Notable quotes from The 4-Hour Workweek

People sometimes tell me that I should follow in the footsteps of author Tim Ferriss, given my penchant for travel and remote work. I have a couple of qualms with this:

  1. In my opinion, Tim Ferriss often comes off as a douche – in both speaking engagements and in writing. I’m sure he has good intentions to help people – but his delivery of advice is a mix of humblebragging (look at all this cool shit I’m doing) and light condescension of people living “normal lives” (what you can’t pull this off?). I was looking for a clip of him speaking that exemplifies this, but I think this will do:

    I know I can be pretentious at times, too – but at least I try to catch myself and would hope I never get to Tim Ferriss’ level of aggrandizement.
  2. Tim Ferriss advocates for a world where no one actively works on building or maintaining anything. He would have you create something once and passively sell it forever, thinking as little as possible about improving it or creating new products. All while outsourcing your tedious tasks to some poor folks in India.

    This bothers me mostly because I am a product manager – and no half-decent PM would release a v1 without some sort of long-term vision or roadmap for where the product should go. I am also a very hands-on PM, so the idea of letting someone else manage my inbox makes me nervous.

I recognize that these are my own personal biases and that millions of people love Tim Ferriss – so I apologize if I just offended you, and feel free to point out my flaws in the comments below. I welcome the feedback!

Despite my predisposition to hating on Tim Ferriss, my good friend Nate recently bought me a copy of his bestseller “The 4-Hour Workweek” with the promise that there would be valuable takeaways even if I was bothered by all the other stuff. To his credit, he was right – and here is where I’ll be documenting the tidbits that stood out for me.


Reality is negotiable. Outside of science and law, all rules can be bent or broken, and it doesn't require being unethical.

I actually subscribe to this philosophy already. Now I don’t think I’m above the law (unlike some people in tech – ahem, Travis Kalanick) but I do believe that most people follow “rules” too strictly. By talking to the right person or leveraging the right type of influence, you can get away with things that make your life/work a lot easier. are the average of the five people you associate with most, so do not underestimate the effects of your pessimistic, unambitious, or disorganized friends.

I’ve known this to be true, but I’ve never been good at applying it within my own life. I love all my friends (even the terrible ones) and I stretch myself thin trying to please them all. I need to learn to invest more in the friends that make me a better person and wean myself off of the more destructive ones. (If you’re seeing this on Facebook, don’t worry – you’re still my friend!)

Problems, as a rule, solve themselves or disappear if you remove yourself as an information bottleneck and empower others.

This is one of the biggest takeaways in the book – the concept that you are not needed in the capacity you likely think you are. I live for solving problems, but it’s eye-opening to consider the possibility that I may not need to solve them all.

Starting something doesn't automatically justify finishing it.

I’ll admit it – I am a completionist. I’m the kind of person who 100% finishes video game quests and is super thorough with all my deliverables at work. But it’s important for me to learn to let things go once there is a large enough diminishing value of returns.

Learn to be difficult when it counts. In school as in life, having a reputation for being assertive will help you receive preferential treatment without having to beg or fight for it every time.

I do have an innate understanding of this (and I think it’s a big part of the women in tech problem), but I do hold myself back from being a complete dick. Unfortunately, it looks like that’s what it takes to win in Silicon Valley – which makes sense, as it is where Tim Ferriss lives as well.

Get into the habit of considering what "if...then" actions can be proposed in any e-mail where you ask a question.

An immediately useful tactic – I have already started writing my emails this way!

...end with... "Is that reasonable?" It's hard for people to label things unreasonable.

Classic PM tact – I’ve seen this used so many times on me and thought it was annoying, but now I see how effective it is.

Limit access to your time, force people to define their requests before spending time with them, and batch routine menial tasks to prevent postponement of more important projects.

All around good advice – I think everyone should learn to batch read their emails at the very least.

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.

Something I need to learn to accept – delegating work to others. It’s a critical skill for anyone managing people as well.

There is more to life than increasing its speed. --Mohandas Gandhi

I dunno, I rather like listening to my podcasts and Youtube videos at 2x speed… And didn’t Tim Ferriss sell a speed reading kit back in the day??

Rather than seeking to see the world through photo ops between foreign-but-familiar hotels, we aim to experience it at a speed that lets it change us... One cannot be free from the stresses of a speed- and size-obsessed culture until you are free from the materialistic addictions, time-famine mind-set, and comparative impulses that created it in the first place.

I wholeheartedly agree. There are fundamental differences in what happens to you after a 7-month stay in Vietnam versus a 3-week trip to a handful of European countries. I still long for that sense of true immersion again.

If you can't define it or act upon it, forget it.

This is Tim Ferriss’ approach to answering the question, “What is the meaning of life?” – which he deems so undefined that he declares “attempting to answer them a complete waste of time.” I would just say the answer is “42” and call it a day, but he has a point that there’s no point in fretting over non-actionable items.

Gain a language and you gain a second lens through which to question and understand the world... Don't miss the chance to double your life experience.

That’s quite a compelling sell to learn a second (or third) language! I agree that it does drastically enhance your experience in a foreign country, but it’s only worth it for those long immersive periods as mentioned above.

Service is an attitude. Find the cause or vehicle that interests you most and make no apologies.

One of the instances where Tim Ferriss is not coming off as a douche 😉 I’m glad he reserved space in the book to talk about what to do with all your newly found time and suggested this. I will redouble my efforts to support the causes I care about, which include higher education (UC Berkeley) and health initiatives.

...any problem found in the inbox will linger in the brain for hours or days... develop the habit of letting small bad things happen.

I am so very guilty of “bad holiday behavior” – that is, reading email constantly or attempting to take care of work while vacationing with friends. I think it is because of my passion for making remote work possible – but just like how multi-tasking just makes you perform tasks poorly, remote work while vacationing makes me neither a good worker nor a good holiday companion. I need to learn to better separate my holidays from my work, even if that work is remote.

Rehearse poverty regularly.

I don’t come from a very privileged background and I’ve lived in semi-poverty before, so this isn’t too hard for me to do. I do think it’s important to ground oneself once in a while – live with less, stop buying materialistic crap, and take public transit in your city instead of using TNCs like Uber/Lyft.

Fast decisions preserve usable attention for what matters.

Being a PM, I’m fortunate to have lots of practice making fast decisions. 😀 I do recognize that there is only so much cognitive load any person can take per day, and agonizing over too many details or being indecisive in general wears on you. I’ll continue honing this skill and ruthlessly prioritize where I spend my attention – not just at work but in life in general.


Overall, I was pleasantly surprised by The 4-Hour Workweek and I would recommend it to anyone interested in “Lifestyle Design” or just life-hacking in general. I did get turned off by some of the chapters that go into excessive detail about Tim Ferriss’ ridiculous hobbies, but I recognize them as necessary in order to inspire the reader to stay engaged.

I hope that the quotes from the book I’ve shared have been interesting (and revealing about the areas I need to improve on myself). If you’re interested in buying the book, check out this referral link:

However, I’d recommend rehearsing a little poverty and just getting it from your local public library instead. 😉

2 thoughts on “Notable quotes from The 4-Hour Workweek

  1. I remember reading this in college and liking it. It helped me realize that life didn’t have to be so cookie cutter as I had grown up thinking. Thanks for the thorough review…your posts are always insightful and thought provoking. 🙂 I might consider putting this book back on my list for a re-read.

    Have you considered creating a “Simon’s Reading List”? I would be interested to see what would make the cut.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.