or project as the be-all or end all of their existence.
- Ignoring the social rewards of life.
It’s easy to dismiss this book as a fantasy because most of us don’t have the vision, or the nerve or the self-discipline to try and apply the principles Ferris espouses. We can only dream of crafting an entrepreneurial lifestyle working four hours a week where big cheques still routinely appear in our bank accounts.
But there are lots of interesting anecdotes and great ideas in this book that anyone can put to good use. I plan to read it again carefully on my own time and make a “To Do” list of strategies I can implement.
My goal? Work less and earn more until I am really ready for full retirement!
You can buy both used and new copies of The Four Hour Work Week on Amazon. The hard cover edition is $16.89.