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I picked up this title on Audible after hearing Ali Abdaal sing its praises on numerous occasions in his YouTube videos (Ali’s a great productivity YouTuber, check out his channel here). As I have found a lot of Ali’s material on productivity very helpful (in no small part due to his contagious motivation to get things done), I decided to give The Four Hour Work Week a whirl.
The Burnout Problem
Personally, I spend around 9-10 hours per weekday in the office (and potentially longer when we have particularly involved projects on the go). Couple that with a commute time of one hour each way and I’m left with perhaps 12 hours during each weekday with which to sleep, exercise and attend to all of life’s other matters besides work. I am not suggesting that my schedule is abnormal or even above average compared with other workers. On the contrary, I would expect that the amount of time I spend in the office is probably around the average. This assumption would perhaps provide a partial explanation for the increasing frequency of news reports on employee burnout.
In a society where long hours are just the accepted norm and necessary for employees to appear hardworking (even if those extended hours are not necessarily productive), the provocative title to this audiobook of The Four Hour Work Week is enticing and bound to raise a sceptical eyebrow or two. My eyebrow was certainly raised, but I was still interested to hear the author’s explanation of how anything close to a four hour work week could be achieved.
Who is Tim Ferriss?
The author, Tim Ferriss, has dabbled in many lines of work, the latest of which appears to be his podcast series, The Tim Ferriss Show (which I’ve added to my to-check-out list). His move into the podcast realm is perhaps a little more sensible and structured than his lifestyle described within The Four Hour Work Week, where he provides a brief run-through of activities you might catch him in the middle of were you to try and contact him. His hobbies are certainly the things daydreams are made of, citing motorcycle racing in Europe, scuba diving off a private island in Panama and resting under a palm tree between kickboxing sessions in Thailand (to name but a few).
How to be More Like Jim Carrey in Yes Man
The main thrust of the book is to help steer you on a course toward being able to enjoy the globetrotter lifestyle full time, should you so wish. Of course, to do so requires money, but as Tim underlines, the cost of such escapades is most likely far less than you might first imagine. There is a whole section of the book where he provides actual figures for the cost of certain exotic endeavours (which are often surprisingly low even compared to just maintaining your current status quo e.g. your current rent and monthly outgoings). However, what Tim really touches upon is the idea that many of us will use the expense argument to convince ourselves that exotic travel is not possible. By deflecting any questions on the subject with this response, we can continue to put off our plans and remain in our comfort zone indefinitely. If the expense is not cited as the reason, it’s our work commitments or having young children or a whole host of other possible excuses. What the book quite rightly points out is that many of the barriers to fulfilling our travel and lifestyle aspirations are self-imposed.
I think what I like best about the Four Hour Work Week is that Tim Ferriss writes it with a certain attitude which is filled with joie de vivre and a sense of adventure. Although the book deals with nitty gritty elements to help you in your endeavours to achieve this lifestyle, it still feels like it has been written with the optimism of someone who is still excited about the world and realises that there is more to it than being a compliant cubicle occupant. In this way, it sort of puts me in mind of the Jim Carrey movie, Yes Man. In this scenario, the reader is the main character Carl. Tim Ferriss certainly seems like the kind of guy who would not say no to a fun new opportunity.
As you may have guessed, being able to adopt Tim’s Kerouac-esque lifestyle firstly requires you to develop a source of income which does not require your physical presence and which is either passive (ideally) or which only requires minimal remote input from you (as the audiobook title suggests, no more than four hours per week). As an example of the latter point, Tim cites his experience in creating a nutritional supplement company. After he reached a burnout breaking point in trying to run the operation single-handedly, he gradually outsourced different elements of the business until he was essentially in the role of overseer. With his involvement limited to making only the big decisions and cashing cheques, he was thus freed up to pursue the aforementioned adventures.
In theory, this sounds great, but let’s explore some of the book’s key themes to determine whether it is actually feasible to get to the point where you are earning so much passive income that you are effectively free to globetrot to your heart’s content.
Baby Steps: Timesaving Productivity Hacks
First off, the book recognises that most people reading this sort of book are probably already full time workers with varying degrees of time commitment outside of the workplace. Whether you’re a part time worker with few responsibilities and plenty of time to devote to side hustles or a new parent on a 5-year-running streak of working overtime, the suggestion is that we can all free up a little more time by being just a bit more efficient in our daily lives.
Tim makes some fair points for activities that can often be time wasters, particularly his aversion to unnecessarily long meetings, the content of which could probably be divulged far more concisely via a group email. On the other hand, his proposed solution for dealing with a workplace with a meeting culture (by just making up excuses to bail out of any meeting deemed unimportant) is perhaps less realistic. To be continually (and deceitfully) excusing yourself from your department meetings seems like a recipe to get you in trouble (management will inevitably see through your excuses) and to become ostracised by your colleagues (excusing yourself to get on with your work as though they don’t also have deadlines they would rather be trying to meet).
Similarly, other suggestions like hiring a virtual assistant to help you with your work sounds like a massive GDPR breach waiting to happen. Even hiring a virtual assistant for your personal life alone seems a little overkill, unless you’re a serious socialite.
However, I do agree with Tim that there are a lot of routine everyday activities that each of us can probably make more efficient and less time-consuming. For instance, his recommendation to adopt a more decisive and concise approach to emails (i.e. never answering a question with a question and dragging out correspondence unnecessarily). His recommendation that emails are dealt with in bulk twice per day (rather than dealing with them ad hoc as and when they arrive) is another worthwhile hack to prevent you from being sidetracked when you’re already in the middle of something and mid-flow.
His discussion of Parkinson’s Law is definitely a significant takeaway from the book for me. This is the principle that when you have been given a deadline for a task, you will end up filling all the time allotted before the deadline no matter how far out it is. For instance, if you have a week to finish a task, you will more than likely take a week doing it. However, had that same task been given to you with only a 24 hour deadline, you would probably still have been able to pull it off just by adjusting your pace accordingly and being less precious in your proof reading.
For this reason, keeping this principle on the mind is very useful for those who are considering starting a side hustle to make some extra cash on the side, but who don’t think they have the time. As Tim also points out, it’s not about having the time per se, but rather making the time for something which you deem important. For instance, if you are really pressed for time during weekdays, even finding just a 20 minute window where you can focus intensely on your chosen project each day will still add up to more progress than someone who only finds time for their side project at the weekend.
I actually find that the free time offered by weekends can be quite counterintuitive to being productive. With all the free time stretching before me on Saturday mornings, it is very easy to end up rinsing away this precious time with time sinks such as YouTube. With these social media platforms becoming increasingly clickbaity to keep you on the website for longer than planned, it is often difficult to close the tab and actually get on with one of the goals on my to-do list.
So if you’re also intending to get down to some focused side-project work whether during the week or at the weekend, keep Parkinson’s Law on the mind and use a timer to monitor your period of focus.
Beginning and Nurturing Your Passive Income Project
Deciding to dedicate part of your free time to a side project to generate additional income is easy enough, but where do you channel this energy and enthusiasm? The Four Hour Work week makes a number of suggestions and provides a few examples of successful passive enterprises, but the message is clear: the internet offers vast opportunity for developing a business you can manage remotely, but there is no defined route to developing a successful passive income stream.
To give yourself the best odds of success, Tim’s suggestion is to focus in on a niche which you are knowledgeable on and be a member of your target market. In this way, you will be a far better judge of what your market is looking for and you are far more likely to maintain your enthusiasm to keep up the project. I started this blog for this very reason. I was interested in productivity and self improvement and I was already a reader of books and follower of YouTubers on these subjects, so I figured this would be a great niche for me to pursue.
Let’s take a look at some of the examples used in The Four Hour Work Week and some of my own ideas for possible passive income projects.
One of the examples Tim uses is a friend’s website which sells professional sound effect libraries in CD format for sound engineers working on media such as television, film and video games. However, although his friend was advertising the sound bank libraries on his website, he didn’t actually hold any inventory of the soundbanks himself. If he received an order, he would just forward the order details on to the actual manufacturer who would then process the order and mail the product to the customer. By referring the sale to the manufacturer, the friend would receive a percentage of the sale price in commission. This is a business activity known as drop-shipping and it remains very much in vogue today. Shopify have a great guide on dropshipping if you’re interested in finding out more – click here to be redirected. There appear to be a lot of success stories on YouTube for this type of activity, but I have no experience with Shopify so cannot comment on whether good results from Shopify are common or extraordinary.
Producing Your Own Product (e.g. eBook)
Another example used in The Four Hour Work Week involved the creation of an instructional DVD aimed at owners of storage facilities who wanted to install security systems (a very specific niche indeed). Such DVDs were advertised for sale via trade magazines at a significant mark-up on the cost involved in actually producing and manufacturing the product itself. As physical media such as DVDs and CDs have now been almost entirely replaced by direct downloads or streaming, the equivalent to this info-product example would probably be writing an eBook for sale on Amazon.
The message which Tim underlines is that it is not necessary for you to be the world’s greatest expert on a topic for you to consider putting together an eBook, provided you can provide value to potential readers. I think this last point is well made. I have certainly had the feeling that I am not sufficiently well versed on a subject to consider writing about it, the result being that I have just chosen inaction over actually doing something. But at what stage are you qualified to write a novel, a manual on motorbike maintenance or a guide on looking after succulents? Adopt this defeatist attitude for long enough and years can go by without you even transitioning from the drawing board to taking active steps on a project. Provided you are honest in your delivery and you are not holding yourself out as an expert irresponsibly, Tim’s message to just have a go is valuable.
Other Side Income Options
So what are some other possible options for developing a passive side income online today? Well, the first option I’d recommend is blogging! This is a great medium for writing on a subject you are interested in and it’s great practice if you are considering going the whole hog and writing a full length eBook in future. I monetise my blog by using affiliate links to refer sales of products on sites like Amazon and through advertising, but there are many more ways to generate income from your blog. For example, if you were ultimately to commit to writing an eBook, you could use your blog and your audience as a great platform to sell copies and generate your first readership.
A great example of a successful blog I follow which generates significant revenue is Making Sense of Cents, check it out here for inspiration.
Another great idea for passive side income is YouTube (which can be used in coalition with your blog). Similarly to blogging, YouTube is another great way to find an audience and generate advertising revenue as well as affiliate commissions and sales of your own products. There are also quite a number of ways to make videos which don’t necessarily involve you having to be on camera. For example, a channel where you give your commentary on a niche topic. Content creators can also couple their blog and YouTube presence with monetisation platforms such as Patreon, whereby followers can choose to make monthly payments in exchange for exclusive perks or content.
A great example of a successful blog/YouTube combo I have seen is Succulents and Sunshine, check them out here for inspiration.
Links to Buy a Copy of The Four Hour Work Week
Naturally, there is way more content in The Four Hour Work Week than I have covered in this blog post (including suggestions for how to convince your boss to let you work remotely, outsourcing routine elements of your side hustle and making time for “mini retirements” throughout your life rather than waiting until you properly retire for the really life changing holidays). I have just focused on some of the highlights I have read (well, listened to on Audible) so far.
If you like what you’ve read here and want the full experience, I have placed my Amazon affiliate links so that you can pick up your own copy below:
Let me know in the comments if you’ve read this one and your thoughts!