Oliver Burkeman’s book, Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals, tackles the age-old problem of how people should manage their time. In particular, the book focuses on how people should prioritize what they need to do and want to do and, ultimately, how to lead happier, more fulfilling lives.
Life these days seems to be concentrated on being more productive, not just in our jobs but throughout our days. The goal is to not waste time. The idea behind being more productive is that we get things done more quickly so that we have more free time to do the things that are important to us. How’s that working out for you? For me, it seems like productivity used to be a means to an end, and now it is the end.
As Mr. Burkeman writes, techniques like emptying your inbox or getting through your to-do list as quickly as possible just lead to more emails and more things to do. He offers a different perspective on how to prioritize and make choices that lead to a more meaningful life, as opposed to being caught in the productivity trap.
Peter Attia recently interviewed Mr. Burkeman on his podcast, The Drive, and they talked about ways to take control of our seemingly endless list of things we feel we need to do. One idea was to "avoid middling priorities." A lot of things feel like they are important, but we need to figure out which one’s matter enough to be at the top of our list. One technique that can help is to list out all the things that you need to get done in order of priority and then concentrate on the top 5 exclusively. Number 6 doesn’t get your attention until one of the first five is completed. Dr. Attia also noted that he has a "No" list. It’s not about saying "no" to things you don’t want to do but saying "no" to things you want to do because they get in the way of things that are more important to you.
There are a lot of different techniques to try to improve how we approach what we want and need to get done. No technique is going to work all the time, but you want whatever technique you employ to become the rule and not the exception. The easy part will be coming up with a big list of what you want and need to do. The hard part will be spending the time to figure out what matters most to you. But if you can do it, you may find that life seems less rushed and you’re more productive by doing less.
Take care and stay safe.
Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals by Oliver Burkeman
The average human lifespan is absurdly, insultingly brief. Assuming you live to be eighty, you have just over four thousand weeks.
Nobody needs telling there isn’t enough time. We’re obsessed with our lengthening to-do lists, our overfilled inboxes, work-life balance, and the ceaseless battle against distraction; and we’re deluged with advice on becoming more productive and efficient, and “life hacks” to optimize our days. But such techniques often end up making things worse. The sense of anxious hurry grows more intense, and still the most meaningful parts of life seem to lie just beyond the horizon. Still, we rarely make the connection between our daily struggles with time and the ultimate time management problem: the challenge of how best to use our four thousand weeks.
Drawing on the insights of both ancient and contemporary philosophers, psychologists, and spiritual teachers, Oliver Burkeman delivers an entertaining, humorous, practical, and ultimately profound guide to time and time management. Rejecting the futile modern fixation on “getting everything done,” Four Thousand Weeks introduces readers to tools for constructing a meaningful life by embracing finitude, showing how many of the unhelpful ways we’ve come to think about time aren’t inescapable, unchanging truths, but choices we’ve made as individuals and as a society―and that we could do things differently.