Derek Sivers

Programmer, writer, avid student of life. I make useful things, and share what I learn.
The 4-Hour Work Week - by Tim Ferriss

The 4-Hour Work Week - by Tim Ferriss

Amazon page for details and reviews.

Brilliant reversal of all of the “how to manage all your crap” books. This one tells you how to say “no” to the crap, set expectations on your terms, and be just as effective in a fraction of the time. This is perfect for musicians with other responsibilities (day jobs) that need more free time to actually make music!

my notes


What would you do if you had $100M?

Do the minimum necessary for maximum effect.

Inactivity is not the goal. Doing what excites you is.

The point is not to buy things, but to do what you want to do, be who you want to be. If this includes tools and gadgets, so be it, but they are a means to an end or bonuses, not the point.

Be neither the boss nor employee, but the owner. To own the trains, and have someone else ensure they run on time.

Most material wants are just justifications for spending time on the things that don't really matter, such as buying things and preparing to buy things.

It's not about the big pay-off some day, it's about immediate cash flow every day.

After years of repetitive work, you will often need to dig hard to find your passions, redefine your dreams, and revive hobbies which you have let atrophy.

"You must not fool yourself. And you are the easiest person to fool." - Richard Feynman

Living in luxury in various places around the world costs less than rent in the United States. If you can free your time and location, your money is automatically worth 3-10 times as much.

Money is multiplied in practical value depending on the number of W's you control in your life : What you do, When you do it, Where you do it, and Who you do it with. (He calls this the "freedom multiplier".)
With this criteria, the rich-but-tied-down banker is less "powerful" than the person who makes $40k but only works a few hours a week, and can choose all his Ws.
Options - the ability to choose - is real power. How to see and create those options with the least effort and cost.

A 15-month exploration of the globe by sailboat costs $18,000.

If everyone is defining a problem or solving it one way, and the results are subpar, it's time to ask, "What if I did the opposite?"

Retirement should not be a goal. It assumes you dislike what you are doing for most of your physically capable years, and nothing can justify that sacrifice.
Distribute "mini retirements" throughout life instead of hoarding them for the end. (He says he aims for one month of overseas relocation or high-intensity learning for every 2 months of work projects.)
Conditions are never perfect. "Someday" is a disease. Pro and con lists are just as bad. If it's important to you and you want to do it "eventually", just do it and correct the course along the way.

It is far more fun and lucrative to leverage your strengths instead of attempting to fix your weaknesses.

An excess of idle time is poisonous.

"If I only had more money" is the easiest way to postpone the decision-making necessary to create a life of enjoyment now, not later. Using money as a scapegoat.

Measure money not by total-income but $/hr. Aim for $5000/hr for your time.

Write down the worst thing that could happen. Really really terrible where everything goes wrong. Realize it's not that bad.

"There's no difference between a pessismist who says 'Oh it's hopeless don't bother doing anything' - and an optimist who says 'Everything's fine - don't bother doing anything'. Either way, nothing happens."

"You have comfort. You don't have luxury. Don't tell me that money plays a part. The luxury I advocate has nothing to do with money. It cannot be bought. It is the reward of those who have no fear of discomfort." - Jean Cocteau

What are you putting off, out of fear?
What is it costing you (financially, emotionally, physically) - to postpone action?
What are you waiting for?

Doing the unrealistic is easier than doing the realistic.
It's lonely at the top. 99% of the world is convinced they are incapable of achieving great things, so they aim for mediocre.
Therefore, competition is fiercest for "realistic" goals. Easier to raise $10M than $1M. Easier to pick up the one "perfect 10" in a bar, than the 5 "8"s.
Having an unusually large goal is an adrenaline infusion that provides the endurance needed to the end. Realistic goals are uninspiring and will only fuel you through the first couple hurdles, then you give up.

Excitement is a more practical synonym for happiness, and is precisely what you should strive to chase. It is the cure-all.
Don't ask "What do I want?" or "What are my goals?" - but : "WHAT WOULD EXCITE ME?"
Boredom is the enemy, not failure.

1. Goals shift from ambiguous wants to defined steps.
2. Goals have to be unrealistic to be effective.
3. It focuses on the activities that will fill the vaccuum when work is removed. Living like a millionaire requires doing interesting things and not just owning enviable things.

What would you do if you could not fail?
What would you do, day-to-day, if you had $100M in the bank?
What would make you most excited to wake up in the morning to another day?
Convert each "being" into a "doing". Example: "fluent in Chinese" becomes "have a 5 minute conversation with a Chinese co-worker".

What 4 dreams would change it all, in the next 6-12 months?
Determine the cost of these dreams, and cacluate target monthly income for both timelines.

I'm not a believer in long-term planning and far-off goals. I set 3-6 months dreamlines. The future becomes an excuse for postponing action.

If the next state is some form of research, get in touch with someone who knows the answer instead of spending too much time in books or online, which can turn into paralysis by analysis. Find someone who's done it and ask them how. Schedule a meeting you'll feel bad cancelling.

The most important actions are never comfortable.

Propose solutions instead of asking for them.
Elicit desired responses instead of react.
Be assertive without burning bridges.
Develop the uncommon habit of making decisions, for yourself and others.


"One does not accumulate, but eliminate. It is not daily increase, but daily decrease. The height of cultivation always runs to simplicity." - Bruce Lee

Being busy is a guise for avoiding the few critically important but uncomfortable actions.

Don't confuse efficient with effective. The best door-to-door salesperson in the world can be incredibly efficient, yet nowhere near as effective as a bad spammer. Someone who checks email 30 times a day, has an elaborate system of organizing, might be incredibly efficient but not effective.

Doing something unimportant well does not make it important.

Requiring a lot of time does not make a task important.

What you do is infinitely more important than how you do it. Efficiency is useless unless applied to the right things.

"What gets measured gets managed." - Peter Drucker

The Pareto Principle : the 80/20 rule.
80% of consequences flow from 20% of causes.
80% of results come from 20% of effort/time.
80% of profits come from 20% of products/customers.
The ratio is often skewed more towards 90/10 or even 95/5, but at least 80/20.

Which 20% of sources are causing 80% of my problems and unhappiness?
Which 20% of sources are resulting in 80% of my desired outcomes and happiness?

Find your inefficiencies and eliminate them. Find your strengths and multiply them.

I stopped contacting 95% of my customers, fired 2% of them, leaving me with the top 3% of producers to profile and duplicate.
Applies to advertising, partners, etc.

Most things make no difference.
Being busy is a form of laziness : lazy thinking and indiscriminate action.
Being overwhelmed is as unproductive as doing nothing, and far more unpleasant.
Being selective - doing less - is the path of the productive.
Focus on the important few, and ignore the rest.
Lack of time is actually a lack of priorities.

Parkinson's law: a task will swell in complexity in relation to the time allotted for its completion.
It is the magic of the imminent deadline.
If I give you 24 hours to complete a project, the time pressure forces you to focus on execution.

Learn to ignore or redirect all information and interruptions that are irrelevant, unimportantnt, or unactionable. Most are all three.

If you're an employee, spending time on nonsense is not your fault. There is no incentive to use time well unless you are paid on commission. Time is wasted because there is so much time available.

Entrepreneurs are those that make things happen.

Parkinson's law : a task will swell in (perceived) importance and complexity in relation to the time allotted for its completion.
If I give you 24 hours to complete a project, the time pressure forces you to focus on execution, and you have no choice but to do only the bare essentials.
If I give you a week to complete the same task, it's 6 days of making a moutain out of a molehill.
If I give you two months, god forbid, it becomes a mental monster.
The end product of the shorter deadline is almost inevitably of equal or higher quality due to greater focus.

**** There are 2 approaches for increasing productivity:
**** 1. Limit tasks to the important, to shorten work time (80/20 rule)
**** 2. Shorten work time to limit tasks to the important (Parkinson's law)
**** The best solution is to use both together : identify the few critical tasks that contribute most to income, and schedule them with very short and clear deadlines.

If you haven't defined the mission-critical tasks and set aggressive start and end times for their completion, the unimportant becomes the important. Even if you know what's critical : without deadlines that create focus, the minor tasks forced upon you (or invented, in the case of the entrepreneur), will swell to consume time until another bit of minutea jumps in to replace it.

Most inputs are useless and time is wasted in proportion to the amount that is available.

Fat-free performance and time freedom begins with limiting intake overload. You need a Low-Information Diet.

3 times per day, at schedules times, ask yourself: Am I being productive, or just active?
Am I inventing things to do, to avoid the important?
Focus on demonstrating results instead of showing dedication.

(1) - Define a short to-do list.
(2) - Define a not-to-do list.

If you had a heart attack and had to work 2 hours per day, what would you do?
If you had a heart attack and had to work 2 hours per WEEK, what would you do?
If you had to stop doing 80% of different time-consuming activities, what would you remove?
What are the top 3 activities I use to fill time to feel as though I've been productive?
If this is the only thing I accomplish today, will I be satisfied with my day?
There should never be more than two mission-critical items to complete each day.
Do them separately, from start to finish, without distraction.
Do not multitask.
You should have, at most, two primary goals per day. Do them from start to finish without distraction.


I never watch the news, and have never bought a newspaper in 5 years.
I check business email for 1 hour each Monday. I never check voicemail when abroad.
What if someone has an emergency? It doesn't happen. My contacts now know I don't respond to emergencies, so the emergencies somehow don't exist or don't come to me. Problems, as a rule, solve themselves or disappear if you remove yourself as an information bottleneck and empower others.

Increased output necessitates decreased input. Most information is time-consuming, negative, and irrelevant to your goals.

"Will I definitely use this information for something immediate and important?"
Ask for the phone numbers of 2 attractive women each day. Maintain eye contact. The real goal is not the numbers, but getting over the fear of asking, so the outcome is unimportant. "Excuse me. I know this is going to sound strange, but if I don't ask you now, I'll be kicking myself for the rest of the day. I'm running to meet a friend, but I think you're really gorgeous. Could I have your phone number? I'm not a psycho - I promise. You can give me a fake one if you're not interested."


Learn to be difficult when it counts. Having a reputation for being assertive will help you receive prefential treatment without having to beg or fight for it each time.

An interruption is anything that prevents the start-to-finish completion of a critical task:

Limit access and funnel all communcation towards immediate action. Limit email consumption and production. Never check email first thing in the morning. Only once a day. Perhaps send autoresponder saying you're only checking email once a day & give your phone.
Screen incoming and limit outgoing phone calls. Only use two numbers: one office or Skype for non-urgent, and one cell for urgent. Use cell in email autoresponse and always answer it. Office numbers goes directly to voicemail. When someone calls your cell, don't ask, "How's it going?" - just say, "I'm right in the middle of something - how can I help?" - if they say they can call back, say, "No - I have a minute - what can I do for you?" Get to the point immediately. If they start to wander, say you have only a couple minutes, and what can I do to help you out? Or perhaps ask them to send an email instead.
Master the art of refusal and avoiding meetings.

When someone goes into too long of a story, say, "I don't want the story. Just tell me what we need to do."
Keep those around you focused and avoid all meetings, whether in person or remote, that do not have clear objectives.
Make it clear that remaining on task is your policy. Train those around you to be effective and efficient.
Respond to voicemail via email. This trains people to be concise.
Write emails that have the if-then in them so they don't need a response. (Prepare for only answering email once a week.)
When someone wants to talk on the phone, ask them to define the agenda: the topics and questions we'll need to address.
If forced to have a meeting, define the end time. Do not leave these open-ended.

For the employee, the goal is to have full access to necessary information and as much independent decision-making ability as possible.
For the entrepreneur, the goal is to grant as much information and independent decision-making ability to employees or contractors as possible.
Tell employees : "Keep the customer happy. If it's a problem that takes less than $100 to fix, use your judgement and fix it yourself. Fix these problems without contacting me. I am no longer your customer; my customers are your customer. Don't ask me for permission. Do what you think is right, and we'll make adjustments as we go along."
People are smarter than you think. Give them a chance to prove themselves.

Act like a 2-year-old : say "no" to absolutely everything. Make it your default answer. Don't make up lies.


Getting a remote assistant is a huge departure point and marks the moment you learn how to give orders and be commander instead of commanded.
It's a litmus test for entrepreneurship : Can you manage other people?
Using a VA as a simple exercise with no downside, the basics of management are covered in a 2-4 week test costing $100-$400. This is an investment not an expense.
It's about building a system to replace yourself.
Preparing someone to replace you will produce an ultrarefined set of rules that cut remaining fat and redundancy from your schedule.
If I can do it better than an assistant, why should I pay them at all? Because the goal is to free your time to focus on bigger and better things.

The most critical of skills : remote management and communication.
It's not just about working smarter. It's about building a system to replace yourself.
You can always do something cheaper yourself - that doesn't mean you want to spend your time doing it.
Important to eliminate before you delegate:
Never automate something that can be eliminated.
Never delegate something that can be automated or streamlined.
Don't waste anyone's time - not even someone you're paying for cheap.
For example: instead of having an assistant read all your email, use automation & approach described above to just reduce it.
I don't need an assistant to set meetings and conference calls because I've eliminated meetings.
Refine rules and processes before adding people.

Each delegated task must be both time-consuming and well-defined.

The biggest challenge is the language barrier, which often quadruples back-and-forth discussion and the ultimate cost. I made the mistake of not setting an hour cap, and they spent 23 hours on a simple task: $230. Same task assigned to a native English speaker in Canada was completed in 2 hours for $25/hr. Later I requested another Indian VA from the same firm who was able to duplicate the native speaker's results.

How do you know which to choose? You don't. It's a matter of testing a few assistants to sharpen your communication skills and determine who is worth hiring.

Per-hour cost is not the ultimate determinant of cost. Look at per-task cost. Don't spend time restating the task and otherwise managing the VA.

Use a VA firm instead of a solo operator, so you can switch, and have reduncancy. Not dependent on one person.

Never use the new hire. Prohibit small-operation VAs from subcontracting work to untested freelancers without your written permission. The more established and higher-end firms have security measures to pinpoint abusers in case of security breach.

Never use debit cards for online transactions.
If your VA will be accessing websites on your behalf, create a new unique login for them.

Request someone who has "excellent" English, and say that phone calls will be required (even if not).
Be precise: say what the outcome of the task is, so that they don't get the wrong idea & give a detailed report for unintended.
Sentences should have one possible interpretation and be suitable for a 2nd-grade reading level. Even if for native-speaker.
Ask foreign VAs to rephrase tasks to confirm understanding before getting started.
Request a status update after a few hours of work, to ensure the task is both understood and achievable.
Assign tasks that are to be completed within no more than 72 hours. I've had best luck with 24-48 hours.
Assign order of importance or even better : assign just one or two tasks at a time. = BrickWork = business only. $15/hr. = $6.25/hr, English capability varies wildly. Business and personal. Interview yours before starting.
Online business manager = higher-level VA = helps 6-figure-income clients achieve 7-figures with business model redesigns.

Look at your to-do list : what's been on it the longest.
Each time you're interrupted or change tasks, ask, "Could a VA do this?"
Examine pain points : what causes you the most frustration and boredom?
Don't expect too much, but don't expect too little, either.
Identify your top 5 time-consuming non-work tasks and 5 personal tasks you could assign for sheer fun.

Don't lose sight of dreams and fall into work for work's sake.
Don't handle problems your outsourcers or co-workers can handle.
Don't help outsourcers or co-workers with the same problem more than once, or with noncrisis problems. Give them if-then rules for solving all but the largest problems. Give them freedom to act without your input. Set the limits in writing, then emphasize in writing that you will not respond to help with problems that are covered by these rules. At the end of each month or quarter, review how their decisions have affected profit and adjust the rules accordingly.
Don't chase customers, particularly unqualified or international prospects, when you have sufficient cash flow to finance your nonfinancial pursuits.
Don't answer email that will not result in a sale, or that can be answered by an FAQ or auto-responder.
Don't work where you live, sleep, or should relax. Separate your environments.
Perform a thorough 80/20 analysis every 2-4 weeks for your business and personal life.
Don't strive for endless perfection rather than great or good-enough, whether in personal or professional life.
Don't blow minutea and small problems out of proportion as an excuse to work.
Don't make non-time-sensitive issues urgent in orde to justify work.
Don't view one project, job, or project as the end-all and be-all of your existence.
Don't ignore the social rewards of life. Surround yourself with happy positive people who have nothing to do with work. Create your muses alone if you must, but don't live your life alone.

The remote-control CEO : The intentional absence has enabled him to create a process-driven instead of founder-driven business.

Limiting contact with managers forces the entrepreneur to develop operational rules that enable others to deal with problems themselves instead of calling for help.

I am not a tollbooth through which anything needs to pass. I am more like a police officer on the side of the road, who can step in if need be, and I use detailed reports from outsourcers to ensure the cogs are moving as intended. I check bank accounts online twice a month to look for odd deductions.

Contract outsourcing companies that specialize in one function (versus freelancers) whenever possible so that if someone is fired, quits, or doesn't perform, you can replace them without interrupting your business. Hire trained groups of people who can provide detailed reporting and replace one another as needed.

Ensure that all outsourcers are willing to communicate among themselves to solve problems, and give them written permission to make most inexpensive decisions without consulting you first.

Being bound to one place will be the new defining feature of middle class. You want unrestricted mobility.

The new mantra (even for your employees) is this : work wherever and whenever you want, but get your work done.

Take an asset and cash-flow snapshot : record all income and all expenses. What can you eliminate that is either seldom used or that creates stress or distraction without adding a lot of value?

What is the 20% of my belongings that I use 80% of the time? (Eliminate the other 80% in clothing, magazines, books, all else.)
Which belongings create stress in my life? (Maintenance costs, insurance, monthly expenses, time consumption, or simple distraction.) - - - - - -

BIG RULE (ABOUT LIFE) : if you can't define it, or act upon it, forget it.

Deferrers : those who save it all for the end, only to find life has passed them by.

D: work for yourself
NR: have others work for you

D: work when you want to:
NR: do the minimum necessary

D: be boss instead of employee - be in charge
NR: neither boss nor employee, but the owner.

D: to reach the big pay-off, record deal, pot of gold
NR: ensure payday comes every day. cashflow first, big payday second.

Relative income : that two people making $100k each, one spends 50 hours a week, one spends 10. The one spending 10 is ahead. Count $/hour not $ total.

DOING THE UNREALISTIC is easier than doing the realistic.
If you are insecure, guess what? The rest of the world is, too.
Having an unusually large goal is an adrenaline infusion that provides the endurance to overcome the inevitable [hurdles].
Realistic goals are uninspiring.
Doing big things begins with asking for them properly. : "What would excite me?"

The opposite of happiness is boredom.
Excitement is the more practical synonymn for happiness, and it is precisely what you should strive to chase.

What if there was no way you could fail?
What if you were 10 times smarter than the rest of the world?

Convert being into doing.
Great cook? -> Christmas dinner without help.
Fluent in Chinese? -> 5-minute conversation with Chinese co-worker.

Perform a task in the most economical matter possible.
Door-to-door salesman is efficient, but ineffective. (Would do better with email.)
Same for person who checks email 30 times a day and has GTD methods.