4000 Weeks: Embracing Limits for a Fuller Life

Ever feel like you’re hurtling through life, desperately trying to cram everything in before it’s too late? Oliver Burkeman’s book “Four Thousand Weeks” aims to help you (4000 weeks is 80 years, the average human lifespan). But it’s not your typical time management book. It’s a philosophical and practical look at why you’re stuck in the hamster wheel of “getting things done.”

I read it recently. So let’s take a deeper look at it and it’s ideas.

And stick around until the end, as I’ve created an 8 week plan on how to put those ideas into action and improve your life 4000 weeks 🚀

The efficiency trap

We’re obsessed with efficiency. Apps, to-do lists, life hacks – we’ll try anything to squeeze more into our days. But here’s the kicker: it’s a trap. The more efficient you become, the more you pile on. It’s like trying to outrun your own shadow.

This “efficiency trap” is a hamster wheel to nowhere. You run faster and faster, but you’re still stuck in the same damn cage.

“The problem with trying to make time for everything that feels important…is that you definitely never will.”

Creative neglect

So what’s the alternative? Embrace your limitations. Accept that you can’t do it all. Choose your battles. Burkeman calls it “creative neglect.”

This means saying “no” more often. Saying “no” to the things that don’t matter, so you can say “hell yes” to the things that do. It means prioritising ruthlessly, focusing on what truly matters, and letting the rest go.

“If you don’t save a bit of your time for you, now, out of every week, there is no moment in the future when you’ll magically be done with everything and have loads of free time.” - Jessica Abel, quoted in Four Thousand Weeks

The antidote to our speed addiction

We’re addicted to speed. We want everything now. But life doesn’t work that way. Good things take time. Relationships take time. Creativity takes time.

Patience is the antidote to our speed addiction. It’s about slowing down, being present, and appreciating the journey. It’s about resisting the urge to rush and allowing things to unfold at their own pace.

“The experience of patience…gives things a kind of chewiness…into which you can sink your teeth.”

The joy of missing

We’re terrified of missing out. FOMO is the plague of our generation. But here’s the secret: missing out is inevitable. You can’t do everything. You can’t be everywhere. And that’s okay.

Embrace the FOMO. It’s what makes your choices meaningful. It’s what gives your life its unique flavour.

“It’s precisely the fact that I could have chosen a different and perhaps equally valuable way to spend this afternoon that bestows meaning on the choice I did make.”

Time is a shared experience

We’re obsessed with individual achievement. But we forget that we’re social creatures. We need each other. We thrive in community.

Time is a shared experience. It’s about synchronising with others, falling into rhythm, and creating a sense of belonging. It’s about participating in rituals, traditions, and collective endeavours that bind us together.

“The more Swedes who were off work simultaneously, the happier people got…as if an intangible, supernatural cloud of relaxation had settled over the nation as a whole.”

This is It

We avoid thinking about death. It’s uncomfortable. It’s scary. But denying it doesn’t make it go away.

Confronting your mortality is a wake-up call. It’s a reminder that this is it. This is your one shot at life. So stop wasting it on things that don’t matter.

“We are the sum of all the moments of our lives…we cannot escape it or conceal it.” - Thomas Wolfe, quoted in Four Thousand Weeks

Freedom in acceptance

Giving up hope might sound depressing, but it’s actually liberating. It means accepting the reality of your limitations and the uncertainty of life.

It’s about letting go of the illusion of control and embracing the present moment. It’s about doing what you can, with what you have, where you are.

“Abandoning hope is an affirmation, the beginning of the beginning.” - Pema Chödrön, quoted in Four Thousand Weeks

8 Weeks For Living 4000 Weeks

“Four Thousand Weeks” is about embracing your limitations, choosing your battles, living with intention and finding joy in the present moment. It’s about making your 4000 weeks count. Now try this 8-week experiment inspired by the book to achieve all those things.

Week 1: Done, not doing

  • Action: Start a “Done List.”
  • Why: Most to-do lists are endless guilt trips. Celebrate what you accomplish instead.
  • How: Each evening, jot down everything you finished, big or small. Savour the feeling of progress, not the pressure of what’s left.

Week 2: Time is yours, claim it

  • Action: Schedule “Creative Rendezvous” with yourself.
  • Why: Stop waiting for free time to appear. Make it happen.
  • How: Block out time in your calendar for your passions, just like you would for a meeting. Treat this time as sacred and non-negotiable.

Week 3: Stillness is the new hustle

  • Action: Try “Do Nothing” meditation.
  • Why: We’re addicted to doing. Learn to just be.
  • How: Sit for 5-10 minutes, doing nothing. Observe your thoughts without judgment. It’s harder than it sounds, but the calm is worth it.

Week 4: Enjoy the ride

  • Action: Start an “Atelic Adventure.”
  • Why: We’re obsessed with goals. Discover the joy of doing things just for the sake of doing them.
  • How: Pick a hobby you’ve always wanted to try, and focus on enjoying the process, not achieving mastery.

Week 5: Give now

  • Action: Practice “Instantaneous Generosity.”
  • Why: Generosity and goodness is contagious. So start the chain reaction. It makes you and them feel good.
  • How: When you feel the urge to give someone a compliment or do something nice, do it immediately. Wether it be a total stranger or your wife of 50 years. Don’t wait or get caught up in your head about how they’ll take it or hold back because they said something mean that morning. Just do it.

Week 6: The everyday is extraordinary

  • Action: Go on a “Novelty Quest.”
  • Why: Break the routine, wake up your senses.
  • How: Take a new route to work, try a new food you’ve always been curious about or avoided since childhood, or simply pay closer attention to the world around you. Get your head out your head and your eyes off your phone and rediscover the magic in the mundane.

Week 7: Get curious about the humans around you

  • Action: Become a “Relationship Researcher.”
  • Why: Deepen your connections by truly listening and understanding.
  • How: In conversations, focus on learning about the other person. Ask open-ended questions, listen without judgment, and be genuinely curious about their experiences and perspectives.

Week 8: Discomfort is your gym

  • Action: Embrace a “Growth Challenge.”
  • Why: Get comfortable with being uncomfortable. That’s where growth happens.
  • How: Choose a challenge that pushes you outside your comfort zone. It’s a cliche, but a true one. It could be anything from having a difficult conversation to getting up 30 minutes earlier to go for a run. Embrace the discomfort and see how you transform.

Beyond 8 weeks: living a finite life to the fullest

This 8-week experiment is just a little taste of what’s possible when you embrace your limited, not unlimited, potential and prioritise what matters.

Keep exploring, keep experimenting, and keep making your 4000 weeks count.

And if you like Oliver Burkeman’s ideas don’t forget to buy the book and subscribe to his newsletter.


Related: When to quit a bad book

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