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:

Continue reading “Book: Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport”