Book Review: The 4-Hour Workweek

Timothy Ferriss, a twenty-nine-year-old, self-proclaimed member of the New Rich, recently published his first book, The 4-Hour Workweek. In his book, Ferriss proposes that retirement should be worst-case scenario insurance and that we'd all be better off taking mini-retirements throughout our lives instead of postponing true freedom until age 65 or later, calling retirement the "deferred life plan." He sets forth a detailed four-step plan designed to get us to live more and work less now, not later. Each chapter contains several action steps to take and questions to answer for yourself, preferably in a journal. This format, if you actually follow it, will put you closer to defining what you really want to be doing with your time and figuring out how to get there. The book assumes that, as part of achieving this new lifestyle, you can either negotiate a remote work agreement with your current employer (preferably, an agreement that has you out of the office all five days a week) or that you're willing to become an entrepreneur.

The four steps to achieving this lifestyle are:

Definition - What components characterize the lifestyle of the New Rich, and how does this lifestyle differ from (and work better than) what most people do?

Elimination - Expands upon Pareto's 80/20 principle and teaches you how to do more work in less time.

Automation - Putting your cash flow (income generation) and life management (bill paying, business management, etc.) on autopilot.

Liberation - Avoiding being confined to one location due to work, whether that's a particular office, geographic location, or both.

In the Definition section, Chapter 2 gives you new rules to live by, like "less is not laziness," explaining that "our culture tends to reward personal sacrifice instead of personal productivity," and "the timing is never right," whether it's time to quit your job or to make any other major decision in your life. Chapter 3 conquers the fear of leaving your job by helping you define the worst-case scenario that could occur when you quit and determine how you would handle it. Chapter 4 proposes that unreasonable and unrealistic goals are easier to achieve because you have less competition and more adrenaline. (While I think there's some truth to this idea, I don't think it should be presented as a fact.) This chapter also defines boredom, rather than sadness, as the opposite of happiness, and excitement as what most people are really seeking in their lives.

In the Elimination section, Ferriss says that instead of trying to be as busy as possible (efficient), we need to learn to be as effective as possible (getting as much truly necessary work done in as little time as posible). Doing your hardest task before 11:00 every day will make you feel a lot more relaxed throughout the day and help you accomplish difficult tasks more quickly (it really works). He points out that the typical 9-5 workday is an arbitrary schedule that doesn't really have anything to do with working effectively (Amen, brother!). Chapter 6 provides an excellent crash course in speed reading and shows you how to stop the inflow of useless information into your life (because it takes up time and mental space that could be put to a better use), while chapter 7 gives extremely valuable information on how to get others to stop wasting your time by managing emails, phone calls, and in-person interruptions more effectively.

In the Automation section, Chapter 8 explains how to outsource your life to surprisingly inexpensive virtual assistants in order to free up your time as well as teach you how to be a boss if you've never done it before, so that you'll later have one of the skills necessary to run your own company. I found this to be one of the most fascinating chapters in the book. Chapter 9 teaches you a method for making the amount of money you need to pursue your dreams with as little time and effort as possible so that you can pursue excitement with the rest of your time instead of slaving away in someone else's office for 40+ hours a week. This chapter is much more detailed and action-oriented than I expected after reading similar suggestions about being a business owner in books like Rich Dad, Poor Dad. In fact, Ferriss's plan extends for a full three chapters. However, he fails to address some of the additional stresses of being a business owner or the tax implications.

In the Liberation section, chapter 12 outlines step-by-step how to convince your company to let you work from home. Chapter 13 attempts to allay your fears about quitting your job if working from home in your current job just isn't an option, and chapter 14 is all about traveling cheaply and well overseas, again with quite a bit of detail and suggested outside resources, but also with the assumption that traveling overseas is how you would prefer to spend your free time. Chapter 15 seeks to help you avoid the depression that can seep in when you're having a hard time figuring out what to do with your newfound time, and chapter 16 lists thirteen "slipups you will make," which is a great way to head off discouragement before it even happens.

If you're not sure if this book is for you, Ferriss's blog will give you almost as much information as the book itself (for free). Impressively, Ferriss, or someone acting on his behalf, actually manages to reply to all comments left on his blog and provides easy ways for readers to contact him with questions. The website also contains reader-only resources that can be accessed by entering a specific word from a specific location in the book.

Probably the main gripes I had with the book were how easy it makes totally overhauling your life sound and the strong emphasis on using your newfound free time to become a world traveler. For Ferriss, taking advantage of what other countries have to offer that the United States does not is clearly the preferred way to spend his time, and his point about spending time abroad in order to break yourself of the workaholic American mindset certainly has merit. As someone who likes to travel myself, I appreciated his detailed advice on how to travel cheaply and well, but as someone who also has people at home that she doesn't want to spend extended periods of time away from, I would have appreciated some insights on what someone might do with all this free time if they would rather stay right where they are. Volunteer work and taking classes immediately come to mind for me, but I'm sure there are other options that most people wouldn't come up with on their own.

Though I disagreed with some of the author's points and don't find all of his advice trustworthy, I am still glad I read this book. In fact, I am re-reading it. The book both made me feel amazing by reminding me of all the possibilities that are out there (once you've been in the same routine for a few years, you start to forget) while also making me feel sick to my stomach that I wasn't living my life to its fullest. The book's warning, "Don't read this book unless you're ready to quit your job," is dead-on. But I think you should read this book even if you don't want to quit your job. Reading about all of the possibilities this book presents motivated me to take significant steps towards achieving some of my goals, like taking classes and going on a trip to Europe, and it will motivate you, too -- which makes it well worth the $12, if you ask me.

Stock photo from

Related Posts:
Best Personal Finance Primers
Saving Money On Books
Ten Tips for Entrepreneurial Success


John said...

I liked the book too. I think he emphasized travel but can't fault him too much for it if that's his preference, and he also talked (less, admittedly) about doing other things like studying languages, martial arts, philanthropy, etc. Great review of the book. It was my first book on CD I've listened to, and now I love reading/listening to books that way when driving.

Anonymous said...

Ferriss is a big advocate of a program called GoToMyPC, which allows you to remotely access your computer from anywhere for a fee that starts at $20/mo. or $180/yr. to access one computer and increases with each computer you want to be able to access remotely. Personally I don't understand why I'd pay for a service like this when I can just put important files on a USB drive and take them with me. If I wanted to take it a step further, I could buy a Seagate device for a one-time fee of $100 (as opposed to the recurring cost of Go To My PC). There is a thirty day free trial, but it's the kind of free trial the requires a credit card, which I hate. Ferriss is such a big fan of the product because of the opportunity it provides for office workers to work from home or for anyone to work from anywhere in the world. Maybe I am missing something.

Trinity said...

I was surprised to see that Ferriss's book is being sold by so many different bookstores, including, most surprisingly of all, Wal-Mart. Why? Because in Ferriss's chapter about selling your own product, he emphasizes the importance of only allowing a couple of businesses to sell your product so that the price isn't driven into the ground by competition. Maybe he figured that his book would end up being sold everywhere anyway due to its easy resellability.

Shannon O'D said...

Really great book review - and dead on with my own assessments. I read this book after I had already made the decision to make a RTW trip for a year via internet work, but some of his tips really helped me make it work.

I really like his notion of consuming less news and media - I have significantly cut down on the time I allow myself to peruse news sites and even blogs and now I am able to do it all more effectively :-)