Four Thousand Weeks by Oliver Burkeman [Actionable Summary]

This is a comprehensive book summary of the book Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals by Oliver Burkeman. Covering the key ideas and proposing practical ways for achieving what’s mentioned in the text. Written by book fanatic and online librarian Ivaylo Durmonski. Supporting Members get full access and a downloadable/printable version of the summary.

The Book In Three Or More Sentences:

Our time on earth is insultingly brief – we have only around four thousand weeks. On top of it all, we waste much of it trying to do everything but eventually accomplish nothing. Four Thousand Weeks offers insightful philosophical tools that provoke deep reflection. Oliver Burkeman will help you figure out what’s truly important in your life so you can regroup, escape activities that are unworthy, and learn to focus your attention on the here and now. In particular, stop dwelling on the past or worrying about the future. Plainly, it’s a book about how to use your limited time wisely.

The Core Idea:

Managing your time well is, foremost, realizing that not everything can be managed. Drop the impossible standards you are pursuing, and decide in advance what to fail at. That’s one of the practices Oliver Burkeman proposes as tools for salvation in our culture worshiping busyness. All in all, it’s not about trying to cram more into your day and feeling even more anxious when you can’t do everything. But about strategically setting boundaries and deciding what not to do.

Reason To Read:

As long as you believe that happiness will be found somewhere in the future, not in what you’re doing right now. Your life will continue to be – and feel – infinitely sadder. The text will help you embrace the idea that things will probably never going to be in perfect order. And that’s totally OK. Four Thousand Weeks is the book if you need aid in choosing what to do with your limited time on earth and how to approach managing your limited time.


  • When we obtain what we wanted, we quickly find new things to want – never appreciating what we have.
  • If your attention is ever fleeting, you’ll never enjoy the current moment.
  • We seek distractions when we perform both hard and boring tasks because such tasks reveal our flaws.

7 Key Lessons from Four Thousand Weeks:

Lesson #1: Busyness as Emblem of Prestige

What do we do when we get closer to our financial goals? When we finally satisfy our lifestyle needs?

Easy, we set new goals. We nominate new and shiner lifestyle needs to keep up with the growing demands of the hungry for more crowd.

The book starts with a depressing observation of how we perceive productivity – an umbrella term the author uses to capture our desire for work-life balance.

The products that were created based on the advance in technology. The same products that had to supposedly make us work less and enjoy more leisure time, are making us work more.

Oliver Burkeman points out that when he adopted the famous Inbox Zero system for managing emails – i.e., you get tremendously efficient at answering emails in order to keep your inbox at 0. He discovered that he started getting even more emails.

It makes sense. You handle incoming emails faster. So, this invites even more emails because people get used to you being available all the time.

Similar things happen with our financial goals.

We earn more. But we spend more. This forces us to work even more so we can keep having enough to satisfy our growing needs. It’s an absurd cycle where we never have enough. And most importantly, we never feel that we have enough.

That’s why we label busyness as an emblem of prestige. We think that more working hours will lead to a happier state but this time never arrives. Only our work obligations increase while our satisfaction decreases.

“It turns out that when people make enough money to meet their needs, they just find new things to need and new lifestyles to aspire to; they never quite manage to keep up with the Joneses, because whenever they’re in danger of getting close, they nominate new and better Joneses with whom to try to keep up.” Oliver Burkeman

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