Many of the readers of this blog are busy people—and life only seems to get busier by the day. As Erin discussed in her recent post about delegation and its benefits, time is finite, and taking time to do one task means you can’t do another at the same time. That ties into an idea we discuss often at OG+S— “opportunity cost”—that for every opportunity you embrace and every choice you make, there is a cost, an infinite amount of options lost based on what you chose to do instead. Erin has also talked about opportunity cost in this post. Point being: it is impossible to do everything, and choices are inevitable, so choose wisely how you spend your time.
Considering the above, I wanted to think about opportunity cost to maximize my good time management for the year ahead. One choice I made was to read the book Four Thousand Weeks by Oliver Burkeman, which explores time management through the lens of the average lifespan of humans—four thousand weeks, give or take. In this post, I will lay out my takeaways from reading this book, hopefully providing a new perspective for any readers hoping to simplify a too-busy schedule.
Burkeman’s description of a “limit-embracing attitude” towards time and time management ties nicely into the idea of opportunity cost. Embracing limitations make it easier to deal with concepts which some see as a hindrance to good time management. Below, I highlight two of these concepts that can be re-thought using Burkeman’s insights.
For example: procrastination— instead of seeing that as a block to productivity, see it as an imperative to productivity; if you do not intentionally put off less important or less urgent tasks, you’ll never be able to focus on the more important ones. As Burkeman notes in the book, “The real measure of any time management technique is whether or not it helps you neglect the right things.”
How about FOMO, or “Fear of Missing Out” on the opportunities lost by embracing other ones? Instead of fearing or lamenting those lost opportunities, focus on how making the choice in the first place actually creates more value for the choice you did make. Burkeman says that the more purposeful those choices are—knowing you must sacrifice to make them— the more meaningful they will be.
With these bits of wisdom in mind, how does one effectively embrace these principles of time management? Burkeman asserts that letting impossible standards “crash to the ground and picking up a few meaningful tasks from the rubble to get started on today” is the way to begin. He also suggests embracing limitations by creating good boundaries for productivity and resisting too many projects in progress at one time, particularly easier projects with low priority.
What if you try to get better about your time management and “fail”? Burkeman suggests accepting that everyone has failures, and no one can fit in everything they intend to, so deciding what to fail at in advance (what he calls “strategic underachievement”) helps accomplish more in the long run.
Knowing that we all have a fixed time on earth, and that our to-do list will seem to grow no matter how productive we try to be, perhaps we can all learn something from Burkeman’s approach. For the rest of my 2023, I am eager to embrace limitations and focus on priorities. This way, I can make the most of the opportunities I do choose and leave the rest in the dust. Hopefully you feel permission to do the same. Thank you for reading.