Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Reading :: The 4-Hour Work Week

The 4-Hour Workweek, Expanded and Updated: Expanded and Updated, With Over 100 New Pages of Cutting-Edge Content
By Tim Ferris

I've heard a lot about this book, not all good. But I read it for the Link Coworking book club, and in general, I'm glad that I did. Yes, Ferris is a bit of a braggart. Yes, his tips don't always translate to lines of work beyond product sales. Yes, he comes off in places as a bit amoral. Get past all that, though, and you'll find some solid principles that you might apply to your life.

Ferris' thesis is that "Gold is getting old. The New Rich (NR) are those who abandon the deferred-life plan and create luxury lifestyles in the present using the currency of the New Rich: time and mobility." He argues that the old mentality of working long hours, saving your money, and deferring vacations and relaxation has let us down: people end up working for the sake of it, waiting to take retirement until they're not fit enough to enjoy it, and hoping that their hard work will pay off. They also end up filling the hours of the work week with things that they don't really need to do. (One example: Email. Ferris recommends reading it at most twice a day.)

The alternative, Ferris tells us, is to take on another mentality: to reconfigure our lives so that we can get more done with less effort and use the saved time to enjoy ourselves. He prescribes that we DEAL:

  • Definition: Understand "the rules and objectives of the new game," i.e., the rules of the New Rich.
  • Elimination: Save time by ignoring the unimportant and developing a "low-information diet" that avoids distractions and overload.
  • Automation: "puts cash flow on autopilot" via "geographic arbitrage, outsourcing, and rules of nondecision."
  • Liberation: Enable total mobility by establishing remote control of work. Take mini-retirements (i.e., months-long vacations).
Ferris provides copious examples from his own life throughout. The consistent message is autonomy: "Money is multiplied in practical value depending on the number of W's you control in your life: what you do, when you do it, where you do it, and with whom you do it." Ferris advocates achieving autonomy by negotiating what is essentially a results-only work environment - i.e., negotiating work off-site, then fine-tuning your tools and processes so that you can deliver the same or better results in far fewer hours. Working remotely is essential here since you need to avoid the pressure to look busy as well as the distractions that come with working on-site. "Being busy is most often used as a guise for avoiding the few critically important but uncomfortable actions," he tells us. Later, he suggests we ask ourselves: "Am I being productive or just active?"

Related, Ferris strongly argues for doing work that you find meaningful - and either refusing or outsourcing the rest. Like Drucker, he argues for working with your strengths rather than fixing your weaknesses. Instead of working on weaknesses, he suggests, just outsource them to someone who can do those tasks more quickly and effectively. Oursourcing has other benefits: "Preparing someone to replace you (even if it never happens) will produce an ultrarefined set of rules that will cut the remaining fat and redundancy from your schedule. Lingering unimportant tasks will disappear as soon as someone else is being paid to do them."

Ferris also has other advice, some of which just feels like cheating but is (I imagine) highly effective.

Here's Ferris' advice on how to become a recognized expert. It's simple: Join some organizations; read the three top-selling books in the category; give a free 1-3 hour seminar at a university and have someone video it; do the same at some well-known local corporations; write 1-2 articles for trade magazines (or interview an expert and write up the interview); join ProfNet so that journalists will quote you as an expert). This is a three-week process. It's not quite the same as getting your PhD, but it's not meant to be.

Ferris also describes how to pull a disappearing act from your office. It's also simple: Increase the company's investment in you via training; call in sick two days (he suggests Tuesday and Wednesday) and demonstrate increased output offsite by working remotely; suggest a revocable trial period for working offsite one day a week, citing your increased output; expand remote time by making sure that your offsite days yield higher output than your onsite days. This is a longer process, but it gets results: Ferris gives an example of a reader who tried this technique and managed to take a 30-day vacation in China without his employer realizing. Critically, this won't work unless you really are keeping your output high.

If you read only one part of the book, though, I would suggest the part on automation. Ferris makes a compelling case for figuring out how to either automate or outsource routine tasks. Those who are hackers at heart may be familiar with automation (e.g., the folks who set elaborate GMail filters), but outsourcing is also a powerful technique. Ferris discusses at length how to leverage it.

Bottom line: This is a book for people who hate aspects of their job and who can perform a large portion of their work electronically. It's not going to work for people who work locally (barbers, realtors), who are required to be on-site at specific times (cashiers, professors), or who must spend a great deal of time processing knowledge (software developers, analysts, and again professors). It probably won't work well for people who collaborate frequently. But parts of this book should be applicable to nearly anyone. Get past the braggadocio and at least skim it; think of it as a toolkit for making yourself more productive.