I had heard great things about The 4-Hour Workweek and actually met its author, Tim Ferriss, a few times, but the gimmicky title always kept me from reading it. Rave reviews for his new book The 4-Hour Body, with yet another annoying gimmicky title, convinced me to start at the beginning to see what all the fuss was about.
Funnily enough the entire raison d’être of the book, to reduce the amount spent working because it is boring and meaningless, does not apply to me. I love being an entrepreneur and angel investor and thus fall more in the “love what you do and you will never work again a day in your life” category, especially since I can work from anywhere and can thus go on fun mini-vacations all the time.
I am not even sure that I bought his analysis that the opposite of happiness is boredom and that thus we should keep ourselves active. Hyperactivity, be it from working for work’s sake or finding personal activities, seems like an escape from finding deeper contentment with ourselves and the lives we lead. That said, as an escape, pursuing personal projects trumps slogging through hours of mind numbing and boring work. To be fair, later chapters of the book espouse doing things slowly and seeking the activities that speak to us.
Regardless, it’s less the book’s life philosophy that struck me (since it mostly eschews one), than its extremely practical productivity improving advice. In many cases, I had already reached similar conclusions to Tim’s and had already put them into action in my own life. The difference is that I got there through lifelong trial and error while you can get there by reading the book.
I know most of my friends will make fun of me for recommending this book given the number of hours that I “work”, but ultimately it’s about being as productive as you can be and really getting meaningful things done. You can choose to spend your increased productivity by doing the same amount of work in less time, thus freeing time for other activities, or you can choose to just do a lot more. It’s up to you to find your Pareto optimal life/work balance.
In the meantime, if you ever wondered how I am able to get so much done, here are a few of Tim’s recommendations that I had already implemented in my life that could work for you too:
- I don’t read daily newspapers, watch daily news, etc. For the most part the news is sensationalist and irrelevant dribble. I prefer to get the relevant news in a more analyzed and digested format and thus only read The Economist and New Scientist every week. I also check a few tech blogs (Techmeme, Techcrunch, Engadget) once a day more for entertainment (I love tech and gadgets) and a bit to see what’s going on but that takes less than 10 minutes per day.
- It is critical to live in the present and provide attention. Leave work at work and don’t think about it in other environments. Don’t take your cell phone with you or turn it off after you meet whomever you are having dinner or drinks with. Don’t answer the phone during meetings. Shut off your cell phone at night and don’t use it as an alarm clock (because most need to be on for that), especially when traveling internationally.
- I mostly work from home on Mondays and Fridays, if only to save on commuting time and to spend more time with my dogs. It’s also great how much you can get done when you are not distracted by noise, questions, etc. To the extent possible don’t schedule phone calls and meetings for those days either! This setup makes it easy to take lots of 4 day week-ends. From NY I often whisk myself away to Cabarete or Snowbird/Alta for long week-ends either to kite board or ski.
- Do not do work for work’s sake. Outsource or delegate all repetitive, low value creating activities that you get no enjoyment from. It can be very inexpensive to have a smart personal assistant pay your bills, go through your mail, etc. The 4-Hour Workweek walks you through a few smart and inexpensive examples of how you can set it up. I also apply it to my personal life. I don’t do laundry (the cleaner next door does it for $1 per pound!), cook, clean, etc. because I don’t get any enjoyment out of these activities. I would rather be playing video games or tennis 🙂
- Take few meetings, limit them to less than 30 minutes and make sure they have a clear agenda.
- Learn from Parkinson’s law: you will fill whatever time you allocate to a task. Self-impose short deadlines to get things done fast with just as much quality.
- Take decisions quickly. Agonizing over the decision does not improve its quality and just reduces your happiness. Most wrong decisions are easy to correct once you realize they were wrong.
- Travel light! It’s shocking how little you can take. I just came back from a 12 day trip to India. I had so little with me (a backpack with my notebook and Kindle weighing in at much less than 10 pounds) and a small suitcase weighing in at 18 pounds full, that I kept thinking I must have forgotten something. The reality is that for $50 or less you can buy locally whatever you need. Don’t pack toiletries for instance, they force you to check luggage, and are easy to buy anywhere!
- Material goods should be there to serve you and not you them. Follow the 80/20 rule (keep the 20% of things that you use 80% of the time) and sell or give away most of the rest -> clothes, books, etc. You won’t miss them (otherwise you would be using them more) and if you do, you can always buy whatever has left a gaping hole in your life rather inexpensively.
- Don’t burden yourself with large expenses such as mortgages and cars when you can get much more bang for your buck from a life enjoyment perspective by spending that money on travel and life experiences. Many such experiences can be had incredibly inexpensively (and many are detailed in the book).
- Work in batch mode once enough work has accumulated. To prevent interruptions remove email notifications from Facebook, Linkedin and the like. You will see the activity when you choose to logon.
- Ask for forgiveness rather than permission.
- Don’t take no for an answer. As Samuel Beckett said: “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” The book gives great examples of how to do this.
As most personal stories written from a first person perspective, the book can feel self-aggrandizing at times, a weakness this blog post and my blog in general also share. Despite that, I truly loved the book and found lots of great tips that I look forward to implementing in my life in the coming weeks.
Read the book, it might very well change your life!