Very few of us want to work for eight hours ever day, 5 days a week until we are 70 years old and potentially too old to enjoy any sort of retirement, travel the world etc. But this is also the reality that nearly all of us expect to live. What if there was a way to break this habit? Imagine if you could instead only work a few hours a week, and from anywhere in the world? This is the premise of Tim Ferriss book “The 4 Hour Work Week”. Whilst it is primarily aimed at those who would like to start their own business and earn passive income, there are also several lessons in the book that any of us can learn to improve our own productivity. So, what can we learn from this book?
For true productivity, less is often more
Have you ever heard that 80% of productivity often comes from 20% of the activity? This is a principle very often found to be true and stems from an Italian economist named Vilfredo Pareto. He noticed that the pea plants in his garden had a consistent pattern. This was that about 80 percent of the peas were produced by 20 percent of the pods. He realised this ratio occurred elsewhere. In Italy at the team about 80 percent of the land was owned by 20 percent of the population and this was also the same 20 percent who owned about 80 percent of the country’s wealth. The same is true when it comes to our work. It is often hidden by the fact that we have to keep busy for 40 hours a week and so we end up confusing activities with actual productive outcomes. Its often the person who looks busiest that gets the raise, not the person who is the most productive, unless the organisation has a proper performance assessment process. But the fact remains, if you want to deliver outstanding results, you should prioritise the 20% of activities that will get you 80% of the way there.
You need self-discipline and control your environment
I bet one of the first things you do when you start your day is to check your emails, right? This is often a big mistake as most emails are time wasting activities. Similar to the 80/20 rule discussed earlier, only a small percentage of emails actually require meaningful action. I know from experience I have gone on holiday, come back had 1000+ emails in my inbox, and when I scanned through most were me just being copied in on things and only a small percentage required me to make an actual decision and / or respond. A better way to be productive is to enforce self-discipline and control your environment. It is important to set a clear list of priorities that deliver the most value and then ruthlessly stick to them. You can often clear all the most important tasks by lunchtime if you have no distractions by constantly responding to pointless emails, that could be responded to later in the day. One of the best ways to do this is to set aside time at the end of your working day to scan your emails, respond to the important ones and then whatever is important should be added to your priority list for the next day. In order to get around not missing something urgent, its very easy to set up an auto-response asking for a colleague to call you if something requires immediate attention.