The Four Hour Workweek – Escape the 9-5, Live Anywhere and Join the New Rich

Last week when I went to the library, I posted a picture of the books I was planning to take out on Twitter, asking what I should read first. The resounding response from multiple followers (including The White Coat Investor-one of my top ten favorite big bloggers!) was that I needed to start with The 4 Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss.

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Library Books
I asked what I should read first – when the personal finance community speaks, you need to listen! 4 Hour Workweek it is.

Ironically, I had just listened to “The Tim Ferriss Show” podcast for the first time the other day, after Fritz over at Retirement Manifesto recommended checking out the episode with an interview with Mr. Money Mustache – another of my top favorite big blogs. I had loved the podcast (check out the episode for yourself here), and the premise of the book looked interesting. Really, who wouldn’t want to work for just four hours a week and earn hundreds of thousands of dollars while jet setting around the world?

So I read it in about two days. I’m a fast reader – that’s how I can do so many book reviews. And what did I think? Well, I absolutely loved the first half, but one part of the second half made me feel…uneasy. Let me go through the details with you.

First, The Good

Tim kicks off the book in a way that really hooks you in-telling his story about how he went from the 9-5 (or more!) drudgery to working only four hours a week and making more per month than he used to make in a year. The “New Rich” (NR) create luxury lifestyles by using their time and mobility wisely. He promises that it’s a process that is simple to duplicate while being stranger than fiction. The process he uses is called DEAL:

  • D – Definition – The overall lifestyle design recipe, where you learn the new rules of the game of working less and making more
  • E – Elimination – Eliminating the unnecessary tasks, cultivating selective ignorance, developing a low-information diet, all to free up more time
  • A – Automation – Put your cash flow on autopilot with geographic arbitrage, outsourcing, and rules of non-decision
  • L – Liberation – Introducing the concepts of mini-retirements, flawless remote control, and escaping the boss

He talks about turning the way we view money and cash flow on its head-not just in terms of the absolute amount of money you can make, but how much money you earn in context with your lifestyle. So the person making half a million a year may be much worse off than the person making one tenth as much, if that $500k comes at the cost of complete and total wage slavery (complete with 80 hour workweeks, weekend work, and no vacations). The person making $50k who only has to work a few hours per week remotely, no weekends, and unlimited vacations is more free and may in fact be wealthier. This is a familiar concept to many seeking FIRE (Financially Independent, Retire Early) – if you can get your living expenses to a reasonably low level, you can support your lifestyle on a low income working just a few hours a week.

Challenge the Status Quo

Those of us familiar with the concept of FIRE are already used to thinking differently. Tim introduces a 10 step framework to think differently about work, earning money, and retirement. This information is from Pages 31-37 of the book.

  1. Retirement is the worst-case scenario – Traditional retirement is no more. We don’t have golden pensions waiting for us at the end of a forty year work life with a single employer. You have to save huge amounts of money to support even a $40k per year lifestyle. And if you’re able to save those amounts, you’re probably the kind of person who’d be bored with traditional retirement anyway
  2. Interest and energy are cyclical – Distribute mini-retirements throughout your life, working only when you’re most effective, and your life will be both more productive and more enjoyable
  3. Less is not laziness – Don’t do stuff just for the sake of looking-or feeling-busy. Do it because it adds value and produces meaningful results
  4. The timing is never right – Just like having a child, there’s no good time to embark on this journey. You can easily succumb to “One More Year” syndrome, afraid to leave the perceived safety and familiarity of the 9-5.
  5. Ask for forgiveness, not permission – If you go around asking for permission, you’ll be denied due to preconceived notions from your boss or others. Just do it and ask for forgiveness later if you need to
  6. Emphasize strengths, don’t fix weaknesses – Build on the things you’re good at, and eliminate, automate, or outsource the things you’re terrible at. Stop trying to become mediocre in your weak areas-become amazing where you’re strong.
  7. Things in excess become their opposite – Don’t think this process is about developing idle time where you’re just going to sit on a beach or binge-watch Netflix every day. Excess of anything isn’t good for you
  8. Money alone is not the solution – Money isn’t the root of your problems, nor is it the solution. It’s usually a symptom of something else. So don’t get “busy” making money and neglect your life
  9. Relative income is more important than absolute income – If you earn $150k per year but need to work 80 hour weeks, weekends, and vacations to bring that in (comes to about $36 per hour), you’re earning less than someone bringing in $50k per year who has eight weeks off and only works 10 hours a week (comes to about $113 per hour). So don’t just focus on the end dollar amount, focus on the dollar amount for time spent
  10. Distress is bad, eustress is good – Healthy stress helps you push your physical and mental limits, expand your comfort zone, and grow as a person

Overall, there’s nothing here that I don’t agree with. I too have seen what he calls the “fat man in the red BMW convertible” syndrome – people who answer e-mails at all hours of the day and night (when it can wait), work every weekend for a company that would lay them off at the drop of a hat, and use their income to buy more stuff that keeps them trapped in their jobs.

It terms of the “less is not laziness” concept, I whole heartedly agree with that one. I’ve seen highly paid people spending hours and hours doing work that adds no value to the company, like taking information in a system and manually re-keying it all into an Excel or PowerPoint. That system has an extract option! Just extract it! Similar stories abound with people doing duplicate updates, or duplicate planning, and so on. People are afraid to speak up against the insanity and just go along with it. Too many of them will just complain about it to their co-workers but do it anyway.

What About That Four Hour Week?

The title of the book sucks in all of us who might tire (even occasionally) of the 9-5 grind. So how can you too live anywhere and make tons of money in just a few hours of work per week?

Basically you start your own very profitable business, outsource everything possible, scale it up, refuse to answer e-mails or phone calls except for once a week or on an emergency basis (relying on others to make decisions for you), and let the money roll into your account while you travel the world.

Not the entrepreneurial type? No problem. Just convince your boss to let you work remotely, by working harder and smarter while remote on a trial basis. Complain about how constant interruptions at work are sapping your ability to focus, and start doing a poor job while in the office. Then lie about the fact that you’re needed out of state to visit ill relatives, and really take off halfway around the world. Your boss will be none the wiser!

In the book he provides a lot of additional detail on how to make the above happen. I’ve read other stories in Millionaire Women Next Door on this same type of concept – I believe it was Brian, who got into rental properties, who was struck by one of his car-detailing clients who owned a slew of apartment buildings and could just decide to stay on vacation for an extra week anytime he wanted. How? Because those apartment buildings essentially ran themselves, and deposited money in the clients account on the first of the month whether or not he was on vacation. Typically, though, an entrepreneur will go through a lot of hard work, failures, and long days before building up to the point of scalable automation.

For the employed, I’m not convinced that deception is the best way to get a remote work arrangement. This book is ten years old now, so perhaps there was more resistance back in 2007. But nowadays there are plenty of fully remote jobs and I work with many people who are remote full time. In fact, just the other day I was talking with a colleague who spends winters in FL and summers up in CT, working remotely while in FL. I can easily see making a work arrangement to take time off in the summer and pair it with remote work so you can travel the country for a month, or take off overseas. Obviously this depends greatly on your boss, your workplace, and your type of job.

I want to give Tim credit here – although I’m pretty sure this kind of arrangement could work at my office, I’ve never thought to ask for it. Now that I’ve given it some thought, perhaps that’s something I’ll do once this mortgage is paid off. I’d like to go on a big trip with my kids while I still can, and my oldest is off to high school next year. Time is running short.

The Part That Made Me Think

Outsourcing your life. If you’re part of corporate America, then likely you’ve been exposed to the concept of outsourcing. If you’re in IT, like I am, then you’ve almost certainly come across it. It’s the concept of paying someone else to do something for you, so that you can free up your own time. When I read the section of the book, something was bothering me. It took a little bit to figure out exactly what that was.

Finally it hit me – you may have developed a four hour workweek for yourself, but you’ve built it on the backs of other people who will need a 40 ,50, or 80 hour workweek to survive. So this isn’t something that “anyone can do”. It’s not scalable to the rest of the population, because it relies on you being able to outsource your work and life on the cheap to someone else.

If you’re paying $20 per hour to a US based virtual assistant, or $4-$10 an hour for an India based one, I’m pretty sure they can’t have the four hour workweek you’re enjoying. Not unless they can live on $80 a week (or $16-$40 per week). Tim talks about full automation, with his virtual assistants and employees taking care of all the grunt work and day to day tasks, leaving him free to check e-mail for only an hour and then take off for a beautiful day in Buenos Aires. I’m pretty sure if they were only working four hour workweeks too, he would be somewhat annoyed.

I Want To Hear From You!

Did you read the book? What did you take away from it? Are you itching to eliminate all those wasteful tasks from your daily life? Let me know in the comments.

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12 thoughts on “The Four Hour Workweek – Escape the 9-5, Live Anywhere and Join the New Rich”

    1. Yes it certainly made me think. Is it a good thing to have wealth and a brief workweek for yourself, but built on the backs of others who you expect to have heavy workloads, long workweeks, and full devotion? I’m not so sure that’s what I want

  1. fetchingfinancialfreedom

    “…you’ve built it on the backs of other people who will need a 40 ,50, or 80 hour workweek to survive.”

    Yes! That’s also always bugged me in the back of my head, without being able to put my finger on it.

    Thanks for the thorough review — I’ve heard the concepts before, but not in such detail.

  2. The other thing that bugs me about the outsourcing is in the context of an employee/free lancer using it why wouldn’t the company just skip the middle man (ie employee) and outsource themselves? I don’t like that jobs in the US are being outsourced for cheaper labor. I would be a hypocrite if I thought it was okay for me to do it but bad for other companies.

    1. True about the company outsourcing themselves-believe it or not that happens a lot in corporations. You outsource work to Company A, they turn around and outsource it to Company B and C. It’s not a scalable model for the world or for business.

  3. Troy @ Market History

    Although I thoroughly enjoyed the 4 Hour Workweek, a lot of it doesn’t resonate with me.

    I know that everyone wants to work hard for e.g. 1 year and then run a “passive income business” that they only need to spend a few hours a week on.

    But that’s not how the real world works. Eventually, that business will be driven into the ground by more aggressive competitors. Sure, you might be able to do that for a few years. But soon, someone who’s giving it his all will crush your business!

    This is especially pertinent to those in tech and finance, which are highly competitive industries. No “passive business” is going to last long.

    1. Great point-I hadn’t thought of it that way, but it’s so true. You’ll be eaten alive by new, hungrier competitors who are working 40 plus workweeks to defeat you. I’ve seen plenty of businesses go under after the owner got complacent. Business is not kind to the lazy.

  4. Sounds like an interesting book. I’ve heard a lot about it but haven’t come a long to reading it. I like the radical approach to business and life as usual. But at the end, I think you’ll have to find a balance.

    Thanks for the review!

      1. just read this. Someone (my husband) should write the companion essay on the satisfaction of working an 80 hour week. Not kidding.

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