Contemplating Four Thousand Weeks, the book, and hopeful, but not guaranteed, reality

One of my plans for last weekend, the weekend of my birthday, was to read Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals by Oliver Burkeman. While I didn’t finish it then, I did finish it Tuesday. And it probably will be the best book I read this year, because it’s hitting at just the right time, not only with my birthday, but also with changes at work. It was, and is, the perfect time for me to contemplate mortality and how I’m living, will live (including work), the years (months, weeks, days, and hours) remaining that I have (hopefully).

Since I have been a little scatterbrained this week, and I don’t think I can muster a cohesive post about exactly why this book struck me like it did, I’m just going to share a few of my favorite passages, starting with this one:

We fill our minds with busyness and distraction to numb ourselves emotionally. (“We labour at our daily work more ardently and thoughtlessly than is necessary to sustain our life,” wrote Nietzsche, “because to us it is even more necessary not to have leisure to stop and think. Haste is universal because everyone is in flight from himself.”) Or we plan compulsively, because the alternative is to confront how little control over the future we really have.

If you’ve followed this blog and my meandering thoughts here, you know that I like to plan ahead, especially for the time I (or both Kim and I) have off from work. I think Burkeman captures almost exactly why I do that.


…meaningful productivity often comes not from hurrying things up but from letting them take the time they take, surrendering to what in German has been called Eigenzeit, or the time inherent to a process itself.

As within the last couple of months I’ve been given new responsibilities at work, I’m finding this (letting things take the time they take) to be so relevant. In my job as the cataloger at our library, I can’t rush the process of labeling books, audiobooks, and DVDs and finding, copying, and sometimes creating, records. It just takes the time it takes.


Ironically, the union leaders and labor reformers who campaigned for more time off, eventually securing the eight-hour workday and the two-day weekend, helped entrench this instrumental attitude toward leisure, according to which it could be justified only on the grounds of something other than pure enjoyment. They argued that workers would use any additional free time they might be given to improve themselves, through education and cultural pursuits—that they’d use it, in other words, for more than just relaxing. But there is something heartbreaking about the nineteenth-century Massachusetts textile workers who told one survey researcher what they actually longed to do with more free time: To “look around to see what is going on.” They yearned for true leisure, not a different kind of productivity. They wanted what the maverick Marxist Paul Lafargue would later call, in the title of his best-known pamphlet, The Right To Be Lazy. We have inherited from all this a deeply bizarre idea ofit means to spend your time off “well”—and, conversely, what counts as wasting it. In this view of time, anything that doesn’t create some form of value for the future is, by definition, mere idleness. Rest is permissible, but only for the purposes of recuperation for work, or perhaps for some other form of self-improvement. It becomes difficult to enjoy a moment of rest for itself alone, without regard for any potential future benefit because rest that has no instrumental value feels wasteful.

Ironically as I was reading this book , I felt I was doing just that, resting for a form of self-improvement, not “wasting” my time. However, it also is why I had planned fun time for last weekend, just being idle, which I think I accomplished, but as if it were a thing to check off like in a to-do list, which Burkeman also discusses:

Defenders of modern capitalism enjoy pointing out that despite how things might feel, we actually have more leisure time than we did in previous decades—an average of about five hours per day for men, and only slightly less for women. But perhaps one reason we don’t experience life that way is that leisure no longer feels very leisurely. Instead, it too often feels like another item n the to-do list.


Burkeman connects what social psychologists call “idleness aversion” to what German sociologist Max Weber coined as the “Protestant work ethic” which he believe stemmed from the Calvinist doctrine of predestination. The doctrine is “that every human since before they were born, had been preselected to a member of the elect, and therefore entitled to spend eternity in heaven with God after death or else as one of the damned, and thus guaranteed to spend it in hell.” Idleness then became/becomes anxiety-inducing, to be avoided at all costs – not just because, as Burkeman writes – it might be a vice that leads to damnation if overindulged, but might be evidence of a worse truth: that you already were damned.

We flatter ourselves that we’ve outgrown such superstitions today. And yet there remains, in our discomfort with anything that feels too much like wasting time, a yearning for something not all that dissimilar from eternal salvation. As long as you’re filling every hour of the day with some form of striving, you get to carry on believing that all this striving is leading you somewhere—to an imagined future state of perfection, a heavenly realm in which everything runs smoothly, your limited time causes you no pain, and you’re free of the guilty sense that there’s more you need to be doing in order to justify your existence.

I think I’ve felt that even with what I call ‘My Own Personal Sabbath’, where “almost every Sunday since mid-May 2020 with a few exceptions, I have been taking my own personal Sabbath, where I tune out of the news and social media and turn off my ringer and all notifications on my phone.” And maybe I feel, or have felt, like I have to justify it to you by sharing exactly it is what I am doing with my time off.


So as Eve on the Headspace meditation app signs off: “I’ll leave it there and I look forward to seeing you back here soon.”

My Own Personal Sabbath #15

Almost every Sunday since mid-May 2020 with a few exceptions, I have been taking my own personal Sabbath, where I tune out of the news and social media and turn off my ringer and all notifications on my phone. Throughout the day and/or sometimes the next day, I share what I am reading, listening to or watching during my Sabbath.

This weekend, my own personal Sabbath comes early, on Saturday, since I work on Sunday. When I last left you two weekends ago, I was planning on reading Get Shorty by Elmore Leonard, Riverman: An American Odyssey by Ben McGrath, and Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith by Jon Krakauer. I finished both Get Shorty, which was good, and Riverman, which was, and will be, one of my favorite reads from this year. As I was reading, I kept reading passages to my wife. That is one way I know a book is good.

That leaves me with Under the Banner of Heaven still to finish, but I don’t know if I’ll get to that this weekend as I might need some lighter fare after the past week. Last weekend, my wife tested positive for covid and I took home tests Sunday and Tuesday, with both being negative. She is getting better –  like the end of a bad cold that keeps lingering- and I, to be honest, while so far physically well, need a mental respite from the world.

To that end, I’ve joined my sister in a social media break for a little bit. I’m really only on one, Instagram, as I “gave up” Facebook and Twitter several years ago. For me, it’s not “the feed” that is the issue but “Stories” where I hear about the latest news whether I want to or not. And it’s not that I necessarily disagree with what the person is posting, it’s just that sometimes it’s all too much. I need to get away from time to time.

While I don’t know what I’ll be reading, I do know what my wife, who is off all weekend, and I probably will be listening to and watching:

  • Mystery Science Theater 3000 and/or Rifftrax movies (this past week, we rented the “riff track” for Ready Player One, which we had on HBO)
  • The Mission to Zyxx podcast,which we slowly have been making our way through over the last couple of months.

I also have set up a a playlist of podcasts for this weekend’s Sabbath, some of which I’ll listen during a walk:

Other than all that, we’ll see where, or if, I’ll land on any reading.

My binge-reading disorder

You have a binge-reading disorder.

That quote was from my wife earlier this week about the way I read. I can’t (or haven’t learned to) read in short bursts which she does in her job as a rural 911 dispatcher. She can read 20 minutes at a time, be interrupted, and then read for 10 or whatever between calls.

Which leads me to…

My Own Personal Sabbath #14

Almost every Sunday since mid-May 2020 with a few exceptions, I have been taking my own personal Sabbath, where I tune out of the news and social media and turn off my ringer and all notifications on my phone. Throughout the day and/or sometimes the next day, I share what I am reading, listening to or watching during my Sabbath.

Since I am off work today and tomorrow, I plan on some binge-reading. Like last weekend, I plan on on starting with Get Shorty, and then maybe over this weekend, I’ll also get to Be Cool, and Out of Sight, all three which were made into movies. I’ve seen all but Be Cool, but plan to watch all three when I’m finished with them. Maybe Kim and I can have a mini-Elmore Leonard filmfest on Memorial Day Weekend.

If I don’t finish all three this weekend, maybe I’ll try some reading in short bursts, as recommended by my wife. I also have two other books checked out from the library that I want to get to, but I’m in no rush to read: Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith by Jon Krakauer and Riverman: An American Odyssey by Ben McGrath. My wife and I started watching the Hulu/FX adaptation of Under The Banner of Heaven. She had read the book and recommended it to me. I’ve read a couple of other Krakauer and liked them, both Into Thin Air and Into the Wild. Riverman, according to the book jacket, is “the riveting story of Dick Conant, an American folk hero, who, over the course of more than twenty years, canoed solo thousands of miles of American rivers — and then in 2014 disappeared near the Outer Banks of North Carolina.” I thought it might be interesting.

Other than reading this weekend, we have no big plans this weekend. Today, since it’s supposed to be in the high 80s and low 90s (not normal for us, usually in 60s and 70s in mid-May) we’re getting Chinese for lunch and dinner. The portions are quite large so we’ll have enough for both.

Update, 7:30 p.m. Saturday night: I finished Get Shorty by Elmore Leonard and then Kim and I watched the movie. It was interesting to see the differences between the two, but I liked both, maybe the movie a little more.

So what are you all up to this weekend? Reading, watching, listening to anything good? Please share in the comments.

My Own Personal Sabbath #13: The Pruning

Subtitle: The Slow Burn

Almost every Sunday since mid-May 2020 with a few exceptions, I have been taking my own personal Sabbath, where I tune out of the news and social media and turn off my ringer and all notifications on my phone. Throughout the day and/or sometimes the next day, I share what I am reading, listening to or watching during my Sabbath.

If you could look at my history on Libby of books I’ve checked out and not read just from this year, it probably would be at least 50 books. Likewise, I’ve probably checked out at least a dozen physical books from the library where I work (and have worked for the last decade) that have gone unread. Others, I have checked out and returned a few times but not read yet. However, in total, I’ve only read just under a dozen at 11.

So I’d guess you could say that I have an omnivorous appetite but only a small “stomach” for reading. In a way, it’s similar to pruning in that I let lists build up, then I borrow too many books, and finally I cut back to what I really want to read.

And sometimes I digest books slowly. For example, the last book I finished was Is This Anything? by Jerry Seinfeld, a collection of his favorite material through the years. I’ve been making my way slowly through it since the start of the year. Then the two books previous to that I finished were two short devotionals read over the 40 days of Lent.

Out of the other eight books, only three were read in less than a week, with two, both nonfiction, taking about a month. The other three, all but one nonfiction, were read at about a week. So I guess you also could say that I like the slow burn when it comes to my reading, especially with nonfiction.

All of the fiction I’ve read this year (all FOUR of them) were all crime fiction, and the next fiction books that I plan to read are all crime fiction, all by Elmore Leonard. They are Get Shorty, Be Cool, and Out of Sight, all three which were made into movies. I’ve seen all but Be Cool, but plan to watch all three when I’m finished with them.

So, this afternoon, I plan on starting with Get Shorty and then reading Be Cool next Sunday afternoon and Out of Sight on the last Sunday of the month. Maybe Kim and I can have a mini-Elmore Leonard filmfest on Memorial Day as we are both off work that day.

This morning, I’d like to start Prayer in the Night: For Those Who Work or Watch or Weep by Tish Harrison Warren. I bought a copy but I also have it in audiobook on loan from our library consortium’s electronic resource collection. I liked Warren’s book, Liturgy of the Ordinary, which I read earlier this year, so I thought I’d give this one a try.

As for what we’re watching tonight, I’ll refer to yesterday’s post, where I mentioned that.