The 4-Hour Work Week

Change the way you think about how you live your life and earn your living.

By Timothy Ferriss

4 hour work week

I read this a while ago and I still haven’t decided what I really think of it.

The ideas sound great in theory, but I’m not so sure in practice. Sure, if you’re running a particular type of business or living a particular type of lifestyle it might work, but I don’t really see how I could fit the theory to my lifestyle.

So, what is this theory? Analyse what you do and how you do it, cut back on anything that seems unproductive or not cost effective, focus on what you really want to do and outsource the rest.

This is a bit simplified, but it’s the general gist. It sounds great, but I don’t think a school would think too kindly if I outsourced my teaching placements to an online company in India. ‘Here kids, download your lesson and get on with it’. Especially as I’m a supply teacher; I’m already the outsourced person.

And as much as I’d love to outsource my lesson planning, marking, attendance at parents’ evenings and so on, I don’t think that would go down too well either.

As for my online life? Well, this is the one I do have more control over, but this is what I really like doing. I don’t want to hand it over to someone else. If I want to go to the Ritz and have afternoon tea and drink free champagne and then write about it, I want to do this myself. I don’t want someone else to do it and I just read about it later. When I walked the Kungsleden I wanted to walk it myself, not send someone in my place whilst I stayed at home.

So, I read the whole book – I found it interesting and read it quite quickly – and decided I won’t be getting a 4-hour work week any time soon.

But there were plenty of snippets I did take from it. The important one that runs through the book is something I already know but keep needing to be reminded of: prioritise what you love. Once you’ve prioritised it think about how to achieve it and adapt your life towards it.

Early on in the book (pg 8 in my edition), Ferriss points out that people don’t want to be millionaires, they want the lifestyle that being a millionaire can buy. This reminded me of the exercise I completed when I worked through Purkiss and Royston-Lee’s book, ‘Brand You’. In that exercise I had to imagine I had unlimited money and decide what I would do. Then I had to look at how I could  do those things (with a little adapting) without actually being a multi-millionaire.

In the first part of the book Ferriss uses the acronym DEAL to explain his process.

DEAL stands for Definition, Elimination, Automation and Liberation.


By thinking about how you define the things you want and way you want your life to be and by making subtle changes in the wording you use you can completely change your way of looking at things and thus change your expectations and goals to something even better.

Here are some examples:

  • Work for myself → have other people work for me
  • Be my own boss → be the owner
  • To buy everything I want → to do all the things I want to do and be all the things I want to be
  • To work towards a big pay-off e.g. pension or bonus → to ensure I always have enough cash flow to do what I want when I want

Can you see how these subtle differences in wording could have a massive impact on the lifestyle you aim to achieve?

He goes on to say that,

‘Money is multiplied in practical value depending on the number of W’s you control in your life: WHAT you do, WHEN you do it, WHERE you do it, and with WHOM you do it.’

He calls this the freedom multiplier.

He gives an example of a banker who earns hundreds of thousands of dollars a year and works an eighty hour week compared to someone who earns a lot less, but has the freedom to do what they want, when they want and with whom they want.

When you compare the lifestyles of the two, which one  is really better off?


Elimination is the second phase of his strategy. The first thing Ferriss says in this section is forget about time management. Seriously? How many books have been written about time management? How many people have managing their time more efficiently as a personal or work related goal? And here’s Tim Ferriss saying, ‘Forget all about it’.

He goes on to explain that being busy is often a waste of time, because many of the things you are doing to be busy don’t actually need to be done.  We are so hung-up with trying to be as productive as possible and trying to do everything to the best of our ability and trying to micro-manage every aspect of our lives that we’ve not only forgotten about prioritising, but we’ve also forgotten about how to differentiate between tasks that are important and those that aren’t just less important, but don’t actually need to be done at all.

And this is where the process of elimination comes in.

First you have to realise the difference between being efficient and being effective.

Efficiency is performing a task in the most timely and economical way. An efficient person may have a myriad of systems in place so that to do lists are ticked, emails are replied to and every minute is filled.

1. Doing something unimportant well, does not make it important.

2. Requiring a lot of time does not make a task important.

A person who is effective may scrimp on the above, but see a big return for the little they do do.

Ferriss refers to ‘Pareto’s Law’ to make his point.

Vilfredo Pareto came up with the theory of an 80/20 split. For example, 80% of wealth is owned by 20% of the population. (I’m not sure this particular example works anymore, but he was writing a long time ago).

But his theory can be applied to other things. For example, often 80% of your effort leads to 20% of your gains. Conversely, 80% of your income or rewards will stem from 20% of your effort.

So, elimination … assess what is causing you the most problems or unhappiness and you’ll probably find it comes from a source that provides no more than 20% of your overall rewards. ELIMINATE this.

Then you can focus on nurturing the 20% of your sources that, if you examine them, you’ll likely find are providing you with 80% of your income or rewards.

I can see how this works in business. If you focus on the clients who deliver the best ratio of rewards to effort and eliminate the clients who take most of your time for very little reward, then your productivity will increase whilst the time you actually spend working should actually decrease.

When I think about working in schools, I have to agree that a minority of pupils take up far more than their ‘fair share’ of my time and these pupils usually deliver less than a fair ratio of ‘rewards’. However, I think I’d cause a national outcry if I started to eliminate my pupils. And anyway, some of these pupils are the ones I feel are most in need of my time, regardless of the effects they have my productivity.

I do see how I can apply this theory to other areas of my life though and I think it is something I will work on.


Automation is the ultimate delegation. Why do something yourself, if you can either set up a system to do it or pay someone else to do it? If you don’t earn a lot of money you may baulk at spending your hard-earned cash on paying someone to do something you can easily do yourself.

But that’s not the point. The point is that you free up time. Ferriss extols the wonders of outsourcing the humdrum of your life to India. The money it costs will likely be worth it for the time it saves you. And if it means you then have time to focus on the 20% that brings you most reward, then it will be well worth it.

I have to say, that this is the bit I have most difficulty with. I’m trying to change my mindset, but it’s a struggle. At least I pay someone else to valet my van now, instead of wasting lots of time and effort doing it myself, so I suppose that’s a step in the right direction.

Before starting the automation stage, revist the elimination section and ensure you have eliminated everything that is unnecessary. There’s really no point in paying someone to do something that doesn’t need to be done.


This is the stage everything else has been leading to. It’s the one in which you persuade your boss to let you work remotely. Start with working from home a couple of days a week – just to break your boss in gently – and make sure you are so ultra-productive (should be easy if you’ve eliminated and automated most of your work as instructed in the previous stages) that your boss can’t say no when you ask for a more permanent remote-working arrangement.

This section of the book guides you in the best ways to achieve this and get your boss to agree. And if your boss really won’t agree? Well, that’s when you’ll just have to sack him/her. There are plenty of opportunities out there as long as you’re open to them and have prioritised what you really want out of life.

I said at the beginning of this post that I wasn’t really sure what to make of this book. Now that I’ve revisited it whilst I’ve been writing this post, I’ve realised that although parts of it aren’t doable for me (I’m not going to get myself a VA in Bangalore anytime soon, for example), there is enough in this book to get me thinking about changing my mindset.

Don’t put off your dreams until you’ve got x amount of money or  you’ve reached a certain age or attained a particular role. That day may never come and if and when it does there may be other things happening to prevent you living your dream. Everything you do now needs to be about making those dreams come true as soon as possible. Why wait until you retire to travel? You may have health problems by then which limit your ability. Travel now and make your work fit around it. Travel is just an example; the theory can be applied to anything and everything.

So, read the book, pluck from it the bits that are relevant to you and start living the life you want to live.

What do you think? Do you outsource any bits of your life? Share in the comments below.

Author: Anne

Join me in my journey to live a life less boring, one challenge at a time. Author of the forthcoming book 'Walking the Kungsleden: One Woman's Solo Wander Through the Swedish Arctic'.

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