Case Studies

The Business of Life

Fitting your job into your life is simpler than you think.

By Kate Pavao

November 2007

Timothy Ferriss doesn't want you to work harder; he wants you to work smarter—and free up your time to do all those things you really want to do. (Hint: it's probably not spending your day in meetings.) Ferriss talks to Profit about his best-selling book, The 4-Hour Workweek; why results matter; and his next global adventure.

PROFIT: How realistic is a four-hour workweek?

FERRISS: It's important not to take the four hours too literally. That is achievable, but it's a process, not an overnight change. For people who are in a 40-hour workweek, there are two ways to go. You can use the book's strategies to achieve the same results in less time and then work on creating mobility and remote work. Or you can cut all the fat and accomplish 15 times more in the same period of time, which is what venture capitalist Tim Draper said was possible using this book. Of course if you produce more results, your ascension through the ranks—your promotions and pay raises—will come much sooner.

PROFIT: If you're an executive and decide to start using these strategies—for example, working remotely—should you expect resistance?

FERRISS: This book is about fostering and rewarding people who produce results. There are always going to be people who are resistant to change. But resistance isn't difficult to overcome if you expect it and plan for it. It's generally very easy to get people to embrace these approaches once you demonstrate a measurable increase in results.

PROFIT: A lot of your advice—like saying that you only have a minute to talk with someone by phone, or answering e-mail only twice a day—may seem rude to coworkers. Should you be worried about the impression you're making?

FERRISS: In some companies, the strategies I recommend are policies. UBS Investment Bank in Zurich allows employees to check e-mail no more than twice per day. But I don't think these tactics need to appear rude, as long as you phrase your requests diplomatically. If someone wants a meeting, suggest that having an agenda will ensure that you're on point, or ask if there are questions and topics that you can consider beforehand. Defining a clear end time is also important. You can say, "I have other commitments, so can we end at..." and then pick, let's say, a time that's 30 minutes out. I've received stories from employees who've done this very effectively, not only with coworkers but with supervisors as well.

In every organization, there will generally be a split between people who focus on being effective—doing the right things—and people who focus on being efficient—doing things well whether or not they're important. To the greatest extent possible, it's important to associate with and learn from the people in the effective camp. The impression you'll make by embracing this results-driven methodology versus a presence-driven one is that you're very effective and no-nonsense, which is the reputation you want to have.

PROFIT: Do you find it hard to promote a book on a four-hour workweek?

FERRISS: It's actually not. I've followed the principles in the book. I've done no physical book touring and no book signings whatsoever. I was very precise in doing an analysis on what activities I should focus on for the best results, and the best-selling authors I interviewed cited book touring as the largest time consumer with the least ROI. My main promotional activity at the moment is one or two blog posts per week—that's it, besides this type of interview. Anything that I'm doing right now can be done from anywhere.

PROFIT: You've been a champion kick-boxer and competed in a global tango competition. What's next?

FERRISS: I'm planning on going to Dubai this fall to race an Enzo Ferrari and a McLaren F1, as well as to learn Arabic. I try to learn one representative language from each of the major families so that I can cluster related languages around each. Learning languages makes you much more precise in your English usage and problem solving. To varying degrees, I know somewhere between 6 and 12 languages, but I have not learned a Middle Eastern language yet.

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