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.

(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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257 Comments on "The Lie of The Four Hour Work Week"

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Jesse Hines
Guest
Jonathan, You said if you do escape from work that: “Sure, you’d have a lot of free time, but is that really what you’re looking for? Just free time?” Tim Ferriss makes it clear throughout the book that he’s not encouraging people to simply create gobs of free time just for the sake of it. In both the beginning of the book, where he encourages readers to define what they really want to spend their life doing, and the end of the book, where he looks at the issue of greater purpose, he’s clear that more time isn’t the goal–rather,… Read more »
MoneyEnergy
Guest

Good stuff! I agree! I wouldn’t say Tim’s *lying*, though…. he’d agree too…

I retweeted this.

Jason
Guest
@Jonathan After reading your original post, I feel a need to defend Tim Ferriss a bit. I think your post is engaging in “semantics,” meaning that it makes it appear that there is more disagreement than there actually is, by defining words differently. Specifically, you use “work” to represent sacred, passion-driven, creativive activities that generate value for self & others. Time Ferris uses the word “work” to represent the drudgery-filled jobs most people engage in. So obviously the sentences you each type about “work” are going to be different. But I don’t think your end-goals really are. You’re all about… Read more »
Carlos
Guest

Yes! Ding ding!!

YOU WIN!!

Amit
Guest

I am offended by the arrogance of this post. The idea that work can be a sacred passion is an insult to the 9-5 worker who scrapes by to take care of his family. Career exploration and pursuing passions is something that only the privileged and young can have, and to generalize career to this larger, idealistic concept is inaccurate.

Carlos
Guest

Amit, I believe you speak for the masses. One might not come to that conclusion browsing on paidtoexist2.loc, but ask the common person on the street – any street!

Cedric
Admin
@ Jesse Hines: I’m aware of that and I agree with Tim completely in that sense. The creation of free time shouldn’t be in the pursuit to create a vacuum. It should to make more room for the things you’re interested in. My only qualm is the way Tim defines work. If he wants to define it as such for himself, that’s fine. I just think it does the value of work a disservice when it’s seen as something you simply want to get rid of. @ Jason: That’s probably the best comment I’ve ever gotten, ever. Wow. I do… Read more »
Wouter Meyers
Guest
I think that you and Tim aren’t as opposed as you make it seem. Tim Ferris clearly makes a distinction between work that you do to make a living and a vocation, that which you do because it fulfills you. I know that Tim is working hard on bringing more education to third world nations, something that he finds very important and that I’m sure he spends more than 4 hours a week on. Anyway, I could type a lot more, after rereading your article I really have the feeling you misread a lot of what the 4HWW is about… Read more »
Jim Bathurst
Guest
Yes, there’s definitely flaws in Tim’s ideas (specifically his method for making a “muse”), but I know for me the books was more a call to arms to grab hold of my life. I agree with a previous post that this is a bit of a semantic argument. For those who have broken out and are working and making a sole living on something more meaningful to them, I’d say one problem is being overwhelmed with new projects. You love you work so much that you overextend yourself. I know that’s my problem. I need to learn to say no,… Read more »
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[…] Meade has posted an article titled The Lie of The Four Hour Work Week. A compelling […]

Yusuf
Guest
You have to be living the Silicon Valley rat race to fully appreciate Tim’s message. According to Marcus Buckingham, only 20% of people enjoy what they do which means most of us unhappy with how we spend major part of our life. His book is a wake up call for those of us on the hamster wheel, working in a soul crushing, emasculating, corporate environment on the deferred life plan. The title has nothing to do with the message. The title came from testing as to the best way to market the book. In fact, while I love your message… Read more »
Carlos Garbiras
Guest
Hey Jonathan, great post as usual! You have a great way with words. I agree with you that we need to redefine the concept behind the word but I think that you are missing the point behind 4hww, Tim’s ideas revolve around Pareto’s Principle, instead of trying to do everything just strive to do the few activities that brings you the most results. If you read tim’s blog you will also see how he explains that he spends between 4 and 6 hours a day writing and he goes on to clarify that the idea is not only to work… Read more »
Beth
Guest

The Four Hour Work Week is absolutely about finding meaningful work. I’m thinking that you either didn’t read the whole book or you chose to ignore that part of it.

The whole premise of the book is to automate your income so that you can do work that may not pay well but that you love and you can still provide for your lifestyle.

Beth Partin
Guest

Thanks for this post–it’s the second one this week that mentions Finance Your Freedom.

I like the idea of adding value to other people’s lives.

Abbie
Guest

The only reason I know about *your* blog is because of Tim Ferriss’ blog… talk about “biting the hand that feeds you”.

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[…] wrote a great post called “The Lie of The Four Hour Work Week.” It’s a brief review of the actual book, but, more importantly, it talks about Tim […]

Erik
Guest
I second the commenters, saying that your and Tim’s view align pretty well. I read the 4HWW and found the idea of “financial freedom” or “independance from income” very fascinating. The reason being: you can be anywhere in the world (travel is costly….), doing the things you love and be refreshed whether “working” (= doing the things you love) or sipping martinis at the pool to relax and gather new zest for the things to come, which I think both things are fine in their own right – it is a dream life which does not rule out at all… Read more »
John Holme
Guest

I believe it can be done, working less and making much more money. It is all about the mind set.

Cheers

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[…] was reading an article on one of my favorite, though rarely updated (kinda like my site), blogs today about how The 4 Hour […]

Alex Fayle | Someday Syndrome
Guest

Thank you!

I haven’t read the book, but have felt the exact same way about it. Even if it’s something I love doing it’s still work. Most definitely. And it’s hard work.

Well said. Woo hoo! (Can you tell how happy I am you published this post? ;) )

Tiffany
Guest
I totally agree with your opinion and began reading that book but found it to be boring. I was a stay at home mom for while and could not take it after about 6 months. The lack of people interaction was mind numbing and I missed going to the office and taking trains. Nothing like a cup of joe from a cart on the corner. For those who like to go out, meet people and feel passionately about everything they do, that lifestyle would not be ideal. For instance, I am just an Administrative Assistant but no matter where I… Read more »
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[…] The Four Hour Work Week has been sitting on my bookshelf for over a year…unread. Which may be more… The four hour work week is a myth and 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. […]

Dennis Dalton
Guest

I agree with you definition of work and your take on Tim Ferris’ book. Strangely I just wrote a post similar to yours. http://tinyurl.com/davw9n

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[…] to add to the conversation.  They deserve serious reflection, such as Jonathan’s post about how we define our relationship to  ‘work’.  I feel so strongly about this, and am still playing with this idea, that I feel unable to write […]

Luke Barry
Guest
Two quotes from Tim Ferriss’ 4HWW #1 “..and recognize that inactivity is not the goal. Doing that which excites you is.” pg. 22 #2 ” The student who elects to risk it all – which is nothing – to establish an online video rental service that delivers $5000.00 per month income from a small niche of HDTV aficionados, a two-hour-per-week side project that allows him to work full-time as an animal rights lobbyist.” Seriously man, did you even read the book? You have completely missed the point. The title, as you implied, is a marketing tool to invite controversy not… Read more »
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[…] Illuminated Mind’s The Lie of the Four Hour Work Week […]

Ben Lurkin
Guest
This is very noble sounding, and perhaps what your regulars want to read, but it has very little to do with the world most of us live in. Work is sacred according to most of the world’s spiritual traditions. Why is it, then, that our society so often turns work into something profane and dehumanizing? It’s sad, but true, at least in the corporate world, that most jobs are designed to achieve the polar opposite of what you offer as the ideal for work. Is it any wonder that so many working people become so miserable and sick? What about… Read more »
Geri Michelic
Guest
What happened in our society that we came to believe human beings were widgets? That our passions should be squelched, or never even discovered, in the interest of earning a living? Thank you for sharing your insights around work being sacred. I love the one about renting out our minds and bodies! Yet for many of us (it’s happened to me) it keeps us from looking inside. For if we look inside we might find that we DO have a passion and purpose and then, we have to TAKE CHARGE and make it happen! We have to be our own… Read more »
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[…] to turn around and show others how to follow their own path. This conversation has spanned from Jonathan Mead, the brilliant people on the Beyond Productivity calls, Naomi Dunford, Mark Silver, Steve Spalding, […]

Puerhan
Guest

Wow great article. There are so many ways of loving your work even if you have no apparent choice about what you actually do. I count myself as someone privileged to be able to do a job I love, with great people and feel like I am making a decent contribution at the same time. (Eco-architect, mostly designing schools.)

Dennis
Guest

Another quote from Tim’s book that the author of this post might consider:

“Full-time work isn’t bad, if it’s what you rather be doing. This is where we distinguish ‘work’ from a ‘vocation’. If you have created a muse or cut your hours down to next to nothing, consider testing a part-time or full-time vocation: a true calling or dream education. This is what I did with this book. I can now tell people I’m a writer rather than giving them the two-hour drug dealer explanation.” — 4HWW, p 278

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[…] those same posts never go into enough detail, enough information for me.  It always feels like there’s so […]

Kevin
Guest
I love the work I have been doing the last 4.5 years. The years before that, I always found jobs where I’d figure out a way to enjoy it, but this job is just great. See, I’m raising a piece of software. Literally. As it grows, I grow. Like a parent and child. I still try to keep things simple. Sleep, live, work. And since I am a libra who loves balance, it’s 8 hours for each. I don’t mind that at all. Often times, I’m not sure which piece of my pie I like most, considering I love all… Read more »
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[…] arguament?). But now it looks like it is the turn of The Four Hour Work Week. Jonathan Mead has a very detailed critique, saying that the promise of a four hour work week magically righting all the wrongs in your life is […]

Farhan Rehman
Guest
Interesting perspective.. I don’t know what it was about the book, but I couldn’t bring myself to finish it, and something in it just didn’t sit true, as being completely authentic. I think the idea of having a 4 hr work week just doesn’t ring true.. Working, for the sake of working equally doesn’t sound rewarding, but at the same time finding a vocation that engages you, and satisfies you does.. That is what life should be, working hard at what rewards you personally, however it is that you choose to engage with your work.. The Richest Man in Babylon… Read more »
Jay
Guest
First off this review is not accurate. Number one you are taking his out of context. Reminds me of why there are 50 million religions. that is because when people read something they interpret it the way they want to. What tim is saying is that work is a excuse to do more of work. Hence the upward divorce rates, children going crazy, ect. This is because when people get away from the arena of self, they can focus on the people they affect around them. Work is a sorry excuse to feel busy. And if you don’t feel bored… Read more »
Ron S
Guest
I truly think the author of this blog has taken the entire book for only its title. To borrow the cliché, you cannot judge a book by its cover. Yes, Tim did a smart thing by creating a controversial title. Consequently, he also had many readers who presumably did what this reviewer has done by taking the book to be merely another “work sucks, be free” ranting. In no place do I see where the book undermines the value of hard work. Its true focus appears to be around the premise of *defining* “work”, thus allowing and encouraging you to,… Read more »
Slick
Guest

You are a true hater. This book was eye-opening on a countless number of levels. It provides practical advice for all people stuck in “cubicle nation.”

Michael
Guest
Shame on all of us for wasting this much time on a semantic argument. We are using at least three different definitions work and never actually criticizing and of the processes described in the book. The few legitimate disagreements in these comments have little to do with anything in Ferriss’s book other than he uses the word ‘work’. Also, “I haven’t read the book, but…” WTF? How can you agree or disagree with Ferriss’s philosophy (and not the definition of the word ‘work’) if you have not read his work–HA! Number 4! I be we could get out of here… Read more »
Mat Siems
Guest

I completely agree with Micheal’s last post. It is basically a semantic argument about the word “work”. Both Tim ferris and the author of this blog are heading more or less in the same direction, and that’s what is really important.
All the best!

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[…] doesn’t have to be so painful that we can’t wait to escape it. Jonathon Mead suggests if we choose meaningful work it becomes a “mutually beneficial exchange of value…more of a blessing and an opportunity.” […]

Donovan
Guest
Jonathan, Love your blog and really feel in sync with your ideas on life and how to live it mindfully. You seem to take a broad view most of the time. That is why I am so surprised with whom you think your thoughts align. Perhaps you could dig a little deeper here. Both you and Tim seem to me, to be a possibility oriented, philosophers of life, bent on adding more meaningful moments to your time on earth. On the other hand, Penelope Trunk just seems like she is overly angry and in a bad place. Judging from your… Read more »
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[…] getting more productive as a creative person. One of the articles that grabbed my attention was Illuminated mind: The Lie of the Four Hour Work Week in which the Four Hour Work Week by Tim Ferris was discussed. I admire what Tim Ferris is doing and […]

bob corrigan
Guest
Work is sacred? Do you have that printed on a great big sign at one corner of the sweatshop you run? I imagine this was the same line the guy banging the drum fed to the slaves chained to the oars. Work is sacred my a$$. The heart of Tim’s book is an assertion that you must live in the now – to embrace your dreams in the now – and to never defer your happiness for some murky “future”. “Work” as is generally understood is a social convention designed to maximize the output from uninspired laborers. As long as… Read more »
IRG
Guest
Dancing Geek comments on IRG’s original post: “I felt very angry when I first read your comment, I feared others might listen to you and not realise where there were errors in your thinking. To write that way affects those who read your words and can be damaging to others. I hope you will be more considerate next time you share your thoughts.” Wow, dancing geek, I have no idea what might provoke such anger and such a response based on what I wrote. Clearly something pushed your buttons. But it has nothing to do with my post. You slammed… Read more »
Christine
Guest

Your awesome! I argue with my parents about this stuff all the time (I’m on your side). =)

SEO 'n' Chips
Guest

I work a 65+ hour week.

It doesn’t feel like I do, because I love my job – also because I own half of the company I work for, so all the hard work put in is directly in my own interests.

If you hate your work or feel flattened because you ‘work too much’ you probably don’t need to work less, or not work so hard – you need to work differently.

KevinT
Guest
“All sides of opinion, feed an open mind. Your values are twisted, let us help you unwind.” Peter Gabriel I appreciate all the comments on this blog except those from people who have not read, or completed the book. There are too many uninformed opinions out there and this just drives that point home for me. I also find it very interesting that someone who is promoting his own philosphy on this subject, and has a book of his own, is so objectional to anothers work. Seems a bit self-surving to me. Especially since it definitely appears that your philosophy… Read more »
KevinT
Guest

Correction, it’s, “All SHADES of opinions, feed an open mind. But your values are twisted, let us help you unwind.”. It has been awhile since I have listened to this and something just didn’t ring true after I wrote it.

BTW, it’s from “Not One of Us” off the US defacto titled “Games Without Frontiers” album.

Enjoy

Joe
Guest

The logic in this article is flawed. You realize the problem is that people don’t like work. Tim Ferriss also realizes this in his book and offers a solution. But you simply offer a different solution to this problem and do not explain why the four hour work week is a lie.

Also, you try to redefine work. Its gonna take a lot to pull that off.

Nonexistent
Guest

Good points.
However I could be content with reading comics and watching movies all day and have no problem.

I prefer not to have personal contact other than online so that would suit me nicely.

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[…] Mead called the promise of a 4-hour work week a lie. Penelope Trunk said the week Tim Ferriss actually works a 4-hour work week will be a cold week in […]

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