time management book review burnout overwhelm and stress
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Not Another Time Management Book (Thank Goodness!)

I have a confession to make. When I picked up “Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals,” by Oliver Burkeman, I was in the middle of a great bout of productive procrastination. You know that thing where you do all kinds of “productive” tasks before you actually do the thing that needs to be done. I think we’ve all been there.

Anyway, I was weeks into avoiding a writing project when I became convinced that time management was my problem, and this book would solve it. But when I sat down to read it (again, instead of doing the actual thing I needed to do) I found myself quite surprised. Burkeman wasn’t going to teach me how to squeeze more activities into my day, he was here to warn me that I didn’t have that many days left and spending them in a flurry of activity was entirely missing the point. Yikes.

Time Is Running Out

Burkeman’s book is fundamentally based on the profound truth that our lifespan, averaging about 4,000 weeks, is both distressingly short and insultingly fleeting. Is that sobering? Sure. But it’s also something that most of us never consider when we’re planning our days. And Burkeman makes the case that we should.

Burkeman writes, “If we are going to show up for, and thus find some enjoyment in, our brief time on the planet, we had better show up for it now.”

Let’s pause here. Think about it. Four thousand weeks. When we’re young, this number seems like a boundless horizon of Saturdays to squander, but with each passing year, that horizon edges closer, and the days seem to pick up pace. But even though this may have you feeling that time is short, this book isn’t a call to do more in that precious time; it’s a manifesto to do less—much less.

It’s Time to Stop the Work Grind

In a direct affront to hustle culture, Burkeman doesn’t just suggest but insists we must embrace our limitations. Procrastination, that old familiar foe? It’s not only inevitable, Burkeman argues, but also necessary. We procrastinate because we don’t want to choose what to do with our time. That’s why the first step to getting our time back is making peace with the “fear of missing out” because guess what? Missing out is not only probable; it’s guaranteed. Every choice made means a thousand others unmade.

time management book review burnout overwhelm and stress

This is just one of the many ideas in this book that resonated with me. As you can see by the photo of my much-flagged copy, “Four Thousand Weeks” had a LOT to teach me. And I was fascinated by the history of it all. Like how medieval farmers lived in harmony with nature’s rhythm, undisturbed by the tyranny of ticking clocks—a stark contrast to our current state, where time is commodified and traded like currency. Sure, they didn’t have running water, but Burkeman argues that in some ways they were much happier than modern man.

So much of the way we are conditioned to spend our time is just a product of our capitalistic culture. You know who really wants you to get more done in less time? The company that employs you. They are often more interested in your time management skills than they are in your well-being. As someone who once suffered from extreme burnout, this all made so much sense.

By the book title, one might expect Burkeman to be another advocate for bullet journals and Kanban boards. Instead, he assures us that “nobody in the history of humanity has ever achieved ‘work-life balance,’ whatever that might be,” and honestly, that was music to my ears. I have never achieved it yet, so it’s a great relief to learn that it’s not a personal failing on my part. Phew!

So How Should We Spend Our Time?

Burkeman puts forth a subversive idea that happiness isn’t a relentless pursuit of joy (or productivity, for those perfectionists out there) but the acceptance of the imperfect and the ordinary. That true contentment comes not from ticking off a to-do list or chasing an ever-elusive state of readiness but from accepting the chaotic, messy, and beautifully incomplete nature of life.

Another great “aha moment” in this book was the idea that leisure isn’t a time to optimize but to simply exist within. In other words, our overly-structured weekends are kind of missing the point of time off. Burkeman recognizes that the hobbyist who whiles away an afternoon on a seemingly purposeless activity is actually engaging in the most authentic form of human existence.

In a nutshell, don’t obsess about managing your time. Try to experience it. Just exist. Just be.

Burkeman Offers Sage Advice

This isn’t your run-of-the-mill self-help book that’s full of time mangement tips and tricks. In fact, Burkeman gently dismantles the illusion of ‘optimizing’ every second of our day. Instead, he encourages you to reflect on what truly matters, to prioritize not just your tasks but your well-being, and to cherish the present moment, even if it’s not particularly thrilling or productive.

Here are just a few of his suggestions on how to get more out of however many weeks you have left.

  • Embrace Finitude: Accept the limitations of a short life span and focus on what’s truly important, instead of trying to do everything.
  • Reject the Cult of Productivity: Understand that true productivity isn’t about doing more things; it’s about doing the right things, even if it means doing less.
  • Question Time Management: Challenge the concept of managing time and instead learn to experience it and prioritize meaning over efficiency.
  • Accept Missing Out: Recognize that “fear of missing out” (FOMO) is inevitable and that it’s impossible to experience everything—make peace with the choices you make.
  • Value Leisure and Presence: Appreciate leisure time as a space to be present and engaged, rather than as another opportunity for productivity and self-improvement.

Reframe Your Relationship with Time Management

time management book review burnout overwhelm and stress

In the end, Burkeman’s book is about taking back control—not over time, but over our relationship with it. It’s about realizing that the march of time is unavoidable, but this thought doesn’t have to be scary. It’s just a call to live more deliberately, more thoughtfully, and more slowly.

For those of us who are tired of being force-fed the notion that we need to constantly achieve, Burkeman offers a counterintuitive yet liberating perspective: that perhaps the best way to use time is to sometimes, just sometimes, forget about using it at all.

Reading “Four Thousand Weeks” was, to put it simply, a good use of my time. It was a reminder that while the clock keeps ticking, we don’t always have to dance to its rhythm. So, if you’re looking to step off the productivity treadmill and into a more mindful, measured existence, Burkeman’s wisdom might just be the perfect place to start.

Have you tried ditching your to-do list and doing less? Let me know in the comments below!

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2 Comments

  1. Great review of time management for mortals. This quote sold me, and I’m grabbing a copy. “That true contentment comes not from ticking off a to-do list or chasing an ever-elusive state of readiness but from accepting the chaotic, messy, and beautifully incomplete nature of life” Thank you for another great post!

    1. You won’t regret it. This book is full of so much wisdom. Sometimes when I’m feeling overwhelmed I just pick it up and thumb through my flags to remind myself that the stuff I’m worrying about checking off my to-do list is largely unimportant.

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