The 4-Hour Work Week


Timothy Ferriss

My Thoughts

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.

Highlights & Summary Notes

Step I: D is for Definition

1. Cautions and Comparisons

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.”

2. Rules That Change the Rules

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.
Eustress, on the other hand, is a word most of you have probably never heard.

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.

People who avoid all criticism fail. It’s destructive criticism we need to avoid, not criticism in all forms. Similarly, there is no progress without eustress, and the more eustress we can create or apply to our lives, the sooner we can actualise our dreams. The trick is telling the two apart. The New Rich are equally aggressive in removing distress and finding eustress.

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

3. Dodging Bullets

Conquering Fear = Defining Fear

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.

Named must your fear be before banish it you can. — Yoda

In other words, I was risking an unlikely and temporary 3 or 4 for a probable and permanent 9 or 10, and I could easily recover my baseline workaholic prison with a bit of extra work if I wanted to.

Fear Setting Exercise

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

As I have heard said, 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.

4. 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.

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

The existential vacuum manifests itself mainly in a state of boredom. — Victor Frankl

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

To have an uncommon lifestyle, you need to develop the uncommon habit of making decisions, both for yourself and for others.

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

Step II: E is for Elimination

5. 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.

What you do is infinitely more important than how you do it. Efficiency is still important, but it is useless unless applied to the right things.

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.

Maximum income from minimal necessary effort (including minimum number of customers) is the primary goal.

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.

6. 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?”

Learning to ignore things is one of the great paths to inner peace. — Robert Swayer

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.

Practice the art of nonfinishing (sunk cost fallacy)

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.

7. Interrupting Interruption and the Art of Refusal

Learn to be difficult when it counts. In school as in life, having a reputation for being assertive will help you receive preferential treatment without having to beg or fight for it every time.

Emergencies are seldom that. People are poor judges of importance and inflate minutiae to fill time and feel important.

Don’t encourage people to chitchat and don’t let them chitchat.

Master the art of refusal and avoiding meetings.

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 train those around you to be effective and efficient.

Similar to our opening greeting on the phone, e-mail communication should be streamlined to prevent needless back-and-forth. Thus, an e-mail with “Can you meet at 4:00 P.M.?” would become “Can you meet at 4:00 P.M.? If so. … If not, please advise three other times that work for you.”

Meetings should only be held to make decisions about a predefined situation, not to define the problem.

Learn to recognize and fight the interruption impulse.

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.

Step III: A is for Automation

8. Outsourcing Life

The Indian outsourcers cost between $4–10 U.S. per hour. My domestic outsourcers are paid on performance or when product ships. This creates a curious business phenomenon: Negative cash flow is impossible.

Becoming a member of the NR is not just about working smarter. It’s about building a system to replace yourself.

The first rule of any technology used in a business is that automation applied to an efficient operation will magnify the efficiency. The second is that automation applied to an inefficient operation will magnify the inefficiency. — Bill Gates

Unless something is well-defined and important, no one should do it.

Eliminate before you delegate. Never automate something that can be eliminated, and never delegate something that can be automated or streamlined.

Ask foreign VAs to rephrase tasks to confirm understanding before getting started.

9. 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.

To narrow the field further, 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.

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

Step One: Pick an Affordably Reachable Niche Market

It is said that if everyone is your customer, then no one is your customer.

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.

How do you know how long something takes to manufacture? Contact contract manufacturers who specialise in the type of products you’re considering:

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. What experts could you interview and record to create a sellable audio CD?
  4. Do you have a failure-to-success story that could be turned into a how-to product for others?”

10. Income Autopilot II

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.

Step Three: Micro-Test Your Products

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.

11. Income Autopilot III

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 customer can have any colour he wants, so long as it’s black. — Henry Ford

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

I recommend looking at the customer as an equal trading partner and not as an infallible blessing of a human being to be pleased at all costs.

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 in 45 Minutes

  1. Don’t be the CEO or founder.
  2. Put multiple e-mail and phone contacts on the website.
  3. Set up an Interactive Voice Response (IVR) remote receptionist. It is possible to sound like a blue chip for less than $30. In fewer than ten minutes on a site such as
  4. Do not provide home addresses. (“PO Box 555, Nowhere, US 11936” becomes “Suite 555, 1234 Downtown Ave., US 11936.”)

Step IV: L is for Liberation

12. 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?”)

13. Beyond Repair

Pride is stupid.

Being able to quit things that don’t work is integral to being a winner.

All courses of action are risky, so prudence is not in avoiding danger (it’s impossible), but calculating risk and acting decisively. Make mistakes of ambition and not mistakes of sloth. Develop the strength to do bold things, not the strength to suffer. — Niccolò Machiavelli

You are just terrified that you might end up worse off than you are now. I’ll tell you right now: If you’re at this point, you won’t be worse off. Revisit fear-setting and cut the cord.

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.
Only those who are asleep make no mistakes. — Ingvar Kamprad, founder of IKEA

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.

14. Mini-Retirements

The alternative to binge travel—the mini-retirement—entails relocating to one place for one to six months before going home or moving to another locale. It is the anti-vacation in the most positive sense.

15. Filling the Void

Decreasing income-driven work isn’t the end goal. Living more is.

A common doubt: Why am I not happy? I can do anything and I’m still not happy. Do I even deserve it?

  • Most of this can be overcome as soon as we recognise it for what it is: outdated comparisons using the more-is-better and money-as-success mind-sets that got us into trouble to begin with.
  • Lacking an external focus, the mind turns inward on itself and creates problems to solve, even if the problems are undefined or unimportant.
To be engrossed by something outside ourselves is a powerful antidote for the rational mind, the mind that so frequently has its head up its own ass. — Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird

The Point of It All: Drumroll, Please

Before spending time on a stress-inducing question, big or otherwise, ensure that the answer is “yes” to the following two questions: Have I decided on a single meaning for each term in this question? Can an answer to this question be acted upon to improve things?

If you can’t define it or act upon it, forget it.

What man actually needs is not a tensionless state but rather the striving and struggling for a worthwhile goal, a freely chosen task. — Viktor Frankl

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: Sharpening the Saw

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.

Service for the Right Reasons: To Save the Whales, or Kill Them and Feed the Children?

Service — doing something that improves life besides your own.

Charity Navigator ( This independent service ranks more than 5,000 charities using criteria you select. Create a personalized page of favorites and compare them side by side, all free of charge.

But where to go and what to do? There is no one right answer to either. Use the following questions and resources to brainstorm: What makes you most angry about the state of the world? What are you most afraid of for the next generation, whether you have children or not? What makes you happiest in your life? How can you help others have the same?

What are you good at? What could you be the best at? What makes you happy? What excites you? What makes you feel accomplished and good about yourself? What are you most proud of having accomplished in your life? Can you repeat this or further develop it? What do you enjoy sharing or experiencing with other people?

16. The Top 13 New Rich 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

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

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.

Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. — Steve Jobs
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.