Case Study: What Does a Real 4-Hour Workweek Look Like…With a Family?

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Now that’s a happy kid. (Photos: Brandon Pearce)

One common challenge for readers of The 4-Hour Workweek is the creation a “muse”: a low-maintenance business that generates significant income. Such a muse is leveraged to finance your ideal lifestyle, which we calculate precisely based on Target Monthly Income (TMI).

Despite the dozens of case studies I’ve put on this blog, and the hundreds elsewhere, one knee-jerk objection always crops up: “That might work for a single 30-something guy, but what about families? I have a mortgage, kids, and…”

The following is a guest post by Brandon Pearce. Brandon has three kids and first appeared on this blog as a muse case study for his business, Music Teacher’s Helper, which generated more than $25,000 a month at the time.

Things are even better now.

He and his family have now been leisurely traveling the world for 1,128 days. They are currently living like royalty and surrounded by palm trees.

This post explains exactly how Brandon spends his time over one week…

Have you implemented The 4-Hour Workweek with your family? If so, please let me know in the comments!

Enter Brandon

Three years ago, I’d already moved abroad with my family, automated my businesses, and was living the 4-Hour Workweek lifestyle. At one point, I decided to track every minute of every day for one week to help me visualize how much time I was spending on what really mattered to me.

Many people seem to think that if you only have to work a few hours per week, you must be spending the rest of your time relaxing in a hammock drinking piña coladas. I mean, what else is there to do? Actually, everything!

As you’ll see, I do spend my fair share of time relaxing, being with family and friends, and even doing “nothing.” But I have plenty else to keep me busy, and I enjoy the freedom to adjust my activities according to my changing interests.

While it takes some effort to track each minute of every day, when I’ve done so, I’ve found it helps me be aware of what I’m doing in the moment, and I feel less pressure while doing tasks I don’t enjoy. I also realize that time will keep moving on, no matter what I do. As long as I’m enjoying life, growing, and helping others where I can, I feel like I’m living my life well.

With that introduction, here is one full week of my life, organized by task.

Disclosure: Even though these tasks are recorded to the minute, they’re not always accurate to the minute. Sometimes I forgot to switch my timer right when I switched tasks, so had to modify it later with a little guess work. Being off by a few minutes for several things has led to being off by a couple hours overall. But it will have to do. For this exercise, I used SlimTimer, a free on-line time tracking tool.

Work Time

I define “work” as activities done specifically to help produce income. This week I “worked” a little more than usual because I was getting some video tutorials written for one product, and launched a special offer with another. I also planned some important new features to work on next. For me, it’s normal for this category to be under 5 hours per week total.

- Business: Music Teacher’s Helper: 5 Hours, 18 minutes. This includes advertising/marketing (1:35), checking programmer’s work (1:30), customer support (0:48), and the rest in business planning, finances, and checking stats.

- Business: Studio Helper: 2 hours, 1 minute. This includes working on video tutorials (1:27), business planning (24 min), and the rest dealing with feature requests and checking stats.

- Other: 33 minutes. This includes times spent researching a new business idea.

Total Work Hours: 7 Hours, 52 Minutes

Update: I’ve since hired more programmers and support staff, a project manager, and a marketing director, so I’m doing different tasks, but still working about the same amount of time each week.

[Note from Tim: Before you literalists scream “But that’s more than four hours per week!” read the book for context. Greatly simplified, the goal is to increase your current per-hour output 10x.]

Family Time

One of the things I like most about my lifestyle is that I have so much time to spend with my family. We’re together pretty much all day, even if we’re not doing the same thing. Meals, driving, and time with others outside the family are under “Personal Time.”

- Playing with kids: 11 hours, 32 minutes. I try to play with my kids a little every day. Much of this is computer or iPad games with one daughter while my wife is doing homeschool with the other one. But it also includes reading to them, playing hide and seek, “restaurant” and other imagination games.

Watching Movies: 6 hours, 51 minutes. We watched a few movies with the kids this week, in the evenings, including the 1969 Doctor Dolittle, and Tarzan in Spanish.

- Family Outings: 5 hours, 15 minutes. This includes a little hike up the mountains behind our house, and a trip to the park to ride ponies and bicycles. We also spent time together with our friends, which I’ve included in the Personal: Visiting with Friends section.

- Talking with Wife: 3 hours, 56 minutes. Jen and I enjoy just sitting and talking, as well as reading together.

Total Family Time: 27 hours, 34 minutes

Update: My kids are older now (9 and 7), and we have another baby who is almost two years old. Our two oldest daughters attend a homeschool group most weekdays. And we now enjoy the services of a full-time nanny, housekeeper, driver, and chef. Consequently, my wife and I get more time together, we each get more personal time, and we enjoy different types of activities with our kids.

Personal Time

Even though it looks like I have lots of time left over for myself, I don’t feel like I have much “free time.” I guess that’s because I try to fill my time up with things that I like to do and am passionate about. I still have a full to-do list, and do spend time on things I’d rather not, but I try to work on the most important items first each day. Overall, I’m doing what I love with the majority of my time.

- Sleep: 57 hours, 21 minutes. That’s just over 8 hours per night. This week, we’ve been sleeping in a different room where the sun hits us warmly every morning around 6:30 through the windows. It’s not conducive to sleeping in, but is a very relaxing way to get up.

- Visiting with friends: 11 hours, 22 minutes. We had some friends over for a late lunch one day this week, and we spent an afternoon out with another friend.

- Meals: 11 hours, 2 minutes. We ate out a lot this week (almost every day), and took time to enjoy our food. The meal with our friends is included under “Visiting with friends”.

- Reading: 9 hours, 8 minutes. I have some really interesting books I’m reading right now, although half of this time was spent reading articles and blogs on-line.

- Personal Email: 8 hours, 13 minutes. I had a LOT more time-consuming email than usual this week. I’ve been getting lots of emails from people starting businesses who want advice. I’ve enjoyed being able to help people in this regard. Maybe soon I will have to start charging for consulting and move this into the “Work” category. :)

- Writing: 4 hours, 31 minutes. This was time I spent working on my new book about how to create an online business. I suppose this could also be considered “Work” since I will eventually sell the book, but that’s not my main purpose in writing it.

- Daily Hygiene: 3 hours, 27 minutes. It’s amazing how much time this takes. But I do love a hot shower.

- Sex: 3 hours, 9 minutes. No, it wasn’t all at once.

- Meditating and spiritual time: 2 hours, 41 minutes. I have a great place to sit for my morning meditation overlooking the hills and the city view. Very relaxing.

- Finances: 2 hours, 3 minutes. This is higher than normal because I’ve been working a lot with my accountant trying to figure out taxes, and have been looking at other investment opportunities.

- Exercise: 1 hour, 47 minutes. This includes my daily stretching and tai chi, and a little weight lifting. This doesn’t include all the hiking and walking we did as a family this week.

- And I spent anywhere from 10 minutes to 1 hour, 30 minutes on each of the following: cleaning and organizing, house maintenance, driving, facebook, games (pool, and angry birds), journal, playing the piano, shopping, time tracking, vacation planning, writing on my blog, and selling stuff on Craigslist.

Total Personal Time: 128 hours, 52 minutes

Update: About a year ago, I started charging $150/hour for consulting and it reduced my email while increasing my income. I’ve also put my book on hold for the time being. And these days, I’d probably count “Finances” as “Work,” since it’s income related. Lately, I’ve been spending more time meditating, reading, and journaling, and am learning more about myself in the process. I’m also taking Qi Gong (Chi Kung) lessons, learning the guitar and ukelele, playing in a small band, studying dreams, and experimenting with connected breathing and emotional awareness techniques to help me be more present to enjoy each moment fully.

How to Improve In the Future

Now that I’ve gone through all the effort of tracking my time for a week, it would be a shame to simply write a blog post about it and not use the data to see where I can improve. In the weeks ahead, I would like to make the following changes:

- More time with my wife, especially reading and talking with her.

- More family time together with the kids at home. We spend a lot of time together outside the home, but when we’re inside, we tend to do our own thing. I also want to take a more active role in homeschool, helping the kids with their blogs, music, as well as math and reading, etc.

- More time working on my book. I’m excited to complete this project and hopefully it will help a lot of people looking to create a business.

- Less time reading online. I want most of my reading time to be focused and intentional, not jumping from item to item.

- Less time on email. I had built up a practice of checking email just twice a day and leaving it alone the rest of the time. But I didn’t follow that so well this week, and found my productivity waver because of it.

Update: I definitely spend more time with my wife now, but probably less with my kids. I’ve stopped working on my book, but have put more time into other interests. My reading is more focused now, and I spend less time on the computer. I still think I have too much email, but most days I can get it all done in one sitting.

Have you ever tracked your time? If you’ve ever charged per hour, chances are you’ve tracked your time working, but have you ever measured what you’re doing with the rest of your time? Yeah, maybe it is a bit fanatical. But I think there is value in it at least every once in a while. If a week seems like too much, even tracking your time for a single day can reveal insights and help you see areas you want to improve.

I’m interested to hear your thoughts below, and what changes you’d like to make in how you spend your time.

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[Note from Tim: An older version of this time table originally appeared on Brandon’s outstanding blog. If you liked The 4-Hour Workweek, you’ll enjoy his personal stories of entrepreneurship, travel, and more.]

Posted on: February 1, 2013.

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182 comments on “Case Study: What Does a Real 4-Hour Workweek Look Like…With a Family?

  1. I’ve been following Brandon and his blog for a while now. He offers some great insights about quite a few different aspects of life.

    Thanks for sharing Tim, and thanks for putting yourself out there Brandon!

    Like

  2. Cool Article. Its always inspiring if someone life this lifestyle. Its not the “standard” muse stuff.
    @Brandon: How do you get Clients? Are you always working for the same people?

    Cheers from Germany
    Max

    Like

  3. I’m late getting to the Four Hour Work Week game and I JUST started the Four Hour Body diet and exercise bit, so I cannot tell you how much this reinforces my drive to make my vision come true.

    We have three children and our goal is to live globally, too. However, with a new freelance writing business (just over a year old), it’s slow getting there. But it’s great to know that you’ve been able to do this, as I was wondering if I were being illogical thinking we could.

    Thank you sooo much for sharing this. I’m going to have to be more focused in timing my activities to find out where my time losses are (although I have a pretty good idea).

    Like

    • Tania, I am also late to the 4-hour workweek game and appreciated your comment. I am also a newbie freelance writer, having left a six figure, high pressure, crazy workweek job to design a new lifestyle. We writers certainly need to focus on high income muses to accelerate progress! Good luck!

      Like

  4. This is great. I was able to work from Chicago, Tokyo, Mt. Fuji and Taiwan over Christmas/New Years. I have a family of 3 (but planning on 4 in the future). Thanks for sharing this.
    Doing the exact opposite seems to be a decent route to happiness. At least it’s a good starting point.

    Like

  5. Brandon, great write up and case study. Tim, thanks for posting, perfect timing for us. We are a family of 4 (myself, wife, 2 kids ages 6 and almost 2) currently living in Chile. While I cannot fully automate my business, I have successfully applied many tips from 4HWW (batching, 80/20, checking email 1x day, etc) allowing me to spend more quality time with my family and friends. In addition we are able to work remotely from Oct-June, travel more, and fully enjoy weekends.
    Brandon, we are considering a move to Brazil or do travel the world like you are doing. How do you manage home school with the constant moving and traveling? This is my biggest fear, pulling my child out of the traditional school system and relying on homeschooling. Would love to hear your thoughts and experiences. Gracias!

    Like

    • My question too David, not quite made the jump you have, still building the “automated” business, but with a 1 year old, making the jump to living abroad is tough. Mini retirements I can see (2x 6 weeks abroad say, whilst keeping UK base)

      Thank you Brandon for sharing your great story, what a start in life for your kids!!

      Like

    • Even before we moved abroad, we decided to homeschool. We prefer to let our kids direct their own education and focus on the areas they’re most interested in, rather than the generic one-size-fits all approach of traditional school. Education is not sitting in a classroom for several hours a day. Life is education and we all learn as we go. Here’s a post I wrote about how we made the decision to homeschool: http://pearceonearth.com/home-school/

      Like

  6. This was tremendously insightful. It’s cool to read about the case studies. It de-abstract-ivises (yeah, I coined that word … just now … ).

    My problem deals with finding and vetting out manufacturers. That’s a hurdle I have yet to tumble over.

    Anyway, great work.

    Like

  7. I can appreciate trying to balance work + family. I’ve not yet designed my life where I can only work 8 hours a week.

    I have found a tool that’s helping me track my on-computer time (I’m a web developer/marketer). It’s RescueTime, runs in the background and tracks everything you do on the computer. I’m amazed at how much time I spend reading emails and social media (although I do social media for my clients).

    At least, measuring is a start to moving in the right direction.

    Like

  8. I love the fact they decided to homeschool their kids. Thinking about it, it was the only logical thing to do and not just because of travelling.

    If they decided to educate them in the ‘classical’ public school system manner, the kids would grow up knowing next to nothing on how to achieve their dad’s lifestyle. This way he can further educate them how rules can be bent, broken and re-wired.

    Fantastic read.

    Like

  9. This is really great!! I am a huge fan of the 4 hour work week as well as Tim Ferriss in general. He is an Amazing guy!! I think Brandons product and his commitment to live this life style is great. The only thing that bothers me is that there are so many products sold to musicians and music teachers that only help with the work the have. The real challenge these days is getting the students..

    John

    Like

  10. Thanks Tim, and thanks Brandon!

    This is a great inspiration for all us hopeful “musers”! If someone can manage a marriage, children, homeschool, travelling, AND a business that lets them live abroad 1,000+ days straight, then I CAN TOO! :)

    Way to go, and keep it up.

    Like

  11. Great stuff.

    After recently finding a folder of saved “4HWW Success Stories” post’s I was wondering if you would still be showcasing great stories like this considering you are two books past the 4HWW.
    Thanks again for sharing these continued success stories.
    I hope my business and life to be very close to this as I grow my own company.
    It launches 2.5 and I am so excited.
    Forever grateful, Tim!

    Like

  12. Yeah :)

    More and more families start doing that.
    Recently I travelled in Thailand and met many young Ukrainian ad Russian families enyoing life far away from cold Easter European winter…

    It was great opportunity also to inteview them and get great tips for New Rich Family lifestyle…

    Thanks for the article, Tim…

    Like

  13. This is motivating and I’m sharing with several friends who need to hear this. I am an entrepreneur + parent, it’s been hard to make it all work but I see the light. Thank you!

    Like

  14. Whao, that’s some nice analysis there man. I’ve also dreamt about this all my life and it seems the time is right to start living that life style. Though I’m in the kindle publishing niche (at least for now) and it brings me much more money with less than 4hours work per week.

    I’m thinking of setting up other internet business (like an authority niche site) so that more money will flow in while i travel all over the world.. I’m single so less spending!

    Like