On day 45 of our road trip to some of the National Parks in Canada, we suddenly changed our plans. A fellow traveler suggested we load our camper van onto a ferry and enjoy the ride along the Inside Passage from Skagway to Haines, Alaska, continuing our journey from there.

The detour was totally worth it: Haines was wild, beautiful, and rustic. Unfortunately, the town also had nowhere with wifi except the public library, where I found a used copy of The 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss for $1. It was a deal I couldn’t resist.

For the next couple weeks, when the road wasn’t too winding, one of us would read this bestseller aloud to the other as they drove through mountainous British Columbia back to the US. There was a certain irony in reading a book about how to get more free time while on a 2-month road trip in our own early retirement, but we actually gained a lot of new perspective on business and life from Tim’s book.

Much like this blog, The 4-Hour Workweek shows that you don’t have to put in decades of hard work to earn the free time you want — contrary to what American “hustle culture” tells you. But Tim Ferriss has a unique take on how to obtain that freedom.

The 4-Hour Workweek helps readers eliminate daily BS and automate as much of the rest as possible, leaving an unimaginable amount of free time to live their best lives. Instead of teaching people how to retire early, Tim shows that you can remain perpetually productive without needing to be constantly busy.

Photo of Lauren with "The 4-Hour Workweek"
Since The 4-Hour Workweek was written back in 2007 and topped bestseller lists, you can easily find cheap, used copies at local bookstores, in libraries, or on eBay.

When you use one of the affiliate links on this page to order a copy of The 4-Hour Workweek, we’ll earn a small commission (learn more). We keep our recommendations unbiased by dedicating 100% of our affiliate profits to charity.

Chapter Review of The 4-Hour Workweek

The 16 chapters of The 4-Hour Workweek span four main sections: D is for Definition, E is for Elimination, A is for Automation, and L is for Liberation. They start out kinda boring and get progressively more interesting, so don’t give up too early.

Each chapter is broken into shorter segments that subconsciously force you to read them in brief bursts. This makes you stop and think about what you’ve just read more often, while making it easy to find your place again. I found it a little convoluted to read at first, until I realized this about the book’s design.

At the end of each chapter is a “Q&A” (which Tim rebrands as “Questions and Actions”) and sometimes an adjoining “Comfort Challenge” that assigns readers an uncomfortable task to help practice new skills (like negotiation).

Some of this end-of-chapter stuff is silly, while some has merit. We read it all, but you can probably get at least 80% of the value of the book by just reading the “meat” of each chapter.

There are two orders to read through the larger sections, depending on your life situation: D-E-A-L, as the book is written, which is geared toward entrepreneurs and owner-operators, or the alternate sequence D-E-L-A, which is suggested for employees looking to reclaim their time from a traditional job.

Definition: Figure Out Your Real Goals

Before you can make any good plan, you have to know why. That’s the point of this first section. It’s here that Tim Ferriss makes his most impassioned (and kinda salesy) plea for you to keep reading and follow through on creating a four-hour work week. While it is definitely the most boring part of the entire book, “D is for Definition” does have a few benefits.

Probably the most important concept in these first few chapters is what Tim calls “fear-setting,” which encourages readers to actually think through the worst-case scenario for the risks they might have to take to reach their goals. It’s a great technique, and one that really helps bring overblown worries back down to earth. I’d add that envisioning positive outcomes is a good practice, too.

Photo of Lauren in the rain
If you wanted to go to the beach when there were a few clouds in the sky, would you abandon your plans or simply adjust your expectations?

Another great takeaway from the first section of The 4-Hour Workweek is the concept of “absolute income” versus “relative income.” The idea boils down to looking at income as a function of the time you put in to earn those dollars, rather than just the dollar amount itself.

If two people have the same salary, but one works fewer hours, then the one who works less is paid more per hour (i.e. has a higher relative income). While everyone needs a certain amount of absolute income to live, we also have only a limited amount of time on this planet, so making the most of each hour is important, too.

The second half of this section focuses on “dreamlining,” which is Tim’s fancy buzzword for goal-setting. It’s simply putting details and parameters around your dreams to make them more concrete and achievable. It makes you consider not just what your wildest dreams are, but also how much they will cost.

Similar to fear-setting (again, there are a lot of buzzwords in this first section, so just bear with it), you need to look at your dreams with eyes open — aware of their benefits and costs — so you can take the next steps toward them.

For example, we’ve met tons of people who have told us it’s their lifelong dream to visit every US National Park like we did. The problem is that very few of them have thought through the logistics or done the math to find out that their dream can come true for about $36,000. They usually write off the whole idea because it’s “probably a lot” — giving up before even starting.

The only thing we didn’t really like about this section is how Tim approaches the funding of dreams. He encourages readers to earmark certain streams of income to fund specific dreamlines. Looking at money through this lens isn’t necessary because money is fungible (it can be used for any purpose at any time).

In our own lives, we personally found it much simpler to just make money, avoid wasting it, and then decide what to do with the unending surplus. Doing cool stuff doesn’t have to be as complicated as the crazy chart shown in The 4-Hour Workweek’s sample dreamline worksheet, especially if you’re good at keeping your expenses low.

The one thing we truly loved about the dreamlining process is that it makes you stop and think, “How much do I need to be happy?” Later in the book, Tim makes it clear that once you’ve funded all your dreamlines, you need to resist the urge to work MORE and make even MORE money — there’s no point! This was probably our favorite message in the entire book.

Elimination: Let Go of Everything You Can

Once you’ve figured out what you want to do and how much it’ll cost, the next two sections of the book will help you efficiently earn the income to pay for your dreams. It starts with “E is for Elimination.”

Tim’s argument for what to eliminate rests on the Pareto principle. Also known as the 80/20 rule, the Pareto principle says that 80% of your results come from 20% of your efforts. In that case, Tim says, you’re better off letting go of the 80% of ineffective effort that will only get you 20% more, because it represents an unbalanced ratio of input to output. It’s just not worth it.

As you apply this rule in business, you may find that ~80% of your profit comes from the best ~20% of your clients. And as an employee, ~80% of your value to your company comes from the most important or useful ~20% of your responsibilities.

Tim suggests simply eliminating the least productive 80% of your efforts, even if that means giving up a little bit of income. You might choose to simply drop low-profit clients who take up a lot of your time, or engineer ways to skip useless work obligations.

Think about it: How often are you interrupted at work because of a meeting that could have been an email, or an unnecessarily long back-and-forth with a demanding customer? The book even provides scripts to navigate this step.

There are plenty of examples of elimination outside the workplace, too. One of the best involves going on what Tim calls a “low information diet,” or in other words, turning off the news and escaping the infinite time suck of your social media feeds.

The “Elimination” section of The 4-Hour Workweek makes a lot of valid points, but Tim also takes things a little too far with some of his suggestions. The most extreme examples in the book came off as inconsiderate. Some of what Tim says only works if you’re willing to be rude and act selfishly.

Automation: Put The Remainder on Autopilot

This section of The 4-Hour Workweek is all about the art of automation, as the name suggests. We’re big fans of putting stuff on autopilot to save time, like using auto-pay on our bills to stress less. But Tim also advocates for outsourcing as much of your life as you can.

If you make $50/hour, then you probably have enough margin to pay someone else $10/hour to do the repetitive, mindless, and time-consuming things from your workload. A personal assistant can take over all of that. You’re then left with the big-picture parts of your job — and a whole bunch of excess time!

This point was a good reminder for us because we have a tendency to be very frugal by default and try to DIY everything. But ultimately, time is the most valuable thing money can buy. If paying a $10 fee can save an hour of your time, you should probably do it. Just keep in mind that this strategy can lead to a slippery slope of convenience spending, overconsumption, and an insatiable appetite for additional income. Use it only when it’s an obvious slam dunk.

Since you’ll have less on your plate after automating your routine tasks, you’ll also have enough bandwidth to set up another income stream. The book includes some solid tips on doing market research and testing new business ideas. We literally said, “Wow, that’s pretty smart,” to each other a few times while reading this section.

Here’s the thing though: Tim isn’t trying to help you build your dream business or create a legacy brand. His plan is for you to come up with a “muse” business (another of his buzzwords) — that is, any business that can generate income passively, without much maintenance or input from you.

Personally, we worked regular jobs and invested in other people’s businesses to give us automatic lifelong income. Stock market index funds are arguably less volatile and definitely more passive than a muse business. But in fairness to Tim, his plan requires a lot less up-front capital. He offers a pretty compelling alternative path to early retirement (or at least semi-retirement) that may be even easier than our own FIRE strategy.

Our main criticism of The 4-Hour Workweek is that it focuses on these “income streams” as a path to freedom while ignoring the safety net provided by saving up a giant pile of money along the way. Because we saved hard at a young age, we can live off of those savings practically indefinitely, even if our income drops to zero. Adherents of The 4-Hour Workweek have no such guarantee.

If you decide to follow Tim’s plan, I’d just encourage you to add in a healthy dose of old-fashioned saving and investing, too.

Liberation: What to Do With Your Free Time

The first three sections on Definition, Elimination, and Automation mostly focus on changes you should make to your business life, while this last section on Liberation shifts to discuss lifestyle design. This was our favorite part of the book to read, probably because it was less about eking out value and more about what to do once you have more time — the fun part.

Tim does some quick hand-waving to touch on tough topics like existentialism and philanthropy, but he mostly aims to help you zest up your free time. His favorite thing to do with months of freedom (and our own) is traveling. That’s why this section contains all kinds of travel hacks along with other people’s adventurous stories to convince you to try some of this stuff out for yourself.

One of the best ways to test drive lifestyle design is to take a “mini-retirement” (sabbatical) to really get a sense of what it’s like to focus on you — not work.

We did this back in 2015 by taking six months off to explore Hawaii, and we had no idea how meaningful it would be to our perspective on life until it was really happening: 

  • We scaled back on working — from full-time jobs plus side hustles to putting in just 10 hours a week — and got to choose what we wanted to do every day on our own terms.
  • We had enough time and energy to make new lifelong friends on the way (something that’s harder for most people as they get older and busier).
  • We realized it was our savings buffer that gave us the courage to leave our jobs and negotiate part-time remote work (which covered our costs in Hawaii, keeping our savings intact and invested). This made us even more excited to save more later.
  • We came back from our long break re-energized and ready to scale up our income and savings, allowing us to retire early just a few years later.
Photo of waves crashing on a Hawaiian beach
Sunset on O’ahu, Hawaii.

Since leaving the full-time grind ourselves, we’ve found a lot of enjoyment in things other than travel, too, and most of it wasn’t really planned. We weren’t expecting to create a blog, but this website has turned into a really fun post-retirement project that lets us help others. Exploring, creating, connecting with people — these are some of the things we’ve found fulfillment in now that we don’t have to work for a living.

And, according to the book, it seems like Tim Ferriss agrees. It’s okay if you haven’t yet figured out what you’d like to do instead of working. Lots of people don’t know what else they’d rather do than work, and this last section really examines what it means to live your best life.

— Lauren

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While Tim Ferriss has some great ideas about how to spend less of your life at work, we took a different path ourselves. If you’d like to learn how we retired from full-time work at age 29, check out our Financial Roadmap — it’s free!

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