I’ve just finished reading the ‘The 4-Hour Workweek’ by Tim Ferriss. Actually, I sped read it skipping over some of the typical hype that these popular books tend to have. Being very selective of what we read is actually one of Tim’s recommendations, so I’m sure he won’t be upset to learn that I didn’t feel the need to read his entire book. I found some of his business advice overly simplistic and similar to Robert Kiyosaki: “I made money in this one way so now I’m writing a book about it”. However a lot of the concepts in this book resonated with me. The book originally appealed to me since a number of these ideas are conclusions that I’ve already been considering and applying, though he brings a fresh perspective to these and has taken some to radical limits. The following is a brief overview of the interesting concepts:
Time is the scarce resource: Many people live life with the assumption that money is the scarce resource instead of time. In reality, it is time that you only have a set amount of and nothing can create more of it. Therefore we should really be maximising our time resource.
Definition of work: He defines work as being anything that you would like to do less of. I think the way he phrased this is an excellent definition. Therefore applying this definition personally, work includes commuting to work, mowing the lawn in the weekend, doing the dishes, and doing the laundry. That is why we have chosen to live in a city apartment, which avoids any commuting and lawns to mow. Last year we experimented with hiring a cleaner to come twice a week to do general cleaning as well as unstack the dishwasher and wash the dishes. It worked better than I even expected – we no longer vacuumed, mopped, washed the dishes, or unstacked the dish-washer.
Outsource your life: Anything that is work that you don’t have to do yourself, you can probably outsource. This is a concept I had come across in time-management before. That is, traditional time management may make you slightly more efficient but you still only have the same amount of time as before. Therefore the only real time management solution is to determine what really doesn’t need to be done and stop doing it, and then of the rest determining what someone else could do and stop doing it yourself. Tim Ferriss takes this to an additional level. He has even followed the traditional big corporate model of employing someone in Bangalore in India to be his personal assistant. Now if he needs to book air-line tickets, research a topic on the Internet, or pay his bills online, he just outsources it.
Mini-retirements: The typical life plan is based on the assumption that you don’t enjoy working and will some day be able to quit completely and never have to work again. Many people really enjoy their work, and it provides additional meaning and an extra social network to their life. Completely stopping this, leaving your social network, and doing something else doesn’t necessarily make much sense. And the consequence is that to achieve this and support yourself for the next 25 years, you need to save up a significant amount of money which requires a lot of focused work and saving. Instead he suggests taking mini-retirements. These may be a 3 month trip somewhere or a 6 month break to do something completely different, with the expectation that you will take mini-retirements throughout your life instead of retiring permanently at 65.
Money requirements: A lot of literature calculates how much we need to retire – and it is a lot of money. That is because it assumes that we’ll retire at 65, live until 90, and will need to save up enough money so that we can afford this. Tim suggests that if we assume that we won’t ever retire permanently, then retirement saving is more like a life-insurance policy. It is a back-up in case you become physically and mentally unable to work. Therefore if you don’t plan to retire at 65, you need to save a lot less and therefore you may be wealthier already than you consider. He also points out that if we take mini-retirements instead of binge-travelling (spending 3 months in Thailand in simple accommodation instead of a 2 week period of travelling through 5 different countries at a flat-tack pace) then the cost of these experiences are significantly less. Tim mentions an investment banker, who is working ridiculous hours, with the hope to be able to retire in 10 years time. When Tim asks him what he plans to do once he retires, he says that he would like to spend a few months just sitting on a beach in Thailand, and would like to ride a motorbike across China. Tim points out, that he could do both of these for a few thousand dollars.
Become comfortable with a simple life: His point here is that you don’t need a lot of money to live a rich and enjoyable life. We need to overcome our fear of losing what we have, and to do this we need to realise that we don’t need most of the stuff we have to enjoy a good life. I personally, don’t find this concept very hard. I recommend that anyone who does, to walk the Camino de Santiago. It is a 800km walk across Spain, and something that I gained from it was a reconfirmation of perspective that all you need is a good company, simple food, and a glass of cheap wine with dinner to be happy. The sun-rises in the early morning and the fields of wild flowers can be enjoyed for no cost.
Selective Ignorance: Essentially his point is that we spend a lot of time reading the latest updates online, reading newspapers, checking our email, etc… and it is actually a poor use of our time. He has stopped reading newspaper completely, apart from checking the headlines as he passes a newsstand. And he only checks his email once a day. He points out that for the important things that are going on in the world, he can gather the majority from the brief headlines in the newsstands and from other people – a good conversation starter is “I haven’t been able to keep up with the news recently, what is going on in the world?” This is a concept that I find difficult to reconcile with my values. But I do acknowledge that I spend far too much time reading the latest news, checking my email, and the latest share-market movements and announcements.
So he has some fresh perspectives on some interesting concepts. Now you need to consider that you have just finished reading this blog entry. Was this really a good use of your time? Do you think that Tim Ferriss will be reading other people’s blog entries – if he felt that keeping up to date with blogs about himself was important I’m sure there is someone somewhere in the world that he has outsourced that task to. And for me, was writing this blog a good use of my time, or could I outsource the writing of this blog to someone else?!