I read ‘The 4-Hour Work Week’ so you don’t have to

The 4-Hour Work Week

Saturday, sunshine, park, tea – it all started so well.

Last week was all about ‘productivity’.

(Or rather, alternative ways of thinking about getting stuff done.)

I wrote about my own approach to ‘doing your ideas’, published an interview with Emilie Wapnick of the multipotentialite haven Puttylike, and shared my thoughts on emotional apathy and the Four of Cups.

One upshot of this was that yesterday I bought and read The 4-Hour Work Week, by Tim Ferriss. Here’s my review.

As the title suggests, The 4-Hour Work Week is basically about redesigning your life and work so you can work (a lot) less and play (a lot) more. I am so down with this thing we now call ‘lifestyle design’ and finding ways to get rid of the stuff we don’t like in life, and increase what we love. Obviously. Sadly, the way that is presented here is one of the most depressing things I’ve ever read.

The main aim of this book is to show you how to adopt the smug, self-involved, hyper-masculine, colonialist attitude of the mansplaining dudebro who wrote it.

Even if the premise is to have lots of free time to do what makes you happy, that happiness is consistently presented in terms of cruises around Grecian isles, motorcycles, fine wines, sky-diving type thrills and brown-skinned girlfriends from exotic climes (p.39), whilst simultaneously growing further and further detached from your source of income so that it just magically appears in your bank account. It’s the wet dream of an unimaginative teenage jock with a rich dad (presumably the ‘fat man in a BMW’ Ferriss pointedly mocks.)

Page after page is littered with anecdotes of the five-star meals he eats in five star restaurants, the silicon valley heroes who personally answer his emails, the gap-year type expeditions he and his friends takes several times a year. If that’s what you’re into then great, but they’re mentioned just enough times as to tip over into desperate territory. I finished the book feeling deeply sorry for Ferriss, yet also wanting to shove him off a cliff – minus his sky-diving equipment. You’ll see why in a moment.

Here are the basic messages:

Work is a drag and should be avoided.

To Ferriss, ‘following your passion’ necessarily means doing as little work as possible so that you can spend more time cruising, drinking fine wine, and ‘spending pesos when you earn in dollarzzz’. Oh yeah – the key to the ‘mobile lifestyle’ is to spend many months of your year living in poor countries where you can “live like a rock star” for cheaps. I mean, do the maths, amirite?

The possibility that you might do a job that you love is not entertained. There is no such thing as the joy of work, or loving what you do. Poor Tim is totally stuck on this idea that work is drudgery. The goal is to eliminate as much work as possible by either not doing it or outsourcing it to a cheap, polite Indian army of virtual assistants (yep, this is actually how he talks about it. There’s a whole chapter on how to do this, literally comparing virtual assistant agencies and the quality of the staff’s English.)

There is no connection between where your income comes from, and what you do with that income. The aim here is to just get the cash flowing in in a way that means you are as disconnected from it as possible, until it’s in your bank account and you can spend it on your millionaire lifestyle.

According to Ferriss, the ‘New Rich’ (helpfully referred to as ‘NR’ throughout the book) are an emerging class of people who have learned to ‘own businesses, not run them’ and thus freed themselves to make a packet and travel the world. Sorry, what exactly is new about this? This has been going on for hundreds of years. It’s like the most tried and trusted business model out there.

Become a 4-hour-a-week robot.

NB: Before any Ferriss-loving bros leap into the comments brandishing gleaming Valerian swords, just a heads up that I get it. The number four is arbitrary. I get it, k?

Even if you eliminate, automate and outsource everything you can, you still gotta work those four hours a week. Womp. Make those four hours the most productive possible by adopting a machine-like approach to effectiveness (not efficiency! Ferriss is clearly so proud of his ‘effectiveness vs efficiency’ theory that I practically had to meditate to prevent myself imagining him spunking all over his keyboard as he wrote it.)

Meanwhile if you google ‘productivity’ you’ll find about five gazillion articles on the exact same topic.

Whatever you do, don’t read newspapers or consume anything about current affairs.

Knowing what’s happening in the world might lead to caring, and that will slow you down. Ferriss has read one paper in the past five years – and only then, because it gave him a discount on Pepsi, haha! This guy’s funny! (Wait – he can’t afford a Pepsi?)

In five years, I haven’t had a single problem due to this selective ignorance.

Of course not Tim! Rich cis straight white men don’t need to know about what’s happening in the world. They just need to get on with having fun! You have a cross-China motorcycle adventure to be getting on with, put that paper down, you might learn something about China! God forbid you connect yourself as a living breathing consuming participant in human life to anything happening to a-person-who-is-not-you-or-exactly-like-you. Social inequality, international tension, human rights abuses that arise directly from the technology you use to facilitate your lifestyle – these things are in Ferriss’ words usually “irrelevant, unimportant or inactionable.”

What you don’t know can’t hurt you, or worse, take up valuable brain-space you could be using to plan your next continent-conquering vanity trip to somewhere hot and cheap. On his website, meanwhile, Ferriss lists the worthy causes he supports. Huh? There’s also a helpful post on his blog called ‘Karmic Capitalism’ [spew] explaining that “giving is like investing with compound interest” and “giving is an investment in yourself”. Deep.

It’s not for girls.

Women are rarely mentioned in this book. When they are, they are usually either making sad business mistakes (hey, Sarah, sorry about your miserable failure of a t-shirt business) or described in terms of their “caramel-coloured skin” (you too could move to Brazil and pick up an exotic girlfriend called Tatiana just like Hans here). Oh – or their height and weight (“Six months ago, however, [Dave] had a small problem. She measured 5’2″ and weighed 110 pounds.” We don’t learn this lucky woman’s name for another five paragraphs, and only then it’s to discover that “Shumei Wu became Shumei Camarillo.” Nice job, Dave. Cue a round of congratulatory fraternal back-claps.)

Oh hang on a sec I’ve just remembered – there are loads of women in this book! They’re virtual assistants, based in India. Ferriss’s friend shares several select emails to show off the efficiency and politeness of this “army”, and how they will do literally anything he asks (and for so little money!!) In one hilarious experiment to test the limits of his remote assistant’s willingness to serve, he charges her with undergoing therapy for him, and then worrying about things so he doesn’t have to. These paragraphs are accompanied by her gratifying responses. Someone’s really #livingthedream.

There’s even a ‘comfort challenge’ to support you in your quest to become confident and masterful – by asking “at least two attractive members of the opposite sex” (um, hello?) for their number each day. Don’t worry though, it’s not sexist: “Girls – this means you’re in the game too.”

I’ll spare you the fist-bitingly embarrassing script he offers, but it does include the line “I’m not a psycho, I promise.” 


Okay, here’s the useful stuff:

Because most of us could do with streamlining our work practice. None of this is remotely new.

The 80/20 rule. 80% of your desired results comes from 20% of your work. This theory applies to most anything you do. So figure out which 20% of your weekly tasks bring you the most results, focus on those and find ways to reduce or eliminate the rest. Thank you Vilfredo Pareto, who came up with that one back in the late 1800s.

This helps you understand what is ‘important’ and what is not – a key idea if you are to implement any of the strategies in the book. In a nutshell, if something isn’t truly important, reconsider including it in your schedule.

Outsource. As in – you don’t have to do everything yourself. Maybe it makes sense to delegate some of your work to others.

Give yourself short deadlines. AKA Parkinson’s rule: Work swells to fill the time given to it. Have a fast turnaround. Decide to do a thing, then do it within 24 hours (or whatever works). Do not confuse ‘time-consuming’ with ‘important’. Do important things quickly and don’t do unimportant things at all.

Selective ignorance. Yeah I just had a right barney about Ferriss’ dumbass ‘no current affairs’ policy but as a wider point, we all need to consume less information. Most of it is rubbish. Clutter. Background noise. Spend less time on social media so you have more brainspace and time for creating.

Know what makes you happy and use this as your source of motivation.

TL;DR: Do important things quickly, outsource stuff where it makes sense to, and don’t do unimportant things at all. Then conquer the world just like your Daddy did.

Gosh, revolutionary.

The truth is, I did take a hard look at my work week after reading this. I did look at the way I use my time and spot lots of pointless tasks I could cut out to free me up for either a) leisure or b) writing (oh wait, that’s leisure. And work.) We all could cut out a load of the meaningless fluff that we do every day out of habit or procrastination.

And passive income? Ack, I’m all about it!

But there are so many websites and resources you can use to encourage you do do this, your own dang common sense being number one. The 4-Hour Work Week is just one jock’s 381-page mansplain/wank about how to do it in an especially soulless and oppressive way.

Want to build a profitable business that fills you with joy?

Here are some folks with soul who can help you. Follow, read, purchase, learn! (Updated 2017)

Desiree Adaway – coaching, retreats and consultancy for leaders who are serious about equity and inclusivity.

Sister – feminist business principles and coaching.

Wild Mystic Woman – Layla Saad’s temple space for women of colour

Hiro Boga – a wonderful proponent of the idea that a business can have a soul.

Paul Jarvis – freelance awesomeness from someone who has cracked the code.

Hey Shenee! – brilliant advice around developing your business in practical, realistic ways.

Michelle Nikolaisen – Bomschelle – loooooads of great stuff re productivity and streamlining that’s also really human and relevant.

And you may also like…

Let’s not call these ‘productivity tips’ – a post about how I get shit done.

So – did you love it? Did you hate it? Did you throw it across the room? Leave a comment and help me feel less alone in this!

Like this post? Please share it!


  1. tarotbythom says:

    Whoa. This. Is. AWESOME.

    Am I allowed to be little bit proud of you for telling it like it is here? This book sounds like the epitome of American, ethno-centric, privilege-assumed, capitalist apathy and sloth that is not only giving the U.S. a bad name, but inciting hate from the rest of the world. And is it any wonder? This book represents all that makes me sometimes ashamed to be an American, frankly.

    After reading your interview with Emilie Wapnick, and seeing her “most recommended” book titles, I was thinking about investigating/investing in them. SO GLAD YOU SAVED ME THE TROUBLE AND EXPENSE.

    [Quote:] “God forbid you connect yourself as a living breathing consuming participant in human life to anything happening to a-person-who-is-not-you-or-exactly-like-you. Social inequality, international tension, human rights abuses that arise directly from the technology you use to facilitate your lifestyle – these things are in Ferriss’ words ‘irrelevant, unimportant or inactionable.’”

    This kind of says it all. If you have no empathy for your fellow brethren (no matter their ‘difference,’ or third-world affiliation, or socio-economic class, or plight for having been born somewhere other than the child of a hedge-fund manager)… selective or not, how can you call yourself a human being at all? And then you–you wonderful, eloquent woman–sort of discovered the dumbfounding, typical American response, which is listing some façade-sympathy-placating charity that makes people think that some sort of independent, personalized charity is involved and that Justice has been executed… when really, IT HAS NOT. Time and again, these “charity” organizations are all proven to be lies and fronts for simply shifting money around that eventually falls into the hands of warlords, or corporate contractors, or the marketing departments of big oil companies, or simply evaporates as none of the promised charity ever… gets… done.

    [link1: http://www.buzzfeed.com/azmatkhan/the-big-lie-that-helped-justify-americas-war-in-afghanistan#.yix42kp8NN ]

    [link2: http://www.npr.org/2015/06/03/411524156/in-search-of-the-red-cross-500-million-in-haiti-relief ]

    [link3: http://www.marketplace.org/topics/your-money/worst-charities-get-information-you-make-donation ]

    It’s more than enough to break one’s heart.

    So where you found on Ferriss’s website that he “lists the worthy causes he supports,” and that he also provides “a helpful post on his blog called ‘Karmic Capitalism’ [*spew*] explaining that ‘giving is like investing with compound interest’ and ‘giving is an investment in yourself,’” you’ve discovered his placating cover story that allows him to lead his fans to believe that he’s actually making a difference with his “trickle-down economics.” When, really, as you noted from the bragging in his book, he is doing no such thing. He’s spending his money [blatantly] selfishly and not giving a rat’s ass about how his sexist, heterosexist, privileged, chattel-mongering, apathetic lifestyle affects other fellow human beings on the same planet.

    I can’t wait for his Wheel of Fortune to keep turning and ultimately dump his apathetic a$$ over the other side and under the spokes… (That’s uncharitable of me to say as a Christian, but if it does happen to him, maybe I’ll take Ferriss’s own advice and simply consider that it’s “irrelevant, unimportant or inactionable” for me to be concerned with his plight.)

    Thanks for your wonderful [real] work!

  2. BRILLIANT review. This is one book I couldn’t finish – or stomach. Although there may be some wisdom on efficiency in that book, the idea of starting a business only to collect money and work as little as possible seems rather absurd. Why not start a business you love that allows you to provide a real service that helps people? Why not be available for your clients instead of passing them off to someone else? Why not give a shit enough to show up? While there may be plenty of ways to do business “easier and smarter”, this book has very little to offer in that regard. A four hour work week may seem like a dream and perhaps to some it is but to many of us, we love our work so much, we actually like spending plenty of time doing our thang.

  3. I’ve had the same reaction to Tim’s philosophy for awhile and am glad to hear that my decision to not buy his book was a good one. Thank you for saying what needs to be said!

  4. Joanne says:

    Totally agree with The Tarot Lady here. Great review, and compliments on your writing generally since it’s a longish post and kept me all the way through. And congrats on making it through yourself since this guy’s attitude probably makes your queer self want to scream in agony. 🙁 I think I’ll go re read your ‘productivity’ article now….do your ideas! I like that.

  5. Ethony says:

    I have not read this book but my boyfriend who is very spiritual and a great guy has this one and his four hour body. I am glad I never had the urge to pick it up. He sounds like a dick.

  6. Erin says:

    Thank you, thank you, thank you, for taking the internet productivity bullshit machine and pointing at all the shitty cis/white/$$parents parts of it.

    It’s so much more pleasant to read your paragraph of golden nuggets rather than slogging through another book that clearly ain’t aimed at me.

    <3 you're a peach.

  7. Stephanie says:

    Oh my goodness, what a beautiful review. I’ve always side-eyed this book, even though it comes up OVER AND OVER. You’ve articulated so well why I have never been drawn to it, I was afraid of this:

    “The main aim of this book is to show you how to adopt the smug, self-involved, hyper-masculine, dollar-colonialist attitude of the obnoxious dudebro who wrote it.”

    How is this book so influential when so much of it is about commodifying women? Really? Fuck. Can we have a new reality? This one is depressing me too much.

  8. This review made me laugh so hard. Thank you for the warning! I’ve heard this book recommended by several people, and now I’m so glad I haven’t wasted any time on it. Sounds dreadful!

  9. Thank you for taking the hit for all of us, and culling the most useful tidbits out of this book. It sounds like if I were to read this, I would throw it across the room.

    I just don’t get it… why be a world-traveler if you choose not to know the world’s current events? Ugh.

  10. Johoanna says:

    I recently bought that book for my Kindle after hearing it recommended by a few different people in podcasts and on blog posts. I’m up to chapter 5. I’m not going to bother finishing it. Thanks for the honest review.

  11. chloetarot says:

    Hilarious review! I’m glad to say I’d missed all the hype for this. While I have been getting “business-y” emails of late, at least the ones I get tend to be heart-centred – love what you do, have a mission, live your passion to help. It’s got its own form of wankiness, but at least it isn’t this self-absorbed!

  12. This review made my day. I read this when it was first published and it made me feel like I was failing at life. I have a couple of friends who have followed his business advice and it’s sad to say that it’s changed them for the worse. This review puts the book in it’s place!

  13. Clare says:

    I picked up this book while killing time in a Barnes & Noble across the street from where I was having my tires replaced a few years ago. I was in the early stages of taking my business more seriously, trying to make it full-time, so this kind of thing seemed attractive at the moment. I came to the same conclusion as you. With this philosophy, there’s no room for loving what you do for a living, spending time developing talent, actually building something sustainable. Great review! Thanks for the chuckle, and the reminder!

  14. Ironically, if you follow his career it becomes apparent that he must far more than 4 hours a week himself, between his research, writing, tv show/podcast, etc. My guess is that he makes more money than most of us, but I don’t really think he works all that much less than the average freelancer/entrepreneur, which is to say, he probably works more than 40 hours a week. He just enjoys his “job” more than someone who punches a time clock or works in a cubicle.

    • Beth says:

      Yes, I should acknowledge that this was written quite a few years ago and these days it seems Ferriss has a rather illustrious career doing daring things while people watch (oh the glorious cult of the rich white man).

    • The point of 4HWW is not to ‘literally’ work 4 hours per week. It’s to give up the slave mentality and choose your own path. If that means you work 90 hours a week on something you’re passionate about – tarot cards perhaps? Then that’s fine too. Hard-quoting the title as some kind of guideline is a huge misunderstanding of the core message in the book.

  15. Kate Love says:

    I am so, so over men with these outdated, unkind, and just plain dangerous attitudes getting accolades and money for writing total bullshit. Thank you for the first honest and accurate review I’ve seen about this book!

  16. That has got to be the best book review I have ever read, Haha!! I’ve had Four Hour Workweek on my shelf for about a year and I’ve never even cracked the cover, now I guess I won’t bother. Maybe I can use it as a door stop or to stand on the next time I need to reach something that’s high up. 😉

  17. Malea says:

    Sometimes Pinterest just delivers little surprises from the Universe! I don’t know how I got here, but I LOVE THIS. Hilarious and true! I’m going to delve in and see what other snarky, real and delightful things ya got 🙂

  18. Claire says:

    I listened to it on audiobook this summer and didn’t love it. If you think this one’s bad you should listen to his “4 Hour Body” – about how to be hawt and hunky only working out 4 hours a (week? month? Month, I think). Hint: it involves lying in bathtubs full of ice cubes. Too white, heteronormative, upper-class privilege for words.

  19. Didier Foucher says:

    The 4-Hour Workweek will help open up your mind to the idea that there are better ways to escape the 9-5, Live Anywhere, and enjoy those who enjoy the freedom to control their life. My blog Strangest Secret Formula provides a way to escape and realize wealth, leisure, and travel.


    • Beth says:

      Thanks for the link Didier.

      The 4-Hour Work Week ‘opened my mind’ to two things I already knew. 1. it’s possible to not have a 9-5 job (as half the internet will demonstrate) and 2. some rich white men are really sexist, racist and repulsive (as half the internet will demonstrate).

  20. lomokev says:

    I have heard the title of this book banded about and though it sounds like utter bullshit. Thank you for confirming this for me and saving me the time of reading it.

  21. jbsptfn says:


    I know that this is a few years later, but that was a good review. I am reading a similar book right now called The Unchained Man by Caleb Jones (don’t know if you’ve heard it or not). While I agree with some of the points he makes (especially about not getting married), it seems to me that he thinks that anyone can start their own at-home business. That’s just not possible.

  22. Joan says:

    I was thinking of buying the book in my local bookstore as it seems as the most hyped book there is for most bloggers.

    I am so glad I’ve stumbled across your review, it certainly saves me the money and I’d be able to spend it on something less hyper-masculine. Although there are key takeaways which you along with one other blog reviewer had commented, I’d definitely have no need to know about his story.

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