Book Notes: Four Thousand Weeks by Oliver Burkeman

Rating: (9/10)


Oliver Burkeman’s book, Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals, is wedged on the bookshelves between other “productivity” guides, but this is not a step-by-step assault on how to force your calendar into submission. Burkeman takes the backdoor on “getting more done” and shows us why squeezing more efficiency into our lives is bad practice. We’re shown the finite quality of our days and how the limited amount of time we’ve been given forces us to realize that we can’t do everything. To manage time like a mortal, we have to be okay with doing many things poorly or not at all.

Direct Quotes:


P.98 – Distracted by distractions

In T. S. Eliot’s words, we are “distracted from distraction by distraction.”


P.10 – Productivity Has Made Us More Impatient

It’s somehow vastly more aggravating to wait two minutes for the microwave than two hours for the oven—or ten seconds for a slow-loading web page versus three days to receive the same information by mail.

P.78 – Say “No” to Most of Your Interests

Elizabeth Gilbert points out, it’s all too easy to assume that this merely entails finding the courage to decline various tedious things you never wanted to do in the first place. In fact, she explains, “i’s much harder than that. You need to learn how to start saying no to things you do want to do, with the recognition that you have only one life.”


P.208 – You Don’t Matter (And That’s a Relief)

What you do with your life doesn’t matter all that much — and when it comes to how you’re using your finite time, the universe absolutely could not care less.


P.164 – Convenience Makes Us Impatient

You’ll have noticed how frequently the office microwave still has seven or eight seconds left on the clock from the last person who used it, a precise record of the moment at which the impatience became too much for them to bear.


P.142 – Ambition During Relaxation

Enjoying leisure for its own sake-which you might have assumed was the whole point of leisure-comes to feel as though it’s somehow not quite enough.


P.71 – Become a Better Procrastinator

The core challenge of managing our limited time isn’t about how to get everything done—that’s never going to happen-but how to decide most wisely what not to do, and how to feel at peace about not doing it.


P.4 – Seneca on The Shortness of Life

“This space that has been granted to us rushes by so speedily and so swiftly that all save a very few find life at an end just when they are getting ready to live,” lamented Seneca, the Roman philosopher, in a letter known today under the title On the Shortness of Life.

P.67 – The Stress of Trying to Master Time

When you’re trying to master your time, few things are more infuriating than a task or delay that’s foisted upon you against your will, with no regard for the schedule you’ve painstakingly drawn up in your overpriced notebook.


P.30 – We Are In Flight From Ourselves

“We labour at our daily work more ardently and thoughtlessly than is necessary to sustain our life,” wrote Nietzsche, “because to us it is even more necessary not to have leisure to stop and think. Haste is universal because everyone is in flight from himself.”

P.49 – Other People’s Expectations

The more efficient you get, the more you become “a limitless reservoir for other people’s expectations,” in the words of the management expert Jim Benson.

P.105 – The Reason for Avoiding Work

When you try to focus on something you deem important, you’re forced to face your limits, an experience that feels especially uncomfortable precisely because the task at hand is one you value so much.

Analysis of Key Passages:


P.45 – Existential Overwhelm

Think of it as “existential overwhelm”: the modern world provides an inexhaustible supply of things that seem worth doing, and so there arises an inevitable and unbridgeable gap between what you’d ideally like to do and what you actually can do.

Analysis: Our attention is fractured. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said in Self-Reliance, our force is scattered. I feel this on a daily basis. There are so many things vying for my attention that I don’t know which one to pick, and I often waste huge gobs of time worrying about it.

P.61 – We Would Rater Be Distracted

What’s really morbid, from this perspective, is what most of us do, most of the time, instead of confronting our finitude, which is to indulge in avoidance and denial, or what Heidegger calls “falling.” Rather than taking ownership of our lives, we seek out distractions, or lose ourselves in busyness and the daily grind, so as to try to forget our real predicament. Or we try to avoid the intimidating responsibility of having to decide what to do with our finite time by telling ourselves that we don’t get to choose at all-that we must get married, or remain in a soul-destroying job, or anything else, simply because it’s the done thing.

Analysis: This reminds me of Ernest Becker’s The Denial of Death, where he suggests that we construct lies for ourselves so that we can hide from the fact that we’re mortal. We create identities, projects, and religions to cover up the fact that we are finite. Here, Burkeman suggest that we’re really hiding from having to decide what to do with our time.

P.77 – Ignore Most of Your Interests

There is a story attributed to Warren Buffett-although probably only in the apocryphal way in which wise insights get attributed to Albert Einstein or the Buddha, regardless of their real source—in which the famously shrewd investor is asked by his personal pilot about how to set priorities. I’d be tempted to respond, “Just focus on flying the plane!” But apparently this didn’t take place midflight, because Buffett’s advice is different: he tells the man to make a list of the top twenty-five things he wants out of life and then to arrange them in order, from the most important to the least. The top five, Buffett says, should be those around which he organizes his time. But contrary to what the pilot might have been expecting to hear, the remaining twenty, Buffett allegedly explains, aren’t the second-tier priorities to which he should turn when he gets the chance. Far from it. In fact, they’re the ones he should actively avoid at all costs— because they’re the ambitions insufficiently important to him to form the core of his life yet seductive enough to distract him from the ones that matter most.

Analysis: This story was written for me. I’m the kind of guy that loves everything from film photography to woodworking and philosophy. Over the years, I’ve had to close down my darkroom and my musical interests to make room for what I want most – time with my family and books.

P.104 – We Want Social Media to Distract Us

Consider the archetypal case of being lured from your work by social media: It’s not usually that you’re sitting there, concentrating rapturously, when your attention is dragged away against your will. In truth, you’re eager for the slightest excuse to turn away from what you’re doing, in order to escape how disagreeable it feels to be doing it; you slide away to the Twitter pile-on or the celebrity gossip site with a feeling not of reluctance but of relief. We’re told that there’s a “war for our attention,” with Silicon Valley as the invading force. But if that’s true, our role on the battlefield is often that of collaborators with the enemy.

Analysis: Its much easier to blame social media for distracting us rather than to take responsibility for our work and focus. We’re looking for scapegoats to blame.

P.138 – The Problem with Trying to Be Present

The problem is that the effort to be present in the moment, though it seems like the exact opposite of the instrumentalist, future-focused mindset I’ve been criticizing in this chapter, is in fact just a slightly different version of it. You’re so fixated on trying to make the best use of your time—in this case not for some later outcome, but for an enriching experience of life right now-that it obscures the experience itself. It’s like trying too hard to fall asleep, and therefore failing. You resolve to stay completely present while, say, washing the dishes—-perhaps because you saw that quotation from the bestselling Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh about finding absorption in the most mundane of activities— only to discover that you can’t, because you’re too busy self-consciously wondering whether you’re being present enough or not.

Analysis: When you try to be present in the moment, you often worry about how well you’re doing at being present which ruins the experience. Our need to always improve needs to simmer down.


P.9 – Productivity Tools Work and That’s the Problem

The problem isn’t exactly that these techniques and products don’t work. It’s that they do work—in the sense that you’ll get more done, race to more meetings, ferry your kids to more after-school activities, generate more profit for your employer-and yet, paradoxically, you only feel busier, more anxious, and somehow emptier as a result. In the modern world, the American anthropologist Edward T. Hall once pointed out, time feels like an unstoppable conveyor belt, bringing us new tasks as fast as we can dispatch the old ones; and becoming “more productive” just seems to cause the belt to speed up.

Analysis: Becoming more productive only creates more busy work. Most of the productivity books, software tools, and conferences do work, and as you implement them, you just get busier because you can handle more.

P.42 – Parkinson’s Law Applies to All Things

The same goes for chores: in her book More Work for Mother, the historian Ruth Schwartz Cowan shows that when housewives first got access to “labor-saving” devices like washing machines and vacuum cleaners, no time was saved at all, because society’s standards of cleanliness simply rose to offset the benefits; now that you could return each of your husband’s shirts to a spotless condition after a single wearing, it began to feel like you should, to show how much you loved him. “Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion,” the English humorist and historian C. Northcote Parkinson wrote in 1955, coining what became known as Parkinson’s law. But it’s not merely a joke, and it doesn’t apply only to work. It applies to everything that needs doing.

Analysis: Parkinson’s Law suggests that work fills the amount of time you allot for it.


P.30 – It’s Painful to Confront Our Limitations

After all, it’s painful to confront how limited your time is, because it means that tough choices are inevitable and that you won’t have time for all you once dreamed you might do. It’s also painful to accept your limited control over the time you do get: maybe you simply lack the stamina or talent or other resources to perform well in all the roles you feel you should. And so, rather than face our limitations, we engage in avoidance strategies, in an effort to carry on feeling limitless.

Analysis: This passage is a core principle of the book. As a human with limited time, you must learn to make decisions about how you will spend that time. We don’t like to do this because it forces us to confront our limitations, or mortality, and our lack of ability.

P.32 – The Paradox of Limitation

All of this illustrates what might be termed the paradox of limitation, which runs through everything that follows: the more you try to manage your time with the goal of achieving a feeling of total control, and freedom from the inevitable constraints of being human, the more stressful, empty, and frustrating life gets. But the more you confront the facts of finitude instead-and work with them, rather than against them-the more productive, meaningful, and joyful life becomes.

Analysis: Time cannot be controlled. Instead of wrestling with it, you are better off accepting the fact that it’s limited.

P.33 – FOMO is a Good Thing

And it means standing firm in the face of FOMO, the “fear of missing out,” because you come to realize that missing out on something-indeed, on almost everything— is basically guaranteed. Which isn’t actually a problem anyway, it turns out, because “missing out” is what makes our choices meaningful in the first place.

Analysis: We suffer from FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) because we’re convinced we can have everything. Once we realize this is impossible, we can begin to live a less anxious life.

P.60 – You Must Make Hard Decisions

As I make hundreds of small choices throughout the day, I’m building a life-but at one and the same time, I’m closing off the possibility of countless others, forever. (The original Latin word for “decide,” decidere, means “to cut off,” as in slicing away al-ternatives; it’s a close cousin of words like “homicide” and “suicide.”) Any finite life-even the best one you could possibly imagine—is therefore a matter of ceaselessly waving goodbye to possibility.

Analysis: To make decisions about how we spend our lives is to literally cut other options off. We must remove even some of the good things in order to have the appropriate time for the best things.

P.63 – This Life is It – Make it Good

Of course, if you’re not religious, and maybe even if you are, you might not literally believe in eternal life. But anyone who spends their days failing to confront the truth of their finitude-convincing themselves, on a subconscious level, that they have all the time in the world, or alternatively that they’ll be able to cram an infinite amount into the time they do have—is essentially in the same boat. They’re living in denial of the fact that their time is limited; so when it comes to deciding how to use any given portion of that time, nothing can genuinely be at stake for them. It is by consciously confronting the certainty of death, and what follows from the certainty of death, that we finally become truly present for our lives.

Analysis: Many religions promote the idea of “Eternal Life” which encourages the person to suffer now for a better existence later on. Once you let go of this belief, you realize that now matters – that it’s time to live well because there’s nothing else.

P.69 – The Joy of Missing Out

The exhilaration that sometimes arises when you grasp this truth about finitude has been called the “joy of missing out,” by way of a deliberate contrast with the idea of the “fear of missing out.” It is the thrilling recognition that you wouldn’t even really want to be able to do everything, since if you didn’t have to decide what to miss out on, your choices couldn’t truly mean anything.

Analysis: Once you make decisions and cut off specific aspects of your life (especially competing interests due to FOMO), you can finally begin to focus on what matters most and enjoy it. This is called the joy of missing out.

P.210 – Cosmic Insignificance Therapy

It’s natural to find such thoughts terrifying. To contemplate “the massive indifference of the universe,” writes Richard Holloway, the former bishop of Edinburgh, can feel “as disorienting as being lost in a dense wood, or as frightening as falling overboard into the sea with no-one to know we have gone.” But there’s another angle from which it’s oddly consoling. You might think of it as “cosmic insignificance therapy”: When things all seem too much, what better solace than a reminder that they are, provided you’re willing to zoom out a bit, indistinguishable from nothing at all? The anxieties that clutter the average life-relationship troubles, status rivalries, money worries-shrink instantly down to irrelevance. So do pandemics and presidencies, for that mat-ter: the cosmos carries on regardless, calm and imperturb-able. Or to quote the title of a book I once reviewed: The Universe Doesn’t Give a Flying Fuck About You. To remember how little you matter, on a cosmic timescale, can feel like putting down a heavy burden that most of us didn’t realize we were carrying in the first place.

Analysis: Much of our neurosis and mental illness comes from pressure to be something “godlike.” We feel that we’re eternally important and that we must live up to something great, or at least please a higher power. Once we realize that we’re cosmically insignificant, that the universe doesn’t actually care about us, we can breath a sigh of relief. We don’t have to be perfect, we can just be.

P.211 – The Danger of Overvaluing Your Significance

You might imagine, moreover, that living with such an unrealistic sense of your own historical importance would make life feel more meaningful, by investing your every action with a feeling of cosmic significance, however unwarranted. But what actually happens is that this overvaluing of your existence gives rise to an unrealistic definition of what it would mean to use your finite time well. It sets the bar much too high. It suggests that in order to count as having been “well spent,” your life needs to involve deeply impressive accomplishments, or that it should have a lasting impact on future generations-or at the very least that it must, in the words of the philosopher Iddo Landau, “transcend the common and the mundane.” Clearly, it can’t just be ordinary: After all, if your life is as significant in the scheme of things as you tend to believe, how could you not feel obliged to do something truly remarkable with it?

Analysis: If we place a lot of significance on our importance, we suddenly feel like every second of the day must be optimized. We have to be the perfect human, never stopping, always reading self-help books and growing. This creates an unrealistic definition in our minds of how to live well.

P.219 – Go and Live Your Life

Our finite lives are filled with all the painful problems of finitude, from overfilled inboxes to death, and confronting them doesn’t stop them from feeling like problems-or not exactly, anyway. The peace of mind on offer here is of a higher order: it lies in the recognition that being unable to escape from the problems of finitude is not, in itself, a problem. The human disease is often painful, but as the Zen teacher Charlotte Joko Beck puts it, it’s only unbearable for as long as you’re under the impression that there might be a cure. Accept the inevitability of the affliction, and freedom ensues: you can get on with living at last.

Analysis: Once you accept that you’re mortal (finite), insignificant to the universe (free to be yourself), and that you must take responsibility for your decisions on how to spend your time, only then can get on with living.


P.164 – Reading Well Just Takes Time

There may be no more vivid demonstration of this ratcheting sense of discomfort, of wanting to hasten the speed of reality, than what’s happened to the experience of reading. Over the last decade or so, more and more people have begun to report an overpowering feeling, whenever they pick up a book, that gets labeled “restlessness” or “distraction” —but which is actually best understood as a form of impatience, a revulsion at the fact that the act of reading takes longer than they’d like. “Ive been finding it harder and harder to concentrate on words, sentences, paragraphs,” laments Hugh McGuire, the founder of the public domain audiobook service LibriVox and (at least until recently) a lifelong reader of literary fiction. “Let alone chapters. Chapters often have page after page of paragraphs.” He describes what’s shifted in the formerly delicious experience of sliding into bed with a book: “A sentence. Two sentences. Maybe three. And then … I needed just a little something else. Something to tide me over. Something to scratch the itch at the back of my mind —just a quick look at email on my iPhone; to write, and erase, a response to a funny tweet from William Gibson; to find, and follow, a link to a good, really good, article in the New Yorker …” People complain that they no longer have “time to read,” but the reality, as the novelist Tim Parks has pointed out, is rarely that they literally can’t locate an empty half hour in the course of the day. What they mean is that when they do find a morsel of time, and use it to try to read, they find they’re too impatient to give themselves over to the task. “It is not simply that one is interrupted,” writes Parks. “It is that one is actually inclined to interruption.” It’s not so much that we’re too busy, or too distractible, but that we’re unwilling to accept the truth that reading is the sort of activity that largely operates according to its own schedule. You can’t hurry it very much before the experience begins to lose its meaning; it refuses to consent, you might say, to our desire to exert control over how our time unfolds. In other words, and in common with far more aspects of reality than were comfortable acknowledging, reading something properly just takes the time it takes.

Analysis: Reading is a good example of how our patience has disappeared as a society. We used to be able to sit down and read a book for hours. Now, within a few minutes, we’re reaching for our phones – we crave distractions. Knowing this, reading is a great opportunity to retrain your mind. Use the art of reading well as a way to let things take the time they require.


P.147 – Learn to Relax Without Future Benefits

We have inherited from all this a deeply bizarre idea of what it means to spend your time off “well”—and, conversely, what counts as wasting it. In this view of time, anything that doesn’t create some form of value for the future is, by definition, mere idleness. Rest is permissible, but only for the purposes of recuperation for work, or perhaps for some other form of self-improvement. It becomes difficult to enjoy a moment of rest for itself alone, without regard for any potential future benefits, because rest that has no instrumental value feels wasteful. The truth, then, is that spending at least some of your leisure time “wastefully, focused solely on the pleasure of the experience, is the only way not to waste it—to be truly at leisure, rather than covertly engaged in future-focused self-improvement. In order to most fully inhabit the only life you ever get, you have to refrain from using every spare hour for personal growth. From this perspective, idleness isn’t merely forgivable; it’s practically an obligation. “If the satisfaction of an old man drinking a glass of wine counts for nothing,” wrote Simone de Beauvoir, “then production and wealth are only hollow myths; they have meaning only if they are capable of being retrieved in individual and living joy.”

Analysis: We’re happy to go on vacations, take naps, and relax on the weekend, but we’re doing these things for some future benefit. We rest so that we can be even better tomorrow. Instead, we must learn to relax simply for the sake of relaxing. A man should be able to drink a glass of wine without any expectation.

P.148 – Pathological Productivity

And yet here we’ll need to confront a rarely acknowledged truth about rest, which is that were not merely the victims of an economic system that denies us any opportunity for it. Increasingly, we’re also the kind of people who don’t actually want to rest-who find it seriously unpleasant to pause in our efforts to get things done, and who get antsy when we feel as though we’re not being sufficiently productive.

Analysis: We have been conditioned to feel bad about rest. When it comes time to sit down and breathe, we immediately feel the need to get up and do something – to be more productive. Because to not be constantly advancing is deemed a serious problem in society.


P.72 – Choose What to Procrastinate

You’ll be procrastinating on almost everything, and by the end of your life, you’ll have gotten around to doing virtually none of the things you theoretically could have done. So the point isn’t to eradicate procrastination, but to choose more wisely what you’re going to procrastinate on, in order to focus on what matters most. The real measure of any time management technique is whether or not it helps you neglect the right things.

Analysis: Since there’s no way possible to get everything done in life, it’s a much better strategy to choose what to procrastinate on. Some things will simply not get done, or they will get done poorly and that’s fine.

P.75 – The Problem with Doing Too Much

Perhaps the most appealing way to resist the truth about your finite time is to initiate a large number of projects at once; that way, you get to feel as though you’re keeping plenty of irons in the fire and making progress on all fronts. Instead, what usually ends up happening is that you make progress on no fronts— because each time a project starts to feel dif-ficult, or frightening, or boring, you can bounce off to a different one instead. You get to preserve your sense of being in control of things, but at the cost of never finishing anything important.

Analysis: Taking on too much work is a strategy for hiding from what’s really important. Instead of focusing on the work you care about, you can jump from project to project in a state of never-ending chaos and always feel busy.

P.83 – Living in Fantasy

In other words, it’s easy for me to fantasize about, say, a life spent achieving stellar professional success, while also excelling as a parent and partner, while also dedicating myself to training for marathons or lengthy meditation retreats or volunteering in my community— because so long as I’m only fantasizing, I get to imagine all of them unfolding simultaneously and flawlessly. As soon as I start trying to live any of those lives, though, I’ll be forced to make trade-offs—to put less time than I’d like into one of those domains, so as to make space for another-and to accept that nothing I do will go perfectly anyway, with the result that my actual life will inevitably prove disappointing by comparison with the fantasy.

Analysis: We love to dream about our goals rather than act on them. By dreaming, we get to live in multiple false lives without having to suffer the pain and risk of doing them. By dreaming, we don’t have to confront our lack of skill, knowledge, and development.


P.24 – Time Should Not Be a Resource

Once time is a resource to be used, you start to feel pressure, whether from external forces or from yourself, to use it well, and to berate yourself when you feel you’ve wasted it. When you’re faced with too many demands, it’s easy to assume that the only answer must be to make better use of time, by becoming more efficient, driving yourself harder, or working for longer-as if you were a machine in the Industrial Revolution-instead of asking whether the demands themselves might be unreasonable.

Analysis: When you treat time like a product, you start trying to chop it up, control it, and optimize it. This puts you in a state of constant dread because you can’t control time. Instead, it’s better to remove things in your life that are unnecessary burdens.

P.25 – The Rigged Game of Time

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.”

Analysis: We are trained to see time as a way to get what we want in the future. Everything we do now must be inservice to tomorrow’s greater good. Instead, we would be better off living now, and living well.

P.32 – You Don’t Have Enough Time to Get Everything Done

In practical terms, a limit-embracing attitude to time means organizing your days with the understanding that you definitely won’t have time for everything you want to do, or that other people want you to do—and so, at the very least, you can stop beating yourself up for failing. Since hard choices are unavoidable, what matters is learning to make them consciously, deciding what to focus on and what to neglect, rather than letting them get made by default—or deceiving yourself that, with enough hard work and the right time management tricks, you might not have to make them at all.

Analysis: The crux of this book is to learn how to decide for yourself. The best thing you can do as a mortal when it comes to managing time, is to get good at deciding what you will and will not do. This skill is hard for us to develop, because we’re torn in so many directions. But that doesn’t negate the fact that we must decide.

P.33 – Let Things Take The Time They Require

Meaningful productivity often comes not from hurrying things up but from letting them take the time they take, surrendering to what in German has been called Eigenzeit, or the time inherent to a process itself.

Analysis: Tasks, done well, cannot be rushed. You must give them the time they require.

P.113 – Planning for Hofstadeter’s Law Makes Things Worse

The cognitive scientist Douglas Hofstadter is famous, among other reasons, for coining “Hofstadter’s law,” which states that any task you’re planning to tackle will always take longer than you expect, “even when you take into account Hofstadter’s Law.” In other words, even if you know that a given project is likely to overrun, and you adjust your schedule accordingly, it’ll just overrun your new estimated finishing time, too. It follows from this that the standard advice about planning-to give yourself twice as long as you think you’ll need —could actually make matters worse.

Analysis: Giving a task extra time, because you believe in Hofstadter’s law, will usually cause more harm that good. No matter how much time you budget, that’s how long it’s going to take.

P.187 – Time is a Networked Good

Yet the truth is that time is also a “network good,” one that derives its value from how many other people have access to it, too, and how well their portion is coordinated with yours. Telephone networks are the obvious example here: telephones are valuable to the extent that others also have them. (The more people who own phones, the more beneficial it is for you to own one; and unlike money, there’s little point in accumulating as many phones as possible for your personal use.) Social media platforms follow the same logic. What matters isn’t how many Facebook profiles you have, but that others have them, too, and that they’re linked to yours.

Analysis: Getting time to yourself is only valuable when you can share it with others that you love. Time alone is good, but ultimately, the value of time increases when you’re with the right people.

P.189 – The Loneliness of a Digital Nomad

The point, to be clear, isn’t that freelancing or long-term travel—let alone family-friendly workplace policies-are intrinsically bad things. It’s that they come with an unavoidable flip side: every gain in personal temporal freedom entails a corresponding loss in how easy it is to coordinate your time with other people’s. The digital nomad’s lifestyle lacks the shared rhythms required for deep relationships to take root.

Analysis: Everyone is working hard to have freedom at work. We want to work from a laptop anytime and anywhere we choose. While this is great, it also puts each one of us on different schedules making it hard to share time with people we love.


P.6 – Hustle Culture is Poisonous

Recently, as the gig economy has grown, busyness has been rebranded as “hustle” — relentless work not as a burden to be endured but as an exhilarating lifestyle choice, worth boasting about on social media. In reality, though, it’s the same old problem, pushed to an extreme: the pressure to fit ever-increasing quantities of activity into a stubbornly nonincreasing quantity of daily time.

Analysis: It has become a badge of honor to hustle and always be working. We brag about how busy we are.

P.11 – Keeping Up with Even Better Jonses

It turns out that when people make enough money to meet their needs, they just find new things to need and new lifestyles to aspire to; they never quite manage to keep up with the Joneses, because whenever they’re in danger of getting close, they nominate new and better Joneses with whom to try to keep up.

Analysis: You can never have enough. Once you reach your goals, you simply set a new level of discontent and strive for that. Never-ending ambition leads nowhere.

P.41 – The Goalposts Move for Efficient People

The reason isn’t that you haven’t yet discovered the right time management tricks or applied sufficient effort, or that you need to start getting up earlier, or that you’re generally useless. It’s that the underlying assumption is unwarranted: there’s no reason to believe you’ll ever feel “on top of things,” or make time for everything that matters, simply by getting more done. For a start, what “matters” is subjective, so you’ve no grounds for assuming that there will be time for everything that you, or your employer, or your culture happens to deem important. But the other exasperating issue is that if you succeed in fitting more in, you’ll find the goalposts start to shift: more things will begin to seem important, meaningful, or obligatory. Acquire a reputation for doing your work at amazing speed, and you’ll be given more of it.

Analysis: Successful people only succeed in getting more work. Once you get a reputation for getting things done, the world just gives you more to do.

P.48 – Other People are Using You

If you never stop to ask yourself if the sacrifice is worth it, your days will automatically begin to fill not just with more things, but with more trivial or tedious things, because they’ve never had to clear the hurdle of being judged more important than something else. Commonly, these will be things that other people want you to do, to make their lives easier, and which you didn’t think to try to resist.

Analysis: If you don’t decide how you will use your time, other people will decide for you.

P.133 – The Lonely Life of Capitalism

One way of understanding capitalism, in fact, is as a giant machine for instrumentalizing everything it encounters—the earth’s re-sources, your time and abilities (or “human resources”) —in the service of future profit. Seeing things this way helps explain the otherwise mysterious truth that rich people in capitalist economies are often surprisingly miserable. They re very good at instrumentalizing their time, for the purpose of generating wealth for themselves; that’s the definition of being successful in a capitalist world. But in focusing so hard on instrumentalizing their time, they end up treating their lives in the present moment as nothing but a vehicle in which to travel toward a future state of happiness. And so their days are sapped of meaning, even as their bank balances increase.

Analysis: Capitalism, for all the good it does, creates harm as well. It has trained members in society that their time is a product that must constantly return an ROI (return on investment). You never enjoy “now” because you’re always working for a better “tomorrow.”

P.168 – The Addiction of Busyness

As the world gets faster and faster, we come to believe that our happiness, or our financial survival, depends on our being able to work and move and make things happen at superhuman speed. We grow anxious about not keeping up—so to quell the anxiety, to try to achieve the feeling that our lives are under control, we move faster. But this only generates an addictive spiral. We push ourselves harder to get rid of anxiety, but the result is actually more anxiety, because the faster we go, the clearer it becomes that we’ll never succeed in getting ourselves or the rest of the world to move as fast as we feel is necessary.

Analysis: Busyness is a form of addiction. As you work to get tasks done, you realize you’ll never win, so you try and speed up to your detriment.


Four thousand weeks (the average life span) is an incredibly short amount of time. Years tick by faster and faster, until one day you’re left wondering how you got here. According to Oliver Burkeman, time isn’t something you can master. Instead, you have to accept some hard truths about what it means to be human.

The best takeaway from this book is the suggestion to write down the 25 most important things in your life, and then to tear off the first five and throw the rest away.

To only dedicated time five specific things feels both limiting and liberating at the same time. There aren’t enough hours in the day to chase every interest, business opportunity, or friendship. You’ll have to pass on most of the entertainment, vacations, and books that you want to read. You may have to skip on learning a new language, instrument, or art form.

When you’re done slicing away the superfluous, you’re left with what matters, and once you know that – you can begin to live your life.