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For everyone chasing the Four-Hour Workweek, COVID-19 is a blessing. Here’s why.

Input can’t be observed now, only output. Make it count.

Dominik Nitsch
5 min read
For everyone chasing the Four-Hour Workweek, COVID-19 is a blessing. Here’s why.
Me in the future | Photo by Damir Spanic on Unsplash

Munich, March 2016. It’s a sunny, fresh spring day, and I’m enjoying the breeze in my hair as I’m biking to the office. Only one objective is on my mind: to convince my boss to let me work remotely for a week.

The day before, I may or may not have purchased a trip to California that includes a five-day layover in Riga, Latvia (crazy travel booking process that prompted me to write my second blogpost ever). And now I had to figure out how to still get my work done without being at the office.

I had a clear negotiation strategy in my mind, using the blueprint Tim Ferriss provides in his groundbreaking book “The 4-Hour Workweek” (which I consider my “bible”). If you haven’t read it, check it out — it is relevant as ever today

Ferris’ blueprint works as follows:

  1. Increase investment: ask for additional training or other resources, because with every investment the company makes in you, you become harder to fire. This step is optional if you have exceptional value to the company already.
  2. Prove that your remote output is superior to your office output: use a random excuse to work remotely for a day or two, and make sure those days are the most productive you’ve ever had.
  3. Show the quantifiable business benefit: now prepare a comparison between output in your remote days vs. in your office days. Going remote needs to be valuable for the business too — why else would they let you do it?
  4. Propose a revocable trial period: now that you’ve proven that you can do remote work, ask for a trial period having a day or two remotely every week.
  5. Expand remote time: after the trial has worked (and you have generated more and more output), you can go full remote.

When I arrived at the office, I grabbed a coffee and asked my boss: “Hey, do you have a minute?” Minutes later, in the meeting room, I showed him my results from the previous time I had worked from home, and asked him if I could do it again.

My boss wasn’t thrilled — he liked having people (or at least me) around at the office — but he understood the point that I could focus much better when working on my own. At that time, I was doing a lot of modeling in Excel and needed the quiet time. So he agreed to the experiment. Little did he know that I was actually going to use the WFH time to travel to the Baltics.

I gave myself a silent high-five, and the next day, I was on the plane.

Oh, how times have changed.

Fast forward to 2020. COVID-19 hit everyone of us hard, but it came with one tangible benefit:

Everyone works remotely now.

The whole blueprint described above is now obsolete. There is no reason for your boss to keep you from working remotely, and I believe that remote work is here to stay. It’s the new normal: Facebook expects half of their employees to work remotely over the next five to ten years, Twitter and Square have gone full remote and companies like Basecamp have been doing it for years.

All these negotiations aren’t necessary anymore. Unless your employer is stubborn and/or your IT infrastructure is from the 1990s, WFH is perfectly fine. Hence, the Four-Hour Workweek just became so much easier to achieve.

Input is not equal to output.

The key to remote work is that your employers cannot measure your input (i.e. time at the office), only your output. For white-collar workers, in the vast majority of cases, input isn’t equal to output. You can likely achieve (almost) as much in four hours as you could in eight.

Sitting in front of your computer isn’t going to make you more productive. Discipline is essential here: whenever you work, work with intensity. This means no distractions: phone on silent, Slack on silent, Email on silent, only a few open tabs. Write down your tasks, set a timer to your liking of 30–50 minutes and get shit done.

Chances are, your output will double. Obviously there are many more tips and tricks towards increased productivity, but that’s not the point of the article.

The point is: remote work gives you lots of free time if used properly. And you can use that to do all those things you’ve always wanted to do:

  • you could read that stack of books that’s been sitting in your book shelf (my flatmate currently does this and it’s giving her a ton of joy)
  • you could finally start working out
  • you could call your friends and family and get in touch with people who live somewhere else, since everyone is on Zoom now
  • you could work on a pet project that you’ve always wanted to do
  • or you could just sit on the couch and do absolutely nothing

Now is the time. You know that on a rational level, but emotionally, it’ll still be difficult at first.

Emotional detachment

In order to fully embrace the newly-won free time, there’s one more thing you need to do: detach yourself from the notion that you’re only a good employee if you put in the hours.

What makes you a good employee are the results that you generate. Nobody gives a shit (or at least shouldn’t) how much time you spend in front of your computer; what matters are the results that you generate, the sales that you make, the code that you write.

A company isn’t paying you for being there 40 hours per week; a company pays you to actively solve a problem for them, whether it is driving more revenue, creating new software architecture or simply fielding customer calls and making sure they’re happy.

That way of thinking made a big difference for me. As long as your employer (or you yourself, if you’re self-employed) is happy with the results that you produce, you shouldn’t have to worry about the time that you put in. Just as in strength and conditioning training, it’s not about the time that you train, it’s about the intensity that you train with.

During my time in Riga, I churned out iterations of the Excel model in record time. My boss was impressed.

I also spent lots of time with a wonderful girl I met there. And had 2€ beers in the bar every evening. And saw the Northern Lights.

It was well worth it.

Ever since, I’ve worked remotely for a day or two per week in order to fit all the other things that I want to do into my life. It’s been a blessing, and I wouldn’t want to change it for the world.

Change the way you work. Seize the opportunity that’s been given to you by this pandemic.

The Four-Hour Workweek has never been this easy to achieve.

Thanks for reading! If you like what you read, feel free to subscribe to my newsletter. On a not-so-regular basis, I send out emails with cool stuff I’ve read or written, and other inspiring stories I come across. Subscribe here.

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