It’s no exaggeration to say that The 4-Hour Workweek is life-changing. Since it was published nearly ten years ago, people all around the globe have relied on the knowledge garnered in this book to become digital nomads or quit their 9-to-5 office jobs and start lifestyle businesses.
Just why is it so powerful? In a nutshell, Tim Ferriss’ unorthodox viewpoint forces his readers to take a step back and question long-held assumptions regarding the work-life balance and what life should be about.
Since The 4-Hour Workweek had such a profound impact on me and positively transformed my outlook on life, I’ve decided to spread the word far and wide (or at least as far as the constraints of this blog)—and have compiled a list of ten of the most important things that I learned while reading this book.
1. Working Less Is Not Laziness
In our workaholic society, we’ve been programmed to equate working less with laziness. Tim Ferriss challenges this widespread assumption, claiming, “doing less meaningless work, so that you can focus on things of greater importance, is NOT laziness.” Unfortunately, he recognizes that “this is hard for most to accept, because our culture tends to reward personal sacrifice instead of personal productivity.”
While he asserts that less is more, Ferriss does not encourage people to work a few hours a day and then sit on the beach drinking pina coladas for six hours (that would be lazy). What he does promote is devoting that free time to meaningful projects or hobbies, whether that’s volunteering at an orphanage or learning a new language.
He also refutes the notion that busyness is a positive thing, instead stating that “being busy is a form of laziness—lazy thinking and indiscriminate action”—and “lack of time is actually lack of priorities.”
Many people fill the hours of the day being “busy”—or in other words, being inefficient or doing things of little value. If everyone were to be more productive in the hours while working, and commit to fewer things, we would have much more free time to focus on things of greater value. The solution? Only agree to do things that excite you. And don’t let societal norms dictate how you should spend your precious time.
2. Focus on Strengths, Instead of Trying to Fix Weaknesses
Instead of trying to be the jack-of-all-trades, zero in on what you really excel at (bonus points if you are passionate about it too), and focus your energies on that.
You can’t be the best at everything, but if you can become exceptionally good at just one or two things (or at least better than most people), you will be much better off than if you try to be good at everything.
3. People Don’t Want to Become Rich
Yes, you read that correctly. People don’t want to become rich—they want the lifestyle that comes with it.
Sure, I think we can all agree that having billions of dollars in the bank would be nice. But as Ferriss claims, it’s not the money that people desire—it’s what you can do with the money and the lifestyle that you are able to lead as a result.
But here’s the thing: You don’t need to be rich to lead an enviable lifestyle. All you need is a bit of free will and a strong desire to change your current situation.
Ask yourself this: What would you do if you had all the money in the world? And what’s stopping you from doing that…right now?
4. Apply the 80/20 Rule to Your Life
Throughout his book, Ferriss references Pareto’s principle (also known as the 80/20 rule), which states that 80% of output comes from 20% of input. In other words, “80% of the results come from 20% of the effort and time” or “80% of company profits come from 20% of the products and customers.”
After learning about this life-altering principle, Ferriss found that “out of more than 120 wholesale customers, a mere 5 were bringing in 95% of the revenue” and he was wasting an exorbitant amount of time and energy on the majority of his customers who were barely (if at all) contributing to his revenue growth. He therefore decided to focus instead on the small percentage of customers who were also the most profitable; as a result, his monthly income skyrocketed from $30,000 to $60,000 in just four weeks and his weekly hours dropped from 80 to 15. Not too shabby.
The 80/20 rule can be applied to virtually anything in life, whether professional or personal. Think about the 20% of things that result in 80% of your happiness—and home in on that 20%, while cutting out the rest.
5. Rid Yourself of Material Possessions
The summer after I finished high school, I went to the south of France for a month with my best friend. Actually, it was not even a month—it was three and a half weeks. Yet for whatever reason, I felt compelled to bring not one, but two massive duffel bugs (they were not even wheeled bags!) with me. And I wasn’t the only one: A male friend that we met there, who was there for the same amount of time, brought two bags—one that was filled with just shoes!
I’m not sure about him, but I probably used only about a third of the items that I had brought. And after lugging two heavy duffel bags through hilly, cobblestoned streets and up numerous flights of stairs, whilst receiving innumerable disapproving stares from passerby, I vowed that I would never pack like that again. I’d like to spare you the hardship, so take note: This is exactly what you should not do when traveling.
Especially if you want to live a nomadic lifestyle, material possessions are nothing more than an unnecessary burden. How many items of clothing do you really wear in that closet of yours? How many books sitting on your bookshelf do you actually reread? Going back to Pareto’s principle, what are 20% of the things that you use 80% of the time?
Donate the 80% of unused items lying around your house and you will feel instantly liberated—and I can pretty much guarantee you won’t miss anything. If you do, well, you can always buy it again.
6. Minimize Input to Maximize Output
As Ferriss argues, the average human being is flooded with information on a day-to-day basis, most of which is “time-consuming, negative, irrelevant to [their] goals, and outside of [their] influence.” And with attention spread so thin, how can anyone ever be fully focused?
To solve this universal dilemma, Ferriss suggests that everyone go on an “information diet” and practice “selective ignorance”—at least for a week to try it out. Stop watching the news (read the headlines if you have to). Stop surfing the web unless it’s absolutely necessary. Don’t read any books (unless it’s fiction and for pleasure).
By only consuming information that is pertinent to your immediate goals, and ignoring all the rest, you can begin to focus your attention on the things that really matter.
7. Taking Risks Always Beats Complacency
Many people make excuses to not do the things that they want to do. I want to spend a year traveling…too bad I only get two weeks of vacation a year and don’t have the money. I want a new job…but I will just stick it out for a while longer since that’s easier than quitting.
It’s always easier to not do something than it is to do something. Most people are afraid of uncertainty and wary of that which does not fit societal norms, and so they remain stuck where they are simply because it’s much less scary than venturing out and conquering the unknown.
If you are absolutely miserable in your current situation, it’s likely that you will take action and try to change something.
It’s complacency that’s the most dangerous. You know, that feeling in which something is fine the way it is—not great, but not bad either. And so, you don’t try to change things because fine is good enough. That is, until you experience something great and realize what you’ve been missing all along.
Don’t be complacent. Whether it’s your job, relationship, where you live, or just your overall situation, don’t settle for that which is mediocre.
Ferriss discusses the importance of stepping outside of your comfort zone and taking risks. Maybe that’s reaching out to intimidating influencers. Maybe it’s quitting your job for something new. Perhaps it’s leaving your current relationship. Whatever it may be, make it your goal to do something that scares you at least once a week. Take baby steps if you have to—and eventually, the big obstacles won’t seem so daunting anymore.
8. Don’t Underestimate the Value of Time
In college, I, along with my peers, would often cram for a test or write a paper at the last minute—and yet still managed to do well. Sometimes, procrastinating would earn me an even higher grade than more preparation did. Oh, the irony.
Turns out, there’s a reason for this. According to Parkinson’s Law, “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” This means that the more time we give ourselves to complete a task, the more time that task will take to complete. If we have two months to complete a project, we will take two months to complete it. If we have two hours to get something done, we will get it done in two hours (within reason of course—some things might not be possible to complete in that time).
A more imminent deadline puts pressure on us to complete the task. We can therefore increase productivity (and save valuable time) by reducing the amount of time allotted to complete a task.
9. When It Comes to Choices, Sometimes Less Is More
In the United States, we are surrounded by an endless array of choices everywhere we go. In the supermarket, there are shelves upon shelves of just potato chips. When purchasing a car, people often spend days (if not weeks), weighing their options before finally coming to a decision.
But do all of these choices make us any happier? As Barry Schwartz argues in The Paradox of Choice, it actually does just the opposite. Ferriss agrees, stating that if you present people with fewer options, they will be happier in the end.
When it comes to business, he claims that, “the more options you offer the customer, the more indecision you create and the fewer orders you receive—it is a disservice all around. Furthermore, the more options you offer the customer, the more manufacturing and customer service burden you create for yourself.”
10. Challenge the Status Quo
After graduating from college, we are expected to get a typical 9-to-5, office job, where we will work for the next 40 years or so, until retirement and the 401k kicks in. Until then, we have weekends, occasional paid holidays and two weeks of vacation a year to look forward to.
Does this future seem a bit bleak to anyone else? For many people (including myself and the author), this kind of lifestyle just doesn’t cut it. Ferriss challenges these typical societal norms and expectations while encouraging his readers to do the same.
First of all, who decided that human beings should work eight hours per day? As Ferriss says, “this schedule is a collective social agreement and a dinosaur legacy of the results-by-volume approach. How is it possible that all the people in the world need exactly 8 hours to accomplish their work? It isn’t. 9-5 is arbitrary.”
Secondly, why should we have to defer our lives until retirement? Why can’t we have our cake (a stable income) and eat it too (travel and have the freedom to pursue our dreams)—now? Why should we have to wait until retirement to eat the cake?
As Ferriss asserts—we don’t.