Review: The 4-Hour Workweek

I just finished a book titled The 4-Hour Workweek by Timothy Ferriss. In it he talks about what he calls the New Rich, which are essentially people that structure their income such that they can take what he calls mini-retirements throughout their lives instead of working until we’re 60 to retire. The book is composed of 4 sections excluding the introductory material. I found useful material in sections 1, 2, and 4 that have made me stop and think about how I work, how I live, and where I’m going in life.

Of particular interest to me were the following thoughts

  • If we only have enough work to fill 2 or 3 hours of our workday, why do we stretch it out to fill 8 hours instead of getting it done and leaving for other more worthwhile activities? — This one in particular I found directly applicable to me. I have a tendency to get the job done, but to do so in a very inefficient manner since I “have to be there all day anyway”. In truth, as long as I fulfill my business commitments and am generally available for people who have questions, there’s no reason I should feel chained to my desk all day long.
  • Rediscovering the 80/20 rule – 80% of your profits are brought in by 20% of your people, so why would you jump through hoops for the remaining 80% of the people? — While not directly applicable I have rethought how I do customer support. Despite working extensively to include all applicable tunings for my product in released-to-customer Tuning Guides (that cover 80% of the issues), I am still constantly questioned about the remaining 20% that defy easy-to-document solutions. I’ve decided to write troubleshooting documents such that customers, support, and service personnel can follow to self-diagnose some of that 20%. In essence distilling the steps I take with a customer into a document they can follow themselves. This won’t eliminate all of the phone calls, but it will free up more time I can spend doing other things.
  • Productivity increases when you decrease interruptions and multitasking. — One of the stress points early in the summer between Benjamin and myself was him trying to talk to me while I was working and thus derailing my train of thought. We’ve since worked out a system but that highlights the point: interruptions suck and decrease productivity. Unfortunately I’ve never really applied that to email or IMs. I’ve always made the excuse that “part of my job is being available to help other people” which, while true, doesn’t mean that I have to be literally at their beck and call. Today I didn’t open my email or IM clients until 11am and I finished setting up a test environment and completed half of the Tuning ITDS, Part 2 paper that I’ve been unable to stay focused on the past several weeks. I had a few other things to do but I need to access both my email and be on IM for my 11am meeting. After the meeting I left my email and IM client enabled and my productivity sharply decreased. While there’s obviously a correlation between those factors, there’s not enough data to try and imply causation — it could be any number of factors. Tomorrow and the remainder of the week I’ll be working to refine my productivity time vs communication time.
  • Don’t foo-foo your dreams – dream big, set goals, and work to achieve them. — This seems obvious but too often I find myself saying “yeah, I’d like to do X, but …” and X never gets done for some reason or another. But consider this, if your productivity increases such that you have more free time, what are you going to do with that free time? Oddly enough, the question scares me. This is something I really need to work on. I don’t think the question would have scared me so much when I was in Austin and not working from home. Maybe I’ve become too much of a hermit and need to rediscover activities and adventure. A big take-home for me.

There’s tons of other jewels in the book and while I don’t completely agree with the author (in fact, I find him sleazy and downright unethical in places — mostly reflected in section 3) I do recommend it. I don’t expect to implement all of his suggestions but it sure has me thinking.

I’m published, again

My article titled Troubleshooting IBM Tivoli Directory Server performance, Part 1: Resolving slow queries using the TDS audit log was finally published on IBM developerWorks last Monday. The article was completed two months ago but apparently it takes that long to get the article through the editorial process. Now I need to hurry up and finish Part 2 so that it gets published sometime before Christmas.

Apple gains another foothold in our household: iPhone infiltration

Despite us being a non-Apple-centric household (me with my Linux boxen and Benjamin with his XP machine) we’re one step closer to being Apple fans with the purchase of two iPhones this weekend. Luckily we only had to wait 1.5 hours in line to get a 16GB white iPhone for Benjamin and an 8GB black one for me. With a bit of trickery we were even able to keep our Austin phone numbers despite changing carriers.

Thus far we love them and I’ve only found one bug thus far — a record low and impressive considering I’m a professional tester. Interestingly enough I use my iPhone more to browse the internet and check my email than I do for texting or calling. In fact, I’ve yet to make a single call on the phone after purchasing it on Saturday night.

For a time Benjamin was looking into upgrading to the Sprint’s iPhone-competitor the Instinct. I told him I’d rather switch carriers and go with the real thing than purchase Sprint’s attempt. With Apple’s UI experience, customer service reputation, and the fact that they’ve opened up development of 3rd-party applications the decision seemed fairly easy to me. Besides, Apple has had an entire year to refine their device and Sprint’s will be a rev 1 with all the shortcomings that accompany it. Both my brother and Benjamin’s best friend have an Instinct so eventually we’ll get to compare the two to see if I was correct.

I’m looking forward to open source developers running wild with the iPhone SDK and creating slews of free applications. Pidgin and OpenSSH are the top two on my wishlist. Rumor has it that IBM is working on a version of Lotus Notes for the iPhone to which I only laugh. Meanwhile the new iPhone includes a connector for Microsoft Exchange to woo corporate users over. Neither such beast will find residence on my device – the iPhone connects quite happily to my IMAP server right out of the box.

Niacin: hot flash simulator

Despite many attempts to get my HDL cholesterol levels up over the past several years (although my LDL levels are steadily trending down) my doctor decided to try something different: niacin. Niacin, vitamin B3, is reported to raise HDL levels — about 3 points for every gram consumed daily. One of the temporary side effects of niacin is flushing. I started taking 2 grams/day of inositol hexanicotinate, a form of niacin sold as a no-flush version. Sure enough, no flushing – or at least I assumed no flushing as I didn’t notice any change after taking them. After I ran out of that bottle I went by GNC to buy a larger bottle (if I’m taking 2-3g a day and the capsules are at most 500mg, I need a bottle that is going to last me for more than a week). They didn’t have the inositol hexanicotinate version so I got the pure niacin version. Thinking my body was already adjusted to the dosage I took my usual 1g in the morning yesterday. 15 minutes later and I was having a major hot flash, red in the face and torso, and my hands started itching. Talk about uncomfortable, scary as hell, and yet oddly fascinating all at the same time! I’m imagining that taking a dose of niacin is the closest any man will get to understanding what women go through in menopause.

I cranked back down to 1g/day (500mg twice a day) today in hopes I can becomes less sensitive to it over the next couple of weeks.