FHWW or The 4-Hour Work Week is a reknowned lifestyle design book by Tim Ferriss. The book contains some hacks for maximising productivity with the overall objective of cutting down a work week to four hours.
The FHWW productivity concepts include several well-known principles such as Pareto’s, Parkinson’s Law and timing techniques like Pomodoro, which will be discussed in this post also.
The 4-Hour Workweek
In the book, and a later television show : “The Tim Ferriss Experiment”, Tim Ferriss popularised the idea that many seemingly complicated things – like running a business – can be achieved in a lot less time than most of us believe. The book suggests that a lot of our work is busy-work, designed to meet the 21st Century expectations that we will all work for 40-50 years before retiring and finally getting to do the stuff we really want to do.
Ferrisses’ productivity tips to get down to a much smaller working session involve four cornerstone concepts that fall under the mnemonic DEAL with some other well-known principles thrown in –
- Definition – figure out what you want. Ferriss espouses something he calls Dreamlining, which is a process to form your life vision – what you want to do. This post won’t go into that.
- Eliminating unhelpful activities or time sucks. Do this via the Pareto 80/20 analysis and using knowledge of Parkinson’s Law (both featured below) to find the areas of work which create the most benefits.
- Automating critical tasks or processes – this often means outsourcing them, delegating them, using technology or hiring staff to deal with them (in Ferrisses’ case, virtual assistants).
- Liberation – this means liberating yourself from your geographical location and job, which Ferriss examples as going to live on a tropical island. For others, it’s about creating work/life balance, where the job ticks over without you.
The last point of lifestyle design has been drawn out in later books by Ferriss – The 4-Hour Body and The 4-Hour Chef.
Eliminate and Automate are both cornerstones in time management but within The 4-Hour Workweek Ferriss doesn’t provide a great many general time management methods to take our working weeks of however many hours down to the four, although Selective Ignorance does a good deal to iron out that massive email inbox.
selective ignorance (noun): the practice of selectively ignoring distracting, irrelevant, or otherwise unnecessary information received, such as e-mails, news reports, etc. [Urban Dictionary]
The concept of Selective Ignorance is discussed in chapter six of FHWW. It means ignoring things that aren’t necessary. This is in contrast to David Allen’s GTD methods – which are designed to process everything which comes into your inboxes, regardless of whether they are useful or not.
Tim Ferrises’ concept of selective ignorance means cultivating a low-information diet by ignoring the unvaluable, but more – getting rid of it in the first place. This is done by delegating, deleting, unsubscribing, or automating much of your inflows so that they no longer require your attention in the first place.
So, contrast – GTD is about processing what you’ve got and there are many valuable concepts in GTD which many of us use today. FHWW is about prioritisation, with a big lean into big life planning also. FHWW also contains several well-known productivity concepts useful today.
For work sessions and the practice of selective ignorance, Ferriss recommends using website blocking software to prevent distractions. There’s a huge list of distraction blockers here.
Getting back to the practice through emails, if you are going to get rid of a lot of emails, or blog RSS feeds, before doing so: consider the affect some of this relatively valueless (in the scheme of your work tasks anyway) actually has on you.
I read a lot of writing blogs not because I may learn something new (I often do), but as a motivating factor. I also subscribe to many top productivity blog feeds. Often many of those posts are irrelevant to me at that point in time, but I find that after reading a good productivity or writing tip, I am more motivated to write and/or be productive myself. The same sources provide much inspiration for writing ideas, and often excerpts go into my research or ideas files (in Evernote).
My point – don’t cull everything. Be selective in your ignorance.
Pareto’s Principle – the 80/20 Rule
Pareto’s Principle arrived out of the economics field. In 1906, economist Vilfredo Pareto created a mathematical formula to describe the unequal distribution of wealth in Italy, observing that twenty percent of the people owned eighty percent of the wealth.
This economics formula was taken by Dr. Joseph M. Juran in the 1940’s and applied universally.
As a result, Dr. Juran’s observation of the “vital few and trivial many“, the principle that twenty percent of something always are responsible for eighty percent of the results, became known as Pareto’s Principle or the 80/20 Rule.
Pareto’s Principle, the 80/20 Rule, should serve as a daily reminder to focus 80 percent of your time and energy on the 20 percent of you work that is really important.
Don’t just “work smart”, work smart on the right things.
Pareto’s Principle analysis is the backbone for Tim Ferrisses’ Elimination corner stone, where he suggests we should find and analyse our tasks and work on the 20% of them which give us 80% of our results.
Parkinson’s Law (of Triviality)
Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion
Cyril Northcote Parkinson first wrote this rule in a humorous essay published in The Economist in 1955, later reprinted together with other essays in the book Parkinson’s Law: The Pursuit of Progress.
As regards time, the law can sometimes be expressed as –
The amount of time which one has to perform a task is the amount of time it will take to complete the task.
An expanded corollary for the Law of Demand is –
The demand upon a resource tends to expand to match the supply of the resource. The reverse is not true.
As with Pareto’s Principle, the simple Parkinson’s Law is part of the elimination cornerstone to The 4-Hour Work Week, as a prompt to ensure that we set time limits on actioning tasks, and make sure we don’t allow a task to fill more time than necessary.
Using Parkinson’s Law as an incentive, the overarching lesson is that enforcing restrictions on your capability to produce or do a task can actually create freedom and more productivity.
It’s the cornerstone also, to all those word sprints and marathons many writers participate in – setting a time limit enforces more productivity.
The technique uses a timer to break down work into intervals traditionally 25 minutes in length, separated by short breaks. These intervals are known as “pomodori”, Italian for tomatoes.
The method is based on the idea that frequent breaks can improve mental agility.
The pomodoro tomato timer is a well-known icon, and available in analog and digital formats. Note that the “Pomodoro” name and techniques as described by Cirillo are still copywrite but available for purchase in book form. (A PDF used to be free). Other tomato timers (without the pomodoro name) are, of course, available all over.
Basically the technique simply means setting a task, setting a timer for 25 minutes, doing the task, then taking a five minute break before beginning another cycle of task timing. It is recommended that you do some physical activity during the breaks, and that you also document (review or checkoff) the task done. After an hour – an hour and a half, or four pomodori, a longer (15 minute) break is also suggested.
The technique, like many timing limitations, is helpful in providing an incentive to focus on only one task until completion; as against multi-tasking. However, it is stringent towards the 25 minute task allotments, meaning that if you have, say a 15 minute break between meetings, you can’t set yourself a task during those spare minutes. It also means you may have to break slightly larger tasks into smaller chunks.
Of value from the website are some downloadable resources like an activity inventory worksheet, and to do list worksheet. Doing an activity inventory is valuable analysis even if you don’t want to Pomodoro.
Link: The Pomodoro Technique (official website)
Back to FHWW
Ferriss could have chosen many other relevant productivity principles, but he chose Pareto’s 80/20 and Parkinson’s Law. The inspiring thing about the pair is how Ferriss notes that combined, the two form an interesting recursive definition of effectiveness :
Limit tasks to just the important ones to shorten your working time, and shorten your working time to limit tasks to the important ones.
Reading Assignment 8 – Further Reading
- Book: The 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss
- The Four Hour Work Week blog – The Blog of Tim Ferriss offers additional resources.
- Spreadsheet tool” Based on a website tool provided for the FHWW book, Technotheory created an excel spreadsheet for Dreamlining, or figuring out how close you are to your ultimate lifestyle goals.
- Impossible HQ article: A Beginners Guide To Parkinson’s Law: How To Do More Stuff By Giving Yourself Less Time / IMPOSSIBLE
- Productivity Pitstop: Selective Ignorance and the Low-Info Diet (free article by Tim Ferriss).
- Lifehacker: very recent article Productivity 101: A Primer to The Pomodoro Technique
Coming Up: Tomorrow we’ll take a look at David Allen’s GTD, followed up the next day by more timer/timely systems.