Four Thousand Weeks -Time Management for Mortals

This is a book written by Oliver Burkeman which I started to read when in La Palma on a walking holiday. Ironically it was only when I got to page 140 that I realised I was wasting some of the valuable days I have of my remaining 252 weeks! Basically, the book is about the average life span we have in our lives and how we can use the weeks we have wisely.

There were some good quotes in the first 140 pages.

“This space that has been granted to us rushes by so speedily and so swiftly that all save a few find life at an end just when they are getting ready to live” lamented Senecca, a Roman philosopher.

In the modern world, the American anthropologist Edward T Hall once pointed out, “time feels like an unstoppable conveyor belt, bringing us new tasks as fast as we can dispatch the old ones; and becoming more productive just seems to cause the belt to speed up. Or else, eventually break down.” This quote was on page 9 when I should have listened to my intuition or gut feeling. Burkeman then seems to philosophise on how the time management practices that he has been spouting on about throughout his working life had been a bit of a waste of time!

Burkeman quotes “the harder you struggle to fit everything in, the more time you’ll find yourself spending on the least meaningful things. “The more efficient you get, the more you become a limitless reservoir for other people’s expectations”, in the words of the management expert Jim Benson. If I had been one of Burkeman’s previous clients, I would be a bit upset reading his book. His only valid tips were work on your most important project for the first hour of each day, and to protect your time by scheduling “meetings with yourself”, marking them in the diary so that other commitments can’t intrude. Plus limit your work in progress i.e. you can only focus on so many things at the same time.

Hofstadter’s law states “that any task you’re planning to tackle will always take longer than you expect”, even when you take into account Hofstadter’s law! You can never be truly certain about the future. And so, reach will always exceed your grasp. This was page 117 when I was starting to see the light!! Living more fully in the present may be simply a matter of finally realising that you never had any other option but to be here now.

Burkeman raises some good questions, however.

  • Where in your life, or your work, are you currently pursuing comfort, when what’s called for is a little discomfort?
  • Are you holding yourself to, and judging yourself by, standards of productivity or performance that are impossible to meet?
  • In what ways have you yet to accept the fact that you are who you are, not the person you think you ought to be?
  • In which areas of life are you still holding back until you feel like you know what you’re doing?

Maybe it is only when you get into the final weeks of your life, that you accept answers to these questions when the pressure is off and you have the time to reflect away from the bustle of everyday life. I think the book is worthwhile just for these questions as long as you take time to answer them.

Burkeman then produces his ten tools for embracing your finitude, whatever that is, which might be quite useful for you. If you think it might be, buy the book, but you don’t need to read the previous 234 pages, unless you are a person that philosophizes.

Anyway, I need to go back and enjoy myself in the present and make sure I enjoy my remaining 252 weeks (less than 5 years which is a bit scary!) or whatever it turns out to be. I know I enjoy my coaching and supervision, so as long as you and your referrals come to me when they are stuck or want an elder to talk to, my door is always open. If so contact neil@nvwsolutions.co.uk

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