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Do you know that you probably only have 4,000 weeks (or less) on this planet? In this Four Thousand Weeks summary, we’ll outline some powerful insights from Oliver Burkeman’s book, to explain why there’s no need to fear death, and how you can switch your mindset and approach to live a fulfilling life of purpose within your finite lifespan.

Four Thousand Weeks: How We Measure Time

If you do the math: you only have 4,000 weeks on Earth, assuming you live up to 80 years.

Most of us are sub-consciously aware of how valuable our finite time is. So, we try to make every second count by piling on productivity tools and time-saving strategies. But ironically, the more we try cram into each day, the more rushed, overwhelmed, and unfulfilled we feel.  The more we try to outrun every second, the more we feel like we’re wasting it.

The author Oliver Burkeman used to be productivity geek, who thought that fulfillment would come when he finished every one of his tasks. But that day turned out to be unreachable, and it only made him more stressed and unhappy.

Four Thousand Weeks invites you to stop thinking of time as a resource you need to maximize. Instead, accept the fact that your time on this planet is finite, and consciously choose how to live each day in a way that will truly matter in the end.

A Different Perspective on Time

Before mechanical clocks, people used nature as their timekeeper. Farmers used sunrise and sunset as a measure of their day, and harvesting cycles were dictated by the seasons. People accepted time as the substance of life itself,  and things simply took as long as they needed to take.

The Industrial Revolution changed our perception of time. Laborers were paid by the hour, factories operated during fixed hours, and a new demarcation appeared between work and leisure. We could literally see the minutes and hours slipping by, and started to treat time as a resource to be used and traded. We try to “save” time, feel guilty if we “waste” time, and seek to work ever harder, faster, and smarter.Four Thousand Weeks summary - how we view time

Key Lesson from Four Thousand Weeks: Beware the Efficiency Trap

According to research, people are feeling busier than ever.  Ironically, instead of cutting back, we try to deal with the sense of overwhelm by doing even more. We use efficiency tactics and productivity hacks  to try and do things faster, and to cram more into every minute and hour.

But the more you try to fit into your life, the more you end up doing. Burkeman coined the term “Efficiency Trap” where the faster you complete a task, the more tasks pile up.

For example: answering your emails faster only lands more replies. Trying to handle your inbox efficiently leaves you an endless loop in your inbox.

As we keep piling on to our life’s to-do list, the quality of our activities also drop. Instead of meeting up with a friend, you may end up messaging them instead because it’s more convenient.

The only way to overcome this overwhelming loop is to escape the efficiency trap and accept that time is finite. Instead of trying to Seek to use it more  meaningfully instead of and should be used meaningfully.

Four Thousand Weeks summary - The Efficiency Trap

Seek Purpose, Not Productivity

Oliver Burkeman shares how we can shift our perspective and approach to live a more purposeful and fulfilling life.  Here’s an overview of some of the key insights covered in our full Four Thousand Weeks summary:Four Thousand Weeks summary - how to shift to purposeful living
Let’s briefly explore a few of the concepts here. You can get more tips, insights and examples for each of these ideas in our full summary bundle.

Live in the Present, Not in the Future

When we view time as an instrument, we end up treating it like a means to an end. As we keep looking at the future, we also miss out on valuable moments in the present. For example, we might try to record a concert on our phones (so we can savor it in the future), rather than fully enjoy it in the moment.

Stop treating the present as a stepping stone for a happier future. Instead, find contentment in the simple pleasures that’s right in front of you.

Focus on What Matters to You

Martin Heidegger argued that humans don’t have a finite amount of time; we are a finite amount of time. Many of those that experience a near-death experience tend to understand this “finitude” quickly: We don’t “lose” time because it was never ours.

Appreciating our finitude can help you be more intentional in the present. If you’re not being intentional about every decision that you make, you’re just stumbling through life. Learn how to accept trade-offs and say “no” to other opportunities.

Enjoy Rest and Leisure For Their Own Sakes

In ancient times, leisure was the end goal and work was a means to enable more leisure time.  This is a stark contrast to how today, we see leisure as a foundation for future payoff–we justify leisure as a way to boost productivity, create memories, or to build the foundation for some future payoff. Every moment of “laziness” makes us guilty, a phenomenon that sociologists call “idleness aversion”.

Burkeman urges all of us to embrace guilt-free rest and leisure. Enjoy your rest and leisure for their own sakes, even if there’s no future benefits to gain.

Let Go of the Illusion of Control

Ultimately, it’s impossible to master or control time. No matter how good you get at time management,  you cannot anticipate nor handle everything that life throw at you.

Free yourself by living in the moment, and focusing on what truly matters. In that regard, the book ends off with 5 questions to guide you:

  • What necessary discomforts are you avoiding?
  • Are you holding yourself to unattainable standards?
  • Have you accepted yourself as you are?
  • In which areas of life are you still holding back?
  • How would you spend your time differently if you didn’t care about end-results?

Getting More from Four Thousand Weeks

Are you ready to have a better relationship with time and realize your “finitude”? Check out our full book summary bundle that includes an infographic, 13-page text summary, and a 28-minute audio summary.
Four Thousand Weeks summary - Book Summary Bundle

Four Thousand Weeks is written in a conversational, easy-to-read style filled with examples, personal anecdotes and research references to you reflect on your finitude, and rethink your relationship with time. You can purchase the book here , or visit www.oliverburkeman.com for more details.

If you’re interested in fresh perspectives on time management and productivity like this book, check out our book summaries for The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working, and Make Time: How to Focus on What Matters Every Day.

About the Author Four Thousand Weeks

Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals was written by Oliver Burkeman. Born in 1975, he is a British author and journalist and has authored several books about time management, happiness, and mortality. He formerly wrote a column for The Guardian, and has appeared in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Psychologies and New Philosopher.

Four Thousand Weeks Quotes

“The trouble with attempting to master your time, it turns out, is that time ends up mastering you.”

“All a plan is – all it could ever possibly be – is a present-moment statement of intent… The future, of course, is under no obligation to comply.”

“What you pay attention to will define, for you, what reality is.”

“The presence of problems in your life… isn’t an impediment to a meaningful existence but the very substance of one.”

“Freedom, sometimes, is to be found not in achieving greater sovereignty over your own schedule but in allowing yourself to be constrained by the rhythms of community.”

“The undodgeable reality of a finite human life is that you are going to have to choose.”

Click here to download the Four Thousand Weeks infographic & summary

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