Thursday, January 18 , 2018, 10:59 am | Fair 62º


Tam Hunt: My Four-Hour Workweek — 2017 Edition

No, I don’t work only four hours a week. As with my last column on my four-hour workweek, however, I’m almost at a point where I could, if I chose to, work only a few hours a week. Alas, there is still far too much I want to do in the world before I can relax quite that much.

This column is an update on the holy grail of career achievements: being able to basically retire early and live comfortably while working just a little or not at all.

The four-hour workweek idea was popularized by Tim Ferriss in his fun book The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape the 9-5, Live Anywhere and Join the New Rich. It’s a good read, a bit gimmicky at times, but also packed with good advice on time management and helpful ways to get your job more mobile and eventually untether yourself entirely if that’s your goal.

The key omission in the book was a lack of realistic suggestions for creating your “muse,” which is what he calls the passive money-making venture that will allow you to live the four-hour workweek you want to live. Sure, we’d all love to live off passive income. But this is far easier said than done.

Until recently, my career was focused on active income, not passive income. I’m a lawyer and writer, but the large majority of my income still comes from lawyering rather than writing. I invested the time and money in my undergraduate and then legal education — I’m still paying off my law school loans — and it’s been well worth it.

It was a long road to become a lawyer, and then a bumpy and even longer road in getting my solo legal career going. It’s been very rewarding in many ways nonetheless, and my day job in renewable energy law and policy (solar power, wind power, electric vehicles, battery storage, etc.) also has been spiritually rewarding, because I work in a field that I fully agree with philosophically, while also making a good living.

“Do well by doing good” is always great career advice. And there’s no substitute for hard study and hard work. The essence of discipline is doing something in the short- and midterm that you may not inherently enjoy, such as getting an advanced degree, in order to achieve long-term goals, such as having career opportunities and doing work that you do inherently enjoy.

While I consider myself truly blessed with my career thus far, because I understand how rare it is to feel fully satisfied with the impacts of one’s work on the world around us, I nevertheless have been trying for a few years to reach a point where I can choose not to work if I’d prefer instead to focus on other things. My main problem is that I have too many interests: travel, writing, athletics, dance, photography, making music, making movies, political debates, philosophy, etc.

Before too long I’d like to have the space in my life to have a family, but not have to give up my hobbies in order to do so, while also making a living. What has to give in order to achieve this goal?

In my first four-hour workweek column, I wrote about my then-new tiny house in Hawaii as part of my master plan for achieving financial freedom and living sustainably. That step was a leap of faith, and it’s worked out very well. I’ve continued to improve and expand the tiny house, and it grows more comfortable every year. I rent it out now, and it more than pays for itself. It was a great investment not only from a purely financial perspective but also from a peace of mind perspective: It truly is a little sustainable life boat in a sea that is currently calm, but may become stormy at times.

I decided to dive deeper into Hawaii life earlier this year by buying a second home, also on the Hilo side of the Big Island. This is a normal house (not tiny) and has all the modern comforts that most of us expect from a new home, but it’s also entirely solarized and uses rain catchment water. As with the tiny house, I can enjoy a minimal environmental footprint while living very well.

I chose to invest further in Hawaii for a few reasons: 1) real estate is far cheaper on the Big Island than in Santa Barbara, where I lived for 15 years; 2) I found a wonderful woman in Hawaii who for some reason enjoys hanging out with me a lot; and 3) the quality of life in general is, I dare say, probably the best in the world.

The weather in Hawaii is, of course, phenomenal, with regular warm rain keeping this part of the island lush and green in between epic sunny days. The ocean is clean, beautiful and readily accessible. And working at home I don’t deal with traffic much at all.

I enjoy a great home and great quality of life quite affordably here in Hawaii, and that’s been a major step toward achieving my four-hour workweek. I’ve thought for a while about the “freedom to be poor,” and by that phrase I mean that if you keep the bills low you can be modest in income but still rich in quality of life.

I’ve chosen a middle path now, however, rather than the freedom to be poor or the shackles of being rich, because I certainly have bills, but I’m also not looking at the massive bills that would have come from buying an equivalent home in Santa Barbara. In other words, it’s not a stretch for me to pay for my house and other expenses here in Hawaii, and it definitely can be in Santa Barbara where real estate is so much more pricey.

So I’m still lawyering and am still tethered by my mortgage and various other bills, but I can now see more clearly how to get from here — the regular day job as a solo lawyer who enjoys a lot of freedom already — to there — a four-hour workweek or something close to it, while still enjoying the same standard of living and the same freedoms.

Passive income is key to Ferriss’ vision of the four-hour workweek as well as mine. I have a couple of efforts underway to create the “muse” that Ferriss writes about.

The first is particular to my line of work. Part of my job is helping clients develop community-scale solar projects. I help with permitting, financial analysis, interconnection to the grid, etc. One of my objectives is to successfully develop a number of projects and earn an equity share in one or more projects for good long-term passive income.

However, that’s particular to me and my line of work, and I won’t dwell on that further here. Another option I’m pursuing is feasible for pretty much anyone, and it’s a new and interesting opportunity.

It seems cliché already to talk about Bitcoin as the next big thing. But it’s true: Bitcoin is the next big thing. Or, to be more accurate, cryptocurrencies in general are the next big thing. My feeling, after having followed the cryptocurrency market for a number of years, is that we’re likely to see global “bitcoinization,” where all or most fiat currencies become Bitcoin (or something like it), over the next couple of decades — whether nation-states go along with this massive shift or not. The cat is out of the bag. If this shift does in fact happen, we’ve got a lot of growth in this space ahead of us.

Bitcoin excites me because of its potential to transform global finance because it’s not a “fiat” currency (government-issued and controlled), and because of its ability to be used anywhere in the world. Basically, Bitcoin allows for borderless transactions as well as anonymity. There’s a lot more to Bitcoin than this, but I won’t focus on it further here. I described the basics of Bitcoin in this column. My point in bringing Bitcoin up here is to discuss its potential as a “muse.”

Another recent column looked at how to invest in Bitcoin. I concluded, after a lot of individual research and trial and error with various investment options, that probably the best way to invest in Bitcoin is to simply buy and hold Bitcoin. This is arguably still good advice, but with some important caveats because the price has grown so high that it seems likely that we’ll see a large correction or two before long.

Bitcoin has increased from around $200 in early 2015 to as high as $19,000 this year. If you bought at its low and held until the recent peak, you would have realized almost a 100x gain on your investment. That’s incredible. I still support buying Bitcoin as a solid investment, even at today’s stratospheric prices, because the potential further increase in the price is, and will remain for a very long time, substantial. (As always, only invest in this area what you can afford to lose since this is still a young market with high volatility.)

That’s because the supply of Bitcoin is fundamentally limited by the Bitcoin algorithm: Only 12.5 new bitcoin can be created (“mined”) every 10 minutes, and only 21 million will ever be mined. It will take until approximately 2140 to mine all those coins, so there’s plenty of upside still in terms of price increases and additional coins.

Bitcoin mining is, however, a better investment than buying the coins themselves, in a manner similar to the classic golden egg/golden goose dilemma. The coins are the golden eggs, and investing in mining is choosing instead the goose that lays the golden eggs.

I’ve explored a few mining options, as I wrote about here, and my original conclusion has changed in the past few months. Initially, I concluded that returns from cloud mining of Bitcoin were not large enough to justify buying into cloud mining rather than just buying bitcoin directly and enjoying the immense growth in the Bitcoin price appreciation. I’ve learned since then, however, that you can significantly multiply your bitcoins by buying cloud mining contracts. This allows you not only to enjoy the Bitcoin price appreciation but to also grow the number of bitcoins you hold over time.

I go into how cloud mining works in detail here. The short summary is this: Bitcoin cloud mining is an extremely good opportunity with risks that are manageable if you understand how it works.

I passed a couple of passive income milestones recently in terms of moving toward my own four-hour workweek goal: 1) because my mortgage, taxes and insurance payments are fairly manageable on my new house in Hawaii, my cloud mining income could already pay these costs in full (I’m actually reinvesting earnings for now), and that’s a great feeling; 2) by continuing to invest in additional cloud mining contracts, I’ve reached a point where all of my other bills could also be paid with this new revenue, including student loans, car payments, cell phone, etc. That feels even better.

My four-hour workweek is very doable at this point. Alas, I’m not ready to retire my legal and policy career for a while yet. But it’s a great feeling knowing that I could.

For now, I have my sights set on retiring just on Fridays and weekends. I will instead devote those days to writing, music, travel, fun with my girlfriend, friends and family, etc. Before too long, maybe I’ll retire Thursdays, too …

[Disclosure: Hunt owns some Bitcoin and some ether, and some Bitcoin mining contracts with Genesis Mining and Hashflare.]

— Tam Hunt is a lawyer and writer based in Hawaii.

  • Ask
  • Vote
  • Investigate
  • Answer

Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Here’s how it works: You share your questions with us in the nearby box. In some cases, we may work with you to find the answers. In others, we may ask you to vote on your top choices to help us narrow the scope. And we’ll be regularly asking you for your feedback on a specific issue or topic.

We also expect to work together with the reader who asked the winning questions to find the answer together. Noozhawk’s objective is to come at questions from a place of curiosity and openness, and we believe a transparent collaboration is the key to achieve it.

The results of our investigation will be published here in this Noozhawk Asks section. Once or twice a month, we plan to do a review of what was asked and answered.

Thanks for asking!

Click here to get started >

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made through PayPal below, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments.

Thank you for your vital support.

Reader Comments

Noozhawk is no longer accepting reader comments on our articles. Click here for the announcement. Readers are instead invited to submit letters to the editor by emailing them to [email protected]. Please provide your full name and community, as well as contact information for verification purposes only.

Daily Noozhawk

Subscribe to Noozhawk's A.M. Report, our free e-Bulletin sent out every day at 4:15 a.m. with Noozhawk's top stories, hand-picked by the editors.

Sign Up Now >