4-Hour Case Studies: Can You Redesign a Life in 48 Hours?

This past Monday, I gave a presentation at SXSW Interactive in Austin, TX titled The 4-Hour Workweek: Secrets of Doing More with Less in a Digital World. It was my first public presentation on the principles in the book. It ended up standing room only and has caused some waves, being mentioned in the SF Chronicle, Wired, and other media since.

Two good attendee summaries of the presentation and its after-effects can be found at My Life May Have Just Been Changed and What would you do if you had 36 extra hours of free time each week?

For the last two years, at the end of each high-tech entrepreneurship lecture I give at Princeton, I have issued a challenge. I did the same in the SXSW presentation, offering a roundtrip ticket anywhere in the world to the person who implemented the principles and told me about it in the most dramatic fashion by 12 midnight Wednesday, approximately 48 hours later.

People need incentives to change behavior until they see that what I claim can be done, can actually be done.

The outcomes and feedback, more than 5 full pages in Gmail, have exceeded all expectations. The next several posts will share a few of incredible 48-hour turnarounds and stories of metamorphosis. Here is just the first, edited for length and with a name change:


My name is John Gatern and I attended your panel at SXSW where you requested stories of people who’ve implemented your tactics for the 4-hour workweek and when I spoke to you after the “Made to Stick” panel, you were excited I’d given up a Treo for a “normal” cell phone. What’s happened since then you ask? So, where do I begin?

Well, I guess I should give you some quick background points. I turn 32 a week from today. I weigh exactly 57 pounds more than I did when I took my first job seven years ago. I’ve gone from corporate suit to serial entrepreneur in that time period and I now own four companies and am launching a new one this spring. I’ve also been dating the same girl for the past seven years (yes, she’s patient). I carry two cell phones (and pay for a 3rd as a backup) and average over 5,000 minutes per month. I have over 14 email accounts I check every ten minutes with my Treo and wireless air card, oh… I also have five computers I use daily (three desktops and two laptops) in three office spaces. To say I work and I’m accessible is causing me to laugh as I type this email.

So, what did I get from your panel? Well, I made the following changes immediately.


– Consolidated cell phones into one normal voice phone (no Treo)

– Asked my right hand man to give up Treo with me

– Set reminders to ask myself at 9:00, 1:00, 5:00 (Am I being productive, busy or doing a crutch activity?)

– Located a negotiation expert/author in my own city who I’m soliciting for instruction (Lacey Smith of www.quickthinkseminars.com)

– Sat down today with two business partners to have “the talk” about our goals truly not aligning (I think one will be rectified and one will go separate ways)

– Turned down business from the client I’ve known I don’t need or want (he was bewildered, but I think deep-down he agrees)

– Cleaned out my inboxes and started from scratch (man that felt good).

– Got rid of a warehouse lease I know I don’t need for a business I don’t even enjoy


– Signed a three-month contract with Chris Tedesco, a personal trainer (www.bodyquest.biz) for a 1:30 workout appointment four days per week (yes.. in the middle of my work day!)

– Called a contractor to finally come re-do my bathroom (it’s needed it for years, but I’ve put it off)

– Created a food intake log in the past 48 hours and it scared me! (this may be my MOST valuable input)

Finally, I’ve adapted your talk into three baseline tenants for my new outlook (yes, I like lists).

1. Clients pay for and desire my talents over my accessibility

2. While my overall success has been acceptable, my connected lifestyle is hindering its growth

3. More focus on self and less outside influences equal a better quality of life

Tim…. maybe this sounds too unbelievable. I’ve included a few links to people if you so choose to contact them to check up on me. I recognize not all of these steps are taken verbatim from your talk, but sometimes a message gets through the clutter and for me, it was yours. I almost didn’t attend your panel. One of my business partners was at SXSW and said you’d be just another time management pep talk, but I recognized time is my endangered and most valuable resource. I am sad to say… I thought being and even looking busy was what successful people “just did.” I’ve been so focused on working I’ve left out my health and have hindered the growth of my ventures. My greatest asset is my brain and I’ve been so busy acting busy, I haven’t spent enough time using my brain to plan and execute. I’m glad your panel reinforced what I knew somewhere deep down was true.

I may never have a consistent four-hour work week, but a bigger change will happen because of your speech. I’m grateful for your words and your efforts towards the book. You may be too busy to talk or even email back and I understand that fact. If you do want to contact me or are interested, I’d like to keep in touch with updates of my progress. Thanks again.

Your grateful friend,



Lifestyle design doesn’t take much time. It just takes a few uncommon decisions, and even more uncommon actions. More to come next, including sample autoresponders and other simple steps that yield huge results.

The Tim Ferriss Show is one of the most popular podcasts in the world with more than 900 million downloads. It has been selected for "Best of Apple Podcasts" three times, it is often the #1 interview podcast across all of Apple Podcasts, and it's been ranked #1 out of 400,000+ podcasts on many occasions. To listen to any of the past episodes for free, check out this page.

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15 Replies to “4-Hour Case Studies: Can You Redesign a Life in 48 Hours?”

  1. Hi Ben,

    Thanks for the food for thought. It’s an interesting and controversial post.

    Stowe Boyd has some interesting assertions, but — just as two examples — his stating that connectivity is more important that personal productivity, or that network productivity is more important than personal productivity, are both that… assertions. He doesn’t support these claims with data, but rather states them as premises to support his later conclusions.

    I don’t find this compelling.

    I think that being connected in important only when the information that travels that connection is somehow important. For most people, their “network” is not just those close to them, but also micro-managing bosses and co-workers who consume time to feel productive, just to name two groups. To be constantly connected (i.e. people have unfettered access to you and the power to interrupt) yet ignore the trivial as Stowe suggests is contradictory. It’s one or the other, in my experience.

    Last but not least, I would argue that the productivity of the network is second to personal productivity. Bill Cosby once said that he didn’t know the sure path to success, but he did know the sure path to failure: trying to please everyone else. I agree with him.

    This doesn’t mean being antisocial, and it doesn’t require “turning off” completely or becoming JD Salinger, but it does require being selectively ignorant and training those around you to respect your priorities and work flow.

    Thanks for the thought-provoking link, Ben. It’s a good counterpoint.

    1. I’ve been reading the 4 Hour Work Week and find this an almost perfect example of “The Criticism Sandwich.” Nicely done.

  2. Man I’m sorry I missed this at SXSW. I took another seminar instead…this usually happens at these conventions, you take one seminar only later wishing you had taken the other seminar. Oh well.

    I’m gonna go ahead and pre-order the book from amazon just to see what this is about. If the book really is this good the cost of the book is worth the risk of having another paper weight, usually you’ll find something in there that will be of benefit. 😉


    One question:

    I noticed you link to a few GTD type sites (a book that I’m currently reading)….how does your 4-hour work week relate to that philosophy/thinking?

  3. Hi Alex,

    David Allen is a smart, smart man.

    GTD is popular for good reason. That said, I find that most people who implement it seem to miss David’s forest (it’s clear in his book) for the trees via what I call the “efficiency epidemic”.

    It is all to common, especially among the tech-savvy, to ask “how?” before asking “why?” This means that they focus on doing things better (dozens of email folders, sophisticated sorting, the latest and greatest Blackberries, etc.) instead of determining what is worth doing in the first place. It’s a great example of being very efficient without being effective.

    There is a limit to how much information you can sort and organize. For this reason, I think that controlling your information intake (via elimination) before organizing is better than finding new places to put information, unimportant or not. It is amazing how much information that others perceive as important is neither relevant nor actionable once in your hands.

    Once you cut all of the fat and interruptions, surprisingly little management is needed to keep life running smoothly.

  4. When are you coming to London – there are a lot of people here who’d love to see a seminar live!

    Thanks again for the great site – its changing my life!

  5. Hi Div,

    I hope to be in London as soon as possible! It’s a great town. If you could do something about the $10 USD sandwiches at Pret Manger, I’d love you forever 😉



  6. Hi Tim,

    I just wanted to compliment you on your exemplary use of the criticism sandwich in response to Ben’s comment. Glad to see that you practice what you preach 😉



  7. A quick thank-you note from sunny Las Vegas:

    Your book was the kick in the pants I needed to execute on ideas floating in the back of my head for ages. Thanks for that.

    I have always made my living marketing over the internet.. just always for someone else, whether an investor group in my own company or for an employer, I’ve never entirely controlled my time until now.

    It’s a sunny monday and i’ll divide my day entirely between enterprise and exercise. Where there used to be BS and wasted time, there is now smiling and sweating.

    The bottom line is this: i’ve taken back ownership of my own human capital, and i’m far more wealthy for it.

  8. A few years ago I was working 7 hours a week and was making $150,000+ in fitness. I already worked for myself before I read FHWW and after I wanted four hours, not seven. I actually wanted one hour a week and tried delegating everything.

    I started a second service business and it quickly started earning $90,000 profit every six months. In the end I lost that business by outsourcing it a little too much and sold it.

    It was hairy for a minute and then I pulled it back together when I sold the business and my apartment and moved to Hawaii.

    I still have a small online company & started a new processing company last year, but I am not concerned with money at all, we are fine. I have a new baby, a small business, a beautiful wife who has insurance for all of us.

    I stumbled back here because I want to give up my mobile phone or at least the internet for a little freedom from clients. The down side is I am very customer service oriented and I like to be there always for my clients.

    I work from home with my beautiful baby girl by my side and we play most of the day.

    My life is near perfect really, I am just over connected again and need to get back to ignoring the world a bit more. A year ago I actually quit Facebook when I had become a bit of a junkie.

    I need the phone, maybe not the internet but I am having trouble disconnecting I stopped by looking for that extra inspiration to disconnect so I could focus on the things that are most important to me.

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    I just wanted to compliment you on your exemplary use of the criticism sandwich in response to Ben’s comment. Glad to see that you practice what you preach

  10. I just wanted to compliment you on your exemplary use of the criticism sandwich in response to Ben’s comment. Glad to see that you practice what you preach… [Moderator: link removed]