Why a Four Hour Workday Is Better Than Early Retirement

Why a Four Hour Workday Is Better Than Early Retirement - picture of relaxed woman with morning coffee on porch

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Since I have the flu and feel like I might die, please enjoy this post from personal finance blogger Harry Campbell.  Harry started blogging about personal finance on his main site Your PF Pro a few years ago and enjoyed it so much that he started a second site dedicated to finding the perfect work-life balance at The Four Hour Work Day.  When Harry is not blogging, he works full time as an aerospace engineer and enjoys surfing and playing beach volleyball.  (Although Harry is my friend, I had NO IDEA that he was an aerospace engineer!!!)

When you break it down into its fundamental parts, personal finance often ends up revolving around one of two things: people either want to know how to get out of debt, or they want to know how to save and invest to grow wealth. It’s only natural that these two themes should be the ones that dominate the blogosphere. After all, if you’re in debt, your number-one priority should be to get out as fast as possible. And if you’re not in debt, your number-one priority is ensuring that your future is as financially secure as your current money situation is.

When you get further into the save-and-invest side of personal finance blogs, you’ll find a few key terms pop up over and over again: early retirement and financial independence. These two ideas are wildly popular, and for good reason – who doesn’t want the ability to have investments that generate more income than you need to cover your annual expenses? Who doesn’t daydream about telling their boss they can.. well, you know, and then walk right out the door?

Is Early Retirement a Good Goal?

Early retirement sounds like some sort of utopian dream for current members of the workforce who have no choice but to be a part of the rat race day in and day out. But that’s just it: it sounds too good to be true, and in many ways it is.

Think about it. Most of us find fulfillment and happiness in some part through our work. No, we may not enjoy working on someone else’s schedule or for our boss’ bottom line instead of our own. But producing something, providing value to others, and being productive in general are keys to feeling happy. Not to mention, there’s a very special kind of satisfaction that comes from being able to see a direct correlation between our hard work and the income that our work can generate. When people lack direction, focus, and purpose, they become listless, depressed, and even more stressed than regular work can cause.

Keep it in Perspective

It’s for these reasons that a balanced solution is best, and aiming for something like a four hour workday would be better for most people that have spent years on a set schedule with a routine complete with periodic challenges. Having some sort of work that takes up a few hours of your day is far better than lacking purpose and passion. People need new goals, challenges, and tasks to complete. A bit of work (as opposed to absolutely no work) would fulfill these kinds of needs.

Additionally, having some sort of part-time work or work that doesn’t require too much of your attention each day means building a great safety net into your financial plan. Complete early retirement means not having to work, sure – but it also means a complete end to regular income. If you have enough saved and invested, this should be okay. But when “should be” isn’t good enough, it would be nice to have something to fall back on. This is where side jobs and mostly-passive income streams that you set up before you started phasing out of the workforce could come in extremely handy.

Your four hour workday could consist of anything that you enjoy doing and can monetize. If that means working a few hours a week at a local shop, go for it. If that means starting and managing your own side business, that’s awesome too. It doesn’t matter what the work is – what matters is that you find it fulfilling, interesting, and in some way, fun. The point isn’t to work for four hours per day on stuff you find draining or on tasks you hate. The purpose is to keep you productive, engaged, and active rather than finding yourself sitting in early retirement and feeling completely directionless and useless.

Calling it quits when you’re in your 30s and 40s may sound nice now, when all you’ve ever done is work something like a 9 to 5 for someone else. But early retirement has some hidden pitfalls current workers often underestimate. Consider the better plan of slowly phasing yourself out of work and income from sources beyond investments, and choose to aim for a four hour workday instead. Use the opportunity to focus on really great work you love, or to make a passion project into a little side business that provides some extra income.

Don’t let the siren song of early retirement lull you into a situation where you’re sitting around twiddling your thumbs all day. Have the best of both worlds by pursuing work that allows you vast amounts of personal freedom and keeps you thinking and purposeful – and therefore fulfilled.

How does a four-hour workday sound to you?  Or, are you aiming for early retirement instead?

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  1. Completely agree and very much in line with my current thinking. Whilst I don’t want to “retire” early, I certainly do want to have the freedom to work in a way that makes me happy rather than simply working for the money.

  2. Firstly, sorry about the flu! Secondly, this guest author explained it very well – early retirement isn’t all that fun. I say this based on the experiences of people around me, who have plenty of money to live comfortably for the rest of their lives but still want to find some sort of part-time or fulltime work to keep busy. We all enjoy the idea of lazing around all day, not having to wake up at 6am and coming back home at 5pm, but people get bored after a bit. Human have an instinctive drive to make stuff or earn money. It’s just gratifying.

    1. I like to stay busy, and that’s one reason I don’t think I would want to retire all the way.

    2. Definitely true, I think of retirement more as being able to work on the things I enjoy instead of sitting at a cube working for someone else.

  3. I think of them as one in the same – early retirement and a four hour work day. I think financial independence for us will involve running our own hobby/lifestyle businesses and not worrying too much as to growing them or maximizing their profits.

    1. Yep, same here! I love blogging (freelance writing is okay too.) Once I “retire,” I would love to continue blogging on our sites.

  4. While I’m not particularly part of the early retirement camp, I’ve always viewed it more how you’re presenting — a way to just work on what I love. I think you’re absolutely right that retiring at 40 with no actionable plan on how to spend your days sounds boring. I’d love to be able to work for myself, only take on projects I love and have plenty of money saved in case I have a lean month. That would be my early retirement dream.

    1. Definitely depends on the person too..some people might not be able to find hobbies/projects if they only had to work four hours a day. Not me though!

  5. I don’t know that we’re really aiming for either, as I foresee us running our business for some time. We might be closer to the four hour work day type of mentality as the business matures and we hire more things out, but that point is a ways off. For the time being, I’m happy being my own boss. 🙂

    1. Me too =) Retirement seems so far off to me….we don’t have nearly enough money yet and we’re still young!

  6. I don’t think I’d ever want to completely retire and do nothing, but being able to work for myself and set my own hours and priorities is extremely appealing to me. At this point we have several different irons in the fire in terms of streams of income, and I think that if we ever quit our day jobs those things would continue to keep us at least somewhat busy- especially the blog!!

    1. Same here! I like working for myself but it’s still “work” at this point and I still work more than 40 hours some weeks. I would love to work 20 hours per week.

  7. Hope you are feeling better soon, Holly!! Harry, love this. We are totally heading toward this goal of the four hour workday. I do probably three out of my four hours before the kids are up, then most of the rest of my day is free to be with my kids. Now the goal is to get something up and running for the hubby. 🙂

    1. I’m feeling a little better today. Yesterday was rough. I still worked though- wrote three articles!

    2. The nice thing about this is it rewards you for being efficient with your time. Most people don’t really work 8 hours so if you’re able to do more with your time and make a similar salary you get to reap all the benefits 🙂

  8. People who claim that retirement – early or regular – isn’t all it’s thought to be, really need to speak for themselves only. My hubby and I have been retired for 8 years and have loved every minute of it. We don’t need work to validate us. We don’t need work for social interaction. For those who like to work, that’s great. But don’t try to justify your working by saying retirement isn’t great. I’m personally happy they are continuing to work as it probably means they are still paying into the Social Security system.

    1. I agree that there are people like that. My dad is one of them. He retired several years ago and literally does whatever he wants, whenever he wants. He does volunteer some but he often sleeps until 10:00 a.m. or later. I think he loves retirement!

  9. OK you play beach volleyball and are an aerospace engineer. You must live in the South Bay? Anyway, if I “retired early” I don’t think I’d give up doing work I LOVE, like writing. Whether that was four hours and 40, because my ideal retirement job would have lots of flexibility where I could do whatever I wanted.

    1. I want someone to pay me to sit on the beach and drink mojitos. Any takers?

    2. Haha close. I grew up in Santa Monica, lived in San Diego for 10 years and now I’m in the OC. The nice thing about not needing the money is you can go out and spend 40 hours or more on whatever you want and it won’t feel like work.

      Holly, that’s why working online is so powerful. Start outsourcing your blog tasks like I’m doing and you’ll eventually be getting paid while drinking mojitos without doing a thing 🙂

      1. I don’t want to outsource this blog too much, but we’re planning to outsource a bunch of tasks on our other site.

        1. I would love to outsource more but I’m having on so tightly to my money. I’m just not bringing in enough income to go that route yet unless there is a VERY cheap way to do it. Any thoughts? 🙂 It’s like the chicken and egg…

          1. There are ways to outsource some stuff inexpensively…mainly by hiring people from overseas to do your social media and other stuff. I personally don’t do it…but I know a lot of people who do!

  10. I would rather aim for the four hour workday. Early retirement does not sound appealing to me at this point, but who knows in the future.

  11. I am still in the early retirement camp. I have at least 15 things I’d do instead of working (sleep for 8 hours, volunteering for outdoor activities, travel, travel some more, yoga, stay slim, garden, see friends, hike, hang with my dog(s), cook, drive a motor home around, check out current plays and museum collections, aimlessly surf the net, do some ATV-ing, maybe join a shooting club)… Wow, I sound like my mother when I look at the last half of that list. She is retired and there’s not a single day that she wakes up and wishes she had purpose. I have coworkers in their 70s who are still working, and they admit that the reason is because they have nothing else to do. These are people with pensions and savings, so money is not the issue. I can’t imagine!

    1. I would love to sit home and watch all the seasons of Game of Thrones with my hubby, decorate and upgrade my house, sleep, go swimming, play with the kids.

    2. It’s definitely a nice life, I did it for about 3 months when I was in-between jobs to see how it would go. I worked online about 4 hours a day and was free to spend the rest of the day as I pleased – it was awesome. It got a little lonely at times because all of my friends were working but I didn’t really mind doing a lot of things by myself.

      When I have kids, I’ll probably cut back or eliminate my day job and work from home on my online businesses. At that point, I’ll at least have some other married wives to hang out with me haha.

  12. I don’t know that I actually want to retire. I’ve always earned my living through my writing, and I expect that’s something I’ll do for as long as I have the mental capacity to do it. But I do want to reach a point where my wife and I aren’t tied down to traditional jobs, so we can work from anywhere we want (and work when we want, instead of because we have to). Writing from a nice tropical beach or a cabin in the mountains? Yes, please.

    1. That’s exactly what I want – I like to write and work online but I don’t want to do it from behind a desk for 8 hours. On my last trip to Hawaii I worked 1-2 hours every morning and it was awesome!

  13. I’m aiming for early retirement, but certainly that still may include some part time work. It probably will. I like the idea of financial independence as it makes that 4 hour work available, but optional. The path that some are on (planning to use a side hustle or part time work to cover their expenses, and then quitting their traditional job at that point) would not be for me. A big benefit, I think, will be the freedom of knowing I really don’t need money from any work source.

    1. Even a traditional day job can become a lot more fun when you know that you don’t need the money. Too many people work in fear of getting fired or performing well, but when you don’t care, you go in and do your best and go home. Nothing to worry about.

  14. I love this! Early retirement doesn’t sound great to me–I actually (eek) like working. But this sounds like a great balance between “retiring” and still nurturing your productive impulses.

    1. Haha it’s ok to like working! But you may be in the minority 🙂 The thing I like about working online is that I actually look forward to it on Monday’s – I think that’s the test.

  15. I recently wrote about how we could retire at 40, but I still don’t know if it’s what we will do. I think it would freak me out a little to not have a reliable stream of money from something like a job (although I know rental property, dividends, etc are income, just maybe not as reliable). Plus, I think I would get bored quickly. Modified limited early retirement is likely what I’m aiming for and will end up doing. Plus I do want to have some luxuries in life, and don’t always want to be worried about pinching pennies.

    1. Yea it’s definitely a little scary which is why I think you should really establish yourself first with a day job before going out on your own. Save up, diversify your income streams and then make the jump. It will be hard to re-enter the workforce so you can’t depend on that.

  16. I hope you feel better Holly!! And for me, I always envision my “retirement” looking more like a four hour work week or something less stressful. I can’t imagine sitting at home or doing things that would cause me to spend money. I would love to get to the point where I could work a few days a week by my own choice.

  17. I view early retirement and the idea of a four hour workday as basically the same thing. I don’t think most early retirees are planning on quitting working altogether, but rather quitting the rat race. When I reach FI, I will likely continue writing. I just won’t work as much and I’ll be more selective about projects 🙂

  18. I took 6 month ‘vacations’ for 3 years and yet I’d die of boredom if I was to not work. Few hours/day keep my engines running and me happy. So in my case … give me something to do, at least few days/week.

  19. 4 hour work is enough if you’re paid nicely. For me I agree about the idea of working 4 hours only rather than early retirement. This is an informative post. Love reading it. Thanks for sharing this to us.

  20. Really great advice and nice to see it explained so well. So many people really hate their jobs and seem to think that the only solution is to just quit. Finding a job you enjoy and one that gives you some freedom is so much better. Then just learning to schedule your time so you can do what you want while you are still bringing in income is the best way to go. My husband and I are both fortunate that way and because we have tons of freedom AND like what we do we don’t figure we will EVER retire.

  21. Harry I totally agree with you. There is a certain level of satisfaction that comes from being productive and working hard. It seems like a lot of the appeal around early retirement and financial independence is that is presents options rather than just a complete lack of productivity (which we normally associate with retirement). Hopefully one day I’ll be in a position to scale back on the 9-5 grind and move to a 4 hour work day.

  22. I could get into a 4 hour work day….things may change as I get older, but right now my thought is that retirement would bore me to tears. I need my brain to “move.” Doing something productive and challenging for four hours out of the day would leave me to have more leisure time, yet still exercise the old noodle. 🙂

  23. I am with others who don’t think these things are mutually exclusive at all… I would love to “retire” early and then able to work 4 hours a day (or more, or less, depending on the day) on things that I really enjoy and am passionate about. That would be a great early retirement to me!

  24. Work for me is a social outlet as much as it is an opportunity to earn a living. I think that even if I won the lottery, I would still turn up to work the next day.

    But working 4 hours a day, or maybe doing a 3-day week does sound pretty good.

  25. Wow, that’s what I was exploring for, what a data!
    existing here at thnis website, thanks admin of this web site.

  26. I just entered early retirement due to my position being eliminated due to an organization downsizing. I was 18 months away from my true retirement date. So, now I need to search for something to keep me busy. I like the idea of working 4 hour a day. Does anyone how ideas or a database of potential employers?

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