The New York Times bestseller “Four Thousand Weeks – Time Management for Mortals” by Oliver Burkeman is a thought-provoking and insightful book that explores our relationship with time. I often recommend it to my online counselling clients and colleagues who struggle with time management. It can benefit anyone who is looking to gain a deeper understanding of time, productivity and fulfilment in life. However, the book may be particularly relevant for people who struggle with anxiety or stress, people who feel overwhelmed by the demands of modern life and individuals who are going through a major life transition: Whether it’s a career change, a relationship breakup or a move to a new city – major life transitions can be challenging and stressful. “Four Thousand Weeks” offers insights and advice for navigating these transitions with greater ease and grace.
Photo: Sincerely Media, Unsplash
We all have a limited amount of time on this earth, and it’s easy to feel like time is slipping away from us. But have you ever stopped to think about how much time we actually have? The average lifespan is around 80 years, which equates to roughly 4000 weeks. That may seem like a lot, but when you start to break it down, it’s not as much time as you might think.
“Before, time was just the medium in which life unfolded, the stuff that life was made of. Afterwards, once ‘time’ and ‘life’ had been separated in most people’s minds, time became a thing that you used – and it’s this shift that serves as the precondition for all the uniquely modern ways in which we struggle with time today.“ (p. 24-25)
The book is divided into three parts, each of which delves into a different aspect of time. The first part, “Choosing to Choose”, discusses the inevitability of death and how this realisation can help us to live a more fulfilling and purposeful life. In the second part, “Beyond Control”, Burkeman challenges our obsession with productivity and busyness, arguing that true happiness and fulfilment come from slowing down and being present in the moment. Finally, “Beyond Hope” explores the power of acceptance and surrender in finding peace and contentment in our lives.
Improve your time management by focusing on what matters
A key takeaway from the book is the importance of prioritising our values and goals. Burkeman argues that we should focus our time and energy on the things that truly matter to us rather than trying to meet external expectations or societal norms. This can help us to live a more authentic and fulfilling life instead of simply going through the motions.
Burkeman retells a story attributed to Warren Buffet, in which the investor tells his private pilot about how to set priorities:
“He tells the man to make a list of the top twenty-five things he wants out of life and then to arrange them in order, from the most important to the least. The top five, Buffet says, should be those around which he organises his time. But contrary to what the pilot might have been expecting to hear, the remaining twenty, Buffet allegedly explains, aren’t the second-tier priorities to which he should turn when he gets the chance. Far from it. In fact, they’re the ones he should actively avoid at all costs – because they’re the ambitions insufficiently important to him to form the core of his life yet seductive enough to distract him from the ones that matter most.” (p. 77)
I recommend writing down your own list of the top twenty-five things you want out of life and then ordering them by priority. Understanding your top 5 priorities can help you to manage your time better by truly focusing on the life goals that are most important to you. A key takeaway from this exercise is that it’s not only external expectations or societal norms that can sway us from pursuing our biggest goals – our own lesser priorities can do so even more.
In addition to its insights on time management and prioritisation, “Four Thousand Weeks” also offers a number of therapeutic benefits for readers.
One of the main benefits of the book is its emphasis on mindfulness and present-moment awareness. Burkeman argues that we often get caught up in our thoughts and worries about the future, which can lead to anxiety and stress. By focusing on the present moment, we can cultivate a sense of calm and contentment and become more attuned to the beauty and wonder of life. For people who deal with anxiety or other mental health issues, this can be especially beneficial.
Another therapeutic benefit of the book is its focus on acceptance and surrender. Burkeman argues that many of our struggles in life come from a sense of resistance or attachment to specific outcomes or experiences. By learning to accept things as they are and letting go of our need for control, we can find greater peace and contentment in our lives. This can be particularly helpful for individuals who struggle with perfectionism or obsessive thinking.
The book also offers practical advice for improving our relationships and social connections. Burkeman emphasises the importance of spending time with loved ones and building meaningful connections with others. This can be especially beneficial for those who experience loneliness or social anxiety.
How do you want to spend your time?
Overall, “Four Thousand Weeks” is a must-read for anyone who wants to make the most of their time on this earth. It offers a fresh perspective on time and productivity and encourages readers to think deeply about how they want to spend their limited time. By reflecting on the book’s findings and advice, you can gain greater insight into your life and find new ways to cultivate happiness and fulfilment. Whether you’re looking to find greater meaning in your life or simply want to slow down and enjoy the moment, this book will offer valuable advice.
If you want to hear more from Oliver Burkeman, I also recommend his TED talks: How to stop fighting against time, which directly relates to the concepts he conveys in the book and Why Patience is a Superpower – a more recent talk you might also find interesting if you enjoyed the first one.
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