4 Ways to Make the 4-Hour Workweek Work for You

November 12, 2014

Tim Ferriss’s original best seller, The 4-Hour Workweek , is still #1 on Amazon for Office Management. You’ve definitely heard of it, you may not have read it. My first time reading it, I laughed. No way could anyone could pull it off.

As I’ve gone back to the book a few times over the past few years, I’ve taken a different approach to understanding the book. Yes, of course, Tim talks about how you can restructure your job so you only have to work 4 hours each week. That’s the marketing to get you to read the book. What the book emphasizes is prioritizing the activities that are important to you and avoid (delegate if possible) those that don’t meet your long term objectives.

Below I’ll take you through a quick exercise in using Tim’s model to rethink about your everyday tasks. Will you get down to working 4 hours per week? No way. But you’ll definitely work smarter.

1. Plan

If you’ve ever been given an extra person for a project, asked if you needed administrative support, or — as Tim suggests — hire a virtual assistant, they’re useless if you don’t sit down and think about what they should be doing. Bad managers often utilize the First In First Out (FIFO) to delegate tasks. Good managers think about the tasks in the queue and who is best to perform them. Likewise, think about your normal week and this coming week. Focus on the meetings, activities and projects you need to get done. Think about your 2014 goals and objectives. Do your meetings and projects align with your goals?

The fallacy of Tim’s book is that at this point, you’re sitting on 7 meetings that have nothing to do with you or your goals. But you have no one to delegate to. That’s ok. The first step is to reconcile your goals to your activities. It’s not always easy to get them off your plate.

2. Clear The Distractions

Of course, Tim hired an army of virtual assistants to filter his e-mail and respond to messages. Here is how I reduce my noise:

  • Email
  • Send all messages where I’m not in the To: or CC: field to a “-Bulk” folder. (Note: the dash in front is so that the folder is the first folder under my inbox and easy to get to.) My co-workers get a kick out of me not knowing the latest company news (they’re sent to “Everyone” not to me). This alone reduces my inbox by 25%. I check the Bulk folder twice a day.
  • Use rules to mark e-mails where you’re in the To: one color and CC: in the other. This isn’t full proof as it’s not unusual for someone to CC you and asked you to respond. Nevertheless, it helps quickly figure out what you should focus on.
  • Voicemail
  • Do you actually use it anymore? I don’t. I’ve seen a bunch of people use Tim’s suggestion over the years: ask people to send you e-mail instead. If that’s culturally ok in your work environment, I’d recommend it.
  • The best I can do today is one unified voicemail box for my desk and mobile phones which sends me a translated e-mail to my inbox.
  • Social Networks
  • Turn off notifications! Unless you’re a social media marketing manager, you just don’t need to know what’s going on with Facebook and Twitter that fast. Unlike Tim, I’m not suggesting you don’t check it. I’m suggesting you don’t let it pull you in.
  • For that matter, go through your all of your mobile apps and turn off notifications on apps where you don’t need it. Many of those notifications are marketing to pull you back into the app.

3. Talk to People

It’s funny. Tim’s recommendation is to unify all communications into an e-mail inbox. Nice if you have that army of admins to monitor it. For the rest of us, go talk to people.

As I’m learning with my Responding to Every Email challenge, for every response I write, I usually get 2 reply-respond e-mails back. We write quickly, we leave out details, and we don’t write it clearly. These all generate replies and fill your inbox. Picking up the phone, walking over to someone’s desk or talking to them in the hall create a much more effective way of communicating.

A few years ago, I tried to implement a No E-mail Day for all internal e-mails within my team. If you needed to talk with someone internally, you did it in person or over the phone. I think my team waited until the next day to write people back instead.

4. Teach

Teach? Tim’s ultimate goal was to run an absentee business. He can go travel the world while his website is selling books.

If we’re trying to make more time for yourself, focus on enabling your team, group, or others to be more self-reliant. I often see talented technology people hold on to the information they have as a form of indispensability. You think that by not sharing, you can’t be fired. In fact, many people who do this end up not getting the important things done. They’re always having to jump in on other things.

Instead, start teaching your small group to be more self-reliant. Instead of doing it, teach someone how to do it. It will show that you’re great at growing talent within your organization. As it gets harder to find good talent, being able to grow new talent is highly coveted.

While not immediate, it will allow you to focus more time on your core objectives and goals versus those extra curricular activities that eat up so much time.

How have you implemented the 4-Hour Work Week?