Four Thousand Weeks by Oliver Burkeman
A book about awareness of life
I was recently talking to a friend about dealing with emails. He made the observation that, “When I write more emails, I get more emails. Then I have to write more emails. So now, I’m intentionally writing fewer emails.”
These days, we are so “productive” that we have created a mountain of work for ourselves. In one way or another, we are all looking for ways to reclaim our lives through a greater sense of agency, focus, and attention. If this describes you, then consider reading this book.
What It’s About. The main point of the book is that the way we think about time management is wrong. The conventional thinking is that if we can find a way to get through our work more efficiently, then we’ll have more time left over. However, managing one’s time really means making trade-offs. According to Burkeman, “The real measure of any time management technique is whether or not it helps you neglect the right things.” I would not call this book a philosophy book per se (it’s definitely not a how-to book), but the perspectives it provides allows one to make better choices around what to pay attention to in one’s life.
I would like to offer three take-aways from the book.
- There is no end to work. The more work you do, the more work you create for yourself. If you are type-A, maybe allow yourself to be a bit less productive.
- Good time management systems prioritizes very few things. Do you have 18 “priorities”? Then you have no priorities. It’s easy to say no to the “undesirable” stuff, but you also have to say “no” to the “pretty good” stuff, which is the hard part.
- Our life is our attention. He cites Martin Heidegger’s assertion that “we don’t have time, but that we are time.” Our attention is our experience of life and is life. So we’re not managing external temporal units (e.g. minutes), but we are managing the quality of our attention.
Who Might Benefit From Reading? Are you overstretched and barely hanging on? This book can serve as a wake-up call. I feel that I’ve left the productivity treadmill a few years ago and am beginning to become aware of the importance of awareness as THE fundamental aspect of life. For those who are beginning to sense that there is something important beyond the daily grind, this book points to that something.