LifestyleDesignFilter - Is the Four Hour Work Week Feasible?
August 2, 2007 6:52 AM   Subscribe

I have finished reading Tim Ferriss' "The Four Hour Work Week" and I am curious, has anyone out there who has read the book actually implement the strategies mapped out in the book? I am in the process of creating a business that I can run from virtually anywhere on the planet and want to know if others have done it.
posted by wisdom-seeker to Work & Money (31 answers total) 49 users marked this as a favorite
Definitely going to watch this thread with interest. I read it too and while the message was great, I really had problems with the messenger.
posted by willmize at 7:31 AM on August 2, 2007

I think it might be possible to have a four hour work week, if you wrote a book about how it was possible to have a four hour work week.

If you call reading sales receipts and chuckling work, that is.
posted by Happy Dave at 7:40 AM on August 2, 2007 [3 favorites]

There was definitely an Aleksey Vayner vibe about him, after reading the book and his blog. But hey - he got it to work for him, so there you go.
posted by willmize at 7:44 AM on August 2, 2007

The personal finance blog I Will Teach You To Be Rich posted a review of the book - The Book That Changed My Life In 2 Hours. He talks about implementing concepts in the books and there's a lot of discussion in the comments (70+) about whether or not his ideas are viable.
posted by warble at 8:41 AM on August 2, 2007

warble - it is a good review, unfortunately a lot of the comments are about the contest he ran and whether or not Tim's example of overwhelming the TA to get a better grade was a good thing or not. Still there seems to be a lot of interest, and a lot of people who are trying the strategies.

One other thing, I have created a blog on my personal experiences as I implement what I have learned from the book. For those that are interested go to my Project:Nomad page. I just got back from vacation last night so it hasn't been updated in a week. One of the missions of the project is to use the blog as a tool for myself and others.
posted by wisdom-seeker at 10:32 AM on August 2, 2007

At risk of outing myself as (more of) a pompus ass:

Yeah, more or less.

Disclaimer: I haven't read his book, I only got the back-of-the-book summary off of NPR. Certainly the book title was chosen for shock value (and paid off very well for that!) but the core of it seems to be sound economic theory. I can't say that what's in the book works, but I can say that similar things have worked for me.

I virtually never work more than 20 hours a week. More typically it's about 14 hours. If I work less than that I get bored and start something new.

I make six figures and split my time between Tokyo and San Francisco.

I've been doing all of this for around 8 years.

I could work 4 hours a week if I liked management more and my own work less. I'd make more money.

I have a friend who works in a different industry who keeps his work to around 10 hours a week, and has similar income and has been doing it for many years.

Neither of us have super-star level of skill. Maybe top 30% of our field, but not near the top 1%.

What's the trick?

Apparently we natively think similarly to Tim Ferriss because we've been doing it for years without the book. My time is the most valuable thing I have. When all is said and done, it's the only thing I have. I've always been fiercely protective of it. I'm not afraid to spend money to make money. Security for me is having control of my time rather than subcontracting my time out to others.

But in my many years I've decided that, frankly, either you got it or you don't.

In other words, if the book would work for you, you would already be doing it and wouldn't need the book. (Please prove me wrong on this.)

I have tried many many times to mentor people into taking the steps needed to do it. It doesn't take a lot of skill, just a certain way of thinking about value. And I have had zero success. Other independent professional slackers I know have the same luck trying to "convert" the willing. The change of reference of going from 9-5 to 2-4 is just too much for most people to get their head around (as evidenced by this question) much less base their lives on. Instead I get jealousy which I can happily do without, and "Oh, you're so lucky!" which is bullshit.

But as long as you keep thinking of it as luck or as only possible for special people, then you will never ever get there.

To butcher a quote from Abraham Lincoln: Most folks are about as successful as they make up their minds to be.
posted by Ookseer at 11:04 AM on August 2, 2007 [4 favorites]

So..... what do you do?
posted by electroboy at 11:10 AM on August 2, 2007

So..... what do you do?

*Sigh* I knew that was going to get asked. It doesn't really matter what you do. Here's a list of occupations over the years that I have seen people successfully* do on less than 20 hours a week (yes, that's more than 4, but probably less that you're working)

- Clothing designer
- Animator
- Software developer
- Project Manager
- Interface designer
- Sound engineer
- Photographer
- Package designer
- Farmer
- Author
- Floral arranger
- Musician
- Database engineer
- Cake decorator
- Teacher
- Sales (many different kinds)

*Successful = sole source of income and has at least median income. As far as I know.
posted by Ookseer at 11:38 AM on August 2, 2007 [2 favorites]

The change of reference of going from 9-5 to 2-4 is just too much for most people to get their head around (as evidenced by this question) much less base their lives on.

Ookseer - ouch! So basically I'm doomed to live a 9-5 existance. Yeah, I see your point, and admittedly the choices I have made in my life, for better or worse have led me down this path. But I have a hard time believing that you can't break out of the 9-5 mentality. Yes it will be difficult, but I think it really is a question of will.

For the longest time I believed a steady income from working in corporate life was the way to go, and I have survived both downsizing and outsourcing because I'm good at what I do. Recently, my company was acquired and I have received a lump sum distribution of my options. I have decided to invest that money in myself.

I don't think the lifestyle you or Tim have built for yourselves is out of luck, nor am I jealous. Quite frankly, the book opened my eyes to another way of doing things that I had not encountered before and it is something I am going to pursue. I have no illusions about the challenge, in fact that also appeals to me.

I have tried many many times to mentor people into taking the steps needed to do it. It doesn't take a lot of skill, just a certain way of thinking about value.

I am curious about the steps (as I'm sure the others that have read this are). I am also sure it is not something you can easily layout here.

Also out of curiosity, are you married and if so do you have kids? For the longest time, I assumed that this lifestyle was for single professionals, but in fact it seems you can have more time to spend with your family..again, an eye opener.

Thank you for adding to the mix.
posted by wisdom-seeker at 12:32 PM on August 2, 2007

While I nominally commend Ookseer’s ability and accomplishments, Ookseer is bringing this thread ever closer to the dreaded you-must-be-a-loser-if-you-can’t-monetize-your-intelligence territory.
posted by joeclark at 3:59 PM on August 2, 2007

I have neither read the book or a back-of-the-book summary. So what is the purported difference between those who conform to a 9 to 5 lifestyle and those who go out to make it 2 to 4?
posted by tksh at 6:19 PM on August 2, 2007

Maybe I should have phrased the question as "Has anyone moved from the 9-5 life to the kind of life that Tim describes in his book, and if so, how?"

As for Ookseer's comments, I don't think he is calling me or anyone in similar circumstances a looser; I think (and Ookseer, correct me if I'm wrong if you're still monitoring this thread) he is pointing out that it is very difficult to break the 9-5 mentality once you have it, to which I have to agree. It is a very seductive lifestyle. I also think that instead of actually modeling his behavior (not just the steps, but work ethic, philosophy, etc...) the people he has mentored thought it wasn't worth leaving their comfort zone.

But I guess the first step to break any addiction is to admit you have it..."Hi, my name is wisdom-seeker, and I'm a 9 to 5'er"....alltogether..."Hi wisdom-seeker"...

By the way, Ookseer, I read this and while I agree you have done well for yourself, a little humility does go a long way.
posted by wisdom-seeker at 6:52 PM on August 2, 2007

I read the materials on Ferris's website.

Schemes such as Ferris's closely resemble pyramid schemes because they're not sustainable by the masses of people who read the book looking for usable advice. I.e., what is not disclosed to readers is that Ferris's four-hour work-week is actually predicated on a clever gimmick such as writing a book promising a four-hour work-week. There are not enough clever gimmicks to go around, so the scheme fails to "scale" --- it works for Ferris but for hardly any of the people below him.

Similarly, people --- Ookseer included, I suspect --- who tell you they're earning six-figures in a fourteen-hour work-week are not disclosing something. Think of the economics of it. If Ookseer is making $100,000, the bare minimum six-figure salary, and working an average of 14 hours a week, that means his average hourly wage is $137 (if my calculations are correct). Hardly any fields of work would support such a wage --- if you were earning that much, you'd be trampled by the people clamoring to undersell you by making merely, say, $90 an hour. That's more than most physicians make.

(Notice that Ookseer won't answer the question about what he does. That's telling.)

Ferris's book tells a story that is just plausible enough to make dummies buy and read the book --- but try to implement it, and I expect there will be a near-perfect rate of failure if a four-hour work-week is really the goal.

To think that you could actually live comfortably on a four-hour workweek requires you to believe that you can defy the laws of economics. It's kind of like believing that there's a source of free, no-strings-attached money out there, for the taking, you just need to find it. The world doesn't work that way.
posted by jayder at 9:07 PM on August 2, 2007 [3 favorites]

Nice, ookseer. You neither answered the question, nor offered any useful information. You must be a consultant.
posted by electroboy at 10:03 PM on August 2, 2007

I'm not married, however I know two couples this kind of lifestyle has worked well for. One, the father is a stay-at-home father who is also the major breadwinner in his spare time. This allows the mother to donate time to charity. The other couple is married but has no children. It does let them travel together, but are fortunate enough to have a job that is location free (software development.)

However it is harder to make a significant lifestyle change when you are married and especially when you have children. I wish you the absolute very best of luck. If you have any specific questions about running a business from anywhere in the world, email addy in the profile.

I've picked up a copy of the book today to see if he has some insights into transferring the knowledge that I haven't discovered. If he does I'll revisit this thread and share more relevant information, because I do want you (all of you) to reach the next level of success, however you define it.

To me it has always made perfect sense. FedEx can deliver a package across the country much faster, cheaper and better than I myself can do it myself, so I pay them. Paying an accountant or lawyer is de rigeur for AskMe. Therefore it should apply to every other thing that is outside of my core competency. Most people

wouldn't have a job if someone didn't want to outsource work to them. This is basic economics going back to Adam Smith over 200 years ago. Anyone who sees this as contrary to economics, I recommend studying a bit more.

No it's not for everyone, but it could be for a much larger number of people who take advantage of it. It doesn't happen over night. It takes planning, commitment, passion and some skill.

For people who are interested in a slightly more substantive read I recommend The Sovereign Individual by James Dale Davidson and William Rees-Mogg. It is a bit apocalyptic, but the core of the book is very compelling to anyone who is interested in being independent from the system and the modern changes that can put you there.

Completely aside it does make me a bit sad that I'm the only one who contributed to this thread with first-hand experience (that yes, it is possible) and I get insulted for it. Now that is telling.

posted by Ookseer at 10:55 PM on August 2, 2007

Ookseer - I don't think people are insulting you (apart from what I read as a fairly light-hearted jibe about being a consultant). However, saying yes, it is possible! and then not telling people what you actually do seems a bit suspect at best.

This is AskMe - people are interested in specifics and hard-won experience (i.e. I did X and Y happened) not sweeping statements about X being possible if you plan it properly and have the WILL TO SUCCEED.

Frankly this is reminding me a great deal of Steve Pavlina's 10 reasons you should never get a job which irked me greatly with it's self-congratulatory tone and implication that anyone who hasn't got 'multiple income streams and the freedom to pursue what interests them' is somehow an idiot and a slave to TEH CAPITALISM.

And what pisses me off most is that when Pavlina or anyone else like him is asked to explain how they did what they did, or occasionally taken to task for being condescending assholes to the 'proles doing their little 9-5', they brush it off with 'oh, it's not my fault you don't have my VISION and WILL to control your own TIME, you brainwashed cattle you'.

I'm not saying, ookseer, that you're behaving like that, but as long as I read claims without proofs, I'll be putting you and your 20 hour workweek into my box marked 'believe it when I see it'.
posted by Happy Dave at 2:14 AM on August 3, 2007

Completely aside it does make me a bit sad that I'm the only one who contributed to this thread with first-hand experience (that yes, it is possible) and I get insulted for it. Now that is telling.

Ookseer --- I certainly haven't insulted you. I am just skeptical of the truth of what you are saying. You really haven't contributed any first-hand experience, only an unsupported claim that defies common sense. If someone asked the question, "Is it possible to defy gravity unaided by technology," and I answered, "Yes, I float to work every day, hovering approximately three feet above the sidewalk; if you've got the right attitude and the knack for it, you can do it too," I wouldn't really be contributing first-hand experience, but just making a wild claim unsupported by proof.

Here's a challenge: tell us exactly what you do, and give us a breakdown of how each of the fourteen hours in your typical workweek is spent. If what you say makes sense, you'll have gone a long way toward convincing me that the fourteen-hour workweek with a six-figure income is possible.
posted by jayder at 6:12 AM on August 3, 2007 [2 favorites]

One more thing ---

The basis of my skepticism is my belief that, in order for you to "make six figures per year," someone is choosing to pay you that kind of money; i.e., during the course of that year, some collection of people or entities are choosing to transfer money to you that adds up to six figures. And generally, people don't just give money away. And the question naturally arises, why are giving you money that amounts to $137 or more per hour? The question also arises, why aren't they besieged by people willing to do the same work for $30 per hour, $60 per hour, or $90 per hour? This is why we want to know what you do.

One popular way around the laws of economics is to make a living scamming the gullible --- like that dude who wears a bright-colored blazer covered with question marks, yelling about free government money; I would actually believe he works only a fourteen-hour week. I think that Tim Ferris is doing the equivalent of what the question-mark-blazer dude is doing, just in slightly "classier" packaging and appealing to a more upscale gullible clientele.
posted by jayder at 6:43 AM on August 3, 2007 [1 favorite]

I haven't read the books listed above, but I also know people who get by on work weeks in the 15-30 hour range. I could do it myself, but I haven't made the actual leap yet.
The people I know who can do that have established (or at least established the perception) that they are experts in their particular area. They generally perform task oriented functions, not time oriented functions, although they may be paid either by task, or by time (i.e. salary). Everyone *I* know that has this set up can do it because no one else can do the job as well as they can.

So the answer, I think, is to have that niche that no one else can fill (and ookseeker listed some professons above that are conducive to this).

From my experience, the people I've seen have been Research and Development, Marketers for a very unique product, or people that have proven experts in their field. In my experience, all of the people I know that now work in this fashion started in 9-5 jobs, but by hard work, skill and some luck became recognized and established in their field.

I do agree with ookseeker a bit (though I agree his lack of humility can be offputting) in that there is a sort of gestalt that occurs. In the cases I'm familiar with, there seems to come a time when they understand the system they work in sufficiently that they do not need the corporate bureaucracy to sustain them. Where they understand the complete process of delivering value in their key area, and have established relationships with enough sources that they can sustain themselves independent of the standard corporate mechanisms.

Basically, in redux, you become "famous", at least in you're particular niche.
posted by forforf at 9:02 AM on August 3, 2007

Shame this thread went quiet. Anyone still reading?
posted by Happy Dave at 7:03 AM on August 8, 2007

I'm still waiting for someone else that has actually made the transition and is willing to discuss how they did it. Either they don't want to share their secrets, or they're too buys to post :)...
posted by wisdom-seeker at 10:05 AM on August 8, 2007

sorry...too busy to post...
posted by wisdom-seeker at 10:05 AM on August 8, 2007

Ookseer takes on a tone similiar to MLM entrepreneurs I've dealt with in the past.
posted by chump at 2:40 PM on August 8, 2007

I'm a bit skeptical if anyone is reading at this point, but I said I'd check back in and so:

So I finished the book and I'll say that it very concisely said a lot of things that I've learned over the years. There's some stuff I don't know, like how successful you can be at weaning yourself off your time at the office since I just plain quit and had them hire me back as a consultant for a while (at around 10x my old hourly rate).

I'll take it chapter by chapter:
Step I: Definition.
Yup, plain and simple. The point isn't to be “rich” it's to be happily successful. I've found that happiness is a much harder decision than the alternative. You are only afraid of yourself. The worst that can happen is you'll be back where you started, and you'll be there anyway. The best that could happen is better than you can imagine now. Here's something to think about if you fell you can't be “rich”: There are over 7,000,000 millionaires in the United States. Why not you?

Step II: Elimination.
Again, yes. People are horrified when they learn that I don't pay attention to the news. And yet somehow I know what's going on in the world as well as anyone else. I've never met anyone who's gotten rid of their TV and has regretted it. Yet when I suggest it, people look at me like I'm an alien. I believe that much of TV watching (and news) is done so you'll have something in common to talk with people at work. Since you won't be chit-chatting much any more, why bother?

Oh, and staying focused is clear. When I moved out of the office my productivity jumped around 400% and has only increased since then. Do only one thing at at time and on your own schedule.

Limiting communication is essential. Unless you're a brain surgeon or a firefighter you do not need to be in constant contact, nor should anyone expect it of you. Managing expectations is a very important part of working remotely. If people expect that you'll answer every email with 5 minutes and be at every meeting, they'll find a way for you to do it. Cut the cord.

Step III: Automation
Most of this chapter is taken from the standard “How to start a successful business” books that have been around for a very long time. The only changes is that they've been updated to include Google adwords since I've read them. All of his points are sound.

Somehow I missed out on the “Get yourself an Indian assistant” craze. So I got one and so far she's worked out great. At first I only had two things for her (and her team) to do, but now I'm thinking up things pretty regularly. Very affordable, high quality, and they have a variety of services available so I don't have to go hunting on Craigslist every time I need an occasional skill.

Important parts of this part is to not charge too little. This is a constant rookie mistake that will destroy you. Aim high. Your goal isn't to be the biggest, the goal is to be the most profitable. Maserati sells around 200 cars a month, GM sells around 40,000 cars a month. Which would you rather own, and which company would you rather be head of?

It is also very important to structure the business so you require as little communication as possible. It might be a mid-afternoon call in New York, but in Tokyo it's 4am and I've got a bit of a buzz on. This brings me to...

Step IV: Liberation.
Take as much of this as you want. Depends on if you want to travel, or just live somewhere else. I like having a place to call “Home” and temporary apartments, hotels, etc are fine for a month or so. But after six months I found that I didn't want to buy anything for the place because I was going to leave, but it bothered me that everything I owned was very temporary. So now I keep a place that has the things in it I really enjoy, even if I'm only there less than half the year.

I can't emphasize how great and liberating it is to get rid of most of the stuff you own. Seriously, if you have any desire to travel it is only holding you back.

I don't have anyone with a power of attorney for me in the US. Seems like a good idea, but I'm not sure I trust my accountant that far. I wouldn't get a PO box from the US Post office. It can take forever these days. I have a business address with a little Mom-and-Pop mailbox company. They know me pretty well. I call them or email once every two or four weeks and have them sort my mail and send the important stuff to wherever I'm at. If they get a package or letter that they have to sign for they email me to see if they should do something special with it.

Skype is wonderful. Can't recommend it enough. You forward it to a phone or forward a phone to it. It has voicemail and you can even get several phone numbers in different area codes or countries and have them all ring the same number. I have a tiny little Skype phone the size of a deck of cards that I carry when I travel for more than a week.

Other than that I think he manages to travel 30% cheaper than I do. I need to look into that. The value of the dollar is so weak right now, it's hard to compare.

My bank (First Republic) doesn't charge an ATM fee (even reimburses other bank's atm fees) doesn't charge for foreign currency withdrawals (many banks do) and gives the best exchange rates, so its painless to get at my money when credit cards aren't well accepted.

Also take to heart his advice on avoiding freelancers when possible, and working with organizations. If a freelancer flakes out, it's your job to replace them. If an employee of a service bureau flakes out, it's their job to deal with it.

One thing he didn't touch on, and I find this to be true of everyone that has fled the rat race for a self defined lifestyle, is that you will cycle through the friends who can't keep up. (Unless you're already insufferably smug.) And it's not that you'll actually become a pompous ass (in my self validating opinion) but that you'll not have much in common any more. When the things you want to talk about are sharing a hot spring with some snow monkeys or the private party you went to with all of Sony Records top artists, or hiking to Shangri-la, rather than complaining about someone at work stealing your lunch and the horrible commute on the 101, and that movie that you didn't, couldn't and won't see, they'll tend to think you a snob.

As for all the prying questions into exactly what I do with all of my valuable time... I don't know you well enough to give you information on my private life. Why would I want to share that with strangers on the Internet? Despite what people think, I'm not trying to impress you with my life, I feel I'm a mostly ordinary guy who is trying to impress you with what you, another (I assume) ordinary person, could do to make yourself happy.

Good luck wisdom-seeker. Again, email in my profile if you have specific questions.
posted by Ookseer at 1:23 AM on August 16, 2007 [9 favorites]

I'm still here :). This is important to me so I recheck this thread periodically (although I suspect you and I are the only ones who do). Again, thank you for your input, Ookseer. If I have any questions, I will ask.
posted by wisdom-seeker at 12:27 PM on August 23, 2007

Ookseer nails it right on. The step-by-step bullet-list 12-step-guide details are meaningless ("what exactly do you do? who pays you?" etc.), it's the general direction you must be prepeared to take, and its cost (not necessarily financial) that is important.

Freedom is *really* costly, and believe it or not, it seems most people don't really want it. They think they do but when you show them what it takes, they waive their hands and say "oh no no that's not for me!" Seen it a hundred times.

I'm sorry if MeFi readers are more technically inclined and frown upon things that do not come with a parts list and directions. But hey, life doesn't either. ;)
posted by bopuc at 9:54 AM on August 28, 2007

You sad MLM guys make me laugh.
posted by dhoe at 12:52 AM on August 29, 2007 [1 favorite]

I just put the book on hold at the library, and am looking forward to reading it. Your list, ookseer, of occupations you've witnessed working out as "self-defined" lifestyles was actually kind of inspiring. I always, always assume that self-employed folks are programmers or other similar technically minded people. But now you've got me thinking . . .

Yeah, Tim uses the title to grab potential customers, but I thought JD Roth's review manages to show that there is wheat there amongst the chaff.
posted by qrs136 at 6:41 PM on August 29, 2007

I have always had the impression that while the messenger might have been slightly flawed, the message was sound.

There are a lot of good ideas, the point is to act on them.
posted by wisdom-seeker at 9:54 AM on September 5, 2007

Ookseer, your email address isn't in your profile.
posted by jayCampbell at 8:26 AM on September 18, 2007

I stumbled onto this site via Technorati. It looks really interesting. They are coming out with a book soon.

Location Independent Professionals

posted by wisdom-seeker at 8:52 AM on October 5, 2007

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