Telling the truth about SME life today

Myth of the 4-hour workweek

Hands up if you have ever truly managed to get your work-life balance right.

I asked this recently at an event and, out of an audience of around 100, only seven hands made it into the air – even though everybody acknowledged that it was important to them.

If you are like me (and most of that audience) we are all walking on a work-balance tightrope. I teeter one way or the other, overcompensating as I go, and regularly falling off. And, for most of us, tough economic times don’t exactly provide us with a comfortable safety net.

But is there another way to achieve equilibrium in our lives?

In a flurry of New Year’s resolutions I finally got around to reading the US publishing phenomenon that is Tim Ferriss” “The 4-Hour Workweek” (in between being pretty busy at work, of course).

If you haven?t heard of it, let me explain some of the key concepts and principles.

  • The 80-20 rule is key to time management, i.e. 80 per cent of your benefits come from 20 per cent of your efforts, so only focus on the tasks that contribute the majority of efforts. In other words, there is a difference between efficiency and effectiveness; and effectiveness is key;
  • Get automated by putting in clear and simple processes and outsourcing non-essential tasks and services, so that things run like clock work and you don’t have to clock watch; and
  • Using these principles you can liberate yourself from the tyranny of the rat race and geographical barriers.

The book has really taken off, spawning a four-hour brand and ensuring Tim Ferriss keeps pretty busy during his four hours a week.

Now, whilst I don’t believe the four-hour week is a realistic possibility for most people, I do think these principles can change the way businesses, bosses, entrepreneurs and employees do things for the better. So here are some tips to improve everybody’s balancing act.

Source of inspiration

Since the internet has democratised the hunt for work, outsourcing non-essential tasks has become easier, cheaper and more efficient than ever before.

Elance and oDesk have led the way, providing an army of freelancers. Their success has spawned an array of niche providers that have emerged to fulfil more specific needs.

This trend is just the beginning. But I don’t mean the cheeky and ultimately doomed IT employee who recently managed to outsource his job by farming out work to cheap developers (unknown to his employers). No, I am talking about businesses and entrepreneurs thinking more creatively about how to get things done better, cheaper and more effectively to stay ahead of the (now global) competition.

For example, research suggests company cars and vehicles sit idle for about two thirds of the week. Pay-as-you-go car services such as Zipcar must be a smarter way forward for lots of businesses, offering wheels on demand rather than unused car fleets. 

Then there are the day-to-day tasks that you don’t want to take all day. For example, services such as eReceptionist – act like a virtual receptionist to manage calls. Taken a step further, virtual personal assistants can make sure your diary is not a disaster zone.

And do businesses really need to directly own and control larger parts of their day-to-day routine operations” Are they really focusing on what matters and what they do better than anybody else I believe carefully controlled and managed outsourcing will be a key driver of success for many businesses and employees in the future.

Waste not, want not

The other key thing that I took away from the 4-Hour Workweek was how much time we waste doing very little.

Constantly checking emails (yes, I admit to checking these three or four times whilst I have been writing this article), having pointless and ill-thought-through meetings, focusing on what looks good rather than what is good.

Getting clear roles and responsibilities nailed down, having clarity around your targets, goals and mission and questioning the old way and the right way of doing things are all important.

My own individual solution is to focus on tackling the difficult and important tasks of the day first. No excuses and no distractions. I focus on them and get them out of the way. Everything else on my to-do list then seems more achievable and less difficult. It also forces me to prioritise what is important each day – and, believe me, when I say that I have soon come to realise that some of the things I thought were important haven?t turned out to be in the cold light of day.

So, where does that leave me I am still working too hard. The mythical four hours a week is a long way off and my work-life balance will always remain a challenge. But I know I am being more productive and that brings its own balance into what I do and achieve.

Andy Yates is an entrepreneur and director of, Europe’s largest business money saving site.


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