Seven Questions with the 4-Hour Workweek Evangelist

We’ve all heard it’s better to work smarter, not harder. According to author Timothy Ferriss, the real secret is figuring out how to barely work at all.


Timothy Ferriss is quite an accomplished man. He’s a Princeton University guest lecturer in High-Tech Entrepreneurship and Electrical Engineering, the first American in history to hold a Guinness World Record in tango, a national Chinese kickboxing champion, and even a MTV breakdancer in Taiwan. But, what he’s most known for, at least lately, is his bestselling book, The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join The New Rich, that focuses on the 80-20 principle, outsourcing your life, and getting away from your desk.


Perhaps it’s not as easy as it sounds, but Ferriss’s own life makes it appear so. We caught up with him recently to assess whether his theories are more hype than fact. Read on to learn what he had to say.

Admittedly, some workers have probably discovered the “4-Hour Work Week” principles on their own. However: are people who’ve discovered these practices themselves the only ones who are risk-ready enough to use them effectively?

Not at all. The principle concept of “lifestyle design” is lower risk than the “deferred-life” career planning most follow. It is not anti-investment, but it is anti-retirement-as-life-goal. I have maxed-out IRAs and 401(k)s and never gamble. The 4-Hour Workweek is intended to save people the trouble of trial and error — it’s the mistakes that cost you, not the recommendations I make.

Some of your critics dislike that you condone the use of loopholes or technicalities to gain advantage; they think its tantamount to cheating. Is your school of thinking at odds with, or consistent with the idea of the “American work ethic?”

It’s 100% consistent with work ethic. People are fond of misquoting me, but I only criticize the predominate overwork ethic that focuses on activities instead of results, being busy instead of productive. The founding fathers advocated innovation, dissent, and hard work when applied to the right things. This book is reflective of their philosophies.

Most critics haven’t read the book. I never break rules — I analyze them and question the outdated assumptions and habits based on them. To put this in historical context, the bar in the Olympic high jump used to be jumped in a hurdling motion. Then, one athlete started used the current back-flop technique and revolutionized the game. Similar evolution can be seen in almost all sports, from better materials and drafting in the Tour de France to hydrodynamic suits in swimming. Is this cheating? Is Netflix “cheating” against Blockbuster by eliminating retail? No — it’s being a smarter player. Career planning is now evolving, and I’m trying to teach people how to be the chess player instead of the chess piece.


This book has generated controversy among readers. Do you take readers’ invective personally (when they express disbelief or criticism), or was this bestseller simply a low-maintenance money-making venture, or “muse?”

I don’t take it personally. This book challenges a lot of behaviors people hold dear, even though they are counterproductive. People either “get” this book or they don’t. At the end of the day, it’s just the number of people who get it that count. My blog is on the blogroll of some of the top tech CEOs in the world. Do I have all of the answers? Of course not. But I’m asking some important and long-avoided questions that make people uncomfortable. I knew people would either love this book or hate it, and I’m fine with that.

I never expected to make a profit on this book. Something like 13 of 14 publishers turned it down, and some editors — just like some readers — were offended and hostile that I would question their work-a-day comfort zone. No one expected it to become a phenomenon, getting parodied on Jay Leno, sold into dozens of countries, and so forth. It’s been unreal.

Do most corporate workers hate their jobs?

No. Most corporate workers are bored and dangerously comfortable. They are in that gray area between love and hate that leaves most with constant low-grade anxiety and an acute sense of wasted potential. This is more common and more damaging than hate, because hate spurs action. Tolerable mediocrity leads you to wake up one day and ask “what happened to the last 20 years?” That’s no way to spend the prime of life. I was in that zone from 2000 to 2004, and it could have continued until I had a heart attack 20 or 30 years later. I realized this in June of 2004, and that’s when I started experimenting with more uncommon alternatives. Boredom should scare people as much as hate.

Is this the future of out-sourcing? Not just corporate exportation of labor, but personal exportation of labor?


It is. In a digital world where the Center for Work-Life Policy reports the new “40-hour” week is 70 hours and growing, where the norm is time poverty, it’s an inevitable shift. Millions of people are already spending income — a renewable resource — to reclaim fleeting time — a non-renewable resource. So, what if there were an eBay for all of the tasks you didn’t want to do, where people worldwide would compete to give you more time? What if you could get an MBA for $5 an hour to handle all of your menial personal chores and time-consuming business busywork? I have a veritable army working on my behalf, and someone who makes $30,000 per year could do the same. There are dozens of companies set up in places ranging from India and the Phillipines to Jamaica and Canada. It’s the fastest evolving market I’ve ever seen, and it’s only speeding up. Five years from now, most white-collar workers will have digital concierges of some type.

A lot of your lifestyle suggestions describe ways to limit the unnecessary expenditure of one’s creative energy. Is creativity a scarce resource for most people?

Creativity is just an under-exercised faculty. It’s always easier to choose from the standard menu of options than to think laterally, but the latter is definitely where rewards come faster. Take the red pill.

Is Inc. really the only business magazine you read every month?

It’s the only magazine I tend to read cover-to-cover. I skim Internet Retailer magazine as well. Besides that, I get specific information when I need to act on it. Catching up beats keeping up every time.