Do You Really Need "the 4-hour workweek"?

I had heard great things about The 4-Hour Workweek  by Tim Ferriss, but the gimmicky title always kept me from reading it.

I am without shame a snob when it comes to business/management/self help books. Void of a genuine and reputable PhD {though I know how permanent(ly) head damaged these people can be} after the author’s name and empirical evidence, I will NOT read it … unless dictated by someone with authority or I have seriously nothing else to read!

But with rave reviews of Tim’s new book The 4-Hour Body, with yet another annoying gimmicky title, I was convinced that there is something to his books and got me started at the beginning to see what all the fuss was about.

Naturally being someone who cannot enter a bookshop {or stationery shop or pharmacy for that matter} without loading the shopping basket up, and the need to collect the 10 Kinokuniya stamps to get a discount {which is stupid coz it’s only a 10% discount – or less, given that it is literally impossible to round the bills up to perfect splits of RM 50 per discount stamp}, I finally bought the book.

Funnily enough the entire raison d’être of the book, to reduce the amount spent working because it is boring and meaningless, does not really apply to me.

Other than the initial resistance of rising in the mornings and abandoning the warmth (and smell) of my bed, I fall more in the “love what you do and you will never work again a day in your life” category. In the case of the former, I attribute it to inertia and my innate dislike for change.

But, I generally have nothing to complain. 
I have ‘carved’ work to be a:
“do what I like and love … 
tolerate and get over the boring but important stuff, 
but only if it falls in the means to the ends category of work” 

Furthermore, with annual leave of 26 days and public holidays that clocks up a generous 17 days, I can go on fun mini vacations all the time. Can. But I don’t want. Preferring to go for lengthy ones at a time.

I am also unconvinced about Ferriss’ analysis that boredom sits on the opposite spectrum of happiness; i.e. happiness is opposite to boredom. And by that I don’t mean this to sound like a bad English class, but rather Ferriss’ idea that we should keep ourselves active and occupied. I find that hyperactivity to be in itself a tiring pursuit and counter productive.

why? Why work for work’s sake?
I know that I am running the risk of sounding a hypocrite here, given that I do not leave my desk till late … but ah ha! That’s between the choice of chocking mother earth up burning diesels in Kuala Lumpur’s gridlock traffic {despite driving one of the most energy efficient vehicles ever built} or spending more time perfecting work I love doing {notwithstanding the fact that I am a perfectionist at all costs!} or pursuing personal activities while desk bound like blogging this entry.

My point however – in contention with Ferriss’ – is:
isn’t crowding one’s live
with activities to tick off the clock
an escapism from finding deeper contentment
with ourselves and the lives we chose to live?

That said, to be fair to Ferriss, he did in the later chapters of the book espouse doing things that strikes a cord with us and to do things slowly.

As I had not set out to trash The 4-Hour Workweek, but rather write my personal views about it after noticing it being one of the top 10 books that had affected an Executive Coach (EC) I had engaged for my Mid-Manager level development programme at the Bank. Whilst the EC had not elaborated lengthily as to how/what/why The 4-Hour Workweek had impacted his life, it got me thinking nonetheless, if by finally procuring The 4-Hour Workweek and reading it, had The 4-Hour Workweek left me any impressions? Has it changed my life?

Sure, it’s a famous book.
Sure, Tim Ferriss had openly admitted on his own self publicity and promotion – and kudos for being a good marketer.
But good marketing and publicity on its own is not enough to make the Best Sellers listing. 

If anything, the book provided extremely practical productivity improving advice, some of which I have been adopting, hence not finding the tips gravity defying and new. Naturally, this discovery took many turns of trial and error and time, while someone else who is determine and picks of The 4-Hour Workweek would have the advantage of adopting trial and tested methods immediately.

Friends and bosses who really knows me {and reads my blog} will probably be ‘laughing’ at this book review of mine, given the hours I work and my definition of personal pursuits and work. I suppose it’s a debate of nomenclature here and one’s view and definition of the word: ‘work’. 

Whilst most people will narrowly confine it as repetitive, mind numbing, boring, tasks that gets you through the day and financially sustains you, I have managed to find pleasure, joy and other intrinsic benefits in work. I have also managed to derive economic gains {be it directly to myself or others} with my personal pursuits and hobbies; thereby blurring what is ‘work’ and ‘hobbies’ by strict traditional definitions.

Whilst most individuals ideal Pareto of work-life balance would lie in the activity itself, mine lies in the emotional gratification derived from any activity; i.e. getting meaningful things done… if I am seriously making any sense here.

However, one thing remains true for me regardless of definition and ‘separatism’ of “work” vs. “personal pursuit” or in lay man’s term “work” – “life”: I adopt the philosophy of increasing the productivity by doing the same amount of work in less time; putting more emphasis on planning and going a great job the first time round.

In the spirit of Ferriss’ The 4-Hour Workweek, here are some of the things I am already doing; some for years, some recently … as I’m still a person in the making … and wished Tim Ferriss or someone like him had written a similar book earlier:

·    I do NOT read the newspapers or watch news daily. For the most part news are sensationalised, irrelevant, advertising generators or dribbles of political parties in power. The hottest scandals are easily within earshot around the water cooler machines and/or over lunch … often contributing nothing to your depository of knowledge. I chose to read the analysed and condensed news from The Economist {again, only sections that are relevant to me else you’d never get through the entire month’s issue}, Time {wishing an equivalent of Al Jazeera in printed form will emerge for fair and unbias reporting}, National Geographic {more from habit than anything else, but makes good toilet break reads with nice glossy photos and the occasional pull-out maps} and occasionally some tech-y sites and magazines to know the latest advancements {not fad} when I get my hair done or in airport terminals.

·   I do NOT own a Blackberry on purpose {uuurggghhhHHHHHH not for long now given the requirements of all the new job offers}. In the same spirit I do not want an Android, iPhone or any smart phone in the market. If things are URGENT, they should not be sent via short messaging system or email. 

In addition, I do not response to work messages or calls after hours, during lunch and dinner, in meetings {unless it’s escapism or trying to keep awake in the meetings}, and when travelling internationally – there’s only so much I can do when I’m abroad in far flung countries!

·    I always have a TO DO LIST and stick by it! My TO DO LIST contains only: “urgent” and “important” stuff, with “important” being the priority, and not “urgent” as most people do. 

To incentivize myself and get myself motivated to complete the tasks laid out on my TO DO LIST, I intersperse my TO DO LIST with ‘low hanging fruits’… trust me, it’s easier to get down the list when you see something ‘ah ha! Nice and easy coming up if only you get that uuurrggghHHHHHHH piece of work out of the way.’ and to stick by the self imposed shorter deadlines.

·    I decline most meetings that does NOT have >20% relevant input from me

I chair meetings with clear agendas and pre-send meeting agendas, reading materials and synopsis of the materials along with bullet point ‘action / decision’ needed. If possible, I’d like to introduce STAND-UP Meetings and BYO refreshments instructions… but this proposal has been rejected time and time again!

·    I only embark on projects/assignments where I am capable of accomplishing every task needed with at least 80% competency level… this ensure 100% control on the outcome should Murphy’s Law decides to happen. 

But the catch is this: I do NOT do most of the repetitive, low-skilled, low-competency, low-value creating work, or those that places me in a foul mood. I outsource and delegate them to others whom I had gone through the arduous pain and high amounts of time investment on training them {‘training’ is a task that I dread but spend a lot of time in ensuring that’s its done very well since this is a classic example of ‘a means to an end’ type of situation/work}.

·   For repetitive, low-skilled, low-competency, low-value creating work that I still need to do personally, I adopt the batch mode staying true to my Economics training of economies of scale… and in my case it would be something along the lines of blogging for Scrap-n-Crop.com!

·    I keep only 10 or less un-read emails in my Inbox. Leaving a few gives me the false sense of security that I am still important (!!!) and haven’t over-delegated or outsourced my work, but really I mark them unread and flag messages that (1) I may want to go back, (2) may be useful sometime in the week, (3) annoying but needs to be address by this week. 

I make it a point to remove email notifications and stop subscribing to them! from websites, blogs, Facebook, Linkedin etc. But for those that I may want to read, void of anything else to do or as info-tainment, I route them automatically to pre-set ‘Folders’. This way I see only activities I chose to when I chose to.

·    I strive for less clutter. A good way to start is with material goods. I weed out the things I do not (1) even remember owning, (2) have owned but not used for > 12 months, (3) is a hassle to use no matter how cool and good I look with it, (4) have been sitting in their original packaging in a pile at some corner of some room… I’m yet to adopt the harsh Pareto principle here of keeping 20% of things that I use 80% of the time … but thanks to two home break-ins this year, the thieves have taken care of my camera gears, eletronics gadgets, watches and jewelry {most of which I have no recollection during the police report itemization process!}.

·   I try to engage only with KEY decision makers for decisions. Involving more people in the process will not improve the quality of the decision nor would the most probable output of a pro-longed contemplation make a wrong decision any better. Wrong decisions are in any case very quickly ascertain once they have been made and with less people involved, the easier it is to rectify it with reduced variant of time taken for each individual to go through the process of ‘realisation-blame-guilt-admission-(and finally)-action’.

·    Be thankful of the blessings I have and try to live MY life rather than agonizing over why I can’t be someone else and worse still, spending the time and energy imitating others (or pleasing others for that matter) … {as I’m still in the making, I do slip into the “why am I not Salman Rushdie” mode from time to time though I can’t quite put a finger as to why Salman Rushdie any more … it was a 15 year old’s dream.}

·    Live for today and enjoy life experiences.

Do read the book – The 4-Hour Workweek – and take cue on how you can take charge of yourself too… but frankly, I believe a lot of us are already doing a heck of a lot of the things he suggest. So, the gimmicky title worked – it sells!


Before I get lambasted {which I will for sure} I am the first to admit that I am still in my “work in progress” mode trying to be less of a perfectionist, anal, obsessive compulsive person. Does anyone know a Tim Ferriss of such with a book out there?

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10 thoughts on “Do You Really Need "the 4-hour workweek"?

  1. ouch!But Jon, that comment didn't even come close to the emails I received.Great for Tim Ferriss – he obviously found the sweet spot – people are just plain disorganised and clueless – so you are not alone – relax!It's a matter of letting go.As for the BB:it's a great tool for aggregating what I want to read via RSS Feeds and my Twitter account in traffic or airport lounges.it's also a great tool in projecting importance and professionalism while I thumb away during boring meetings, trying to keep awake.BBM is great to keep in touch with my "surrogate children"

  2. And the above is a comment of an envious person?BTW, Penelope, I am still trying to get organised. How are you coping with the BlackBerry though? Has it changed anything?

  3. I wonder if you could still say:do what I like and love … tolerate and get over the boring but important stuff, but only if it falls in the ‘means to the ends’ category of workwhen you leave.I'm going to miss you so much!You inspire me and make so many things possible and happen for all of us.MN

  4. @KC – I know! Very annoying and distruptive … and it's usually a few rounds of orders and deliveries which makes one wonder if we are having a lepak session at the mamaks – which is sooooooooo Malaysian!

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