13 June 2007

Review: The Four Hour Workweek

I just finished reading the Four Hour Workweek by Timothy Ferriss. The book cover looks sketchy. There is a person lying on a hammock strung between two palm trees. The author unashamedly tells you that you can work smart, automate your income, and travel all over the world.

I was a bit skeptical, but after reading the book and Tim's blog, I think the "four hour work week" is a cool idea. You are probably thinking, "how can you only work four hours a week?" But it depends on how you define work. Tim means, you only need to devote four hours to the drudgery and minutiae of life and in return, you can all the things you want to do. Tim assumes that what you want to do is travel cheaply. (He's only 29 years old, so I guess I can forgive him for not having other ideas. Traveling is always a good idea, anyways.)

What really makes the book work is Ferriss's combination of brazenness, humor, and concrete ideas. He draws you in with bold statements and his escapist lifestyle, then makes it funny so he doesn't seem like a pompous jerk. Then you read more and realize, "hey, he has some good ideas here." I also like the exercises listed at the end of the chapters.

I'll list some of the ideas I liked.
  • Step I: D is for Definition
    • "The timing is never right." Exactly, what are you waiting for?
    • "Ask for forgiveness, not permission." I've already heard this idea, but I like it so much that I thought I'd repeat it. It's true; all the times that I did something bold and dangerous, I never got in serious trouble.

  • Step II: E is for Elimination
    • The Pareto Principle of 80/20: 80% of the results come from 20% of the effort. A fairly obvious rule, but worth reiterating.
    • Low-information diet: Tim says you should avoid newspapers, blogs, even books. Yes, like any intelligent, educated person, I consume media and information like candy. Obviously, I still have to read some stuff, but I'm trying to cut down. I don't agree with Tim that you should stop reading the world news. That's too extreme for me (and most people). One intermediate solution is to simply read faster and develop very selective attention. Don't read trash. If you're one paragraph into an article and it sucks, move on. The point is that too much information scrambles your brain and disrupts your focus. Another solution is to wake up really early every day before all the news articles are posted and before people start to write you email.
    • The art of refusal: I'm slowly beginning to pick up ways to manage people and steer them away when I need to focus. I'm also recognizing when people do the same to me. Peter Fisher also has some good pointers on how to prevent people from wasting your time.

  • Step III: A is for Automation
    • This section is really business oriented and not applicable to me at the moment. I was quite amazed to see how easy it is to setup a business in the internet age.

  • Step IV: L is for Liberation
    • Mini-retirements. I agree with Tim. I like the idea of taking a great vacation once a year better than hording money for ten years and then going on a binge trip. As Tim states, it is much better to stay in one location and experience the life there than run around on a lightning trip through Europe. Slow down the pace of life during vacation; that's what a vacation is all about.
    • "If you can't define it or act upon it, forget it." Yup, worry about things you can't control or even worse being afraid to things you never seen is always a bad idea.
    • Find a way to connect travel and exploration to a theme. For instance, you could buy a one day subway pass, go to every subway stop in Boston, and walk around it for ten minutes. Or if you like extreme cycling, go cycling around the world. It's much easier to break down your fear of the new if you have a lifeline to something familiar.

The books Four Hour Work Week and Getting Things Done complement each other very well. Read the Four Hour Work Week to plan the big picture: figure out what you want to do and how you will make it happen. Then use GTD to execute the plan.

The Four Hour Work Week is a fun and inspiring read. I recommend it!

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