4 hour workweek by Timothy Ferriss

Everyone wants to live life by design, experience freedom of place (go around the world), freedom of time (work at our own pace), and be driven by Passion (work in our area of interest). The explorer in us yearns to be set free. However, the default formula for life is to finish college, land a well-paying 9-to-5 job and work hard for the next 30-40 years. Then, retire to realize that life has just slipped by! Alas! To me, it is a ‘socially reinforced illusion’. 

The 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss is the blueprint for a different ‘lifestyle design’. Tim shares some simple ideas to help reinvent yourself, work better, and live a lifestyle that supports freedom of time, place and work. Tim has structured his book on the acronym: DEAL:

Definition

There is no defined lifestyle. Therefore, ask yourself: What do you want from your life? What would you like to do? Where would you like to travel? What skills have you always dreamed of acquiring?

The answers will uncover what’s most important to you so that you can dedicate your time productively towards those goals. You deserve to do what excites you until day zero

Tim states, “The New Rich follow an uncommon set of rules. They abandon the deferred-life plan and create a luxury lifestyle in the present using their currency – time and mobility.” They don’t follow the herd or work for the sake of working. They focus on being productive instead of being busy. They define the meaning of success and have more fun rather than following the linear, traditional and predictable, illusionary society accepted path. 

Some important insights from this section are:

Go beyond your fears 

Most people are self-imprisoned in their fears. The good news is that you can replace your fear by imagining a positive future. In the Bhagavad Gita, Shri Krishna clearly states, “Lift yourself by yourself”. You have to conquer your fears. Stop being like the ‘living dead’. Resolve to do one thing that you fear every day. 

Do the unrealistic thing 

99% of the people in the world are convinced that they are incapable of achieving great things. Therefore, the level of competition is severe for realistic goals. Unreasonable and unrealistic goals are easier to achieve because there is less competition.

We work to live 

Do we work to live or live to work? This is a constant dilemma. I have clearly chosen the former. Now the question is ‘what is living?’ Living has to be exciting. Therefore, instead of asking ‘what do I want?’ or ‘what are my goals?’, a better question to ask is ‘what excites me?’ Living like a millionaire requires doing interesting things not just owning enviable things. As Benjamin Disraeli said, “Life is too short to be small.”

Inaction is the greatest risk of all

While actions may not always bring happiness, there is no happiness without actions. Do not postpone things. Act today, and in a decisive manner. If you consider risks as the likelihood of an irreversible negative outcome, inaction is the greatest risk of all. 

Be productive, not busy

Most people measure their productivity by the number of hours of work. This may be reasonable when one is getting paid on a per-hour basis. However, busy-ness does not automatically entail productivity. Rather than focusing on working for longer, focus on what truly matters.

Relative Income is more important than absolute Income

Absolute income is the total dollars earned, while relative income uses two variables – dollar amount and time. If two people make $100,000 a year each, they are on par in terms of absolute income. However, if the first one works 10 hours a week while the other works 40 hours, you will see who the richer one really is.

‘The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the word to himself. Therefore, all progress depends upon the unreasonable man.’ – George Bernard Shaw 

Elimination

“Perfection is not when there is no more to add, but no more to take away.” – Antoine De Saint-Exupery 

Can anyone produce more time? No. No one can. However, everyone can improve their productivity. How? By focusing on your priorities, cutting down on non-relevant stuff and leveraging the competence of other people. 

Indeed, I think, time management is a misnomer. You can’t manage time. You can only manage your activities. The time available to everyone is the same – 24 hours a day. The question is, how do we make the best use of our time? Some key ideas in the book state: 

Irrelevancy is an issue bigger than inefficiency

People are busy doing irrelevant things very efficiently. ‘What you do’ is infinitely more important than ‘how you do it.’ Efficiency is important but it is useless unless applied to the right things. Tim makes two important points:

  • Doing something unimportant well doesn’t make it important. 
  • Requiring a lot of time to do a task does not make the task important

Being overwhelmed is often as unproductive as doing nothing and is more unpleasant. Being selective and doing less is the path to productivity. Focus on the important few and ignore the rest. 

Being busy is a form of laziness

Lack of time is actually a lack of priorities. Take time to stop and review your activities in the light of Pareto’s Law and Parkinson’s Law. 

Vilfredo Pareto was a controversial economist-cum-sociologist, who developed the 80/20 principle, also known as Pareto’s law. He stated “80% of the output results from 20% of the inputs”. This principle can be applied in all walks of life:

  1. 80% of results come from 20% of the effort 
  2. 80% of profits come from 20% of the products and customers.
  3. 80% of joy in life is from 20% of your relationships etc. etc.

Whereas, Parkinson’s law dictates that a task will swell in importance and complexity in relation to the time allotted for its completion. What happens, when you have to finish something in 24 hours? Very focused, to the point actions. And, what happens when you have 24 days to finish a task? Nothing happens for the first few days; then, lots of unimportant things creep into the project. The end product of the shorter deadline is almost inevitably of equal or higher quality due to greater focus. 

For the highest productivity, use both 80/20 and Parkinson’s law together. Remember, most tasks are useless and time is wasted in proportion to the amount that is available. Therefore:

  • Limit tasks to important to shorten work time (80/20 principle), and
  • Shorten work time to limit tasks to important (Parkinson’s law)

Ignorance is bliss

The Low-Information Diet is another radical idea shared by Tim. He states, “Cultivate an attitude of selective ignorance, develop a low information diet and ignore the unimportant.” Most information is time-consuming, negative, irrelevant to your goals and outside of your influence. Therefore, learning to ignore unimportant things is one of the greatest paths to inner peace. Understand, time is the most important life design ingredient.” 

Learn to eliminate, avoid, escape, ignore and forget. Buffett stated, “The difference between successful people and most successful people is that most successful people say no to almost everything.”

Some questions to ask yourself continuously are:

  1. Am I being productive or just active?
  2. Am I inventing tasks to avoid the important?
  3. If I have only a month of life left, what would I do?
  4. What are the top three things I should accomplish today to feel productive?

These questions are designed to narrow your focus to get the most reward from your efforts. Differentiating between relevant and irrelevant is a habit of the New Rich.

Some general learnings from this section are:

  • Batch similar tasks together and do them consecutively
  • Make your to-do list for tomorrow before you finish today
  • Learn to speed read
  • Don’t multitask. Prioritize and focus on a single activity at a time.
  • Go on a one-week media fast
  • Check emails and WhatsApp only twice a day
  • Bunch your all the missed calls and respond to them at your convenience
  • Avoid meetings to the extent possible. Otherwise, have a clear agenda of the meeting with a defined time to close.
  • Do not confuse simplicity with ease. Simple things are the most difficult ones to do. 

“There are many things of which a wise man might wish to be ignorant.” – Ralph Emerson 

Automation

Imagine how much time a washing machine saves you; how much time is saved by putting the utility bills on autopay. Automation of all recurring tasks is a great idea. 

Automation and outsourcing save invaluable and irreplaceable time, energy and efforts and lets you explore new horizons – be it new opportunities or leisure. Because the goal is to free our time to focus on bigger and better things.

“Never automate something that can be eliminated, and never delegate or outsource something that can be automated,” Tim states. Also, delegate/outsource with clarity with a clear timeline. If there are multiple tasks, define the priority clearly.

Similarly, you need to automate your income. Putting cash inflows on autopilot will get you freedom of time and mobility. In the context of financial freedom, a tech-based business on autopilot, which can be managed from anywhere or passive income (interest, dividend, rental income, royalty etc.), can keep your home running without compromise with your standard of living. Three chapters of the book are dedicated to building a business, which could be on autopilot. Here are some important points on the subject:

  • Look for the product business as they can be scaled up fast.
  • Don’t create competing resellers; they would compete with each other on price and in the process, you will be the ultimate loser.
  • If you distribute your product through exclusive arrangements that will work in your favour in the long run. 
  • If you use multiple middlemen, the higher your margin must be to maintain profitability for all the links in the chain. 
  • Creating demand is hard, filling demand is much easier. 
  • Start small but think big 
  • If everyone is your customer, then no one is your customer 
  • Focus on niches; because, in niches, there are riches 
  • The more options you offer to the customer, the more indecision you create. It is a disservice all around. 
  • Do not offer multiple shipping options. In addition to normal shipping, offer one fast method and charge a premium.

Liberation

“Liberty means responsibility. That is why most men dread it.” – George Bernard Shaw 

Tim Ferriss suggests that you should plan out your “mini-retirements” and shed the fear of travelling. Whether it’s the whereabouts of your children that’s holding you back or the price of airfare or stay, there is always a solution. Create a ‘mobile lifestyle’.

Conclusion:

The biggest risk in life is not making mistakes but regret missing out on things. You can never recapture years spent doing something you didn’t like. The reality of life is boxed in the table below:

Resources ( | )/Stage of life ( → )ChildhoodYoung AgeOld Age
MoneyNoYesYes
TimeYesNoYes
EnergyYesYesNo

Tim states “Heaviness of success-chasing can be replaced with a lightness when you recognize that life is neither a problem to be solved nor a game to be won and only rules and limits are those we set for ourselves. Recapturing the excitement of childhood is not impossible. In fact, it is required. There are no more chains-or excuses-to hold you back.”

The most remarkable quote by Tim is, “People don’t want to be millionaire’s – they want to experience what they believe only millions can buy. The question is then, how can one achieve the millionaire lifestyle of complete freedom without first having $1,000,000 in the account?” The millionaire lifestyle is about private pools, exotic vacations, freedom to spend time with family and friends, best of the foods and wine, sky-diving, scuba-diving, hot air balloon, travelling around the world and so much more. You need money but to enjoy that money you need time. 

Based on my insights from this book, I have evolved the following framework for my productivity:

Productivity Framework

While you move to the life design of New Rich, it will release a substantial amount of your time. Do something meaningful with your time. Go nuts and live your dreams. Embark on a journey of continual learning and acts of service. Live more and become more.

By Manish Bansal

Manish is the Managing Director of SME Value Advisors, a platform that connects businesses with curated professionals who can deliver solutions. You can connect with him on manish@smevalueadvisors.com.

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