Four thousand weeks: time management for mortals
by Oliver Burkeman (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2021)
For a certain type of person, just read the title of Oliver Burkeman’s book Four thousand weeks is anxiety-provoking. After all, four thousand weeks is the time most of us spend on earth, if we’re lucky. And, as Burkeman acknowledges, for most of us, that seems like a cruelly short period of time, considering all we want to do, see, and be. “We have been granted the mental capacities to make almost infinitely ambitious plans, but hardly any time at all to implement them,” he writes.
The natural reaction to this is to promise not to waste a moment, to strive to do everything faster and more efficiently. But in this book, Burkeman, a British journalist, does the opposite. It’s a book about letting go of the illusion that time is something you can handle successfully. Trying to live as efficiently as possible, argues Burkeman, is both futile and doomed to failure. There is always more to do, always another small task to accomplish and, paradoxically, the more we get better at performing tasks, the faster new ones will emerge. Being obsessed with time management is therefore spending your time trying, and inevitably failing, to create more time for yourself. It means always living in the future – that future where all the things to do have been checked off – and therefore never living in the present. Instead of helping us clean the decks for the things that are really important, trying to be on top of everything really means that most of our time is spent on the things that matter less.
Even if Four thousand weeks offers many lessons on work, it is also the best book of the year on consumer behavior. This is not just because it has a lot to say about how the attention economy distorts our experience, but because it is a book about consumption in the deepest sense, a book about consumerism. how we spend our time. As Burkeman says, in one of the book’s most haunting sentences, “When you pay attention to something you don’t particularly appreciate, it’s no exaggeration to say that you are paying with your life.”
The challenge, of course, is that we live in a culture and an economy that seems practically designed to get us to pay attention to things that we don’t particularly like. In the workplace, technologies designed to make us more efficient and productive by enabling faster and easier communication often make what writer Cal Newport calls “deep work” difficult in practice. There is always something new that requires our attention, forces us to switch between tasks (or, worse yet, forces us to try and do different tasks at the same time).
The same is curiously true for our “leisure” time, which for many of us no longer feels quiet. Time is a constant presence online, and the logic of efficiency – doing as much as possible in the time available to us – is pervasive. When you read a book on a Kindle, it not only tells you how many pages you have left, but also how long it will take you to read them. When you end a Netflix show or movie, you’re not even allowed to watch the credits in peace – anything Netflix thinks you should watch next is immediately queued. In this world, all individual content is just water for the mill, and the goal is to get the mill spinning as fast as possible (think of all the people who listen to podcasts at 1.5 times normal speed. ), because there is always something else for you to see or hear.
So why do so many of us behave like we’re greedy hamsters on a wheel? As Burkeman says, part of this is because of the way social media and entertainment companies use persuasive design to keep us hooked. But the deepest problem, he argues, is that we are subject to the idea of infinite possibility and the illusion that it is possible to never miss a thing. We act like we have all the time in the world, so that it is possible to see and do whatever we want. And as a result, we are constantly afraid of missing out.
The reality, of course, is that there isn’t enough time to watch it all, read it all, do it all. The task, so to speak, is to recognize it and make peace with it. “Once you truly understand that you are guaranteed to miss out on almost every experience the world has to offer,” writes Burkeman, “the fact that there are so many that you haven’t yet experienced ceases to seem like you. a problem.” Letting go of all the things that you haven’t done, but imagine that you might be, allows you to focus more intensely on the things that you are doing. As Buddhist scholar Geshe Shawopa told his students hundreds of years ago, “Do not rule over imaginary realms with endless possibilities of proliferation.
Burkeman doesn’t claim it’s easy. He himself was once obsessed with maximizing efficiency, and he clearly still feels the pull of that impulse. Letting go of the fantasy that you can be everything means letting go of the possibility, accepting the limits. (As Burkeman says, the real challenge is “how to decide wisely what not to do.”) And, if you do it right, giving up this way means figuring out what really matters to you. and what you really want. to spend your time, then move on. It can be nerve-wracking, which is one of the reasons that even when we do things we love, we still run away so easily on Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube. Yes, these sites do their best to entertain us. But Burkeman cleverly writes, “We readily indulge in distraction. Something in us wants to be distracted… not to spend our lives doing what matters most to us.
Once you truly understand that you are sure to miss out on almost every experience the world has to offer, the fact that there are so many that you haven’t yet experienced ceases to seem like a problem to you.
So how do you avoid this? Burkeman offers practical advice: devote the first hour of each day to what matters most to you, do not work more than three things at a time, and be sure to avoid not the things that do not interest you, but rather the things. that you kind of care about, because these are the easiest things to waste time on. But the real message of the book is something deeper: recognize your limits, both in terms of how much you can do and how long it will take you to do it, and cultivate what Burkeman calls active, muscular patience. In German, the word Eigenzeit describes, in Burkeman’s words, “the time inherent in a process itself”. Whatever you choose to do, suggests Burkeman, you should submit to his Eigenzeit rather than trying to rush things. (Of course, your boss may not respond very well if you explain that a project is late because of what Eigenzeit requires.)
Four thousand weeks did not re-relate to the weather or even to Twitter. But it has helped me recognize those times when worrying about doing the next thing takes away my focus on what I’m actually doing, and it made me think more deeply about giving the things that matter to me time that I want to do. ‘they deserve and value to let the world come to me. While reading Burkeman’s book, I remembered a quote from Kafka: “You don’t have to leave your room. Sit at your table and listen. Don’t even listen, just wait. Don’t even wait, be quiet and lonely. The world will offer itself freely to you and unmask itself, it has no choice, it will roll in ecstasy at your feet.
Wanting: the power of mimetic desire in everyday life
by Luke Burgis (St. Martin’s Press, 2021)
At Luc Burgis Want to is a compelling and insightful look at how our desires are shaped by the desires of others. We don’t just imitate others, argues Burgis; we come to wanting what they want. Burgis explains that this impulse toward mimicry shapes what we buy, where we go, even what partners we hang out with, and tries to show us ways to break free from the gravitational pull exerted by those around us and how to clear a path. to want.
Arrive Today: From Factory to Front Door: Why Everything Has Changed About How We Buy and What We Buy
by Christopher Mims (Harper Business, 2021)
Christophe Mims Arrive today is, in large part, a book about supply chains and logistics. But it’s also a book about consumers and how their insatiable demand for fast, cheap things has reshaped transportation systems, factories, and the lives of working people. It’s a great overview of what it takes to satisfy our need for instant convenience, and it’s the kind of book that should get consumers thinking about what it means to consume the way they do.