How to Ruin your Job

The 4-Hour Work Week might be the best productivity book you ever read...and your biggest mistake.

When The 4-Hour Work Week (T4HWW) came out, it was a big hit. It told us we could break free of the 9-5 grind. We could live the life we wanted, where we wanted. It was an awesome dream.

Most of the advice in the book was sound. It taught you how to avoid distraction, bypass the time wasters, and outsource the time-consuming but brainless tasks that waste your time. The basic idea was that you could distill you job down to the critical, irreplaceable thing that you do, then focus your attention and energy into a laser beam that could cut through a week's worth of that work in half a day.

Then the book went off the rails. He proposed that once you'd done this, you could get away with only working four hours a week and phoning in the rest of the time. You'll be so focussed that you could spend most of your week on the beach and still win the "employee of the month" award. It sounds like a wonderful thing. I bet some people even managed to make something like that happen.

But here's the problem: T4HWW was a best selling book. How do you know that Margie in the cubical next to you didn't read it too? What if she saw your face on the employee of the month calendar (with a mention of the bonus) and wasn't the kind of person to let you hog the glory? She read the book, and decided apply all the time-saving, productivity-boosting, focus-enhancing advice. But she's also competitive, so he's going to work 6 hours a week.

She just blew you out of the water. Your bosses have just gone from "I don't know how you do it" to "maybe you should ask Margie how she does it." Then Steve across the hall finds your dog-eared copy of T4HWW in your desk drawer while on a Sharpie raid. He shows it Margie who sheepishly admits that's where she got her mojo.

"So that's why he's never here, but still beat me out for that bonus." You can guess where this is going. Next thing you know, you're working 40 hours a week again. Worse, you've outsourced all the brainless parts of your job. You used to rely on those parts of the job to let your brain rest between the parts that required an exhausting level of laser focus. No human I know can maintain that level of focused flow state 8 hours a day, 5 days a week. Congratulations! You've bought yourself a one way ticket to work hell. Those brainless activities used to provide your brain a chance to recharge between bouts of intense concentration. Now they're considered a waste of time for your pay grade. Whether you're teleworking from the beach or showing up at the office, you hit the end of each day totally spent and exhausted, jittery from the caffeine and resentfully mulling over the email about Margie getting employee of the month. Why? She's started working Sunday mornings too.