Uncommon lifestyles and the truth about the 4-Hour Workweek: An interview with Tim Ferriss

One of the fundamental premises of the Get Rich Slowly philosophy is that by making sacrifices and smart moves now, you can create a better life in the future. It's a philosophy of deferred gratification.

But what if you don't want to wait to enjoy life's rewards? What if you want to take advantage of opportunities while you're still young? Is there a way to do this while still maintaining a smart approach to money?

Timothy Ferriss says there is.

In The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich [my review], Ferriss describes creative approaches to career and retirement. He advocates taking radical action to increase your productivity, which in turn gives you more time to do the things you really want. It almost sounds crazy — and it may not be for everyone — but the book's ideas are helping me to mold my lifestyle.

Ferriss recently agreed to field questions from Get Rich Slowly readers. This interview will appear in two parts. Today he shares thoughts on productivity and lifestyle design. In the second part — to be published at an undetermined point in the future — he'll discuss new notions of retirement.

J.D.
Kathleen writes: “I loved the stop-dreaming-and-do-it attitude of the book. But Ferriss comes from a starting point of already having a successful company and his goal was for it to not consume him. This doesn't speak much to the majority of us who are trying to reach a point where we can keep afloat without selling our souls to the 9-to-5 gods. I would love to hear his thoughts on how to achieve freedom without that starting point.”

Tim
It's true that I had a business, but it's important to note that The 4-Hour Workweek is actually an examination of case studies, including employees and even single mothers.

“Lifestyle Design” as an alternative to retirement-based career planning is much like investing: there are dozens of options, each customized for your individual situation and risk tolerance. The first objective isn't going to be tangoing in Buenos Aires or scuba diving in Japan — it's eliminating unpaid overtime on the weekends and evenings. Small steps, no matter the situation, sum up to enormous changes and uncommon lifestyles. Step one is defining your ideal lifestyle based on the associated costs.

J.D.
Some people have complained that a four-hour workweek is impossible based on their situation or their job. “How do you work a four-hour workweek in retail?” asks one of my readers. “We have two small children,” writes another. “How can we take baby steps to a freewheeling lifestyle, and how free can we realistically be? Any tips, insights or examples of families taking Tim's advice?”

Tim
The vast majority of readers who write in with stories like “I just took the first four-week vacation in ten years” have families. Jen Errico from the book took a five-month around-the-world trip with her two children in tow, and there are many similar examples. In fact, there are entire blogs created by mothers and fathers who are using the 4HWW principles of lifestyle design.

In the retail example, it's true that some jobs and positions will not allow for time abundance, and for such situations, there is a process for killing your job and upgrading your work-life ratio instead of killing your career. Lifestyle design is a buffet of options. I don't expect anyone to use time the way I do — I'm an extremist. I expect people to create time and use it as they see fit, whether sitting in a hammock with their kids or racing Lamborghinis on the autobahn. I've seen both.

J.D.
Many critics of The 4-Hour Workweek have focused on the Automation section. Some don't like the notion of virtual assistants, for example, and they're not convinced that everyone can automate their income. Are these specific details important? Can your system function without them? What are other approaches could people consider?

Tim
Having a virtual assistant or exploring personal outsourcing (“offchoring”), as amazing as it is, is not required at all. Like I said, the book is a buffet of options. I don't expect anyone to use all of it. Pick and choose to optimize your situation. That said, let me make a couple important points on personal outsourcing.

$10 USD buys groceries for a week for someone in Bangalore. I pay my assistants there $5-15 per hour. Do two hours of your friends' (or your) wages pay for their (your) groceries for a week? Not likely — so who's really getting paid more? This is an example of the concept of “purchasing power parity”, often called the “Big Mac index”. I'd encourage people to take a look at the research of real economists instead of the propaganda of politicians.

I'm helping to build a middle-class in the countries that need it most, while simultaneously creating new consumers of US and other countries' goods, for example. There is absolutely no slave labor or exploitation in how I recommend using virtual assistants — none whatsoever. It strengthens the global economy.

J.D.
Bob writes: “I would like to know as best he can give, what Tim's average NON-mini-retirement day entails.”

Tim
Good question.

My days almost never look the same. I ask my assistants to avoid phone calls on Mondays and Fridays, in case I want to take a long weekend on either end, and I almost always allocate Mondays for general preparation and prioritizing for the week, then any administrative tasks that I need to handle (paperwork for accountants, lawyers, etc.).

I put very few things in my calendar, as I do not believe most people can do more than four hours of productive work per day at maximum, and I loathe multi-tasking. For example, my day tomorrow looks like this, with items in my calendar preceded by an asterisk (*):

  • 10am — get up and eat high-protein breakfast of 300-400 calories (I'm typing this at 2:22am, as I do my best writing from 1-4am)
  • 10:30-12* — radio interviews and idea generation for writing (note taking)
  • 12 noon — workout involving mostly posterior chain (back, neck extension, hamstrings, etc.) and abdominals
  • 12:30 — lunch in a restaurant of organic beef, vegetables, pinto beans, and guacamole (I have this almost every day. Here is my diet.)
  • 1-5pm* — write piece for very large economics publication (I'm not writing this whole time, but I block out this period)
  • 5pm* — review my designer's latest updates on planned blog redesign
  • 5:30pm — first dinner
  • 6:30-8:30pm — Brazilian jiu-jitsu training
  • 9pm — second dinner
  • 10pm — ice bath and shower
  • 11-2am — chill out and do whatever, probably reading for enjoyment or drinking wine with friends

Before you ask “but what happened to the 4-hour workweek?!” realize that the goal was never to be idle. I hate laziness and make this clear in the book. The goal is to spend as much time possible doing what we want — by maximizing output in minimal time. I don't have to do anything in this schedule. I choose to do them because I like them. None of them are financially-driven. If the chance to do something fun comes up last-minute, I can cancel all of them. This is true time-freedom.

J.D.
One of my favorite tips in your book — I have it heavily underscored in red ink — is “emphasize your strengths, not your weaknesses”. Explain this concept. Why is it so important?

Tim
It's very simple. If you try and fix all of your weaknesses, you will be — at best — mediocre at most things you're inherently poor at. This is inborn talent or weakness. Progress is incremental when you attempt to fix all the chinks in the armor.

Focus on leveraging and amplifying your strengths, which allows you to multiply your results. Fix any fatal weaknesses to extent that they prevent you from reaching your goals, but perfection isn't the path to your objectives; finding ways to cater to your strengths is. This is also, for example, how you end up documenting and showing improved results to your superiors if you need to negotiate things like remote work, flex-time, paid time off, etc.

J.D.
I also like your notion of a low-information diet. How does one cultivate selective ignorance? What is the value in it?

Tim
Information consumes attention. In a digital world, you then have the potential for infinite minutiae and interruption. Consuming and organizing the excess deluge of data is not a scalable or sustainable model, so we look instead at the only viable option: strategic elimination.

How do you check e-mail once per day or once per week? How do you reverse the self-defeating impulse to “stay informed” and instead catch up when action requires it vs. keeping up? Selective ignorance is one of the few common traits among the top performers I've interviewed. Learn to single-task and accept that — ironically — limiting your options is often the best method for improving your results and outcomes.

Timothy Ferriss, nominated as one of Fast Company's “Most Innovative Business People of 2007,” is author of the #1 New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and BusinessWeek bestseller, The 4-Hour Workweek. The second part of this interview will appear at Get Rich Slowly sometime in the future.

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plonkee
plonkee
12 years ago

I quite like my job, even if it takes up more than 4 hours of my week, so I’m not sure this is the book/concept for me.

On the other hand, I sometimes feel bad for not catching up on the (general) news very often, perhaps instead of feeling guilty, I should actually be proud instead.

Dan
Dan
12 years ago

I loved the book. Although I haven’t been able to push myself towards working less, I have changed my attitude about being able to do things on the fly and not making excuses for myself about my activities.

After reading the book I’ve been more willing to try new things, take long weekend vacations, and concentrate on enjoying myself more.

Josh
Josh
12 years ago

Awesome interview, nice job selecting questions. I remember someone asking the retail question and I was thinking “They need to get out of retail”, and that turned out to be essentially what Tim recommends. plonkee, not to be a huge fanboy of 4hourworkweek but the title is more of a marketing slogan than a commandment. I am still working 40 hours a week and probably will for at least 5 years but I took a LOT from this book. I would go as far as to say that is one of the most influential books I’ve ever read. Most of… Read more »

Graham Lutz
Graham Lutz
12 years ago

I give Tim two enthusiastic thumbs up.

Ron@TheWisdomJournal
12 years ago

I enjoyed the book immensely and agree with most of it in principle. Still, there are aspects to it that most people will never be able to accomplish. I have four weeks vacation per year, but if I take all of them at once, I run the risk of not having a job to come back to. And if I did, the information backlog would be immense. Also, I have debts and other obligations that require maintenance from none other than ME. At some point, I hope to be able to implement some of his suggestions, but it’s still unrealistic… Read more »

KC
KC
12 years ago

I’m glad to see someone else who feels more productive late at night (actually the early morning). I always feel guilty for staying up late and getting up at 10am. But it’s how I am most productive.

Emily
Emily
12 years ago

That was a great interview, and I really enjoyed the video. Thanks. KC, Josh, and Dan, you are right on. What Tim is saying is: Here are some ideas that work for me. I am an extremist, so look at my ideas, adapt them to your situation and live the life you want to live! Taking what works for someone else and trying to copy it exactly is not the point. Taking what works for someone else and adapting it to get the results you want is. I have a lot to think about now, and I can’t wait to… Read more »

Susannah
Susannah
12 years ago

You know, I’ve been resisting the concept of the four hour work week on general Puritan principles (idle hands are the Devil’s tools, y’know.) But any person who spends their ample spare time writing and doing Brazilian jiu-jitsu is living my personal dream. 🙂

Working Dollar
Working Dollar
12 years ago

I have seen this book everywhere and to be perfectly honest I’m not sure what to think about it (which means I’ll need to get it and read it).

In the past, when a book is released and gets the attention this one has gotten, it is usually that people like the concepts, but in reality (especially after reading them) the concepts are not practical.

So the obvious thing for me to do at this point is get a copy and read it so I can see what all the fuss is really about.

Jason
Jason
12 years ago

“…, as I do not believe most people can do more than four hours of productive work per day at maximum,…”

I find this to be somewhat true. I’m most productive in 3-4 hour blocks so I split my work day into 2 parts with a large gap in between for personal stuff. Work in the morning, do other stuff in the afternoon, and work in the evening. Otherwise I find myself just coming to a crawl after lunch.

Andrea >> Learn how to set your hourly rate
Andrea >> Learn how to set your hourly rate
12 years ago

Yes, actually, I do pay my North American people enough to work for two hours to buy groceries for a week. Is Tim paying people an hourly wage that’s good for someone who has a steady job with benefits? Or is he paying an hourly rate for people who are essentially contractors?

Other than that, I enjoyed this post!

guinness416
guinness416
12 years ago

Plonkee, I agree with the others, it’s a very fun book that covers a lot of ground. I think it’s a good read even for those of us who’ll be wageslaves for a while yet. Food for thought and all that. Nice interview JD, thanks!

Tim
Tim
12 years ago

I got the book before leaving for a 2-week business trip last year and read it on the side of the swimming-pool there. I got kind of excited while reading it, but then took the book with some salt and categorized it somewhat under “self-improvement BS”. But you know what? I think I put way too much salt! Even though one can’t take the look literally (Tim’s case is extreme in a way), the philosophy behind it is what’s important. I need re-open the book very soon to move more towards the lifestyle I want (which I will have to… Read more »

InvestEveryMonth.com
InvestEveryMonth.com
12 years ago

I’m spending 70 hours per week trying to set myself up for a four hour workweek someday in the future.

bugmom
bugmom
12 years ago

I’m about halfway through the book right now. I’ve set it aside for the moment because I am trying to implement some of the ideas in the first half before moving forward. As a stay at home mom with a consulting business (I get paid by the hour) I’m not looking for a literal four hour work week, but more for ways to get more out of the hours I have, although, I think I might have some kind of breakdown if I quit checking my email every five minutes!

Mira
Mira
12 years ago

Help, video is not loading. There’s only a blank space where the video should be

Kacper
Kacper
12 years ago

Turning to 4-hour-workweek definitely would be one of my best success I’ve achieved so far. But right now a lot of work ahead.

J.D., thank you for interview.

Matt
Matt
12 years ago

I read the 4HWW over Christmas when after a few odd twists I quit my job and ended up traveling around the country for a couple of weeks working for friends(I’m a cook, and so are they.) I basically worked for airplane tickets and a couch to sleep on. This wasn’t planned and the fact that I had just taken the 4HWW out from the library prior to the trip was just a strange coincidence. I ended up reading it twice while on my trip and realized that this is what I wanted to do. I’ve created a muse and… Read more »

Chad
Chad
12 years ago

I read 4HWW a few months ago and I really enjoyed it. It is true that some things may not be practical for all situations but, many ideas can be applied to any situation. As a Freshman Business student and future entrepreneur; I plan on using many of the ideas from Tim when I go into business in the future. This book inspired me to think of ways to work more productively, and to increase the enjoyment. Some of his accomplishments proved to me that in a short amount of time, with detication, and forward-thinking; people can do amazing things.… Read more »

anna
anna
12 years ago

I haven’t read the book but I’m intrigued: right now I’m working full time and I’m in school, which is a crazymaking schedule, and leaves little time for doing all the extra stuff that needs to be on an academic resume.

If I considered the transition from the current career to a new career as a job in itself, would the 4-hr workweek template be a good way to get that work done?

Kat
Kat
12 years ago

Wow.. books hardly ever get so many positive comments here! I want to spend less time working so that the two dinners (and two breakfasts) that I end up eating every day don’t eat so much of my life! I guess I should read the book! Another note – I work best in the afternoon/evening myself. My employer wants me there by 8. I figure, if they want to pay me for my *least* productive time, that’s OK with me! Although, it would be nice if I didn’t have to force myself away from creative projects just because it’s two… Read more »

PAX
PAX
12 years ago

The 4HWW happened to me before I ever read the book. At one point I’d frankly told a VP that I could do my job from 11 a.m. – 3 p.m. “So you’d just come in and work through lunch?” he asked. Told him that I picked 11 a.m. in order to read my email and then go to lunch before I started working. Sometime later the law was laid down that I wasn’t playing the company politics well. The solution was to move me to contract work. I explained that they’d be paying me at least five times as… Read more »

Charles
Charles
12 years ago

I read Tim’s book, and I found it enjoyable and filled with an interesting insight to the work day world. It also found a lot of great ideas for striving towards 4-hour work week. However, I found some of it impractical. How does one come up with a money-making idea (muses) that can supply enough supplemental income, be easy to maintain, and be sustainable to live the 4HWW lifestyle? Tim came from the nutrition supplement business, and I can see streamlining a business like that once you’ve already been working it. However, his case study with the French Shirts for… Read more »

Steveo
Steveo
12 years ago

Personally, I went straight to a zero-hour work week, with ‘work’ being defined as things I have to do to make money. I now spend about two dozen hours a week on educational courses and exercise, and maybe a couple more thinking about projects I find interesting.

Greg C.
Greg C.
12 years ago

I read the book ( Thanks JD!)and while Tim’s lifestyle is on the “extreme” side what I basically take from it is: The norm in life ( and personal finance advice) seems to revolve around working very hard and sacrificing a lot for several decades with the hope that you can “retire” for the last few years of your life and not have to work. However, it is possible to be productive and make a living while still enjoying life now. I like the concept of “mini retirements.” I have a confession to make; I never really want to retire.… Read more »

Neil Lemons
Neil Lemons
12 years ago

This book changed my life. I have implemented the “batching system.”

JimiSlew
JimiSlew
12 years ago

I’m most productive at night but work during the 9-5 shift. I’m not sure why, with such an educated and a workforce geared toward information production we need the 9-5. Really. I would love to have a “campus” style workplace. Come and go with some office hours. If your not doing your job someone will know and boot you. If you excel by coming in for 2 hours a week you get a raise. We need a successful company to show that the 4 hour work day is good for shareholders and it will happen! (maybe).

cory untch
cory untch
10 years ago

Tim, I am a chef at a luxury hotel.. I enjoy food and cooking very much but… I would like to free my life up enjoy my interest in food(not my ability to cook it) so I could travel to France and many other countries to learn about their food. I read your book and need help defining the steps i could take to get started with this.. from my point A.

Cory

JT
JT
10 years ago

A book to check out that is a little more “realistic” is the book 80/20 by Koch. Ferris actually endorses it.

Smily
Smily
10 years ago

It’s true. The ideas in Tim’s book are not new but the way they are presented and the implementing technology is. That said, I have been living an extreme lifestyle (parallel to Tim’s)since I started my first business when I was 24. I’ve never worked for someone else since. I used to take mini retirements. But Tim, my pre-internet muses have dried up due to technological obsolescence. I’m now 50 and need my hand held understanding internet muse establishment. Is there a blog that caters to the basic details all in one spot?

Bill Chase
Bill Chase
8 years ago

I hope there is not a second interview because Tim Ferris has an inflated view of himself and offers nothing for the regular Joes or Joanns of the world. He seems to be advocating a new world of “playing his system,” even using a different vocabulary, to create more FOMO–fear of missing out. To set the record straight, ordinary people, it’s okay to miss out on this highly idealist world of 4-hour workweek. If you are financially secure, go ahead and try this. Otherwise, there are better ways to use your time.

Gerard
Gerard
8 years ago
Reply to  Bill Chase

I agree with you. He does seem to elevate hte people who do what he does to some kind of God like status and all others to fools.

Gerard
Gerard
8 years ago

Am I the only one who thinks less of Tim after this interview then before the interview? Don’t get me wrong, I love the book and it has many useful lessons. But he does seem to pick only the successful cases and elevates them to be the norm. And when he has to give specific advice (like the retail job question) his only advice seems to be “get out” and then some geveral non specific non detail BS. I’m thinking, why not give some specific advice, advice other than “get out of that industry” to such people? How about the… Read more »

Success
Success
7 years ago

I just recently read this book. I know I’m late but anyway… Lifestyle design is not for everybody and that some of the things written in this book is easier said than done. He just got lucky.

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