Feeling short on time?  Before you do anything else, read this book.  

Many of you will know Oliver Burkeman from his weekly Guardian column. In particular, his last one where this piece of advice ranked first: There will always be too much to do – and this realisation is liberating.

He went on to write Four thousand weeks, which became an instant New York Times bestseller. Starting from the premise that there will always be too much to do (in life, in work, in parenting) etc., Burkeman brings a laser-sharp focus to the more usual time management approaches by reminding us that, should we live to 80 years old, that gives us exactly four thousand weeks in this life to nail the to-do lists.  (Should you really want to freak yourself out, you can also order the wall- or digital-planner, to cross out weeks as you can – some people report to find this helpful!)

Other guiding principles in the book expand on the theme of how best to use our remaining time on this planet:

  1. Where in your life or work are you currently pursuing comfort, when what’s called for is a little discomfort? The aim here is to expand our lives rather than avoid challenges (because we’re too busy).
  2. Are you holding yourself to, and judging yourself by, standards of productivity or performance that are impossible to meet? “Let your impossible standards crash to the ground. Then pick a few meaningful tasks from the rubble and get started on them today.”
  3. In what areas of life are you holding back until you feel like you know what you’re doing?  “Don’t treat life as a dress rehearsal”, instead “put your bold plans into practice”.

While the topic is serious, Burkeman’s style is humorous, compassionate and encouraging.  He describes his own struggles with endless lists and trying all and any methods of becoming more efficient with time, only to conclude that they all miss the point – that no amount of efficiency will create “enough” time, rather we’re best to accept our time limits and instead refocus our priorities and standards. Four thousand weeks  will be an excellent book to add to your summer reading, and to share with family and friends for some interesting dinner-time conversations!

Gaynor Parkin