A 4 Hour Work Week Is It Possible?

Arif Harbott
Arif Harbott

As an entrepreneur running a business there never seems to be enough time in the day, you start early and finish late. Sometimes it is hard to see the wood for the trees. So is a 4 hour work week possible?

I read “The Four Hour Work Week” by Tim Ferriss a while ago and have been experimenting with some of the ideas in the book over the past month.

There was a lot of hype around this book and I was pleased to find that there were some good takeaways that I have found to increase my productivity. I have also combined what I learned from the book with my own tips and experiencep. Personally I think you have to take the book with a pinch of salt, be open minded and do what works for your lifestyle.

1. Reduce your email frequency

I can confidently say that this one alone saves me over an hour per day!

The book recommends checking email once per week! Well that is simply not practical for me at the moment, but what I have done is reduce my emailing time to only twice per day. I check my emails first thing in the morning and respond to all emails while I am on the train; and then I check them again in the evening so that my inbox is clear before I leave the office.

I had to ease myself into this gently; on the first day I only checked my emails once per hour, then the second day once every two hours and so on.

I found that the key to this is to close your email programme. If I saw the alert of a new email coming in I could not stop myself checking it. If you close the email programme then you have removed temptation. I thought that if I did not respond instantly then clients would become annoyed and leave in their droves. This is obviously a silly notion and so long as you respond within a few hours this is a more than acceptable level of service.

The big productivity gain is that email is very distracting, you can be in the middle of working and you stop what you are doing to check your email. It is constantly interrupting you and taking you away from the key tasks you should be doing.

2. Focus on your key tasks each day

There are very few tasks that really make a difference to your business. You should be writing down two key tasks per day (no more than two per day) and then do not leave the office until you have completed them. These tasks have to be items that move you towards your goals. Do not work on anything else until you have completed your key tasks.

I now have two to-do lists one for my key tasks and one for everything else. The everything else to-do list I try to apply the next principle which is elimination.

3. Eliminate tasks and eliminate mental clutter

You need to learn the art of saying “no”. Do not commit to things that remove your focus from your key tasks. Be ruthless your time and when thinking about things you need to do:

  • Do you need to read 1,000 RSS feeds? I have had a big cull of my feeds.
  • Do you have to read all the emails funnies? I am simply delete them now.
  • Do you need to read the newspaper or watch the news? I read the headlines over someone’s shoulder on the tube.
  • Do you need to watch 5 hours of TV per day? I have reduced my TV to less than an hour per day.

Some of these may seem drastic or severe, but these are the things I have done and I have found it has helped me to keep my mind clear and focused; and more importantly it has freed up a lot of my time.

4. Batch tasks together into blocks

Again this one makes a lot of sense once you think about it. If you want some cards printed you pay £100 for 100 cards but £120 for 200 cards because all the effort is done setting the machine up. Putting all of your repetitive tasks together to complete in one go means that your per task time is reduced, once you get in the flow you have crank out the rest of the items in no time.

So I have a reminder in my calendar that alerts me once per month for the following tasks:

  • Bookkeeping
  • Personal accounts
  • Paying bills
  • Non essential backups
  • Downloading and editing my photos
  • Software and server upgrades
  • Etc etc

5. Outsource as much as you possibly can

This one is hard for a lot of entrepreneurs (myself included). Your time is super valuable and should be spent on tasks that you cannot outsource, everything else you should think about handing over to someone else.

I have tried this recently and have passed whole projects and accounts over to members of my team. The result has been twofold; my time has been freed up, and the people who I have handed over to have relished the challenge and grown into their new roles. You need to be on hand during the handover to make sure things run smoothly then you need to trust in the ability and skill of your team. The world will not end if you do not micromanage everything.

The other point is that outsourcing is not just for business it is for personal items too. There are lots of virtual assistant companies all over the world that will take care of booking your travel, booking restaurants, arranging meetings, dealing with permits, tracking your expenses etc. Personally I have not taken this step yet, I am planning to use https://yourmaninindia.com/ next week to do some simple research for me as an experiment.

6. Reduce meetings and if you must have them keep them short

Recently I listened a 37 Signals podcast that talked about their working practices. They said that the people in their office do not speak to each other! At first I thought this was madness why would you email or IM someone in the same room? Their rationale is that you have one working day, if someone interrupts you then your day is split in two, then another interruption and your day is split into three, pretty soon your day is so fragmented you have lost all your productivity. I have found this to a certain extent when I work from home; I find that I get about two or three times as much work done at home than I do in the office because there are fewer interruptions.

Is it practical to spend your working day not talking to anyone, not really and personally I enjoy the banter and the team collaborations, but you can have a half-way house. Perhaps you have two hours a day where you get your headphones on and get in the work zone.

Another big point about meetings is to try where possible to reduce them and if you must have one:

  • Have an agenda that is circulated in advance (and keep to it)
  • Keep them to less than an hour (ideally half an hour)

Again you have to be sensible; if I am at pitch which goes on for more than an hour I am hardly going to pack up my presentation and leave. You should however try to reduce internal or non-essential meetings.

7. Take regular mini retirements

Why do we want a 4 hour work week? If we save ourselves lots of time each day what do you do with the extra time?

My thought is to have fun and spend time with my friends and family. There is a tendency to use the extra time to carry on working, but that is not the point. You have to have mini retirements, or micro holidays to yourself fresh and at peak performance.

These could be anything you want; short day trips, weekends abroad, a day at the part, picnics, playing sport or anything else that you love to do.

Time is a scare resource that unfortunately you do not get more of. Do I think a 4 hour work week is achievable? Perhaps. More importantly for me is to get more done in less time, giving me the freedom to spend more time with my family. Also to make sure that when I am not working I am relaxed and not constantly stressing about my workload.

If you have any tips that you use to increase your productivity let me know; I would love to try them out!

A 4 Hour Work Week Is It Possible?

7 thoughts on “A 4 Hour Work Week Is It Possible?

  1. Thats the question isn’t it? Is a 4 hour work week even possible? I have left that question behind, and instead asked myself “how can I apply these principles” to better my life right now. Presently I work from home, where I live with 2 other entrepreneurs. Often times we are so focused that we don’t strike up conversation while working, and will drop a text or email to each other when we could just as easily knock on a door. This respect for each other during work hours allows us to separate work and social time. The idea is that if we can be absolutely productive during working hours, then we can be totally free of work around the dinner table. There is also an unofficial rule that no one works on sunday, and we dedicate our time to socializing and taking it easy.

    In terms of increasing productivity I have begun setting mini deadlines for myself each day regarding the time that I spend on individual projects. Say for instance, if I aim to write a blog post, draught a proposal, and complete some research. I will allot a specified amount of time for each task, and set a timer. When the timer goes off, I take a break and move on to the next task. This helps keep me moving, and keeps me from getting stuck on one thing. Say for instance I’m struggling to get my blog post written, and I run out of time. Instead of investing more time into an already unproductive session, I move to the next thing- where perhaps I’ll be more productive. That way at the end of the day I have most of three things done, instead of just one thing. And chances are that when I revisit the tasks I have had some time to think and can work more effectively on them. Plus, I always seem to work better under a dealine – so this is good for large projects that have many parts. I feel like I’m achieving something by meeting a number of smaller sub-objectives.

    Thats my latest productivity tip.

    I’ll be really interested to hear how your outsourcing goes!

    All the best.


    1. I tend to agree with you Jackson. I am trying to improve my current workload at this point in time and then keep improving until perhaps one day you get to 4 hours per week.
      I like your idea about the mini deadlines as most people tend to focus and achieve more if tasks are time boxed. Personally I have found that working on one task until it is complete is better for me than switching between tasks.

      I have resolved to move outside of my comfort zone and use the outsource company for a personal task. Originally I was going to use it for a business task but now I have changed my mind. I am going to get my virtual assistant to find me a restaurant in London for me to take my wife to. This will be the topic of my next blog post.

      I had a look at your site and was really impressed, best of luck with your experiment.

  2. Interesting Arif. Simplification has to be the answer, working in a linear fashion and finishing one key task at a time makes sense to me (speaking as a natural scatterbrain/failed multitasker). This is also a basic tenet of most meditation techniques. I’m going to try disabling my mail client for the bulk of the day too; ironically I read your post as soon as it came in…


  3. Of course the 4-hour workweek is possible. Currently I only work half the year.

    The rest of the year I am creating muses and taking mini retirements. I am currently in the process of buying a second home in Thailand 🙂

    If you are looking for an alternative to yourmaninindia, I am using http://www.vmgbpo.com/ and can only recommend them (I am not affiliated with them other than I am using their services).

  4. Hi Rasmus. Many thanks for the tip about VMG BPO; I have just emailed them to see if they can help me with my next experiment. I had a read of your blog and I it reminded me that I need to focus on passive income. I have been a programmer and business owner for years but I have never built a web application for myself, I build them for my clients. Perhaps it is time I built one for myself. Food for thought. What should I build I wonder.

  5. I think creating truely passive income is one of the hardest thing in the book to do. Currently I am having some information products created and I have a company that developed Internet shops to the Danish market (everything is outsourced), but I am always on the look out for more ideas.

    Steady passive income is one of my goals for this year 🙂

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