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Four Thousand Weeks: Time management for mortals

Updated: Feb 9

I used to be completely obsessed with my to-do lists. But after reading Oliver Burkeman's "Four Thousand Weeks," something changed. The book made me realize that the idea of achieving that perfect work-life balance we all talk about? Well, it simply not possible. If I only knew that before enrolling in a year mentorship program me on work life balance I would feel much better today. Nobody's ever in the history of humanity has achieved that state. And certainly not by just copying what successful people do before 7:00 a.m. from their to-do lists. Doesn't this feel liberating? Especially in our fast-paced world today. The concept of those 4000 weeks, representing an average 80-year-old's time, has truly shifted my perspective. If remembering that you must die or as Latin phrase suggest memento mori does not make you feel anxious then this book will be beneficial in many ways. 

This is my book summary of Oliver Burkeman's "Four Thousand Weeks," My notes are informal and contain quotes from the book and my thoughts. Each book summary has a short description, top lessons from the book, chapter-by-chapter summary, and favorite quotes. Enjoy!

Top 10 Lessons from the Book

1.    Adopt a "fixed volume" approach to productivity – predetermine time boundaries for your daily work and maintain two to-do lists: one "open" and one "closed."

2.    Serialize, serialize, serialize – focus on one significant project at a time and complete it before starting a new one.

3.    Decide in advance what to fail at – inevitably, you'll end up underachieving in some areas due to finite time and energy, so prioritize and accept failures in less important matters.

4.    Focus on what you have already completed, not just on what's left – maintain a "done list" that starts empty in the morning and gradually fills with your accomplishments, reducing digital distractions.

5.    Consolidate your attention – consciously choose your battles and avoid letting social media distract you.

6.    Embrace simple, single-purpose technology – combat digital distractions by choosing less appealing phones with no apps or devices designed for single uses (e.g., Kindle).

7.    Seek out novelty in the mundane – pay more attention to every moment, even the mundane, to find novelty not by doing drastically different things but by delving deeper into your current life.

8.    Be a "researcher" in relationships – embrace the unknown with curiosity to avoid unnecessary worrying about what's next.

9. Cultivate instantenious generosity – whenever a generous impulse arises in your mind act on the impulse right away

10. Practice doing nothing – if you can not bear the discophort of not acting you are far more likely to make poor choices with your time simply to feel as you are acting.

In conclusion 

There is a lot of Buddhism, Nietzsche, and Stoicism in there; the book edges toward philosophy, but even if you're not a fan of such books, you'll get plenty of takeaways. My certainly major take away would be as Oliver’s suggests “Let your impossible standards crash to the ground. Then pick a few meaningful tasks from the rubble and get started on them today. Enjoy reading!

Favorite quotes from the book:

"It’s the very last thing,isn’t it,we feel grateful for: having happened. You know, you needn’t have happened. You needn’t have happened. But you did happen." Douglas Harding 

"What makes it unbearable is your mistaken belief that it can be cured." Charlotte Joko Beck

“Abondoning hope is an affirmation, the beginning of the beginning.” Pema Chodron

“Time is the substance I am made of. Time is a river which sweeps me along, but I am the river; it is a tiger which destroys me, but I am the tiger; it is a fire which consumes me, but I am the fire.” Jorge Luis Borges

Beyond the Book: "Four Thousand Weeks"

Watch the author's TED Talk discussing key concepts from "Four Thousand Weeks." It's a power-packed session that complements the book perfectly.

Aside from his writing, Oliver Burkeman's column in The Guardian, titled "This Column Will Change Your Life," focuses on various topics related to self-help, psychology, and personal development. Check it out directly on The Guardian's page here.

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