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the 4-hour workweek coverThe 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich is a book by Tommothy Ferris published in 2007. Lots of people have liked the book and it’s spent about four years on the New York Times Best Sellers list. It’s sold something to the tune of 1.3 million copies in a bunch of different languages.

If I’m judging this book only on the statements it actually makes, I would say it’s an almost insulting oversimplification. But if I judge the book by the statements it only implicitly makes, I’m more than a little in love with the idea. I’m using words badly right now, but stick with me for a minute.

The book is broken up into sections titled with the acronym D-E-A-L, because books like these need acronyms. It’s not bad though, just maybe a little silly. It stands for Definition, Elimination, Automation and Liberation. The first section is pretty much general encouragement and inspiration stuff. Define your dreams. So on and so forth.

After that, things get a little more practical.

Ferris is big into the idea of eliminating all but the most important of tasks. He frequently asks us to imagine having a gun to our head. “All work is busywork if it doesn’t need to be done right now” is a reasonable summation. He suggests batching certain distracting tasks on a schedule. Only respond to emails at 12pm and 4pm and use email auto responders to notify your clients or colleagues of your habit.

That might be a good idea in some cases, but my bet is that in most, it’s better to just have the habit and let people quietly get used to it.

On the other side of not spending much time on official work, Ferris persuades us to automate as much as humanly possible. e.g., Cut out the live help phone line, and replace it with a really badass FAQ; Hire a virtual assistant to apologize to your wife for you; Other normal stuff. Among his interesting and more practical information is an introduction to some of the ways people can earn money on the web, namely affiliate marketing.

So yeah, some of it comes across as a little silly. That might even be purposeful. But the extension ideas aren’t far off. For example, if you did have a really excellent FAQ maybe a virtual assistant really would be able to save you a good amount of time on the few important clients who demand the most help. Some people are making money on the web in affiliate sales and blogging.

The thing is though, Timothy Ferris is a unique blend of brain chemicals and life experiences that make much of what he’s talking about come natural to him. He actually inadvertently makes this point by telling several stories about him being a defiant youngster. In some ways, following Ferris’ advice is a little like wearing a WWTFD bracelet? To which I would say, “what, what the fuck, dude?”.

I don’t think the roadmap to success is in Ferris’ book as he would really like us to believe. But between the lines, I think the keys are there. But they’re uniquely shaped for ever single person’s own weirdly shaped hands. Ferris’ keys aren’t going to fit in your hand. Your hands are weird. Nevermind, what I’m saying is that there’s a big difference between someone who thinks they have options and some who thinks they have none. If someone is not happy, they’re not trapped. There are people in the world succeeding in ways that they wish they could. Many people want to be a part of Ferris’ “New Rich”, and they can get there. Ferris did. But they’ll have to take Ferris’ concepts seriously, his words with a grain of salt, and figure out how they can get there too.

In Conclusion

I found The 4-Hour Workweek inspirational. It spawned a lot of good ideas and created positive reflection on my work and personal habits. It also supplied a wealth of references to software tools, organizations that solve unique problems, and questionnaires and worksheets that I have found useful in some real life situations. I have also found myself giving more guilt-free time to personal pursuits that matter to me or that support my other creative endeavors. It’s helped me to better consider the improvement of myself to be synonymous with improving my work.