Tim Ferriss’ Four-Hour Workweek was, for me, a major turning point in outlook and mindset on a variety of topics such as time management, productivity, and goal-setting. In my mind, the 4HW is one of the best personal development books of the 21st century.
Now nearly a decade after the book’s original release, I’m going to take a look back at the 4HW and some of the 5 most impactful lessons that I took from the book.
All quotes are in this article from Tim Ferriss and the Four-Hour Workweek.
Effectiveness over Efficiency
“Focus on being productive, not being busy”
In the Four-Hour Work Week, Tim Ferriss drives home the point that, for most of us, being “being efficient without regard to effectiveness is the default” and that “what you do is infinitely more important than how you do it.” As someone who considered himself a productivity/efficiency nut, having read many books on the subject, this still managed to come as a revelation.
You see, the truth is that we, as a modern society, very much focus on efficiency first. “How many items did I check off my list today?” is the default question. We rarely stop to ask ourselves if the things on our todo list are really worth doing or what really happens if we don’t do them at all. When you dig down into it, for probably 80% of our todo list, the items are not that important at all.
How to figure out what on our list is truly important and what isn’t? Tim encourages us to ask, “What will happen if I don’t do this?” and to ask ourselves throughout the day “Am I being productive or just active?”
My personal favorite guidance – “What we fear most is what we most need to do.” All too often, the highest impact, most important item on our todo list gets put off for the longest because it is uncomfortable. And, it is easier to ignore that item while we check off the 10 unimportant, but easy, items on our todo list that day.
It sounds basic, but, it’s the most important advice you will ever receive: Focus on doing the things that will really move the needle for yourself, your business, your family, or whatever is important to you. Don’t do things just because someone asked you or just because these things somehow made it onto your list.
You Probably Waste A Lot of Time Every Day
Most things make no difference. Being busy is a form of laziness – lazy thinking.
Another revelation is the sheer amount of time that we can waste each day if we aren’t deliberately thinking about how spend our time.
Pay attention to the time we spend time talking about unimportant matters with coworkers or the way that we allow meetings to expand as we go into minutiae that most of the participants don’t need to know. Or, the time that we spend on Facebook or CNN.com or similar sites during the day.
We waste time while saying that we just don’t have the time to pursue a dream or spend time with our families. But, if we are doing the important by being Effective over Efficient, and if we stop wasting time, we can massively increase our productive output, meaning less time doing the menial and more time doing the things that really matter.
Note: This isn’t a statement about not doing things that we greatly enjoy. If you enjoy an activity, that really isn’t a waste of time. But, pay attention to all the things that are soaking up your time that really aren’t giving you either enjoyment or productivity.
Suggestions from Tim on cutting down on the wasting of time:
- respond to voicemails with email and suggest email over meetings & calls
- Tim suggest using a “if…then” structure to emails to minimize back and forth and unnecessary motion.
- Tim suggests that “9 out of 10 conversations are unnecessary once the problem is defined”
- Don’t finish the boring or unproductive. If you are halfway into a book and bored out of your mind, don’t finish it. If you are doing a task and see that it is meaningless, stop. Stop feeling the need to completely finish everything.
- Set aggressive deadlines for yourself on even the most major projects, for example, a 24 hour deadline. The more time you give yourself, the task will only swell and drag out. Less than perfect and done is almost always much better than perfect and undone.
- And, really, the biggest action item related to time is to just stop accidentally wasting time on the unimportant and start intentionally managing your time and your attention.
The Damage of Distractions
Ignore or redirect all information that is unimportant, irrelevant, or unactionable. Most info is all three.
Talking about time and attention is the perfect lead-in to talking about Distraction. Our modern world is probably the most distracted society in history. At the time of the writing of the 4HW, Tim Ferriss was one of the first warning his readers about the insidious nature of email and Blackberry notifications.
But, mobile notifications have only exploded in past decade since the writing of the book. What once just a concern for email, now extends to social network apps, news apps, and more. Almost every app on your phone wants to be allowed to notify you about something and this notifications often grab your attention away from whatever you were doing in the first place.
Tim’s thoughts on email notifications really shaped my thoughts on my mobile notifications. You read those thoughts in my Notifications post.
The bottom line on distractions is to do everything you can to minimize them. Turn off email notifications, check email on set intervals, once or twice per day to start out. Given how the world has changed, I would suggest expanding this approach to include Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and any other app sending you notifications that aren’t of the highest priority. Those are the basics, again you can read some in-depth strategy on all of this in my post mentioned above.
You also want to empower others around you to be able to solve problems without your help wherever possible. And you, frankly, you don’t want to make yourself too accessible. If you have the answers and are easily accessible, many people around you will immediately ask you before they try to solve the problem themselves.
Sports, business & lifestyles evolve when sacred cows are killed. Basic assumptions tested. If everyone is defining & solving a problem one way and the results are subpar, ask “what if I did the opposite”? If the recipe sucks, it doesn’t matter how good of a cook you are.
The above quote from the Four-Hour Workweek is really an underpinning of the whole book. The 4HW is really all about challenges to those basic assumptions that everyone else takes for granted.
You want to carry this mindset to other parts of your life. Are there “sacred cows” in your company, your industry, your life that could be killed and replaced with something better?
In almost every case there are. The greatest companies, the greatest athletes, and the greatest artists in the world have often become great precisely by challenging assumptions and thinking differently.
Stop Just Dreaming, Start Taking Actions
Finally, the Four-Hour Workweek makes some fantastic points about the power of simply getting started and that big dreams are often more achievable than we think.
Tim Ferriss encourages readers to create a “Dreamline”, essentially a list of your dreams. Then back up step-by-step through what it would take to achieve your dream. Take the first step tomorrow, even if it is a tiny one. Want to own a Tesla? Schedule a test drive even if you don’t have the money today. Want to start a blog? Buy the domain name. Want to start a business? Download the forms to legally create the business and fill them out and submit them.
The point is just get in motion and stop just dreaming about it. And, if you fear what others will say, Tim offers this advice, “Most people will be fast to talk you out of something before you start, but, will hesitate to get in the way once you’re moving.”
Tim’s advice on this subject is one of my favorite parts of the book and has been a big inspiration for me in starting this blog, among other ventures. Some favorite quotes:
- “Most people will choose unhappiness over uncertainty”
- “Many overestimate the competition to achieve a goal and never try.”
- “Doing the unrealistic can often be easier than doing the realistic” because “The fishing is best where the fewest go.”
- “The rest of the world is just as insecure as you.”
Tim Ferriss’ 4-Hour Work Week
In my view, the Four-Hour Work Week is one of the great books on productivity and personal development in this generation. If you, by chance, have not read it, I highly recommend purchasing the book and giving it a read. It has already paid for itself a hundred times over in my life. The lessons above really just scratch the surface of what the book is all about.
What are your favorite takeaways from the Four-Hour Workweek? Or from Tim Ferriss’ podcast, The Tim Ferriss Show, or his other books? Let me know in the comments or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.