BABL 070: Solocast- What I learned from The 4-Hour Work Week

BABL070-Solocast1I want to share with you the lessons I learned from one of the most impactful books I’ve ever read.

I think everyone has that list of books that has changed their life in some way — my list seems to grow all the time. It’s funny when someone asks, “What are the top 5 books I should be reading?” I’m always at a loss because I can’t limit the list to just 5. Instead I’m like, here are the top 50 books you should be reading…

The book that I’m absolutely suggesting you should be reading on this episode is The Four Hour Work Week by Tim Ferriss. Only 2 books hit me as hard and had as much lasting impact as this one and those would be the Bible and How To Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie.

The 4HWW was recommended to me by a very successful entrepreneur friend of mine back in 2007 when it first came out. I was in the middle of building a mortgage brokerage and was suffering from a bunch of the “busyness” challenges that Tim writes about in his book. But probable the one concept that really jumped off the page for me was the concept of joining the New Rich.

Ferriss describes the NR as those who abandon the deferred-life plan and create luxury lifestyles in the present using the currency of the New Rich: time and mobility. He described it as an art & science called Lifestyle Design, a term he essentially coined that created a whole industry of experts, gurus and consultants. The New Rich, as Ferriss described them weren’t focused so much on the brass ring, working 80+ hours a week to make a fortune, but instead those who used things like Elimination, Automation, and Productivity tools to make more per hour but work less.

All of this sounded like nirvana to a guy who was into the office around 7 am every day leaving around 6 and working nights after the family went to bed.

One of the paragraphs that jumped off the page for me was on page 7, it says: “Life doesn’t have to be so damn hard. It really doesn’t. Most people, my past self included, have spent too much time convincing themselves that life has to be hard, a resignation to 9-to-5 drudgery in exchange for (sometimes) relaxing weekends and the occasional keep-it-short-or-get-fired vacation.”

What I wanted at the time was to spend more time with my family and less time with my clients and co-workers, but I too had been brainwashed to believe that the more hours I put in, the more successful I’d be. The hours unfortunately, were spent in busyness, not productivity, a takeaway I’ll cover in the podcast that has served me extremely well over the years.

Ferriss features a quote by Mark Twain towards the beginning of the book. Twain says, “Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.”

I’ve probably taken the quote a little too much to heart after employing a number of strategies in my life, investments, and schedule that some people may call contrarian.

But what Ferriss calls Lifestyle Design, I bought into. In fact, as I reread the book last night I realized just how much influence the book actually had on me, the concept of Building A Bigger Life (which is essentially lifestyle design strategies), and what I do daily. LD is based almost entirely on massive action. But again, not action for action’s sake or work for work’s sake, but instead the massive action towards your highest and best goals — those that serve your life in the highest form possible.

I did a show on the topic of Retirementality, EP ___, essentially making the claim that your concept of retirement will ultimately decide how you pursue it. I didn’t realize it, but the 4HWW influenced that show as well — I have never liked the idea of working 40+ years of your life to retire on ⅓ of what you couldn’t get by on in the first place. What resonated with me was Ferriss’ idea of mini-retirements along the way. Short and sometimes long breaks in productivity and work to get away and enjoy life. Taking chances to recuperate and enjoy downtime. I have a hard time even imagining a retirement being idle, but have no trouble imagining spending 2-3 months on the Amalfi Coast in Italy with my family in a year or two.

Tim writes about the idealistic dream of having $1M in the bank, which is what a number of financial experts claim you should have in order to retire. But as pointed out in the book, $1M in the bank isn’t the fantasy.. it’s the lifestyle of complete freedom it supposedly allows that is the freedom. Well what if that kind of freedom doesn’t take $1M?

There are three strategies I’d like to share on the show today that have helped me in the pursuit of my own Bigger Life, my own Lifestyle Design: Productivity, Elimination, and DreamLining.

The first is looking at productivity in a completely different way. I mentioned that in the mortgage business, I was in a constant state of being busy. I remember a conversation with my Dad at one point during that time and I kept telling him how busy I was. He was coaching me on certain aspects of business and life and I kept saying, “it’s just so busy.” His response to me was, “you seem very committed to that.” “To what” I remember asking. “To being busy.” Maybe you should commit to something else.

That something else became readily apparent when I read The 4HWW. It was the idea that there was a difference between being effective and being efficient. That busyness was basically lazy, idle, indiscriminate thinking where you tackle whatever is in front of you because it’s in front of you. As it turned out, I wasn’t particularly efficient OR effective in most of what I was doing. Ferriss describes them this way:

“Effectiveness is doing the things that get you closer to your goals. Efficiency is performing a given task (whether important or not) in the most economical manner possible. Being efficient without regard to effectiveness is the default mode of the universe.”

My ineffectiveness and inefficiencies were showing up all over the place. How my office was organized, how I answered emails, how I answered the phone EVERY time it rang and didn’t specify how much time I had. In my mind I had all the time in the world, except I didn’t.

It occurred to me that every time I said yes to something I was saying no to something else. And some of the things I said yes to made no sense in the greater scheme of building a bigger life.

Ferris suggested two age old, time tested principles that have made all the difference in my life. I use them in creating content, in answering emails, and in handling planning projects of every size and scope.

The first principle comes from an Italian economist named Vilfredo Pareto. Pareto was known for creating an idea of income distribution in the 1700’s. He had postulated that 20% of the people controlled 80% of the wealth. And the more he dug into the theory, the more he realized the truth in all aspects of life. 20% of our efforts create 80% of our results, 20% of our clients create 80% of our headaches, 20% of the seeds grow 80% of the garden. In effect, by using what we know as the Pareto Principle or the 80/20 Rule, we can focus on the 20% of our activities that are generating 80% of our income, productivity, happiness, etc.

I used this principle in creating the Power Priority List that is downloadable from the Adamspeaks.com site. The PPL for me is a way to identify what are my 20% activities on a daily basis and prioritize them based on output and time. It’s my own system and I can’t definitively say it will work for you as I think all productivity schemes need to be personalized, but a number of people have told me it works for them. The goal of the PPL is to identify which high priority items I need to do by 11 am every day. I would consider these High Dollar Per Hour activities.

The second principle that Ferriss suggests using is something called Parkinsons Law. Parkinson was XXXXXXXX back in the early 1900’s. One of the things he reportedly hypothesized is that the perceived complexity of a task is directly related to how much time you give yourself to complete it. I talked about this in Solocast EP XXX on creating content. Basically if you give yourself 3 hours to completely clean your house you’d take that long. But if someone called and said they were 45 minutes away, you’d get it done in that amount of time too. You probably remember this from high school and college when it was time to write a paper. You’d wait until the very last minute, most of us finishing the paper in the wee morning hours that the paper was done. And then you’d read it and think — this is the best stuff I’ve ever written. The reason you nailed the project was you had a deadline and you had a limited amount of time to complete it.

Parkinsons Law suggests that if you limit the time given to complete a task, you’ll finish it in that time. I raced a timer in putting together the content for this solocast because that’s what I always do.

The 4HWW suggests that to really amplify your productivity, you combine both principles together, both the 80/20 rule (Pareto Principle) and Parkinsons Law. What happens when you do this is you focus only on the important tasks (the 20%) and you limit the amount of time given to do so (Parkinsons Law). The result is getting more high dollar per hour work done in less time. Boom. Instant productivity boost.

Now if you’re thinking, “what about all those other tasks I have to get to on a daily basis?” We’re going to get there. For me, tackling the rest of the list took elimination, automation and outsourcing — the three of them individually not always the easiest to do, but once you do, it’s incredibly worth it.

Takeaways for you from the productivity section:

Focus on the higher dollar per hour activities by using the 80/20 rule and Parkinsons Law together. And know the difference between being effective and being efficient. When you use the two ideas together, magic happens.

Ferriss is a big believer in Elimination. And while his method of getting you there is pretty dramatic, the effect is profound. He asks two questions that get to the heart of the matter.

The first is: If you had a massive heart attack and were limited to working just 2 hours per day, what would you do during those two hours?

The second question is: If you had a 2nd massive heart attack and were told you could only work 2 hours per week, what would you do during those two hours?

The answers that you come up with are obviously different than those I’d come up with but the bottom line is you better eliminate some stuff.

The first thing Tim suggests ditching is the constant barrage of information that we get on a daily basis. For any of you that have listened to the show for any length of time, you know that my wife is an uber frugal shopper. I describe her as the coupon princess, having been raised by the coupon queen in the coupon castle. And just about every morning she clears out the 10-15 emails from retailers that are sending out online coupons. EVERY MORNING.

This is the information barrage I’m speaking of.

But it also comes in the form of blogs to read, newspapers stacking up on the counter, junk mail, television, radio, and on and on and on.

After reading the 4HWW, I went on an information lean diet. I stopped watching the news, stopped reading the paper, even unsubscribed from every broadcast email I was getting. Because inherently, there is a feeling that we’re supposed to be in tune with all of those things coming at us which takes up valuable brain space, not to mention time I could be using to build a bigger life.

Inevitably people will ask me where I get my news from and I tell them that I subscribe to The Week magazine which is a snapshot of everything newsworthy and sometimes not, that happened that week around the world. It provides a both left and right side view to every story and I find that skimming that gives me enough context to carry on educated conversations with those around me.

As for email, I use a service called Unroll.me which spots all of the broadcast type emails and puts them in one place which I can scan quickly and decide which ones to let through. Most of the time I ignore the email completely.

Elimination also involves interrupting interruptions. I once heard that for every interruption it takes 12 minutes to get back to the level of concentration we were once at. So if you are interrupted at work 4 times an hour, you’ve just lost 60 minutes throughout the day. That’s one hour! Keep track today of how many times you’re interrupted — it will astonish you at the wasted time.

As a work from home guy, my kids are around me a lot during the week. And until I realized how much the interruptions were blocking my productivity, I allowed a somewhat open door policy. Now there are three dots on my door. Green, yellow and red. When it’s green they can come right in, yellow means they have to knock, and red means I’m in the middle of something important and they need to leave me alone. I realized and had to make them realize that there is a difference between access and availability. You may always have access but I’m not always available. Minimizing those interruptions has been a key to greater productivity. Your build a bigger life question for the day is : how are the interruptions in your day having an effect on your productivity? What could you do differently to minimize those?

One marketing firm I consulted with had “coning hours” during the day. If there was a bright orange traffic cone outside your cubicle or office, it meant that no one could bother you because you were doing intensive work that required undisturbed thought. Perhaps putting that into practice at your office would work too.

Elimination involves what Tim calls the Art of Refusal. Remember at the beginning of the show I said when you say yes to something you’re also saying no to something. The Art of Refusal was something I was terrible at. I’d get asked to coffee repeatedly throughout the week and I’d accept because that’s just what you do. I didn’t want to let anyone down. Today I’m more conscious of that time and try and batch tasks like running errands with meetings and networking events. Get really good and adept at saying no and then basking in the glow of getting shit done.

The last area that I found most helpful in the 4HWW is the concept of DreamLining. Yet another phrase that Ferris coined in the book, the idea of DreamLining is writing down 5 things you’d like to have, be and do in the next 6-12 months. Once you have your list, the next step is to figure out how much those things would cost and how to set up income streams and methods to pay for it. He’s got an incredible flowchart and calculator on the site at fourhourworkweek.com, just search Dreamlining and it will come up.

I like this process for a couple of reasons. First, it makes the idea of planning for mini-retirements very concrete and attainable. Seeing the “how the hell am I going to do this?” mapped out in detail is very comforting for planners like me. And second, I think there is a level of mental gymnastics that you go through in filling this out that makes you realize that what you really want in life is not that far off. I think it’s the ultimate tool to reclaim your title as the architect of your own life. A bigger life is actually much closer than you realize and this is the tool to get you there. (this and of course the Build A Bigger Life Blueprint.)

So, your takeaways from today’s show:

  1. Use the Pareto Principle or 80/20 rule in combination with Parkinsons Law to get the highest importance things done in limited time.
  2. Join the New Rich. Sure you can work 80+ hours a week and make $100k, but would you rather work 10-20 hours a week and make $50k?
  3. What are your mini-retirement goals and how can you achieve those regularly?
  4. Get on a low information diet — stop with the mental chewing gum of all that ridiculously negative BS on tv, radio and in the papers.

And finally, in the pursuit of your own bigger life, pick up a copy of the 4HWW and read or reread it to see what comes up for you.

Make it a great day, and keep building a bigger life.

  • John R Schneider III

    This was truly inspiring and The 4-Hour Work Week is next on my reading list. Thanks, Adam!