Review: The 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferris

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Boy, has this book had a promotional push and a half!  Add to that an insanely powerful level of internet buzz and I’d surely like to be getting Tim Ferris’s royalties pouring like a mighty river into my bank account.

Which I guess makes this book, according to Ferris’s terminology, a ‘muse’.  That’s pretty much a ‘set it and forget it’ nice little moneymaker that enables you to concentrate on the business of living, rather than on doing business as a way of making a living.  

Ferris’s book isn’t hard to boil down to its essence, but it’s attraction lies in more than that.  It’s written with a surprising amount of levity and personal charm and eccentricity.  You know, for an inspirational/self-help/personal finance type of tome.  I don’t tend to have great literary expectations for any such.

‘4-Hour Workweek’, in any case, may be summarised thus.

First stage: this is Definition.  It appears to be about redefining our terms and preconceptions, mostly, regarding appropriate numbers of hours worked a week, and how long you should wait until retirement, and how much money you really need.  I’m not saying I take it all on trust, but i’m all for a bit of scepticism regarding societal norms and accepted requirements.

Second stage: Elimination.  This section leans heavily on the Pareto Principle, I.e. the idea that a very high proportion of results come from a small fraction of causes.  Parkinson’s Law is also invoked, I.e. the notion that work will expand to fill the available time.  Set tight deadlines, and elimnate non-productive endeavours, and presto, you have a major leap in productivity.

Third stage: Automation.  This is the section with the now infamous stuff about outsourcing everything bar breathing and getting inebriated on the weekend.  (Maybe that too.)  In essence: set up your product and your systems such that you can subtract yourself from your system.  (Then you can go sit on the beach.)  Acquire carefully instructed remote virtual assistants to carry out any and every task.  Relax.

Personally I don’t think this idea, while pleasant, would suit everyone.  (Or perhaps just not me.)  There appears to be so much work involved in setting up the systems in the first place that my sissy little heart sinks at the very thought. Plus regarding the whole virtual assistant thing, I can’t see that I would ever be comfortable handing over a multitude of account passwords to someone I’d never met and saying, “Go to it!  Start running my personal and business life for me!”  Ferriss does address the security issues, but it’s a question of psychological comfort as well as practicalities and statistical likelihoods.

Fourth stage:
Liberation.  This is pretty much the ‘ah, diddums’ section for New Rich (that’s NR according to Ferriss.  Wonder if he’s trademarked it yet?) who are having trouble adjusting to lying on beaches with other people doing the work all the time.  (I first wrote, ‘lying on other people with beaches doing all the work’.  They’d probably have a problem with that, too).  He suggests charitable endeavours and keeping yourself active, while travelling at a relaxed pace/living abroad.  This is his ‘mini-retirement’ notion, I.e. spreading your retirement out through life with concentrated bursts of working activity in between.  All very well, but if I spread my likely period of retirement out through life each section will be gone in the time it takes to blink my eye.

I don’t really have a problem with this book.  (Certainly a lot less of one than some reviewers.)  I think it could work for the right personality type: and on a smaller and modified scale, perhaps for a lot more of us.  I say: don’t take it too seriously, read it for fun (which it is), and you might suck out a few ideas from it which you find personally useful.  You’re wanting more than that?  I want the moon on a stick, but I’m still just howling at it once a month.


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