The 4 Hour Work Week was Never About Working 4 Hours a Week

Its been 14 years since Tim Ferriss released the “4 Hour Work Week.” A book that left a massive impact in the world of entrepreneurship. A book that gave hundreds of thousands of people permission to quit their 9–5 jobs and go their own way.

One of the biggest criticisms of this book has been that no one actually works just 4 hours a week. I feel the people making this criticism a) never read the book and b) have, therefore, entirely missed the point of this book!

Even Tim Ferriss has admitted that the book’s title was the result of a Google Ads split test. He tested many titles and realized that “The 4 Hour Work week” had a much higher click-through rate than other potential titles for this book.

The book was more about adopting certain practices and principles that would lead to a better life.

Since I first picked up this book, I have gone back and read the book (or parts of it) at least five times. The book has instilled in me timeless lessons on lowering my stress levels and becoming a more productive person.

Make at least 80% profit on whatever you are selling.

In most of my business life, I had been involved in industries that made 20–40% profits on the products sold. So when Ferriss mentioned that his supplements business was making five times the revenue on the cost of his product, this shook me to my core. I did even not think that these types of industries for physical goods even existed. Even more, I could not imagine that someone could get away with charging this much.

I embarked on a journey to seek out those industries—those markets where I could follow Feriss’ advice and make at least 80% gross margin. If there is one thing I have learned over the years, when you make a large margin on your sales, everything — and I mean everything is so much easier. Cash flow, decision making, capital allocation is so much easier.

Never stop seeking out high-margin industries. Low-margin industries can be massive traps. In fact, I have written an entire article on the subject.

Outsource the trivial stuff

Before reading the 4 Hour Work week, I had no idea that you could find someone across the globe to manage all your trivial tasks before seeking out sophisticated assistants to deal with your daily workload. Start by outsourcing the really basic tasks.

For example, I hired someone to transcribe my Youtube videos and upload the captions on Youtube. This small task increased my viewership and subscription rates to my Youtube channel. Even better, my transcribed documents were, in some cases, repurposed into articles on my blog. Several years later, some of these articles are still bringing significant daily organic traffic to my blog.

I would have never sat down and transcribed them myself. But by paying a small fee, I got someone to do it for me. These little tasks, when applied correctly, lead to the compounding of the exposure that your business gets. More youtube views and your blog lead to more people promoting your content. This leads to exponential exposure and more people purchasing your products.

Less is not Lazy

I worked many jobs in my twenties where leaving late was considered a badge of honor. I remember how we would brag among our colleagues who had left the office last the previous night. Looking back, it was a pathetic way to live a life.

The worst aspect of that life was that we were staying late to complete trivial tasks. Like, increase the number of slides in the presentation to stroke the customer’s ego. Or some boss would say let’s add X to the presentation, even though that additional information was useless.

One of my favorite passages from the book is

Doing something unimportant for a long time does not make it important.

I still work late sometimes, but I make sure that it is on something important. I deliberately schedule time for thinking, reflecting, and planning. A few hours of planning and prioritizing each week can lead to significant long-term benefits in my life.

Parkinson’s Law and how it relates to the 4 Hour Work Week

I had never heard of this law before reading the book. Briefly speaking, Parkinson’s law states that a task will swell in importance depending on the time allotted to it.

If I give myself two weeks to publish this article, I will likely spend the next two weeks editing and re-editing this article until I feel that it has become perfect. I will probably not get much work done during these two weeks apart from working on this article.

Since I am aware of the law, I am now giving myself a deadline of two days to edit and publish this article. I know that the piece might not be perfect, but I also know that I will have another 12 days to work on other important stuff rather than fiddling about one article.

Ferriss gives an example of how he would spend the entire day preparing parcels to be dropped at UPS. I can relate, as I sometimes spend entire mornings preparing orders to ship out for my construction goods business. I recently changed the model. All orders are prepared between 2–3 pm. At 3 pm, the van leaves for deliveries. Funny how the same task that would take my entire morning is now achieved in one hour.

The 80/20 rule revisited

I had been familiar with the 80/20 rule from Richard Koch’s work. However, Ferriss added an interesting twist. While Koch focused on the business aspects, Ferriss reminded me to ask myself 80/20 questions about my current mental state.

What 20% of activities or people are causing 80% of my stress?

What is the 20% of activities or people that are leading 80% of my happiness?

I ask myself this question regularly. I have turned down projects and fired customers after doing this analysis. I sometimes add an extra night’s stay on a work trip because I know that it will boost my mood and mental clarity.

And finally some advice on reading books

Ferriss imparts some great advice on reading books. If you are going to read a book on how to do X, pick an autobiographical source. Find someone who has actually done what they claim they want to teach you and learn from them. It’s ironic how many wannabe lifestyle gurus wrote books based on the 4 Hour Work Week even though they themselves had not achieved anything

Perhaps it is no surprise that Tim Ferriss has a massively successful podcast, where he invites the top people in their field and studies their habits and what made them successful.

And this is perhaps the best place to close this article: Most people judged the 4 Hour Work Week by its cover. Had they read the book, they would know that everything Ferriss explains is things he actually tried out. He ran a successful supplements business. But because of burnout, he challenged himself to go on an extended vacation and leave his employees to run the show.

If you haven’t already, go pick up the book today. The book is 14 years old and probably more relevant today than on the day it came out.

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