Book Review: Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals by Oliver Burkeman

I stumbled on this book when I was doing a deep dive looking for books to read for our monthly book reviews. The premise sounded interesting.  The average person lives to be 80 years old which means that the average person lives for 4 thousand weeks.  I thought that sounded like a long time but apparently the author doesn’t.  His premise is that if you only have 4 thousand weeks to live then you will never have enough time to do all the things that you think you need to do in your life.  He also contends that many of the things that we do in our lives to try to save time are causing more work or wasting more of our time.  According to Burkeman, the challenge that we must face in life is to choose what not to do and then be at peace with that. He writes, “Once you no longer need to convince yourself that you’ll do everything that needs doing, you’re free to focus on doing a few things that count,” 

I like this premise.  That everything that we think we need to do can probably be condensed to a much smaller list of things that we can prioritize.  I can also get behind the idea that we need to embrace that time that we do have and be present in each moment.  Burkeman states, “You get to spend your finite time focused on a few things that matter to you, in themselves, right now in this moment.”  

In the first part of the book, the author talks about the things that we are doing that are wasting our limited time.  I did enjoy his theory on how technology, which is supposed to be something that helps us maximize our time and productivity often ends up being the biggest time waster of all. The second part of the book is a bit more somber, as the author talks about things that are out of our control and how finite our time is.  Again, the bright spot is the reminder to “Pay attention to every moment, no matter how mundane”.

The book ends with “Ten Tools for Embracing your Finitude”. One of these did stand out to me. He talks about having Open and Closed to do lists.  The Open list can be as long as you want but the Closed list should be the list of things that really need to be done and should have no more than ten things on it.  You can’t add to the Closed List until you finish something on it.  I thought this was an interesting way to help one begin to prioritize things that they want to do.  He also talked about predetermined time boundaries on work.  This could be especially helpful as more and more people are working from home.  Another tool is to focus on what you have already completed and celebrate the small wins. 

I really went back and forth with this book. To be sure there were parts that made a lot of sense. I do think that the busy lives most of us lead, makes being present in each moment very difficult and being present is something I’ve been focusing on in my life. But I also think that some of the author’s premises might be unrealistic for people who must work. I don’t think that being aware that we only have four thousand weeks in our lives is going to be much help to people trying to balance work, self-care, and family life. The book is a fairly quick read and I’m okay that I spent part of my four thousand weeks reading it. But I don’t know that I would recommend that anyone else use up part of theirs on it.

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