Everyone dreams of a better work life balance. We want to spend more time chasing our dreams and less time working without sacrificing the income we obtain from the latter.
That’s the big conundrum of modern life and the premise behind Tim Ferris’ best-selling 2007 book The 4 Hour Work Week. After being recommended the book by two different people in the last few months, I bought a copy and read it while on holiday in August. Well, when I say ‘read’ I more accurately mean ‘devoured’. Twice.
What it presents is a rationale and method for creating a life of your choosing whereby you can earn all the money you need while spending minimal time working and instead doing whatever it is that gives you joy.
Sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it? You’re forgiven at this point for your scepticism.
But the fact is that there are people out there right now earning a decent passive income and doing just this. Ferris refers to them as the ‘New Rich’, and if you do an Instagram search for #digitalnomad you’ll find some of them (and also many fakers, I would suggest).
I returned from holiday a couple of weeks ago with a whole new outlook on life. I feel empowered to go out and chase my dreams…even if I’m not sure what those dreams actually are at this stage (a subject Ferris covers extensively in the book).
BUT…in the cold light of day, when you’re sitting at your desk rather than on a beach, is it all just bluster? I intend to find out.
Eliminating Pointless ‘Work’
As someone who is self employed and therefore has far more control over my working life than the vast majority of people, I’m already in an advantageous position. Setting up independently nearly three years ago was the first step on this journey and that was a conscious decision I made at the time.
The ability to work when and wherever I like rather than being tied to an office between 9am and 5.30pm five days per week is something I value immensely. Even so, I’ve realised that sometimes I work for work’s sake out of some guilt-ridden compulsion to put in an eight hour day even if what I have to do today will only take four hours.
I can always find ‘something’ to do; it’s a hangover from 15 years of being locked in an office for 40 hours per week.
Ferris goes to great lengths to make the point that 80% of what we do when we’re at work is pointless.
Reading and responding to emails we don’t need to read or respond to; endless meetings; calls to discuss not very much; stuff that has no impact whatsoever on the bottom line…we invent work and buy into this system to justify our salaries.
So the very first thing I did when I sat down at my desk after two weeks in France was to implement some new ways of working. Without going into too much detail, these include things like only checking my email three times per day and turning it off the rest of the time (I use an autoresponder to inform people of this); removing distracting social media and messenger notifications from my mobile; and implementing a system where I focus on what has to be done first before doing anything else.
Less ‘Work’, Greater Productivity & Higher Quality
The other major change I’ve made is that I’ve put in place a notional five hour work day.
I say ‘notional’ because if I have a project I need to do, I work to complete it. This week I ran a full day digital media workshop, for instance. Last week I spent an entire day researching and writing a digital media strategy.
But for the most part, I cut my work day off at 2pm save for checking my email at 4pm. And I’m slowly (very slowly) teaching myself that it’s perfectly OK to only work from 9am to 11am if that’s all that needs to be done on a given day. And, importantly, that I should not feel guilty about it.
I currently pretty much have a 20 hour work week.
That’s been achieved by focusing on what’s important and eliminating all the rubbish that isn’t. And, very importantly, I’m doing better work for my clients too as I’m really focusing when I sit down to work, rather than drifting off every half hour to check my email or read meaningless tweets.
Work less, achieve more. Who knew?!
With the rest of my time, I’m not quite at the ‘chasing my dreams’ level yet. But there are three things of note that I should mention.
First, I’ve started to read again. As in novels not blogs. I set aside some time every day when, while most people are sitting at their desks, I sit and read. No big thing, you might think, and that’s fair enough. But I haven’t read actual books regularly in years, and even if it’s a small change, it feels good. I want to read at least one novel per month from now on.
Second, last week I went and got my first tattoo at the grand age of 45. It’s something I’ve wanted to do for many years but for one reason or another, well, haven’t. It’s significant in that it’s something I can tick off my ‘dream list’; it’s representative of what I hope are bigger things to come.
And finally, I currently have a brand new passive income business in full-on live testing mode. Inside of two weeks of being home, I have a potential income stream that, should it work, will provide additional revenue to my main consultancy business with minimal effort from me.
So to the title of this post: is the four hour work week a pipe dream?
Well if you take it literally, unless you happen to come up with a genius passive income idea (or ideas) then yes, it probably is. We can’t all be Tim Ferris. But…is a 20 hour work week a pipe dream? No, I don’t believe so.
I believe that whether you’re currently employed or work for yourself, by following the principles within The 4 Hour Work Week you can absolutely change your life for the better. I’m a 45 year old married father of three young kids; if I can do it, you can do it!
Yesterday I needed to travel into London. I sat on a packed tube looking around at everyone locked into this ‘must work harder and earn more money’ system and it genuinely made me a little sad.
It’s very early days for me, but by making some simple but fundamental changes to how I work I’ve cut the hours I need to sit in front of my laptop in half with no impact on my clients or on my income.
The question is: what do I do with the free time I’ve created? Watch this space…