The 4-hour work week – book review

Out of all the books in the business genre, the 4-hour work week surely wins the award for the most entertaining. Tim Ferriss is an engaging writer who draws you into his story, making this book compulsive reading. In fact, this is probably the only business book I have ever read which has made me burst out laughing. Specifically, the section where he describes how he became Chinese Kickboxing champion is hilarious. I won’t ruin it for you, but this section alone makes this book worth the read.

Not everyone can follow the same exact path as Tim Ferriss, for context this is someone who lived paycheck to paycheck, earning $40k per annum, to suddenly making $40k per month, while working when he wanted, how he wanted to. None the less, behind the witty prose, lie some serious points around ways to change the way we think and organise ourselves to achieve more for less.

In the first instance, he talks about achieving more, so breaking through the limits we set upon ourselves. As a case study he talks about being a guest lecturer at Princeton and setting a challenge to the students, to contact high profile celebrities and CEO’s and get responses to questions they had always wanted to ask. For the refusniks, for whom such a task is beyond comprehension, the outcome forces them to challenge their own assumptions, as classmates get responses from people such as former president George Bush, along with the CEO’s of Comcast, Disney, Google & HP, along with dozens of other supposedly impossible to reach people. The point is to embrace this notion that the impossible can be made possible. We just need the right approach.

In the next part of the book he starts talking about productivity and with that, introduces Pareto’s principle, where in this context, he argues that 80% of the value we create is generated from 20% of our efforts. In his case, he fired non-performing clients and focused on those generating value, profiling them and seeking more matching the profile. The end result? Within one month he had doubled his income whilst reducing his working hours by 75%. The lesson he gives? “Slow down and remember this: Most things make no difference. Being busy is a form of laziness – lazy thinking and indiscriminate action.”

With that, he takes Parkinson’s Law (A task will swell in importance and complexity in relation to the time allotted for its completion) and applies it all to Productivity. So:

  • Limit tasks to the important to shorten work time (80/20)
  • Shorten work time to limit tasks to the important (Parkinson’s Law)

Combined, this leads to us identifying the few critical tasks that really matter, and scheduling them with clear and short deadlines.

From here, the book continues at tempo, covering everything from improving delegation and automation, through to embracing a mobile lifestyle. In truth, while not everyone is going to be an entrepreneur and work a four hour week, the steps he advocates are worth paying attention to for anyone who feels they want to have more control over their lives and have a better work-life balance, where overall this book provides great insights to challenge the way we think about our lives and our careers.

About the author: James Chaplin
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