I read ‘The 4-Hour Work Week’ so you don’t have to

Last week was all about ‘productivity’.

Or rather, alternative ways of thinking about getting stuff done. (Because the word ‘productivity’ makes me want to throw things, and at the same time – it’s good to get stuff done, right?)

I shared a few ideas about getting stuff done on Little Red Tarot, published an interview with Emilie Wapnick (creator of the multipotentialite haven Puttylike), and generally spent much of the week lost in thought about efficient and fun approaches to work that enable freelancers and ‘solopreneurs’ like me to get stuff done…and also have a life.

Yesterday I bought and read The 4-Hour Work Week, by Tim Ferriss. Here’s my review.

As the title suggests, The 4-Hour Work Weekis basically about redesigning your life and work so you can work (a lot) less and play (a lot more). I am so down with this thing we now call ‘lifestyle design’ and finding ways to get rid of the stuff we don’t like in life, and increase what we love. Obviously. Sadly, the way that is presented here is one of the most depressing things I’ve ever come across.

The main aim of the book is to show you how to adopt the smug, self-involved, hyper-masculine, colonialist attitude of the obnoxious dudebro who wrote it.

Even if the premise is to have lots of free time to do what makes you happy, that happiness is consistently presented in terms of cruises around Grecian isles, motorcycles, fine wines, sky-diving type thrills and brown-skinned girlfriends from exotic climes (p.39), whilst simultaneously growing further and further detached from your source of income so that it just magically appears in your bank account. It’s the wet dream of an unimaginative teenage jock with a rich dad (the ‘fat man in a BMW’ Ferriss pointedly mocks.)

Page after page is littered with anecdotes of the five-star meals he eats in five star restaurants, the silicon valley heroes who personally answer his emails, the gap-year type expeditions he and his friends takes several times a year. Those things might be nice, sure, but they’re mentioned just enough times as to tip over into desperate territory, and I finished the book feeling deeply sorry for Ferriss,.

Here are the basic messages:

Work is evil and should be avoided.

To Ferriss, ‘following your passion’ necessarily means doing as little work as possible so that you can spend more time cruising, drinking fine wine, and ‘spending pesos when you earn in dollarzzz’. Oh yeah – the key to the ‘mobile lifestyle’ is to spend many months of your year living in poor countries where you can “live like a rock star” for cheaps. I mean, do the maths, amirite?

The possibility that you might do a job that you love is not entertained. There is no such thing as the joy of work, or loving what you do. Poor Tim is totally stuck on this idea that work is drudgery. The goal is to eliminate as much work as possible by either not doing it or outsourcing it to a cheap, polite Indian army of virtual assistants (yep, this is literally how he talks about it. There’s a whole chapter on how to do it, literally comparing companies and the quality of staff’s English.)

There is no connection between where your income comes from, and what you do with that income. The aim here is to just get the cash flowing in in a way that means you are as disconnected from it as possible, until its in your bank account and you can spend it on your millionaire lifestyle.

According to Ferriss, the ‘New Rich’ (helpfully referred to as ‘NR’ throughout the book – so hip) are an emerging class of people who have learned to ‘own businesses, not run them’ and thus freed themselves to make a packet and travel the world. Sorry, what exactly is new about this? This has been going on for hundreds of years. It’s like the most tried and trusted business model out there.

Become a 4-hour-a-week robot.

Even if you eliminate, automate and outsource everything you can, you still gotta work those four hours a week. Womp. Make those four hours the most productive possible by adopting a machine-like approach to effectiveness (not efficiency! Ferriss is clearly so proud of his ‘effectiveness vs efficiency’ theory that I practically had to meditate to prevent myself imagining him spunking all over his keyboard as he wrote it.)

Meanwhile if you google ‘productivity’ you’ll find about five gazillion articles on the exact same topic.

Whatever you do, don’t read newspapers or consume anything about current affairs.

Knowing what’s happening in the world might lead to caring, and that will slow you down. Ferriss has read one paper in the past five years – and only then, because it gave him a discount on Pepsi, haha! (Wait – this guy can’t afford a Pepsi?)

In five years, I haven’t had a single problem due to this selective ignorance.

Of course not Tim! Rich cis straight white men don’t need to know about what’s happening in the world! They just need to get on with having fun! You have a cross-China motorcycle adventure to be getting on with, put that paper down! God forbid you connect yourself as a living breathing consuming participant in human life to anything happening to a-person-who-is-not-you-or-exactly-like-you. Social inequality, international tension, human rights abuses that arise directly from the technology you use to facilitate your lifestyle – these things are in Ferriss’ words “irrelevant, unimportant or inactionable.”

What you don’t know can’t hurt you, or worse, take up valuable brain-space you could be using to plan your next continent-conquering vanity trip to somewhere hot and cheap.

It’s not for girls.

Women are rarely mentioned in this book. When they are, they are usually either making sad business mistakes (hey, Sarah, sorry about your miserable failure of a t-shirt business) or described in terms of their “caramel-coloured skin” (you too could move to Brazil and pick up an exotic girlfriend called Tatiana just like Hans here). Oh – or their height and weight (“Six months ago, however, he had a small problem. She measured 5’2″ and weighed 110 pounds.” We don’t learn this lucky woman’s name for another five paragraphs, and only then it’s to discover that “Shumei Wu became Shumei Camarillo.” Nice job, Dave. Cue a round of congratulatory back-claps.)

Oh hang on a sec I’ve just remembered – there are loadsof women in this book! They’re virtual assistants, based in India. Ferriss’s friend shares several select emails to show off their efficiency and politeness and how they will do literally anything he asks (and for so little money!!) Livin’ the dream, eh.

There’s even a ‘comfort challenge’ to support you in your quest to become confident and masterful – by asking “at least two attractive members of the opposite sex” (hello?!) for their number each day. Don’t worry though: “Girls – this means you’re in the game too.” I’ll spare you the fist-bitingly embarrassing script he offers, but it does include the line “I’m not a psycho, I promise.” 


Okay, here’s the useful stuff:

(None of it is new or rocket science.)

  • The 80/20 rule. 80% of your desired results comes from 20% of your work. This theory applies to most anything you do. So figure out which 20% of your weekly tasks bring you the most results, focus on those and find ways to reduce or eliminate the rest. Thank you Vilfredo Pareto, who came up with that one back in the late 1800s.
  • This helps you understand what is ‘important’ and what is not – a key idea if you are to implement any of the strategies in the book.
  • Give yourself short deadlines. AKA Parkinson’s rule: Work swells to fill the time given to it. Have a fast turnaround. Decide to do a thing, then do it within 24 hours (or whatever works). Do not confuse ‘time-consuming’ with ‘important’. Do important things quickly and don’t do unimportant things at all.
  • Selective ignorance. Sure, I just had a right barney about Ferriss’ gross ‘no current affairs’ policy but as a wider point, we all need to consume less information. A lot of it is rubbish. Clutter. Background noise. So spend less time scrolling so you have more brainspace and time for creating. Less input = more output.
  • Know what makes you happy and use this as your source of motivation. (Erm, just as long as it’s not the love of work itself.)

TL;DR: Do important things quickly, outsource stuff where it makes sense to, and don’t do unimportant things at all.

Gosh, revolutionary.

The truth is, I did redesign my work week after reading this. I did look at the way I use my time and spot lots of pointless tasks I could cut out to free me up for either a) leisure or b) writing (oh wait, that’s leisure. And work.) We all could cut out a load of the meaningless fluff that we do every day out of habit or procrastination. But there are *so many* websites and resources you can use to encourage you do do this – your own common sense being number one. The 4-Hour Work Week is just one arrogant jock’s 381-page wank about how to do it in an especially soulless way.