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, states, “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.”

Why the 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.