Tag Archives: The Four Hour Work Week

Jonathan Chevreau Financial Independence Hub

By Sheryl Smolkin

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This month’s interview is with author and financial journalist Jonathan Chevreau. Jon was the Financial Post’s personal finance columnists for nineteen years, and subsequently the Editor in Chief of MoneySense Magazine for two years until he declared his personal “financial independence day” on May 20th, 2014.

He has relinquished the leadership role at MoneySense, but as editor-at-large, his work is still frequently featured. He also writes for many other online venues and in November of last year he launched his ambitious North American portal, The Financial Independence Hub.

I last interviewed Jon for savewithspp.com in the summer of 2012 about his financial novel Findependence Day. Today I’d like to explore what he describes as “the profound difference between the traditional concept of retirement and the paradigm shift he calls financial independence.”

Q. To start off Jon, what is the difference between financial independence or “findependence” and retirement?
A: Well Sheryl, I always say that when you’re findependent you’re working because you want to not because you have to, financially speaking. But of course the lines blur. For the media and the financial service industry, it’s retirement, retirement, retirement. They don’t really distinguish between the two concepts.

For super frugal people, financial independence can often occur decades before traditional retirement. When you talk about the “early retirement extreme” movement, what these people are really talking about is being financially independent.

Q: So in fact you have coined the term findependence to apply to people at various ages, not just older workers?
A: Yes. The Financial Independence Hub is relevant for people at all stages of life.

Q: You’ve left the corporate world. But you seem to be busier than ever, with all of your freelance writing, your blog, and spin-offs from your book Findependence Day. How would you describe your current status?
A: Busier than I want to be, really. I think you can relate to that one as well. On the Hub I reviewed books like Encore and I talk about this new phase of life. If you believe in extended longevity and a lot of people leave corporations, either voluntarily or involuntarily, in their late fifties, early sixties, I say there’s a fifteen to twenty year sweet spot.

You’re no longer an employee, but I don’t think you are ready to take year-long cruises and do nothing but watch TV, play golf, read and play internet bridge. I think that fifteen year period, is the new “encore stage.” You could also call it part-time or phased retirement.

Q: How many hours a week do you estimate you’re currently working for compensation and on your own projects?
A: I got into this in December (2014). I read a bunch of internet books. I was keen on “Multiple Streams of Internet Income” by Robert Allen, and a book by Tim Ferriss called “The Four-hour Work Week.” I decided by having more passive income and less renting my time out, I could go to a four-hour week. Unfortunately, it hasn’t really worked out.

It turns out that the path to a four-hour workweek for me is a nine-hour day. I would say that I probably still spend 40% of my time on the MoneySense blogging contract. Another 40% is spent on the Hub which is not billable time. About 20% of my time is taken up with other things like one-off speeches, book sales, blogs and articles.

Q: What are the pros and cons in your view of your current working arrangement, as compared to working as a full-time salaried journalist?
A: As a freelance contractor there are no employee benefits, sick days or paid vacations. I had a “man cold” last week and I had to barrel through it. Luckily, of course, I don’t have to commute.

It’s hard to match my previous gross income but it can be a little bit better on an after- tax basis depending on the legitimate employment expenses I can write off. When I balance it with the lack of commuting, I think it’s a better life-work balance. But like anything else, there are trade-offs.

Q: Do you think that Canadians across the board are working longer and contemplating encore careers, or is this really restricted to knowledge workers and entrepreneurs?
A: Well I think that’s an apt observation. When you’re a knowledge worker there’s a real blurry line between working and playing, because I think we actually find it quite fun to absorb lots of information on subjects that fascinate us. Whereas, as you point out if you are a labourer, the body is not as apt to keep on going past sixty-four or sixty-six.

Q: Youth unemployment is running around 14 %. Are older workers, who continue working, clogging up the pipeline for young people and mid-career workers who are trying to get a leg up on the employment ladder?
A: Well that is one perception I’m not sure is true. I suppose if we’re talking about a big corporation with your traditional pyramid, where basically there are only a couple of people at the top, then yes, older workers might be clogging up that traditional pipeline.

But I think when you’re talking about all the people leaving companies and then contracting back their services, at that point they just become a valuable asset. Younger people can still move up the ladder, and they can still access the expertise and skills of the older codgers, like me if they are retained as freelance suppliers to the company.

Q: Some people opt to work longer for their current employers or continue on a contractual basis. Then there are others who want more flexibility or to try something new. How can older workers go about finding an encore career?
A: They can go to findependencehub.com and check out the book reviews. Encore, the Big Shift, there are tons of these books out there. For some it might be going back to school, getting an MBA. A lot of people make complete changes. For example, Eleanor Clitheroe left Ontario Hydro and went to divinity school.

I have a friend who is actually downsizing and moving to the country, so that he can go from being a set designer to doing true art. Every second journalist I know wants to write the great Canadian or American novel. I compromised by writing Findependence Day which is a financial novel.

Q: Money won’t buy happiness but it helps. What are some of the factors that you think contribute to a happy retirement, other than having enough money?
A: There are obvious things.  Health, happiness, relationships, family, networks. There’s a book by Wes Moss called “You can retire sooner than you think.” One of the things he talks about is a retiree should have at least three or four passionate interests. This is why I decided to put internet bridge back on my list. Reading, volunteering and exercising would be others.

I think the biggest single thing is of course your partner. I’ve talked to people in the financial service industry, who’ve been divorced. They say the biggest mistake they ever made financially-speaking was to get a divorce, because their net worth was cut in two right off the bat. But obviously you don’t stay together for financial reasons if you don’t have a harmonious relationship. 

Q: Well the relationship issue is interesting and I think one of the things that I think about all the time, is you don’t know how much time you’re going to have. You’re worried about financing thirty years of retirement but who knows if you’ll have it. So if you put it off and you put it off you just might miss those golden years.

A: Various people have joked that financial planning would be the easiest thing to do on Earth if you just knew when you were going to die. Unfortunately, most people don’t.

Q: How long do you think you will continue to work?  Do you see full retirement any time in your future?
A: I have a vision, that eventually I will have a website that brings in lots of passive streams of income. My idea of a nice retirement or findependence is every three years, to leisurely write a book working four six-hour days a week. Then I would go on tour to promote it and bring in another stream of income. Instead of grinding out words for multiple clients I’d like to be financially independent enough to work on one big project.

Q: Thanks very much for talking to me, Jon. It’s always fascinating to talk to you.
A: Well thank you for allowing me to share some of my thoughts, Sheryl. I think you’re doing a great job, too, on Retirement Redux.

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This is an edited transcript of a podcast interview of Jonathan Chevreau conducted by telephone in March 2015.

BOOK REVIEW: THE FOUR HOUR WORK WEEK

By Sheryl Smolkin

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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:

  1. Losing sight of dreams and falling into work for work’s sake.
  2. Micromanaging and emailing to fill time.
  3. Handling problems outsourcers or co-workers can handle.
  4. Helping outsourcers with the same problem more than once or with non-crisis problems.
  5. Chasing more customers, particularly poor prospects when you already have a good customer base.
  6. Not having a dedicated work space for sleeping, living or relaxing.
  7. Answering email that won’t enhance their business and can be handled by an auto-reply message.
  8. Not performing an 80/20 analysis every two to four weeks for their business and personal life.
  9. Striving for perfection rather than great or good enough.
  10. Blowing minutia and small problems out of proportion as an excuse to work
  11. Making issues that are not time sensitive urgent to justify work.
  12. Viewing one product, job or project as the be-all or end all of their existence.
  13. 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.

Timothy Ferriss
Timothy Ferriss