Are You an Expert? If Not, Forget the 4-Hour Work Week

The seemingly too-good-to-be-true 4-hour workweek has a few glaring caveats

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Tim Ferriss’ recent book, The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich, not surprisingly became an almost immediate worldwide bestseller. Who wouldn’t be seduced by the promise of working just a handful of hours per week while sipping martinis in the French Riviera or some equally sexy locale?

Harvard Business Review took a closer look at this seemingly too-good-to-be-true formula, however, and pointed out a few of the more glaring caveats. In order to earn significant time off but still maintain a top spot in today’s competitive global marketplace, explains strategy consultant Dorie Clark, the hopeful vacationer should make sure a few key points are covered first.

1) “You’ve already built your expertise.”

To justify ducking out of life, you’d better ensure you are already one of the best in your field, or else risk losing your edge (and ability to pay for that life of idleness). Clark writes, “You can’t compete by working a 40 hour week, much less 35 or 30. You don’t have time to develop your famous ”10,000 hours” of expertise on the employer’s clock. That’s your nights and weekends, and your vacation. In short? You shouldn’t be sipping pina coladas until you’re confident of the value you can bring in today’s economy.”

2) “Your work can’t just be work.”

The goal here is to spend as much time doing what we enjoy, or in other words, blurring the distinction between work and play. “Working” can still include activities like reading books or browsing the web, so long as it still pertains to subjects in your field. If you don’t enjoy your work, you’ll likely never reach those 10,000 hours needed to become a true expert and achieve point #1.

3) “Your vacation shouldn’t just be a vacation.”

View vacations as investments in upgrading your global outlook and contact list. On her trip to Paris, for example, Clark scheduled meetings with business school professors and authors and started reading up on contemporary French politics and culture months in advance. “By the end of my two weeks, I’ll have done more than consume an inordinate quantity of baguettes and fromage; I’ll hopefully have a valuable new perspective to add to my skillset,” she writes:

It’s easy and alluring to say to yourself, Take more vacation: you deserve it! But a better question to ask is whether you’re ready to leverage your vacation — to truly dedicate the time and effort needed to become the kind of person, and professional, that you want to be.

Clark’s conclusion may be a bit of a buzz-kill for those eager for an easy out from life’s demands but nonetheless might be the only way to truly pull off that 4-hour workweek.

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