Book: Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals by Oliver Burkeman

  • Title: Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals
  • Author(s): Oliver Burkeman
  • Published: August 10, 2021 (Initially)
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
  • Formats: Kindle, Hardcover, Audiobook
  • Available:,
  • Notes: Bestseller in New York Times, Sunday Times

A Quote from Chapter 1

“… the more you try to manage your time with the goal of achieving a feeling of total control, and freedom from the inevitable constraints of being human, the more stressful, empty and frustrating life gets.”

Four Thousand Weeks is a book about making the best use of time – while acknowledging that known time management techniques have not worked, and that we need to change our approach. The book makes us aware and conscious of this through multiple examples and stories.

However, the book assumes that we will look elsewhere for concrete tools and steps to identify and adopt to a new approach.

Key Messages In the Book

The book has a lot of insights, spread across many chapters. I have listed things that made a deep impression on me:

  • Most productivity tips focus on how to do things efficiently – the time ‘freed-up’ gets filled up with more things to do. For example, when I am prompt at answering emails and calls, I get more of them.
  • A life-span of around eighty years, converted to weeks, is slightly over 4000 weeks. After I deduct the weeks that have already passed, I have less than 1000 weeks remaining.
  • And ironically, time seems to fly by faster, now that I am older.
  • Life will be more satisfying when I internalize the finite nature of life, and accept my lack of control over many things. It will be good to distance from the ‘Fear Of Missing Out’. Missing out some things may make my choices better.
  • Instead of blaming social media for my distractions, I may actually be wanting distractions – like peeping at whatsapp, while doing work that requires focus.
  • Maybe, I tend to focus too much on the future, at the cost of enjoying the present. For example, when I visited a zoo the last time, I spent more energy clicking pictures (for the future), rather than enjoying what was in front of me.
  • Tasks that I plan for often take longer than expected. However, when I ‘buffer’ the plans (like reach a meeting early), I end up wasting my time drinking coffee or doing work without access to the right information or my regular tools.

What is likely to help me:

  • Keep aside time and do the things that are most important to me, even if it is at the cost of neglecting other things.
  • Become aware of and know when to stop – and not aim for perfection. It is easy to fantasize about stellar performance (as a worker, life-partner, friend, etc.) – but almost impossible to achieve this.
  • Focus on and eliminate things that I “need not do” and limit the items that are “work in progress”.
  • Increase focus on whatever I am doing, and even boring tasks are likely to become interesting.
  • Just enjoy relaxation, without linking it to potential improvement of efficiency.
  • Experience life concretely, finitely and simply .


Four Thousand Weeks emphasizes that we may be focused on managing our time to the last minute. We are doing this at the cost of actually ‘living in the present’ and enjoying life. The book confirms that it’s impossible to master your time and why you shouldn’t make it a priority anymore.

I also started thinking whether penning and publishing book reviews (like this one) was the best use of the limited time that I have :-).

Here is another quote from the book:

“The peace of mind on offer here is of a higher order: it lies in the recognition that being unable to escape from the problems of finitude is not, in itself, a problem.”

Though, the book convinced me of the need to change my approach, and provided some broad directions, it did not provide readily usable processes and tools to start implementing the change. I guess, there are other books and resources designed for those aspects.

About Oliver Burkeman – the Author

Oliver Burkeman has authored many books. For many years he wrote a popular weekly column on psychology called ‘This Column Will Change Your Life’, in the Guardian. His work has featured in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and many other publications. His writing revolves around productivity, mortality, and a meaningful life.

Other books by Burkeman are: ‘The Antidote: Happiness for People who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking’ and ‘Help! How to Become Slightly Happier and Get a Bit More Done’. You can get more information about Oliver Burkeman at

Book: Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport

TitleDeep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World
Author(s)Cal Newport  
Initially PublishedJanuary 2016 (English)
PublisherGrand Central Publishing  
Formats AvailableKindle, Hardcover, Paperback  
NotesAvailable in other languages. i.e., Hindi, Tamil, Marathi, Telugu, etc.

Here is a paragraph from the Introduction of the book:

“The Deep Work Hypothesis: The ability to perform deep work is becoming increasingly rare at exactly the same time it is becoming increasingly valuable in our economy. As a consequence, the few who cultivate this skill, and then make it the core of their working life, will thrive.”

“Deep Work” (a term coined by the author, Cal Newport) is the ability to focus without distraction on a complicated and cognitively demanding activity. Newport explains that this is work that requires attention, concentration and continuity for long periods. It is typically done alone and pushes one’s mental abilities to the limits. Some examples are: working on strategy (product launch, investment), design of complex systems, learning something new, analysis, writing a book, writing complex code.

Newport points out that many people have lost the ability to do deep work – doing multi-tasking and being driven by e-mails and social media, without being conscious of it. People often do deep work while they are in the learning mode, and then coast along with the skills they have assimilated, doing work in a ‘shallow’ manner. They also lose their ability to pick up new skills. Later, when their skills become irrelevant (e.g., due to automation), or their profession is significantly transformed, they are unable to learn new things that require concentration – and hit a crisis – typically in the later part of their lives.

Over the years, I too had gradually lost my ability to do deep work – and I am trying to pick it up again, using the tips listed in the book.

Key Messages for Me

  • Deep work requires deliberate, focussed attention for long, continuous, periods of time (45 – 90 mins) at a stretch without interruptions where we take our mind to its limits, concentrating, and losing ourselves in the activity (the maximum recommended deep work time is 4 hours per day). Deep work is essential to stand out and make contributions in demanding fields. It is also more satisfying than reading-answering emails, chatting on the net, and forwarding jokes on social media.
  • Frequent use of emails, WhatsApp, Twitter, Facebook, etc., along with mobile phones, and networked computers do not let us spend long periods of uninterrupted, focussed thinking and do any cognitively difficult work unless we take deliberate steps to rearrange our time. Many of us have become addicted to social media and such distractions.
  • Doing important work in a scattered way, with frequent interruptions, significantly increases the time to complete it and reduces the quality of the output.
  • Deep work is rare and hard. Shallow work is easy and all-pervasive.
  • Maybe Google search has reduced the capacity of our memory and our cognitive abilities. Because we can always search and retrieve information easily, we no longer have the ability to hold a set of ideas in our mind at the same time – to enable our brain to make new connections.
  • Many people, including tech giants (like Bill Gates, Neal Stephenson) took long periods ‘off’ from being connected – to think big and deep.
  • To adopt deep work, one has to understand, minimize and optimize shallow work – tasks that make us look and feel busy!

Why Do Deep Work?

According to the book:

  • Deep Work is Valuable. It creates the High-skilled Workers (who do cognitively tough, innovative and complex work) and Superstars (good actors, sportspersons, artists, programmers). Both need to master hard things and produce meaningful results – abilities that are created by doing deep work. Speed of creation and the quality of new products and services are also enhanced by deep work.
  • Deep work is Rare. Current work environments and expectations from knowledge workers do not easily support deep work. Open offices, instant responses to emails and other messages, meetings, presentations, etc. are not conducive to deep work. Combined with the principles of “least resistance” and “short processing time”, deep work takes a back seat. Measures for work have been substituted by “# of likes” on social media, and time to acknowledge an email (with just ‘Thanks’?). It is easier to show ‘busyness’ with shallow work. Being constantly connected (all-pervading Internet) adds to the problem.
  • Deep Work is Meaningful (to the worker). Doing focussed work makes people happy, more than relaxation activities (relaxation activities generate happiness only up to a point). Also, doing deep work makes one less conscious of minor annoyances.

How To Do Deep Work?

Cal Newport explains this in the later part of Deep Work:

Adopt one or a combination of the following philosophies:

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Book: Conscious Living, Conscious Aging by Ron Pevny

TitleConscious Living, Conscious Aging:
Embrace & Savor Your Next Chapter
Author(s)Ron Pevny
Initially Published2014
PublisherAtria Books/Beyond Words
Formats AvailablePaperback, Hardcover and Kindle
Available and

Many of us will live much longer than the preceding generations, and we are likely to be healthier – physically and financially. So, ‘retirement‘ will be different. We need to approach our later lives afresh. However, retirement planning, even now, typically focuses on finances, health, place of residence, and (maybe) hobbies.

I am now in my mid-sixties. Earlier, I had (unconsciously), thought of retirement as pottering around the house, putting my feet up, playing sports, keeping fit, reading books, time with friends & relatives, lounging around, and so on. Basically, “chilling out”, and not having too many targets (self-driven or externally driven). And, I implicitly thought that I would be content – drifting through life in this mode. But in reality, I became restless, impatient, irritable, annoyed and sometimes angry and sarcastic. I sought and demanded attention from people close to me. I became oversensitive to my reducing capabilities, especially my memory lapses. I often slipped into despondence – “anyway, what difference does it make?”

I had read this book some time ago, without assimilating or absorbing it. Now, while examining how to make life more satisfying, I was reminded by my wife about the book. Somehow, I too had an urge to re-read the book, based on a faint recall. I read it again, and then made yet another pass of the book – very, very slowly – digesting and trying to figure out how to apply the concepts and ideas.

This time, something clicked – maybe because the time was ripe for me, or because I had read it multiple times. Or, maybe a combination of the gentle narration, no ‘boilerplate’ solutions, more focus on concepts, and guidance on what ‘may’ work (or what worked for others). One impactful message for me was – it will take time, it won’t be easy, but I need to keep at it – even if I get stuck or there are dark periods when I feel like giving up. The book gave me additional insights each time I read it.

Worth Reading For Me!

I am sharing below my thoughts and reactions in my current context.

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Is Multitasking Still a Skill to Boast About?

Multi Tasking Cartoon

Over the last several years I have read many articles (popular as well as academic) that have consistently tried to educate people that multitasking is inefficient, error-prone and negatively impacts the mental health of the so-called multi-tasker.

However, we still receive job applications with resumes that highlight the multitasking skill of the applicant. So, I chased this a bit, and discovered that even consultants helping people apply for jobs advice them to highlight their multitasking skills (or is it a single skill?). I have also found ‘multi-tasking skill’ as a checklist item in the interview evaluation forms of a few organizations.

Evolution of the Multitasking concept

The word ‘multitasking’ first appeared in the description of the capabilities of an IBM computer (System/ 360) in 1965. People started using the word for human beings in the 1980s as a desirable skill and something that enhances productivity.

So, what is multitasking in human beings?

Human multitasking is the apparent performance by an individual of handling more than one task, or activity, at the same time. The term is derived from computer multitasking.


In the last ten years, multiple controlled experiments and studies have been conducted to understand the concept of multitasking in humans. The research consistently shows that humans cannot pay attention to multiple things at the same time. So they are essentially doing rapid context switching. This increases the total time taken and also increases the errors. People who typically multitask, perform poorly (compared to people who do not typically multitask) even when they are asked to do tasks sequentially.

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The Complexities of Inaugurating a Public Toilet

The Complexities of Inaugurating a Public Toilet

Some days ago, while taking our usual morning walk at the nearby public park, we saw a small gathering of the regular morning walkers. Some of them beckoned us to join them. After the gathering had become sizable, one of the persons (Shanku) cleared his throat and said, “We are proud to announce that the new public toilet of this park will be soon inaugurated – thanks to all of you for the support.” he pointed to a  newly erected set of green boxes, which were being given finishing touches. I was not sure of the support I had given, but decided against voicing it.

Attached is a picture of the toilet (appropriately masked/ hazed out to protect the privacy rights of the public toilet – by the way, do public toilets have privacy rights?).

Shanku continued, “We have invited an important officer of the municipal corporation – the DC of …. for the inauguration scheduled on the 15th of this month, at 10:00AM. I request that all of you remember to come for the inauguration.”

“By the way, this is one of the first virtual public toilets in Bangalore”. This elicited some minor clapping and murmurs of appreciation. After some time, a squeaky voice ventured, “But how does one do it virtually? I would prefer to physically use a toilet.” The appreciation changed to apprehension. Soon the confusion was cleared, it was meant to be an e-toilet, with the “e” representing some kind of automated flushing based on electronic sensors.

Shanku tried to regain the control with his next point, “It also has extensive security features – hidden CCTV cameras everywhere.” That resulted in more grumbling “they are going to take my photo while I am….?”. Again, after some consultation, it was clarified that the cameras were not hidden, and were placed just at the entrance to the toilet area.
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“My Bad” and its nuances

Musings on the use of the term “my bad”.

I first heard the term “my bad” many years ago. After my initial puzzlement, I figured that it was a new way of saying “my mistake” or “I am sorry”.

Over time I have realized that “my bad” is subtly different from “I am sorry”.  “My bad” is usually accompanied by a casual flick of the wrist and a sardonic smile. If the head is full of bouncy hair, there also the optional toss of the head.

It is like the person is saying, “I have apologized, now don’t make a fuss about it.”

I suspect (without actual data), that many folks rehearse saying “my bad” in front of a mirror. They also deliberately make the minor mistakes in their work,  or practice spilling coffee on the others – just so that they can say “my bad” in style.

I believe that the Corporate Communication team of a large organization is soon going to release a policy and guidelines document on the use of “my bad”. This is likely to be copy/pasted across the world eventually.

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“This Number is Busy” message with additional analytics

Today, I re-dialed a “missed call” from an acquaintance, and got a busy tone with the message “this number is busy” in multiple languages.

I was about to cancel the call when I heard “Press ‘1’ to know more – we are piloting an analytics engine.”

I was intrigued, and pressed “1”. Here is what was conveyed (the gist):

“93% of the time, this subscriber disconnects his outgoing calls (gender confirmed through subscriber Profile data), before these calls are picked up. Most likely (86% probability), he is trying to save his call costs. He developed this habit earlier, but continues even when the free call limit is infinity.”

“His number is also busy most of time. That is because he is either inefficient in transacting his business quickly (34% probability) or is lonely and wants to prolong the conversation (43% probability), other reasons account for the rest of the probability.”

“If you can satisfy your requirements (information needs or your own need for chatting with someone) through other means, you are likely to be better off.”

“Press ‘2’ to know information about yourself – based on the pilot analytics engine”.

I automatically pressed ‘2’ before realizing my blunder. The disembodied voice continued:

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Cartoon: Lifetime Warranty ~ Whose Lifetime is it Anyway?

Cartoon: Lifetime Warranty ~ Whose Lifetime is it Anyway?

Recently we went on a project to evaluate and buy a household appliance. Part of the sales pitch that we heard repeatedly was about warranties, with the phrase ‘lifetime warranty’ finding its way in the spiel.

I can understand the concept of warranty for a period of time (1-year, 2-years, etc.), but the concept of ‘lifetime warranty’ has me confused  — I am not sure of whose ‘lifetime’ the warranty is valid for. For example:

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Fridge Inside a Cabinet: Design Thinking or Unthinking Designer?

Fridge Inside a Cabinet

For anyone who stays in hotel rooms, the three pictures above would be familiar. They are the pictures of a mini-fridge inside a wooden cabinet. The cabinet is usually closed from all sides, except for a small hole/ slit for the wiring. This seems to be the case in all types of hotels, regardless of their “star” rating.

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Cartoon: New Revenue Source for Bangalore Traffic Police

Cartoon: Slaves to Measurement

According to sources not willing to be identified, Bangalore traffic police is toying with the idea of imposing ‘invalid parking’ fine on all vehicles that are halted in traffic jams. The consulting firm that suggested this initiative projected that the annual collections will shoot up between 10.3 – 12.4 times their current collections.

It may also motivate the drivers who get stuck in jams to find innovative solutions to avoid traffic snarls.

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