Book Review: Four Thousand Weeks - Kathleen Celmins

Book Review: Four Thousand Weeks

I love reading books that help me propel my business forward, and the latest book I read is Four Thousand Weeks by Oliver Burkeman.

Check out other reviews: Rest, Rocket Fuel

The premise is that if we live to be 80, we will have lived four thousand weeks.

That’s it.

Our lifespans are a drop in the ocean.

So, what do you do about it?

Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals

Now, I’m as much of a sucker for productivity books as anyone else who’s a solopreneur trying to do 29 jobs on any given day.

I’ve tried a lot of different systems. Pomodoros, mapping out every single hour of my day, having theme days, setting a to-do list with one item, then setting to-do lists with dozens of items… 

And everything works, for a time.

Until it doesn’t.

Every productivity system feels meant for other people once I fail to hit their goals.

So imagine my delight when picking this up.

My favorite takeaways from Four Thousand Hours

I enjoyed this book so much that I asked my husband to read it too.

There’s so much here that resonates with me.

Here are a few.

We don’t have enough time to do everything we want, and realizing that is a gift, not a curse.

There’s not enough time to do all that you want.

And, Oliver Burkeman argues, that’s a good thing.

If you can acknowledge that you’ll never do all that you want to do, you can let yourself off the hook.

You can stop striving.

You can stop rushing toward a time and place where you, finally, can sit down to do all the things, because that time and place will never appear.

This was such an eye-opener for me. A permission slip, if you will, to stop trying to get to the day where I finally have everything under control.

Instead, I’m now able to focus solely on what matters, knowing that so many other things will simply fall by the wayside.

Don’t focus too much on things that refill. Prioritizing your inbox creates more email, not less.

Then you become known as someone who replies to emails quickly.

In a past job, it felt like my main function was to reply to emails. From internal colleagues and clients. As fast as possible. As eloquently as possible.

And that sort of thing is like laundry. “Oh! She replied! I’ll send a reply to her reply and then we can keep this conversation going!” thought my supervisor.

Burkeman argues that by prioritizing our inboxes, what we’re doing is attempting to get to a place where we feel “on top of things,” which is not a sustainable place to be. Because by attempting to get through our email, we are simply generating more emails.

Your attempt to “clear the decks” means you never get anything important done.

You know those days where you feel like you were heads down working all day with very little to show for it at the end?

Those are the days where you spent the entire day consumed by unimportant tasks.

What a waste.

As solopreneurs, we can’t afford to use our days doing busy work.

The solution? Choose a few things, sacrifice the rest, and deal with the inevitable sense of loss that results.

Once I acknowledged that no, there really is no possible way to do every single thing I’ve set out to do, the next question for me was what are the things that matter?

Your answers will of course be different than mine, but mine fall into these overarching categories:

Work

How can I help as many solopreneurs as possible?

Family

How can I show up for the people in my life who matter the most?

Adventure

How can I see more of the world? And, when circumstances prevent me from leaving my corner, how can I imbue a sense of adventure without leaving my home?

Four Thousand Weeks

Use the concept of paying yourself first, but with time, instead of money

This is a personal finance maxim that implies that if you’re simply going to save what’s leftover at the end of the month after all your spending obligations have been met, you’re never going to save as much of your money as you would if things went the other way: “I’m going to put x dollars into savings, and my obligations will have to deal with what’s left after saving.”

Applying that to time is something I’ve been doing since I finished reading this book a few months ago.

And for me it means that the first day of every week is spent on internal business things, primarily creating content and reaching out to solopreneurs.

And not just the first day of the week, but the first hour of each day over the course of the rest of the week.

Mindfulness matters, especially in the era of social media platforms wanting us to scroll mindlessly.

Setting limits on the various ways we use social media does two things:

  1. Most obviously, it limits how much time we spend on social media
  2. But it also helps assuage guilt.

The second point is more interesting to me. If I open a new tab and scroll on Twitter aimlessly and mindlessly, then I’ll look up and 45 minutes have passed, and I’ve nothing to show for it.

If instead, I decide to scroll through Twitter for 45 minutes, replying and scheduling tweets, then it’s time well spent.

So I don’t end up wasting time, and I’m contributing instead of simply consuming.

It’s a win all around.

Trying to distract ourselves from uncomfortable tasks paradoxically increases distraction.

There’s a story Burkeman tells that goes into something I’ve been taught by other meditation experts: focusing on uncomfortable tasks actually makes them easier.

It’s only natural to attempt to distract yourself from things you don’t want to do: flu shots, icy showers, sending a recap email…

But if you focus on them, the distress disappears. You get a clarity of mind that you didn’t have before.

This is one of the absolute best tricks in life. Try it the next time you find yourself avoiding something difficult.

You may find, as I did, just how much the thing that loomed so large shrinks in proportion to how much attention you direct at it.

Conclusion: Four Thousand Weeks is a book worth reading

It’s not often that I come across a business book that changes not only the way I do work, but the fabric of the way I view my life.

But this one was.

I was kept up for many hours the night I finished reading this book, wondering how I can do better. How can I show up as a patient parent? How can I show my kids that now is the time that matters, even though they’re already embedded in a society of prepping for the next thing?

Those are questions that, luckily for me, I’m not asking too late.

But they’re questions that are so rarely addressed in so-called productivity books.

If you end up being inspired to read Four Thousand Weeks, I’d love to chat about it. Hit me up on Twitter @kathleencelmins and let me know what you thought!

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