Review and Summary: Four Thousand Weeks

Four Thousand Weeks Book Cover

Firstly, I must admit that I had grown weary of productivity books. They all seemed to advocate stuffing our planners to the brim, tirelessly pursuing goals as if we were immortal beings in this vast world. However, a dose of realism was long overdue. I came to the realization that I lacked the energy to adhere to all the advice and instead opted to manage my schedule in a wiser manner. After all, time is limited for both me and you, and the world offers boundless pleasures.

Intrigued, I stumbled upon Four Thousand Weeks on Apple Books, authored by Oliver Burkeman, a journalist and formerly writer in The Guardian’s column. Burkeman approaches the concept of productivity with a realist mindset, challenging the notion that we can accomplish everything in our lifetime. With an average lifespan of around 80 years, we are left with a mere four thousand weeks to live our life. Burkeman invites us to embrace the present moment and pursue what truly brings us joy within our finite time.

This remarkable book asserts that our schedules need not be crammed with an exhaustive list of tasks. Rather, it confronts the uncomfortable truth of our limited time on this earth. The conventional approach to time management, with its lofty expectations, is ultimately unrealistic and bound to fail. Burkeman compels us to confront this reality head-on and accept the uncomfortable truth about our fleeting existence.

Overall, Four Thousand Weeks offers a much-needed dose of realism, steering us away from the unattainable and urging us to savor our limited time. Burkeman’s insights into embracing the present moment and prioritizing what brings us genuine fulfillment make this book a thought-provoking read for anyone seeking a fresh perspective on productivity. This book is not intended for those entrenched in the mainstream productivity mindset, where a never-ending to-do list is the norm, and each task is diligently crossed off.

The real problem isn’t our limited time. The real problem is that we’ve unwittingly inherited, and feel pressured to live by, a troublesome set of ideas about how to use our limited time, all of which are pretty much guaranteed to make things worse.

Oliver Burkeman, Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals


Time management

  • The definition of time management that modern people understand is a narrow-minded and focused on how to crank through as many work tasks as possible.
  • The more you struggle to control busyness, to make it conform to your agenda → the further it slips from your control.

The Limit-embracing Life

  • Meaningful productivity often comes not from hurrying things up but from letting them take the time they take.
  • Time pressure comes largely from forces outside ourselves:
    • A cutthroat economy; the lost of the social safety nets and family networks that used to help ease the burdens of work and childcare
    • The sexist expectation that women must excel in their careers while assuming most of the responsibilities at home.

The Efficiency Trap

  • If you truly don’t have time for everything you want to do, or feel you ought to do, or that others are badgering you to do, then, well, you don’t have timeno matter how grave the consequences of failing to do it all might prove to be.
    • We rarely stop to consider things so rationally, though, because that would mean confronting the painful truth of our limitations. We would be forced to acknowledge that there are hard choices to be made: which balls to let drop, which people to disappoint, which cherished ambitions to abandon, which roles to fail at.
  • What ‘matters’ is subjective, so you’ve no grounds for assuming that there will be time for everything.
  • You’ll feel more rushed, but no matter how quickly you go, you’ll never reach the top.
  • When there’s too much to do, and there always will be, the only route to psychological freedom is to let go of the limit-denying fantasy of getting it all done and instead to ficus on doing a few things

Existential overwhelm

  • Definition: inexhaustible supply of things that seem worth doing, and so there arises an inevitable an unbridgeable gap between what you’d like to do and what you actually can do.
  • It explains why stuffing your life with pleasurable activities do often proves less satisfying that you’d expect.
    • It’s an attempt to devour the experiences the world has to offer, to feel like you’ve truly livedbut the world has an effectively infinite number of experiences to offer, so getting a handful of them under your belt brings you no closer to a sense of having feasted on life’s possibilities. The more wonderful experiences you succeed in having, the more additional wonderful experiences you start to feel you could have, or ought to have, on top of all those you’ve already had, with the result that the feeling of existential overwhelm gets worse.
  • The worst aspect of the efficiency trap: quality.
    • The harder you struggle to fit everything in, the more of your time you’ll find yourself spending on the least meaningful things.
    • In reality your time is finite, doing anything requires sacrificethe sacrifice of all other things you could have been doing with that stretcth of your time.
    • Once you truly understand that you’re guaranteed to miss out on almost every experience the world has to offer, the fact that there are so many you still haven’t experienced stops feeling like a problem. Instead, you get to focus on fully enjoying the tiny slice of experiences you actually do have time for – and the freer you are to choose, in each moment, what counts the most.

Becoming a Better Procrastinator

  • Procrastination of some kind is inevitable. The point isn’t to eradicate, but to choose more wisely what you’re going to procrastinate on → focus on what matters most.
  • The good procrastinator accepts the fact that she can’t get everything done, then decides as wisely as possible what tasks to focus on and what to neglect.
  • The bad procrastinator finds himself paralyzed precisely because he can’t bear the thought of confronting his limitations.
  • The limitations we’re trying to avoid when we engage in this self-defeating sort of procrastination frequently don’t have anything to do with how much we’ll be able to get done in the time available; usually, it’s a matter of worrying that we won’t have the talent to produce work of sufficient quality, or that others won’t respond to it as we’d like them to, or that ins some other way things won’t turn out as we want.
    • Something will always render our creation less than perfect. Dispiriting as this might sound at first, it contains a liberating message: if you’re procrastinating on something because you’re worried you won’t do a good enough job, you can relax because judged by the flawless standards of your imagination, you definitely won’t do a good enough job. So you might as well make a start.

We Never Really Have Time

You get to spend your finite time focused on a few things that matter to you, in themselves, right now, in this moment.

Oliver Burkeman, Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals

The reason time feels like such a struggle is that we’re constantly attempting to master it.

  • The struggle is doomed to fail. Because your quantity time is so limited, you’ll never reach the commanding position of being able to handle every demand that might be thrown at you or pursue every ambition that feels important; you’ll be obliged to make tough choices instead.

Author: Oliver Burkeman

Publication date: 10 August 2021

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Number of pages: 273 pages


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