To work only four hours per week and still lead a life of adventure and luxury - Tim Ferriss says you can do it, in his book «The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich».
This is Part 3 of my series on T4HWW. An overview of the series can be found here.
Less is more - the Elimination of the unnecessary
According to Tim Ferriss, the first step to (be able to) fulfill your dreams is the elimination of what isn't necessary. Tim tells us to:
- Stop «time management»
- Go on a low-information diet
- Interrupt interruptions
Stop «time management»
It doesn't matter whether you're able to do more and more things within the same timeframe, to become more «efficient», that is, without caring whether your work makes sense or not. It's all about becoming effective, to achieve the goals that you have set for yourself.
1. Doing something unimportant well does not make it important.
2. Requiring a lot of time does not make a task important.
Tim is listing a few proven ways to become and to stay effective:
- Apply the Pareto-Principle (80/20-Principle): which 20% of sources trigger 80% of your problems and unhappiness? Get rid of them. Be rigorous, if necessary.
Vice versa: which 20% of sources lead to 80% of your desired outcomes and happiness? Focus on them with all your energy. The goal is to make a maximum income from minimal necessary effort.
- Combine that with Parkinson's Law: if work extends to fill up all available time - create a precise and tight schedule. Very, very tight. Tim claims the results will be even better under such pressure than when you allocate exuberant time frames.
- Ask yourself every now and then during your day: Am I being productive or just active? Am I inventing things to do to avoid the important? Another good question to ask before starting any new task: If this is the only thing I accomplish today, will I be satisfied with my day? Don't try «multitasking», just do one thing and do it right.
- Imagine you've suffered a heart attack and are allowed to work only two hours per day. What would you do during those two hours? And if you had another heart attack and were allowed a maximum of two hours of work per week only: what would you do?
Go on a low-information diet
As an exercise to begin with, Tim suggests a one-week media fast: no TV, no news magazines, no surfing the web. Invest the time gained into your family, your friends or some sports, maybe.
Tim thinks that modern man is overeating useless information much like he's devouring empty calories. His key techniques to eliminate useless information are:
- Be selectively ignorant: ignore or redirect what is irrelevant, unimportant or cannot be acted upon.
- Just read books written by experts with proven experience. Drop wannabe or speculator musings.
- Write, phone or mail successful people and prepare concrete questions. Tim says the response rate is about 80%.
- Train yourself in speed reading. It is said you can improve your reading speed within 10 minutes by 200%, without losing context.
- Practice the art of nonfinishing. If you are bored to death by a book and the text simply doesn't get better: just stop. In addition, the basic question before reading a nonfiction book is: Will I definitely use this information for something immediate and important? It doesn't make sense to read the right books at the wrong time.
An interruption is anything that prevents the start-to-finish completion of a critical task. By definition, most interruptions are pure evil and should be - interrupted.
Tim is listing three categories of causes of interruptions: time wasters, time consumers (routine tasks) and empowerment failure.
- The prototype time wasters are unnecessary alarms (Email, IM) and the habit of being available to everybody at any instant. Turn off those alarms. Read email only twice per day, at 12:00 and at 4:00 PM. Configure an email autoresponder to inform all senders of email about this policy and mention a phone number for emergencies. When taking such an emergency call, proceed straight to asking: How can I help you? - instead of inviting the caller to a time wasting chat (How are you...?)
Meetings are for making decisions. If deciding looks hard, suggest to try out one solution and revert it, if necessary (Puppy Dog Close). Should there be any doubt about the very question to be answered, clarify it ahead of the meeting, via email. Tim says his favourite ways of communicating are, in descending order: 1. email, 2. phone, 3. personal meeting.
- Routine tasks are solved best by automation (standing orders, answering machine, autoresponder, ...) or by collecting and batch processing. If you give in to each and every interruption, you may lose up to 28% of your work time - studies say that it takes that much time to regain focus.
- Empowement failure often results from micro-management. If you or your boss want to have the final word on all minutiae, then being consulted for every tiny step becomes the rule. Important tasks get killed that way. Some general policy works miracles here: If you can fix the problem for less than $100, please go ahead without asking and do so. Occasional reviews of the results are all it takes.
My impression, so far
As a boss, there shouldn't be too many problems when you decide to live by these rules.
As an employee, you'll probably need a lot of sure instinct to guard yourself against availability terror and permanent interruptions. I need to think how this can be made to work in countries like, e.g. Germany.
As a freelancer, that would be easier, of course.
To be continued...
Coming soon: Tim Ferriss' The 4-Hour Workweek (4/5): Money for nothing - Automation. There is also an overview on the series.
[Update: The fourth part of the series is available: «Tim Ferriss' The 4-Hour Workweek (4/5): Money for nothing - Automation». There is also an overview on the series.]