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)

Personal productivity tools

Personal productivity tools

Productivity tools have always held a special fascination for me. I also tend to futz around with multiple tools, trying to find the perfect match for my workflow. My toolset has been pretty stable for several months now. Here’s what I’m currently using.

OmniFocus

I’ve been a fan of Gettings Things Done for a long time. Of the various GTD-supporting tools I’ve found, I like OmniFocus the best. Useful features include:

  • Syncs well between laptop and phone
  • Easy to add to the inbox via keyboard shortcut in OS X
  • Easy to add to the inbox in the iOS app
  • Integrates with reminders on iOS, which means I can say to my watch “Remind me to do X” and “do X” ends up in my OmniFocus inbox
  • Per-project support for “serial tasks” (only one next action) and “parallel tasks” (multiple next actions). I use this all of the time.
  • I can put projects “on hold” and they don’t show up in current context. In particular, I have an on-hold “Someday” task which acts as a catch-all for things I don’t want to forget but that I don’t plan on doing in the near term.

My contexts are:

  • office
  • online
  • home
  • phone
  • work
  • waiting

VoodooPad

VoodooPad is a personal wiki. It mainly has two uses: context for each project I’m working on (e.g., pastes of recent error messages), and reference pages for things like urls and commonly used code snippets or commands that I often forget.

I like how it’s free-form, and not just plain text. This means I can paste in images that are rendered inline, and I can render code and terminal output in fixed-width font, and my notes in variable-width font.

That being said, what I’d really like is some content system that lets me organize by a topic and by date, and VoodooPad only does by topic, but it’s the closest I’ve been able to find.

Emergent Task Planner

I use a notebook called the Emergent Task Planner to structure my day. I write down tasks that I’d like to accomplish that day and schedule them in chunks of time. I often don’t follow the specific schedule, but I find it helps if I take some time to think about what I’m going to try to accomplish, as well as explicitly scheduling out time for checking email so I’m less tempted to do that while working.

Ubiquitous capture tools

Getting Things Done has a notion of “ubiquitious capture”: being able to quickly capture content that you can come back to later. In addition to OmniFocus, I use a few other tools for ubiquitious capture:

Index cards

I keep a stack of index cards in my back pocket with a binder clip and along with a Fisher space pen. It’s often faster to scribble on an index card than to take out my phone. This was inspired by Merlin Mann’s Hipster PDA.

CiteULike

When I encounter a book or academic paper I’d like to read, I clip it to CiteULike.

Instapaper

If I encounter an essay on the web I don’t have time to read, I use Instapaper to capture it for later . It has great Kindle support: every week it automatically emails the content to my Kindle Paperwhite.

Pinboard

I use Pinboard to bookmark reference material. I was a Delicious user for a long time, but Pinboard’s UX is so much better, than I’m happy to pay them for it rather than use Delicious for free.