The Work Week Ahead

As we're approaching the end of what is a nice four-day holiday break for some of us, I want to talk about getting back to work. This will also be my final guestblog on Boing-Boing, for now. [Blogging here has been a welcome distraction and a delight; thanks for allowing me to share this wonderful space with so many of you.]

B83B5AE3-FC54-4C10-BF1E-7E696D87CF94.jpg While traveling recently, I came upon "The 4-Hour Workweek" in paperback, prominently displayed in an airport bookstore. I started wondering how the book is selling today. (The hardback was released in 2007). Its subtitle says it all: "Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere and Join the New Rich." Author Timothy Ferriss, not to be confused with Timothy Ferris, the science writer, considers himself a "lifestyle designer." He reveals how to cut your time at work by 80% and spend more time doing things you really enjoy such as skiiing or scuba diving.

The book's title, "The 4-hour Workweek", suggests the least amount of work you could get away with. However, in this economy, I kept thinking the title might suggest the most work you're lucky to find. Ferris' pitch now seems out of tune with tough times, a bit like books that guide you to "Invest in Real Estate with No Money Down."

Ferriss promises to reveal the secrets of the "New Rich, a fast-growing subculture who have abandoned the "deferred-life plan" (aka "slave - save - retire") and create luxury lifestyles in the present." It seems like the book was written for NY investment bankers who don't enjoy what they do but they can't bring themselves to walk away from $500K salaries and seek a new lifestyle. Ferris notes that it's not the money of the millionaire that most people want; it's the freedom that it buys them. So what keeps us from being free and enjoying it? It's a valid question but I had to ask its opposite: what keeps us from enjoying work?

With the investment banking lifestyle fast disappearing, like a lot of good deals gone bad, this book might represent the apex of the boomer fantasy -- the self-absorbed vision of abundance and personal prosperity, and its pre-occupation with retiring early and leaving the work world behind.

Ferris does have good things to say, but times have changed. Most of his advice applies if you don't like what you do for a living. Ferris says that most people see their "job description as self-description". We get trapped answering the question "what do you do?" Yes, that happens but it's what you do, not what you say that defines you, and that's why work is important. Work is where you can do a lot of things that you can't do on your own. Work is where you can do something that matters, not just to you, but to others. We don't have the luxury of ignoring the problems that face us and the people around us. (The economy, education, health care, climate change, etcetera, etcetera).

Ferris writes that "the perfect job is one that takes the least time." I beg to differ. I love what I do because it demands more and more of me. So, the perfect job is one that requires the most of you -- more of your talent, more of your time and more of your will to make something happen. It challenges you to grow and learn more about yourself, often through the people you work with. I realize not everyone has a job they love and nowadays, a lot of people are happy just to have a job, even if they don't love it. Nonetheless, I feel fortunate not only to have a good job but to be in a position to make a difference in other people's lives. I want more hours, not fewer.

I like poet Frank Bidart's words in "Advice to the Players."

“The greatest luxury is to live a life in which the work that one does to earn a living, and what one has the appetite to make, coincide - by a kind of grace are the same, one.”
Here's to a full workweek ahead, not merely four hours but forty plus.


  1. So you are the other end of the spectrum, who entreats us to love our jobs. Four? Fourty plus? I just need to be happy. COuld happen anywhere.

  2. Dale, I took a look at Ferris’ book at the library the other day, and thought much the same thing — there will be lots of time to enjoying camping and fishing when we are all hobos.

    But really, it was the tone of the book that made me ignore it. Full of those Important Phrases. Read like a slide deck. Ick.

    An interesting relic, perhaps, in a few years.

  3. I agree with Dale (“I love what I do because it demands more and more of me“) – but I took the message of the book to be how to do less of what you HAVE to do, and more of what you WANT to do.

    In my case, I was running a company with 85 employees but wanted to spend less time on business development, and more time programming. So the book wasn’t about quitting my job, but gave some great (specific) advice on changing expectations to say no to everything you don’t love, delegate it to someone else, say no to expectations, etc.

    All around, very useful. I highly recommend it to everyone.

    FWIW, I interviewed Tim Ferriss at for anyone interested.

  4. Just finished reading the Four Day Work Week. There is a tone that bothered me — one that seems to suggest a bit of scamming in order to make your wonderful life.

    I have never been a person who oriented my work life around my ability to “get over.” I have worked for bosses and along side co-workers — whose whole approach to work is to try everyday to get as much as they can with as little effort as possible.

    Bosses believe their “rank” entitles them to the spoils. Workers continue to work for companies which have institutionalized “scamming” the workers with bullshit wages. We rationalize our complicity with a million platitudes “that’s the way it is,” “It’s just business,” etc.

    I’m all for a honest days’ work — but the guestblogger here comes off sounding too much like management. There’s not necessarily anything wrong with management – so long as their business philosophy (& the company’s) does NOT include scamming (the workers or the cutomers) in anyway.

    Our economy is in shambles because — “scamming” is the great America business model.

  5. Thanks for this, Dale.

    I know plenty of people who have a goal of not working and see freedom in that goal. Based on evidence and experience, I think they’re bananas. The people I know who don’t work are a generally unhappy lot, whereas some of the happiest people I know work even though they don’t need to.

    It took me a long time to figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up. I had a lot of shitty jobs during the figuring it out stage, and I was lazy as hell. Loving what I do makes me a total workaholic, but 99% of the time it doesn’t feel like work. The that feels like drudgery is when progress isn’t being made.

    I’ve often thought that my dream job would be solely comprised of the things I do best at and enjoy most (curating, writing) but ultimately the parts that stress me out, like accounting and operations, are the most fulfilling; they’re a challenge and serve the larger goals of the company. (Did I just say accounting was fulfilling? Egad.) Succeeding at that stuff is ultimately more rewarding than tackling what comes easy, and being challenged keeps boredom and inertia at bay.

  6. I’ve been going back and forth on your posts, Dale, and you seem to be a man who passionately cares for a lot of things, but here’s where it really clicked for me – most especially the lines “Work is where you can do a lot of things that you can’t do on your own. Work is where you can do something that matters, not just to you, but to others.”

    I respect people a little less when I find out they hate their job (provided they have the opportunity to do something else and choose not to). I love mine, and I can’t wait to do more of it.

  7. This post sits in real nice next to Cory’s post on Nigerian scammers and “The Big Con”.

    “Ferris notes that it’s not the money of the millionaire that most people want; it’s the freedom that it buys them. So what keeps us from being free and enjoying it?”

    What stops most people is the part where you have to con lonely 80 year old ladies out of their entire life savings so you can have that Ferrari.

  8. Ironically, in your attempt to critique Dougherty’s book for being essentially a “the apex of the boomer fantasy– the self-absorbed vision of abundance and personal prosperity,” you yourself come off as self-absorbed and out-of-touch.

    You boast about how awesome your job is and how it makes your life meaningful and at the same time attempt to acknowledge the alienation and harsh economic realities that many people currently face due to the near global recession: “I realize not everyone has a job they love and nowadays, a lot of people are happy just to have a job, even if they don’t love it.”

    Actually, even when the economy was great many workers toiled in conditions of near-slavery in many parts of the world, or were forced to work in unsafe and unhealthy environments so that all of us bloggers in the developed world can continue typing away at our glowing boxes. Many people continue to work in such deploring conditions until they die premature and/or violent deaths for the chance to support their families. For them, your statements about loving your job and wanting more hours are meaningless.


  9. Thanks for making clear what it was that bothered me about the Ferriss book. I admit the title was tempting — not because I want to be semi-retired, but because I do have a lot of things I like to do that don’t necessarily bring in money — but something about it reminded me precisely of those late night infomercials about getting rich quick in real estate, and I know those people are lying.

    To me, the whole point of life is to do some work that matters. What matters to each person varies enormously, thank goodness, because as a world we need many different things. I know most people in the world don’t yet have that luxury, but it seems like a worthy goal for a civilized society to me, a much better goal than figuring out how to get over on everyone else.

  10. As Robert Frost wrote:

    But yield who will to their separation,
    My object in living is to unite
    My avocation and my vocation
    As my two eyes make one in sight.
    Only where love and need are one,
    And the work is play for mortal stakes,
    Is the deed ever really done
    For Heaven and the future’s sakes.


  11. I thought Ferriss’s book was a bit unrealistic (and yes the tone is so optimistic as to remind the reader of a late-night infomercial), but the basic message had nothing to do with “scamming” people or not doing anything meaningful with your life.

    Running a business, being an entrepreneur, and making a profit is not “scamming”. It’s not dishonorable. If you treat your employees well, it’s something to strive for, I say. To avoid entrepreneurship is to leave business to the big heartless corporations who do treat people like crap. And yet people take a perverse pride in being slaves to corporations because at least they’re not those weasels in management.

    The book was about doing what you *want* to do, not what you feel you *have* to do to “pay the bills” or save for retirement. I know a lot of poeple who work 9 to 5 at jobs they don’t like, that aren’t meaningful to them, for the wrong reasons. Someone needed to say what Ferriss says.

    You don’t have to agree with Ferriss’s choices of what to do with his free time, you don’t have to like his tone, and you don’t have to think he’s a role model, to get something valuable out of the book.

  12. I am all for loving your job but no one has mentioned work-life balance! I love my work but I wanna be able to have time to do other things. Even if you love your job you need to have the time and flexibility to enjoy your life. I live in Japan which is the world epicenter of overwork, lots of people love their jobs here but they have LITERALLY no time for themselves. I don’t mind 50-60 hour weeks as long as I can have a 2 or 3 weeks of vacation a year and the majority of my weekends to myself. Balance baby, America is way out of balance not as bad as Japan but one week a year of vacation is just not going to cut it! people wouldn’t be reading this kind of stuff if we had a more generous vacation policy in America and Japan. What do you think about that???

  13. Dl,

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  14. I read the book and while I see many of its major flaws, I don’t think there was any ‘scamming’ going in it. Also, I don’t think what he says in the book represents a boomer fantasy of unending abundance. Instead, I see his argument as follows: develop a personal plan that allows you to create just enough income to insure security, without sacrificing your time. Essentially, he is arguing what Napoleon said, “Territory we can retake, time, we cannot.”[paraphrasing]

    Time is more valuable then money and work is often time spent doing something you don’t want to do. The only scam is the one where we sell our lives to make salaries in the hopes of one day retiring to enjoy what it was we were all saving up.

    The author wants to suggest another way. Perhaps, it is a flawed vision, but it is anymore more flawed then spending 40 plus hours a week at a chore that doesn’t really benefit us?

  15. I read this book a few weeks back on the reccomendation of a friend, and there are a few things that bothered me as well.

    1.Ferris assumes the only point of working, is to make money. I think if you enjoy your work, and feel like it’s improving the world, that means a lot more than cash.

    2.Ferris lists many “accomplishments” he has achieved, but he basically achieved them by cheating. He specifically mentions how he became a world fighting champion by finding a loophole in the rules and exploiting it, beating out many more well trained competitors. If you are going to cheat, why play? It spoils the spirit of the game.

    3.Ferris made his money selling vitamin supplements that don’t really do much to help people. Is it OK to sell people something that doesn’t help them to make a quick buck?

    I enjoyed some of the ideas in the book, but morally I think he’s way off target. The point of building a new world with tech isn’t to go back to the old ways of greed.

  16. I appreciate your take on work, Dale, but I have to point out that it is eminently possible to do things that matter to others outside of work hours. Some of us want to minimize our time “on the job” (i.e., the paid job) so that we can maximize our time doing other things, like coaching sports or volunteering.

    But yeah, I imagine this book was not written with us in mind.

  17. I am glad that some people love their jobs so much they would do them without getting paid for them. That’s great. Remember, you are in the minority. The majority of people have to work at things they do not like in order to pay rent and eat and maybe get a little more than that out of their lives if they can. Being snide toward people who do not love their jobs is not exactly a compelling method of argumentation for convincing people that they might find something better out there that they do love. It is equally as much as “Well, I got mine! Now you get yours!” as what you are seeming to be arguing against here.

  18. To answer your question, the book’s sales according to Bookscan are dropping. The week of 8/31 it sold 3590, then 3380, 3360, 3200, 3038, 2677, 2586, 2376, 2309, 2047, 2119, 2139, to 2038 last week. The 13 weeks prior to that it sold between 3400 and 3700 reliably.

    Nonetheless, this deal was announced 11/21 in Publishers Marketplace:

    NYT bestselling author of The 4-Hour Workweek Tim Ferriss’s next book expanding his “4-Hour Experiments in Lifestyle Design” brand into a new area of our lives, again to Heather Jackson at Crown, in a major deal, for seven figures, for publication in 2010, by Stephen Hanselman at LevelFiveMedia (World).

  19. As I see it, we only really have 2 options – hate our jobs, or love our jobs. The majority of have to spend a lot of time doing something that somebody else finds useful enough to pay for.

    But I see no reason why doing this thing must by nature be distasteful. I think we commonly accept that work is no fun, just as students decide that school is no fun. However, if we are going to be rational, the fact that we are compelled to do something doesn’t make it inherently unpleasant.

    So, we can do a couple of things – try (and fail) to find a way to survive without contributing anything to society, contribute to society and hate every moment of it, or find a way to enjoy our contribution – I’m young, and already I’ve found multiple ways to get people to pay money for me to do things I enjoy. If you can’t change what you do, learn to like what you are doing.

    This is, in my mind, mostly about who you allow to control your life and happiness. If you are unhappy, do something about it – change your profession or change your outlook. There’s satisfaction to be found in a job well done. As long as you view yourself as a victim of your universe, you’re never going to be happy with any job, or even in retirement.

  20. Wait a minute. . . what’s this about “Invest[ing] in Real Estate With No Money Down”???? Where can I hear more about this??

  21. There are many jobs that need to be done in order for society to continue functioning. People have to pump gas and ring up groceries and clean bathrooms. Most people probably don’t enjoy those things, or at least, they don’t wish they could spend their free time doing them. While I like my job, I wish I could work less. This is because what I really enjoy is working in my home. I spent most of the holiday weekend painting and cleaning, and I had a great time. Unfortunately, no one is going to pay me to improve my own home.

  22. Work is where you can do a lot of things that you can’t do on your own. Work is where you can do something that matters, not just to you, but to others.”

    This is a rather limiting belief, but what things are you referring to? I’d like to think I’m creative enough to do something on my own and share it with others.

    We’re in a recession and healthy economies depend on new ideas and the vision and leadership to see them through. So is the Four Hour Work Week still relevant today? Yes it is, if you’re an aspiring entrepreneur.

    Tim Ferriss explains how he automates his work (personal systems, outsourcing, delegating) all working in the background for you. It’s hard to grasp these concepts if you’ve worked a 9-5 most of your life.

    Ferriss questions the 8-10 hour work day. Who determined this time frame for optimal productivity? Can you be productive in less time? If so, how? He gives examples.

    If you have entrepreneurial ideas, the book can help you automate a process or two, buying you a little time to focus your talents and interests elsewhere. There’s a difference in designing a life than in making a living. Otherwise if you’re comfortable being an employee and prefer “job security” these concepts will appear far-fetched.

  23. in the instance of the USA, there will be no four day work week until universal medical coverage becomes reality.

  24. I read his book and learned a lot about the various business functions that you are outsource, so you can pretty much have a web site take orders and someone else handling the billing and someone else shipping out the product and someone else manufacturing it, etc. Also you can enable people to make decisions that are less that a certain amount so that you don’t have to micromanage every customer refund and so on. But then you need that “muse” (to use his term) which would be some product or something, but not something that could be easily undercut. He ended up buying advertising time for a trademarked pill and then getting a deal to provide it exclusively to one retailer. This prevented multiple retailers from competing with each other. The odd thing was he said he sold the same pill under another package as a mental enhancer. There are also other logistical items such as when you put out an ad you can take in orders and then put in an order to the manufacturer in China. That’s what is happening when you see stuff online that is “back ordered” or where you need to wait 6-8 weeks for delivery, etc. I spent some time trying to figure out a product I could invent and sell, or possibly just something interesting I could have someone custom manufacture. I realized I didn’t even have to do all that work myself, I could also hire engineers to design the product itself, (not that I’ve done that or even thought about it for a long time.)

  25. I have (and had) a lot of trouble with working. I’m 23 and was honestly brought up pretty spoiled. I work at a job most people would kill for in a fairly lucrative and stable industry, and I just don’t like doing it. I really enjoy learning stuff, but I’m not interested in becoming absolutely talented in something (not interested in proving the Higgs-Boson, for example). I’m interested in basically figuring out how something worksm, maybe making something I feel proud of, and moving on or sticking with it if I don’t feel like I’m good enough. It’s more of a personal thing, but it’s what I enjoy doing. Now, you can’t really get a job doing this because it doesn’t make a damn bit of sense to hire somebody who only has a cursory knowledge of about 18 billion subjects. However, I have no idea how to get a job doing anything that I like as a consequence. It does not help that I am more interested generally with my own personal development than with the good of society as a whole. To me, my own development that is something that “matters.”

    Above, somebody mentioned that many people without jobs are unhappy, while a many who do have jobs are. The problem I would see there is that when you don’t have a job, you’re essentially burdening others like your parents, friends, etc., you feel terrible. Some people don’t feel that way (which I think is unfortunate), but it’s basically the reason I’m working now. I’m trying not to burden my parents with taking care of me. It’s a duty thing. Believe me though, I’d live a bizarre life if I hit the lottery.

    Anyway. That’s my take, given the current conversation threads.

  26. “most people see their ‘job description as self-description’.”

    A very good point, I think.

    “We get trapped answering the question ‘what do you do?’ Yes, that happens but it’s what you do, not what you say that defines you, and that’s why work is important. Work is where you can do a lot of things that you can’t do on your own. Work is where you can do something that matters, not just to you, but to others.”

    This second comment is so problematic for me because its completely obvious to me that work is what’s wrong with so many of our lives, not empowering. It’s profoundly alienating for MOST of us (certainly not 100 percent of us, I acknowledge). And this is where these comments veer off most people’s experience. I’m glad Dave’s job gives him a sense of empowerment but it never the less remains the case that almost everything that me or my fellow friends (now in our late 30’s) has ever done career-wise or for money has been debilitating, atrocious, or just plain boring. This society sure knows how to make work unfulfilling, no matter how one approaches it. And that is the only reason why I’d personally check out a book like this.

  27. Now, you can’t really get a job doing this because it doesn’t make a damn bit of sense to hire somebody who only has a cursory knowledge of about 18 billion subjects. However, I have no idea how to get a job doing anything that I like as a consequence. It does not help that I am more interested generally with my own personal development than with the good of society as a whole. To me, my own development that is something that “matters.”

    I was in a very similar place recently – I had a moderate amount of skill and interest in an extremely broad set of subjects. I did a career inventory and took one or two personality tests. I think the Myers-Briggs indicator, for all the faults it has, is one of the better things out there for these kinds of endeavors.

    The first thing I had to do was realize that I was interested in both the creative and the technical – so I needed something that allowed me to be both. Ultimately I had to confront a lot of assumptions I had made, but now I am taking a harder but much more satisfying road.

    Have you considered science? I found that my fear of hard work kept me from what I was really interested in, and once I learned to like maths and doing a job well, I’ve finally found my niche.

  28. Dale, I wish you would stick around.. You’re the first guestblogger here who I feel really fits in with the others, and I would really love it if they just kept you on as a new member. Well, wherever you post, I’ll be following you.

  29. I’ve not read the book, but from the outside it seems to be a Get Rich Now book pitched to lifestyle hackers.

    But there is something here; if happiness is more important than wealth (duh), slaving to a job for 40+ hours that stops you being a happy mutant, musican, writer, filmmaker, father, traveler, student, volunteer, veg grower, etc seems a little inefficient.

    I say this having taken a big salary cut five years ago (to less than half the national average today) so that I could work part time when I wanted, while spending the rest of the time pursuing personal projects.

    With big increases in unemployment – and worse to come – job shares between comfortably paid people may limit the fallout and give more time for all those things we want to do, but that no-one is yet prepared to pay us to do.

  30. I can think of one way to get ahead: if you are trying to sell a book, make the most of the similarity of your name and another respected, well-known author’s name.

  31. Mihály Csíkszentmihályi showed us the joys of work in his classic 1990 book: “Flow”.

    Using the Scientific Method, his research shows that for most of us, work is more rewarding and brings us more happiness than leisure.

    I also agree with the Bertrand Russell quote as noted in an earlier post.

    “Flow” is my favorite book, and I highly recommend it to anyone seeking happiness.

  32. [T]his book might represent the apex of the boomer fantasy — the self-absorbed vision of abundance and personal prosperity, and its pre-occupation with retiring early and leaving the work world behind.

    Uh, no. Did you actually read the book? The book tries to sell the opposite of the early-retirement life plan. Instead, it advocates never retiring, but taking “mini-retirements” of a few weeks to a few months early and often—in order to prevent burnout and enable oneself to never stop working. As Ferriss repeats: “inactivity is NOT the goal.”

    I’m all for doing what you love and doing it a lot, but as columbiafire points out @ #9, doing so is a luxury. Doing what you love for work just isn’t the reality for most folks in the world. Thanks to Wall Street’s devastation of the US economy, doing what you love for a living is no longer realistic even for many people in the “land of opportunity.” For people stuck in boring or dead-end jobs, for people who might not be able to get out of those jobs in the immediate future, Ferriss’ work makes some compelling suggestions.

    The best part of Ferriss’ work is the frame. It is the notion that the duration of the 40-hour work week is bogus and arbitrary in modern times. Ferriss’ book goes a long way toward undermining that limiting belief.

    You ask, “What keeps us from enjoying work?” For a lot of us, having shitty, boring jobs prevents us from enjoying work. Living in a country with a shitty economy makes it more difficult for us to be able to switch to other (presumably better) jobs as well.

    I like where I think you’re going. In an ideal world, wouldn’t we all have challenging jobs that we love to do? In that world, who wouldn’t love to work more than 40 hours?

    Back in the real world, though, work often sucks. But then, so do arguments against books that the complainant clearly has not read.

  33. What keeps us from enjoying work?

    While there are shitty jobs out there, I’ve seen people happy in what I would consider a terrible job (car sales, retail) and I’m happy doing some things that most people would loath. I think generally the only barrier to our happiness is ourselves. A new car, job, or spouse just isn’t going to do it if your outlook is the same.

  34. @Takuan: That’s an amazingly bold statement to make without any reasoning or argument.

    “in the instance of the USA, there will be no four day work week until universal medical coverage becomes reality.”

    Listen. There already is universal health coverage. It’s called nutrition and exercise. It’s called superfoods and a diet without any processed foods and not much meat. It’s called staying the hell away from toxic pharmaceuticals. It’s available to anyone for a very reasonable price. Most pharmaceuticals are synthesized versions of what is found in plants, and yet the plants are virtually free. You don’t even have to fill out any paperwork. All you have to do is trade fault information for correct information and make the decision to take responsibility for your own health.

    I am just curious, how do you make such a bold claim? Is there a four day work week in Britain or Canada? I have trouble seeing how shifting this absurd 17% of GDP cost from companies, individuals, and taxpayers almost exclusively to the taxpayers is going to bring us a 4 day work week. Please support your claim.

  35. I completely agree with you. I work with some very wealth investors, who indeed enjoy their free time, but they could have ‘retired’ years ago. They didn’t because they are passionate about what they do (which is, of course, why they are now wealthy investors).

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