The Lie of The Four Hour Work Week

The Lie of The Four Hour Work Week

The promise of a four hour workweek magically righting all wrongs in your life, is a lie. Not only is it highly implausible, but if you ever do achieve a four hour work week, you’ll probably want to get rid of it.

Why is the Four Hour Workweek (4HWW for short) a lie? Well, there’s two reasons. Number one, it’s come to the attention of quite a few people that Tim Ferriss really defines “work” as something you don’t want to do. Mandatory, unpleasant, tedious, repetitive tasks that you’d rather defer or delegate to someone else. This is quite a narrow definition of work. I would be more inclined to say Tim’s definition of work is more synonymous with a chore.

So that’s the first reason. The second reason is this… The definition most people have of work is totally disempowering. It’s more in line with slavery, toiling and punishment. Work is seen as something you have to do to pay your dues. How many times did you hear your mom or dad say as a kid “I worked hard to buy/make/microwave this food and you better eat it!” We’re brought up with our parents making us think that work is some kind of grueling sacrifice they’ve done to “give us a better life.” (The intended message may have been to instill respect for hard work, but usually the outcome is feeling guilty for being born.)

Since work is seen as such a must — something we must do to pay the bills and to survive — we don’t realize that it’s not required that we see work as something other than a chore. Just because we’re born with a bad definition of something doesn’t mean we have to keep it. Work is more than just a chore, at least to me.

Work is sacred.

Work is giving yourself. It’s creative self-expression. It’s opening your heart and providing value to others. It’s exchanging a part of yourself with someone else. It’s a possibility for you to make a difference in the world.

Seeing work as just something to do to get by is like slapping yourself in the face.

Here’s why I just can’t slap myself anymore:

  • I don’t want to spend one third of my life living out of a sense of drudgery.
  • I don’t want to rent out my body and mind for five of seven days of the week.
  • I don’t want to spend every day counting down the minutes to lunch, then counting again to five o’clock.
  • But much, much, much more than that, I don’t want to confine myself to choosing work that isn’t meaningful and doesn’t matter to me.

And that’s really the biggest problem with seeing work as menial labor. By defining work as such, you incarcerate yourself in a narrow field of possibilities of what work could be. Yes, work can be tedious. Doing your taxes, filing receipts, stapling, responding to email, and doing repetitive tasks can be pretty damn boring. There’s no way to trick yourself into believing otherwise. (Non-resistance to the tedium, however, can make it a lot less painful.) But despite the tedium, work can be much more than that. The work you do can be the gift of what you leave behind on this earth when you’re gone. It can be the difference you make in other peoples lives.

Something different.

When you expand your definition of what work is to a mutually beneficial exchange of value, it becomes more of a blessing and an opportunity.

This is the way I’ve started to think about work; I ask myself, “With the work you do today, how can you create the biggest positive impact in other people’s lives, while fulfilling your own dreams at the same time?”

And if I have work to do that is truly boring (like figuring out how much taxes I owe) I ask myself, “I know this work isn’t what I’d absolutely love to do, but since it must be done, by not resisting it, can I make it less painful?”

I also have to be careful to distinguish between work that must be done (like taxes) and things that seem required, but really aren’t. For example, it might be a good idea for me to spend some time every day networking, but if it doesn’t feel authentic, it would be a waste of time. If I really felt like creating, rather than connecting, I should honor that feeling. When I express myself authentically, I naturally have a greater impact then when I force myself to do something because I think it would be a good idea.

When you start to see work as play, as giving yourself to the world, as being an agent of change, you completely shatter the perception of work as a burden.

Because that’s where all this seeking to escape from work comes from (which is really what the 4HWW is about). Whether it be counting down the days to your yearly two week vacation, setting up a four hour workweek or creating passive income; whether it be the desire to retire early, win the lottery or strike it rich, it’s all in the effort to escape from the obligation of spending your life in a state of endless resistance to doing chores. It’s like we’re six years old again, fighting with mom about cleaning up all the stuff we’ve crammed under our bed. Not much has changed, huh?

But when work becomes something reverent to you, you no longer to seek escape from it. Besides, imagine if you really did find that elusive escape. Would it really solve all your problems? Sure, you’d have a lot of free time, but is that really what you’re looking for? Just free time?

I think it’s something more than that. I think it’s the lack of purpose, the lack of depth in our work that leads us to chase ideas like a four hour workweek and autopilot income.

Guess what?

No amount of freedom of time will quench your desire to make a difference, to live with purpose.

As Rolf Potts represents in his awesome book, Vagabonding, you can only live so long sipping martinis on a beach. Sooner or later, you’ll be bored. You’ll want to actually do something that matters.

Despite all the head-drilling society does to make you think work equates slavery, there are many possibilities for work to be a joy.

One of those options is The Zero Hour Workweeka guide to getting paid to be who you are.

(Note: I did learn a lot from The Four Hour Workweek. I think Tim has some great ideas, like mini retirements, following a low information diet, etc. I also think he did an awesome job pointing out the stupidity of “work for work’s sake.” However, I do think the central idea of the achievement of a four hour workweek solving all of your problems is misleading. Tim defines work as something you really despise, and I just think that’s confusing things more, rather than bringing clarity to the situation. I guess it’s all about semantics, though, right? As Clinton said during the Monica Lewinski case, “Please define sexual relations.”)

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254 Comments on "The Lie of The Four Hour Work Week"

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Derek
Guest

I actually had the four hour work week for about 18 months… I got so bored that I went and found a real job that paid me much less than I was earning from my four-hour work week business just because I wanted something to do.

Evan
Guest

@ Derek, the first poster:

You live a pathetic life with no imagination if you can’t find anything to do and have to find a “real job” to occupy your boring existence.

On a side note, this site is hilarious and definitely a good way to get paid through google adwords (or whatever form of paid advertisement you’re getting). Chances are the owner of this site HAS a four-hour workweek because of this site!

I don’t know about the rest, but I’d rather live my dreams and passions, and do CHARITABLE work that a four-hour-workweek provides me ;)

Darren Michaels
Guest
You have GOT to be kidding me. Dude…get a life! I am trying so hard to get my book series discovered so that I can have a four hour work week just like Tim Ferriss describes. There is nothing I would like better than to spend my days golfing, flyfishing, or whatever the hell I want, and then writing at my leisure to churn out another book per year to fulfill my publisher contract. I like my day job, and work still sucks. I want the freedom the FHWW describes and guides your towards. Sorry if you cannot fill your… Read more »
Stephen - Rat Race Trap
Guest

Great! Tim, is misleading with his title. I think he does do a disservice by equating work and tedium. On the other hand he is simply playing into what probably 98% of the population believes. And he has done it successfully. I liked his book. I like his blog. I don’t believe he works 4 hours a week. I don’t believe anyone on their death bed will be satisfied with a life like that. That isn’t authentic happiness.

Andre
Guest
Well, work is not inherently tedious but work means activity performed to generate a result. Most of the things we (and others) require in life are tedious or downright painful to generate, but we endure the pain because of the reward. Technically speaking, bathing is work. So is shitting. I like being clean, sometimes I enjoy bathing, but I wouldn’t really do it as often as I do now if it didn’t give me the reward of being clean. Since most of the things we need in life these days are produced by other people, most of the work we… Read more »
Duff
Guest

Right on, Jonathan.

Most people would freak out with all the “psychic entropy” if they had a 4-hour workweek. I know several rich entrepreneurs who did exactly that.

There is no end to your money problems as long as you are alive. Life is suffering. Accept it and find peace with it while giving your gifts creatively to the world.

Andre
Guest

Most people would freak out with the “psychic entropy”? Maybe they should work on that. Get it…? I’m laughing my ass off! :) If you think “life is suffering”, you probably shouldn’t be providing anyone with advice.

Chris Edgar | Purpose Power Coaching
Guest

Thanks for this post. I thought the point you made about work being portrayed by our parents as something they did just to clothe and feed us was a good one — it brought up for me how sometimes we tend to feel virtuous for the suffering we experience in our work, and how attachment to that suffering can limit us. Whenever someone says to me “I wish I had the luxury of doing what I wanted for work like you, but I have a family or loans to pay off,” this definitely hits home.

Laurel Vespi
Guest

Just wow.
What a great post. Poet David Whyte says we are in three marriages/conversations in our lives – one with ourself, one with our significant other and one with our work. Kudos to your pal Penelope for encouraging you to do this post.

Jun Loayza
Guest
Hey Jonathan, you have always had awesome content and thank you for pushing the envelope on these kinds of topics. You’re right, Tim describes work as drudgery – something meaningless that we HAVE to do to survive. People HATE the 9-5. I think that MOST people will never find a job that they’re PASSIONATE about. I know that your eBook hits on this exact topic, but most people will not be able to read your eBook or act upon it. I believe that Tim’s advice is for the masses. Few people have the leadership qualities and the aspiration to change… Read more »
Andre
Guest
Yea, I think the point is being lost. What Tim talks about is the liberation that comes from automation. Like, as you learn a language your brain automates it, it becomes easy. Farming used to be done through long hours of manual labor, now it is to a huge degree automated. Tim talks about getting rid of the boredom from life. When he goes take a dance class, he is performing work. The results this work produces, the life experience, can’t simply be purchased, you can’t have someone else learn to dance for you. And yet you may not want… Read more »
Greg
Guest

I couldn’t agree more that “work” should be something you enjoy. So many people tend to view work as a “chore” and therefore are not contributing their maximum effort. By continuing to work at a place that is not providing some gratification, you are impacting your life negatively in so many ways.

Nice post!

malingerer
Guest

Penelope Trunk as inspiration, well, I guess we all have to get it from someplace.. Occasionally she has some interesting blog articles, once you get past her torn apart marriage, sexual promiscuity, and blatant self loathing…

James | Dancing Geek
Guest

I’ve been amazed by how many people are simply confused or resistant when I express the idea of loving the work that I do. It seems such an alien concept that I sometimes feel I am alone in this pursuit.

Thank you for putting the words in my heart and head together so eloquently.

chris zydel
Guest
Thanks Jonathan. I love how you equate work with things like meaning and purpose and a sense of something sacred. And I laughed out loud when you made the analogy about our cultural attitude towards work being like a 6 year old trying to get out of doing chores. Personally, I am very happy that I am longer 6. Being a grown up is so much more fun. And having work that allows you to feel like you are contributing to your community, where you use your talents and gifts to their best advantage, and where you experience fulfillment and… Read more »
Mike Stankavich
Guest
Jonathan, your point is well taken – I quickly came to realize that the term “4 hour workweek” was a metaphor for constraining direct income producing activities to facilitate lifestyle design. But I had not considered the implied negative view of “work” that comes along with that distinction. You are entirely correct that the 4HWW premise presumes a false dichotomy between producing income and engaging in activities that you want to do for intrinsic reasons other than income production. There’s a whole continuum there, not a hard distinction. That being said, I do see value in automating and delegating activities… Read more »
Mike Kirkeberg
Guest
Jonathan, Of course the four-hour workweek is BS. I have been thinking this ever since I got about 40 pages into the book. I think we can all work to lighten our load, slow things down. The exception to that is when we really find something that fits for us. Even then it makes sense to keep it in check. Why ruin a good thing? Check out the TED video by Carl Fiore (I think that’s it) author of The Power of Slow. Slow is a much more Illuminated point of view. Thanks for saying out loud (so to speak)… Read more »
Stephen - Rat Race Trap
Guest

Jonathan, your visited links in comments are so pale blue I can hardly see them. I almost missed the names of people whose sites I had visited.

Vered - MomGrind
Guest

@ malingerer: “Sexual promiscuity?” People still use that term to describe women who enjoy sex??

@ Jonathan: Except for insisting, as usual, that a 9-to-5, if carefully chosen, can be lucrative and fulfilling, I loved everything about this article, and especially “I think it’s the lack of purpose, the lack of depth in our work that leads us to chase ideas like a four hour workweek and autopilot income.”

Mark Dykeman
Guest

I haven’t read The 4 Hour Work Week, so your post and Penelope Trunk’s post both provide interesting perspectives – good stuff.

Put simply, is it so much about not doing work or is it more about doing what you want to do instead of what you feel you have to do?

Tony
Guest
It is about releaving yourself of unexiting and uninspiring work for work sake and exchanging it for that which excites you. Its about automating your income while finding a life worth living.Example- One guy went from a corprate lawyer to giving guided tours around a tropical island.Its about freeing time to focus on bigger and better things, such as learning a new language and traveling to the country the language is spokken in, exploring your dream list or starting businesses that you are passionate about. One thing it absolutely is not about- being idol or lying around.Or you would, as… Read more »
Kent @ The Financial Philosopher
Guest
This post speaks to the value and necessity of defining terms for ourselves. If we do not define terms, such as success, wealth, rich, poor, retirement and work then, by default, we are being led by social conventions — the paved road. I’ve not read 4HWW but it seems to feed into the desire to break from social conventions yet only leads others to follow someone else’s definition of “work.” This is not my idea of promoting independent thought, which is truly the path leading away from the paved road of social conventions. “Man acts as though he were the… Read more »
curiousjessica
Guest
Jonathan, Thanks for the reaity check… I read the 4 hour work week and while did love the mini-retirement ideas, I didnt like the whole concept of work. To me, my writing brings me immense joy and I am moving towards full-time writing as my primary means of earning a living – but it is still work. The blood that I sweat while crafting chapters of my novel can attest to this. :) On a related note, I’m really enjoying seeing this great mentoring relationship develop between yourself and Steve Pavlina. Kudos to you for being courageus and inspiring to… Read more »
Yes, But Still...
Guest

Compelling post, and I agree with it.

Sometimes I think of work as play, and only 4 hours a week wouldn’t be fun at all.

Read about it at: http://yesbutstill.blogspot.com/2009/02/work-is-fun-personal-musings-on-notion.html

Marc and Angel Hack Life
Guest

I read that article from Penelope Trunk when she first posted it. I agree, it’s bold… but spot on.

Tim Ferris has some interesting ideas, but the key is NOT working LESS, but instead working MORE on things you LOVE.

Matt
Guest

Hey man, just wanted to stop in and let you know that your blog is a huge inspiration for me as far as content goes.

This post is no exception. Thought provoking and well written as always.

Gene
Guest

Yes!

“Work is love made visible.” — The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran

alexismichelle
Guest

Thanks for sharing your thoughts! I quite like 4HWW, but like anything else, wouldnt necessarily approach it as doctrine :)

Another recommendation: Life Entrepreneurs (http://www.lifeentrepreneurs.com/)by Chris Gergen and Gregg Vanourek. They explore a continuum that combines social entrepreneurship with lifestyle design. Its very inspiring!

Chad@TheEffectiveSpirit
Guest

Great post Jonathan,

I started my day at 7am, and I’m still taking care of projects now at almost 11pm.

My commute is about 15 feet to my office and then another 100 feet to my studio.

I’m always working, but I don’t really “work” that much, if you know what I mean.

IRG
Guest
A friend and co-worker once said to me: All work has value. I totally agree. And it does, from the janitor and mailroom staff to those who do the endless (and generally unnoticed and unrewarded) stuff that keeps small and large companies alive. And our society moving along each day. Here in the city, we could not survive without the garbagemen and the taxi drivers, for example, people who often take a lot of abuse from the very people who need and use them the most. And we all know how easily our days go from OK to awful after… Read more »
Tiffany
Guest

Well said, thanks for posting this!

It’s unfortunate that people won’t give themselves permission to have jobs that they actually enjoy. Most folks think that it’s impossible and Tim Ferris only feeds into this.

Glen Allsopp
Guest

Tim was honest about his title being nothing more than derived from a PPC campaign, it got more clicks than any other title.

Excellent post Jonathan, this is why you’re one of my favourite bloggers!

Cheers,
Glen

Roger - A Content Life
Guest

Great post!

I haven’t read Tim’s book, but I agree with everything that you said in the post.

Rufus
Guest
Hey Jonathan, thanks for saving me the four hours I would have spent reading the book and probably coming to a “WTF, I paid for this in time and treasure?” conclusion. It was on my list of books I should have read by now but was too busy having fun at work to get to. Instead, I’ll spend 13.5 minutes commenting on your blog. I love ROI :-) I wonder how many people out there have to “sneak around” early mornings, late nights and weekends to “work” because those around them have a pre-defined notion that work is something you… Read more »
Dustin @ Beating the Grind
Guest

The 4-Hour Workweek is a title that evokes a response and, as you mentioned, that is exactly why he chose it. In the book Tim points out that the title was voted on by the market using Adwords.

That being said the book really offers ways to leverage technology in business. How you choose to use the time it frees up is your own choice.

Overall nice article with some very good points!

Bruce Elkin
Guest

Hi Jonathon,
Great post. Your distinction between work as a chore, or burden, and work as illuminating and edifying play is a great one. As one of your commenters quoted, “work is love made visible.”

I coach people in the act of creating, and I like to use John Ruskin’s description of art/creating as a definition of “good work” — it’s the place where the head, the hands, and the heart all come together to produce desired results.

Thanks for this. Much appreciated!

Cedric
Admin
@ Derek: I find that really interesting. You’ve confirmed my suspicions. @ Stephen: No, he doesn’t work 4 hours a week. But he wouldn’t “define” that other “time” as “work.” @ Duff: My new favorite word is psychic entropy. Where the hell do you come up with this stuff man? @ Jun: I completely understand what you’re saying and I think you’re right. Most people are happy just keeping their heads down and grinding at out. I’m not one of those people though and neither are you. My only wish is that through the work you and I are doing,… Read more »
Cedric
Admin

@ Everyone: Thank you for your comments. I really get more out of reading the comments on this blog than with anything else I do. You guys are awesome.

Tom Volkar / Delightful Work
Guest

This is well said my friend. “Work is giving yourself. It’s creative self-expression. It’s opening your heart and providing value to others. It’s exchanging a part of yourself with someone else.”

You know I believe that work ought to be delightful. Then it is a natural outpouring of who we are.

It’s good for you to take a stand on this. It’s a fine flag to rally round.

The Happy Rock
Guest

I really love you way you expressed the true meaning of work, I appreciate the thoughtfulness. Tweeted!

On a side note, pay someone else to do those taxes! That way you create value for whoever loves doing taxes and you can spend more time on the work that directly provides the most value to you which in turn indirectly gives the most value to others.

Andre
Guest

Wait… are you being serious by implying there are people who love doing taxes? Look, Tim outsources stuff and I’m sure those people rather have that income than not, but I very much doubt they love doing what Tim pays them to do.

James | Dancing Geek
Guest
@IRG – There is a lot of truth and sense in what you are writing, but it is mixed in with some very unpleasant emotions. I do not agree with the tone or the implied conclusions that you draw, and much of what you say actually does not disagree with Jonathan’s post. I believe that your comment was intended as an emotional rant, rather than an attempt to persuade, refute or communicate. I do have a couple of points I want to express however: 1) Someone’s passion is not restricted to one job title. Someone can be passionate about teaching… Read more »
Andre
Guest
You are using a very idealized definition of “passion”. Most people are not passionate about anything that might provide them with income. For example, I like children but I would rather commit Harakiri than have to work with them 40+ hours a week. Looking at people who do, it is clear they grow bitter simply from the weight of how much time they spend at it. Take the financial rewards out of it and there are very few people that actually “love” working with children. If you ask the average man their idealized work is “porn star”, but even sex… Read more »
Amanda Linehan
Guest

Hi Jonathan, I have to admit – I also tend to think of “work” as something you have to do, but don’t want to. But, I think the idea that you presented in this post, that “work is sacred” is a much better way of perceiving what’s really work. Making a contribution with something that you love to do is the best possible “work” scenario that I can imagine. Thanks a lot.

Andresito
Guest

“…if you ever do achieve a four hour work week, you’ll probably want to get rid of it.”

This captures the essence of the whole article, well done.

Clay
Guest

Jonathan! What an honor to be included in this list. Thanks so much for thinking of me and for the sweet sweet link.

I’m calling you tomorrow, bro!

–Clay

Rufus
Guest
@James Dancing Geek In my opinion, your point #2 is not true for a lot of people. The fact that you and I are able to exchange opinions on a blog, using a computer AT OUR LEISURE, using respectful language is a “choice” that is not afforded a lot of folks in this country. We really do take that for granted. I know a few “happy garbage men” and have met quite a few “happy hotel cleaning staff” but I’m pretty sure they did not “choose” to do that work, even though it is honorable as @IRG argues. We tend… Read more »
Martynas
Guest

Nice post. I think it is a very to-the-point speech by Steve Jobs at Stanford:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D1R-jKKp3NA

Ezalor
Guest
I have some opinions to express (I have not read 4HWW): -This is highly subjective: some people will have plenty of things to do at home, while others will get utterly bored sitting at home. We are all different and I am sure that hobbies and dreams make a big difference. But I agree that most people will get bored without a job. The question really boils down to that we need something engaging for our minds. -I cannot see work as a “gift” to others. People produce crap and consume crap, most of it is anyways :P But if… Read more »
Andre
Guest

“-The feeling of being useful is often just an illusion IMHO, society tells us that we have to achieve stuff to be worthy. Free yourself from this :P” +1 Ezalor

Charlton
Guest
There’s so much that the western world doesn’t understand and takes for granted. I’m exceptionally lucky to be born in the UK and have a service based job. Most people in the rest of the world work simply to survive; you think that the men, women and children that made your clothes, iPod, laptop and the seat you’re sat on love their job, and have time to worry about hobbies? 12-16 hour work days, 6-7 days a week are extremely common in many parts of the world and these jobs that us westerners have outsourced are rarely glamorous and almost… Read more »
Carlos
Guest
@ Charlton – “I feel guilty purely for being born, and I hope that everyone who’s born healthy and in a developed nation feels exactly the same.” This notion, and I know it’s not yours alone, makes me feel ill. I wonder how someone with this mentality could ever truly be a productive member of society. How terrible it must be to be you, living the good life in the UK. How dare you? How dare any of us!?! Your comment shows a complete lack of understanding of simple economics. Those jobs that us Westerners have outsourced to the poorer… Read more »
Mary/GoodlifeZEN.com
Guest

Great post, Jonathan!

Most people spend most of their time doing passionless work. In contrast, I wake up each morning and think eagerly, “Is is too early to start writing yet?”

Just imagine someone were to offer me a four-hour work week in which I’d only be allowed to write for four hours each week. I’d hit him on the head!

Erin Slusher
Guest

Johathan I am always inspired by your posts. It is true, work is not bad. I have had jobs that sucked the life out of me and then jobs where I felt I soared. Life is now. We should all be soaring. Thanks for your work in elevating the human condition.

Guerrilla Billionaire™
Guest
Maybe it’s just me, but I caught on immediately that the title is nothing more than a catchy marketing gimmick. It’s very memorable. The point of Ferriss’s book is to teach you how to set up multiple online businesses in such a way that each of them requires no more than 4 hours of your time, on average. It’s also about offloading the responsibilities you hate to people who thrive on them. From what I do know about Tim, he’s a worker who puts in long hours each week and has a lot of fun doing so. He is by… Read more »
Tiffany
Guest

Thanks, as always, for perspective.

I think it’s also worth saying that you can make a job that feels like a chore feel more like play, just by changing your mindset and your daily activity. So, get your “tasks” done as fast as you can, and then actually interject play into your work. Here’s a post I actually wrote – at work! – about some ways to play on the job :) http://tr.im/8h0i

Grant
Guest

Why does this sound so familar… oh yeah, Vaynerchuck alluded to it the day before you at SXSW. Tim’s a pretty sneaky guy. He’s smart but I wouldn’t trust him with my life.

Sara
Guest

Jonathan,

Thank you very much for this post. I was feeling very guilty about ignoring Twitter because I wanted to write instead. After reading this post, I give myself permission to put social networking aside for a day or two…well, actually it’s been a bit longer…but hey at least I am writing.

I really liked this line, “Just because we’re born with a bad definition of something doesn’t mean we have to keep it.” Oh, there are so many things this applies to:~)

Martin
Guest

Jonathan,
Great article. You have changed the way I will define my work/job.

This could be life changing.

Thanks.

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[…] Jonathon Nasman’s blog post earlier this week called The Lie of the Four Hour Work Week in which he challenges our ideas about work. It’s worth your time to read […]

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