I have just finished reading this book, and will be recommending it to everyone! It really is filled with gems. The subheading is “time management for mortals” and it really delivers on its promise.
If you are a productivity junkie like me, you have to check it out. Below you will find a breakdown of some of the key insights from each chapter, but before I get into that I wanted to share the key takeaways for me:
- There will NEVER be a time int he future where you feel you are ‘on top of things’ or have some space in time, and stop telling yourself that there will be
- The most important thing is to focus on what you are doing now, and whether or not you are enjoying it (enjoy the process!)
- Decide what you want and what you don’t want
The Time Illusion
We tend to treat life & time separately – we convince ourselves “once I get these things out of the way/ ticked off my to do list, I’ll have more time to enjoy the things I want to do”
“Haste is universal because everyone is in flight from himself” Nietzsche
Understand and organise your days in a way that you won’t actually get everything done that you want to do or that others want you to do.
- Make conscious hard decisions rather than leaving them to default
- Don’t deceive yourself that with the ‘right time management tools and techniques’ you can avoid making those hard decisions
“None of us can single-handedly overthrow a society dedicated to limitless productivity, distraction, and speed” but we can stop buying into the delusion that it’ll bring satisfaction.
Not enough time
We assume that we’ll get enough of the important things done to feel at peace with time. By fitting more things into our day, we will finally feel like we have “enough time”.
The more we fit in, the more the goalposts will shift and we’ll find more things that are important/ worth doing.
Parkinson’s law – what needs doing expands to fill the time available to do it.
Getting through your email actually generates more email.
Don’t make your peace of mind dependent on achieving all of the demands.
Unbridgeable gap between all the things you’d ideally like to do and all the things you can actually do.
The more wonderful experiences you have, the more you feel you could have – existential overwhelm because you can’t possibly experience them all.
Doing anything requires a sacrifice of the time you could spend doing something else.
We can waste years clearing the decks, working on trivial smaller tasks and postponing the important stuff.
[opportunity cost is a tough choice to make, by by not making the choice, you’re wasting/ losing time anyway]
Death and taxes
Consciously confronting the certainty of death… we finally become truly present for our lives.
Rather than think of our 4,000 weeks as limited compared to infinity, better think of them a blessing that you got any time at all.
Things hold more meaning when you actively decide what not to do, and are grateful for the things you choose to do – it must be more important than others if you chose it.
Decide what not to do
We need to get better at procrastinating on the right things.
Rocks, pebbles, sand analogy – the jar is too small to fit everything. There are too many rocks to begin with.
- “Pay yourself first” – i.e. carve out time for yourself/ something that interests you FIRST (there’s not going to be a magic time in the future when you have more free time)
- Limit your work in progress – only work on 3 projects at a time. It also helps to make progress by chunking projects down into their component parts
- Focus on your main life priorities and avoid the other ‘middling’ priorities – the things you’d like to do but don’t have the time – because the allure of these is what will distract you the most. It’s hard to say no to things you do want to do.
We favour I decision rather than knowing what we didn’t do
Perfectionism – we procrastinate if we know something won’t be perfect, so we put off making decisions.
Solution – make decisions quickly. Loss of alternative lives is a given. Our real life will never live up to the life we imagined.
It’s best to ‘settle’ i.e. to commit to something – once a decision is actually made, we are happy with that decision
Distraction and our attention
“Distracted from distraction by distraction” – our attention is taken by something but only our attention can monitor our attention, it doesn’t know
If you think this doesn’t apply to you, it probably does because you have been distracted – less empathetic, more anxious, more numbed-out version of yourself
We give into distraction willingly – why?
Why we resist…
Internal resistance to feelings, boredom etc
We resist the “doing” of things we actually desire to accomplish.
The reality of life – that your ideas won’t be up to scratch.
Boredom is an intense reaction to the deeply uncomfortable experience of confronting your limited control.
Acceptance that this is how it is, resign yourself to what is happening/ the truth of the situation
The less we try to “object” to what is happening, the more attention we can give to what is actually happening.
We either wish things were going differently or we want to feel more in control.
Typical productivity hacks like only checking email at certain times or limiting social media don’t work because they don’t eliminate the source of the problem.
Hofstadter’s Law – however much time you plan for something, it will always go over, even when you plan for Hofstadter’s law!
You only ever get to feel certain about the future once it’s turned into the past.
We can’t control the future – leads to anxiety.
“I don’t mind what happens” [unattached to the outcome]
We treat life/ the present moment/ collection of moments … as if it’s preparing us for the next thing and fail to enjoy the present.
Are you treating the present as a path to some better future state?
We put a greater value on the future – childhood as a learning ground for adulthood etc
Billable hours have led us to commodify time and any time outside of billable time is perceived as a waste/ don’t understand the true value.
Trying to live more in the present reduces he present as a means to an end, and assumes we are ‘separate’ from time.
The value of time
Value of time, rest as a means to an end – you’ll be more productive, rather than an end in itself.
Industrialisation and the “clock time” mentality.
Religion and living a good/productive life so you’ll get to heaven.
Make rest deliberate, not just something you do when not working.
Have hobbies, even something you’re not that good at – it will keep you humble.
Addiction to speed
Speed as an addiction like alcohol. But we get praised for being ‘driven’.
The faster things get, the faster we want them to be.
[This leads to burnout]
‘Indistractible’ – it’s not so much that we are interrupted/ distracted, but rather we seek out distraction. Can’t sit still for 30 mins to read a book.
Patience as a reflection of less power, hopes of better days to come.
Patience as a form of power – enjoy the process and let that be the reward rather than defaulting satisfaction to some future point in time
Endure the discomfort of not knowing and a solution will often present itself – don’t try to rush to solve problems.
Become comfortable with having problems – we rush to solve all our problems on the assumption that one day we’ll have none.
Life is a series of problems, give each one the time it deserves – problems are what make life meaningful.
Radical incrementalism – do small things more frequently. And when the time is up, stop. Stopping helps strengthen the patience muscle by resisting the urge to rush to the end.
Originality lies on the other side of unoriginality – your work at first will seem derivative, but keep going down the same path until you find your own voice.
Having all the time in the world is no good if you don’t have people to spend it with.
Gain in personal temporal freedom comes with the cost that of a more difficult to coordinate your time with others.
What kind of freedom do we really want when it comes to time?
It’s best to be off at the same time as others – coordinated schedules, societally mandated etc.
Sense of meaning falling into the rhythm of the rest of the world vs the autonomy of being able to ‘control’ your own time.
Time is best shared with others.
Things could be different on a grand scale, if only we wanted it enough.
Think carefully about what you want to put back into your life after the pandemic.
We think our ‘life’s purpose’ needs to be this grandiose revolutionary cause worth fighting for, that we would give up our 9-5 for. But it can just as easily be caring for a relative with dementia.
Liberating truth: what you do with your life doesn’t matter all that much.
We overvalue our own significance – everything in our world centres around us and it’s hard to imagine it another way.
It means we think our time needs to be well spent in order to be significant.
It’s liberating to realise we’re not as significant as we thought – that what we do day to day may have more meaning to us than we originally thought.
We believe the point in our having been born lies somewhere in the future, and our life in all its fullness can begin once we’ve put things in proper working order.
Accept that this is what life is – there will always be more to do, we have to make tough choices, face difficult situations and may die before we’ve realised our life’s purpose
5 questions to ask yourself
1. Where in life or work are you currently pursuing comfort, when what’s called for is a little discomfort?
- We will not be confident about the future, be immune to the realities of being human or feel in control
- Procrastination, distraction, commitment phobia, worrying give the illusion we’re in control
- Choose uncomfortable enlargement
2. Are you holding yourself to or judging yourself by standards of productivity or performance that are impossible to meet?
- We set ourselves impossible targets for using our time, we believe we are constructing a life where we will be on top of things, believe we are unique, but this is never the case, fear we’ll lose our income
- Drop everything you’re doing and pick those that hold meaning and get started with those
3. In what ways have you yet to accept that you are who you are, and not the person you think you ought to be?
Feel we need to justify our existence, living others’ life, no one cares what we do
Ask how you enjoy spending your time
4. In which areas of life are you still holding back until you feel like you know what you’re doing?
- Treating life as a dress rehearsal, acquiring skills to be used ‘later on’, assume other people are ‘in charge’ and not just winging it like we are
- We’ll never feel like we have it all together, like the authority – there’s no need to put off what you want to do
5. How would you spend your days differently if you didn’t care so much about seeing your actions reach fruition?
- We believe the value in our work is from the results
- Focus on the process, don’t be afraid to contribute to something that will outlive you
Do the next most necessary thing.
Give up hope, when we hope we place our belief in someone or something else – even just “the future” – better to take action to make change happen.
Find out more about the book here: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/54785515-four-thousand-weeks
You may also enjoy The Paradox of Choice by Barry Schwartz: The Paradox of Choice by Barry Schwartz