The Big Idea
Your productivity actually drops after you’ve worked more than 50 hours per week
Questions I Answer
- Is Tim Ferriss’ 4 Hour Workweek realistic?
- What are the key takeaways from Tim Ferriss’ book, The Four Hour Workweek?
- What’s the best way to be more productive?
- How many hours should I work each week to maximize my productivity?
Actions to Take
- Weed out unimportant and insignificant things so you can focus on what you really consider work.
- Apply Tim Ferriss’ suggestions for productivity & time management to empower yourself and coworkers.
Key Topics in the Show
Learn the health costs of being overworked.
Understand why working more than 40 hours a week may be costing you more than you think.
Find out why using automations is a major key to success at work.
Discover how people view “work” differently and the importance in streamlining so you can work more effectively.
Resources and Links
- Learn more about Tim Ferriss and his book.
- Key Takeaway’s from Tim Ferriss’ book The Four Hour Work Week from a productivity expert:
- Know that it is realistic to cut out many of the distractions and eliminate all that extra noise and clutter in your life.
- Also know that it’s not really realistic to believe you’re going to be able to build something big by only working four hours a week.
- Recognize what you consider “work.” It could be different for everyone. Ferriss believes it is only doing the things that directly bring in revenue that he would like to do less of.
Hello, hello everyone. Welcome to Productivity Paradox. I’m your host, Tanya Dalton and this episode 20. Today we are going to be talking about is the four hour work week really a concept that we can implement into our lives? I hear this question a lot from people who have read the book “The Four Hour Work Week” and they wonder is it really true. Can you work four hours a week and be wildly successful? Really, I think with the question is that people are boiling it down to is what’s the ideal amount of time to work each week? There are two thought camps out there. We have the Tim Ferriss idea and he’s the author of “The Four Hour Work Week” and he says work as little as possible. Then on the opposite end, we have Elon Musk who says work like a dog. Here’s a man who’s famous for saying he regularly works 80-100 hour work weeks. What is the ideal amount of time you want to put into work? Again, I truly believe this is personal and I feel like it really helps to look at both of these ideas so you can figure out what works for you or what can you pull from each of these to create an ideal amount of work that fits your life and the way that you want to live. Let’s breakdown the thought process behind both of these tactics. Let’s start with Elon Musk.
For those of you who don’t know, he is widely regarded as one of the most visionary entrepreneurs alive and working today. He’s the founder of PayPal and the CEO of Tesla and SpaceX. In other words, this is the guy who wants to put the colony on the planet Mars. Obviously a visionary, right? People look up to him because he is so influential. They obviously want to use and implement his methods because he has been so successful. Quite frankly, he is a visionary genius but he’s also a workaholic. This is a man who’s been quoted as saying, “You should be extremely tenacious and then just work like hell. You just have to put in 80-100 weeks every single week. If other people are putting in 40 hour work weeks and you’re putting in 100 hour work weeks, then even if their doing the same thing, you’ll achieve in four months what it takes them a year to achieve.” When he phrases it like that, you think you know what, that makes a lot of sense. If I’m working two or three times harder than the other people doing the same thing as me, I’m going to be two or three times more successful, right? Well, it only makes sense really if you’re a computer, a robot, or maybe a calculator. It doesn’t really work for humans.
I agree, you need to work hard and focus on work during work hours but spending 80-100 hours focused on work on a constant basis is not going to be sustainable for most people. First of all, productivity has a limit. Your productivity actually drops once you’ve worked for more than 50 hours in one week. Let me say that again, for those of you who think you need to work long weeks, your productivity drops after you’ve worked more than 50 hours. This is not my opinion. This is considered a fact among productivity researchers. It’s not about the time you put in, it’s about the quality of the work. It’s more about being effective and less about punching in the clock hours. Working hour after hour kills your productivity because your brain really can only focus for 90-120 minute increments. This is known as your ultradian rhythm. Your brain has limits just like your body does. Just as you can’t go outside and run for eight hours straight, your brain can’t do that either. It needs to have breaks on a regular basis.
The Harvard Business Review actually published an article sharing that regardless of our reasons for working long hours, overwork does not help us.
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Overwork doesn’t just not help us, it doesn’t just hurt us, it hurts the organizations we work for. That organization might be yourself if you’re an entrepreneur, it could be the company or the corporation you work for, or it could be your family if you’re a person who works from home. Even people who love to work, which I count myself among, I
love working, they’re not performing at high levels once you get past a certain productivity point. That’s not the only high cost of working these 80-100 hour work weeks. It’s also about the harmony in your life. If you’ve been listening to this podcast for any length of time, you know I talk a lot about harmony and having the different areas of your life work well together. How does that work for Elon Musk? This is a man who’s been married a couple of times, he’s been married three times to two different women and his wives claim that he was so obsessed with his work when he was home, his mind was constantly elsewhere. Even his children don’t get his full attention when he’s with them, he continues to work.
He says “I’m able to be with them and still be on email. I can be with them and working at the same time.” But what Musk doesn’t realize is this is not true. We’ve talked about the fact that our brains are not designed to multi-task. If you want to go back and listen to episode 9, you’ll hear where I talk about how you cannot engage the same section of your brain at the same time. It’s just not designed to work that way or should I say, it’s not designed to work well that way. Even Inc Magazine who named Elon Musk as entrepreneur of the year said that Musk frequently gets so caught up in his multi-tasking, it sometimes takes two or three tries at his name uttered at full volume to get a response. Even though he thinks he’s able to be with other people, his family, his children, or even people interviewing him for an article and still work, it’s not really ringing true for the people he’s with.
Now let’s talk about the health costs with this as well. Keeping up a regiment of work like that is not healthy for us. Our bodies require sleep and we’re actually going to be talking about that in an episode later this season. How does Musk handle this? Because he doesn’t get a lot of sleep since he’s working non-stop, he would drink caffeinated beverages non-stop throughout his day. He drank so many caffeinated beverages that he admits that he’s seriously started to believe that he was losing his peripheral vision. It’s costing him parts of his health, including his vision. I’m not here to look down on Elon Musk, I believe he is an amazing visionary and I believe that everyone’s productivity is personal. You know that from listening all the way back in episode zero, right? We have to make sure that we aren’t looking at this as a realistic expectation for ourselves. I think we need to look at him as a guide for what excessive amounts of work can look like. Yes, it can make you extremely successful but at what cost? What’s the answer? Do we swing all the way to the other end and work as little as possible? I think that really depends and I think that Tim Ferriss is a great study in this thought.
As I mentioned earlier, Tim Ferriss is the author of a book called “The Four Hour Work Week.” I think what happens is this, people listen to that title and they think wow, Tim Ferriss works four hours a week and yet he’s built and entire empire upon this four hour principle. He has other books, “The Four Hour Chef”, “The Four Hour Body”, a successful podcast, he speaks all over the world. He’s built an empire. People believe he really only works for four hours and yet he’s done all of this. They take that idea and run with it, that you don’t really have to work hard to build something substantial. I believe there is some truth behind a lot of the principles in Tim’s ideas but we’re not always exactly on the same page. Tim advocates that one way you can work for four hours a week and live a very full life is to use automation to your advantage. Anyone who’s heard me talk about productivity and business
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knows I love automations and I believe automation is key to success. That’s something we’ll most likely talk about later on in a season focused on systems but I look at it in a very different way than Tim references using it.
This automation idea is really the cornerstone of his philosophy and eliminating a lot of work and here’s what he suggests you do. He says you should become an entrepreneur who essentially works as a middleman. Now, there’s nothing wrong with being and entrepreneur who’s a middleman except it’s not as easy as he makes it out to be. It relies really heavily on being able to sell the product, so high doses of salesmanship and quite frankly, getting in the right market at the right time, so a lot of luck. Anyone who has started a business as I have knows it’s not as simple as he makes it sound and it’s certainly not easy enough to do with four hours a week. The phrase passive income is one of those key terms I’m starting to hear thrown around quite a bit in entrepreneurial and in business circles which is a subset of this idea of Tim’s. For those of you who’ve never heard that term, passive income is another way of saying throw a product out there in the market and make money while you sleep. Not a lot of hard work, just a lot of big bucks. Can that really happen? Is that a real thing?
I’ll be honest, for me, sometimes I wake up in the morning and yes I’ve sold products while I’ve slept but it happens because I work really hard during my waking hours to make that happen. It doesn’t happen automatically, I didn’t flip a switch and then all of the sudden I’m making money while I sleep. I have to market the products, I need to nurture my tribe, I make sure I make great products that will sell. It’s not as easy as throwing it out there and saying that you can create an industry by being a middleman isn’t really accurate. I want you to think about that. Another point that Tim makes is about eliminating distractions and I absolutely agree to an extent. A lot of meetings, a lot of emails, a lot, a lot of emails, and calls are distractions and they’re not really focused on getting you to your goals. Any efforts to streamline that should be applauded. Tim suggests turning off notifications on your emails as well as the auto-send and receive. He thinks you should check email twice a day and set an auto responder letting people know your policy. I think those are great suggestions. I believe you should limit the number of times you check your email. I think it’s great to set an auto-responder letting people know your policy.
He also believes in batching your tasks as a good way to focus your time as it eliminated the need for switching gears. In other words, tasks like personal errands, customer service, financial reporting, things he calls time consumers can be done in one fell swoop making them more efficient. Again, I completely agree with this idea. I believe in batching your tasks. Tim advocates too for empowering others to help make decisions especially the insignificant ones. That means setting clear boundaries with people you work with or the people who work under you to make choices on your behalf. I’m in full agreement with Tim on this idea. I am all about empowering the people you work with. At work, this could be having a co-worker order office supplies as long as they stay under a certain price point or having them know exactly how to respond to a client inquiry. At home, this can work with the people you live with including your children if you have them. Empower them to make decisions for the things that don’t really matter. For example, if you have children, having a snack shelf in the pantry where they know they’re allowed to choose their snacks so you can focus in on other things.
Where Tim and I part ways is when he talks about eliminating distractions so much that you cultivate what he calls selective ignorance. Tim suggests never reading the news, not ever, never reading the news. He says if it’s important, other people will
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talk about it and then you’ll find out. I don’t really agree with that. I feel like your opinion should be your own and some of that is done by reading the news and keeping up with current events. He also believes you should eliminate all television except for one hour of pleasure viewing, eliminate reading books, except for one hour of fiction, and surfing the web should be eliminated all together. I feel like this is a bit excessive, right? That’s a lot to expect people to eliminate all TV except for one hour, no reading of books. I’m all for eliminating distractions, but it’s also about what are the things that you really want to do? How is it you really want to spend your time? Is this concept of the four hour work week even realistic?
Well, I have to say yes and no. Yes, it’s absolutely realistic to cut out many of the distractions and eliminate all that extra noise and clutter in your life. After all, that’s what this entire season, season two of this podcast, is all about. But it’s not really realistic to believe you’re going to be able to build something big by only working four hours a week. What I think is important to understand though is that Tim Ferriss defines work as something primarily financially driven that you would like to do less of. He’s built and empire. He loves doing what so many other people would call work. Things like public speaking, recording videos, his podcasting. He doesn’t really count those things in his four hour work window because, well, he doesn’t consider them work. For him, those are the things that are fun and let me explain what I mean. The New York Times reported that on Monday alone, Mr. Ferriss spoke at Harvard Business School followed by an afternoon doing an interview about his book. Then he had another talk in front of 130 students at MIT. He then stayed, hashing out personal productivity theories over beers with graduate students at 11:00 PM. All of this while recovering from jet lag after a flight from Japan where he taped a pilot for a television show.
I don’t know about you, but that’s a lot more than four hours of work in that one day alone. But to him, that’s not work. All of these other stuff, like lecturing or blogging incessantly count in his words as evangelizing. It’s not work. Basically, Tim lives by if you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life. He doesn’t count a lot of work as, well, work. The key takeaway I really hope you get from this is that it is possible to focus in on what’s important. Look at how Tim has created this amazing empire on what he says is four hours of work week, right? But it’s really only four hours of the things he doesn’t want to do, the rest of it he’s pursuing something that he loves. It’s possible but it’s not the hours you spend, it’s the way that you spend it. Quality always wins over quantity. We don’t have to work 80-100 hours a week like Elon Musk to make great things happen. Lasering in and thinking you can possibly spend fewer hours on the tasks that you call work is possible and it’s possible to find work that you don’t consider work.
For me, this podcast is that. I don’t consider this work because I love doing it. I love coming up with the concept for the season, I love figuring out what we’re going to talk about, I love recording it, I love it. This is not work. I don’t mind spending my evening recording these episodes after the kids have gone to bed because it doesn’t feel like work to me. What can you do to implement this? What I would recommend is starting with episode four. If you haven’t listened to that already, that’s where we talk about laying your foundation and figuring out your purpose. Figuring out what you want to do and what things are important to you. Then you can really start implementing some of the streamlining into your life, not just as work but also at home. The episodes of this last season, season two, which would be episodes 14-18 have all been about doing just that. We’re going to continue this season to work together to find ways to edit out the unimportant and insignificant things so you can
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focus on what matters most, so you can spend just a few hours each week working on the drudgery that you consider work and the rest of your work really is focused on the things that you love and the things that matter the most to you. That’s what I’m most excited about.
At the end of the day, is the four hour work week really real? I think it’s possible. I think it’s all in how you look at work. I hope I’ve given you some food for thought today because I really think a lot of us need to think about how much time we ideally really want to spend on the things we consider work and how much time
we want to spend on the other stuff. We will continue with the season working on editing and streamlining a lot of those things that are the distractions, that are the extra noise in your life out. I’m really excited about it because I’ve already received so many nice emails from many of you letting me know how you’ve started streamlining your lives and how you’ve been editing out some of those distractions and how you’re quitting things. It’s so exciting to me and I love hearing about your journey. Definitely feel free to send me an email or you can connect with me on social media under the username @inkwellpress. I’m on Instagram and Facebook and Twitter and several other places. I’d love to see you there. Next week, we will be talking about whether we should be editing out sleep in your daily schedule. I look forward to talking to you about that next week. Until next time, happy planning.
**This transcript is created by AI, so please excuse any typos, misspellings and grammar mistakes.
Tanya Dalton is considered a top female keynote speaker on the subjects of productivity, time management, goal setting and finding purpose.