The 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss: Summary and Lessons

4 hour work week summary

“The question you should be asking isn’t, “What do I want?” or “What are my goals?” but “What would excite me?”

Rating: 9/10

Related: The E-Myth Revisited, Zero to One, ReWork, Essentialism, Eat That Frog

Print | Ebook | Audiobook

Get all my book summaries here

The 4 Hour Workweek Short Summary

The 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss is the ultimate blueprint on lifestyle design. Follow a simple step-by-step process to reinvent yourself, work better, create a business, and live a luxury lifestyle that favors time and mobility.

Executive Summary

The New Rich (NR) are those who abandon the deferred-life plan and create luxury lifestyles using time and mobility.

People don’t want to be millionaires—they want to experience what they believe only millions can buy. The fantasy is the lifestyle of complete freedom it allows.

So the question becomes: “How can one achieve the millionaire lifestyle of complete freedom without first having $1,000,000?”

The step-by-step process you’ll use to reinvent yourself:

  1. D is for Definition. Introductions to the rules and objectives of the new game. This section explains the lifestyle design recipe and fundamentals.
  2. E is for Elimination. Kills the obsolete notion of time management once and for all. How to increase your per-hour results ten times or more by cultivating selective ignorance, developing a low-information diet, and ignoring the unimportant. This section provides the first of the three luxury lifestyle design ingredients: time.
  3. A is for Automation. Puts cash flow on autopilot using geographic arbitrage, outsourcing, and rules of nondecision. Provides the second ingredient of luxury lifestyle design: income.
  4. L is for Liberation. The mobile manifesto for the globally inclined. Covers how to break the bonds that confine you to a single location. This section delivers the third and final ingredient for luxury lifestyle design: mobility.

Step I: D is for Definition

Chapter 1 – Cautions and Comparisons: How to Burn $1,000,000 a Night

The New Rich (NR) can be separated from the crowd based on their goals, which reflect very distinct priorities and life philosophies.

If you can free your time and location, your money is automatically worth 3–10 times as much.

Money is multiplied in practical value depending on the number of W’s you control in your life:

  • What you do
  • When you do it
  • Where you do it
  • With whom you do it

To become a NR, you start by replacing assumptions.

Chapter 2 – Rules That Change the Rules: Everything Popular is Wrong

  1. Retirement Is Worst-Case-Scenario Insurance. Retirement planning is like life insurance. Your retirement is not the goal.
  2. Interest and Energy Are Cyclical. Work only when you are most effective and life is both more productive and enjoyable.
  3. Less Is Not Laziness. Despite working fewer hours, the NR produce more meaningful results than other people. Focus on being productive instead of busy.
  4. The Timing Is Never Right.Someday” is a disease that takes your dreams to the grave with you. If it’s important to you and you want to do it “eventually,” just do it and correct course along the way.
  5. Ask for Forgiveness, Not Permission. Try it and then justify it. Get good at being a troublemaker and saying sorry when you screw up.
  6. Emphasize Strengths, Don’t Fix Weaknesses. Focus on better use of your best weapons instead of constant repair.
  7. Things in Excess Become Their Opposite. Do what you want as opposed to what you feel obligated to do.
  8. Money Alone Is Not the Solution. The routine of the money wheel is a constant distraction that prevents you from seeing how pointless it is. The problem is more than money.
  9. Relative Income Is More Important Than Absolute Income. Relative income is the real measurement of wealth for the New Rich.
  10. Distress Is Bad, Eustress Is Good. Eustress is the stimulus for growth. Be equally aggressive in removing distress and finding eustress.

Chapter 3 – Dodging Bullets: Fear-Setting and Escaping Paralysis

Most intelligent people in the world dress up fear as optimistic denial

Define your fears by writing down your answer to each step:

  1. Define Your Fear. What’s the worst that could happen? What would be the permanent impact on a scale of 1–10? How likely do you think it is that they would actually happen?
  2. Damage Control. What steps could you take to repair the damage? How could you get things back under control?
  3. Consider the Upside. What are the outcomes or benefits, both temporary and permanent, of more probable scenarios?
  4. Repair the Missteps. If you were fired today, what would you do to get things under financial control? If you quit your job to test other options, how could you later get back on the same career track?
  5. Define Action. What are you putting off out of fear? What we most fear doing is what we most need to do. Define the worst case, accept it, and do it. Resolve to do one thing every day that you fear.
  6. Know the Costs. What is it costing you—financially, emotionally, and physically—to postpone action? Don’t only evaluate the potential downside of action. It is equally important to measure the cost of inaction. If you don’t pursue what excites you, where will you be in one year, five years, and ten years?
  7. Understand Your Fear. What are you waiting for? If you can only answer “timing” then you’re afraid, just like the rest of the world. Measure the cost of inaction and realize the unlikelihood and repairability of most missteps. Finally, develop the most important habit of those who excel and enjoy doing so: action.

Chapter 4 – System Reset: Being Unreasonable and Unambiguous

99% of the people in the world are convinced they are incapable of achieving great things so they aim for the mediocre. So competition is fiercest for “realistic” goals.

Doing big things begins with asking for them properly.

Excitement is the more practical synonym for happiness, and it is precisely what you should strive to chase.

The question you should be asking isn’t, “What do I want?” or “What are my goals?” but “What would excite me?”

Boredom is the enemy, not failure.

Apply timelines to dreams by dreamlining (advanced goal-setting):

  1. What would you do if there were no way you could fail? Create two timelines—6 months and 12 months—and list up to five things you dream of having, being, and doing, in that order.
  2. What does “being” entail doing? Convert each “being” into a “doing” to make it actionable. For example: Great cook = make Christmas dinner without help.
  3. What are the four dreams that would change it all? Highlight the four most exciting and/or important dreams.
  4. Determine the cost of these dreams and calculate your Target Monthly Income (TMI) for both timelines. Think of income and expense as a monthly cash flow instead of grand totals. Calculate your Target Monthly Income for your dreamlines.
  5. Determine three steps for each of the four dreams in just the 6-month timeline and take the first step now. Set simple well-defined actions for now, tomorrow, and the day after. Once you have three steps for each of the four goals, complete the three actions in the “now” column. Each should be simple enough to do in five minutes or less. The best first step is finding someone who’s done it and asking for advice on how to do the same.

Step II: E is for Elimination

Chapter 5 – The End of Time Management: Illusions and Italians

4 hour work week summary 80 20 rule

Don’t try to do more each day. Being busy is used as a guide for avoiding the few critically important but uncomfortable actions. 

Being efficient without regard to effectiveness is the default mode of the universe.

Two truisms to keep in mind:

  • Doing something unimportant well does not make it important.
  • Requiring a lot of time does not make a task important.

What you do is infinitely more important than how you do it. Efficiency is still important, but it is useless unless applied to the right things.

Pareto’s Law (80/20 Rule): 80% of the outputs result from 20% of the inputs

Parkinson’s Law: tasks will swell in (perceived) importance and complexity in relation to the time allotted for its completion

To be productive:

3 times per day, at scheduled times, ask yourself:

  • Am I being productive or just active?
  • Am I inventing things to do to avoid the important?

How to have more time and do less:

  1. Define a to-do list
  2. Define a not-to-do list

How to 80/20 your work:

  1. If you had a heart attack and had to work two hours per day, what would you do? 
  2. If you had a second heart attack and had to work two hours per week, what would you do?
  3. If you had a gun to your head and had to stop doing 4/5 of different time-consuming activities, what would you remove?
  4. What are the top 3 activities that I use to fill time to feel as though I’ve been productive?
  5. Who are the people who produce the most of your enjoyment and propel you forward, and which cause most of your depression, anger, and second-guessing? 
  6. If this is the only thing I accomplish today, will I be satisfied with my day?

There should never be more than two mission-critical items to complete each day. Do them separately from start to finish without distraction.

Chapter 6 – The Low-Information Diet: Cultivating Selective Ignorance

Problems solve themselves or disappear if you remove yourself as an information bottleneck and empower others.

To be selectively ignorant, learn to ignore or redirect all information and interruptions that are irrelevant, unimportant, or unactionable.

Lifestyle design is based on massive action—output. Increased output necessitates decreased input.

Most information is time-consuming, negative, irrelevant to your goals, and outside of your influence.

The Low-Information Diet: 

  1. Go on an immediate one-week media fast. No newspapers, magazines, and audiobooks. Music is permitted at all times. No news websites whatsoever No television at all, except for one hour of pleasure viewing each evening. No web surfing at the desk unless it is necessary to complete a work task for that day.
  2. Only consume information for something immediate and important. Information is useless if it is not applied to something important or if you will forget it before you have a chance to apply it. Focus on “just-in-time” information instead of “just-in-case” information.
  3. Practice the art of nonfinishing. Develop the habit of nonfinishing that which is boring or unproductive if a boss isn’t demanding it.

Chapter 7 – Interrupting Interruption and the Art of Refusal

4 hour work week summary time wasters

Learn to be difficult when it counts. In school as in life, having a reputation for being assertive will help you receive preferential treatment without having to beg or fight for it every time.

An interruption is anything that prevents the start-to-finish completion of a critical task.

The 3 principal offenders:

  1. Time Wasters. Things that can be ignored with little or no consequence
  2. Time Consumers. Repetitive tasks or requests that need to be completed but often interrupt high-level work
  3. Empowerment Failures. When someone needs approval to make something small happen

How to Fix Interruptions

  • Limit email consumption and production
  • Never check email first thing in the morning
  • Check email twice per day. Create an email autoresponse so people respect your new rule
  • Screen incoming and limit outgoing phone calls
  • Use two numbers: one office line (non-urgent) and one cellular (urgent). Answer the cell and let the office go to voicemail
  • Don’t let people chitchat. Get them to the point immediately
  • Avoid all meetings that do not have clear objectives
  • If someone proposes a meeting, request an email instead and then use the phone as your fallback offer
  • Respond to voicemail via email whenever possible. This trains people to be concise
  • Meetings should only be held to make decisions about a predefined situation, not to define the problem. Ask people to send you an email with an agenda to define the purpose
  • Have an end time for your meeting (aim for 30 minutes)
  • Don’t permit casual visitors. Use headphones, even if you aren’t listening to anything 
  • Work smarter by batching tasks like email
  • Empower others to act without interrupting you
  • Force people to define their requests before spending time with them
  • Use Evernote to capture information and make it findable

Step III: A is for Automation

Chapter 8 – Outsourcing Life: Offloading the Rest and a Taste of Geoarbitrage

Get a remote personal assistant to learn how to give orders. It is small-scale training wheels for the most critical of NR skills: remote management and communication.

Eliminate before you delegate.

Never automate something that can be eliminated, and never delegate something that can be automated or streamlined. 

Refine rules and processes before adding people. Using people to leverage a refined process multiplies production; using people as a solution to a poor process multiplies problems.

Only delegate time-consuming and well-defined tasks

To find the right assistant, you need to test with a trial. To improve your odds, hire a VA firm instead of a solo operator.

How to minimize damage and allow for fast repair:

  1. Never use debit cards for online transactions or with remote assistants
  2. If your VA will be accessing websites on your behalf, create a new unique login and password to be used on those sites

How to delegate:

  • Request someone who has “excellent” English and indicate that phone calls will be required (even if not). Be fast to request a replacement if there are repeated communication issues
  • Give precise directions. Ask VAs to rephrase tasks to confirm understanding before getting started
  • Request a status update after a few hours of work on a task to ensure that the task is both understood and achievable. Some tasks are, after initial attempts, impossible
  • Assign tasks that are to be completed within 24-72 hours. Break larger tasks into smaller milestones that can be completed in shorter time frames
  • Send one task at a time whenever possible (and no more than two)

Chapter 9 – Income Autopilot I: Finding the Muse

The goal is to create an automated vehicle for generating cash without consuming time.

It’s easier to fill demand than to create it. Find a market—define your customers—then find or develop a product for them.

How to find profitable niches:

  1. Which social, industry, and professional groups do you belong to, have you belonged to, or do you understand? Compile a list of all the groups, past and present, that you can associate yourself with.
  2. Which of the groups you identified have their own magazines? Narrow the groups from question 1 above to those that are reachable through one or two small magazines.

How to brainstorm products:

  • The main benefit of your product should be explainable in one sentence or phrase
  • It should cost $50–200 since that price range provides the most profit for the least customer service hassle. Price high and then justify
  • It should take less than 4 weeks to manufacture
  • It should be fully explainable in a good online FAQ

The 3 recommended options:

  1. Resell. The easiest route but also the least profitable. It is the fastest to set up but the fastest to die off due to price competition with other resellers
  2. License. Two options: invent and let someone else do the rest or manufacture and sell someone else’s idea
  3. Create. Information products are low-cost, fast to manufacture, and time-consuming for competitors to duplicate

3 options to create information products:

  1. Create the content yourself, often via paraphrasing and combining points from several books on a topic
  2. Repurpose content that is in the public domain and not subject to copyright protection
  3. License content or compensate an expert to help create content

Chapter 10 – Income Autopilot II: Testing the Muse

To get an accurate indicator of commercial viability, don’t ask people if they would buy—ask them to buy.

Micro-testing involves using inexpensive advertisements to test consumer response to a product prior to manufacturing.

Test your product ideas using PPC in five days for $500 or less.

The 3 parts of the basic test process:

  1. Best. Look at the competition and create a more-compelling offer on a basic 1-3 page website
  2. Test. Test your offer using PPC advertising campaigns
  3. Divest or Invest. Cut losses with losers and manufacture the winner(s) for sales rollout

Chapter 11 – Income Autopilot III: MBA-Management By Absence

Once you have a product that sells, it’s time to design a self-correcting business architecture that runs itself.

How to build a scalable business:

  1. Phase I: 0–50 Total Units of Product Shipped. Do it all yourself. Take customer calls to determine common questions that you will answer later in an online FAQ
  2. Phase II: >10 Units Shipped Per Week. Find local fulfillment companies
  3. Phase III: >20 Units Shipped Per Week. Find end-to-end fulfillment houses that handle it all—from order status to returns and refunds

The Art of Undecision: Fewer Options = More Revenue

How to reduce service overhead by 20–80%:

  • Offer one or two purchase options
  • Offer only one fast shipping method and charge a premium
  • Do not offer overnight or expedited shipping
  • Eliminate phone orders and direct prospects to online ordering
  • Do not offer international shipments

The biggest time-saver of all is customer filtering.

Instead of dealing with problem customers, prevent them from ordering in the first place.

How to attract high-profit and low-maintenance customers:

  1. Do not accept payment via Western Union, checks, or money order
  2. Raise wholesale minimums to 12–100 units and require a tax ID number to qualify resellers
  3. Refer all potential resellers to an online order form that must be printed, filled out, and faxed in
  4. Offer low-priced products instead of free products to capture contact information for follow-up sales
  5. Offer a lose-win guarantee instead of free trials
  6. Do not accept orders from common mail fraud countries

How to look Fortune 500 in 45 minutes:

  • Don’t be the CEO. Give yourself a mid-level title, such as VP or Director of Sales
  • Put multiple emails and phone contacts on the website
  • Set up an Interactive Voice Response (IVR) remote receptionist

Go forth and project professionalism with a well-designed image. Perceived size does matter.

Step IV: L is for Liberation

Chapter 12 – Disappearing Act: How to Escape the Office

To escape the office:

  1. Increase Investment. Convince your company to invest in training so that the loss is greater if you quit
  2. Prove Increased Output Offsite. Call in sick for two days mid-week and double your work output on those days
  3. Prepare the Quantifiable Business Benefit. Create a bullet-point list of how much more you achieved outside the office with explanations
  4. Propose a Revocable Trial Period. Propose a one-day-per-week remote work trial period for two weeks
  5. Expand Remote Time. Make your remote working days the most productive to date. Up the ante to four days per week remote for a two-week trial

The hourglass approach:

  1. Use a pre-planned project or emergency and take two weeks out of the office
  2. Propose how you can work remotely
  3. Make those two weeks the most productive at work
  4. Show your boss the quantifiable results upon returning. Suggest two or three days at home per week as a trial for two weeks. Make them ultra-productive
  5. Suggest only one day in the office per week. Make those days the least productive of the week
  6. Suggest complete mobility

How to replace presence-based work with performance-based freedom:

  • Practice environment-free productivity. Attempt to work for two hours in a café prior to proposing a remote trial
  • Quantify current productivity. Document your work efforts
  • Demonstrate remote work productivity. Rack up some proof that you can kick ass without constant supervision
  • Practice the art of getting past “no”. “What would I need to do to [desired outcome]?”
  • Put your employer on remote training wheels. Propose Monday or Friday at home
  • Ask for more. Extend each successful trial period until you reach full-time or your desired level of mobility

Chapter 13 – Beyond Repair: Killing Your Job

Being able to quit things that don’t work is integral to being a winner.

Rebuttals for the most common phobias of quitting:

  1. Quitting is permanent. Use fear-setting to examine how you could pick up your chosen career track or start another company at a later point.
  2. I won’t be able to pay the bills. It isn’t hard to eliminate most expenses temporarily and live on savings for a brief period.
  3. Health insurance and retirement accounts will disappear. You can have identical medical coverage for a few hundred dollars per month. It’s easy to transfer your 401(k).
  4. It will ruin my resume. Do something interesting and make them jealous

Answer to why you took a break or left your previous job: “I had a once-in-a-lifetime chance to do [exotic and envy-producing experience] and couldn’t turn it down. I figured that, with [20–40] years of work to go, what’s the rush?”

Exercises to help you realize just how natural job changes are and how simple the transition can be:

  1. Are you more likely to find what you want in your current job or somewhere else?
  2. If you were fired from your job today, what would you do to get things under financial control?
  3. Take a sick day and post your resume on the major job sites. The person who has more options has more power. Don’t wait until you need options to search for them. Take a sneak peek at the future now and it will make both action and being assertive easier.
  4. If you run or own a company, imagine that you have just been sued and must declare bankruptcy. How would you survive?

Chapter 14 – Mini-Retirements: Embracing the Mobile Lifestyle

The alternative to binge travel—the mini-retirement—entails relocating to one place for one to six months before going home or moving to another locale.

How to save money when traveling:

  • Use credit cards with reward points for large muse-related advertising and manufacturing expenses
  • Purchase tickets far in advance (three months or more) or last minute, and aim for both departure and return between Tuesday and Thursday
  • Consider buying one ticket to an international hub and then an ongoing ticket with a cheap local airline

How to pack:

  1. One week of clothing appropriate to the season, including one semi formal shirt and pair of pants or skirt for customs. Think T-shirts, one pair of shorts, and a multipurpose pair of jeans.
  2. Backup photocopies or scanned copies of all important documents: health insurance, passport/visa, credit cards, debit cards, etc.
  3. Debit cards, credit cards, and $200 worth of small bills in local currency
  4. Small cable bike lock for securing luggage while in transit or in hostels; a small padlock for lockers if needed

Chapter 15 – Filling the Void: Adding Life After Subtracting Work

Subtracting the bad does not create the good. It leaves a vacuum. Decreasing income-driven work isn’t the end goal. Living more—and becoming more—is.

 Common doubts and self-flagellation of the NR:

  • Am I really doing this to be more free and lead a better life, or am I just lazy?
  • Did I quit the rat race because it’s bad, or just because I couldn’t hack it?
  • Is this as good as it gets?
  • Am I really successful or just kidding myself?
  • Have I lowered my standards to make myself a winner? Are my friends, who are now making twice as much as three years ago, really on the right track?
  • Why am I not happy? I can do anything and I’m still not happy. Do I even deserve it?

These are outdated comparisons using the more-is-better and money-as-success mind-sets that got us into trouble to begin with.

Before spending time on a stress-inducing question, big or otherwise, ensure that the answer is “yes” to the following two questions:

  1. Have I decided on a single meaning for each term in this question?
  2. Can an answer to this question be acted upon to improve things?

If you can’t define it or act upon it, forget it.

The two fundamental components to enjoy life:

  1. Continual Learning. Transport skills that you practice domestically to other countries, like sports. Instant social life and camaraderie. Or pick skills that you can practice there, like learning a language
  2. Service. Doing something that improves life besides your own.

Chapter 16 – The Top 13 New Rich Mistakes

  1. Losing sight of dreams and falling into work for work’s sake
  2. Micromanaging and emailing to fill time
  3. Handling problems your outsourcers or co-workers can handle
  4. Helping outsourcers or co-workers with the same problem more than once, or with noncrisis problems
  5. Chasing customers, particularly unqualified or international prospects, when you have sufficient cash flow to finance your nonfinancial pursuits
  6. Answering email that will not result in a sale or that can be answered by a FAQ or auto-responder
  7. Working where you live, sleep, or should relax
  8. Not performing a thorough 80/20 analysis every two to four weeks for your business and personal life 
  9. Striving for endless perfection rather than great or simply good enough, whether in your personal or professional life
  10. Blowing minutiae and small problems out of proportion as an excuse to work
  11. Making non-time-sensitive issues urgent in order to justify work
  12. Viewing one product, job, or project as the end-all and be-all of your existence
  13. Ignoring the social rewards of life

The Best of the 4 Hour Work Week Blog

Questions to Put Things in Perspective

  1. What is the one goal, if completed, that could change everything?
  2. What is the most urgent thing right now that you feel you “must” or “should” do?
  3. Can you let the urgent “fail”—even for a day—to get to the next milestone for your potential life-changing tasks?
  4. What’s been on your to-do list the longest?

The choice-minimal lifestyle becomes an attractive tool when we consider two truths. Considering options costs attention that then can’t be spent on action or present-state awareness. Attention is necessary for not only productivity but appreciation. Therefore: Too many choices = less or no productivity Too many choices = less or no appreciation Too many choices = sense of overwhelm What to do?

The 6 Basic Rules of the Choice-Minimal Lifestyle

  1. Set rules for yourself so you can automate as much decision making as possible
  2. Don’t provoke deliberation before you can take action
  3. Don’t postpone decisions just to avoid uncomfortable conversations
  4. Learn to make nonfatal or reversible decisions as quickly as possible
  5. Don’t strive for variation—and thus increase option consideration—when it’s not needed
  6. Regret is past-tense decision making. Eliminate complaining to minimize regret

The Not-To-Do List: 9 Habits to Stop Now

  1. Do not answer calls from unrecognized phone numbers
  2. Do not email first thing in the morning or last thing at night
  3. Do not agree to meetings or calls with no clear agenda or end time
  4. Do not let people ramble
  5. Do not check email constantly—“batch” and check at set times only
  6. Do not over-communicate with low-profit, high-maintenance customers
  7. Do not work more to fix overwhelmingness—prioritize
  8. Do not carry a cell phone 24/7
  9. Do not expect work to fill a void that non-work relationships and activities should