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How to manage your time better?

Time management is a skill everyone aspires to. Waking up early, having a perfect morning routine, working out, completing your cramped to-do list, finding time for your loved ones and your hobbies – we’ve all tried to have the perfect day. But more often than not, we come up short, facing unexpected work calls, underestimated tasks and tired bodies.

The book, Four Thousand Weeks by Oliver Burkeman, takes a different approach to the conventional ideas of time management. The “hustle” culture has embedded a deep-rooted fear of being idle.

A multitude of apps and wearable devices control our workday, our workout and even our sleep, enforcing the idea that if our efficiency isn’t maximized, that means we’re doing something wrong. We ought to get more things done, or do different things done, right?

Not necessarily. Four Thousand Weeks challenges the status quo and says that life isn’t about being productive or ticking off everything on your to-do list or answering more emails. Rather, it should be about prioritizing and doing the things that matter most.

Insight 1: Embracing limits and finitude.

An average human today lives up to eighty years old. That means he/she has four thousand weeks in their life. But they are convinced that in this limited timespan, they must be utmost productive. This leads to a sense of joyless urgency, efforts to just “get through” tasks and get them “out of the way.” We feel guilty if time passes by and we don’t fill it with some activity that we consider meaningful. By living mentally in the future, it doesn't lead to peace of mind or allow people to spend their time on things they truly care about.

The author encourages us to instead embrace our finitude. Implementing endless time management systems can’t ever bring the sense that you’re doing enough because it defines ‘enough’ as a kind of limitless control that no one can attain. A more pragmatic approach is to organize your days with the understanding that you definitely won’t have time for everything you want to do. The more you confront the facts of finitude and work with them, rather than against them, the more productive and meaningful life becomes.

Insight 2: The efficiency trap of technology.

Technology adds an additional conundrum to time management. Social media leads to feelings of existential overwhelm and FOMO, as one starts to feel they could or should have more experiences on top of those already had. Furthermore, it exacerbates our attention span, which negatively impacts our effectiveness.

Another trap of technology is how time management systems fail to make us focus on important tasks. By focusing on small-but-urgent tasks, we ignore the meaningful ones and lose sight of our end goal.

This ties into how convenience has become “inconvenient.” Online services like Netflix or UberEats make it easy to stay at home, but can make it less likely to meet friends or try new things. As activities become more convenient, those that remain inconvenient start to feel repellent, such as waiting in line to vote.

Insight 3: Becoming a better procrastinator.

Procrastination is inevitable. The author’s strategy is that instead of trying to eliminate it entirely, one should focus on choosing what to procrastinate on more wisely so that we do the things that matter most. “Pay yourself first,” a philosophy for a way to prioritize the things that matter to you.

The book narrates a famous piece of advice Warren Buffet gave to a pilot, in which he suggests making a list of the top 25 things one wants out of life and arranging them in order of importance. Buffett advises that the top five items on the list should be the ones around which a person should organize their time. Contrary to popular opinion, the remaining 20 should be avoided at all costs as they are not important enough to form the core of one's life but are seductive enough to distract from what matters most.

Making these choices on how to live will entail the loss of other ways of living, and suggests that it is best not to procrastinate or resist making commitments, but to accept that loss is a given and move forward.

Insight 4: Understanding distractions.

The author reflects on the strange phenomenon of finding it hard to focus on things that matter to us and instead seeking distractions. They propose that this may be due to feeling uncomfortable with the finitude of our time and our limited control, making it hard to feel certain about how things will turn out.

Worry is driven by the desire for certainty in things that are often uncertain. And our inability to accept our limited control over the future is a result of our inability to accept our finitude. But what we must understand is that time isn’t our friend. We don't truly have time, what we have is the expectation of time.

Digital detoxes, personal rules, various apps - all of these measures to combat distractions will mean nothing if we don’t acknowledge the inevitability of discomfort and focus on the reality of the situation instead of resisting it.

Insight 5: Rediscovering rest.

The spread of the clock-time mentality during industrialization led to the separation of leisure and work, where leisure time was only valued if it enhanced one's usefulness on the job. This created a new hierarchy where work was seen as the main purpose of existence and leisure was only for recovery. However, for many factory workers, industrial work was not meaningful and they only did it for the money. This led to the devaluation of leisure time and the belief that one's days were only progressing towards a future state of happiness.

Leisure does not have to productive. You don’t have to repair your home on the days off or have gone for a vacation that you’re not in the mood to plan for.

Insight 6: Impatience isn’t a virtue.

It has been calculated that if Amazon's homepage loaded 1 second more slowly, the company would lose 1.6 billion dollars in annual sales. As a society spoiled by technology and the accelerated pace of life, we have become very impatient.

People often say they don't have time to read, but in reality, it's not a lack of time that's the problem, it's impatience. Filling every moment of the day with tasks can also be a form of emotional avoidance, driven by a desire to avoid dealing with feelings of limited control over one's life.

Patience is a virtue. The capacity to allow things to take the time they take is a rare and valuable skill. It will lead to you doing the work that really matters, and deriving fulfilment from the work for itself as opposed to some future end.

Insight 7: Freedom in time.

The concept of freedom in relation to time can be viewed in two ways. The first is individual time sovereignty, the freedom to set one's schedule and make choices without interference from others. The second is the sense of meaning that comes from being willing to collaborate and sacrifice some control over one's time for worthwhile endeavours. Strategies for achieving the first type of freedom include productivity techniques such as morning routines and limiting time spent on tasks like email. These strategies can help set boundaries to prevent others from dictating how one's time is used. An example of the second kind can be seen in the lives of digital nomads, aka the modern laptop lifestyle where you can travel the world and be in complete control of your own schedule. However, they are in fact intensely group-focused people, who, if anything have less personal freedom than members of settled tribes since their survival depends on their working together successfully.

Insight 8: Our cosmic insignificance.

Once we truly come to embrace our finitude and limits, we find ourselves with a sense of relief, the realization that we had been holding ourselves to standards which you unreasonably expected to meet. And this realization isn’t merely calming but liberating, because once you’re no longer burdened by such an unrealistic definition of a “life well spent.”

Entering space and time completely means accepting that there will always be too much to do, making difficult choices, and accepting that no experience is guaranteed to turn out painlessly. It also means accepting that from a cosmic viewpoint, it won't have counted for much anyway. In exchange for this acceptance, one can have a real purchase on life and spend finite time focusing on things that matter in the present moment, whether it is personal dreams or long-term endeavours or tackling climate crisis.

"Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals" provides valuable insights and practical strategies for effectively managing one's time and achieving personal and professional goals. The book emphasizes the importance of setting clear priorities, creating a realistic schedule, and staying organized and focused. By following the tips and techniques outlined in the book, readers can gain control of their time and make the most of the limited number of weeks they have in their lives.

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