First of all, let me say that I have a lot of respect for Tim Ferriss's book, The 4 Hour Workweek. After hearing the 6th or 7th person recommend the book, I recently sat down and read it. I found it to be motivating and also thought-provoking. I even picked up a few good tips from it that I am putting to use in my own business.
But I have to say that you should never take the title of this book literally.
The book explains, more or less, how to create a virtual business -- one that you can run from anywhere. And one that takes as little as 4 hours a week by the owner. Or at least, 4 hours a week is the goal.
The author makes some great points in it about managing your time, especially email. In fact, a large chunk of the book is about time management. He also provides actionable how-tos on how to find the help to outsource so you have more free time (Lou Dobbs, close your ears -- he suggests ... gasp! ... offshore labor).
Tim's ideas aren't new. Other books and management philosophies have touched on some of the same concepts for a couple of decades now. Book shelves are bursting with time management books. And enterprising entrepreneurs have been structuring virtual businesses they can run from anywhere for some time now. In 1998 I sat next to someone on a flight from London to Chicago (on a first class upgrade) who ran several global businesses from the Cayman Islands, and who regaled me nonstop for 6 hours with his philosophies about creating virtual businesses run almost exclusively on outsourced labor.
Still, no knock against The 4-Hour Workweek. Ferriss brings an up-to-date take on things and scales it to the individual entrepreneur who is starting out with very little money. It's McKinsey for the solo entrepreneur.
Plus, Tim Ferriss is a master at Internet marketing and has managed to develop word-of-mouth buzz for his book that others would kill for. You've got to admire that ability. For instance, at Amazon.com as of this writing, there are over 700 reviews of his book, most of them 4 or 5 stars (the highest possible rating). And he's able to convey his thoughts in an engaging way in the book, backed by some case studies.
So, you're thinking, the book is thought provoking and motivating. It's up to date for today's world. It is scaled to "speak" to the solo entrepreneur, its intended audience. And it's backed by great marketing.
What's the problem, then?
What worries me is an entire generation -- or so it seems -- of aspiring entrepreneurs really believes that in 90 days they will be rich working just 4 hours a week. I've had people say to me in utter seriousness that they intend to work just 4 hours a week.
While I think there are many things to be learned from Tim's book, I just wouldn't take it literally as resulting in a 4-hour work week.
Is a 4-hour work week possible? Certainly.
Is it likely, for 99% of entrepreneurs? Hardly.
The fact is, even billionaires spend more than 4 hours a week on their businesses. People like Richard Branson and Bill Gates and Sergey Brin didn't get that way working 4 hours a week -- trust me. And once they achieved billions, I am quite sure they still work grueling schedules.
In fact this article by another young entrepreneur that I stumbled on a few days ago, is actually much more realistic. In it, the author, Nate Whitehill, talks about a 16-hour workday being more realistic for young entrepreneurs, and suggests focusing on the satisfaction you get from the hours you spend working in the early years, instead of trying to avoid work:
"With all this talk lately about the dream of a shorter workweek, it just convinces me how much spin dominates consensus. One only gets to the 4-hour workweek after years of insanely difficult work.
Even though everyone has dreams of the 4-hour workweek, the fact is that 99.95% of those who have been successful have had to (at least, initially) endure much more than even a 40-hour workweek. That being said, why would someone want to work less if they enjoy what they do? Perhaps an even better and more useful question is, 'How does one get to the place of enjoying work?' One answer to that lies in learning how to create opportunities."
All that said, would I recommend the book and the ideas in it? Of course -- it's worth the price of a few lattes and a few hours of your time. But I would do so with a strong caveat: use the idea of working 4 hours a week as a metaphor for having a clear focus and managing your time intelligently and well, and creating a lifestyle you can enjoy. Do not use it as a goal you truly expect to achieve.
More likely, you can get rich working just 40 hours a week (instead of 80 or 100 hours), by following Tim's advice. And perhaps you can find your way to enjoy those 40 hours as you are working them, instead of hating them. But, heck, even such a goal would be well worth it to most of us.