Book cover for Four Thousand Weeks by Oliver Burkeman

Four Thousand Weeks

by Oliver Burkeman



Okay, okay this is the first and last time management/productivity book I’ll read this year. But it’s pretty good! An antidote to the others, Burkeman describes the sheer finite nature of our time on this planet and makes recommendations to overcome the fatigue of overflowing todo lists.

Decline to clear the decks

Make it a conscious decision to “tolerate the discomfort” of less important tasks building up while you focus on the most important things.

The measure of any time management technique is: “Does it help you neglect the right things?” To take a phrase from financial planning you should pay yourself first and prioritise the things you want to do over the less important things you feel you should be doing.

Pitfalls of convenience

We have a dependence on technology that makes it convenient to eat, travel and live. Silicon Valley builds products to remove pain points but it’s the brokenness of everyday processes that make us human. By relying on technology to make every process smooth we remove the delicate social threads binding a network together, binding a neighbourhood together.

David Cain on happenstance

I happen to be alive, and there’s no cosmic law entitling me to that status. Being alive is just happenstance, and not one more day of it is guaranteed.

Warren Buffett

Make a list of the top twenty-five things that are most important to you. Top five are the crucial use of your time, discard the rest as they are just a distraction.

Idleness aversion

“Core ingredient of the modern soul.”

Developing patience

  1. Develop a taste for having problems
  2. Embrace radical incrementalism; focus on brief, regular actions over trying to do too much at once
  3. Originality lies on the far side of unoriginality, “stay on the fucking bus!”

Time is a “network good”

Value is derived from how many others have access to it too. Same for phones and social media networks.

Chain of centennial lifespans

Egocentricity bias

We look after ourselves to give the best chances of staying alive. This is in contrast to our sheer insignificance.

Five questions to consider

  1. Where are you pursuing comfort when you should pursue discomfort? Choose uncomfortable enlargement over comfortable diminishment.
  2. Are you holding yourself to standards of productivity and performance that are impossible to meet?
  3. In what ways have you accepted who you are, not who you think you ought to be?
  4. What areas are you holding back until you feel like you know what you’re doing?
  5. Without worrying about actions reaching fruition, how would you spend your days? Do the next and most necessary thing.

Recommended steps