4 Hour Workweek | Productivity Tips from Timothy Ferriss

The 4-hour workweek

Posted on June 11, 2015 by Eleanor McKenzie
People working around a desk

I am quite sure that I am not the only person who would like to work less to achieve more. So, when I spotted an article about the “The Four Hour Workweek” I was intrigued. Especially, as the writer claimed it was an essential read for pre-retirees.

The 4-Hour Workweek” is a book by Silicon valley entrepreneur Tim Ferriss, who started a nutritional supplement company called BrainQUICKEN in 2001, a mere year after graduating from university. His products claim was that the nutrients could dramatically improve your short-term memory and your reactions within 60 minutes. While running the company he came up with the ‘4-hour’ concept and since then he has been recognised as a self-help supercoach, whose philosophies are hailed as life changing by a significant number of reviewers.

For example, Joshua Steimie of Forbes magazine recounts how the book changed his life in three critical areas: money, time and family. Steimie followed Ferriss’s advice and paid off business debts, lost 50 lbs, ran marathons and learnt how to spend more quality time with his family. This sounds like good results for a young entrepreneur, but what does Tim Ferriss’s best seller have to offer the 50+ entrepreneur, or the person about to retire altogether?

Making money

According to eminent American financial institution J.P. Morgan, the Baby Boomer generation is not ready for retirement financially speaking. Its report suggests that at 55 we should all have $500,000 saved for retirement, whereas most people surveyed had around $100,000. These may be American figures, but we can assume that the picture in the UK isn’t radically different to this. The answer to the problem, say the economists, is to work longer to compensate.

Many of the 50+ generation will work as freelancers and consultants, or we will start small businesses. We will be part of the entrepreneur culture and we need to think like the younger members of that growing group. This is where the 4-Hour Workweek can help: it shows us how to think beyond the paycheque mentality that many of us grew up with. It encourages you to look at ways of creating multiple income streams. It’s one of those books that may just make you see an opening where before there was just a dead end.

Expand time

As a fan of meditation, I noticed early on how a certain frame of mind appeared to expand time. Also, when I am in the calm space of mindfulness I am able to be more productive. Tim Ferris suggests ways you can rethink your use of time and use it more effectively to make more money in less time. He might claim that it isn’t lack of energy that is holding us back from being more productive once we’re over 50; it’s our poor time management skills.


Man relaxing in an office

The 80/20 rule

According to Tim, we should be ruthlessly applying his 80/20 principle: this is also called the Pareto principle and states that 80% of your results should come from 20% of your efforts. In an interview with Lifehack, Tim illustrates what this means in practical terms: he says that you should “fire high maintenance, low profit clients” and focus on the clients that produce 80% of your profits. He also suggests making a “not-to-do” list and outsource the rest.

Parkinson’s law

In addition to the 80/20 rule, he advises you combine it with Parkinson’s Law. This is the principle that “a task grows in perceived difficulty and complexity in direct relation to the time we allot it.” For example, if we have an emergency and have to leave our desk at 2pm, then we can suddenly get all our tasks finished by 2, instead of 5pm. To achieve this, we apply the 80/20 rule and prioritise the most important tasks, then we apply Parkinson’s law and shorten the deadlines for each task, and hey presto, we’ve finished!

Eliminate waste

Eliminating time-wasting activities and people is another Tim Ferriss philosophy. He describes it as “removing the nonessential and minimally important until you’re left with the bare essentials needed to achieve your target.”  He also insists on measuring outcomes, because he says “if you can’t measure it, you don’t understand it.” You should be measuring your income-to-hours ratio, and have a well-defined profits goal.

Tim may still only be 38 but it seems he may have some tips for us over 50s who are starting a business, or freelancing. Optimising our hours worked to profit must leave us more time for fun, although I doubt that many of us can achieve all our goals in four hours per week. Still, I don’t think Tim intended us to take it literally; it’s simply his smart way of applying the 80/20 principle.

by Eleanor McKenzie

Eleanor McKenzie is a Northern Irish writer with a passion for art, literature, and red wine. She's worked at advertising agency JWT, edited a journal for a European social policy think tank and tried to teach teenagers the difference between "there" and "their". Being 50+ has not significantly changed Eleanor's life, although she finds it a handy excuse when she wants to avoid anything too energetic.