Originally published in 2007, The 4 Hour Work Week by Tim Ferriss, made some huge waves upon its release. It also laid foundations for its author that continue to this day. Indeed anyone who’s ever browsed the iTunes podcast charts will have come across Tim Ferriss, whose self-named show is regularly towards the top.
As regular readers and listeners know, the reason Financial Autonomy exists is to explore how we can all gain choice in our lives. Without doubt The 4 Hour Work Week aims to deliver the same, albeit with a quite specific formula for success.
Now I have to confess that I didn’t pick up the book when it came out. I can’t recall exactly when I became aware of it, but it was a bit like a movie everyone was talking about – I kind of felt I knew all the best bits, and with all the hype, I just couldn’t find the enthusiasm.
11 years on and with the hype having faded, I thought it was time to right that wrong.
The first thing you need to know is that – despite the title, this book really isn’t about only working 4 hours per week. In fact nowhere in it does Tim say that’s all he does, and indeed I’ve read interviews with him where he fully acknowledges that he works more hours than that.
So don’t read this book if that is your sole goal.
The sub-title – Escape the 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich, is actually much more what The 4 Hour Work Week is all about.
The other thing, which is where I got the wrong impression when it was released, is that it’s not all about outsourcing everything to India. Sure, that’s an important element, but it’s not the whole book
I was really pleased to find that The 4 Hour Work Week is a really well written and engaging book. An extremely common frustration I find with many thought-leader type books is that the Big Idea could have been summarised in a 5 page essay, but since you can’t make money with a 5 page essay, they’ve padded it out into a book.
That is certainly not the case here – the book is well structured, and the ideas are consistent throughout. I didn’t feel like there was any padding. There were elements in the middle where I felt he wasn’t talking my language, but I continued anyway and found value in latter chapters.
It’s probably worth explaining the basic structure of the book. There are 4 key elements, broken up into steps:
The first, Definition is where he explains his New Rich concept and challenges some common assumptions.
Elimination is essentially about productivity – getting more done in less time.
Automation explores how you might generate income with minimal personal effort – unquestionably the section I had the most difficulty with.
And finally Liberation – mini-retirement, travel, and flexibility – very much in our Financial Autonomy wheelhouse.
If you think in terms of a Venn diagram, you know, where there are the two circles that overlap in the middle, and one circle is the things Tim espouses in this book, and the other circle contains the ideas and dreams of the Financial Autonomy community, there is definitely significant overlap.
The idea of “wealth” not being defined purely by your balance sheet, but rather with reference to the life you can lead, certainly aligned.
Where 4 Hour Work Week didn’t resonate for me though was in 2 primary elements:
- It seemed a recipe for a single person. Success in the approach espoused equalled lots of living abroad, nomadic style.
Now I love to travel and am a keen learner, but as someone with kids, first I have an obligation to ensure they get a good education and upbringing. And whilst travel can be an important element of that, professional teachers laying solid foundations are irreplaceable.
I also take the view that there’s 15-20 years in my life where I get to enjoy their growing up, and hopefully provide a positive influence in their lives. Traveling to Buenos Aires to learn Latin dancing doesn’t fit into this picture. My kids want to catch-up with friends, play sport and engage in their other interests. The definition of success in 4 Hour Work Week didn’t really seem to allow for that.
- The other element that jarred for me was that the suggested enabler was building a business that largely runs on auto-pilot with the use of outsourcing staff from India and the likes. If only building a successful business was that easy!
I know from the emails that I receive from you guys, that many of you are entrepreneurially inclined. I also know that finding that viable business idea and making it work is really hard. To then overlay on that the ability to outsource its operation, is something that I would think few could pull off successfully. It’s possible, no doubt about it, but as a template for others to follow, I’m just not convinced.
Indeed the very fact this concept has been around for so long, and yet so few people do it successfully, would seem to prove this point.
I also think it fails to recognise that many of us enjoy the income producing work that we do. Whether it’s working as part of a team, developing creative solutions, helping people live better lives, or the challenge of beating a competitor – our work provides purpose, satisfaction, and yes, enjoyment. Who hasn’t had a glass of wine or a beer at the end of big week and felt, “yeah, I kicked some goals this week”? This idea that all paid work is horrible is a falsehood.
So that’s the issues I had with 4 Hour Work Week. But did that mean reading this book was a waste of my time? Not at all.
Was it life changing? No.
But have I taken action as a result of reading it (since after all, if no action is taken, what’s the point)? Yes.
The immediate action I’ve taken is to better manage my emails which have been consuming a lot of my day, and getting unjustified priority at times. I’ve automated a lot of what happens with my incoming emails, and set-up a few templates to speed up some responses. I’m also experimenting with only actioning emails at certain times of day. I haven’t perfected things, but Tim’s book certainly caused me to pause, reflect, and make changes.
The version I bought was the expanded and updated edition published in 2009. The elements that I gather have been added are certainly good, and if you have the choice, I’d certainly encourage you to get this version over the original.
There’s a section towards the end titled “Living the 4 hour work week” – case studies, tips, and hacks which I thought was great. You may even want to read that first, then decide if you want to invest the time into consuming the whole book.
I also thought the blog post section contained some really useful thoughts.
I’m no fan-boy of Tim Ferriss, so I have no idea if he’s living a happy and fulfilled life. But the little I do know suggests he’s succeeded in gaining choice in his life, and so for that I admire him, and I thank him for writing The 4 Hour Work Week – I certainly think this book makes a positive contribution to the potential that exists for all of us in the 21st century.
I’m sure many in the Financial Autonomy community have read 4 Hour Work Week – what did you think? Let me know on the Financial Autonomy Facebook page, or via email from our web site.
Also, if you’re a Twitter user, my Twitter handle is @Paul_Benson11 so feel free to connect there.