First things first: More than anything else, Timothy Ferriss' new book The 4-Hour Workweek is a guide to living like Timothy Ferriss.
Fortunately for readers, Ferriss -- a 29-year-old Princeton grad and an entrepreneur with a long string of amusing achievements to his credit -- has a pretty interesting life. Even more fortunately, he has managed to string together his disparate ideas on living large into a coherent, readable, motivating whole.
The book's essential premise is that what Ferriss calls the "deferred-life plan" -- the path of working for 40 years to fund a 20-year retirement -- is both escapable and worth escaping. Ferriss' escape vehicle is "lifestyle design," a series of methods through which the aspiring escapee reconfigures his or her life to increase income, create more free time, and spend more time traveling. (Ferriss is very big on travel.) Ferriss walks through each of these in turn, offering a series of unorthodox time-management ideas both for entrepreneurs and for the employed, a detailed plan for creating an income-generating enterprise that he calls a "muse," and extensive thoughts on long-term travel, or "mini-retirements."
Ferriss' strategies are consistently bold and boundary-pushing -- from cold-calling celebrities and asking for advice to suggesting that you contrive to get fired rather than just quit your job, so that you can collect unemployment while you get your muse off the ground. Yet the strategies are backed by instructions that are well thought out and ruthlessly streamlined. The book is absolutely crammed with Ferriss-tested strategies for living better and working more efficiently, but the writing is so crisp and the instructions so boiled down that the reader almost doesn't notice just how much is there. A one-page sidebar offers a full speed-reading course, distilled down to 10 minutes of exercises. Another sidebar, slightly longer than a page, offers a comprehensive PR strategy for establishing one's self as an expert and getting media attention, and it gives only the information you need to get it done. I can tell you from personal and professional experience that both are complete, effective, and correct -- and they omit nothing of importance, despite their extreme brevity.
The whole book is like that, for 300 pages.
Leveraging the 21st century
As you would expect, Ferriss' plan leverages the resources of the modern world to the hilt. He holds your hand through the process of outsourcing research and personal tasks to firms such as Brickwork India, and he insists you try it for yourself. The process of establishing a "muse" -- an "income generator" based on a clever direct-marketing business model structured for low risk and minimum owner involvement -- uses Google
One great feature of his business model is that it's scalable. Need an extra $5,000 for a dream vacation? Use the model to start a sideline business, put a few hours a week into it, raise the money, and then decide whether to keep the business running. Want to quit your job and live large on $40,000 a month? If you've got the idea -- and Ferriss provides a bunch of brainstorming resources and guidance to help you come up with one -- the structure can handle it, he says, all with minimal involvement from you once it's up and moving.
There's an awful lot here, but it can seem almost too thin to make good on the book's huge promises. For a bright, motivated, audacious Fool who is able to improvise on the fly, it's probably just enough, and it should work more or less as he says it will. (If you're not sure that "audacious" describes you, don't fret -- Ferriss includes exercises for that, too.) And for anyone else who dreams of ditching the 9-to-5 routine -- or just wants a little more time and money to chase a few more dreams -- I strongly recommend that you pick this book up and read it through. It's smooth and good-humored enough to read on the beach (I did), yet packed with out-of-the-box ideas that are just crazy enough to work.
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Fool contributor John Rosevear is planning to test the book's ideas by starting his own "muse" -- and will share his experience in a future article. He does not own any of the stocks mentioned above. The Fool's disclosure policy loves its job and wouldn't dream of outsourcing, even for a minute.