The Four Hour Work Week is Impossible

By in Personal Finance | 12 comments

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“Do not expect work to fill a void that non-work relationships and activities should. Work is not all of life.  Your co-workers shouldn’t be your only friends.  Schedule life and defend it just as you would an important business meeting.  Never tell yourself “I’ll just get it done this weekend.”  Review Parkinson’s Law in 4HWWand force yourself to cram within tight hours so your per-hour productivity doesn’t fall through the floor. Focus, get the critical few done, and get out. E-mailing all weekend is no way to spend the little time you have on this planet. —

It’s hip to focus on getting things done, but it’s only possible once we remove the constant static and distraction.  If you have trouble deciding what to do, just focus on not doing.  Different means, same end.” From the Not To Do List at Tim Ferris; 9 Habits to Stop Now, by author of the 4 Hour Work Week

I read the book The 4 Hour Work Weekseveral years ago, and have been thinking about it ever since; not because I think it’s a great book, but because I think the title is hyperbolic and the premise is impossible. That said, I enjoyed reading the book as well as checking out Ferris’ website. In the highlighted quote, it’s a no brainer to focus on the tasks that bring the most benefit in your life. And why not enjoy life in your leisure time? But can’t work be fun too?


Who is Doing the Housekeeping?

Ferris’ ideas leave out some important realities. Who is going to do the dishes and the laundry? Who is going to pay the bills, tidy up the mess, and scoop the cat litter?

Life is consumed with housekeeping chores. These small chores, whether at work or at home are unavoidable. Many cannot be outsourced. I’d love someone to brush my teeth and wash my face every night. I wouldn’t mind someone washing my hair and styling it every few days. Is there someone out there who will run to the store for a few apples and a container of milk? Well, yes there is, but it will take almost as much time to line up the help as it will to run in and make the purchase.

At work, I need to organize my files. As a portfolio manager, I must update the investments in my portfolio. As a finance professor, no one is going to prepare the PowerPoint slides for me or grade the assignments. Those duties must be performed so I am ready to teach the class.

Not only do I think the 4 hour work week is absolutely impossible, I’d be hard pressed to get all my work done in a 4 hour work day. What about you?

How about kicking back and reading some great articles from across the web?

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image credit; graffink


  1. I totally agree, it’s the little everyday tasks that take up so much time, and what’s worse is that if you don’t stay on top of them, eventually you’ll have to spend more time digging out from underneath whatever it is you ignored. Closets need to be cleaned regularly or you’ll end up spending an entire afternoon re-organizing it once it gets out of control. I actually started a list, my 500 or so things to do, that I work against to try to stay on top of all the little chores around the house. In month two and so far it’s going pretty well.

    Money Beagle

    February 17, 2012

  2. I wouldn’t count count life tasks such as groceries and dishes as part of what Ferris is talking about because he never attempted to say that you only have to get out of bed for four hours each week.

    Also, even he admits the title is hyperbolic and that he works more than 4 hours per week. Even the title of this post is hyperbolic because it is an effective writing tool :)

    I think he did show, however, that it is possible for him to work 4 hours per week if he was on an extended vacation or mini-retirement.

    Is his lifestyle for everyone? No. Is it for even 10% of people? No. But is it possible? Yes.

    There are plenty of people who work zero hours per week and make more money in a year than most of us.

    I think what you are getting at, and I fully agree, is that most lifestyle design writing is geared towards people who have very little real life responsibilities. They are mostly 20-something, single renters with a throwaway job.

    I think there is plenty of room in the world for people who love to work for others and for those who hate it. I talk about lifestyle design a bit on my site, but I’m careful to avoid the attitude that one way is better and anyone who wants to work 60 hours per week is somehow wrong.

    Great discussion!

    John | Married (with Debt)

    February 17, 2012

  3. I haven’t read the book so I don’t know the context.

    I do think the idea of working only 4 hours a week is pretty far fetched. It only seems feasible to me if you’re basically just owning a business of some sort which you hire people to run and manage in a mostly hands off fashion. But thinking that any normal job or self employed occupation can really work on just 4 hours doesn’t seem realistic.


    February 17, 2012

  4. @Money, I like to commiserate about the “housekeeping chores” of life. And I’m inspired by those who regularly keep their eyes on the ball.
    @John, That’s quite a magnanimus response. I concur that there are all types of lifestyles and work styles. And in life and personal finance, one needs to find their own path….. and then make it happen. Personally, except while on vacation, I tend to work every day, but I’m one of those folks who enjoys working.
    @Jim-That’s how I see it as well. It’s hard for me to grasp how one can accomplish much of anything in 4 hours.


    February 17, 2012

  5. Tim’s book is more about invoking our innate desire more so than its possibility. Very few can live life with 4 hour work week. But — as you’ve said — life will be boring unless you live playing golf. :)


    February 18, 2012

  6. My kids make messes all day long. I couldn’t condense them into 4 hours a day…

    Super Frugalette

    February 19, 2012

  7. @Charles, I couldn’t agree more.
    @Shilpan-Clearly, it’s a good idea to improve one’s productivity….and to find one’s purpost. I still don’t buy the 4 hour work week.
    @Super- WIth kids, how about the 400 hour work week? :)


    February 20, 2012

  8. I’m just truly pleased I discovered this web page. Maybe you’d like to place a banner on my blogroll? How can I contact you on private?


    February 20, 2012

  9. Some chores that others may see as work I find relaxing, like puttering around the yard with the iPod cranking away. I agree w/ Ron, Ferris worked crazy hours to get to where he’s at. And now, he works to promote his books.

    101 Centavos

    February 22, 2012

  10. I think that I would have to agree with @John. The rule of 80:20 applies to the work side of things, but you can never escape the issue of chores around the house. TIm Ferriss doesn’t really tackle that side of things in his book (too mundane).

    I like your line of thought too though Barbara, ‘do something you love and you will never feel like you have worked a day in your life!’ That is where I’m trying to position myself

    Shaun @ Money Cactus

    February 23, 2012

  11. The man teaches principles in the book. What I got out of it was, work is defined by you. Do the “work” you love and create systems for the work you don’t like so that someone else does it. Leaving you the time to do what you love to do. That’s it. Simple. What’s wrong with that? I love that principle, even if it goes against what I was told growing up. Now I do my best to live that principle and I’m a lot happier.


    April 11, 2012

    • I like how simply you put it. Your summary makes the book sound so much more appealing.


      April 13, 2012

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