The title alone was enough to capture my attention. Why is it that working hours seem to be getting longer, notwithstanding how hard our predecessors fought for the right to limit the standard working week. The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) recently reported that Australians were working nearly 38 hours in excess of the 48 working weeks per year. This places Australia the 6th hardest working nation amongst the 30 OECD countries, behind Korea, the Czech and Slovak Republics, Greece and Mexico. Some might consider this position an unenviable one - working harder, but, as Tim Ferris might suggest, not smarter.

Buying your freedom with the Pareto Principle (80/20 rule)

Tim Ferris’ personal story strikes a chord with many people. After starting his own business in diet supplements, he found himself desperately unhappy working 12-15 hours a day, 7 days a week. He took stock of his position, reminded of something he’d learned previously – the 80/20 principle or Pareto Principle. Roughly speaking, this principle describes how a consistent 80% of the wealth, the productivity or the result is created by only 20% of the inputs. In desperation, he put this principle to the test.  

Over the course of just one day, he examined all the activities during his typical day. He found that each day from dawn until dusk was spent making phone calls to his customers (given the time zone differentials of his customers around the world). Surprisingly, of some 120 customers, only 3% produced 95% of his revenue. Further, the top 3% placed their new orders regularly without the need for follow up. With these results in hand, he took the radical step of automating the follow up process for 95% customers and the even more unorthodox (or perhaps courageous) approach of “firing” 2% who had been a constant source of insult, worry and unhappiness.

With the aim of replicating the success that he had enjoyed with the 3% of his top revenue-generating customers, he sourced and secured similar clients in a very short space of time, increasing monthly revenues by 300% and reducing his working hours from over 15 a day to 15 a week.

He went on to question a whole raft of assumptions about how work and life should be. Suffice to say he landed on around 4 hours “work” per week, with the remainder allocated to more fulfilling and life-affirming pursuits. He took time out to research others who had successfully implemented efficiencies into their lives and businesses, and set his findings down in the 4-Hour Work Week.
This modern day adaptation of the Pareto Principle is something which can apply to just about everyone: the entrepreneur; the manager; and the employee. Also close to home for many, Tim Ferris describes the consequences of our 9-5 culture, together with our growing habit of working overtime (often unpaid) as an indicator of our diligence, success and importance.

Challenging the 9-5 paradigm

We all understand that a large proportion of the world has arbitrarily set the 8 hour day (or variations therof) as the norm. And this is regardless of how much or how little time we require to produce an outcome.  

This formula has created a near epidemic of busyness. Tim Ferris describes busyness (paradoxically) as a type of laziness where we fail to fully exercise our judgement and discriminate between meaningful and less meaningless activities. This is because this arbitrary structure creates more of a compulsion to fill up the space of time with activities instead of determining the most productive and efficient path to an outcome. It can also be thought of as the difference between a culture of “presentism” vs a culture of “performance”. It is particularly true for those who are “trapped” inside an office.

Strangely, the 9-5 compulsion can also be an irresistible urge for entrepreneurs. I was recently writing for a new book Babes in Business Suits and was asked about my typical working day as an entrepreneur. I described how I had harboured a deep resentment of the 9-5 corporate culture when I lived inside it. However, as an entrepreneur, it still took me some years to work through the feelings of guilt that I should continue to work at least 8 hours a day if not more. I ultimately gave myself permission to switch paradigms from hours to outcomes and experienced a new sense of freedom, value and productivity. Tim Ferris suggests another reason for entrepreneurs resisting the opportunity to reevaluate their working hours – the need for control.

Open the Door to New Possibilities

Challenging deeply held assumptions like these, opens the door to new possibilities about how we can make our life and work more streamlined, fulfilled and meaningful. Here is a random selection of additional questions and from the 4-Hour Work Week which challenge some of our deeply held assumptions and habits:

  • What are the top three “time-wasting” activities that I do to avoid the important things (like surfing your inbox)?
  • What is the one thing I could accomplish today that would leave me feeling satisfied?
  • As an employee, if I were to have a heart attack, how could I do my work remotely for up to 4 weeks?
  • Do I use the excuse of an open plan office to avoid taking responsibility for controlling unnecessary interruptions?
  • Am I wasting time and opportunity endlessly striving for perfection, instead of finishing when it’s good enough?
  • If I am an entrepreneur, what can I automate, delegate or outsource so I can be free to focus on bigger and more important things? (If you can’t think of at least 20 things you can hand across to a virtual assistant, you need to think a little harder)
  • Have I considered the redistribution of “retirement” throughout life instead of saving it up until the end of my career?
  • Do I have multiple sources of (automated) income?

A 4 Point Blueprint for Designing Your Life

  • Definition: Define what you want to be doing.
  • Elimination: Ask yourself three times a day “am I being productive, or am I being busy?” Get rid of the noise and interruption.
  • Automation: Delegate or automate the remaining tasks, even sending personal tasks overseas.
  • Liberation: Enjoy your mobility and use the time you create.The Crown Publishing Group

Sandia applies the principles of the 4-Hour Work Week

Tim’s work is generating a healthy following if his blog is any indication. One such enthusiast is Sandia, an advertising and marketing agency in Colorado Springs, US. Sandia CEO Bernard Sandoval road tested the 4-Hour Work Week with his employees to come up with a corporate checklist that others might find very useful.
Click here for the 4 hour work week corporate checklist

Review by Di Worrall

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