Forget time management! Work a little less

It’s probably not news, but your life is finite. The average human life ends after 72.6 years. Then you have roughly, rounded up, 4,000 weeks. How often do you realize that all this is finite? Why would you? Is it depressing? Yes and no. Yes, because it can be sobering to think about the idea that you are no longer there. No, because it might make you more aware that all you have is the here and now. This is it.

How best to spend that time is the heart of Burkeman’s book 4,000 weeks. Your time on earth and how to deal with it (affiliate). His counter-intuitive advice: do less, try less, and assume that plans won’t come true.

You are here

Suppose you have about 4,000 weeks here on this planet, you would expect that our main question is how we spend that time well. So time management should be our main focus. After all, what we essentially are is time. If you look at the classic time management methods, they seem to be about doing as much as possible in less time, guarding and blocking your own time.

Rarely are the methods focused on getting rest, building meaningful relationships with others, and nurturing the question of ‘how you contribute most to this world’. Whether you’re taking a cold shower, chopping your tasks into 25-minute chunks, or trying to be invisible to others in your focus time. These are all means of managing time and not goals to help you spend time consciously and well.

Many productivity tips and advice also seem to drive you to want more and more. Get better every day and become the best version of yourself. If you manage to take advantage of useful advice, for example about project management or controlling your inboxes, then there is a new challenge: better maintain your personal brand on social media or live from your passion.

What is the best version of yourself?

In addition, many productivity advices are broader than just useful work tips. You can only become the best version of yourself if you also tackle your diet, have your breathing in order, are strong and fit, read a lot, walk mindfully through forest and meadow, are financially independent, have patience with your children and regularly watercolor a waterfall. . In other words, there is always something you should be better at. Well, ‘must’… The success authors and coaches seem to have it all figured out.

Burkeman’s advice is not to enter into this race to always do better. It easily leads to frustration. When you get one thing right, there’s always something else that falls short. In addition, you can make goals and plans, but somehow unexpected things always seem to come your way. As a result, you have to adjust plans (note the contrast between ‘always’ and ‘unexpected’).

Is Burkeman’s advice then a kind of Engelfriets The illusion of success, in which all gurus are charlatans who tell you everything in order to earn money from you? Fortunately, Burkeman’s tone is more nuanced.

The paradox in 4,000 weeks is that accepting your finiteness, limited presence on this planet and the fact that plans are no guarantee for a future are actually very liberating. If you accept that, you don’t have to go from your ice bath to your trampoline at 5:30 AM to meditate while hopping. Just do less.

Accept that if you are busy with small children, you may need to allow yourself at this stage to cook more easily, read less, or exercise less often or intensively. Whether these are good examples depends of course on you. Personally, I found running and cooking very nice counters to toddler hectic, but I did enjoy the fact that I had routines in my work due to some years of experience. It needed less attention then. Burkeman’s Earlier Book’HELP! How to Become Slightly Happier and Get a Bit More Done‘ sums it up nicely in the title.

You manage time and before you know it time is managing you.

Burkeman’s plea also prevents you from seeing the here and now as a phase. When I finish my education or when the children are older or when I have earned enough to work less, then I will get to the real work.

Or in a small way: once I have the mail and those small tasks gone, I will start working on the innovation plans. Anything you don’t do now, you don’t do. Whether it ever happens is the question. Perhaps better to either not want or to do something today.

You don’t have time and you don’t get time, but you are time.

Burkeman describes an image that I recognized immediately. You walk to the microwave and see the countdown timer at 4 seconds. Someone, maybe yourself, wanted to heat something up but couldn’t wait those last few seconds. I do it myself constantly, while those 4 seconds? I have that one. And it’s nice to do nothing for a while and simply wait. This makes it easy all day long: impatience and restlessness. Instead of waiting and doing nothing.

Says a Getting Things Done trainer!

Just a block How do I make this about Me 😉

I create personal development and productivity books and give training and workshops in the field of productivity. So I have read Burkeman’s speech with great interest and I certainly recognize the criticism he gives of my profession to constantly present knowledge workers with new tips, apps, books and insights to become even better. At the risk of feeling like it’s never good enough. That you have to do more and that you are never ready.

There are also all kinds of life hacks that make you work faster or smarter. For example, if you learn to read faster, you will finish your reading faster. Easy. And if you don’t expect more than that, faster reading, then it’s fine. If you’re hoping that reading speed will help you finish all work sooner and thus have more time to exercise, you probably won’t. That requires a more fundamental conversation with yourself. So life hacks and working smarter tips are useful but only solve everyday friction.

Personally, for what it’s worth, I think Burkeman’s advice fits in well Getting Things Done in Streamline Certified, the methods I use as a trainer. These methods are primarily aimed at managing your attention and not being distracted by all kinds of thingsyou too still want to do.

The key point is that you add value as a knowledge worker by thinking about business and not trying to think about business, says David Allen, the author of Getting Things Done. The art of stress-free productivity. Another one-liner from David Allen fits seamlessly into Burkeman’s book:

You can do everything but not everything.

I cannot judge whether Getting Things Done and I as a trainer fall outside the criticism of the first part of Burkeman. I read it myself with a mixture of approval and self-criticism.

10 tips to help you embrace your finitude

The final chapter of the book contains ten counter-intuitive pieces of advice. The ten pieces of advice can be read without the context of the book, but are most valuable as the final piece of Burkeman’s extremely readable plea.

  • Limit your amount of work in progress. Make an open list of everything you want to do next and a narrow list of projects, tasks that you are really committed to. With that you play a game that you can win: that list can go down. The first open list does not have to be completed.
  • Series-task, series-task, series-task. Avoid switches and all kinds of smaller tasks as snacks but finish one project or task before taking on another.
  • Decide where you are going to fail. Undertake strategically. What are you allowed to do or not do moderately or poorly given the work to which you are really committed?
  • Look at what you have completed and not at what is unfinished. There is always more and that thought can be demotivating.
  • Develop acute generosity. If you want to thank someone for something, wonder how someone is doing, make a donation, do it now. It’s the only time you have.
  • Practice doing nothing. It’s quite an art: doing nothing. And of course you are always doing something (breathing, standing) and something always has your attention. But it is very nice from time to time to consciously do nothing and to take action with a possible challenge but to leave it for what it is for a while.

In short

4,000 weeks (affiliate) is an encouragement to want less but then do it better. All you have is that you are here now and that is actually more than enough.

Source: Frankwatching by

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