(Notes): 4 Hour Workweek

Notes from "The 4-Hour Workweek" by Tim Ferris.

My thoughts: this book has always seemed like more of a meme than anything else, but I decided to read it after getting a taste of freelance work and marveling at the fact that I had never considered anything but a full-time job. I was pleasantly surprised by certain actionable chapters (especially the ones on email and VAs) and found certain aspects of Tim Ferris’s life-philosophy pretty interesting. Below are notes from my highlights.

The Ivy League default

  • “Grads from top schools are funneled into high-income 80-hour-per-week jobs, and 15-30 years of soul-crushing work has been accepted as the default path”
  • Informed by American work culture - the fundamentally American question: “So, what do you do?” Our culture rewards personal sacrifice instead of personal productivity. Being busy is actually a form of laziness - lazy thinking and indiscriminate action. Lack of time is actually lack of priorities.
  • Retirement as a goal or final redemption is flawed:
    • Based on the assumption that you dislike what you are doing during the most physically capable years of your life
    • Traditional retirement could span 30 years, but is at risk due to inflation and market volatility
    • Retirement is boredom
  • But money is not everything: “You have comfort. You don’t have luxury. And don’t tell me that money plays a part. The luxury I advocate has nothing to do with money. It cannot be bought. It is the reward of those who have no fear of discomfort.” (Jean Cocteau)
  • Most people justify their experience by saying: “I’ll just work until I have X dollars and then do what I want.” But you have to define the “what I want” alternate activities. “There is nothing the busy man is less busied with than living; there is nothing harder to learn.” Seneca

Reframing - the mini-retirement

  • The manifesto of the dealmaker is simple: Reality is negotiable.
  • If you can free your time and location, your money is automatically worth 3-10 times as much. Options - the ability to choose - is real power. How to see and create those options with the least effort and cost?
  • Instead of retiring, distribute “mini-retirements” throughout your life. Ferris aims for one month of overseas relocation or high-intensity learning for every two months of work projects.
  • Think of it as an alternative to binge travel. Relocate to a new place for 1-6 months, then return home or repeat. 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. Rather than seeking to see the world through photo ops between foreign-but-familiar hotels, we aim to experience it at a speed that lets it change us.
  • This is also different from a sabbatical. The mini-retirement is defined as recurring. It is a lifestyle. And it is destined to get you to new worlds psychologically.
  • Ferris believes that it takes 2-3 months just to unplug from obsolete routines and become aware of just how much we distract ourselves with constant motion. So take at least 2 months to do that without the reminder of a looming return flight (sometimes he’ll travel with only a one-way ticket, which creates a different psychological state).
  • Worried what people will think of the gap in your resume? Answer with this: “I had a once in a lifetime chance to do [exotic and envy-producing experience] and couldn’t turn it down. I figured that, with X years of work to go, what’s the rush?”
  • Logistics: For each stop, arrange a week of language classes that begin upon arrival. The school staff will help handle apartment rentals, and you’ll be able to make friends and learn the area before setting off on your own.

Two components are fundamental: continual learning and service. Ferris tends to focus on language acquisition and one kinesthetic skill, usually finding the latter after landing.

A value system:

  • The opposite of love is indifference, and the opposite of happiness is boredom.
  • Don’t turn into the bald fat man in the red BMW convertible.
  • When people suggest you follow your “passions,” I propose that they are, in fact, referring to the same singular concept: excitement.
  • Attention is a currency that determines the value of time.
  • Avoid friends who are pessimistic, unambitious, or disorganized.
  • If you can’t define it or act upon it, forget it. This alone will keep most philosophical distress out of your life. Only consume information that you can use. Do 1-week media fast.
  • Existential doubt disappears when you have a focus, an ambitious goal that seems impossible and forces you to grow
  • What we fear doing is usually what we most need to do. Most situations are simple - many are just emotionally difficult to act upon. A person’s success in life can usually be measured by the number of uncomfortable conversations he or she is willing to have.
  • Most people will choose unhappiness over uncertainty. Face your fear to decrease uncertainty. Eustress is the kind of stress that is healthful and a stimulus for growth:
    • “Set aside a certain number of days, during which you shall be content with the scantiest and cheapest fare, with course and rough dress, saying to yourself: “is this the condition that I feared?” (Seneca)
    • Often, worst-case scenarios only have a temporary impact of 3-4, but best-case scenarios have a permanent impact of 9-10.


SET THE RULES in your favor: Limit access to your time, force people to define their requests before spending time with them, and batch routine menial tasks to prevent postponement of more important projects.

Virtual Assistants:

  • Try it as a test - use a virtual assistant (VA) as a simple exercise with no downside, the basics of management are covered in a 2–4-week test costing between $100–400. This is an investment, not an expense, and the goal is to free your time to focus on bigger and better things, sharpen your communication skills, and find good talent.
  • Golden Rule #1: Each delegated task must be both time-consuming and well-defined. Never automate something that can be eliminated, and never delegate something that can be automated or streamlined.
  • Hiring:
    • Recommends that you hire a VA firm or VAs with backup teams instead of sole operators (more resilient)
    • Prohibit small-operation VAs from subcontracting work to untested freelancers without your written permission.
    • Request someone who has “excellent” English and indicate that phone calls will be required (even if not).
  • Requesting tasks:
    • Ask foreign VAs to rephrase tasks to confirm understanding before getting started.
    • Assign tasks that are to be completed within no more than 72 hours. I have had the best luck with 48 and 24 hours.

The Muse Business Model

Finding the right business:

  • To narrow the field, our target product can’t take more than $500 to test, it has to lend itself to automation within four weeks, and—when up and running—it can’t require more than one day per week of management.
  • The main benefit of your product should be explainable in one sentence or phrase, and that you can fully explain in a good online FAQ.
  • I personally aim for an 8–10 × markup, which means a $100 product can’t cost me more than $10–12.50.
  • It Should Take No More Than 3 to 4 Weeks to Manufacture, but recommend aiming for one to two weeks from order placement to shippable product.
  • Information products are low-cost, fast to manufacture, and time-consuming for competitors to duplicate. Consider that the top-selling non-information infomercial products—whether exercise equipment or supplements—have a useful life span of two to four months before imitators flood the market.
  • It is critical that you decide how you will sell and distribute your product before you commit to a product in the first place. 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.
  • Be a member of your target market:
    • Look at products and books you own, include online and offline subscriptions, and ask yourself, “What groups of people purchase the same?”
    • Pick the two markets that you are most familiar with that have their own magazines with full-page advertising that costs less than $5,000. There should be no fewer than 15,000 readers.
    • Track all advertisements that compel you to call a number, visit a website, buy something


  • Contact contract manufacturers who specialize in the type of products you’re considering:
  • 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.
  • Testing with ads:
    • Ensure that the ads don’t trick prospects into visiting the site. The product offer should be clear.
    • If someone clicks through, “Unfortunately, we are currently on back order but will contact you as soon as we have product in stock. Thank you for your patience.”

Looking like a Fortune 500 company:

  • Give yourself a title like VP or director, not CEO or founder (screams startup, also better negotiating for them not to think you’re the ultimate decision-maker)
  • Setup an interactive voice response remote receptionist: when someone calls, they are prompted for name and desired department, then forward their call (can be to your own cell-phone, or to outsourced)


  • Contract outsourcing companies that specialize in one function vs. freelancers whenever possible so that if someone is fired, quits, or doesn’t perform, you can replace them without interrupting your business.
  • Ensure that all outsourcers are willing to communicate among themselves to solve problems, and give them written permission to make most inexpensive decisions without consulting you first (I started at less than $100 and moved to $400 after two months).

Miscellaneous tips:

  • Athletes with the lowest body-fat are those who eat the same foods over and over with little variation. He puts variation only into meals where the focus is enjoyment: dinner and all meals on Saturdays.
  • Slow meals = life. Have at least one 2-3 hour dinner and/or drinks per week, with groups of 5+, best for Thursday dinners or after-dinner drinks and Sunday brunches.
  • An experiment: 3 times a day, ask yourself: “am I being productive or just busy?” Sometimes we invent crutches, things to do to avoid the important.
  • Puppy dog Close: “Let’s just try it once” reversible trial
  • Action items - DEAL: Employees should do D-E-L-A.

Good Questions

  1. What would you do if there was no way you could fail? If you were 10 times smarter than the rest of the world?

Create 2 timelines - 6 months and 12 months - and list up to 5 things you dream of having, being, and doing.

→ Doing: what would you do if you had $100M in the bank? What would make you most excited to wake up in the morning?

→ Being: convert into a doing to make it actionable.

Highlight the four most exciting and/or important dreams from all columns. Calculate the cost of each dream, and the monthly income necessary to realize them.

Actions: set simple, well-defined actions to complete before tomorrow at 11am. For research, talk to someone who knows instead of analysis paralysis.

  1. 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?
  2. Identify your top five time-consuming non-work tasks and five personal tasks you could assign for sheer fun.