The Four-Hour Workweek is a self-help book written by Tim Ferriss, and arguably set the tone for the more hustler-oriented culture of the 2010s. In this book, Ferriss emphasizes the concept of lifestyle design, which involves designing your life in a way that allows you to have more free time and engage in activities that you enjoy — the ultimate goal of which being that titular “four-hour workweek”. But is this lifestyle design even something possible or practical for the rest of us?
The first issue with the book is that a lot of its suggestions may not be so simple if you already have a full-time job. Ferriss suggests that having a full-time job and working on lifestyle design is possible, but most of his prescriptions are not valid on this. Your employer would absolutely refuse to allow you to use a third-party virtual assistant for job tasks (honestly, virtual assistants were something that were much more trendy when the book was written anyway) , and your co-workers will likely fight back if you try to offload tasks to them in the name of “designing your lifestyle”. Moreover, most full-time jobs assume that you are at your desk from 9 to 5, even if it is remote work. For example, even if you do work for your full-time job, your boss will probably expect you to pick up a last-minute phone call or meeting with the assumption that you are ready and able at a given time. If you suddenly go off-grid, they’ll know something is up. So much for those daiquiris in Bali!
Of course, Ferriss mostly assumes you take on entrepreneurship, in which case my previous two complaints are countered. Fair enough. The problem is, however, that entrepreneurship comes with its own set of risks and challenges. For someone who might know exactly what they want to do, and are already entrepreneurial minded, this isn’t as big of an issue. But Four-Hour Workweek is meant as a prescription for everyone — after all, who wouldn’t like to spend most of their waking hours focusing on what they find important?
I won’t spend much time talking about the risks of entrepreneurship, since they are mostly known to everyone. However, I will spend some time to chide on Four-Hour specific anecdotes. Many business ideas discussed in the book, such as dropshipping, are already saturated or out of fashion. Moreover, there is no guarantee that, even if your entrepreneurial venture is a success, that it will only require ~4 hours a week — in fact, it might even require more than your old job.
At the end of the day, though, I do have to give Four-Hour Workweek some credit where credit is due. I do think, at the end of the day, that lifestyle design is possible. I just wouldn’t phrase it in perhaps the same way Ferriss did. For example, you can try combining remote work with a meeting-lite job, where the KPIs and progress is mostly project-oriented — giving you the ability to be able to automate a lot of it away. Additionally, you can work on entrepreneurship during your now cut-down full-time work and nurture it into something you can launch into fully (and less riskily) later.
And, to Ferriss’ credit, I don’t think he would write Four-Hour the same way again if given the chance. The real evergreen concept in the book is just the idea that you do not need to be tied down by traditional standards of work and career, and that is very much valid. What changes is how it all looks.