Book: Four Thousand Weeks by Oliver Burkeman

You have no cosmically significant life purpose.

Liberating, isn’t it?

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If the title is not enough of an indication for you, it may be surprising to learn that a big focus of “Four Thousand Weeks” is our relationship with time.

The author points out that the invention of the clock turned time into a resource and, in effect – a commodity. Since time is money, we treat both the same way – stressing over both and never feeling like we have enough.

But time is not something we can ever have in the same sense as money. We can never “stockpile it for later, ” but we really want to.

In a vain attempt to save up, we live mentally in the future that we’ll never reach because then we’ll think about yet another future by the time we reach it.

The approaches to time and money go in pair not only because of the proverbial equality of both but also because capitalism rewards those who work now for returns in the future. Giving away your time will bring you money – the Marshmallow experiment claims that the better you are at living in the future, the more money you’ll have. (The methodological controversies in the experiment do not limit its significance, as it’s enough to be believed to have an effect.)

Another way we try to “stock up” on time is by saving up optionality – not closing any doors. Just as our attempts with time, it also makes us miserable in the process. Ultimately, you will settle. Your romantic partner will not be perfect; your job will not be the most glamorous, and your house will not be the coziest on the street.

By “keeping our options open”, we maximize our choice, but more choice is not making us happier – as explained in detail by Dan Gilbert in “Stumbling On Happiness”.

Since time passes, if we like it or not, and our attempts to stockpile it make the matter even worse, the only way to use it correctly is to enjoy each moment. But that is easier said than done.

Being in the moment

What is an example of really being in the moment?

  1. Something you cannot succeed or fail at
  2. Something you are doing for the sake of it, not for a future benefit

Hiking is an excellent example since turning it into a race is very hard.

Obsession with control and some criticism

The author admits that the source of all his woes is the pursuit of control and the endless struggle to make reality predictable. The to-do list becomes a plan to reign in chance and chaos, to create a feeling of control, and a reality in which some things are as they should be.

I suspect a person that publishes a New York-Times-Bestseller by definition is a bit of a control freak, but he focuses a bit too much on people like him.

The author’s self-diagnosis is that he needs to give up the feeling of control, of having the “ducks in a row”, everything neatly prepared to start the work. Authors’ beef with to-do lists is that they are never complete, and the work will never be finished.

I can’t entirely agree because the todo-lists are tools for deciding what I will NOT be doing. I delete items due to shifting priorities more often than I complete them, which feels more in line with the spirit of the rest of the book.

Other stuff just needs to get done. Productivity is a tool to get things done, not feel better about doing stuff.

The struggle comes from lying to yourself about why you do what you do.


The biggest stress is over using the time right. Since we only have four thousand weeks, it is in my best interest not to squander them.

Saying you should enjoy every moment of your life is not great advice since it can become a source of anxiety in its own right.

The best solution is to stop wishing things were different

The author seems to be alluding to the idea that the best way to quit stressing over time is to stop worrying over outcomes, lower your standards, and embrace mediocrity.

I have very ambivalent feelings toward that idea. On the one hand, chasing someone else’s goals, keeping with the Joneses, and comparing oneself is a surefire way to waste your life, and I wholeheartedly agree. Buddhism aptly points to expectations and aspirations being the source of all suffering.

But on the other hand, people already have abysmally low standards. We are surrounded by shitty products, shitty culture, and shitty art. This was not always the case – we deem old towns beautiful for a reason, but we kind of stopped caring.

This tension is something I wish the book covered in more detail. Here is my attempt at addressing it:

  1. You should be very clear on what is important to YOU.
  2. You should strive to use your four thousand weeks to do more of those things / become good at them.
  3. You should be absolutely mediocre at everything else.

One more criticism I have towards the book is that it mocks Four Hour Workweek, but ends up repeating the same advice verbatim – Be ruthless in what you want to accomplish, don’t focus on busywork.


  • You have to pursue your most important goals FIRST, because you will get drowned with incoming requests
  • No more than three active projects at a time
  • The biggest traps are those “moderately interesting” opportunities. Avoid them like the plague
  • Make it clear what you won’t do
  • Boundaries are helpful
  • Don’t think too much of yourself
  • Don’t demand too much of yourself
  • Be here and now

Various quotes

  • Modestly meaningful life
  • The more efficient you are, the more you become a limitless reservoir for other people’s expectations
  • You have no cosmically significant life purpose.

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