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Is Tim Ferriss’ book, The 4-Hour Workweek, a Scam?

Updated on February 4, 2011

Tim Ferriss is best known for authoring “The 4-Hour Workweek”, a book wherein he details how to escape the 9-to-5 grind, outsource mundane tasks, engage in “mini-retirements”, and employ the Pareto Principle (also known as the 80/20 rule) in order to enjoy life more and work less. Ferriss’ book (as well as its updated version, also by the same title) and blog by the same name have both been wildly successful, with the author holding frequent workshops and conferences on the subject of “getting away from it all”. In light of Ferriss’ publishing success, as well as his own personal business success (he owns a vitamin/supplement company), I was surprised to find another side to this saga. In addition to his horde of adoring fans and emulators is another group: individuals, bloggers, and businesspeople who not only discredit his methods, but call him a con artist and a scam.

Using the search terms “Tim Ferriss” and “scam” on Google, I located quite a few links to people who are not very impressed with Mr. Ferriss or his 4-Hour lifestyle. Here are just a few examples:

Somehow I see B.S. and scam all over the place, it’s like they think that we (people) are so darn stupid that we’ll buy any B.S. they (con artists) pull.”

Does Ferriss actually work four hours a week? I don't think so anymore than Jimmy Buffett lives in Margaritaville.”

The week that Tim actually works a four-hour work week will be a cold week in hell.”

The criticisms are several, but having looked at various blogs and web sites that call Mr. Ferriss either a liar, phony, or scam artist, I have listed the following common themes to the complaints at large. In essence, the critics discredit Mr. Ferriss and his book, “The 4-Hour Workweek” because its main claims about outsourcing, taking year-long vacations, and quitting 9-to-5 have the following flaws:

It depends on your job. If you are a construction worker, you cannot just outsource your duties; such a strategy will be noticed. The same holds true if you are a chef, salesperson, taxi driver, inventor, or a business start-up. There are some jobs where, if you choose to outsource your talent, your business or earning potential will be compromised. Alternately, the person you outsource to will simply take all your intellectual and proprietary information and start his/her own business or other venture.

It depends on your ambitions. A scientist needs to spend long hours at the lab conducting critical experiments and obtaining grants before he/she can pass off the research project on someone else. A surgeon needs to spend years of study and then practice surgery before cutting back on his/her hours. A writer or artist needs a significant amount of time to develop his/her talents, and then will need to spend even more time developing critical relationships with patrons, publishers, and agents. There are no shortcuts here, and taking a year or two off usually results in unemployment.

It depends on your life situation. Even if you are independently wealthy and do not need to work, your life situation may not allow you the time or opportunity to just take off to Jamaica or Thailand or Australia whenever you feel the urge to go. You may have young children who need to finish the school year, or an aging parent who requires care and companionship. You may have business partners who require your attendance at meetings or dinners with clients. Sure, many of these tasks can be completed by telecommuting or through videoconferencing, but nothing replaces your actual human presence.

What about Ferriss’ fans, who claim that he and his book have changed their lives for the better? Surveying even the web sites that claim that Ferriss exaggerates, I found the following concessions to be most common about Ferriss’ book, “The 4-Hour Workweek”:

It can help you become more efficient. Ferriss advises finding out at what you are most productive (i.e., lucrative) and focusing on that. Also, he strongly recommends employing the Pareto Principle, where 20% of your efforts generate 80% of your results. Obviously, focusing your energies on what you do best can certainly make you more efficient.

It can help you avoid time wasters. Ferriss spends a good part of his book showing how he has increased his productivity by avoiding time wasters such as unnecessary meetings, e-mail “tag”, and the micro-management of employees. Many of these time management pointers are quite useful, regardless of your profession. However, constantly shirking meetings and not answering e-mails could result in a pink slip.

It can help you seize opportunities. Taking risks, trying new hobbies and approaches, and challenging the status quo are all classic Ferriss. He even advises getting into uncomfortable situations to address your inherent fear of inconveniencing or annoying people: for example, he advises men to obtain the phone numbers of at least 10 attractive women. Such exercises are all in preparation for the really unnerving activities of calling CEOs, celebrities, or big-name patrons (e.g., Warren Buffett) so as to get them to do your bidding.

It can help you ask for help. No one can be the Jack/Jill-of-all-trades, because there simply aren’t enough hours in the day to do everything you want to do. Furthermore, there comes a point where you must choose what you will no longer do in order to learn a new skill or become better at something else. This is where outsourcing comes into play. Ferriss advises finding virtual assistants to do everything from typing up your next work progress report to sending your mother flowers. While he may go a bit extreme on some of his outsourcing advice, you have to admit, there is no good reason to keep doing what you are already good at- not if you wish to learn something new, anyway.

In the end, is Tim Ferriss a scam artist? Ferriss addresses that very question himself in his own scam blog post, in fact. He doesn’t whine about what other people have written- he simply announces that he does not expect universal acceptance and love. In fact, Ferriss takes his critics quite calmly, even stating “keep calm and carry on”. If nothing else, this shows a good measure of maturity and courage on his part, for which he must be applauded. Of course, putting the keywords “Ferriss” and “scam” on his blog site doesn’t hurt for page views- and his post lands #1 on Google, in fact.


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      Paul 6 years ago

      A lot of people want to rip on him, and while he doesn't offer a one-size fits all approach to running a successful online business, I think his book is still more good than bad, over all. Have not read his diet book though, but 4HWW is decent if taken lightly.