Four Thousand Weeks

A book by Oliver Burkeman.

The premise is that we all have roughly 4000 weeks to live, and that we should savor every moment, instead of constantly worrying about the future.

That’s not to say that we should disregard future problems like climate change and perhaps more personal matters like family planning and health. Instead we stop worrying about them, which gives ourselves unnecessary anxiety about the lack of control over such problems and their outcomes. Ceasing to worry about a problem is not the same as disregarding about a problem, and you can still work towards those problems without worry.

In general, these are the lessons:

  1. Accept your limitation. You are not limitless in your abilities and time, regardless of how many self help gurus tell you that you can achieve anything. If we constantly hold the belief that we’re limitless, reality will show you other wise on the limited things you can achieve, and this mismatch between limitless expectations and limited achievements will cause you to feel anxious, and demoralized. Strive to achieve your best, but only at a few chosen things that resonate with you.
  2. Embrace the mundanity of excellence. Avoid constant hopping to the next new exciting and shiny thing once novelty wears off. Originality and excellence comes when you’re able to push through the mundanity of the well trodden path, gain experience, and develop a new sense to detect nuances. It is in those nuances to a problem that gives rise to excellence.
  3. Life is not about avoiding or reducing problems. Life IS about problems. Eliminate enough problems of your present context, and you’ll enter a new context with its brand new problems. You’ll never ever run out of problems to face, until the day you die. Embrace the problems and the problem solving process, instead of getting anxiety that “my life is full of problems”. Everyone’s life is full of problems, because Life is problems.
  4. In the long run, nothing matters. Don’t be anxious about trying to preserve your legacy, so life in the moment and embrace life now as it is. Everything would be insignificant in the long run, it’s just a matter of how long. Steve Jobs would definitely be remembered for a long time, but even such great would be forgotten, just like how no one know who “Alaric the Visigoth” is even though he was a great figure for his time. This means that you should immerse your attention and focus to the present.
  5. To avoid being overwhelmed by the plethora of things you need to do to keep up with life, aim to do the “Next Most Necessary Thing”. Some level of planning is helpful, but do not try to plan out the entirety of your week, month, or year. There is a high chance that things would change that causes your plans to go awry. Doing the “Next Most Necessary Thing” lets you achieve small wins, while still progressing in life, slowly.
  6. Have patience, and give your creativity and attention enough time to fester and germinate to the problem at hand. Do not be quick to proclaim “Ah! This is beyond me!”, but instead accept the feeling that is initially beyond you only because your brain needs time to connect the dots, and piece relevant information together to formulate a solution. This is why brainstorming sessions are useful, because people need to discuss, bounce ideas, and gain different perspectives to come to an optimal solution. The same thing applies to you, except you need more time to do it all alone, and give yourself time to “brainstorm” on your own.
  7. Being “Productive” does not mean accomplishing more things, but to accomplish things in a proper manner in which the required time the thing deserves in order to be done correctly, not expediently. To be productive is to take the time it requires to, and have patience to give it the time it requires. Doing a 100 things haphazardly is not productive.
  8. Don’t wait until you “know what you’re doing” before you start doing. In this world, everyone does not know what they’re doing, and we’re all winging it to the best of our abilities. We may have some answers to some problems, but given the infinite problems in the world, no one has all the answers, and statistically, we’re clueless about 99% of the problems we face. So you will never be fully prepared, and will never have all the answers, but that should not stop you from starting.

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