The 4-Hour Work Week

Tim Ferriss
-min read
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This book teaches you how to say "no", set expectations on your own terms, and be more effective in much less time. The sections on productivity and time management alone make it worth a read.


Apples and Oranges: A Comparison. Deferred life planner (D), New Rich (NR)

D: To work when you want to. NR: To prevent work for work’s sake, and to do the minimum necessary for maximum effect (“minimum effective load”).

D: To have more. NR: To have more quality and less clutter. To have huge financial reserves but recognise that most material wants are justifications for spending time on the things that don’t really matter, including buying things and preparing to buy things.

The first principle is that you must not fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool. — Richard Feynman

Money is multiplied in practical value depending on the number of W’s you control in your life: what you do, when you do it, where you do it, and with whom you do it. I call this the “freedom multiplier.”


Different is better when it is more effective or more fun.

The following rules are the fundamental differentiators to keep in mind throughout this book.

  1. Retirement is worst-case-scenario insurance. — Even one million is chump change in a world where traditional retirement could span 30 years and inflation lowers your purchasing power 2–4% per year.
  2. Interest and energy are cyclical. — Alternating periods of activity and rest is necessary to survive, let alone thrive. Capacity, interest, and mental endurance all wax and wane. Plan accordingly.
  3. Less is not laziness. — Focus on being productive instead of busy.
  4. The timing is never right.
  5. Ask for forgiveness, not permission.
  6. Emphasise strengths, don’t fix weaknesses. — The choice is between multiplication of results using strengths or incremental improvement fixing weaknesses that will, at best, become mediocre.
  7. Things in excess become their opposite — Too much, too many, and too often of what you want becomes what you don’t want.
  8. Money alone is not the solution.
  9. Relative income is more important than absolute income.
  10. Distress is bad, eustress is good.

Distress refers to harmful stimuli that make you weaker, less confident, and less able. Destructive criticism, abusive bosses, and smashing your face on a curb are examples of this. These are things we want to avoid.

Role models who push us to exceed our limits, physical training that removes our spare tires, and risks that expand our sphere of comfortable action are all examples of eustress—stress that is healthful and the stimulus for growth.

Action may not always bring happiness, but there is no happiness without action. — Benjamin Disraeli

Fear Setting

Conquering Fear = Defining Fear

Fear Setting Exercise

As soon as I cut through the vague unease and ambiguous anxiety by defining my nightmare, the worst-case scenario, I wasn’t as worried about taking a trip. Suddenly, I started thinking of simple steps I could take to salvage my remaining resources and get back on track if all hell struck at once.

Usually, what we most fear doing is what we most need to do.

A person’s success in life can usually be measured by the number of uncomfortable conversations he or she is willing to have. Resolve to do one thing every day that you fear.

Measure the cost of inaction, realise the unlikelihood and repairability of most missteps, and develop the most important habit of those who excel and enjoy doing so: action.

System Reset

Ninety-nine percent of people in the world are convinced they are incapable of achieving great things, so they aim for the mediocre. The level of competition is thus fiercest for “realistic” goals, paradoxically making them the most time and energy-consuming.

Realistic goals, goals restricted to the average ambition level, are uninspiring and will only fuel you through the first or second problem, at which point you throw in the towel.

It’s a matter of specificity. “What do you want?” is too imprecise to produce a meaningful and actionable answer. Forget about it. A better alternative is Dreamlining.

Dreamlining is so named because it applies timelines to what most would consider dreams.

The most important actions are never comfortable. Fortunately, it is possible to condition yourself to discomfort and overcome it.

There is a direct correlation between an increased sphere of comfort and getting what you want.


The End of Time Management

Being busy is most often used as a guise for avoiding the few critically important but uncomfortable actions.

Being Effective vs. Being Efficient

  • Effectiveness is doing the things that get you closer to your goals.
  • Efficiency is performing a given task (whether important or not) in the most economical manner possible.
  • Being efficient without regard to effectiveness is the default mode of the universe.

Doing something unimportant well does not make it important.

Pareto's Law

80% of the outputs result from 20% of the inputs

The key to having more time is doing less, and there are two paths to getting there, both of which should be used together: (1) Define a to-do list and (2) define a not-to-do list. In general terms, there are but two questions:

  1. Which 20% of sources are causing 80% of my problems and unhappiness?
  2. Which 20% of sources are resulting in 80% of my desired outcomes and happiness?

The goal is to find your inefficiencies in order to eliminate them and to find your strengths so you can multiply them.

Slow down and remember this: Most things make no difference. Being busy is a form of laziness—lazy thinking and indiscriminate action.

Being selective—doing less—is the path of the productive. Focus on the important few and ignore the rest.

Parkinson’s Law

Parkinson’s Law dictates that a task will swell in (perceived) importance and complexity in relation to the time allotted for its completion.

This presents a very curious phenomenon. There are two synergistic approaches for increasing productivity that are inversions of each other:

  1. Limit tasks to the important to shorten work time (80/20).
  2. Shorten work time to limit tasks to the important (Parkinson’s Law).

The best solution is to use both together: Identify the few critical tasks that contribute most to income and schedule them with very short and clear deadlines.


  • What are the top-three activities that I use to fill time to feel as though I’ve been productive?
  • Who are the 20% of people who produce 80% of your enjoyment and propel you forward, and which 20% cause 80% of your depression, anger, and second-guessing?
  • Who is causing me stress disproportionate to the time I spend with them? What will happen if I simply stop interacting with these people?
  • You are the average of the five people you associate with most, so do not underestimate the effects of your pessimistic, unambitious, or disorganised friends.
  • Learn to ask, “If this is the only thing I accomplish today, will I be satisfied with my day?”
  • There should never be more than two mission-critical items to complete each day.
  • To counter the seemingly urgent, ask yourself: What will happen if I don’t do this, and is it worth putting off the important to do it?
  • Do not multitask.
  • Use Parkinson’s Law on a macro and micro level — Shorten schedules and deadlines to necessitate focused action instead of deliberation and procrastination.
Learning to ignore things is one of the great paths to inner peace. — Robert Swayer

The Low-Information Diet

Develop an uncanny ability to be selectively ignorant — i.e. stop reading the news

Develop the habit of asking yourself, “Will I definitely use this information for something immediate and important?”

It’s not enough to use information for “something”—it needs to be immediate and important.

Information is useless if it is not applied to something important or if you will forget it before you have a chance to apply it.

More is not better, and stopping something is often 10 times better than finishing it. Develop the habit of nonfinishing that which is boring or unproductive if a boss isn’t demanding it (see Sunk Cost Fallacy).

Interrupting Interruption and the Art of Refusal

From this moment forward, resolve to keep those around you focused and avoid all meetings, whether in person or remote, that do not have clear objectives.

It is your job to prevent yourself and others from letting the unnecessary and unimportant prevent the start-to-finish completion of the important.

Batch activities to limit setup cost and provide more time for dreamline milestones.

Eliminate the decision bottleneck for all things that are nonfatal if misperformed.


Income Autopilot I

There are hundreds of companies that exist to pretend to work for someone else and handle these functions, providing rentable infrastructure to anyone who knows where to find them.

Our goal is simple: to create an automated vehicle for generating cash without consuming time.

Step One: Pick an Affordably Reachable Niche Market

Ask yourself the following questions to find profitable niches.

  1. Which social, industry, and professional groups do you belong to, have you belonged to, or do you understand, whether dentists, engineers, rock climbers, recreational cyclists, car restoration aficionados, dancers, or other?”
  2. Which of the groups you identified have their own magazines?”

Step Two: Brainstorm (Do Not Invest In) Products

The main benefit should be encapsulated in one sentence.

It should cost the customer $50–200.

I personally aim for an 8–10× markup, which means a $100 product can’t cost me more than $10–12.50.27

It should take no more than 3 to 4 weeks to manufacture.

Information products are low-cost, fast to manufacture, and time-consuming for competitors to duplicate.

“Expert” in the context of selling product means that you know more about the topic than the purchaser.

Use the following questions to brainstorm potential how-to or informational products that can be sold to your markets using your expertise or borrowed expertise.

  1. How can you tailor a general skill for your market—what I call “niching down”—or add to what is being sold successfully in your target magazines?
  2. What skills are you interested in that you—and others in your markets—would pay to learn?
  3. Do you have a failure-to-success story that could be turned into a how-to product for others?”

Step Three: Micro-Test Your Products

To get an accurate indicator of commercial viability, don’t ask people if they would buy—ask them to buy. The response to the second is the only one that matters.

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.

Splitting the Pie

I recommend calculating profit margins using higher-than-anticipated expenses. This will account for unforeseen costs and miscellaneous fees such as monthly reports, etc.

By “scalable,” I mean a business architecture that can handle 10,000 orders per week as easily as it can handle 10 orders per week. Doing this requires minimising your decision-making responsibilities, which achieves our goal of time freedom while setting the stage for doubling and tripling income with no change in hours worked.

The more options you offer the customer, the more indecision you create and the fewer orders you receive—it is a disservice all around.

Aim to make it profitable for the customer even if the product fails. Lose-win guarantees not only remove risk for the consumer but put the company at financial risk.

Lose-win example — Delivered in 30 minutes or less or it’s free! (Domino’s Pizza built its business on this guarantee.)

How to Look Fortune 500

  1. Don’t be the CEO or founder.
  2. Put multiple e-mail and phone contacts on the website.
  3. Don't provide a home address, get a PO box and rename "PO Box" to "Suite". (“PO Box 555, Nowhere, US 11936” becomes “Suite 555, 1234 Downtown Ave., US 11936.”)


Disappearing Act

The new mantra is this: Work wherever and whenever you want, but get your work done.

Getting what you want often depends more on when you ask for it than how you ask for it.

"Recently, I was asked if I was going to fire an employee who made a mistake that cost the company $600,000. No, I replied, I just spent $600,000 training him." — Thomas Watson, founder of IBM

Go to farmers’ markets to negotiate prices, ask for free first-class upgrades, ask for compensation if you encounter poor service in restaurants, and otherwise ask for the world and practice using the following magic questions when people refuse to give it to you.

“What would I need to do to [desired outcome]?” “Under what circumstances would you [desired outcome]?” “Have you ever made an exception?” “I’m sure you’ve made an exception before, haven’t you?” (If no for either of the last two, ask, “Why not?” If yes, ask, “Why?”)

Beyond Repair

There are two types of mistakes: mistakes of ambition and mistakes of sloth.

  1. The first is the result of a decision to act—to do something. This type of mistake is made with incomplete information, as it’s impossible to have all the facts beforehand. This is to be encouraged. Fortune favours the bold.
  2. The second is the result of a decision of sloth—to not do something—wherein we refuse to change a bad situation out of fear despite having all the facts. This is how learning experiences become terminal punishments, bad relationships become bad marriages, and poor job choices become lifelong prison sentences.

In the world of action and negotiation, there is one principle that governs all others: The person who has more options has more power. Don’t wait until you need options to search for them. Take a sneak peek at the future now and it will make both action and being assertive easier.

Filling the Void

I believe that life exists to be enjoyed and that the most important thing is to feel good about yourself.

“What can I do with my time to enjoy life and feel good about myself?” — There are two components that are fundamental: continual learning and service.

Learning Unlimited

Though you can upgrade your brain domestically, traveling and relocating provides unique conditions that make progress much faster.

Language learning deserves special mention. It is, bar none, the best thing you can do to hone clear thinking. Quite aside from the fact that it is impossible to understand a culture without understanding its language, acquiring a new language makes you aware of your own language: your own thoughts.

If you don’t make mistakes, you’re not working on hard enough problems. And that’s a big mistake. — Frank Wilczek, 2004 Nobel Prize winner in physics

Common Mistakes

Losing sight of dreams and falling into work for work’s sake (W4W).

Not performing a thorough 80/20 analysis every two to four weeks for your business and personal life.

Striving for endless perfection rather than great or simply good enough, whether in your personal or professional life.

Making non-time-sensitive issues urgent in order to justify work.

Viewing one product, job, or project as the end-all and be-all of your existence Life is too short to waste, but it is also too long to be a pessimist or nihilist. Whatever you’re doing now is just a stepping-stone to the next project or adventure.

Ignoring the social rewards of life.

The heaviness of success-chasing can be replaced with a serendipitous lightness when you recognise that the only rules and limits are those we set for ourselves.