Sheer Daring
The 4-Hour Workweek

Sheer Daring

In his wonderful, compelling and disturbing debut, cultural phenomenon and magazine writer Tim Ferriss writes like an adolescent genius. His hypnotic tone, originality and rigor grab you from start. His sheer daring is manifest in his subtitle: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich.

Readers often group Ferriss’s work with time-management or dream-fulfillment books. Like those, he starts by urging you to define what you really want. Yet, unlike most works in that genre, he offers specific definitions of aspirational terms like “new rich” and pushes you to engage in highly focused “lifestyle design.” He provides tools, like “dreamlining,” to help you ground your dreams in reality. Ferriss knocks your thinking so far outside the box you won’t remember where the box was, let alone why you ever lived in it.

Yet, even as you marvel at the likely effectiveness of his pioneering techniques, you may also think, “Look at the nerve of this guy!” That nerve emerges in the pure hubris of Ferriss’s writing voice. His work is inspiring, but self-enclosed. His irrepressible optimism and confidence should give you self-confidence, but it will mostly build your confidence in him. After reading about his successes, whether you think, “I can do this,” you’ll probably think, “Tim Ferriss can do anything!”

Cultural Phenomenon

And why not? Everything Ferriss touches turns to gold and increases his manic energy and self-promotion. The 4-Hour Workweek, his first book, shot to the top of Times bestseller list and is still a bestseller. His second, The 4-Hour Body, and third, The 4-Hour Chef, did likewise. He teaches at Singularity University at the NASA Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley. He has boundless get-up-and-go, always taking on new tasks or learning new cuisines, languages or outdoor skills. Even if his authorial voice can become annoying, he’s transformed everything he advises you to do into a well-compensated reality.

This book is for anyone who is sick of the deferred-life plan and wants to live life large instead of postponing it.Tim Ferriss

However, like most self-help, career-guidance, ambition-realizing or how-to books, this is two times too long. But you can’t accuse Ferriss of padding out a magazine article to book length. His mode is entirely original. He has lots to say, mostly helpful. The key Ferrissian element you need is not self-belief, though that wouldn’t hurt. What really matters is sheer, unselfconscious shamelessness. If you can self-promote this heartily, with Ferriss’s smiling, boundless, I’m-here-to-help energy, you can do anything.


Ferriss skips no detail is laying out his workable strategic plan and explaining how to join the new rich. He sets out four stages of developing a four-hour workweek – “Definition, Elimination, Automation and Liberation” (DEAL). For each stage, he provides guidance, tools and examples.

Definition calls for figuring out what you really want, overcoming fear and taking action. Ferris believes in setting somewhat unrealistic goals and following his detailed “dreamline” strategy. Elimination rejects time management in exchange for productivity and drops efficiency to gain effectiveness. In Automation, Ferriss says, replace yourself and your hours of work by systematically automating what you do while preserving your cash flow, accomplishing tasks and moving into a new life. In Liberation, give up control – a tough challenge for entrepreneurs; burst out of the box; and achieve new goals, like mini-retirement and “freedom of location.”

Ferriss cites the Pareto Principle, or 80/20 rule, that 80% of “results stem from 20% of the effort and time,” so “80% of profits come from 20% of the products or customers” He illustrates this principle with striking intensity. He says to learn which “20% of sources” generated 80% of your “problems and unhappiness.” And he is wise – and self-believing – enough to ask the crucial inverse: “What 20% of sources” could cause 80% of your hoped-for results and happiness?

The first decision I made is an excellent example of how dramatic and fast the ROI of this analytical fat-cutting can be: I stopped contacting 95% of my customers and fired 2%, leaving me with the top 3% to profile and duplicate.Tim Ferriss

While his examples – like immediately dumping unproductive customers – may seem less compelling than his probing questions, Ferriss makes a strong point: Ruthlessly eliminate everything that doesn’t contribute to your goals and happiness. Recognize which small part of your efforts and aggravation actually has a major impact on your work, life, attitude and success.

As he explicates his system, Ferris honestly depicts highly diverting failures amid his adventures in lifestyle design. With the enthusiasm of an amped-up eighth grader, he notes you’ll need remarkable discipline to make his methods work. His lifestyle vision is so all-encompassing that even actions like checking email at set times become part of his heroic self-creation process.

Narrow Pragmatism

The book’s narrow pragmatism and dismissal of obvious objections make it somewhat adolescent and disturbing. Beyond being an entrepreneur, investor and speaker, Ferriss won a gold medal in the 1999 Chinese Kickboxing (Sanshou) National Championships by cutting his weight radically and pushing smaller opponents off the platform to get them disqualified. This seems like gaming the system for paper wins, but even that dubious boast underscores his fundamental lesson: Find and nurture your passions. Seek less obvious ways to thrive, believe in results and shamelessly boast of your wins without necessarily sweating the ethical fine points or mentioning how you cut corners.

Ferriss has genuine analytical, entrepreneurial skills. A lot flows naturally to him, but it’s not dumb luck because he clearly works hard. If you doubt his work ethic, look at his 600-plus page books.

I sent one single e-mail to all supervisors that immediately turned 200 e-mails per day into fewer than 20 e-mails per week:… ‘Keep the customer happy. If it is a problem that costs less than $100 to fix, use your judgment and fix it yourself…without contacting me’.Tim Ferriss

Yet, Ferris underestimates how hard his analytical entrepreneurism would be for regular people who can’t do what says. Most folks can’t stop earning rent long enough to reinvent themselves. Few have the early success that gave him the cushion to launch his other endeavors.

Fervent Fevered Advice

Even if you can’t apply his impassioned advice, Ferriss is entertaining and endlessly readable, unlike most self-help or life-reinvention books. You may tire of his self-aggrandizement and staccato short sentences. You may skip groups of pages, because after he makes an insightful point, he makes it again to be sure you recognized that he is capable of insight. Even so, you will mostly smile as you read and make notes of his more salient ideas and, in the end, you’ll be glad you entered his Energizer Bunny universe.

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