Why I Hate the Four Hour Work Week

Why I Hate the Four Hour Work Week

(For those of you keeping track, this is a continuation of my thoughts on the Problem with Positive Thinking.  If you haven’t read that post yet, please read it first and then come back to this one.)

I know I might catch some flack for this, but there are some things that really, truly frustrate me about Tim Ferriss’s best-selling book, the Four Hour Work Week. 

As I talked about in my first post on this subject, the internet marketing world (which is, for the most part, what Tim is selling in FHWW) runs on a flawed sense of optimism that promotes positive thinking over action and execution.  The end result of simply “believing your way” to a successful business is that nothing gets done if these positive thoughts aren’t turned into actions.

The case with the Four Hour Work Week is more subtle, though.  In the Problem with Positive Thinking, I talked about “The Secret” and how the law of attraction is a bunch of BS if you aren’t willing to actually sit down and get the work done.

The Four Hour Work Week doesn’t fall into this same trap, as each chapter does list actions that must be taken to obtain the kind of lifestyle Tim is promoting.  However, the issue here is the gross simplification of internet business, which I believe can be just as problematic.  Let’s talk about why…

======================

But first, a confession.  I guess I can’t say that I totally hate the Four Hour Work Week (there’s a dog-earred version of the book sitting on my nightstand that begs to differ…).  Despite the things that I’m going to cover in this post, I do give Tim a lot of credit for introducing tons of new people to the concept of lifestyle design, side businesses and living more meaningful lives than the usual 9-5 mentality of Corporate America allows for.

That said, there are some things that drive me f’ing crazy about the book…

The first is what I see as the oversimplification of internet businesses.  Anyone who’s ever run an online business knows that significantly more goes into planning, launching and maintaining that business than can be covered in a few quick chapters of a made-for-the-bestseller-list book.

Take, for example, the process of identifying an overseas prototype manufacturer that Tim covers in the Four Hour Work Week.  What’s described in a few quick pages of text is a process that could realistically take days, weeks or even months to complete.  Things like language barriers, fraudulent dealings and a host of other issues – none of which are covered in the book – all make this process substantially more complicated than it sounds in the FHWW.

======================

So why should you care?  I mean, does it really matter if Tim glosses over some details if his book turns people on to a new, more fulfilling lifestyle they hadn’t previously considered?

Well, yes and no.  The biggest problem I take with the book is this shiny, rose-colored glasses view of internet business it portrays.  If your first exposure to internet business was the Four Hour Work Week, you might come away thinking that you’re only a few carefully-outlined steps away from instant internet business success.

This leads to two things – what I like to call the “Dreamer Syndrome” and an increased susceptibility to unnecessary product purchases.

When you’re presented with an idealistic view of what internet business can look like, it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that you won’t have to bust your butt to succeed online.  Instead of getting out there and putting in the hours necessary to launch and grow your business, you spend your days dreaming about how your life will be more like Tim’s once you succeed.

I call this the “Dreamer Syndrome” and if it sounds unnecessarily harsh, it’s only because I’ve been there myself and fallen into the trap over and over again.

I bought my copy of the Four Hour Work Week back in 2007 when it first came out, and I read it several times over, cover-to-cover.  What a revelation!  For someone who was already struggling with the concept of a singular 40+ year career, the ideas put forth in the book were immediately appealing.

And Tim makes it sound so easy.  With just a couple of action items in each chapter and a “dreamlining” process that shows you just how little you need to make your dreams happen, it’s easy to envision yourself living a life of travel, exotic cultures and unlimited income on autopilot.

In fact, it isn’t just easy to imagine this scenario – it’s possible to become completely absorbed in these fantasies to the exclusion of actually doing the work necessary to bring them to life.

And while you’re busy living the fantasy life of a successful online business owner, it’s easy to get conned into unnecessary purchases that can bankrupt your fledgling internet career.  Do you really need that exclusive drop-shipper contact guide that Tim recommends if you’re selling info products online?  Well, no – but the sales page says that all successful online business owners must have that guide, and that’s you, right?!

======================

I’ve covered both of these points – that actions count more than beliefs and that unnecessary purchases can bankrupt your business – several times over the last few weeks, so I won’t hammer them down your throats anymore here.

Instead, what I want to share with you is what life as an affiliate marketer really looks like…

The Four Hour Work Week would have you believe that all you need to do is some quick testing with Adwords before you outsource the development of your website and then set up a system of outsourcers to handle everything from customer service to fulfillment while you travel around the globe.

Is that a good structure for a business?  Absolutely.  But don’t think you’re necessarily going to get there on your first try.

Most internet business (and yes, there are exceptions to any rule) look more like this:

Do extensive keyword research and come up with several different website ideas.  Build website (on your own, since you don’t have hundreds of dollars to invest at this stage), spend hours and hours writing content and backlinking to get your site ranked well naturally (since you don’t have hundreds of dollars to spend on Adwords), and then wait for visitors/checks to start rolling in.

Nothing happens.  Piss and moan about time lost before making the tough decision of whether to scrap the site and go back to the drawing board or test and tweak different features to see if you can get it to convert.

Experiment with different monetization models until you hit your stride (maybe you’re better suited to becoming a writer or freelance web designer than to being an affiliate marketer).  Eventually find success with one project and then begin the process of scaling and building on that success.  Lather, rinse, repeat.

======================

Sound frustrating?  It can be.  Not every idea is a winner, and more times than not, you’re going to strike out – losing time and money in the process.

But is it worth it?  Absolutely, 100% yes.  For me (and I hope, for you at some point as well), there’s nothing more satisfying than working your butt off, improving your skill set and eventually seeing all of that hard work pay off.  I love building websites, I love helping people, and I love that I’m able to earn money doing it.

At the end of the day, I think it’s important to remember that Tim is a marketer.  He’s selling a product, which in this case, is the idea of being successful earning passive online income.  And he’s done incredibly well with that.  But to look at the Four Hour Work Week as a complete guide to business creation is naïve at best and dangerous at worst.

So go ahead and read the book, but when you find yourself spending hours on various travel websites planning out the adventures you’ll take once you’re successful, stop back over here and re-read this post for a reality check 🙂

Image: Peter Hellberg

31 Responses to Why I Hate the Four Hour Work Week

  1. Cristina says:

    This post is brilliant! Passive income means that you don’t have to exchange your time for money. It doesn’t mean that you don’t have to work hard.

    Especially as a beginner you have to work your ass off.

    • Sarah says:

      Cristina – That’s exactly it. Earning passive income (to me, at least – Leo Dimilo’s had a big discussion about this going for awhile) means that I’m not exchanging work hours for money or actively asking for each sale. My website is doing the work, but I know that website needs time to get up and running, plus maintenance time to keep earning.

      Thanks for stopping by!

  2. Jon says:

    Hi Sarah,

    Well…I tried envisioning this comment into existence but I got bored staring at my keyboard so I started typing.

    Seriously, thank you for this. It’s tough love for all of us and we need it. I’m a big fan of thinking positively and focusing on the good takeaways from bad situations. But you have to move on some action items otherwise you are sitting in neutral.

    You are living proof of the hard work it takes. Your article writing business took a lot of work, I’m sure a lot of sleepless nights, and it took action item after action item to get there.

    Maybe we’ll hear more of your struggle to get there? Some of the envisioning, planning, and executing you had to take on would make an interesting read.

    -Jon

    • Sarah says:

      Hahaha – sorry to hear that wishing your comment into existence didn’t make it happen 🙂

      And dang, you all have to stop giving me ideas for posts! That sounds like a fun idea – I’ll try to fit it in sometime soon!

  3. Youssef says:

    This post actually made me laugh because it speaks the truth, but only few will get it.

    I picked up FHWW about two weeks ago just to see what the hype is all about, I read the whole book in less then 4 days. I just used his technique “how to read at a speed of light” lol. As you said, Tim is a marketer that uses the very old find what they want and give it to them. Now, he is successful on his own right doing a lot of other things, but, believe or not, he works his ass to get it done. Happy dreamlining 🙂

    • Sarah says:

      Youssef – Thanks for stopping by!

      I was hesitant to write this post in the first place, because I do believe there’s a lot of good advice in the FHWW. Some of the time management in particular is maybe a little too extreme for me, but good to keep in mind nonetheless.

      But to condense the amount of effort needed to run a successful online business into a few chapters with no mention that, hey, it might not be this easy for you, does a disservice to those of us who are busting our butts all the time.

  4. Sarah, aloha. Your post will serve as a great Reality Check or Wake Up Call for people who think that “believing” will make it so.

    What so many people miss in Tim’s book, is he did not start living his 4 hour work week, in week one, after only 4 hours of work! It was an evolutionary process that took him time, effort and the roller coaster ride of business to get him there.

    Were he writing the book today, given the advances in technology and the Google slap on Adsense/words, no doubt he would change some of the aspects of his business model.

    Like you, what I appreciate about Tim’s book, is it helps to open people’s eyes to another way of life. That is the first step.

    If people take that step, Sarah, they too can go out to create a life such as you have designed for yourself. Congratulations on your success.

    Best wishes for a terrific weekend. Aloha. Janet

    • Sarah says:

      Janet – That’s exactly it. In the first few chapters, Tim describes the trouble he’s facing with his supplements business, so it only seems natural that he’d mention later on that startups can be difficult.

      For sure, it took him a *lot* of work before he was able to get to the 4 hour work week point, and it’s reasonable to assume that most people will face a similar climb before they get to the same end results.

  5. Hi Sarah,

    With passive income your income is not proportional to the work you put. You have to put in hard work, and initially you will not get enough to equate. But later on you put the same amount of hard work and reap great benefits.

    But it all takes some time and practice. Persistence is the key.

    Cheers,
    Jane.

    • Sarah says:

      Jane – Thanks for stopping by!

      That’s a good way to phrase it – that passive income isn’t directly proportional to the work you put in. It’s not fully passive by any means, but not every dollar that comes in is tied to a specific output.

  6. Gina K says:

    After reading the 4 hour work week I read “The Black Swan” by Nassim Nicholas Taleb “The Impact of the Highly Improbable” . Hard work and patience is importnat but so is timing and being in the right place at the right time. It’s fairly easy to pen a book when everything works, I’m more interested in finding why things don’t work and how to improve from there. BTW, thanks for the great post!

    • Sarah says:

      Gina – Great book recommendations! I think it’s a good idea to balance the “everything in business works perfectly the first time” vibe of the FHWW with books that share a different side of business success.

      Thanks for stopping by!

  7. Thank you for sharing your insight, Sarah. You really have “hit the nail squarely on the head”!

    Aren’t we all striving for work-life-balance and dreaming of the day we can live a 4 hour work week?

    The way I see it, getting there is first as much about how we define “work” as it is about how much time we put into whatever that “work” is.

    So I do subscribe to a certain amount of “positive thinking” philosophy when it comes to choosing what our life’s “work” will be today. (And I believe, that in today’s world, we’ll likely have the opportunity to re-invent ourselves a couple of times in our lifetimes, too.)

    But I also am right there with you, screaming from the rooftops, that regardless of the dream, regardless of the “work”, there is a ton of deliberate action and effort that must go into creating that success vision. And often, our glossy, marketing type gurus leave out those chapters in their best-selling books!

    Even when we hit our stride, “lather, rinse, repeat” is a practice that requires focus. And building and maintaining our healthy foundation, in all of life’s quadrants, (my life’s work/focus), requires “consistent persistence” (my personal word theme for the year).

    Certainly without the “Repeat” process, we have nothing, and depending on what your “repeating”, I can almost guarantee it will take more than 4 hours!

    Thanks for inviting us all to question and think-
    Wishing you well-
    Nanette

    • Sarah says:

      Nanette – That’s an interesting point that I got into with my Monday night chat group. One thing Tim never really clarifies is determining your own definition of “work”.

      For me, affiliate marketing is work, but it’s work that I enjoy and find fulfilling. I don’t want to get to a point where I’m only working 4 hours a week because I’d be bored out of my mind!

      If you find your work engaging, the goal shouldn’t be to minimize your time investment at all costs. Yes, eliminating redundancies and unnecessary work is important in any business (“working for work’s sake” should be avoided no matter how much you love your business), but for me, it isn’t about working only a few hours a week.

      Something that everyone needs to think about for sure 🙂

  8. Craig says:

    I think a lot of people misunderstood his book – I did at first a lot of the people who introduced me to his book still do. They do the lifestyle design business, as if that’s a way to live the life you want.

    Ferriss started his supplement business in 2001 or 2002… like 1 year after uni. He wrote his book in the middle of his 15 month “lifestyle trip” … in like 2006. It’s amazing he had success with his business – but it, like anything worth doing, took years of work. As is obvious with his new material, he was very qualified to run a supplements business at that point. That put him, probably, at the 10,000 hours necessary to be an expert.

    Then he figured out a way to free up his time.

    It’s obvious, right, that its so much easier to build a successful business – an active business – and then build systems to pull your involvement out than to outsource and waste from the beginning just to have time to drink coffee and do yoga?

    – Im excited to watch your progress, Sarah. Looking forward to chatting more on your site 🙂

    • Sarah says:

      Craig – Thanks for stopping by!

      You’re right that Tim is coming at this book from the side of someone who’s already struggled through the time-intensive process of starting a business. I just wish he’d made more mention of the fact that most people will have to go through a similar process before getting to the kind of freedom he enjoys.

      • Haha, but who would buy a book with this premise:

        “It’s entirely possible to outsource the operations of a business in order to free up ones time, but in order to do that, one must work really, really hard for something like 5 years.”

        I doubt he would have been a NYT Bestseller wiht that tag 😉

        cg

        • Sarah says:

          Hahahaha – Exactly!

          Tim is a marketer. And while I love that his book brings internet marketing and alternative lifestyles to the public, his ultimate goal isn’t just to educate – it’s to sell books.

          Damn me for wanting more realism in today’s media… 🙂

  9. loukas says:

    Well, you are a true LoA practitioner!!

    In order for the desire to manifest one must take the *right* action, not just any action.

    Sorry for the new agey lingo.

    For an alternative (and dare I say …reasonable) view on LoA take a look at http://www.stevepavlina.com/blog/
    and http://darkworkers.com/blog/
    Just keep an open mind and waste no more than an afternoon.

    • Sarah says:

      Hi Loukas – Thanks for stopping by!

      Thanks for the recommendations. I have to admit, I laughed pretty hard at the first one – the current post on Steve Pavlina’s site is about potential slave positions within his business. Pretty unexpected, that’s for sure.

      I’ll definitely take a look through these later on – it’s not that I’m totally against the LoA, just that I hate all the short-sided blogs, books, etc that seem to leave out the component of hard work and action.

  10. […] addition, I was able to position myself as a premium article writer because I had experience working as an affiliate marketer that could carry over to my writing, and because I was a college-educated, native English […]

  11. “working your butt off, improving your skill set and eventually seeing all of that hard work pay off.”

    I totally agree. I enjoy the process although it’s long and painful sometimes. My self motivation goes up and down, but it pays off when you do it persistently.

    I love working and 4 hour a week is just too short. 🙂 Just kidding.

    • Sarah says:

      Kent – Absolutely agree, 100 percent 🙂

      I love what I do (even though, yes, it sucks sometimes), so my goal is never going to be to cut back to four hours a week.

      Sure, there are lots of other interests I’d pursue if I had more time, but I don’t think that a four hour work week would ever be realistically fulfilling for me.

  12. Dave says:

    Sarah – Enjoyed your comments on FHWW. I too bought and read the book when it first appeared in bookstores. Having a few more years of business under my belt, I quickly realized that Mr. Ferriss was painting an unrealistic picture of benefits and results of leveraging your time, a concept that has been around since the dawn of civilization. However, with his lazy, hip writing style he did bring to attention a couple of very good points.

    1. Most people spend most of their time performing tasks that are not effective. The goal should be to use every minute of your workday to accomplish something significant that moves you toward your end goal. This has become even more import with email and random surfing.

    2. Outsourcing is a major key to high efficiency and generating wealth through most business models.

    3. Many modern business models can be virtual and therefore executed anywhere on the planet. The internet is just one example. There are many others.

    Bottom line, while FHWW has many solid concepts, it should be taken with several large grains of salt… and a shot of tequila.

    • Sarah says:

      Dave – I’ll applaud any advice that involves tequila… 🙂

      You’re 100% on with your comment. There’s definitely some valuable stuff in the book – in fact, I’m revisiting portions of it right now as I get more into outsourcing tasks.

      But to infer that building a solid, profitable business is as simple as filling out a few spreadsheets and doing a few hours of market research seems irresponsible to me. It’s worth a read, but it’s hardly enough to base career and business decisions off of.

  13. […] Why I Hate the Four Hour Work Week – If you’re struggling to figure out why your life doesn’t look exactly like Tim Ferriss’ yet, check out this article for some “real world” advice on what it takes to run an internet business. […]

  14. […] was more the province of large companies hiring out the work of entire departments. You all know I disagree with some aspects of the book, but I do appreciate that he made some things – like lifestyle […]

Leave a Reply