Book Review: “The 4-Hour Workweek”

Talk about smart product placement: Prominently displayed on many an airport bookstall are copies of Timothy Ferriss’s bestselling The 4-Hour Workweek (revised and expanded edition, 2009).  What better place to hawk a book of that title than an airport, where weary travelers are wondering how many more business trips they can endure before they go bonkers?

Yes, I bought a copy, at an airport bookstall no less.  I know what you’re thinking: What does a professor need with a book about a 4-hour workweek?  He’s got that already! Hah hah! Okay, I’m not about to whine about a career I enjoy very much, though I will say after the 7th or 8th work-related trip of the semester, I was feeling a bit pooped out.

Golden Product + Offload Work = Miller Time

But I digress.  What you really want to know is whether The 4-Hour Workweek is for real.  Well, yes and no.  The key here is the concept of “Income Autopilot.”  If you’re an entrepreneurial type who develops or identifies a super duper product, then offloads the production, marketing, and distribution work to others while still reaping in the profits, the remaining 164 hours of the week await you.

It helps if you have reliable minions, avail the latest Internet technologies, and resist the temptation to read your e-mail too many times a day.  It also helps if you’re ruthless about cost cutting and not hung up on notions such as socially responsible business practices.  As Ferriss notes, this isn’t about trying to change the world.  So go ahead and contract with that call center in the latest developing nation.

Once you have these pieces in place, you can leave the rat race and join the blessed world of the New Rich.  Take that global cruise, learn how to sky dive, or even tackle world hunger (maybe by serving meals at that call center you hired).

That, in a very boiled down nutshell, is what The 4-Hour Workweek is about.

(Conditionally) Recommended for Non-Profit Workers

Yup, I’m rough on overall tone of The 4-Hour Workweek.  However, in what may sound like a humongous flip-flop, I’m going to say it’s worth a quick read by those who work in the non-profit sector.  You see, we do-gooders, educators, and change-the-world types might actually learn some valuable things from it.  Here’s why:

First, many who spend a big share of their working lives in non-profits tend to undervalue their knowledge, insights, and skills. To put it bluntly, we sometimes give away even what others can reasonably afford.  No, I’m not suggesting that we start charging the homeless for their meals.  However, there are some who can afford our services and expertise.  The 4-Hour Workweek may inspire a few ideas in that regard.

Second, the book isn’t all about teaching aspirants to the Leisure Class how to exploit the Worker Bees. It makes you think about all the crummy, time-intensive tasks you do at work that add up to a pile of nothin’.  Take e-mail, for example.  Even if you don’t have a personal assistant to read and sort your e-mail (Ferriss’s easy-baked solution!), you can get some good ideas about how to better manage it.

Finally, Ferriss scores legit points by questioning standard brand ideas about retirement and career path.  By choice or circumstance, some may want or need options to traditional retirement. Folks in the non-profit sector are especially susceptible to burnout and overwork and sometimes see it as an obligatory condition that proves one’s devotion to the cause. Ferriss imaginatively envisions careers that weave more and less intense periods of work with genuine breaks and sabbaticals.

In sum while parts of The 4-Hour Workweek bug the daylights out of me, there’s stuff here that fuels the imagination about rethinking work and careers, including possibly your own.

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