Most people can only dream of working four hours a week. Yet one entrepreneur – Tim Ferriss – built up a successful brand name by teaching other people how to reprioritise their time in order to live life rather than working to live. The former Princeton lecturer and and self-coined “serial vagabond” is now a successful author, and investor, and was catapulted into the spotlight – and numerous US bestseller lists – with his 2007 book The 4-Hour Workweek.
The book revolutionised the concept of work-life balance and capitalises on what Ferriss describes as “the vast discrepancy between being busy and being productive."
Ferriss’ professional experience began back in 2000, where he worked for high technology start-ups “putting in the typical 80-100 work week that was so common during that period” and then later as CEO of his own start-up based in Silicon Valley.
“My experiences in a number of industries has allowed me to do research in such a way that I’ve connected dots and really been able to look at time as currency,” explains Ferriss. “And then look at how some of the top performers – ranging from employees to small business owners, to CEOs – allocate their time and get more output from less input.”
So how exactly can you implement the four-hour working week your life? Ferriss recommends taking a step back and following four key principles:
- Definition – define what it is you want to be doing
- Elimination – ask yourself three times a day ‘am I being productive, or am I being busy’
- Automation – delegate or automate the remaining tasks, or consider outsourcing personal tasks
- Liberation – enjoy your mobility and use the time you create.
Sounds simple enough, but if trimming your working week down to four hours is a far-off reality, Ferriss says not to take the title of the book too literally. “The question isn’t really can I work four hours a week, the question is how much can I streamline my work week, and so for some people that would be subtracting 30 hours, for others, 20 or 10 hours.”
Working hard for the money Ferriss is a firm believer that dramatic cutbacks can be made to free up large amounts of additional free time without sacrificing income. “Even to simply eliminate unpaid overtime so that you’re not working in the evenings or on the weekend, it’s a very valuable tool – there can be a very dramatic change in the quality of life as a result of making one change.”
And it is this very concept – of life becoming subordinate to work – that many people will at one stage in their professional career consider. Particularly for SMEs, time management is one of the key challenges and it can be difficult to strike a happy medium between life and work.
According to Ferriss: “I don’t really believe in the concept of work life balance because people are just blending the two, meaning that people are checking their emails first thing in the morning, before they go to bed, or they might check their [phone] at the dinner table.”
He says that as a result of this merging, people aren’t entirely focused on work or personal life. “It’s this constant state of perpetual distraction in the name of multi tasking generally.”
It’s an interesting theory and one that undoubtedly leads to some very relevant questions about how much time people spend being focused on work – the switch on, switch off mentality. Given the fact it is more the norm rather than the exception that work rules a significant part of our lives – whether we like it or not – it’s interesting to hear Ferriss’ take on the topic.
“I recognised it’s entirely possible to have financial success, but it’s also possible to have failure as a lifestyle, and also in the sense income is only valuable to the extent that you control your time; it’s I think one of the largest unaddressed problems in the digital world and everyone is part of that,” he says.
Go your own way
Ferriss concedes there has been some scepticism about a one-size-fits-all notion, but says the book is not limited to somebody with a similar profile such as his own. “The book is really not about how to duplicate my life – I act as the researcher or the guide, so the case studies range from single mothers with two or three children, all the way up to the 50 year old family man,” he says. “People can customise the lifestyle that is appropriate to them in their situation, their job, their position, their family, etc.” Ferriss isn’t trying to change people’s attitudes in regard to work. “What I do is offer small concepts or small strategies that are very easy to implement, low risk options that they can test, so the concept can be proven to them by themselves.”
Ferriss says that subtracting work in the office doesn’t automatically create life – rather, it creates a void. “You have to very proactively create a life for yourself … so the book [is about] designing the lifestyle that you want to have,” he says.
One cannot help but imagine the type of world we would live in if the principles in Ferriss’ book were adopted globally. Ferriss himself believes a number of things would change dramatically.
“Primarily I think it comes back to how we define work. I think that there is a shift from work being a place you go and company you belong to, towards work is something you do, and there’s a fundamental difference between these two things. [It’s about] really valuing and measuring performance instead of presence.”