A SmackDown of the 4-Hour Workweek

My oldest son is just finishing a degree at the University of Texas.  He invested six years in the Air Force, forecasted weather for pilots from his base in Alaska, worked on education initiatives in Nepal while his wife worked in a war crime project, and he is currently spending his Saturdays shadowing a surgeon (in hopes of becoming a surgeon himself).

He is very smart, and has already built quite a diverse resumé.

So, this weekend, I was telling him about the monthly best-seller list of Hardcover Business Best Sellers in the New York Times.  I ran down the list, and got to the title:  The 4-Hour Work Week – written in 2007, still number 5 on the list.

My son gave me one of these “you’ve got to be kidding me” looks.  You know, the look that says, “what world does this guy live in?” He was speechless, incredulous, borderline angry.  He launched into something close to a rant – kind of stream of consciousness, with phrases like:

There is no surgeon alive that could function with that philosophy.  and…  You can’t forecast weather for military pilots in four hours a week, where a sloppy forecast could have genuinely dire consequences.

And then his wife (nearly finished at The University of Texas School of Law) joined in, describing how no attorney could possibly write the required briefs and do the preparation work needed for a normal work load in four hours a week.  They basically said that this is an absolute fantasy scenario for the people with serious jobs out there in the real world.

I did not defend the book to them.  But I had presented the synopsis of that book at the First Friday Book Synopsis, and decided to revisit my handout.  Here are a few “highlights” (they don’t seem so high after this conversation) from the book The 4-Hour Workweek:  Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich by Timothy Ferris.

You can make more money – a lot more money – by doing half of what you are doing now.
Each path begins with the same first step:  replacing assumptions.
Being busy is a form of laziness – lazy thinking and indiscriminate action.

Thoughts like these permeate the book:

You do your best work in short bursts of time – so plan your short bursts of time, and take the rest of the day (week/month/quarter) off!
You really can get your work done in 20% of the time, or less (thus:  the 4-hour workweek).

Well, I’ve thought about my son’s rant.  And I have concluded that maybe he is more than just a little right about this.  Maybe Timothy Ferris, in trying to be “cute,” and writing one of those “just go for it, use your time the way you want to” books, has done us quite a disservice.

Yes, Timothy Ferris is wildly successful.  But I bet this:  I bet if Timothy Ferris ever has to have open-heart surgery, he will choose a surgeon who works more than fours a week.  What do you think?

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And let me add:  Bob Morris, my blogging colleague, and the most well-read person I know, regularly (subtly and not-so-subtly) reminds me that best-sellers and most-popular books, may not be the best, most important, most serious books. I think my son just agreed with Bob.

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