Welles: The fed 4-hour work week?

A best-selling book by Timothy Ferriss is filled with ideas that could change your view of work

The book “The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere and Join the New Rich” by Timothy Ferriss has received rave reviews in the Wall Street Journal, and hundreds of people have given it reader reviews on Amazon.com.

But I kept putting it down after the first 30 pages. Some of the ideas sounded too flippant, and several of the anecdotes conveyed sleazy business ethics. But I picked it up again and read it all the way through — and it took my breath away.

“The 4-Hour Workweek” touts ways to escape the 9-to-5 workday and live anywhere while you earn income. Ferriss’ theory is that if you can make changes to give yourself more time, income and mobility, you can live a luxurious lifestyle.

Rather than buy all the things you want, you can do all the things you want by doing the minimum necessary for maximum effect, Ferriss says.

You can “own the trains and have someone else ensure they run on time” whether you are a working stiff or own a company, Ferriss writes.

The book redefines the new rich to include employees who rearrange their work schedules to include some telework.

If you are looking for ways to justify telework, his chapter “Disappearing Act” provides questions and actions to help you consider whether telework is right for you and make a telework proposal to your boss.

For example, you could document your current productivity and demonstrate your ability to work outside of the office. Simply prove you can do it. If your employer refuses to let you have a trial period, Ferriss writes, it is time to get a new boss.

The book is filled with wonderful tips and concise examples that appear — often unexpectedly — in the form of questions and answers. What if you had a heart attack and could work only two hours per day? Or two hours a week? “What would you do?” he asks. His questions force you to consider what is important and what is not. Which time-consuming activities — such as e-mail, phone calls, conversations, paperwork or meetings — would you would eliminate to stay on track? A good portion of the book would be especially useful to anyone trying to establish a business, but many of the same principles apply to federal employees. For example, Ferriss makes two suggestions for increasing productivity: Limit tasks to the important to shorten work times, and shorten work time to limit tasks to the important.

“If you haven’t identified the mission-critical tasks and set aggressive start and end times for their completion, the unimportant becomes the important,” Ferriss writes.

Create short to-do lists, he advises.

“Learn to ask, ‘If this is the only thing I accomplish today, will I be satisfied with my day?’ Don’t ever arrive at the office or in front of your computer without a clear list of priorities.”

If you prioritize, you’ll have no need to multitask, he writes. Have at most two primary tasks per day and do them separately, from start to finish, without distraction.

In short, limit your to-do list and set impossibly short deadlines.

Among his ideas for eliminating time- wasters, Ferriss advises people to check e-mail only twice a day — once at noon and again at 4 p.m. He advises people never to check it the first thing in the morning. Morning is when you can complete your most important task of the day.

Ferris suggests telling your boss and colleagues by e-mail that if a truly urgent matter can’t wait until those times, they can contact you by phone.

Ferriss recommends communicating by e-mail as a first choice and by phone only as a second choice. If you must have a meeting, set a time that the meeting will end and hold meetings to 30 minutes, he writes. Meetings should not be for open-ended discussions but rather to make decisions on well-defined issues.

And remember, your cubicle is your temple. Try hanging a “Do Not Disturb” sign when you do not want visitors.

Ferriss said his ideas can be summed up by the acronym DEAL:

  • Definition: Define what you want to be doing.

  • Elimination: Get rid of interruptions and the noise of unimportant matters.

  • Automation: Delegate or automate less important tasks, and consider outsourcing personal tasks overseas.

  • Liberation: Enjoy the time you create.

Ferriss lives by his creed, and that means that he may not be like you or me.

Ferriss was 30 years old when he wrote the book. He had quit a $40,000 a year job as a cubicle dweller, learned kickboxing and tango — achieving records in both — and started a multinational product firm from wireless locations worldwide.

Despite having what may seem like a free lifestyle, he has come up with new and different ways to make time for himself.

You can try them, too.

Probably the best and most provocative part of this book is the chapter on “Outsourcing Life.” Ferriss tells you how to get a so-called remote personal assistant to whom you can delegate the chores and errands that take time away from enjoying life and often distract you at work.

He gives contacts and Web sites for outsourcing such mundane tasks as ordering garbage bins for your home, sending flowers and cards, and even finding a job.

For example, he lists www.elance.com and www.yourmaninindia.com as having inexpensive virtual assistants. The costs range from $4 to $15 an hour. It is clear that he used virtual assistants to provide some of the research for his book.

Ferriss even applies his outsourced assistant to the e-mail challenge.

He establishes different addresses for different e-mail purposes. His virtual assistant sifts out the majority of e-mail he doesn’t need to see. Then, for the 1 percent of e-mail messages that might require action, he spends no more than 10 minutes a night looking through those and responding. Federal workers probably can’t outsource their e-mail sorting chores to India, but Ferriss’ idea of letting go of e-mail — at least psychologically so you don’t feel you have to check it all the time — is a good one. Ferriss has a blog, “Lifestyle Design,” on his Web site that gives e-mail tips.

His Web site, www.fourhourworkweek.com, gives more advice and tips.

He provides many helpful Web sites for finding cheap flights, locating worldwide housing and even free accommodations, learning a language, becoming an expert, or getting a job abroad. He also provides a reading list.

You can view this book as life-changing or as simply a hodgepodge of ideas.

Because its tone is humorous, it’s hard to tell. You will either love or hate the book. I loved it because of its fresh ideas and useful Web site recommendations.

Interesting and helpful information are compacted like gems into a few pages.

If you decide to try some of Ferriss’ techniques, consider his list of top mistakes, which includes the following:

  • Losing sight of dreams and falling into work for work’s sake.

  • Micromanaging and e-mailing to fill time.

  • Handling problems your outsourcers or co-workers can handle.

  • Doing work in the same place where you live, sleep or should relax.

  • Striving for endless perfection rather than to be great or simply good enough.

  • Blowing minutiae and small problems out of proportion as an excuse to work.

  • Viewing one job or project as the end-all and be-all of your existence.

Keep in the mind his basic premise: “Life doesn’t have to be so damn hard.”

And if you look at some of the tips on travel and consider some personal outsourcing, who knows? You may actually get a life!

Welles ([email protected]) is a retired federal employee who has also worked in the private sector. She lives in Bethesda, Md., and writes about work life topics for Federal Computer Week.


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