Long hours, redundant tasks, and weekend shifts? Not for Timothy Ferris. The entrepreneur and bestselling author makes a strong case for less, but more efficient work in his book "The 4-hour workweek". The book inspired Quentin Poulaert, Unreal (C++) developer at Prompto, to rethink his work goals and start fresh. In the interview below, Quentin shares his journey from an unfulfilling 45 hour workweek to finding a more balanced and conscious working style at Prompto.
1) Quentin, let's start with your workweek - on average how many hours do you work per week?
For me, it's less about the number of hours I work but how I spend them while working. I used to work more than 45h per week in a digital agency. That went on for six years, until I could no longer take it. I had enough of running around like a headless chicken - with no real purpose. I was personally overwhelmed - living in the fast lane of the digital age - the influx of information, news, social networks, ads. Enough of being polluted with too much information and wasting my time by not managing it effectively. But most importantly, I had no clear life objectives. I had lost sight of my dreams and found excuses not to make new ones. I was in a rut!
2) How did you realise what was happening and what inspired you to change it?
I was unhappy with my situation and realised that I needed to change it. But I wasn't sure how to make things better. So, I pulled the emergency brake and decided that a change of scenery was in order. My girlfriend and I left Belgium and went to New Zealand for an extended stay. For a few months, we took on random jobs like working on a farm, in a restaurant and doing housekeeping. In between, we would take breaks and discover the country. While in New Zealand, I read "The 4-hour Workweek" by Timothy Ferris. It inspired me, and I got a lot out of it.
When we left New Zealand and came back to Belgium, I was fully energised and started an exciting new job at Around Media. Now I have found a good balance and work around 38 hours per week. More important than counting the number of hours is, now everything that I do aims to reach my life goals and dreams. I feel very inspired!
3) During the interviewing process at Prompto, did you mention your new feelings towards work?
Yes, I shared in the interviews my philosophy of work-life balance. I made clear that I didn't want to work just to work. I want to work to learn, to experience exciting things, and to reach my goals. As one of the CEOs at Prompto puts it, "I don't just want to fill the swimming pool of my boss." You need to have a connection with the company, to feel like you are part of something bigger. I appreciate that we share the same values around work-life balance.
4) Do you aspire to a 4-hour workweek? What are the conditions needed to achieve that?
I'm happy with my current work situation. For me, again it is not so much about the number of hours I work per day. My main focus is about what am I doing during these hours. I try to remove all redundant, useless, or annoying tasks that do not align with my life objectives and/ or the company objectives.
Nevertheless, there is space for more efficiency. Automating specific processes would give room for us to advance further and go beyond our limits. That's why our team is working hard on automation that could improve the speed of work. If we reach our goals, we could accomplish at least 30% more work in less time.
Concrete measures we take as a team to work more efficiently:
- Reduce Meetings: Rather, one big meeting with various topics, than several small one-off meetings. We focus on things we are working on at that moment.
- Automated Testing: We spend 20% -30% of our time on manual testing. By using automated testing, we could reduce testing to approximately 5% of our time.
5) Which tools from "The 4 Hour Workweek" are you using to be more productive, and how exactly are you applying the tools?
Ferris breaks the pathway to more efficiency down into four categories: Definition, elimination, automation, and liberation. The ladder being the result of the first three. I got the most use out of the first two. I will share more about each tool...
A) Define dreams/objectives that are not directly linked to your professional environment. Give them clear deadlines. These dreams will be pushing you forward and shall increase your efficiency. Update your dreams/objectives every six months. Take a bird's eye view and align work with dreams/objectives.
- I put my objectives/dreams in a Trello board with concrete deadlines. Every six months, I reevaluate and update them. Based on that, I feel that I am always advancing in my career and this helps me to make decisions to reach my dreams.
B) Take small breaks in your life and do things that excite you.
- New Zealand was one of those breaks and it will not be the last one.
C) Don't work for work. Communicate what you want to achieve and pursue it.
- A first step was sharing my views and goals in the interview process for the position at Prompto.
- I also do home office as much as possible. I am more concentrated at home than in the office and it gives me two extra hours per day to spend with family and friends. I really appreciate this flexibility that Prompto offers.
A) Optimize your time and your focus with the 80/20 technique. First list, then remove 20% of sources that are the cause of 80% of your problems. Keep 20% of the sources that generate 80% of results/happiness.
B) Reduce meetings and group them to avoid warm-up time. If necessary, leave the meeting if it is not pertinent to you.
- I am not accepting all meetings and requests anymore, but instead, weigh what matters to my work. Of course, I didn't do that straight away when I started. I needed to take the time to understand the company and its goals first before I could judge what is matters most and is relevant to my position.
C) Only read emails twice a day. (11h30 - 16h)
- A rule I follow - it is amazing how much time you can save doing this!
D) Always ask yourself, am I working on the most important stuff?
E) Say NO if needed.
6) The book got very controversial feedback, which ranges from a fanatical following trying to emulate him to angry readers accusing him of making fun of the middle class showing up for work every day. What's your attitude towards the book?
In my opinion, the best approach in regards to these type of books is to take what is useful to you and leave the rest. Not everything applies to everybody. Much of Ferris' advice is tailored for CEOs, founders, managers. I am an employee, therefore some sections are useless to me. However, having dreams, optimising time, and having a remote working culture are exciting topics and could be implemented by anybody in their life or at work.
What I took from the book is that you shouldn't be afraid of realising your dreams - and going for it! Many people are fearful of change, and I used to be one of them.
7) What can you do in your team in order to come closer to absolute efficiency aka something close to a 4-hour workweek?
In the development department, we should always focus on automation that would avoid redundant tasks. It increases our time spent on valuable and profitable tasks and increases our motivation. This, of course, is a work in progress and we still have plenty of improvement to make.
8) What are the tools and lessons from the book, which you discussed with your colleagues? How did it resonate with them?
We discussed working long and extra hours and working just for working. We came up with the following list of negative consequences:
- You lose your concentration after several hours.
- You are less reliable when you work extra hours.
- You don't make the most strategic decisions.
- You have more stress - which impacts colleagues, clients, etc.
- Outsiders perceive the company badly because they see us running after success in an organized way.
I think it's essential to keep a balance between work and life. It's better to be efficient at work during a shorter period of time rather than putting in long hours just for the sake of being at work.
9) The 4-hour workweek: Yes or no? If no, what is the ideal working time per day in your opinion, and why?
I can't answer that generally, because it depends on the individual, their goals and type of work. In my opinion, the objective should not be a specific amount of hours, but keeping a balance between work and your personal life. Some people are happy to work a lot because it fulfills them. Others, instead find fulfillment in spending time with their family or pursuing a hobby.
For me, a good model would be to work six months very hard, and then take a break for a month. Expand your mind, relax, learn something new.
It is all a question of philosophy: What is important to you, what are you goals, what do you want?
Thank you, Quentin, for sharing your insights with us!