Oliver Burkeman subtitled his book 4,000 Weeks “time management for mortals”. Time and mortality are tough subjects that Burkeman faces head-on and with creativity and humor uncommon to self-help books.
I’ve been wrestling with time since December 22, 1987, when I tossed my wristwatch in a wastebasket at the Troy (OH) library an hour after I was fired from a senior leadership position in a large company. I then wrote a list of things I’d rather do with my life than continue my “pants on fire” existence.
Like most people, the early years I focused on “time management”, using my Franklin Covey planner and developing habits such as “first things first”. This works to a point but over time, I “sharpened my saw” so finely that it cut me. Now while encouraging good planning, I also warn folks that “planning without a sense of humor and self-forgiveness can cause mental illness”.
Burkeman’s theory takes this another step by using our mortality as context for planning. Essentially, his path suggests that we do less, better. Time saving devices are just that, they save time for other things. Amazon, Uber, and our IPhones give us more time to do...what?
The faith my parents gifted me says there’s something beyond human time. My friends who practice their Jewish faith say a good life is its own reward. In either event, I’ve become more satisfied in my life as I’ve learned to use time stretching exercises that I started working on that day in 1987.
I plan my work, then work my plan. Getting things done fulfills me, coaching others inspires me. It’s always a slog but wins give me confidence, satisfaction, and self-worth. But most of all, they make my leisure time more leisurely.
- I set aside specific times each week for things that heal me like playing music, running, praying, traveling, and reading. Choose any form, it’s called recreation (re-creation) for a reason.
- Measure your relationships. That is, list every person you deal with frequently and identify whether they are takers, givers, or both. Then lovingly set your boundaries.
- Set a news diet. Every moment I spend listening to the extremes (of pessimism OR optimism) is another wasted minute. I like staying informed and involved, endless opinions wear me out.
- Set your life goals, written with timetables and measurements. There is no wrong way to do this. Whatever you write down in any form is preferable to leaving it entirely to “chance”. Chance means what most workshop participants tell me initially: “It’s all up here in my head”.
- Cutting my lists. Goals can be a long list. So, I go back each year and number my goals from most to least important. 3 things done well and enjoyably beats glancing blows on a list of 10.
- Meditate. Like planning, there is no wrong way to do this. I stop, whether for a minute or twenty and breathe.
According to Burkeman’s formula, with good luck I have about 500 more weeks in this mortal coil. Whether 20 or 1,000 weeks remain, I’ll eventually get the inevitable terminal diagnosis. When I do, having been a brilliant time manager will be just as useless as how much wealth I’ve accumulated.
Instead, I simply want to look back (and forward) and say I’d squeezed my orange to the peel.