the four(ty) hour workweek


After reading Timothy Ferriss’ book The 4-Hour Workweek I was struck by what I viewed as one of his main concepts: work is something to be avoided. The book explains how to set up a business that (largely) runs itself. His idea is to have a passive (for lack of a better word) income stream and then use that stream to back away from work altogether in favor of visiting new parts of the world, learning new things and enjoying what he calls “mini-retirements.” His point that far too many of us hammer away at difficult jobs with long hours during the best years of our lives simply to grasp at “freedom” once we are too old to enjoy it.

I have written many posts about my desire to generate “passive income” or “alternative income.” After reading Robert Kiyosaki’s “Rich Dad, Poor Dad” I spent years wondering whether I, too, could ever achieve financial freedom. I’ve worked my way through a steady progression of what I’d loosely lump together as “financial freedom” books: Your Money or Your Life is one of the best examples. What Ferriss’ book helped me realize is that based on my recent “mini-retirement,” I am in no way ready for the four hour workweek. If you don’t have a sense of what you want to do with the other 164 hours of the week a mini-retirement can be long and unproductive.

Curmudgeon, a frequent contributor to brip blap, wrote this a year ago:

As young adults, we try on various persona, defined by our behaviors and job roles. Not surprisingly, some fit better than others. Hopefully, we gravitate into the roles that fit, gaining an understanding of our own preferences and character in doing so. In doing so, we’ll likely find that we don’t have a true taste for large and fancy homes, luxury automobiles, fine clothes, and corporate ladder-climbing. But many people engage in these behaviors, perhaps because others around them do so, or because of some ill-conceived notions of the meaning of success and belonging.

link: guest post: who am I?

Focusing on lists and goals and “things we’d like to achieve” can be a trap. You may think that “trekking across the Gobi on camel back” is a more admirable and exciting goal than “re-read the Lord of the Rings at least one more time,” and you may tell others (and yourself) that you want to do the former.  What you really want, though, is to do something else – because that’s who you really are. You need to understand who you are before you can set goals – I didn’t think this in the past but now I do.

Maybe you want a four-hour workweek so you can “play” at writing a book (which is hard work). Maybe you want financial freedom not because you want just enough income to live a moderate existence, but so you can quit your corporate job and concentrate on making “big money” doing something else so you can buy a Mercedes.  Maybe you want financial freedom to sit on a couch and complete watching every episode of Doctor Who ever made. Just be honest about what you want.  I suspect that dreaming about a fancy car means you are really looking for some other sort of meaning in your life, but for all I know some people might be truly passionate about cars – learning about them, driving them and owning them.  I’d like to have an ocean view home – which doesn’t come cheap – but I don’t need that home to be 4000 square feet.

I often dream of “freedom” – but now that I’ve had freedom for the last half year, I’ve started dreaming more of meaningful or interesting work; for lack of a better word, let’s call this a “purpose.” I have fooled myself for a long time into thinking I want free time to do what I really “want to do” but I don’t want free time – I want my time occupied. I think too many people confuse freedom with indolence and that’s why they can’t achieve it – freedom isn’t achieved by lazy people (unless they have the good fortune to inherit it). Laziness may actually guarantee that you’ll work very hard – you’ll just be working hard at something you don’t want to do. Someone who buys a book with a guy swinging in a hammock (as Ferriss’ book does) hoping to find a shortcut will soon realize that a lot of hard work is needed to get to that hammock. I doubt that Ferriss spends his days watching Flintstones reruns.

Ferriss’ idea of work, or purpose, or whatever you would like to call it would simply be learning and traveling. For someone else it might be accounting, or animal husbandry, or selling custom t-shirts.  Nobody really wants a four-hour workweek.  They want a forty-hour income off four hours of effort, so the other 36 hours can be spent doing what they would do if income was no issue.

photo by Jesse Wagstaff

31 Replies to “the four(ty) hour workweek”

  1. You deconstructed that very well. I've had a lot of those same thoughts after reading 4HWW, but I hadn't really gotten down to the end of the line like you did.

    Maybe I've fooled myself with some idea of 'work freedom' that I don't really even want. Very interesting.

  2. I haven't read this book yet, though it's on the list for me to read. However, it sounds to me that it all still comes down to setting goals for yourself and finding the courage to achieve them. I say 'courage' because sometimes people fail because they think they will. They build it up in their heads that they have to climb that corporate ladder because that's what's good and right and expected. But, it's not what they want to do. They lack the courage – or maybe even the know-how to do things differently. To do what they really want to do. And, along those same lines, I think it comes down guilt, too. People make choices based on guilty feelings. They feel guilty spending money because they *know* they need to save more. But, without a goal, what's the point? So, it's interesting the way you phrase that it's not about laziness, but finding a way to “work” 4-hours a day so that the rest of the time can be focused on the activities that enrich our lives – be it a hobby, some sort of work, or just living by our definition of living.

  3. I have a forty hour work week ( my job) However, I spend about 4 hours a week doing other work related things I love such as my business and other projects.

    For as Travel and adventure, been there done that.

    I wish I can drop the job and focus on my other activities. Problem is that my job pays much more than my business.

  4. I'm with you. I wouldn't know what to do with myself. The island-in-the-sun fantasy would bore me in no time. I need a challenge to motivate me. Retirement would mean the lack of a challenge, something that I'm not ready for yet.

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  7. I read and enjoyed Tim's book.

    Here's a quote from Doing Nothing: A History of Loafers, Loungers, Slackers, and Bums in America

    “There is no fun in doing nothing when you have nothing to do. Wasting time is merely an occupation then, and the most exhausting one. Idleness, like kisses, to be sweet must be stolen.”

  8. My words come back to haunt me, Steve. I think what you are saying is that what we do is our purpose in life, whether it is work or leisure. Idleness by itself has no purpose.

    Several years ago I wanted to take a year off from paid work to make a serious attempt to become a successful fiction novelist. For various reasons (including probably not trying hard enough), I couldn't make that happen. In time, however, I realized that by living my life I had more ideas, and learned more about writing, than I ever could have sitting in a room focusing only on writing.

    That's probably best encapsulated by the old saw “If you want something done, give it to a busy person.” How we engage ourselves says much about our character and purpose.

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  12. Exactly so. I don't want to be financially independent so I can do nothing. I want it so that I have the time to do Everything! There are so many things to see and do and experience that I hate to waste so much of my life working. I do enjoy what I do, and would love to go part time or free lance or do charity work, but I want more time for other things too.

  13. There's something weird about that whole phenomenon of the 4 hour workweek. Like the guy was privileged or lucky or something. It is simply NOT doable for 99.9 percent of the population (or else we'd all be doing it).

    He wrote a book, knew people, got lucky, and now lives off the royalties. That's my take (I'm just talking out of my arse, by the way).

    You gotta work HARD and SMART for quite a few years for the payoff to arrive. If it ever does.

    1. @billspaced: I agree – a 4 hour workweek wouldn't be doable, for, say, a civil engineer. Nor for a newspaper reporter, or an accounting manager.

      But I doubt very much that Ferriss worked 4 hours a week while he was writing his book, or promoting it. Try reading this, from Penelope Trunk: 5 Time management tricks I learned from years of hating Tim Ferriss.

      But I do think generating small income streams “on the side” is doable for anyone, just maybe not on such a grand scale.

    2. Wow. Penelope really doesn't like Tim Ferriss! But I think I'd side with her on all the points she made. Thanks for the link!

  14. I have lived close to the 4 hour work week and it was tremendously liberating. I'm not Ghandi but I found I had time to devote to causes that I feel passionate about. I have a young daughter and I could devote more quality time with her. And, I could work on other things that are “work” but work that I find stimulating and meaningful. 4 hour work weeks might lead some to go crazy with all their free time but for others it's just what their life needs. Only you can know that. Having free time isn't insurance for happiness. Having a plan for what you would do with that free time is.

  15. This completely chimes with me own experience. In 2007 I extracted myself from a start-up situation that had occupied two years of my life virtually 7 days a week but was going the wrong way for me. It had been fun but was also physically and emotionally draining.

    I thought I'd take 2-3 months off afterwards to make up for all the time I'd spent at the start-up. The first two weeks were great, but after that I was completely listless and directionless, and fell into a funk. Looking back I can see I needed a plan and some goals even in my 'off' time, but back then it wasn't clear.

    It's made me rethink my ideas on retirement and financial freedom for sure.

  16. Great post. This is actually one of my favorite books of all time. I found it really inspirational.

    It's funny because I am in a position now where I work from home and set my own hours. My income isn't automated yet but I can do what I want when I want. You know what I found… It gets pretty boring. My wife is at work and my friends and family are at work. At least when I had a day job I was constantly busy.

    I agree that people don't want a 4 hour work week. I don't want a 4 hour work week. I want full time income, working whenever I feel like it.

  17. I think it is great that you mention Rich Dad, Poor Dad as this has been one of Tim's own inspirations. Although “passive income” in that book mainly involves “stock trading” and “trading properties”, two markets that are fairly affected by the current financial crisis.

    It is still a great book though.

    I have recently started blogging about my own experiments into living the four hour workweek (although they are still a bit longer than that)

  18. I have been trying to decide if I want to read the book. Your post and comments suggest that I don't although if you have gotten free and I'm not I clearly need more information. I am thinking that the 4 hours refers to the time necessary to generate enough (whatever that might mean for a person) income to use the rest of the time as one wishes. If a person lacks the imagination to occupy that time, I feel very sad for them.

  19. I have been trying to decide if I want to read the book. Your post and comments suggest that I don't although if you have gotten free and I'm not I clearly need more information. I am thinking that the 4 hours refers to the time necessary to generate enough (whatever that might mean for a person) income to use the rest of the time as one wishes. If a person lacks the imagination to occupy that time, I feel very sad for them.

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