Sunday, February 17, 2008

The 4-Hour Workweek

No, it's not the Animation Guild's lead proposal for the next Collective Bargaining Agreement.

It's the name of a small book (linked above) that I stumbled across at Barnes and Noble a couple weekends ago. The author, a thirty-year-old Princeston grad named Timothy Ferris, maintains that anyone can become part of the "New Rich" by following his game plan -- which Tim helpfully lays out in 297 rapid-fire pages. (Without a lot of heavy advertising, Mr. Ferris and Crown Publishers got themselves a best seller with this pup a year ago) ...

Ferris's central thesis is: find yourself a hot/useful/niche product to market, set up your automated distribution channels, and then travel the world while putting in 4 hours of concentrated work per week, and use the resulting flow of cash and your now-copious free time to go out and live life to the fullest.

Swell advice, but not everyone has the aptitude or desire to be an entrepreneur. Timothy has that covered, too. He game plans how employees can wheedle their way into working at home, and without all the usual office meetings and regular distractions, do more work in less time. And have more time for yourself. He puts his central tenet right up front with a quote from Robert Frost:

"By working faithfully eight hours a day, you may eventually get to be a boss and work twelve hours a day."

That's pretty much the nub of where Timothy Ferris comes from. And some people can make it actually work for them, while lots of others won't. From my four-dollar seat in the grandstand of life, most people -- particularly in the animation business -- are not going to work part-time while drawing a large, full-time salary. The problem is unpaid overtime, not extra free hours and money with which you can sightsee. On the other hand:

* Ward Kimball told me thirty years ago that, in his forty years at Disney, he never worked more than four hours in a day.

* I witnessed, with my own eyes, a talented animator who was almost never at his desk, rise up through the ranks to become a feature animation director. (And he still does damn well, having long-since become a millionaire.)

* I knew an artist who drew a check simultaneously from DreamWorks and Disney while working only at Disney (this was basically a scam with a finite amount of time to work. Eventually -- although it was months -- DreamWorks caught on. And fired him.)

The larger point here (and it's one worth remembering and re-remembering) is that there is little relationship between the hours you work and the amount of money you make during one of those hours. The hardest I ever labored -- this includes stints with Disney, Filmation, and the U.S. Navy -- was when I was a teacher in a private school prepping and grading four different grade levels of English. I put in 60-80 hour weeks for a year. And all for the princely wage of $350 per week. (This was in 1988. It works out to something between $4.37 and $5.89 per hour, awful even then.)

Many things in Ferris's book would never pan out for most people, but his minimalist credos of "Time is short, focus on the essentials while filling your days and nights with the things important to you, and get rid of the superfluous" was as wise in Buddha's and Christ's times as it is now.

Stripped of all the razmatazz, Ferris's book reminds me of nothing so much as a volume I discovered two decades ago by Paul Terhorst: Cashing in on the American Dream: How to Retire at 35.

You'll note I'm still working, so maybe the lessons didn't take. But all these years later, I still firmly believe:

Existence is fleeting, so make the most of it.


Anonymous said...

I've been working remotely from home for three years now, and I recently realized (during a trip to the home office) that I probably get more done in a day than anyone in that office, thanks to a lack of interruptions and no hallway conversations. I also managed to wreck my drawing arm, giving myself tendinitis from working too long at a stretch without breaks, so it's not all upside. But it is true that my boss is impressed with how much work I get done in a short amount of time.

Anonymous said...

"Ward Kimball told me thirty years ago that, in his forty years at Disney, he never worked more than four hours in a day."

I think there's something to that and I don't think it has anything to do with trying to avoid working hard. I think it's more about making the most from one's most productive time of the day.

Richard Williams mentions that Ken Harris had similar work habits. In the book "The Animator's Survival Kit" Williams says this about Ken Harris :

"Ken Harris worked intensely from 7:30 am until Noon, relaxed at lunch, hung around doing bits for a while after lunch, went home to watch TV (or play tennis when he was younger) and thought about what he was going to do the next day -- then he came in early the next morning, avoided social contact , and Did It . He worked carefully and thought very hard about his stuff . He said he was surprised when he saw some of Ward Kimball's working drawings because they were exactly the same as his -- very neat -- very carefully done."

I've read about that same sort of thing from interviews or anecdotal stories about other top Golden Age animators , talking about how a lot of their day was spent "thinking" about the scene, then when it came to the doing it they had already thought it out clearly in their head and the drawings came fairly quickly. In fact, they were actually working during the part of the day when they were thinking about the scene , but it wasn't work that was visible to everyone else like sitting at the drawing table with their pencil flashing across the page.

By the way, Williams also related that Ken Harris was one of the top footage producers at his studio, when other (younger) animators were struggling and working long hours to do half that amount. On page 222 of his book Williams relates the same thing about Abe Levitow, another former Warner Bros. animator (and former assistant to Ken Harris at one point earlier in his career) . When Levitow was working for Williams on "A Christmas Carol" he was able to put out a high amount of footage . Williams says:

"I always remember Abe saying to me on Tuesday:

'Dick, I've done all my extremes. Tomorrow I'm going to break them all down. Then the rest of the week I'll add in the bits and pieces'

Nothing in that quote about the hours Abe Levitow kept, but I'll bet it was similar to Ken Harris's work habits.

Off the Beaten Track....... said...

Why did Tim Ferris choose India to take a VA from?

Is his wife Indian?

Or does he know the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi?

Site Meter