The 4-Hour Workweek: A fun productivity guide

In the first sentence of the 4-Hour Workweek, Tim Ferriss describes how typical publishing companies greeted his first book.

The 4-Hour Workweek was turned down by 26 out of 27 publishers. After it was sold, the president of one potential marketing partner, a large bookseller, e-mailed me historical bestseller statistics to make it clear—this wouldn’t be a mainstream success.”

That president was so wrong. Ferriss’ first book made #1 on the New York Times Bestseller List and remained there for years. It has since become a worldwide bestseller and now appears in 35 different languages.

First on my personal list of Notable Nonfiction, the 4-Hour Workweek works because it suggests ways to limit work to creative, productive activities through the use of smart technology, virtual assistants and an almost rude “get-it-done” attitude.

It’s also a complete blast to read, even for fifty-something females like me who do not fit within Ferriss’ traditional target market and have no desire to join him in a heavily-travelled foreign-worker-fuelled lifestyle. Ferriss himself admits that he doesn’t do everything he wants to do all of the time.

In fact, it’s the honest descriptions of his mistakes and successes that make his book a learning experience for anyone, regardless of whether you choose to follow every step or hint he recommends.

My favourite case study appears on page 78, when a man named Charney takes Ferriss’ bet to try to reduce the time he spends at work.

One email and five weeks of practice later, Charney had good news: He had accomplished more in the last week than he had in the previous four combined. He did so while taking Monday and Friday off and spending at least 2 more hours per day with his family. From 40 hours per week, he was down to 18 and producing four times the results…I just asked him to do one simple thing consistently without fail. At least three times per day at scheduled times, he had to ask himself the following question: Am I being productive or just active?”


That statement: “am I being productive or just active” defines pretty much every lesson in the book.


Despite my enjoyment of the book, it does have an idiosyncratic style that annoys old-fashioned people like me. That publishing president probably noticed its rule breaking title, confusing format, and unpredictable content, for instance.

Why didn’t Ferriss agree to traditional numerical format and spell out numbers less than nine to avoid confusion? From “4” in the title to “2 more hours per day,” my little anal editor keeps cringing as I read.

Why do the four main chapters have titles that spell the word “deal?” Knowing Tim, there’s a good reason, but I don’t get it. Even the few pages where he talks about a “DEAL” process, he suggests following it as though it reads “DELA.” Huh?


If this book is supposed to be a clear practical manual about turning “time-for-hour” paid work into a sustainable business, why is it so full of personal anecdotes, stories and narrative that make it read more like creative nonfiction? I don’t know, but the unusual style helps make it unique and probably drove sales.

Plus, the many stories and anecdotes are among my favourite parts of the book. Consider, for example, an early Ferriss entrepreneurial endeavour.

In 2003, I was interviewed in my home office for a documentary called As Seen on TV. We were interrupted every 20-30 seconds with beeping e-mail notifications, IM pings and ringing phones. I couldn’t leave them unanswered, because dozens of decisions depended on me. If I didn’t ensure the trains were running on time and put out the fires, no one would.”

Oh God. That sounds like many of my worst days.


It also reads the way Ferriss speaks, which by far the best feature about this book. Even if you disagree with his content, you can’t help but like him, and even if you don’t, he won’t care anyway. This is clearly someone who doesn’t mind conflict when necessary. Just don’t force him to attend meetings or respond to anything on anyone’s timetable but his.

Consider his advice on page 312, for instance.

Once you realize that you can turn off the noise without the world ending, you’re liberated in a way that few people ever know. Just remember: if you don’t have attention, you don’t have time. Did I have time to check e-mail and voicemail? Sure. It might take 10 minutes. Did I have the attention to risk fishing for crises in those 10 minutes. Not at all.”

This book might make you groan, laugh out loud or stomp your feet, but you’ll definitely learn something. If you’re a writer, it will also inspire lots of hope and hard work. I highly recommend it.

4-Hour Workweek cover

The 4-Hour Workweek by Timothy Ferriss, Copyright, 2007, 2009 by Carmenere One, LLC, New York: Crown Archtype, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc.,, ISBN: 978 0 307 46535 1.

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Tracey Arial

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Tracey Arial

Tracey Arial helps Canadians grow with notable nonfiction and urban agriculture.

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  • […] his visit to 27 different companies to find someone willing to publish the 4-Hour Workweek. (See my review of that book here.) He also talks about practicing speeches to dogs, his efforts trying to meditate and the positive […]

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