First thoughts on the 4 Hour Workweek

Work? written on a beach

The book I am reading at the moment is The 4 Hour Workweek by Timothy Ferriss. I had heard about it from Matt Mullenweg, the founding developer of WordPress the popular blogging software that powers this site.

I’m only halfway through the book but already I’ve been introduced to some interesting principles and have acted upon them.

Pakinson’s Law

C. Northcote Parkinson was a writer who arrived with this perceptive dictum from his experience in the British Civil Service.

Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.

This is something that I used to observe while working for design consultancies and advertising agencies in London. People, when given a day to do something, will spend the day doing it even though the task could be completed adequately in a few minutes.

I have often wondered why billions of people trudge into an office every day arriving at 9am and leaving at 5.30pm. Is 7.5 hours the time they need to do their jobs? Not an hour more or less any particular day?

So, yes, people spend countless hours and days indulged in essentially useless activity. I knew that. So tell me something I don’t know, Tim!

girl with an umbrella on a beach on a cloudy day

The Pareto principle – also known as the 80-20 rule

This principle is something I’d heard of before but maybe hadn’t realised it’s significance, here it is:

For many events, roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes

Here are a few examples:

  • In 1992 United Nations Development Program Report showed that the richest 20% of the world’s population controlled 82.7% of the world’s income.
  • Microsoft noted that by fixing the top 20% of the most reported bugs, 80% percent of the errors and crashes would be eliminated.
  • In business, 80% of your sales come from 20% of your clients.

Is this true for me, I wonder? Certainly, 20% of my clients account for over 50% of my income, but I’m not sure it’s as much as 80%. However, thinking about it, I would say that about 20% of my working day is spent generating 80% of my income as I spend a lot of time doing other things, some of them I would consider important (writing blog posts), some of them not so important (reading the news, Wikipedia, Twittering). This brings me on to another of Timothy Ferriss’s bugbears.

Interrupt interruptions

So, it follows that one should cut down as much of this 80% unproductive time as much as possible to free yourself up to do other things you may find more enjoyable. There are a number of ways to do this.

Ferriss suggests turning off the audible alert for when you receive email (or “brain farts” as he likes to call them, I love that!). I have done this and this has definitely worked for me. I’ve hardly ever received an email that was so urgent that I had to stop everything and concentrate on it. The author actually recommends cutting down emailing to two times daily: the first mid-morning (not first thing, after you’ve completed your important first task of the day); and the second at 4pm before your close of business. I haven’t quite done this but I have grouped my emailing together more.

The author suggests further methods to cut down interruption: don’t answer your mobile if you don’t recognise the number; don’t watch or listen to the news; don’t surf the web; don’t do meetings. I agree with him that meetings are usually a useless activity but then I hardly ever have them myself and as for the other things – I’m trying to cut down my non-productive web surfing but I still always answer my mobile as it could be a great new client!

Looking to the future

Now that you have stopped interruptions and are working more productively you can find time for what Tim Ferriss calls a “muse project” which could be reselling a product on the internet or creating one yourself and selling that.

I have created many e-commerce sites for clients and have been involved in the marketing of products for many years so this is something I have wanted to do for a long time. I haven’t thought of a product yet but I’ve got a few ideas!

What is your experience?

Have you ever read this book and what is your opinion of it? What do you think of interrupting interruptions and working more productively? Will this book make a lot of people rich and happy as a result of it’s advice and procedures? Or will the only person making money as a result of this book be the author?

beautiful beach with palm trees in the foreground and palm trees in the background

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Comments

  1. Jane says

    I believe in the 80-20 rule. But I guess productivity is subject to a number of factors namely – working environment, output measures, career objectives, career opportunities, etc.

    If a company can double or maintain staff morale by reducing days within workweek, then all the better. But sadly most companies are just too afraid to step out of corporate norms.

    • says

      I think it’s quite amazing that companies are still not looking to the future and encouraging remote working. I still get calls from people who want me to come in to their offices to work. They’re mad, it’ll end up costing them loads more!

  2. says

    Very interesting views. I’ve had days where I knew I could be more productive at home. A lot of days at work, you spend about 1/3 of your day in transportation or preparation, not really doing the work.

    But I don’t know if I could work from home forever. I’m the kind of person that needs that change in scenery once in a while to keep me motivated and interested. Maybe a personal preference?

    • says

      Hi Omar. Working from home is definitely not for everybody. A it is hard to be productive even when you don’t have the transportation issue to worry about. There are so many things to waste your time on! But, we’ll get there! Thanks for stopping by!

  3. says

    Between my merchandising job, freelance work and pouring all the money into a mortgage I don’t think I’ve worked less that 70 a week for the last 3 years lol.

    4 hour work week? One please, lol.

    • says

      Yes, a 4 hour day might be nice! I think the 4-hour WorkWeek was more of a catchy title to arouse interest. It’s more about automation and outsourcing.

  4. Emily says

    This book is fantastic! It gives hope to cubicle dwellers that there is a way out. The best message in this book is how we are totally governed by our fears of the unknown and how these fears keep us complacent and in the face of unhappiness or, worse, apathy. My only hope is that not everyone implements the principles in this book as the American economy may collapse.

  5. says

    Absolutely, Emily, thank you for your positivity and enthusiasm. Let’s feel no fear and do it!

    Hey Katie I guess we’ll be putting in 40 hour weeks for a while!

  6. says

    Thanks for your thoughts Rob. I’ve noticed over the years that we can consume inordinate amounts of time doing nothing at work or some equivalent to busy work. It’s quite plausible that people could get most of what they really need to do in four hours or in much less time than the standard 40 hour week.

    We could generally get much more done in much less time if we simply prioritized our tasks and finished the most important ones first. It also helps us feel calmer and more balanced while making us more effective workers.

  7. says

    I agree, Guy, we can get more done by prioritization. I also think some of us actually spend time doing things that are not only unimportant but also detrimental to our work.

  8. Cos says

    I’m reading this book for the 2nd time – the first time was just to see if it was worth reading!

    Will this book make a lot of people rich and happy as a result of its advice and procedures?
    – I don’t think so. Most people are too afraid to implement the suggestions, which I think have the potential to make SOME people richER and happyER than they were.

    Or will the only person making money as a result of this book be the author?
    – hmmm, yes I think there’s an element of that. Good spruikers do well.

    :-)

    • says

      Now I know what spruikers means in Australia. Yes, Tim Ferriss is, indeed, a spruiker, and a very good one at that. I’ve got to say that, although this book is often misquoted and, probably, a victim of it’s own success in the way that it gets banded around all the time, it has directed my professional life and my business to a certain extent. How many people has it helped? Whoa, anyone’s guess!