Andrew Huth

August 23, 2021

Four thousand weeks

Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals, by Oliver Burkeman, is about embracing our limits. The average human lifespan is about 4000 weeks, which the author points out is insultingly short. While we have the mental capacity to make almost infinitely ambitious plans, we have practically no time to put them into action. But this isn't your typical "time management" book.

  • The usual time management techniques are about getting more (if not everything) done. If you can just get enough stuff done, you won't feel overwhelmed or busy anymore.

  • But we all know there are always more tasks waiting. It's not possible to be "done". Instead we should embrace that we have limited time, and focus only on what's actually important.

  • Making hard decisions about what's important enough to focus on is uncomfortable, because we're forced to confront our limits. Limits in time, limits in ability. It's always more comfortable to pretend that we can get it all done.

  • Middling priorities are especially dangerous, because they are stuff we actually want to get done. And they're oftentimes easier than what we need to do. But they prevent us from focusing on what's actually important.

  • The most effective way to sap distraction of its power is to accept that unpleasantness is simply what it feels like for finite humans to commit ourselves to demanding and valuable tasks. Discomfort is inevitable.

  • Always just do the next and most necessary thing (apparently Carl Jung said this).

Overall I found this book to be a thought provoking and useful discussion of time management. It's really unlike anything else out there. And there's much more discussed, such as distraction, freedom, and "cosmic insignificance therapy".

I sometimes find myself working on things of questionable priority, which is annoying. After reading Four Thousand Weeks, I have a better understanding of what's going on, and how to think about getting back on track.