The 4 Hour Workweek: Questions and Actions about Time Management

At the end of chapter 5 (The End of Time Management) of The 4 Hour Workweek, Tim Ferriss provides a list of Questions and Actions to help you define 1) a short to-do list and 2) a not-to-do list. Some of these questions and suggestions help to shed some light on what applying the 80/20 principle and Parkinson’s law might look like day-to-day.

Tim offers some great practical suggestions for taking action:

  • Make a to-do list for tomorrow THIS evening of no more than three items.
    If you have more than three, then one or more of them may not be high-impact. If you wait until the morning to make your to-do list, you’ll get distracted by the seemingly urgent emails in your inbox.
  • Give yourself impossibly short deadlines to complete those tasks.
    My interpretation: How long do I think I need to reasonably accomplish this task? Divide by two. This helps with focus and eliminates spending time on the unimportant.
  • Ask: “If this is the only thing I accomplish today, will I be satisfied with my day?”
    This is a great way to figure out what’s “really” important as you are making your three-item to-do list.
  • Ask: “Am I inventing things to do to avoid the important?”
    Tim suggests that you put this question on a post-it or set a calendar reminder to pop up at least three times a day with this question to help you keep focus.
  • Don’t multitask.
    Hi, I’m Corrie, and I’m a multitasker. It really gets pretty ridiculous; you can ask Steve, who has often come in to find me on the phone with a customer, working on a comp, and running three separate IM conversations with coworkers and friends. Tim says that if you’re truly prioritizing, there is no need to multitask because you should have enough time to work on those two or three important things. And if they are really important, you should spend your undivided attention getting them done.
  • Schedule yourself short.
    Here’s a crazy idea from Tim: Limit the time you have to work. Try to leave work by 4 p.m. and take Monday or Friday off. (Tim has suggestions in later chapters on how to implement this in a “real” job.)

Tim also poses questions to help you to pinpoint “what’s really important.” For example — “If you had a heart attack and had to work two hours per day, what would you do?” As someone who bills hourly, this is a hard question to answer positively in terms of “what would I do.” But it does help me to pinpoint some things I would not do:

  • Most email (in particular, customer support, which other people could cover)
  • Writing really long and detailed emails (I am unfortunately wordy at times)
  • Phone support (other competent people could cover this)
  • Meetings (which I dislike anyway!)
  • Making screenshots/diagrams when writing articles (I could pay someone else to do this or find an intern)
  • Trying to interpret what people want or wade through lengthly client/customer emails (train people to communicate more clearly and give me the information I really need)
  • Small talk with coworkers/partners/clients

The bottom line is, of course — if I think these things aren’t important in a hypothetical situation where I could only work two hours a day, why am I spending so much time on them now?

I keep coming back to the seemingly limiting concept of an hourly rate, however. Since I bill hourly, if I don’t put in my time, I don’t make money. What are my options (slightly exaggerated)?

  • Raise my hourly rates.
    I’ve always had a hard time knowing “what I was worth” and setting an hourly rate. This is something I should investigate more; even if I don’t raise my rates, say, 300%, there is probably enough reason for me to raise them reasonably.
  • Provide project estimates instead of billing an hourly rate.
    I like to provide up-front service and allow clients to know that they’re only being billed for what I actually do. However, maybe this is naive and idealistic; the rest of the industry certainly doesn’t have a problem with a one-number quote, so maybe I should just get with the program and do the same.
  • Change jobs.
    Get out of the service-providing industry and into something else. I’m not really considering this a real option at this point. šŸ™‚

In summary, there are lots of action items that I can take.

  • Things I can implement immediately:
    • Making a to-do list of three items the night before and giving myself very short deadlines to accomplish them.
    • Focus on accomplishing those three things by limiting distractions and not multitasking.
    • Make an Outlook reminder to ask myself if I’m inventing things to do.
    • Try to write succinct, clear emails.
  • Things I can try to implement in the future:
    • Limiting my time spent on customer support. I think having a baby would be a good transition point for stepping out of most customer support.
    • Finding an intern to help me with screenshots/diagrams for articles. I could see myself taking the screenshots as I write, but having someone else crop them to size, make them web-ready, etc.
    • Providing set project quotes to new small business clients.
  • Things I’m not sure about but may want to think about more:
    • Hourly rate?
    • How to train clients to communicate with me?

I’d love to hear your thoughts and opinions. Please leave a comment!

This is my third full post with thoughts about The 4 Hour Workweek. View other posts related to The 4 Hour Workweek.


8 thoughts on “The 4 Hour Workweek: Questions and Actions about Time Management

  1. I love your interpretation of the “impossibly short deadlines”. Though at the back of my mind, I still know that I do have a bit more time to do the task – yes this is a limiting thing..

  2. Hi Shafir – thanks for visiting! I agree that trying to “trick” oneself into believing that deadlines actually exist is sometimes difficult. šŸ™‚ I wonder if we could force the deadline in other ways. For example, Tim suggests taking Fridays or Mondays off, so you automatically have a shorter workweek. Or, perhaps in my case, telling the client that I would get it to them in a certain amount of time might be motivation enough!

  3. When you charge an hourly rate, it tends to stay the same for years (and particularly so to repeat clients) which doesn’t reflect your increasing expertise AND your increasing speed at what you do. If you look at what the job involves, you can figure out readily enough what it’s worth (to the client), then bill it accordingly.

    The hours you work are irrelevant in a sense, it’s the outcome that matters to the client. After all, if you bill 20h but have nothing to show for it, the client is unlikely to pay. Hourly rates only really make sense for work that requires your physical presence e.g. at a phone answering it – you’re paid mostly to be there.

    I’m increasingly trying to move to fixed price billing because I figure the outputs are what the client is paying for. You can always find out how to cover yourself in the event the client changes their mind umpteen times e.g. include a certain number of review & revision loops in the price; more than that is extra.

  4. Hourly rates for me are more useful for calculating time costs on projects.

    If I can gauge the time it would reasonably take, plus margin time, that gets me in the ballpark to offer a single number price on a project estimate. Otherwise I’d be pulling numbers out of the air. So for me the rate is simply a way to have a reasonable starting point

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