Four Hour Work Week: Escape the 9-5

You get home from work, open your front door, slam your keys on the kitchen table and wonder to yourself what you even got done and why you even do what you do.

Familiar story?

In the book Four Hour Work Week by Tim Ferriss, Tim divulges his tried-and-tested strategy for escaping the 9-5 drudgery and becoming a member of the New Rich (NR).

Prior to reading this book, I knew a fair amount about the premise behind the book. I was also a little skeptical about claims you can free yourself easily from the 9-5 especially if you have family and/or debts you're working through. Being bound by either or both is like a slave punishment collar around your neck (Slave Iron Bits).

When we work a traditional job, we trade our time for money. A straight trade. As a member of the NR, we're freed from those constraints. We're free to work from anywhere at anytime.

Tim's definition of someone who is a member of the New Rich is someone ”who abandons the deferred life-plan and create luxury lifestyles in the present using the currency of New Rich: time and mobility.“

To gain your freedom there is a recipe of rules for that success; DEAL. D for Definition, E for Elimination, A for Automation and L for Liberation.

D is for Definition

The key to knowing where you're going is knowing where you want to be. The NR is all about Lifestyle Design. Doing what you want to do, where you want to do it.

As a fun exercise, sit down with a piece of paper and work out what your ideal life would look like. Where would you want to live? What car would you want to drive (if any)? How many children do you want to raise? How many holidays would you like to have?

Put a figure on it and work out how much per month you would need to make this dream a reality.

E is for Elimination

Working Four Hours a Week sounds like a complete fantasy. I thought the same thing. However, if we actually look at how much time is wasted in our day on unnecessary tasks that don't take us towards our goal we soon figure out that we're wasting a lot of time.

“Pareto's Law“, also known as “Pareto's Distribution“ states that you can apply an 80/20 principle to almost any situation. Whether that be 80% of a companies profits coming from 20% of it's customers or, as a member of the NR, deriving 80% of the benefits from 20% of the effort.

Many books I've read in the past, such as Focus by Jurgen Wolff, talk about analysing those tasks we perceive to give us the greatest benefit. Doing those tasks more often and reducing time spent on everything else.

We can eliminate tasks by doing one of the following options:

Option 1: Elimination

Some of the most common things we can cut back on are:

  • Reading irrelevant information such as consuming too much news or social media. Reading books that don't further our cause or advance our knowledge in relevant areas (though I tend to think non-fiction and reading books that stir the imagination is something you should still keep up)
  • Dealing inefficiently with paperwork - not dealing with it an organising it in an efficient way or keeping paper around that we don't need to.
  • Spending too much time on email - letting email swamp you or missing important emails / not filing important emails in an organised fashion.
  • Wasting time in meetings or at unnecessary meetings - not coming out of a meeting with concrete objectives or failing to time-box a meeting so it drags on longer than it should. Not sending out an agenda to all attendees prior to the meeting and ensuring all attendees read it.

Option 2: Delegation

To realise our dreams we can't possibly do everything we need to accomplish our goals, even once we're done eliminating all of the non-essentials. When we only have the essential left we need to delegate other responsibilities to free up our time.

We have a couple of options:

  • Hiring someone part time - Obviously hiring a professional is going to be expensive and probably not viable, but depending on what you need to get done, you could hire a school student, college student or someone who is semi-retired.
  • Using virtual assistants - A popular way to handle the tasks you no longer have time to, is to delegate some of your tasks to a VA. Services such as Your Man in India or Mechanical Turk from Amazon, allow you to let someone else deal with the task.
  • Using online freelancers - Websites such as Upwork are a great way to get professionals to bid on your proposals. Just make sure that you read testimonials so you know if their work comes recommended.

A is for Automation

If you spend your time doing the same task 20 minutes of every day for a month and you automate it, you can save yourself 10 hours of work a month.

Automation is one of the key ways of improving productivity in a global economy, however, it's just as important to apply at a personal level too.

Whether you find a workflow for managing your social media strategy if you run a blog or if you automate your sales funnel, automation is the key tenets for maximising your time.

One such tool that I've found incredibly useful in automating my workflow is IFTTT. IFTTT uses recipes that perform an If This Then That action where a recipe will trigger one action from another. For example, I have a trigger that saves my Twitter favourites directly to my Pocket account with a special "share" tag associated with them. This means I can quickly review all the content in one place.

Tim also refers to other automation techniques, such as ensuring that your sales funnel is automated in such a way that payment will be automatically paid and customers will receive welcome emails specifically tailored for them and the product they bought.

Payment services such as Gumroad enable you to sell electronic goods, such as ebooks or other forms of digital downloads without having to interact with a customer and handle orders manually.

Another really helpful tip Tim suggests is that you trial a free or heavily discounted version of the product to early bird users and ask them in return to fill in a survey about their use of the product and any suggestions or questions they might have around its use. Early bird users will tend to be some of your biggest fans so will be more than willing to ask questions.

From this you can build an FAQ page that provides your customers with answers to all those niggling questions you'll be asked on a regular basis.

L is for Liberation

If you're currently working a full-time job, this last step may seem the most daunting. After all, leaving the comfort and relative safety of your day job to join a world where there are many unknowns and your income is less than guaranteed is a scary prospect.

Also proving to your current boss that you can work remotely and get through not just the same, but more work than you could in the office, can be a difficult sell. Obviously whether or not this is possible depends on whether your existing role requires you to be present in the office. However, many jobs don't require you to be there in person at all.

Even the role as a developer is gradually morphing to a remote working gig. Just look at any advertised posting with an Open Source funded project and you'll see what I mean. A good example is the project that received backing to build the blogging platform on Kickstarter several years ago and are now hiring remote developers advertising that you can work anywhere-anytime as long as you get through the work assigned.

However, having mulled over Tim's Four-Hour Work Week, I don't believe this is possible for creators of content such as Software Engineers, without changing your job role, to move to working literally four hours a week. Being a creator is a full-time responsibility and requires dedication and a significant amount of output in order to reap benefits (just speak to anyone who's tried to build a SaaS business from scratch).

Tim does mention in the book that the life of the NR doesn't mean that you're a slacker and only work the bare minimum each week, I believe that's only a catchy marketing spiel to sell the book, but what he does mean is that you get the freedom to work from anywhere at whatever time of day and don't end up killing yourself to do it.


Overall there's a lot of really great tips in the Four Hour Work Week, even practical advice on overcoming your phobias of meeting people you would normally never dream of getting in touch with to help unlock doors and avenues that will allow your dreams to become a reality.

Many of the points Tim makes are practical and very real examples of how you can do things more efficiently and take shortcuts that would otherwise take time for you to figure out yourself. You're learning from Tim's mistakes from running a business.

There are a lot of people who think Tim Ferriss is a bit of a charlatan but I'm not one of them. It's pretty clear from his book he knows what he's talking about and has applied a lot of the advice he is giving to others - not just spouting things he read from a book.

Whilst I don't always agree with absolutely everything he advises if you do follow his advice there's no reason why you can't realise your life dreams to.

Others have followed in his footsteps so you can to.

Mexican Fisherman Story

Before you leave, there was one anecdote that stuck with me from this book. The Story of Mexican Fisherman. Hopefully it'll make you reassess your purpose in life and whether you're doing what matters to you most:

An American investment banker was at the pier of a small coastal Mexican village when a small boat with just one fisherman docked. Inside the small boat were several large yellowfin tuna. The American complimented the Mexican on the quality of his fish and asked how long it took to catch them.

The Mexican replied, “only a little while. The American then asked why didn’t he stay out longer and catch more fish? The Mexican said he had enough to support his family’s immediate needs. The American then asked, “but what do you do with the rest of your time?”

The Mexican fisherman said, “I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, take siestas with my wife, Maria, stroll into the village each evening where I sip wine, and play guitar with my amigos. I have a full and busy life.” The American scoffed, “I am a Harvard MBA and could help you. You should spend more time fishing and with the proceeds, buy a bigger boat. With the proceeds from the bigger boat, you could buy several boats, eventually you would have a fleet of fishing boats. Instead of selling your catch to a middleman you would sell directly to the processor, eventually opening your own cannery. You would control the product, processing, and distribution. You would need to leave this small coastal fishing village and move to Mexico City, then LA and eventually New York City, where you will run your expanding enterprise.”

The Mexican fisherman asked, “But, how long will this all take?”

To which the American replied, “15 – 20 years.”

“But what then?” Asked the Mexican.

The American laughed and said, “That’s the best part. When the time is right you would announce an IPO and sell your company stock to the public and become very rich, you would make millions!”

“Millions – then what?”

The American said, “Then you would retire. Move to a small coastal fishing village where you would sleep late, fish a little, play with your kids, take siestas with your wife, stroll to the village in the evenings where you could sip wine and play your guitar with your amigos.”

Give the book a read and let me know what you think in the comments below.

Do you agree with Tim? Can you become a member of the NR? What advice would you have to break from the 9 to 5?

Leave a comment below.

James Murphy

Java dev by day, entrepreneur by night. James has 10+ years experience working with some of the largest UK businesses ranging from the BBC, to The Hut Group finally finding a home at Rentalcars.

Manchester, UK
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