Time keeps on slippin’: A review of “Four thousand weeks”

Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals by Oliver Burkeman

Burkeman isn’t interested in helping you get more done. The problem, he says, is that attempting to be more productive is a trap. Instead, what he advocates is that you change your perspective to use your time *well*, rather than trying to get as much done as possible.

This is really an anti-productivity book, and a fantastic one at that. Burkeman urges us to embrace the fact that we only have a limited amount of time (“four thousand weeks” is an allusion to the average lifespan), and that we should embrace this limit rather than try to fight against it.

Holding yourself to impossible standards is a recipe for misery, he reminds us, whether it’s trying to complete all of the items on our todo lists or trying to be the person we ought to be rather than looking at who we actually are: what our actual strengths and weaknesses are, and what we genuinely enjoy doing.

The time mangement skills that Burkeman encourages are the ones that will reduce the amount of time pressure that we experience. Learn how to say “no” to the stuff that you want to do, but that you want to do less than the other stuff. Learn to make peace with the fact that you will always feel overwhelmed.

“Let go”, Burkeman urges us. After all, in the grand scheme of things, the work that we do doesn’t matter nearly as much as we think.

(Cross-posted to goodreads)

She Blinded Me With Science: A review of Galileo’s Middle Finger

The science we are taught in school is nice and neat. However, the realities of scientific research, like all human endeavors, is messy, and has its share of controversies. There are two flavors of scientific controversy. There’s the political type of controversy, where people who are not part of the scientific community feel very strongly about the implications of the scientific theories: think climate change, or the Scopes Trial. Then there are controversies within a scientific community about theories. For example, the theory of plate tectonics was so controversial among geologists when it was proposed that it was considered pseudo-science.

Alice Dreger plants herself firmly in the intersection of political and scientific controversy. The book is a first-hand account of her experiences as an activist among various episodes of controversy. Here she’s defending an anthropologist from false accusations of deliberately harming the native Yanomamö people of South America, there she’s crusading against a medical researcher treating pregnant women with an off-label drug, as part of experimental research, without properly gathering informed consent.

The tragedy is that Dreger, a trained historian, isn’t able to tell a story effectively. Reading the book feels like listening to a teenager recounting interpersonal dramas going on at school. Her style is a strict linear account of the events from her perspective, but that doesn’t help the reader make sense of the events that’s going on. It’s too much chronology rather than narrative: “this happened, then that happened, then the other thing happened.” She loses the forest for the trees.

The result is a book about a fascinating topic, scientific controversies that intersect with politics, turns out to be a slog.