Over the past couple of years, I’ve been able to read a lot more than I ever have (sorry, but I had to flex slightly!) and some of the books that I’ve read are absolute gems. One such book was Four Thousand Weeks by Oliver Burkeman. This book has been so impactful on my life and my art practice that I wanted to share my takeaways from this book as an artist and share them with you so that you can benefit from it too. But if you are someone who reads a lot, just go pick it up already!
To find out how I implemented these takeaways in my life to improve my art practice and make space for my creativity, check out my video where I've gone into these in detail with examples from my own experience.
The essence of the book
The subtitle of the book is ‘Time Management for Mortals’ and it reinstates the fact that our life is finite and we on average live for 4000 weeks. The book then goes into helping us accept this, showing us ways to make the best of these 4000 weeks and not spend them trying to get through an infinite and growing To-Do list. So here’s what I took away from this book and how I was able to practise it to, first, understand what my goals were and second, how to get better at making time and headspace to achieve these.
Stop trying to do everything
In today’s world, we have too many things we want to do and we want to do it all. This book is not going to give you conventional advice on how to be more productive and get everything done. The author starts by shattering the illusion that you can do everything you can dream of. I found it very real. This can be very grounding especially if you are someone who has experienced burnout in their life and is more inclined towards slowing down a little but still achieving your goals, like your actual goals that are important to you.
It’s completely ok to slow down and do things at a pace where you are able to experience and enjoy the process and celebrate the accomplishments instead of just checking one task off after the other.
We all have limited time on this planet. As mentioned before, on average, we live for 4000 weeks and if we try to do every single thing that we want to do, we will end up not doing anything well or fully. Every day we will wake up with so many things to do along with a bunch of things that should’ve already been done, and we’ll become slaves to this ever-growing To-Do list. We want to go to bed feeling a sense of accomplishment, even if it’s a small one, and wake up with some kind of anticipation for the day.
As artists, our work involves being creative and having to explore new things. When you’re in the middle of a painting, you might want to explore a new technique or just experience some distraction, and this might take up more time than you planned to be able to give yourself that time to explore that creativity, you will have to be able to acknowledge that there’s only so much time in the day and let go of a few things on your list.
In this book, Oliver Burkeman asks you to make a list of 25 goals that you want to achieve in your life and then he asks you to prioritise them in order of importance to you. The author then asks you to focus on the top 5 and completely ignore or strike out everything after the no. 5!
By doing this, he is asking you to focus on your top 5 and avoid letting the rest of the 15 distract you from focusing completely on the 5 that are your top priority.
Do less to do more
In this book, the author recommends that we don’t have more than 3 open projects simultaneously. This was something I found really helpful. In November I had about 5 projects to finish by the end of the year and I realised that by trying to make progress on all of them at the same time, I would just be jumping from one thing to another and not make progress in any of them. I took the advice from this book and focused on 3 of the 5 projects I had open. I completed them one by one and started the next only after I finished one and I was happy to see that I was able to complete the 3 tasks and even make progress on the next 2.
So by aiming to do less, we can focus on them more, do them better, and quicker than if we tried to do a lot of things at the same time.
Decide what to fail at
Another very interesting idea that Oliver Burkeman proposes in this book is to intentionally decide where you are ok to fail. We’ve already established strongly that we cannot do everything we want to do all the time and do it well. So by deciding what we are willing to compromise on ahead of time, we will not have to be overwhelmed or disappointed.
For example, I recently started my fitness journey which was an important goal for me. Since working out was completely new to me, it left me quite fatigued and needed extra sleep. This meant that I wasn’t able to do some of my other tasks like cleaning up my home or running some errands but I had to be ok with that. It was easier when I was already ok to compromise on these tasks to prioritise my primary goal which was fitness.
Applying to goal-setting
When thinking about your goals this year, one needs to understand and acknowledge the fact that you cannot control everything and things won’t always go to plan. You need to be ok with that and make time for yourself and the people you love instead of just focusing on checking things off a list. This book has given me a lot of perspective and has helped me improve my relationship with my To-Do list, my calendar, and my goals.
If you are someone struggling with getting things done and trying to do more and more, then I highly recommend you give this book a read. It will help you make peace with prioritising and letting go, thereby helping you focus on things that are important to you.