April 24, 2007, began as an unassuming Tuesday. Across America, adults went to work, kids went to school, political talking heads bickered and, well, did what they do best by blowing a bunch of smoke. Unbeknownst to most, however, a cultural game changer landed on society that day that would slowly percolate through Silicon Valley and trickle into the lexicon of the vast and growing sphere of young tech workers who’d devoted their twenties to the corporate grind. On that day, a book called The 4-Hour Work Week by a relatively unknown entrepreneur named Timothy Ferriss hit shelves. The working world has never been the same.
In The 4-Hour Work Week, Ferriss posits that being productive at work doesn’t have to mean staring at a computer screen in a dull office building for 40, 50, or 60 hours per week. He also argues that a true metric of success isn’t luxury cars or penthouse apartments, but rather is the time spent pursuing one’s passions and progressing as a person. In his book, Ferriss explains that it’s possible to both make decent money and live a fulfilling life outside of work without feeling overwhelmed.
I first read The 4-Hour Workweek in 2015. I’d just left a magazine gig after the publication folded and I had no idea what my next move would be. Partly inspired by Ferriss, I committed to pursuing media work as an independent contractor in order to maintain freedom over things like my schedule and location. I document the ups and downs of this lifestyle via a weekly newsletter, Mountain Remote.
Drawing from the life and work of Tim Ferriss, these are six lessons that every guy can use to live a better life.
Build Your Life Around Experiences and Happiness, Not Wealth and Possessions
“Excitement is the more practical synonym for happiness, and it is precisely what you should strive to chase. It is the cure-all.”
Throughout the book, Ferriss refers to what he’s dubbed the “new rich” to describe the class of people who ditched the stereotypical image of wealthy. Instead of endless hustle in pursuit of a yacht or a big house in a gated community, the new rich pursue efficiency and optimization. They live near their work and the things they love to do, and shun excess material possessions in favor of saving money to free up more of their time.
In the book, Ferriss encourages readers to make a list of what’s important to them, what they want to learn, and what it would take to make everything on that list a bigger part of their lives. Once you’ve put systems into place that eliminate busy work and unnecessary commitments, it’s possible to dedicate more time to this list. The new rich believe that when it comes to excess, less is more – with the exception of time and money.
Overvaluing Yourself and Your Time Makes You More Productive
“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.”
The biggest problem with modern work is inefficiency: meetings that could have been emails or Slack messages, corporate bureaucracy that slows tasks to a trickle, office commutes that never needed to happen in the first place. Companies take value from productivity, so why have so many systems been put in place that limit it?
The 4-Hour Work Week makes the case for outsourcing tasks that slow you down and basing your own productivity on results, not hours worked. This frees up time to pursue other interests and avoid burnout. If you’re an honest, hard-working person, a good boss will see that you’re trustworthy. This puts you in a position of power to negotiate things like pay, time off, and your schedule.
If it’s Not a ‘Hell Yes,’ Then it’s a ‘No’
“Doing less is not being lazy. Don’t give in to a culture that values personal sacrifice over personal productivity.”
To reach your potential, it’s important to trim the fat from your life. People who don’t have a positive impact on you aren’t worth maintaining a relationship with. Avoid events and social commitments that don’t immediately excite you and leave you feeling fulfilled. So go ahead and cancel commitments that you’d rather stay at home than attend, even if you’ve already RSVPd, and avoid unnecessary meetings. By maintaining a firm line on what you commit yourself to, you’re showing respect both to yourself and to others, because it’s better to avoid something than to drag it down. This is true both at work and in your personal life.
Ferriss lives this example. He left his business in Silicon Valley to run a popular blog and podcast, in addition to writing other books on optimizing diet (The 4-Hour Chef) and fitness (The 4-Hour Body). He used the time he created by relieving himself of excess tasks to pursue hobbies and interests.
Be Passionate and Thorough
“The opposite of love is indifference, and the opposite of happiness is boredom.”
Ferriss believes that when people are overextended, they are unable to approach what they do with real passion. Not only does being overextended lead to burnout, but it also makes a person less productive because it’s impossible to give your all to everything when you don’t have any time left to enrich yourself through new hobbies, travel, and friendships. When your life is filled with people and activities you’re passionate about, it’s impossible to get bored.
Live Your Values
“The world is changed by your example, not by your opinion.”
We all know someone who complains about everything and everyone. It’s typically the case that people like this aren’t actually unhappy with everything around them, but with themselves. This may stem from a lack of personal discipline or an unwillingness to take calculated risks. Whatever the cause, people who constantly complain live by their opinions of the moment rather than their actual values. Don’t be one of these people.
If you were to zoom out and look at your life from above, what personal values would be immediately apparent? Those who make the biggest difference in their professional, personal, and digital communities are the people whose values are front and center. It’s much more effective to discuss fitness or sustainability with a colleague after riding your bike to work than it is after driving your SUV. People are much more likely to take someone seriously when that person has clear examples from their own life to back up their claims.
Think Big-Picture and Focus on the End Result
“What we fear doing most is usually what we most need to do.”
The most effective people look ahead to identify where they want to be, and then work backward to get there. Rather than simply going through the motions at work, think about where you want to be in five years, 10 years, and beyond, and make a list of the steps necessary to get there. Set boundaries around things that prevent this progress from happening, even if that means saying “no” to work assignments that don’t move your purpose forward. This is the opposite of quiet quitting, because rather than putting off the vibe that you don’t care enough to try hard, you’re stating that you don’t have time for menial tasks that aren’t focused on the big picture.