Aug 25

Time Management: “Four Thousand Weeks”

This is the most important book ever written about time management. Oliver Burkeman offers a searing indictment of productivity hacking and profound insights on how to make the best use of our scarcest, most precious resource. His writing will challenge you to rethink many of your beliefs about getting things done―and you’ll be wiser because of it. Adam Grant, regarding Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals

To give you an idea of the writing style of Oliver Burkeman, author of Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals, check out my post that included his previous book The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking.

Or instead, just for a second focus on that title.

Now consider Burkeman’s new title: Four Thousand Weeks. Explain? As Burkeman states, “Assuming you live to be eighty, you have just over four thousand weeks…” Ah. Barbara Spindel, Wall Street Journal:

The author is well aware that few of us consistently fill our days with meaning and wonder. Instead, in thrall to ‘pathological productivity,’ we bow to pressures both external and internal to check everything off the to-do list. On the other hand, we also succumb to the ever-present digital distractions that seduce us into mindlessly frittering away hours at a stretch. The book’s title refers to the average human lifespan, which Mr. Burkeman calls ‘absurdly, terrifyingly, insultingly short.’ In his view, it’s perverse to squander this fleeting time by, say, scrolling through social media or trying to clear your email inbox. In the latter example, the kicker is not just that the goal is unworthy but that you’ll never accomplish it anyway: Regardless of how efficient you become at responding to email, your responses will generate replies that in turn must be replied to.

Indeed, says Mia Levitin, Financial Times, “For Burkeman, the best time-management technique is simply accepting the reality that we’ll never get everything done.”

The self-help author Stephen Covey liked to use rocks in a jar as a metaphor for time. If you fill the jar with pebbles and sand (the small stuff) first, there’s no room left for the big rocks (what’s important). But the demo is rigged, writes Burkeman: there are, and always will be, far more rocks than can fit in the jar. To focus on what’s most meaningful to us — whether a creative project, a relationship or a cause — we have to learn which rocks to neglect. ‘It’s the moderately appealing ones — the fairly interesting job opportunity, the semi-enjoyable friendship — on which a finite life can come to grief,’ he warns.

Limitations that need to be accepted include the tendency toward procrastination and the fact that making certain choices may always mean you’ll miss out on other choices—that’s just life. Adds Tim Adams, The Guardian:

Productivity is also revealed as a fairly dubious modern virtue. ‘The Latin word for business, negotium, translates as not-leisure, reflecting the view that work was a deviation from the higher calling [of ease],’ [Burkeman] says. If we make leisure only another arena for self-improvement then it sacrifices the present in favour of an imagined future. One hero of this book is the hobbyist, who can steal an afternoon for no purpose; another is the person who ‘develops a taste for having problems’, in the knowledge that the state of having no problems only arrives postmortem.

May 05

“Overwhelmed” By Brigid Schulte: Too Much Busyness

Award-winning journalist Brigid Schultes new book is Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time. From the book description:

In Overwhelmed, Schulte, a staff writer for The Washington Post, asks: Are our brains, our partners, our culture, and our bosses making it impossible for us to experience anything but ‘contaminated time’?

The “contaminated time” notion has to do with doing too many things at the same time, which Schulte notes is something everyone knows to some degree. Some call it multi-tasking.

Schulte tells Cathy Gulli, Macleans, that multi-tasking, of course, isn’t a worthwhile endeavor: A study found that it “makes you stupid,” in fact. The research subjects’ grey matter actually decreased as a result of engaging in too many things at once.

Busyness is a real and necessary phenomenon for many, though. Schulte tells Rebecca J. Rosen, The Atlantic

We’re working more hours—more extreme hours at one job at the upper end of the socio-economic spectrum and cobbling together several jobs to try to make ends meet at the lower end. Our standards for what it takes to be a good parent, particularly a good mother, are insanely high and out of proportion to all reality. Working mothers today now spend as much or more time with their kids as stay-at-home mothers in the 1960s and ’70s.

Leisure time is indeed difficult to attain for many; the overwhelmed may find themselves settling for “time confetti,” little bits here and there.

Interestingly, though, leisure time is findable if you’re really committed to trying, Schulte found. According to Rosin, John Robinson—a sociologist with the nickname “Father Time” for his emphasis on time use diaries—“doesn’t ask us to meditate, or take more vacations, or breathe, or walk in nature, or do anything that will invariably feel like just another item on the to-do list. The answer to feeling oppressively busy, he says, is to stop telling yourself that you’re oppressively busy, because the truth is that we are all much less busy than we think we are.”

So, what specific kind of time management recommendations for the overwhelmed come out of Schulte’s research? Oliver Burkeman, The Guardian, rewords the author’s conclusion:

There’s only one viable time management approach left (and even that’s only really an option for the better-off). Step one: identify what seem to be, right now, the most meaningful ways to spend your life. Step two: schedule time for those things. There is no step three. Everything else just has to fit around them – or not…

In addition, Neal Thompson,, provides Schulte’s “Top 10 Ways to Fight Back Against the Overwhelm.” What follows are excerpts:

  1. PAUSE. Step off the gerbil wheel regularly…
  2. Understand how strong the PRESSURE is to overwork, overparent, overschedule and be busy and overdo and that humans are wired to conform…
  3. Change the narrative. Actively support big change–in workplace culture, in cultural attitudes, in laws and policies…
  4. Banish busyness.
  5. PLAN. DO. REVIEW. As you get clearer about where you are and where you want to go, begin to imagine in those moments of pause how to get from here to there…
  6. Set your own PRIORITIES–and then set up your own network of support that lines up with your values…
  7. When it comes to the To Do list, do a brain dump to get everything out of your head to clear mental space. Then give yourself PERMISSION not to do any of it…
  8. Chunk your time. Work in short, intense PULSES of no more than 90 minutes, and take breaks to change the channel….
  9. Set common standards at home and share the load fairly, even the kids…
  10. More is not more. Think inverted U curve. Like anything, some activity for kids, some novelty for the brain, some amount of hard work, some time for technology … it’s all good up to a point, but more is not better. Too much, and the benefits begin to diminish. Find your own sweet spot.