Four Thousand Weeks


This was an exciting read for the March book club. While the sub-title reads "Time Management for Mortals," I would describe this book as "anti" time management. Most of the book's emphasis is on coming to terms with the limited Time in our lives.

Finitude of Time

The book starts by reminding us that Time is finite. Our present-day notion of Time was only established with the dawn of the industrial revolution when a clock was a valuable tool in coordinating a large workforce. Most factories started paying the worker by the hour, and hence Time became a finite resource in people's minds. The first chapter, "Limit Embracing Life," urges that we accept this limitation of Time's finitude and uses it to frame the discussion in the following chapters.

The fundamental problem is that this attitude toward time sets up a rigged game in which it’s impossible ever to feel as though you’re doing well enough. Instead of simply living our lives as they unfold in time—instead of just being time, you might say—it becomes difficult not to value each moment primarily according to its usefulness for some future goal, or for some future oasis of relaxation you hope to reach once your tasks are finally “out of the way.” 

Fear of Missing Out

I found the following quote profound. The notion that people never had FOMO because of the belief in an afterlife gave me pause.
As the German sociologist Hartmut Rosa explains, premodern people weren’t much troubled by such thoughts, partly because they believed in an afterlife: there was no particular pressure to “get the most out of” their limited time, because as far as they were concerned, it wasn’t limited, and in any case, earthly life was but a relatively insignificant prelude to the most important part.

Rediscovering Rest

If there is one thing I will remember from this book, it will probably be Rod Stewart and his model train set. It serves as a good reminder regarding having hobbies for pleasure and nothing else. Social media can sometimes warp our view of hobbies as just another potential revenue stream.

In an age of instrumentalization, the hobbyist is a subversive: he insists that some things are worth doing for themselves alone, despite offering no payoffs in terms of productivity or profit. The derision we heap upon the avid stamp collector or train spotter might really be a kind of defense mechanism, to spare us from confronting the possibility that they’re truly happy in a way that the rest of us—pursuing our telic lives, ceaselessly in search of future fulfillment—are not.

I like the author's explanation of how to rest in the ancient world was seen as the "default.". That contrasts with most modern beliefs that rest and the weekend are opportunities to recharge for the work week ahead.


The story of Steve Young was initially exciting and drew me into the chapter "The Intimate Interrupter." I understand the concept's appeal is that focusing and concentrating on the task makes it positively engaging no matter how uncomfortable. But, in my opinion, unless you are a highly disciplined monk, this approach is not universal. So it's hard to figure out how to adapt this lesson to me. I also had a hard time accepting that boredom arises out of finitude. Is boredom merely a reaction to me not being in control of a task?

It’s true that killing time on the internet often doesn’t feel especially fun, these days. But it doesn’t need to feel fun. In order to dull the pain of finitude, it just needs to make you feel unconstrained.

Efficiency Traps

Life has an unending supply of tasks and goals, and it is not humanly possible to achieve everything. Pick those meaningful and essential to you, and discard the rest.

You have to choose a few things, sacrifice everything else, and deal with the inevitable sense of loss that results.
the only route to psychological freedom is to let go of the limit-denying fantasy of getting it all done and instead to focus on doing a few things that count.

Trying to complete all the trivial tasks first while procrastinating the important harder ones doesn't work because trivial tasks always pop up. This is probably evident to most people at work. There will always be distractions vying for attention that interrupt critical work. The trick (or mine at least) is to ignore them for the moment and not respond to them instantly. It helps to mute or turn off Email or Slack when I am trying to focus.