Title: Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals | Author: Oliver Burkeman | 2021
Presenting how much time we have to live in weeks rather than years can be jarring. 80 years or 4,000 weeks—that’s how much time on average we have. In the book, the author, outlines three main points about time.
First, our time is short—very short. Second, time management advice and the way we try to manipulate time only hurts us. Third, his approach to time doesn’t guarantee happiness or increased productivity; rather, the strategy offers peace of mind. As much as we try to control and maximize our time, it does’t work. The magic happens when you embrace what time is to humans: finite and uncontrollable.
As always, my book reflections are not meant for you to skip reading the book. But provide you with nuggets of information to inspire you to read it.
A note, the book leans more towards social commentaries instead of data or scientific studies. This is not a sign of weakness, but if you’re looking for studies on how to manage time, this is not the book. The book offers insights on how we engage with time in modern society, and the pitfalls of our approach. It ends with a list of ways to learn how to embrace the limitations of time, and ourselves. Through this process, we find peace of mind.
For someone who always feels like there’s not enough time or one who keeps a to-do list, like me, it offers a way to rethink our relationship with time and priorities.
Why Our Current Approach to Time Doesn’t Help
The goal of current time management and also marketing strategies, is to “squeeze” the most out of our time. We want to be efficient, get more tasks done, and to maximize our time.
For the author, this approach is flawed and misguided in three ways.
1. The Problem with Efficiency and the Efficiency Trap
Being efficient doesn’t mean we will have more free time. An example the author uses is email. Adopting an InboxZero policy, he realizes that “the process of getting through email generates more email.” This bottomless bucket list is true not just for email, or chores, but life in general. We live in a world which offers us more things we need to do, travel more, eat this, experience that.
Additionally, the more efficient we are, the more we think we can find time for everything. And what we deem as “everything’ keeps on growing. This is how efficiency traps us.
2. The Problem with Treating Time as a Commodity and Always Maximizing It
When we start thinking of time as resource, we feel pressure to use it. Often, we berate ourselves if we feel that we wasted it. In the end, this makes us anxious and dissatisfied. We will always want more time.
3. The Problem with Always Being Future Oriented
We approach or justify our use of present time, with a future reward. For example, we go to high school, with the goal of going to college. We go to college, with the goal of getting a job. The ladder keeps moving on. Being overly future oriented in the way we spend our time leads to “compulsive planning”. As a result, we miss out on savoring moments, for what they are.
Changing Our Relationships with Time
The author offers ways to rethink the way we deal with time.
1. Face this Fact: Time Is Limited
When you accept wholeheartedly the limits of time, you prioritize better. This lets you have a clear idea of what counts in your life. You know when to procrastinate, when to say no, and when to act. As a result, this limits the projects you embark on. You gain focus.
The author shares Warren Buffet’s answer when asked how to set priorities. It goes as such:
- Make a list of the top twenty-five things you want out of life.
- Arrange them in order from the most important to the least.
- Organize your time around the top five.
- Avoid at all cost the remaining twenty on the list. Why? These ambitions are “insufficiently important” yet “seductive enough to distract” from what matters most.
Settling has gotten a negative connotation in society, but when we achieve clarity on what we want to do with our lives, we settle. As the author emphasizes, “you can’t be an ultra successful lawyer without first settling on law.”
3. When Goals Become Distractions
In explaining distractions, the author moves beyond digital distractions, such as the urge to check your phone while working. Instead, he defines distractions as the things we genuinely like to accomplish. Our dreams ARE THE distractions. How?
We distract ourselves from those that are most dear to us, or avoid them, because these are the things that force us to face our limitations. Maybe the reason why you’ve been putting off pursuing photography is not as result of lack of time, but because you’re scared to find out that it’s not as good as you fantasize?
In essence, we seek distractions purposefully to alleviate the “discomfort of confronting” our limitations. The fix for these distractions is to face our reality and its constraints.
Quoting Nietzsche: “Haste is universal because everyone is in flight from himself.”
4. Face this Fact: You Have No Control Over Your Own Time
The harder we try to control our time, the more impatient and distracted we become. We plan impossible to accomplish to-do lists, which leaves us anxious. When we asses, we see this as a problem with time, rather than a problem with our to-do list in the first place.
Understanding that we have no control over time liberates us. We make realistic decisions about what we can do.
4. Face this Fact: We Are All Insignificant
What happens when we face our own insignificance?
…[insignificance] isn’t merely calming but liberating, because once you’re no longer burdened by such an unrealistic definition of a life well spent, you’re freed to consider the possibility that a far wider variety of things might qualify as meaningful ways to use your finite time. You’re freed, too, to consider the possibility that many of the things you’re already doing with it are more meaningful than you’d supposed—and that until now, you’d subconsciously been devaluing them, on the ground that they weren’t significant enough.Title: Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals | Author: Oliver Burkeman
The book made me reflect on both my daily habits and also larger priorities.
Ever since I read the book, I find myself rethinking the tasks I set myself up to accomplish daily. The other day, as I was waiting for an app to load, I was about to close it when it took longer than usual. However, I stopped myself after realizing that a few seconds of lag shouldn’t be a cause for impatience.
When it comes to the big picture, I’m reprioritizing. The book, towards the end, lists five questions that lets you “come to grips with the realty of your situation and to start to make the most of your finite time.” A great addition to your for self-reflection toolkit.