235 Is The 4-Hour Workweek Realistic?

Is The 4-Hour Workweek Realistic?


When I first encountered "The 4-Hour Workweek" by Tim Ferris it stirred a whirlwind of emotions—anger, skepticism, and a bit of hope. Now, as a mother with a few more years under my belt, I've taken another stab at dissecting this polarizing blueprint for life outside the traditional work schedule. In this episode, I peel back the layers of Ferris’s method, examining its feasibility and relevance for parents like me, who are entrenched in the relentless "balancing" act of family and career. 

In this episode, I'm covering:

  • Reevaluation of "The Four Hour Work Week"
  • Analysis of the book's concepts in relation to parenting and family responsibilities
  • Review of the practical tips and "not-to-do list" provided in the book


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Hey friends, today I'm going to do something a little bit different. I don't usually come on the show and talk about books, but there's just been a lot of fury flurry all of that out there lately about productivity and time management books, and one of the ones that's always made the very top of the list is called the four hour work week. It's been around for a very long time, uh, and I had very strong feelings about this book for many, many years, uh. So someone asked me if they should read it or not and I realized I needed to pause and say you know what? I'm basing my opinions on a book I've read a long time ago that I probably need to reread it and get a refresher. So, as I did, some interesting things came to mind. So I wanted to use our space here today to kind of talk through, uh, the book, the four hour work week, and just share some thoughts with you all on it. So that's what we're going to do here today.

Welcome to the work life harmony podcast. I'm your host, Megan Sumrell. I'm the creator of the top program and top planner teaching all things time management, organization and productivity for women. I'm also a mom and wife and, just like you, I'm juggling, hashtag all the things while running multiple businesses and a family. Guess what? You don't have to feel constantly overwhelmed, exhausted and stressed out. There is another way. When you have the right systems and tools to plan and manage your time, you can live a life of harmony. This is your show to learn from me and other amazing women how to master your time, planning an organization to skyrocket your productivity so you can have work life harmony. If you're ready to stop feeling overwhelmed, this is the show for you, and if you're new here, I'd love to get you started with my work life harmony assessment. All you have to do is DM me on Instagram at Megan Sumrell with the word harmony and my team will send it right over. Hey friends, welcome back to work life harmony.

Today I am going to do a pseudo and I'm going to say pseudo cause it's not like a true style of a book review but today I want to chat about this book, the four hour work week. It's been around forever. It is a number one New York Times bestseller and is also called an international phenomenon, and this book has been around for a very long time. I have feelings about this book. I first read it a little over eight years ago, and I get asked about this book a lot, and I'm noticing a lot of recognition out there in the world today that it and it's true when you look at line up all the books around being productive, time management product. You know all of that the vast majority has in.

Well over 95% of the books are written by men, and so I had a conversation recently and someone was like oh, that you know the book before our work week. And I'm going to be honest with you, my initial response anytime over the last eight to nine years when someone has mentioned this book to me is I get very angry and I always say I can't stand that book. And so someone was like well, what are the reasons for it? And I think you should do a podcast on it. So I said OK, but before I do that, I need to go back and read it again, because it's been a very long time since I've read it. So and here's what was interesting, as I went through and reread it again a second time, which I just finished doing meant you know, all these years later, my feelings about the book are different than when I first read it, and I now see why I was so angry with this book when I first read it. So just want to caveat that this is not a podcast episode to bash the four hour work week. I just want to bring some things to the surface that I think are interesting to talk about.

There's some great nuggets in this book, but I think there's also some gaping holes as well, because of what the book claims to promise. So at the very front of the book it says escape the nine to five, live anywhere and join the new rich, all right. And at the beginning of the book it says that this book is for anyone that is sick of deferred life plans, meaning we're constantly waiting to have the life that we want because of the realities of our work. And it says the ultimate goal of following and he promises a recipe in this book is to free your time and to automate your income. Because when we have time, freedom, when we have automated income, well then we can escape the nine to five, live anywhere and live a very rich lifestyle.

So again, when I first read this book it was a little over eight years ago, and at that time I had a toddler still in preschool and I was in the trenches in the trenches both professionally and as a mom, and I remember reading this book on a week-long vacation, thinking, oh, everyone says this book is great and I was really leaning into, I just started building out the top framework, which is my time management frameworks, and, like great, I was consuming all the books and I just remember the more in it I read, the angrier I got. Now again, I've just reread it and I'm not as angry again, and we'll talk about some more of that at the end. But the real difference I noticed for myself was the first time I've read this I was in the stage of life with a lot of physical mom responsibilities, and this book really does not address the realities of parenthood and motherhood in particular. Now there is some case studies in here where they talk about people that do this with kids and I'll talk about that when we get there. But now that I am no longer in that stage of parenting, I was able to absorb some of this information a little bit with a little bit more of an open mind.

The author Timothy Ferris, single, no children, okay. So this book was written in a young, single man's time of life, okay, which again was a little infuriating me with some of the stuff that I read as I was going through it. Now, at the beginning of the book, he says that there are four steps that anyone can follow to get to this idea of a four-hour work week where truly you're only working four hours in the week and you have enough money to do all the things that you want to do. And the four steps spell the word deal D-E-A-L. They are D is for definition, e is for elimination, a is for automation and L is for liberation. So let's talk about the D first definition.

I loved this part of the book where it's saying we get to decide, like, put all of those limitations away and think about if I could define the life I want, what would it look like? And I love this exercise and this is actually an exercise that I take women through when we're going through the Planopalooza annual planning event. This is a very hard thing for a lot of women to do because we very rarely take that time to really dream and think about it. So I think the exercises in the book of going through that definition is really important because we all should be able to define what the ideal lifestyle might be for us. Now the E part is about elimination, meaning the whole focus of this is to start thinking about what are all the things I don't need to be doing anymore. Again, great principle there.

But the very start of the section on E for elimination starts with he says the problem is this idea of time management. And he basically says we have to let go of all of our ideas around Like time management is the problem, not the solution. And of course, the minute I see that I'm like, oh, it's very jarring for me. But then I realized I just don't agree with his definition of time management. The way he presented time management is the way I do see a lot of productivity experts out there going, which is trying to give you all these hacks to just get more done every day. So he's saying we got to get rid of that. I 100% agree with. Let's get rid of trying to do more. But I believe that time management isn't about getting more done, all right. So I'm still going to embrace the concept of time management and learning how to manage our time better, because if you want to get to a four hour work week, I think you need to have some excellent time management skills. So, again, the E around the elimination was all around eliminating stuff and in order to free up time, right, we all have to do this.

But again, as I was reading through this elimination, I was putting myself back into, you know, a mother of a four-year-old, versus my life now as a mother of a 13-year-old, and I can now see why it made me so angry, because there is so much of things that we cannot eliminate as parents. Now I get that this book is about a work week, right, but raising children is a job. There is no way you can ever have a four-hour work week of the job of raising children as a parent. Now, I'm not saying he said that you could do that, but I believe my, where I was in that stage of life, I'm like this is insane. When I make the list of all the things that you know, he recommends this process of going through making the list of all the things that you can eliminate. So many of them, at stages of life as a parent, are things you just can't eliminate. You don't enjoy them, but there is no way to eliminate them. So, while I like the challenge of it because I'm always trying to think of. If there are things that I'm doing I just don't need to be doing anymore. You know it can feel very challenging.

Now there were a couple of tips in this section that I think are great. Number one is he really recommends a low information diet. Meaning because, let's face it, it's one of the things I talk about, which is why women are so overwhelmed is we, are the amount of information coming at us, is it's unbearable, right? And so he really talks about low information diets. You know, not reading as many things, not watching as much news and all of that. But I personally believe he swings the pendulum a little bit too far. He openly admits he just calls up trusted friends to ask who he should vote for, instead of consuming the information that I think a responsible voter should be consuming.

But another tip that is great here on the elimination, especially if you are running a business or you're a manager or anything like that, is the importance of empowering your team, and this actually just came up inside of the community of my students as well, where someone was asking about delegating. So they're like well, where do I put the task to follow up with the people that I delegate to? So I was like, see, that's a tricky one, because the ultimate goal of delegation means you are now transferring full ownership and you are empowering people to do everything and you're not there micromanaging or following up. And he gives some great examples in this section of how to empower others and to equip them to make good decisions, and all of that without having to run everything by you or without you having to check in. So I think there were some great tips there on that.

Now, when we go to the A the automation, the whole idea behind this area of automation for him was outsourcing your life. This one was very interesting. He gives a lot of examples of how he has used different types of virtual assistance in other countries to outsource all parts of life, not just work. And so this again was one where I just thought it felt very masculine and not very feminine to me. Some of the examples out there were actually having a virtual assistant who wrote an apology email to his wife this was one of you know, someone else, not him, because he was not married and I thought making it like it was this great story, that didn't sit very well with me.

And again, thinking of this idea of what are all the things that are time consuming that you can outsource? As a parent, a lot of the time consuming things involve parenting. You know the shuttling of kids, the driving around the activities, the stuff around the house. Well, outsourcing those things are not something that you can outsource overseas. They take physical, in home, like tangible people to outsource that to, and it's incredibly costly and therefore that is not a solution that is highly available. This idea of outsourcing your life, if a large portion of it is being consumed by things that would require someone to be physically here with you to do it Now, it certainly gave me some interesting things to consider, challenging myself on.

Are there more parts of the business perhaps that can be outsourced? Is there some other things that I can let go of? But the outsourcing your life example was, I felt, stretched a little unrealistically for parents and for women. The L part of deal was liberation. So the whole point, at the whole focus of this area, is how do we liberate ourselves from this, whether you're a W2 employee working 40 hours a week or running your own business working a whole bunch, and the idea is that your first step in this process, especially if you're an employee, is to first step is to prove that you can work from anywhere, and then to be able to prove that you can still get the job they're paying you to get done in far less time. I like the idea of this as an entrepreneur. It gave some interesting examples.

Now again, this book was written a while ago, well before COVID, well before working from home, and all of that was pretty commonplace. But underlying it, that a part that I really struggle with here is this whole idea of we're constantly outsourcing. We are taking things that need to get done off our plate and putting them somewhere else. Well, where does the four hour week end? Somebody out there is doing all the things that we aren't doing anymore, so it really isn't available to everyone. Right, this idea of a four hour work week? Because if I'm outsourcing 20 hours of work that 100% needs to get done to other people, then they're not getting a four hour work week. And when I was thinking about this idea of you could work from anywhere and get your job done in way less time, that's just not true for all jobs. For example, I used to manage a customer support team for a software company and there were set rules and response time windows for customer support. It would be impossible to allow anyone to only work four hours a week unless you hired hundreds of people who each only had a four hour window, but then they wouldn't be making enough money to live off of either. So I think that it almost puts a very clear barrier between types of work, and so it makes it unavailable for anyone to have this four hour work week.

Now the book does near the end of the book. It does have nine habits to stop now, and so I wanna share those nine, cause I think most of them are really great, and it's called his not to do list, which is very similar to my idea of the to don't list, and so I think these are worth sharing. The first one is this do not answer calls from unrecognized phone numbers. I agree with that 100%. That's so easy to do on our cell phones now, cause we see every number come up. Number two do not email first thing in the morning or last thing at night. I actually disagree with this, because if you have a really good email processing system and you're really good about checking your time with it, that I actually do email very first thing in the morning, but then I'm stepping away from it for hours. Number three do not agree to meetings or calls with no clear agenda or end time. 100%, yes, nailed it. I did an entire episode on running purposeful, non-wasting time meetings. Number four do not let people ramble Again. Apparently you do not have children. I'll just leave it at that. Number five do not check email constantly, batch and check at set times only. Absolutely. That's hopefully what everybody's doing. Number six do not over communicate with low profit, high maintenance customers. That one really gave me pause for that. I think that's great advice.

Number seven do not work more to fix overwhelmingness. Prioritize. I like the intent of this because he's saying if you don't prioritize, everything seems urgent and important. I agree with all of that for sure, but I think we also need to. What's not happening here is honestly understanding and talking about, for women in particular. Why are we so overwhelmed? There are some things we need to fix there. All right, it's not as simple as just prioritizing. Number eight do not carry a cell phone or a crackberry. 24 seven dating himself, I was a blackberry carrier. I agree with that 100%. And then the last one do not expect work to fill a void. That non-work relationships and activities should. I think that is, again, fantastic advice.

So he gave some examples, saying this can work for anyone, and talked about people with small children doing this traveling the world. But then when you dig into the case studies for those, they're all are very, very young, before kindergarten children, and someone even wrote in saying, oh, I'm gonna plan to do this until my kids are in primary school, because, again, if you have children who are in kindergarten through high school, they do need to have schooling right Of some sort, whether it's homeschool or whatnot, and that again, you cannot fit in. I did homeschooling for a while. That is not a four hour a week job. So again I wanna challenge him to say how does a family with school-aged children live the life of their dreams of traveling the world and only working four hours a week? Right, I think it's again completely missing a huge portion of people and I haven't really seen an example of someone following this while also providing their children with the education that they need.

So I'm glad that I reread it, because now my initial response will not be I cannot stand this book. But I will say this my perspective now is more open-minded. It did challenge me to think about some ways I can optimize my life a little bit more. For sure, I 100% agree with some of his tips, but I don't believe in saying that this is for anyone is a fair statement at all, and I would not hand this book to any parent who is in the trenches of parenthood, where it is a lot of work, very physical, very time consuming, because there are stages of life that are that so.

If I saw a struggling mom who felt like they were drowning, this is not the book I'd hand them to go here. Why don't you go read this, and it's gonna give you some great tips to free up time, because I think all it's gonna do is probably have the same reaction I did the first time I read it, which was make me feel very mad. But if you are someone that is feeling like things are going well, you're not finding yourself overwhelmed very often and you wanna challenge yourself a little bit to think about things differently. It's an interesting read, but I would say, read it with the lens of pulling out things that are gonna be helpful for you and read it with the lens of pause and say, hey, why is this challenging me? Is it for a good reason or am I just gonna, in some instances, like I did, just laugh and go yes, you don't have children. So again, choose to read it, choose not to read it. Either way, it's definitely is something that will make you think. So hope you guys have a great, great rest of your day.

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