I read the 4-Hour Workweek not too long after it came out. I bought a copy for my dad, recommended it to my friends and generally considered it a solid inspirational piece. But as its popularity has grown and Tim Ferriss has effectively become synonymous with words like ‘lifestyle design’ and ‘productivity,’ I’ve noticed a serious problem.
A lot of people seem to take Ferriss and his book at face value. They try to replicate exactly what he’s done to make his life fun and enjoyable, becoming confused when they can’t match either his success or his enjoyment of that success. The problem is that the book isn’t a how-to manual, unless you’re actually Ferriss.
- Do you already have a moderately successful business up and running?
- Do you enjoy spending hours learning new skills?
- Are you ready to put yourself first over just about everything else?
If you can’t answer yes all around, you’re certainly not Ferriss and, straight out of the box, you’re not going to wind up with an ideal lifestyle if you follow “The 4-Hour Workweek” precisely.
A Moderately Successful Business
Before Ferriss started working a four-hour workweek, he built up a successful business. I’m willing to bet that when he started out, he worked on a more typical entrepreneur’s schedule — sixty hours per week doesn’t sound out of the question to me. Ferriss does point out in his book that you shouldn’t assume that you can jump into running a business that covers all your expenses, but his approach does have a certain ‘you can do this now’ vibe.
That’s great for some people, but not so much for others. Some people just don’t want to run their own businesses. That kind of responsibility, especially when they can pick up a part-time gig that covers their needs, just isn’t worthwhile for everyone. For other people, it’s necessary to have a better safety net. Ferriss is a single young man, after all: while he includes examples in his book of families that travel around the world together, he doesn’t make mention of the sort of safety net many parents want to have in place before taking the slightest risk with their offspring’s well-being. It’s just not a practical system for everyone.
There are other options out there beyond trying to build up a business fast enough to make the changes you want to make in your life. Treat Ferriss’ suggestions as an inspiration and explore what sort of work would really be enjoyable for you — whether or not you’re spending four hours a week at your desk. Honestly, I can see the appeal of spending as little time working as possible, when your job involves reselling something.
The things Ferriss talks about pursuing in his free time don’t appeal universally. Personally, I have a lot of things I’d rather do than learn how to expertly tango. Ferriss seems to love going out and learning everything there is to know about certain topics, usually trying to hack the system in the process. And if that’s you’re idea of a good time, go for it.
For the rest of us, that sort of goal doesn’t always make sense. Personally, I’d rather never get down to just four hours of work a week. I actually enjoy my work and I’d probably go a little crazy if I had to amuse myself day in and day out. But I have cut down on the total amount of work I do. I’ve found a balance that works for me and the things I find enjoyable.
it’s worth taking a look at the things you find to be truly enjoyable, as well. Maybe it’s a certain type of craft, maybe it’s spending time with particular people. Focus on how you can make those things into an everyday part of your life — perhaps by building a more enjoyable job or business out of them. If travel’s your thing, you can still make that a part of your life without absolutely reducing the work you do.
Putting Yourself First
One of the things I struggled the most with when reading “The 4-Hour Workweek” is how much of Ferriss’ strategy relies on putting yourself first. Even his email system is based on the idea that his time is more valuable than anyone emailing him. That approach isn’t necessarily bad, but a lot of people have reasons why we can’t just flat out put ourselves at the top of the heap. Certain clients would walk if I took that approach, and I’m pretty sure it would drive my family crazy.
That sort of mindset works when you have specific types of responsibilities, but it doesn’t work universally. For most of us, true prioritization is necessary before we can really start thinking about how to build a lifestyle that works for us — and don’t think that there aren’t other options. There are plenty of tools these days that will allow you to let specific people get in touch with you immediately while excluding those who aren’t among your priorities.