I Read It So You Don’t Have To

I Read It So You Don’t Have To: Four Thousand Weeks

A recovering productivity addict wants us to think about time management through the lens of our imminent mortality

Matthew McFarlane
Marker
Published in
6 min readOct 7, 2021

--

What did I read?

Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals by Oliver Burkeman

So who is Oliver Burkeman?

Burkeman is an award winning feature writer for The Guardian, where he wrote the weekly column, “This Column Will Change Your Life.” He’s also the author of The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking.

Give me the 30-second sell.

Four thousand weeks. If you live until you’re 80, that’s roughly how many weeks you’ll get — a sum that is, as Oliver Burkeman puts it, “absurdly, terrifyingly, insultingly short.”

And that’s if you make it to 80. But regardless of how many years you, I, or anyone else has left on this earth, we all have a problem: our relationship with that time is, to put it gently, fraught.

As Burkeman notes early on, given the relatively short time frame of even the longest life, time management should be everyone’s most pressing concern. “Arguably,” he points out, “time management is all life is.”

And yet, most of the literature on time management is task-based, urging us to figure out the perfect schedule or productivity method for cranking through as many items on a to-do list as we possibly can. Even when those methods work, they somehow still leave us feeling stressed and overwhelmed, paddling frantically against a current whose strength we can never match.

The fundamental problem is that none of the typical time management books you find in the self-help section address the grim fact of our mortality, preferring to ignore it in favor of a can-do attitude.

Four Thousand Weeks is Burkeman’s shot at addressing this inadequacy: “To see if we can’t discover, or recover, some ways of thinking about time that do justice to our real situation: to the outrageous brevity and shimmering possibilities of our four thousand weeks.”

--

--

Matthew McFarlane
Marker
Writer for

Reader, writer, content provider. Fan of hand-made guitars, racket-based sports, and houseplants. You can find me in St. Louie.