Perfecting the 4 Hour Workday

By Brad Beckstrom

What if you could wrap up your work each day by noon? Would it improve your life? Would you have more time for family, friends, exercise, and other pursuits? If you could work just four hours a day, would you ever need to really retire?  These are some of the questions I had in 2007 after reading Tim Ferriss’s book “The 4-hour Work Week.” The book isn’t about working 4 hours a week, it’s about taking control of your workday, and your life, so that you’re focused on the part of your work that you really love.

Failing at the 4 hour workweek

I’ve yet to pull off the four hour workweek, but after 10 years of working at it, and about 5 years of writing about it, I’ve gotten to a place I’d like to call the 4 hour (workday). The idea was pretty simple. If I’m able to eliminate, commuting, needless meetings, the office, and other time killers, I’d already be part of the way there. Staying focused and eliminating distractions like breaking news, social media, and email could get me there.

So, I’ve done it. I’ve gotten to a schedule where I can start my morning’s early and be done right around lunchtime. I’ve realized that if more people could create four hour workdays, our working life, retirement, and even our education would look different.

3 Boxes

In our society we have this habit of separating our life into three boxes: school / work / retirement.  Working our tails off for most of our life rushing towards some distant finish line called “retirement” at age 65 or later.

Often when we hit that finish line, we’re totally unprepared for full-time leisure. Many are financially unprepared for retirement and others find retirement to be a shock to their system; after just a few years, they get sick and die or go back to work. So, if we change the boxes, school / work / retirement, to – lifelong learning / lifelong productivity / lifelong leisure we can spread things out and take a more balanced approach to life.

Here’s how I created a four 4 workday, and what I do to keep it that way.

Make a commitment to freedom.

In 1993 I read the book “Your Money or Your Life.” The book outlined secrets for transforming your relationship with money and achieving financial independence at a young age. You don’t need to be a tech entrepreneur or have a high flying corporate career.  Freedom and financial independence can be achieved by a high savings rate at a young age. You learn to bank every bonus, every raise, every tax refund and other windfall, and invest it in a basic total market index fund. Taking full advantage of tax-advantaged retirement accounts, low fee (lean) investing and compound interest. Once you achieve financial independence, you have the ability to create your own schedule and do the work you want to do.  Here’s how to create your own freedom plan and stick to it.

Redefine Work

How would you define doing your own thing? Is it something you love so much you would do it for free? Maybe it’s a small business with passive income allowing you to work from anywhere more efficiently. For many people, it’s not really enough just to save up a big pile of cash and have no other plans than sitting on the beach. It’s fine, if that’s what you’re after, but as you age staying mentally stimulated is a proven way to stay healthy.  For example, I really love beer. Instead of spending too much time drinking it, I have several clients in that industry. The business is extremely competitive and requires some innovative thinking when it comes to marketing.  When I redefined work, I made sure that tapping into my skills, did not necessarily mean tapping a keg. At least until the client was happy.

Embracing Technology and the cloud

I know, I know. We all spend too much time looking at our phones. It’s important to step back and look at all of the good things technology can do. My iPhone alone has replaced over 21 things helping me simplify my personal and work life.  The tools that we have now versus just 10 years ago are phenomenal. The paperless office is becoming a reality.  A business with millions in sales can be run from a home office and service clients around the world. Personal and business finances can be fully integrated and managed online, not only giving you real-time snapshots of your finances but also making automated allocation, and tax recommendations.

I run my business with a seven-year-old MacBook Pro and and an iPhone. The device itself doesn’t really matter much when your download speed is over 80Mbps. Cloud-based accounting, marketing, payroll systems allow a entrepreneur to operate without that headcount.  The important point here is to use technology to automate parts of your work, becoming more efficient and free up many hours a day.  If you’re working for someone else, it’s true, the technology, the systems and the smartphones can sometimes feel like a leash and collar. Time to cut free and spend some time getting healthy.  

A commitment to health

I may not put in a lot of hours per day at work but I’m playing the long game. Nothing will slow you down faster than poor health. Regardless of what challenges you have now, make a commitment to spend some of the time you’ll be freeing up on exercise. I remember reading a hilarious list of health goals a few years back that included just 2 goals. Floss one tooth and store running shoes next to bed. That was it, but it worked. If you floss one tooth you’re bound to start flossing a few more. If your running shoes are by the bed you’re more likely to take that morning run. If your freedom plan is working you’ll be able to replace the time you spend in meetings or commuting with a great hike or bike ride. I quickly found when you don’t need to “find” time for exercise it becomes vastly more enjoyable.

Sharpen the Saw

Stephen Covey, author of “The 7 Habits” said this best. He used the analogy of a woodcutter who was sawing for several days straight and becoming less and less productive. Sawing (working) all the time dulls the blade. The solution is to regularly sharpen the blade.  Kevin Kelly the founder of Wired Magazine was correct when he said “reading just one book a month will change your life”.  Once you free up four hours a day you’ll find that getting through multiple books, podcasts, blog articles becomes much easier. If you’re absorbing all kinds of information and, even better, writing about it, your saw will stay plenty sharp. In fact I found reading and writing about health, art, science, and personal-finance has helped me explore creative solutions for clients.

There’s a lot here and creating a four hour per day business doesn’t happen overnight. Like I said, it’s taken me nearly a decade. The important thing is to just start. In doing that, you already be ahead of 90% of the pack.


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1 Comment

  1. It’s been a while since I thought about “sharpening the saw”.

    I laughed last night when I mentioned to wife that I can’t remember the last time I put the TV on. To most people that sounds exhausting.

    I get less sleep and my mind is constantly buzzing, but I’ve never been so enriched by the hustle each day.

    You sound content, and that is beautiful.

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