Tim Ferriss and The 4-Hour Workweek- Scam Or Dream?

The 4-Hour Workweek–Myth, Magic…or Manageable?

Let’s put it another way.  The 4-hour workweek…real or just plain baloney?

After attending a seminar where a stage speaker pitched an easy lifestyle that took no work at all… which they hustled by travelling around the world selling packages teaching people this “no work” system… I began to think about Tim Ferriss and his now famous book “The Four Hour Workweek.”

The question, which I posed online, led to a firestorm of comments… and a few nasty comments from people that felt I was “picking” on Tim. One obviously very passionate follower of the idea even posted to Tim Ferriss fan page on twitter asking people to email me and kick up a storm on behalf of the Ferriss faithful.

The message in his book seems too bring two strong opinions to the forefront­­­­–people who think it is baloney vs. those who find it believable, and applicable to their life and business.

Others have wondered, even though “The Four Hour Workweek” was certainly an inspired marketing hook, their question is:  How many hours a week did Tim Ferriss spend promoting it?

So…here are some of the pro and con comments, intermingled so as not to be too heavy on either side—you know: Balance!

Joel J. Ohman, CFP is a financial planner, serial entrepreneur, and founder of  (www.CreditCardChaser.com).  He says that certain principles in the book (automation, outsourcing, etc.) have been very helpful to him.

Ohman thinks there are two distinct ways that people approach the advice given in the book:

1) Those who are attracted by the title because they are inherently lazy and want to find the “secret” to not work very much­­–and make a lot of money.  These same people typically fall for the usual “get-rich-quick” scams that are all over the Internet.  This type of thinking will never see success as anything worthwhile takes hard work and effort.

2) Others realize that the same principles of hard work, smarts, and discipline still apply in any venture, and that they use some of the principles taught in the book to help them work smarter while still working very hard.  These people can find a lot of very useful tools and tips from the 4HWW to apply to their business.

Victor Cheng has met author Tim Ferriss and says he’s a nice guy with a lot of provocative ideas—the kind that sell books!!  Cheng says that although Ferriss did work some 4-hour weeks, he didn’t ONLY work 4 hours when he was starting his business and acquiring these skills.

Cheng (www.victorcheng.com) is no lightweight himself, having been a guest lecturer at Harvard and MIT Business Schools, and served as an expert source for TIME, Fox Business, Wall Street Journal and other publications.

He believes there are 3 narrow situations where the 4-hour workweek is possible, but these situations typically involve working really hard for years–and then reaping your rewards over a 4-hour work week. Cheng says, “It’s like a bicyclist who pedals really hard up a mountain for 2 hours, and then gets to ‘coast’ for some period of time.”

Here are Cheng’s 3 suggested scenarios:

1) Small super-niche businesses with no competition, like the snow cone stand at the local beach, where you have the only business license on the boardwalk to sell food. This is a stable business that doesn’t change much. So yes, you could hire people and only work 4 hours a week after you worked really hard to get the license, set up the business, etc.

2) Licensing Intellectual Property – you invent something (a patent) or write a song or a book (copyright), or have a famous personal brand name (George Foreman) and sell your endorsement such as the George Forman Grill. This is a 4-hour workweek business, but typically is preceded by years, if not decades, of very hard work to secure create the intellectual property.

3) Professional Investor – You make your millions, and now you invest in other businesses. This can be a 4-hour workweek business, but making the millions, you to have the millions in the first place.

CEO Coach Cheng continues:  Billionaire Mark Cuban owns an NBA team and probably could work a 4-hour work week, but when he built Broadcast.com and sold it to Yahoo for his billions, he most definitely was working more than a 4-hour workweek.

After a couple positive responses, let’s look at the other side:

Steven Sashen, from the great state of Colorado, offers his 2¢.  He reviewed the Ferris book for the Dutch publisher, stating:

1) The book is irreproducible nonsense, but it’ll sell great because of the title. It’s one thing to have a direct mail product with a successful ad that’s running month after month, it’s another if you’re in a service business, or have a job.

2) Tim tries to make the familiar “if I can do it, so can you” pitch…but it’s obvious from the chapter about his life that he’s NOT your average guy, and the situation that allowed him to live the 4-hour lifestyle were unusual and, for almost everyone, irreproducible. That he was able to tweak his nutritional product to the golf niche, and have the know-how to write a good direct response ad, are testaments to his uniqueness, not to a formula anyone can follow. He acts as if creating a successful product is both simple, and long-lasting, whereas neither of those are true.

3) The few tips he gives about time management (e.g., only answer email    during select times/days) can be useful for some.

4) The idea of outsourcing as much as you can is basic management (either outsource or hire, same thing, really).

5) He overlooks that the INITIAL phase of his business was not a 4-hour workweek, nor has it ever been for anyone starting a new venture.

As an example, I’m in the process of launching my third Internet company. Given that I’m the source of the intellectual property and the only person who can design and test my product, how am I supposed to check email once a week when I have designers and developers working ’round the clock who need my feedback?

MOST importantly, check and see if he’s still living the 4-hour workweek. I’ll bet he’s not, and when the book came out, you KNOW he wasn’t. That is the proof of the pudding, or lack thereof.  In fact, I saw Tim at a few Internet marketing conferences where he worked more than 4 hours each day that he was there.

Stephanie Pakrul– Top Notch Themes (http://fusiondrupalthemes.com)

Let’s hear from start-up business owners, Stephanie Pakrul and her husband, who were inspired by the 4-hour workweek to start their business.

Stephanie writes: While I think it works in principle, it has been a learning experience, and was the farthest thing from the truth for us (try more like the 60-hour workweek!). I think it’s been harder because we chose a business area that we really loved, and were already doing consulting in.  Thus we didn’t have the distance to look at it more objectively and build a business that didn’t rely on our personal involvement as a central part of the company. Even though it has been a moderately successful attempt to move us from a service-based to more scalable product-based business, we certainly aren’t living the 4-hour dream!

Something similar that has become more influential to us in recent times is the concept of the Lean Startup: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lean_Startup. There is some overlap with Tim’s concepts but it has resources for developing a successful business in a more complex, technology-oriented space.

Lowell Bike, is co-founder of My Auto Tips, based in St. Charles, Illinois, (www.MyAutoTips.com). This site is a leading provider of automotive information dedicated to providing money- and time-saving advice to car buyers, car sellers, and car owners through all levels of the automotive lifecycle.

Bike says: I have not been able to reduce my hours to 4 hours per week yet, but I am well on my way. I am also a firm believer in mini-retirements, and plan on working well past the generally accepted retirement age.

For a small percentage of us, the four-hour workweek is obtainable and real, but for the vast majority of the population the four-hour workweek is baloney. This is because there are only so many jobs that can be fully automated. Using my website as an example, I can handle only so many competitors before my profit margins drop to the point where I will no longer be one of the NR. At that point my workload will have to increase as I chase new business.

Likewise, there are only so many people that can make money by re-selling what someone else has produced. Many of the case studies in the book revolved around a person who ran a business that did not carry inventory, but rather worked as a drop-shipper. We will always need wholesalers to produce the goods that are re-sold. If the balance tips towards too many people working as retailers that do not carry inventory, their profit margins will decline, and it will no longer be worth it to work in that field.


Texan Jaime Cevallos, author of “Positional Hitting,” and inventor of The MP30 Training Bat (www.TheSwingMechanic.com) offers some balance to this discussion.

Cevellas says: If the “4HWW” is baloney, then there is no business book ever written that is worth even a penny. The “4HWW” changed my life, and I can’t say that about many other books. Not just changed my life in the amount of money I’m making, but also how I make and keep friends, how I view diet and exercise, and how I align my life to achieve more of what I want and less of what I don’t.

I’m not going to say it was as easy for me as he makes it seem in his book. But I was starting with no money–literally making $7/hour–and his book is geared more for the executive level employee. The single concept that made the biggest impact for me was when he explained that going for the top (the best in life–the 10 at the bar, the presidency and not vice presidency, etc.) is easier than going for the average because there is more competition since most people don’t think they have what it takes to be at the top. That single concept has been extremely important for me.

Cevallas was featured on Ferriss’ blog –         http://www.fourhourworkweek.com/blog/2009/12/18/swing-mechanic-jaime-cevallos/

Joanne Cleaver. Freelance writer and editor, says:

So glad somebody is finally pricking this guy’s balloon. If I were an employer, I would have IT set up a screener using the weasly email scripts that Ferris uses to lie and deceive bosses and dump work on co-workers. Still as the employer, anyone I caught using those phrases would go on probation, because doing so shows intent to shirk, not work. The concept is a sham and a shame. It gives telecommuting a bad name. He should be ashamed, as should his publisher.

Join Joann and her friends on Facebook: www.facebook.com/realmrscleaver.  Read her BNET blog about women in business, at http://www.bnet.com/blog/women-business?tag=mantle_skin;content

Gary FitzGerald of Franklin Partners in Australia says:

The book by Tim Ferris is life changing. It puts a whole lot of things in perspective so you can move forward. I have personally seen the ideas he promotes rejuvenate two failing businesses. Not to mention relationships.

The most important thing I got from it was leveraging myself through outsourcing, of course, but also through the positive cashflow approach to business startups, and the use of cheap little technology tools.

Let’s hear this rant from Tim.

The four-hour work week, is a 4 min laugh: You would be better off watching the commercials on your DVR than reading this book. I didn’t buy the book; I got it from my library and returned it early so I wouldn’t pay a late fee. I got my money’s worth. This is snake oil selling at its absolute best.

What is the difference between a con artist and a professional motivational speaker? A con artist really doesn’t care what happens to you. Tim Ferriss is a con artist. He says just what any other professional motivators say: “Follow your passion.”
If you followed Tim Ferriss, everyday, I can guarantee he works more than 4 hours per week. Hell, it takes 4 hours to tell a $5.00 overseas virtual assistant how to spell “overseas.” O like Oscar, V like victory, E like ediot – you get the point. Yes, idiot is misspelled, because I had my virtual assistant type this while I was at the beach.

This book is a joke–it is laughable.

If you want to create real wealth do what Sam Walton did, it took him only 20 years to reach overnight success. Now, “Overnight success” is a great book – it is about Fred Smith. Tim Ferris can’t use those examples.

Here is one of his secrets – with bullet point for effect.

• Learn the management secrets of Remote Control CEOs

Answer, Tony Hayward, former CEO of BP. His famous quote was “I want the oil spill over so I get my life back.” Because he was working 4 hours per week as a remote control CEO, that allowed that to happen. And because of his 4 hour per week effectiveness, BP put millions of gallons of oil in the gulf. After you read this book, hopefully you will leave a legacy just as rich as Tony Hayward’s.

Ok, some more questions. Do you want a 4 hour per week attorney to represent you for being wrongly accused of murder. Yes, everyone is wrongly accused of murder. Deal with it.
This is snake oil at its absolute best. If you like snack oil, you will love this book. If you like being swindled pay retail. Heaven forbid that you grow a brain and get this crap at a discount. Or for that matter free at the library. Don’t waste 4 minutes on this…


James Wolf is an associate professor of Information Systems at Illinois State University’s School of Information Technology.


He writes: My research looks at how technology impacts people and institutions. And I love the “Four Hour Work Week!” Even if you do not use the book to outsource your job, the book is full of helpful tips and websites to make your life easier.

For one, I subscribed to HARO after reading the book and have been able to help several reporters with their stories. Next, I have been selected as a Fulbright scholar to Hungary next semester. I plan to use several of the tips in the book to manage my affairs and keep in touch with family and friends while I am away in Europe for several months. For one, I plan to use Earth Class Mail to read my mail while I am in Budapest.

A few of my favorite tips from 4HWW include:

Jott: I use it to automatically set up appointments in my Google Calendar or my things to do list. Often as I walk to or from a class, I have students or other faculty ask for appointments. I have Jott on speed dial. So, as I walk, I call the service, and it automatically adds the appointment to my Google Calendar.

Evernote: I use Evernote as my brains back up. If I want to remember anything, I just take a picture or screen shot and upload it to Evernote. There is also an Evernote app for my Droid. I use the service to store everything from pictures of my kids to new ideas for research projects.

There are dozens of other sites mentioned in the book and it is worth buying for these little time savers alone.

Richard Laermer, CEO of RLM PR (http://laermer.com) added this comment:

Four Hour Nonsense: The only way that works is if you’re Tim Ferris himself. You can’t get away with 90 percent of what he does and says unless you’ve got “his” platform. I find big talkers annoying, unless they can show people how to “improve your lifestyle” without having to be a superstar first.

I’ve authored two books on trend-spotting (how to) including last year’s “2011” (www.yeahwhatever.com) out from McGraw-Hill. And I’m glad you’re doing that story. Indeed.

Robert Longley, IntuAction (www.escapee925.com) is a fan of the 4-hour workweek.

For the second edition, Tim invited a bunch of people to participate in editing, so I’m actually featured in one section of the latest edition. A lot of people get stuck on the 4-hour number and miss the point of the book.   Tim happened to have a business that was highly conducive to outsourcing and automation.

His approach is applicable to any business though. This is not to say every business can get down to 4 hours, but every business can eliminate waste and automate many of their processes.  Tim is an expert in taking apart processes that we take for granted, and then putting them back together in a more efficient way.  If you are looking for more value from your business, and more time for yourself, than you can get value out of the “4 Hour Workweek” book.


S. Brian Smith–Blogging about 4-Hour Work Week

I’ve also written that I think that the 4-Hour Work Week is far-fetched. Here’s a blog post I wrote about it: http://lifestyle-y.com/the-4-hour-work-week-yeah-right/263

However, before completely discounting Tim Ferriss, I must also say that he plays a very valuable role in the culture of entrepreneurs, and really, anyone who wishes to make a change in their life. I wrote a more recent post on that very subject here:  http://lifestyle-y.com/the-purpose-of-tim-ferriss/796

I will be happy to explain my point of view on Ferriss, as I have implemented many aspects of the lifestyle he writes about.

Steven Luibrand asks: Drinking the hater-ade, eh?

As with anything in life, I believe that 90% of people have no hope of ever achieving the 4HWW, 9% will be able to pull it off with lots of effort and diligence, and a lucky 1% will be able to pull it off with incredible ease.

H. Ratteerree writes:

I’ll keep it brief as my time is worth a lot to me these days. I read the “Four Hour Work Week” by Tim Ferriss about 2 years ago–and have never looked back. It has been the best thing to happen to us. My husband and I are no longer slaves to jobs or our possessions. My children have learned valuable life lessons. Our lives are so much better for having come across Tim Ferriss’ book that fateful day in the bookstore. My recommendation is to read it, try it and stop hating.

Kerri Hopkins of www.Namezook.com wrote:

I like the book and have highlighted many parts.  It is loaded with specific sites and very helpful ideas and strategies (i.e., how to get a virtual assistant (VA), where to get DVDs mass produced, how to get PR, how to record your Skype or pc phone calls.  I didn’t think his idea to lay down in a public place in the middle of a crowd for 10 seconds, was helpful – and I think a lot of his ideas work for him, because of his personality.

I’m a personality profiler who consults in 5 continents on the correlation between a person’s name and their personality traits.  A person named Tim is very creative, and does think outside the box, and isn’t too concerned with consequences, etc. So a lot of the bold ideas he has wouldn’t apply to people who are more reserved and conventional. But overall, I think the book is great, and I hope he has a sequel, since there is been so much improvement in services and technologies since 2007.

Edward Bartlett comments:

I applied about 10% of Tim’s principles to my job so far.  By training both my managers and customers to send requests by email instead of phone or long-winded conversations, I was able to leave work an hour earlier each day.  I did not even batch the emails, I responded immediately, but saving time on the phone and dispensing with office pleasantries made me 15% more efficient.

Berit Brogaard, a University of Missouri professor of Philosophy and Psychology put in her 2¢:

Of course, “the 4 hour workweek” is not baloney. You don’t have to do the work you outsource to others. However, very few of us can actually make use of this strategy. I can’t outsource any part of my university job. I think the students and committee members would notice very quickly if I tried. I can’t outsource my research either.

So, who can actually make use of this strategy? The answer: Fairly wealthy business owners and people in boring jobs who somehow can convince their boss that they need to work from home.  However, many of us can benefit from Ferriss’ ideas. There are lots of things you can outsource without being a wealthy business owner, for example, your Twitter follower-building.

Also, don’t take Ferris’ catchy title at face value. By a “4 hour workweek” Ferris means a workweek spent on work you don’t enjoy doing. Ferris doesn’t literally have a 4-hour workweek. He spends several hours a week maintaining his blog, updating his book, communicating with people who work for him, and so on.

Wrap Up: The comments for this blog post came in fast and furious. Mainly positive, some negative… and of those, I included here the ones that added value to the conversation and that are food for thought. Mixergy has a fantastic interview with Tim as to how he got the word of mouth behind him that led to his Bestselling status. (that is a post for another day… so stay tuned!)

Check back often for small business ideas amnd marketing advice.

Let’s hear your comments below!

7 comments to Tim Ferriss and The 4-Hour Workweek- Scam Or Dream?

  • Although I won’t discount Tim’s book, I find that the typical entrepreneur will never achieve a 4 hour work week. NEVER! But, I know it can be done!

    My grandfather spent his whole life building several businesses, hiring key employees, and while in his late 50’s decided to step away from it. He still kept his hands in it…but only 4 days a week for 1 hour a day. And, this before the use of computers and the internet. All by phone and letters.

    Can it work? Yes!
    Will it work for most? No!

  • There are some principles that are useful in Ferris’ book. BUT these are paled by the selling slogan “4 Hour Work Week” that aims to promise its reader a result that usually comes from working 4+++ hour work weeks for a good amount of time (for some, years) before they can achieve that result. So, I’m not disputing the utility of some tips and suggestions in the book. What I find objectionable is the strong emphasis on the end result (4 hour work week) as the hook that draws in the prospective buyer.

    It’s not unlike Network marketing/MLM approaches. It is true that one can achieve a certain level of success in these programs – and many are legitimate, not scams. Yet what is objectionable is the overt use of psychological tactics that draws people’s attention away from the incredible amount of work and even shifting the way you work, and consistently execute on these changes or plans of actions, before you can attain that end result.

  • I read this book several years ago. I was very excited after reading the back cover and for the first few chapters. Tim definitely sells the lifestyle. It’s the lifestyle of somebody who is extremely successful and does not have to work.

    As I progressed in the book, I got disgusted with some of the advice he was shilling; e.g. scripts to tell your boss to get yourself to work from home that would get you laughed out of the office and “How to Appear Like an Expert without Actually Being an Expert”, etc. When I was done, I pretty much thought the guy was a charlatan.

    However, recently I had a conversation with somebody whose relative read the book, supposedly followed all of its advice, and now has an automated “4 hour” business that enables him to live all over the world do all the things he wants to do. After hearing about that I’m thinking about giving this book another try and opening my mind a little more to its ideas.

  • My approach to this book was that of interest and a healthy dose of skepticism. The skeptic in me never believed the title, so that part wasn’t a let down. I found it entertaining with some thought-provoking concepts and suggestions. I do recommend this book to certain folks but with the caveat that on a scale of 1 to 10 (1 being super conservative corporate types and 10 being Tim Ferriss) if this book gets you to a 3 or 4 from a 1, it’s done its job. It offers people a glimpse of a lifestyle that’s probably radically different from theirs which at least opens your mind to other possibilities. Are you going to work 4 hours a week after reading this? Most likely no. Are you going to be entertained and walk away with some healthy challenges to your own habits and assumptions? In most cases, I would say yes. For this reason, I’m a fan.

  • Larry

    Maybe I read a different book then some of you. I believe the four hour work week is possible in situations similar to Ferriss’s. The key is to create passive income or income from businesses that can be owned, outsourced etc. There were good strategies for delegation of tasks to outsourcing companies, and also referenced many great sites and software for helping to reduce wasted time.

    Also I think the theme was to each your own and although we may not all get down to 4 hours, hell I’ll take getting down to 20 hours a week as opposed to 40 or more.

    Most of the critics are either too lazy to develop new habits and thinking or somewhat jealous of someone else’s success.

    Thought it was a great book, bought the audio version which was very good and have listened a few times. Most people only read a book once, with audio you can listen a couple of times and get a better feel for the ideas.

    Don’t knock things till you at least try them.

  • Brian

    Some advice in this book is really useful and inspiring. Some is just not good and Tim shows his age and snake oil salesman style in some chapters. For 16.99 I paid for this book I find it good “motivate me to live better” book. Favourite part was reading that Tim doesn’t read newspapers, watch TV or read emails (much). I did cut my Blackberry off, reduced my time reading newspares and I watch less TV. Overall I gained about 2 to 3 hours a week after reading this book. Worth it? Yes 100%
    Is it really 4 hour work week for me now? NO still 40 to 60 hours but I am less overloaded with useless info since I filter all that I won’t use imediately (as per Tim’s book). Read it, it is worth it!!

  • Mike

    The 4-hour workweek is the worst part of the book.

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