Can you run a flourishing SME in just four hours a week? Tim Ferriss insists it’s possible

For the typical small to medium business owner, there is no such thing as a nine- to-five work day, and the concept of “switching off” is an increasingly far-fetched dream.

The smartphone flashes all night, signalling emails from overseas suppliers demanding attention. You’re in the office at 8am on Sunday processing deliveries, or missing family gatherings to attend to tax claims that are piling up.

Relentless demands are considered normal, but Tim Ferriss, author of the much-hyped and also controversial book The 4-Hour Workweek, insists there is a better way to handle it all.

The book was originally launched in 2007 and went on to reach number one on the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and BusinessWeek bestseller lists. It put the spotlight on the rigid structure built around the way most people work and turned it on its head. Ferriss proposed working for a minimum amount of time to achieve maximum output – a concept at odds with the reality of stressed out business operators stuck at the desk late into the night.

There is nothing worse to Ferriss than being tied to the office – he’d rather be tango dancing, speed-learning a language or travelling the world while his work ticks away, successfully, in the background. He calls this living the way of the “new rich” – people rich in mobility and time. It’s about cultivating a millionaires’ lifestyle for regular business owners. Ferris says the tricks are to embrace technology, outsourcing and planning, so there is no need to be physically present 24-7.

In a conversation from San Francisco this morning, Ferriss admitted that since his book took off, demands on his time have been so great that even he has struggled to stick to his principals at times. But he stands by his belief a four-hour workweek can be achieved.

Ferriss told SmartCompany his top tips for SME owners ahead of his Australian speaking tour, from November 12-14.

1. Remember the 80/20 rule

Central to the ideas that made Ferriss so talked about was the 80/20 rule. The key, he says, is for business owners to spend 20% of time “sitting down with a pen and paper”, plotting the things that will bring back 80% of the results. Perhaps it is advertising, marketing or hiring the right person to manage key issues, but the important thing is focusing on the outcome each action will bring. He also advises taking a critical review of operations.

“Have a surgically precise post-game analysis, to see what you have done well, what didn’t work, and how you can do things better,” he says.

2. Outsource everything

Ferriss sparked attention for his views on ‘outsourcing’ tasks. The idea of hiring someone via an online site, who lives in another country, to take care of administration, finance and emails etc. was unusual to many.

However, with the raft of outsourcing businesses now available, Ferriss says it’s easier than ever to find the right person to free up your time. When searching for the right freelancer, he suggests giving a tight deadline for submission on proposals, to ensure that candidates can work fast.

“Test for reliability”, he says. “Test on a small project, not something that is mission critical.”

3. Operate on a ‘need to know’ basis

Ferriss advocates a ‘low information’ diet, in which people minimise the information streams and amount embraced each day. Hard to do, it could be argued, when you have social media, countless news sources, work emails, personal emails and phone messages demanding attention. However Ferriss says that while we read dozens of articles, websites or blogs, or listen to so many opinion makers with the belief “this could be useful one day”, he thinks, “we forget 99% of it anyway”.

“A commodities trader may need to read everything and know everything that is going on…but most professions need less information,” he says.

Ferriss says it is better to select a handful of information sources and use them well, rather than feel the need to be on top of everything. He uses Twitter to follow key experts relevant to his fields of interest, and if he notices an article has been ‘retweeted’ a number of times, he’ll consider it worthy of his attention.

4. Don’t yield to social media demands

With SME owners grappling with the world of social media, and the constant updating, monitoring of comments and responding required, the idea of working fewer hours appears ludicrous.

But Ferriss simply says, “You can have 200,000 followers but it doesn’t have to be a full time job”.

He says you don’t need to respond to everyone, but rather use social media as a way to gauge consumer thoughts and opinions, as well as to share news and interesting information.

A keen blogger, Ferriss uses his blog site as his “primary home base”, and uses Twitter and Facebook to steer his followers to the blog. In other words, he says to choose one platform of social media and do it exceptionally well, and use the others as guides to your central source.

5. Have constant, mini-retirements

Ferriss wonders why people spend their whole lives working, waiting for the chance to retire for a break.

“There is more to life that accelerating at a fast pace, or accumulating objects that you don’t have time to enjoy,” he says.

He says escaping the grind for new environments brings fresh perspective to your work, and thinks stressed-out business owners should be able to relinquish control in order to get away. He advises that holidays enable the chance to “work on your business, not in your business”.

Handing over the reins, Ferriss says, is vital to “test your assumptions” about the possible problems that you fear will happen when you aren’t there.

“If you go away for a week, you can put out the fires when you get back,” he says.

“If you were forced to go away for two months, what systems do you need to put in place to eliminate and automate…to enable other people to run things?”


Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
SmartCompany Plus

Sign in

To connect a sign in method the email must match the one on your SmartCompany Plus account.
Or use your email
Forgot your password?

Want some assistance?

Contact us on: or call the hotline: +61 (03) 8623 9900.