10/01/2007

4-Hour Workweek

Book Review by Markell R. Steele

Title: 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere and Join the New Rich by Timothy Ferriss, 320 pages, April 2007, Crown Publishing

What if it was possible to escape your everyday work life in exchange for an exciting, adventurous life? According to Timothy Ferriss, author of the New York Times #1 bestseller 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich it is possible. When I first read the book review in Fortune Small Business, I was skeptical about his claims yet intrigued at the same time. I imagine other readers initially had a similar reaction. Then, I began to wonder, what if it really IS possible to escape the arbitrary conventions of work, time traps and inefficiencies in an effort to have a lifestyle to do exactly what you're passionate about and spend more time with your friends and family?

I didn't go looking for the book but found it staring me in the face (with a 20% off sticker) and took that as a sign. I snatched it up! Once I started reading the book, I really could see the possibility of having a more exciting lifestyle sooner rather than later.

The book starts off discussing the myth of retirement. The reality is that most people working today will never achieve that leisurely, fully funded lifestyle that keeps them tied to a desk and putting off their dreams. The author asserts that even those who work hard, save diligently and are financially prepared for retirement will scream with boredom after a few weeks. He proposes something radical: spreading "retirement" throughout your life by cycles of work and rest, called, "mini-retirements". A related concept proposed by Ferriss is the elimination of "time drains" from one's workday, leading to increased productivity. This can include:

  • Eliminating or significantly decreasing common time drains (i.e. emails, meetings and other "information" sources)
  • Implementing automated systems to increase efficiency
  • Liberating oneself from the desk environment.

Ferriss provides numerous examples of how he and other ordinary people who've done these things successfully, and offers the frameworks and resources needed to make it happen.

As a career counselor in private practice, I could really relate to his discussion on time drains. I've been struggling with time drains that leave me feeling pulled in too many directions. Email overload and ineffective meetings are the main culprits. One of the tips for managing email and other communication is to turn off the alerts and check messages twice per day at specific times. He offers a process including scripts to communicate to people when you will be getting back to them, so they don't feel abandoned or ignored. For handling meetings, he suggests eliminating them all together, but if you have to have them among the suggestions are to reduce the scheduling back and forth by providing time options at the outset, set specific start and end times, have an agenda with desired outcomes and stick to it. He even offers suggestions on how to get out of meetings if you're in a typical work environment and "required" to attend. For one week, I tried some of his techniques and can honestly say that they work!

After one week of trying, I felt so much more in control, more productive and free to do things I really enjoy. I could leave my office without worrying about what I'd be missing which was usually nothing much. In fact, a friend invited me to a last minute lunch, and since I'd been able to focus without interruption, I was done with all the important stuff and could meet her. I was relaxed and enjoyed myself. I got away for two hours and things handled themselves for the few hours I was gone.

Because the idea of mini-retirements sounds too good to be true, many people may be reluctant to even try. The struggle many people will have is thinking in a new way about what it means to work and earn a living and what to do with their newfound freedom. Work is the primary life activity for so many of us and a source of pride and self-esteem, it's hard to imagine life any other way. People will have to dramatically shift their mindset, risk-taking orientation, test their closely held assumptions and re-form their identity. They may ask themselves, who am I if the work is removed? How will I spend all my newfound free time? What will people think? How do I explain my career to people when they ask "What do you do?" It takes more than desire to achieve the lifestyle of the new rich. It takes a fair amount of risk taking and entrepreneurial spirit, so this lifestyle is not desirable or achievable for everyone. However, Ferriss believes that anyone can achieve this state of being by experimenting with his proposed suggestions, and by implementing the unique tips and tactics described in his book.

The author takes you through the visioning process so you can imagine all the possible ways you can spend your newfound free time and still earn a better than average living. He offers suggestions on how to detach from the "need to possess" which is another form of restraint on freedom. He also offers ways to use your free time not only for personal improvement but for being of service to others. The book is full of so many ideas, suggestions and resources that if you simply follow what is outlined, it's almost fail proof.

The author's overall concept of "mini-retirements" is probably most easily applied by those in product-based businesses or those where direct, face-to-face client contact is not required. However, there are many things service-oriented professionals such as career counselors, can achieve the same benefits.

Initially career counselors in private career counseling practices or career centers where counseling inherently involves interaction between counselor and client may balk at Ferriss' assertion that just about any job can be done from any place with the right tools. Career counselors might wonder how they could possibly do their work without human touch. However, upon closer examination of common tasks, many career counselors are already doing many important tasks remotely with the use of technology. For example, software applications exist that allow clients to complete forms online, at their convenience, with the responses routed to any email address for retrieval. Many professionals engage in telecounseling and utilize chat rooms as a way to communicate more efficiently with their clients. Another common example is administration of online career assessments. Today, many career centers also offer online career decision-making and job search content in the form on articles, podcasts, and interactive online tutorials. These electronic resources free up career counselors' time, allowing them to focus on other important tasks and projects. So, in many ways career counselors may already be applying some of the author's strategies to more easily deliver career services from a distance.

Mr. Ferriss challenges you to think and act differently, to have a lifestyle that is more rewarding and supports your passions. While you may not totally give up your current life for a 4-hour workweek, by implementing just a few of the suggestions, you will significantly improve your quality of life and have a more positive outlook of the exciting opportunities life has to offer.

Available Formats: book, audio cd. Companion website: http://www.fourhourworkweek.com/


Markell R. Steele, M.Ed., NCC, Career Counselor is the owner of Futures in Motion, Inc. and author of Fast Track Your Career: Three Steps for Finding Work You Love. For the past 12 years, she has passionately shared her secrets for career happiness and success. Her company provides career assessments and career transition assistance. More can be found on her website Futures-in-Motion.com She can be reached at Markell@futures-in-motion.com


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