Motivational speaker, entrepreneur, and self-help author Timothy “Tim” Ferris outlined his popular work philosophy in the bestselling The 4-Hour Work Week: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich
(2007). The nonfiction work encourages people to work fewer hours, but with greater efficiency. It has sold over a million copies, and been translated into 35 languages.
The inspiration for the book came from Ferris’s time working for a soul-crushing company after college. Working for someone else 40 hours a week left him unsatisfied with life, and he went into business for himself. But life as an entrepreneur required 80 hours of work a week, which left Ferris too tired to enjoy anything else in life. After reading about an Italian economist’s observation that 80 percent of productivity often came from 20 percent of the effort, Ferris was inspired to find ways to work fewer hours without losing results. He collects the insights he gained from these attempts in The 4-Hour Work Week
and has been credited with increasing the public’s interest in “lifestyle design.”The 4-Hour Work Week
remains influential in several business industries, though many critics and industry experts have observed that the book does not value real expertise or labor, and its idealistic tone is impractical for the majority of people.
The themes of The 4-Hour Work Week
include the nature of personal-fulfillment, the necessity of designing one’s life before corporations do, and the possibility of easy wealth accumulation.
This nonfiction text has four parts, which Ferris calls steps. The steps spell out “DEAL” and they are, in order: definition, elimination, automation, and liberation.
“D is for Definition” begins by considering wealth accumulation. Ferris examines people who have accrued great wealth but are too stressed out to enjoy their riches. He considers how he and his audience can avoid this situation.
His solutions include acknowledging that many popular trends are to be avoided, that it’s good to overcome fear and lean in to challenges, and that one must have exact, logical, and reasonable criterion for success—otherwise, external forces will write the rules of one’s success and the individual will probably become unhappy. Ferris’s interest happiness derives in part from his studies at Princeton University of East Asian Studies.
When defining success, Ferris encourages people to focus on bolstering their strengths, rather than focusing on their weaknesses. As he notes, weaknesses take too long to develop and one can only profit from the skills that put one in the upper echelons of practitioners.
In “E is for Elimination,” Ferris relays his experience with the Pareto Principle, developed by the Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto, who observed that in many farms and organizations, 80% of the desired product came from 20% of the effort. Ferris aimed to apply this principle to his own life and found that it changed his life for the better.
In the vein of less is more, Ferris encourages people to avoid consuming large amounts of media. They should, rather, be selective and only seek out information that supports their larger goals. This aligns with Ferris’s larger theme of self-control and liberation, which is made possible through discipline.
Ferris concludes the second step with a discussion on the necessity of saying no to certain social obligations.
Step three, “A is for Automation,” considers how one can reduce stress by simplifying routine tasks with modern technology. This simplification can, Ferris posits, occur without losing efficiency. In fact, by using some technology, like email automation, one can boost their productivity to the point of having a four-hour work week.
Ferris discusses a great range of fiscally successful people who have focused on improving their productivity every hour, rather than focusing on finding an easy way to radically improve their total wealth, such as buying lottery tickets or waiting for a promotion.The 4-Hour Work Week
concludes with “L is for Liberation,” the final step in Ferris’s praxis. Here, he examines ways for individuals to leave corporate and office life (assuming it is at odds with their personal goals).
He encourages people, in the pursuit of a healthy income, not lose track of their personal, spiritual, emotional, physical, and artistic goals. He encourages “mini-retirements,” that is, frequent trips around the world. Nowadays, it is possible to accomplish work while travelling. Ferris believes many people find this mobile lifestyle desirable and encourages those who find it enticing to not wait, but to embrace the potential of a mobile work environment.
For anyone running their own business, Ferris suggests that the ultimate goal is for that business to leave you alone as much as possible. Consequently, enabling autoreply emails that inform the sender that one only checks their email once a week and that they will be replied to on a specific day limits the amount of time one needs to spend checking business emails.
Ferris also encourages the use of a virtual assistant firm, such as UpWork or Brickwork India. The freelancers and virtual assistants from these companies can complete the tedious tasks that take up much of one's time.
With less time spent working, one can spend more time living and enjoying their life to the fullest, and Ferris offers many specific tips on doing this in the chapter “Filling the Void: Adding Life After Subtracting Work.”
The rest of the 400-page book is full of excerpts from Ferris’s popular blog. Sample titles include “How to Travel the World with 10 Pounds or Less” and “The Holy Grail: How to Outsource the Inbox and Never Check E-mail again.”
Ferris also includes dozens of cases studies and “hacks.” These stories, insights, and tips come from readers of his blog and his personal experience. Some sample titles are: “Art Lovers Wanted”; “The 4-Hour Family and Global Education”; and “Killing Your BlackBerry.”