BOOK SUMMARY: The 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferris

James Ryan Jonas

Here’s a concise and straightforward summary of the book “The 4-Hour Workweek” by author Timothy Ferris. Continue reading to learn the core message and key insights from this awesome book!

Book Summary: 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferris

Can you really make money and be successful just by working four (4) hours every week? This goal seems to be lofty and unreachable, but author Tim Ferris argues that it is doable.

Most people would say a 4-hour workweek is impossible because perhaps right now, they’re already “too busy” and can’t further reduce the workload to just a few hours. But as explained by Tim Ferris in his book:

“Being busy is a form of laziness — lazy thinking and indiscriminate action. We mistake activity for productivity, and we end up doing work just for work’s sake.”

These are powerful words that teach us that the amount of hours we spend doing work does not always equal a high level of productivity. The mindset of “doing work for work’s sake” actually distracts us from doing what’s most important.

To address this, Ferris proposes that we adopt two (2) useful Laws of Productivity. At present, we’re probably working 8 hours per day, 5 days a week — a total of 40-hours workweek. But this can be condensed to just 4 hours, as claimed by Tim Ferris.

How? By following two handy but practical principles: the Pareto Principle and Parkinsons’ Law.

Pareto Principle

The “Pareto Principle” suggests that majority of the results or output related to a task simply come from a select few efforts that lead to the completion of that task.

Author Tim Ferris saw the application of this principle when he was managing his sports nutrition company during the early 2000s. He was successful and making money, but he was also working 12 hours a day, 7 days a week. He wanted to see if there’s an effective and efficient way to achieve the same result without having to be too consumed by work. This was how he did it:

  • He terminated relationship with 2% of his clients that were primarily the source of customer support emails and angry phone calls that used up most of his time
  • He stopped servicing the other 95% of clients that were not providing the bulk of his company’s sales
  • Finally, he focused efforts and attention on just the Top 3% provider of sales and worked to grow the business by finding only clients with similar traits and characteristics

Implementing these changes, according to Ferris, raised his income from $30,000 to $60,000 a month. But surprisingly and more importantly, his actual work hours dropped from 80 hours to just 15 hours per week!

That’s achieving the same — even better — results without having to spend the same amount of time as before. That’s the power of the Pareto Principle.

Parkinson’s Law

The second useful principle, Parkinson’s Law, meanwhile, states that “work expands or contracts according to the time you allot to complete it.”

The author discovered this principle when he was in college and part of a class requirement he had to submit was a long research paper based on a company interview. A day prior to submission, he received a call from the company he interviewed and was told that he can no longer use the information provided to him due to confidentiality issues.

With the deadline just a few hours away, he panicked and asked his professor for an extension. He was denied, so he decided to look for a brand-new company to interview and, fortunately, found one on the same day. Interestingly, the author says, he was still able to produce a high quality paper even with just a very short amount of time.

He didn’t have the luxury of time but to be able to complete the task, the author said he had to contract or reduce the workload. Based on this experience, Ferris discovered that the limited time made him focus purely on execution. He stripped the task down to what he believed were the bare essentials that would result in a good product without the excesses.

Key Lessons from “4-Hour Workweek”

Combining the Pareto Principle and Parkinson’s Law, author Tim Ferris puts forward these two seemingly simple but remarkable insights:

Lesson #1: Most things don’t matter

Lesson #2: What matters most needs less time to complete than we think

Let’s see these in action in our lives. For lesson number one, “Most things don’t matter,” try to think of the things that you believe contributed to your current achievement or to where you are now.

If you are an employee that got promoted to a higher position, you could probably identify just a few specific projects that contributed in making you a star or hero of the company or, perhaps a small number of people and relationships that helped you reach your current position.

If you are an entrepreneur, you could probably credit your success to just a few clients that gave you the biggest sales or certain contracts that propelled your business to new heights. You’ll be surprised to discover that these were definitely just a handful, which means everything else were fluff, bloat, or downright irrelevant to your current achievement.

For lesson number two, “What matters most needs less time to complete than we think,” try to think of the time when you successfully delivered a project or task even if you only had a very short amount of time.

If you look at the steps that actually contributed to the successful performance of the task, you’ll realize that what you did was simply focus on a few, not all the details — putting high emphasis only on the bare necessities you need to complete the task.

How to apply the Key Lessons from the “4-Hour Workweek”

Implementing those two top tips could drastically improve that way you perform work. To apply these in your life, imagine this scenario:

You were told by your doctor that you’re on the brink of having a heart attack and any time-consuming, lengthy, and rigorous work could lead to a fatal attack. You were allowed to just work for one (1) hour per day. How would you spend that 1 hour?

Think about it, and once you have a good answer to that question, that’s when you’ll be able to work efficiently and productively. You’ll be able to focus only on the things that matter and you’ll successfully make each hour of work count. In due time, you’ll find yourself able to reduce your long work hours, turning your extended workweek into a productive 4-hour workweek.

That’s essentially the message of the book “The 4-Hour Workweek” by Timothy Ferris.

James Ryan Jonas teaches business management, investments, and entrepreneurship at the University of the Philippines (UP). He is also the Executive Director of UP Provident Fund Inc., managing and investing P3.2 Billion ($56.4 Million) worth of retirement funds on behalf of thousands of UP employees.