4-Hour Work Week Cover

4-Hour Work Week - By Tim Ferriss

Date read: 
September 18, 2012
See My Collection of 50+ Book Notes

My Thoughts

This book changed my life. Offers a near-timeless blueprint for learning how to say "no", question your assumptions and making better use of your time, money, and life.

Summary Notes

Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.


Anyone who lives within their means suffers from a lack of imagination.

—OSCAR WILDE, Irish dramatist and novelist

Everyone seemed to be discussing how to build large and successful companies, sell out, and live the good life. Fair enough. The question no one really seemed to be asking or answering was, Why do it all in the first place? What is the pot of gold that justifies spending the best years of your life hoping for happiness in the last?

Reality is negotiable. Outside of science and law, all rules can be bent or broken, and it doesn’t require being unethical.

Here is the step-by-step process you’ll use to reinvent yourself:

- D  for Definition

  This section explains the overall lifestyle design recipe—the fundamentals—before we add the three ingredients.

- E for Elimination

- A  for Automation

  Puts cash flow on autopilot using geographic arbitrage, outsourcing, and rules of nondecision.

- L  for Liberation

  Is the mobile manifesto for the globally inclined. The concept of mini-retirements is introduced

These individuals have riches just as we say that we “have a fever,” when really the fever has us.

— SENECA (4 B.C.–A.D. 65)

What separates the New Rich from others

- Work for yourself vs have others work for you

- Work when you want to vs do the minimum necessary for maximum effect

- Retire young vs doing that which excites you right now

- To buy all the things you want vs doing all the things you want to do and be all the things you want to be

- Being the boss instead of the employee vs being the owner.

- To have more vs having more quality and less clutter

- To have freedom from doing that which you dislike vs having the freedom from doing that which you dislike and resolve to pursue your dreams without reverting to work for work's sake.

Money is multiplied in practical value depending on the number of W’s you control in your life: what you do, when you do it, where you do it, and with whom you do it.

Different is better when it is more effective or more fun. If everyone is defining a problem or solving it one way and the results are subpar, this is the time to ask, What if I did the opposite? Don’t follow a model that doesn’t work. If the recipe sucks, it doesn’t matter how good a cook you are.

The following rules are the fundamental differentiators to keep in mind throughout this book.

  1. Retirement Is Worst-Case-Scenario Insurance.
  2. Retirement as a goal or final redemption is flawed for at least three solid reasons:
  3. - It is predicated on the assumption that you dislike what you are doing during the most physically capable years of your life.
  4. - Most people will never be able to retire and maintain even a hotdogs-for-dinner standard of living. Even one million is chump change in a world where traditional retirement could span 30 years and inflation lowers your purchasing power 2–4% per year. The math doesn’t work.
  5. - If the math does work, it means that you are one ambitious, hardworking machine. If that’s the case, guess what? One week into retirement, you’ll be so damn bored that you’ll want to stick bicycle spokes in your eyes.
  6. Interest and Energy Are Cyclical.
  7. By working only when you are most effective, life is both more productive and more enjoyable. It’s the perfect example of having your cake and eating it, too.
  8. Personally, I now aim for one month of overseas relocation or high-intensity learning (tango, fighting, whatever) for every two months of work projects.
  9. Less Is Not Laziness.
  10. Doing less meaningless work, so that you can focus on things of greater personal importance, is NOT laziness.”
  11. The Timing Is Never Right.
  12. The timing is never right to have a baby.
  13. If it’s important to you and you want to do it “eventually,” just do it and correct course along the way.
  14. Ask for Forgiveness, Not Permission.
  15. Get good at being a troublemaker and saying sorry when you really screw up.
  16. Emphasize Strengths, Don’t Fix Weaknesses.
  17. Most people are good at a handful of things and utterly miserable at most.
  18. It is far more lucrative and fun to leverage your strengths instead of attempting to fix all the chinks in your armor. The choice is between multiplication of results using strengths or incremental improvement fixing weaknesses that will, at best, become mediocre. Focus on better use of your best weapons instead of constant repair.
  19. Things in Excess Become Their Opposite.
  20. Money Alone Is Not the Solution.
  21. “If only I had more money” is the easiest way to postpone the intense self-examination and decision-making necessary to create a life of enjoyment—now and not later.
  22. Relative Income Is More Important Than Absolute Income.
  23. Absolute income is measured using one holy and inalterable variable: the raw and almighty dollar.
  24. Relative income uses two variables: the dollar and time, usually hours.
  25. Distress Is Bad, Eustress Is Good.
  26. Distress refers to harmful stimuli that make you weaker, less confident, and less able.
  27. Eustress, on the other hand, is a word most of you have probably never heard. Eu-, a Greek prefix for “healthy,” is used in the same sense in the word “euphoria.” Role models who push us to exceed our limits, physical training that removes our spare tires, and risks that expand our sphere of comfortable action are all examples of eustress—stress that is healthful and the stimulus for growth.

  • How has being “realistic” or “responsible” kept you from the life you want?
  • How has doing what you “should” resulted in subpar experiences or regret for not having done something else?
  • Look at what you’re currently doing and ask yourself, “What would happen if I did the opposite of the people around me? What will I sacrifice if I continue on this track for 5, 10, or 20 years?”

“Many a false step was made by standing still." — Fortune Cookie

“Action may not always bring happiness, but there is no happiness without action." — Benjamin Disreali

I realized that on a scale of 1–10, 1 being nothing and 10 being permanently life-changing, my so-called worst-case scenario might have a temporary impact of 3 or 4. I believe this is true of most people and most would-be “holy sh*t, my life is over” disasters. Keep in mind that this is the one-in-a-million disaster nightmare. On the other hand, if I realized my best-case scenario, or even a probable-case scenario, it would easily have a permanent 9 or 10 positive life-changing effect. In other words, I was risking an unlikely and temporary 3 or 4 for a probable and permanent 9 or 10, and I could easily recover my baseline workaholic prison with a bit of extra work if I wanted to.


  1. Define your nightmare, the absolute worst that could happen if you did what you are considering.
  2. Envision them in painstaking detail. Would it be the end of your life? What would be the permanent impact, if any, on a scale of 1–10? Are these things really permanent? How likely do you think it is that they would actually happen?
  3. What steps could you take to repair the damage or get things back on the upswing, even if temporarily?
  4. What are the outcomes or benefits, both temporary and permanent, of more probable scenarios? Now that you’ve defined the nightmare, what are the more probable or definite positive outcomes, whether internal (confidence, self-esteem, etc.) or external? What would the impact of these more-likely outcomes be on a scale of 1–10? How likely is it that you could produce at least a moderately good outcome? Have less intelligent people done this before and pulled it off?
  5. If you were fired from your job today, what would you do to get things under financial control?
  6. What are you putting off out of fear? Usually, what we most fear doing is what we most need to do. That phone call, that conversation, whatever the action might be—it is fear of unknown outcomes that prevents us from doing what we need to do. Define the worst case, accept it, and do it.
  7. What is it costing you—financially, emotionally, and physically—to postpone action? If you don’t pursue those things that excite you, where will you be in one year, five years, and ten years?
  8. What are you waiting for? If you cannot answer this without resorting to the previously rejected concept of good timing, the answer is simple: You’re afraid, just like the rest of the world.

It’s lonely at the top. Ninety-nine percent of people in the world are convinced they are incapable of achieving great things, so they aim for the mediocre. The level of competition is thus fiercest for “realistic” goals, paradoxically making them the most time-and energy-consuming. It is easier to raise $1,000,000 than it is $100,000. It is easier to pick up the one perfect 10 in the bar than the five 8s.

If the potential payoff is mediocre or average, so is your effort.

The question you should be asking isn’t, “What do I want?” or “What are my goals?” but “What would excite me?”

"Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better." — Samuel Beckett


  1. What would you do if there were no way you could fail? If you were 10 times smarter than the rest of the world? Create two timelines—6 months and 12 months—and list up to five things you dream of having (including, but not limited to, material wants: house, car, clothing, etc.), being (be a great cook, be fluent in Chinese, etc.), and doing (visiting Thailand, tracing your roots overseas, racing ostriches, etc.) in that order.
  2. Drawing a blank?
  3. - What would you do, day to day, if you had $100 million in the bank?
  4. - What would make you most excited to wake up in the morning to another day?
  5. Don’t rush—think about it for a few minutes. If still blocked, fill in the five “doing” spots with the following:
  6. - one place to visit
  7. - one thing to do before you die (a memory of a lifetime)
  8. - one thing to do daily
  9. - one thing to do weekly
  10. - one thing you’ve always wanted to learn
  11. What does “being” entail doing?
  12. Convert each “being” into a “doing” to make it actionable. Identify an action that would characterize this state of being or a task that would mean you had achieved it.
  13. What are the four dreams that would change it all?
  14. Using the 6-month timeline, star or otherwise highlight the four most exciting and/or important dreams from all columns. Repeat the process with the 12-month timeline if desired.
  15. Determine the cost of these dreams and calculate your Target Monthly Income (TMI) for both timelines.
  16. If financeable, what is the cost per month for each of the four dreams (rent, mortgage, payment plan installments, etc.)? Start thinking of income and expense in terms of monthly cash flow—dollars in and dollars out—instead of grand totals.
  17. Determine three steps for each of the four dreams in just the 6-month timeline and take the first step now.
  18. Define three steps for each dream that will get you closer to its actualization. Set actions—simple, well-defined actions—for now, tomorrow (complete before 11 A.M.) and the day after (again completed before 11 A.M.).
  19. Once you have three steps for each of the four goals, complete the three actions in the “now” column. Do it now. Each should be simple enough to do in five minutes or less. If not, rachet it down.

To have an uncommon lifestyle, you need to develop the uncommon habit of making decisions, both for yourself and for others.

Effectiveness is doing the things that get you closer to your goals. Efficiency is performing a given task (whether important or not) in the most economical manner possible. Being efficient without regard to effectiveness is the default mode of the universe.

Here are two truisms to keep in mind:

Doing something unimportant well does not make it important.

Requiring a lot of time does not make a task important.

80% of the consequences flow from 20% of the causes.

80% of the results come from 20% of the effort and time.

80% of company profits come from 20% of the products and customers.

80% of all stock market gains are realized by 20% of the investors and 20% of an individual portfolio.

The ratio is often skewed even more severely: 90/10, 95/5, and 99/1 are not uncommon, but the minimum ratio to seek is 80/20.

Which 20% of sources are causing 80% of my problems and unhappiness?

Which 20% of sources are resulting in 80% of my desired outcomes and happiness?

There is often no incentive to use time well unless you are paid on commission.

Parkinson’s Law dictates that a task will swell in (perceived) importance and complexity in relation to the time allotted for its completion.

There are two synergistic approaches for increasing productivity that are inversions of each other:

Limit tasks to the important to shorten work time (80/20).

Shorten work time to limit tasks to the important (Parkinson’s Law).

“Love of bustle is not industry."— SENECA

Ask yourself: Am I being productive or just active?

Am I inventing things to do to avoid the important?

  1. If you had a heart attack and had to work two hours per day, what would you do?
  2. If you had a second heart attack and had to work two hours per week, what would you do?
  3. If you had a gun to your head and had to stop doing 4/5 of different time-consuming activities, what would you remove?
  4. What are the top-three activities that I use to fill time to feel as though I’ve been productive?
  5. Who are the 20% of people who produce 80% of your enjoyment and propel you forward, and which 20% cause 80% of your depression, anger, and second-guessing?


  • Positive friends versus time-consuming friends: Who is helping versus hurting you, and how do you increase your time with the former while decreasing or eliminating your time with the latter?
  • Who is causing me stress disproportionate to the time I spend with them? What will happen if I simply stop interacting with these people? Fear-setting helps here.
  • When do I feel starved for time? What commitments, thoughts, and people can I eliminate to fix this problem?”

  1. Learn to ask, “If this is the only thing I accomplish today, will I be satisfied with my day?”

"A wealth of information creates a poverty of attention"— Herbert Simon

Develop the habit of asking yourself, “Will I definitely use this information for something immediate and important?”

It’s not enough to use information for “something”—it needs to be immediate and important. If “no” on either count, don’t consume it.

“Meetings are an addictive, highly self-indulgent activity that corporations and other organizations habitually engage in only because they cannot actually masturbate." — Dave Barry

“A man is rich in proportion to the number of things he can afford to let alone." — Henry David Thoreau

How to pick a product to sell

Step One: Pick an Affordably Reachable Niche Market

Don’t create a product, then seek someone to sell it to. Find a market—define your customers—then find or develop a product for them.

Ask yourself the following questions to find profitable niches:

  1. Which social, industry, and professional groups do you belong to, have you belonged to, or do you understand, whether dentists, engineers, rock climbers, recreational cyclists, car restoration aficionados, dancers, or other?
  2. Which of these groups have their own dedicated media presence?

Step Two: Brainstorm (Do Not Invest In) Products

There are several criteria that ensure the end product will fit into an automated architecture:

  • The Main Benefit Should Be Encapsulated in One Sentence.
  • It Should Cost the Customer $50–200.
  • Higher pricing means that we can sell fewer units—and thus manage fewer customers—and fulfill our dreamlines. It’s faster.
  • Higher pricing attracts lower-maintenance customers (better credit, fewer complaints/questions, fewer returns, etc.). It’s less headache. This is HUGE.
  • Higher pricing also creates higher profit margins. It’s safer.
  • I have found that a price range of $50–200 per sale provides the most profit for the least customer service hassle. Price high and then justify.
  • It Should Take No More Than 3 to 4 Weeks to Manufacture.
  • It Should Be Fully Explainable in a Good Online FAQ.

To get an accurate indicator of commercial viability, don’t ask people if they would buy—ask them to buy. The response to the second is the only one that matters.

Step Three: Micro-Test Your Products

The basic test process consists of three parts, each of which is covered in this chapter.

Best: Look at the competition and create a more-compelling offer on a basic one-to-three-page website (one to three hours).

Test: Test the offer using short Google Adwords advertising campaigns (three hours to set up and five days of passive observation).

Divest or Invest: Cut losses with losers and manufacture the winner(s) for sales rollout.

Removing Yourself from the Equation: When and How

Phase I: 0–50 Total Units of Product Shipped

Do it all yourself. Put your phone number on the site for both general questions and order-taking—this is important in the beginning—and take customer calls to determine common questions that you will answer later in an online FAQ.

Phase II: >10 Units Shipped Per Week

Add the extensive FAQ to your website and continue to add answers to common questions as received. Find local fulfillment companies in the yellow pages under “fulfillment services” or “mailing services.”

Phase III: >20 Units Shipped Per Week

Now you will have the cash flow to afford the setup fees and the monthly minimums that bigger, more sophisticated outsourcers will ask for. Call the end-to-end fulfillment houses that handle it all—from order status to returns and refunds.

The art of “undecision” refers to minimizing the number of decisions your customers can or need to make. Here are a few methods that I and other NR have used to reduce service overhead 20–80%:

  • Offer one or two purchase options (“basic” and “premium,” for example) and no more.
  • Do not offer multiple shipping options. Offer one fast method instead and charge a premium.
  • Do not offer overnight or expedited shipping (it is possible to refer them to a reseller who does, as is true with all of these points), as these shipping methods will produce hundreds of anxious phone calls.
  • Eliminate phone orders completely and direct all prospects to online ordering. This seems outrageous until you realize that success stories like Amazon.com have depended on it as a fundamental cost-saver to survive and thrive.
  • Do not offer international shipments. Spending 10 minutes per order filling out customs forms and then dealing with customer complaints when the product costs 20–100% more with tariffs and duties is about as fun as headbutting a curb. It’s about as profitable, too.

The 30-day money-back guarantee is dead. It just doesn’t have the pizzazz it once did. If a product doesn’t work, I’ve been lied to and will have to spend an afternoon at the post office to return it. This costs me more than just the price I paid for the product, both in time and actual postage. Risk elimination just isn’t enough.

This is where we enter the neglected realm of lose-win guarantees and risk reversal.

The NR aim to make it profitable for the customer even if the product fails. Lose-win guarantees not only remove risk for the consumer but put the company at financial risk.

How to get started with remote work:

Step 1: Increase Investment

Step 2: Prove Increased Output Offsite

Second, he calls in sick the next Tuesday and Wednesday, July 18 and 19, to showcase his remote working productivity.60 He decides to call in sick between Tuesday and Thursday for two reasons: It looks less like a lie for a three-day weekend and it also enables him to see how well he functions in social isolation without the imminent reprieve of the weekend. He ensures that he doubles his work output on both days, leaves an e-mail trail of some sort for his boss to notice, and keeps quantifiable records of what he accomplished for reference during later negotiations.

Step 3: Prepare the Quantifiable Business Benefit

Third, Sherwood creates a bullet-point list of how much more he achieved outside the office with explanations. He realizes that he needs to present remote working as a good business decision and not a personal perk.

Step 4: Propose a Revocable Trial Period

Fourth, fresh off completing the comfort challenges from previous chapters, Sherwood confidently proposes an innocent one-day-per-week remote work trial period for two weeks.

Step 5: Expand Remote Time

Sherwood ensures that his days outside of the office are his most productive to date, even minimally dropping in-office production to heighten the contrast.

An Alternative: The Hourglass Approach

1. Use a preplanned project or emergency (family issue, personal issue, relocation, home repairs, whatever) that requires you to take one or two weeks out of the office.

2. Say that you recognize you can’t just stop working and that you would prefer to work instead of taking vacation days.

3. Propose how you can work remotely and offer, if necessary, to take a pay cut for that period (and that period only) if performance isn’t up to par upon returning.

4. Allow the boss to collaborate on how to do it so that he or she is invested in the process.

5. Make the two weeks “off” the most productive period you’ve ever had at work.

6. Show your boss the quantifiable results upon returning, and tell him or her that—without all the distractions, commute, etc.—you can get twice as much done. Suggest two or three days at home per week as a trial for two weeks.

7. Make those remote days ultraproductive.

8. Suggest only one or two days in the office per week.

9. Make those days the least productive of the week.

10. Suggest complete mobility—the boss will go for it.

"Recently, I was asked if I was going to fire an employee who made a mistake that cost the company $600,000. No, I replied, I just spent $600,000 training him." — Thomas J. Watson

The following questions and actions will help you to replace presence-based work with performance-based freedom.

1. If you had a heart attack, and assuming your boss were sympathetic, how could you work remotely for four weeks?

2. Put yourself in your boss’s shoes. Based on your work history, would you trust yourself to work outside of the office?

3. Practice environment-free productivity.

   Attempt to work for two to three hours in a café for two Saturdays prior to proposing a remote trial. If you exercise in a gym, attempt to exercise for those two weeks at home or otherwise outside of the gym environment. The purpose here is to separate your activities from a single environment and ensure that you have the discipline to work solo.

4. Quantify current productivity

5. Create an opportunity to demonstrate remote work productivity before asking for it as a policy.

6. Practice the art of getting past “no” before proposing.

7. Put your employer on remote training wheels—propose Monday or Friday at home.

8. Extend each successful trial period until you reach full-time or your desired level of mobility

"Would you like me to give you a formula for success? It’s quite simple, really. Double your rate of failure." — Thomas J. Watson

Filling the void

“Dude, what on earth would you do with $3–10 million per year?” I asked.

His answer? “I would take a long trip to Thailand.”

That just about sums up one of the biggest self-deceptions of our modern age: extended world travel as the domain of the ultrarich.

“I’ll only work in consulting until I’m 35, then retire and ride a motorcycle across China.”

If your dream, the pot of gold at the end of the career rainbow, is to live large in Thailand, sail around the Caribbean, or ride a motorcycle across China, guess what? All of them can be done for less than $3,000.

The mini-retirement—entails relocating to one place for one to six months before going home or moving to another locale. It is the anti-vacation in the most positive sense. Though it can be relaxing, the mini-retirement is not an escape from your life but a reexamination of it—the creation of a blank slate.

The mini-retirement is defined as recurring—it is a lifestyle.

No number of two-week (also called “too weak”) sightseeing trips can replace one good walkabout.

"It is fatal to know too much at the outcome: boredom comes as quickly to the traveler who knows his route as to the novelist who is overcertain of his plot." — Paul Theroux

The bulk of this Q&A will focus on the precise steps that you should take—and the countdown timeline you can use—when preparing for your first mini-retirement. Most steps can be eliminated or condensed once you get one trip under your belt. Some of the steps are one-time events, after which subsequent mini-retirements will require a maximum of two to three weeks of preparation. It now takes me three afternoons.

1. Take an asset and cash-flow snapshot.

Set two sheets of paper on a table. Use one to record all assets and corresponding values, including bank accounts, retirement accounts, stocks, bonds, home, and so forth. On the second, draw a line down the middle and write down all incoming cash flow (salary, muse income, investment income, etc.) and outgoing expenses (mortgage, rent, car payments, etc.). What can you eliminate that is either seldom used or that creates stress or distraction without adding a lot of value?

2. Fear-set a one-year mini-retirement in a dream location in Europe.

3. Choose a location for your actual mini-retirement. Where to start?

4. Prepare for your trip.

If you can’t define it or act upon it, forget it.

If you don’t make mistakes, you’re not working on hard enough problems. And that’s a big mistake.

—FRANK WILCZEK, 2004 Nobel Prize winner in physics

Top 13 new rich mistakes

1. Losing sight of dreams and falling into work for work’s sake (W4W) Please reread the introduction and next chapter of this book whenever you feel yourself falling into this trap. Everyone does it, but many get stuck and never get out.

2. Micromanaging and e-mailing to fill time Set the responsibilities, problem scenarios and rules, and limits of autonomous decision-making—then stop, for the sanity of everyone involved.

3. Handling problems your outsourcers or co-workers can handle

4. Helping outsourcers or co-workers with the same problem more than once, or with noncrisis problems Give them if-then rules for solving all but the largest problems. Give them the freedom to act without your input, set the limits in writing, and then emphasize in writing that you will not respond to help with problems that are covered by these rules.

5. Chasing customers, particularly unqualified or international prospects, when you have sufficient cash flow to finance your nonfinancial pursuits

6. Answering e-mail that will not result in a sale or that can be answered by a FAQ or auto-responder

7. Working where you live, sleep, or should relax Separate your environments—designate a single space for work and solely work—or you will never be able to escape it.84

8. Not performing a thorough 80/20 analysis every two to four weeks for your business and personal life

9. Striving for endless perfection rather than great or simply good enough, whether in your personal or professional life

learning to speak a foreign language: to be correct 95% of the time requires six months of concentrated effort, whereas to be correct 98% of the time requires 20–30 years. Focus on great for a few things and good enough for the rest. Perfection is a good ideal and direction to have, but recognize it for what it is: an impossible destination.

10. Blowing minutiae and small problems out of proportion as an excuse to work

11. Making non-time-sensitive issues urgent in order to justify work

12. Viewing one product, job, or project as the end-all and be-all of your existence

13. Ignoring the social rewards of life Surround yourself with smiling, positive people who have absolutely nothing to do with work.

Slow Dance - By David L. Weatherford


Have you ever watched kids

On a merry-go-round?

Or listened to the rain

Slapping on the ground?

Ever followed a butterfly’s erratic flight?

Or gazed at the sun into the fading night?

You better slow down.

Don’t dance so fast.

Time is short.

The music won’t last.

Do you run through each day

On the fly?

When you ask: How are you?

Do you hear the reply?

When the day is done,

do you lie in your bed

With the next hundred chores

Running through your head?

You’d better slow down.

Don’t dance so fast.

Time is short.

The music won’t last.

Ever told your child,

We’ll do it tomorrow?

And in your haste,

Not see his sorrow?

Ever lost touch,

Let a good friendship die

Cause you never had time

To call and say, “Hi”?

You’d better slow down.

Don’t dance so fast.

Time is short.

The music won’t last.

When you run so fast to get somewhere

You miss half the fun of getting there.

When you worry and hurry through your day,

It is like an unopened gift thrown away.

Life is not a race.

Do take it slower.

Hear the music

Before the song is over.

Related Notes

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