I just finished reading the newest productivity book phenomenon, Four Thousand Weeks — and wow, it was a thinker. The author, Oliver Burkeman, asks us to question the value of trying to get everything done (which is the underlying driver behind nearly all productivity and time management principles) when we have only four thousand weeks here on this planet.
When I read that last sentence, everything in me wants to cram as much into my days as I can so I’m squeezing every drop of experience, joy, meaning and legacy out of this one life I have.
And that’s exactly what the author argues against.
The fact of the matter is, I’ll never do everything I want to do. Even if I didn’t have everyday responsibilities to attend to, life is simply too big. It’s an endless buffet of experiences. I have to make choices.
When I sat with this, so many other bits and pieces of insight I’ve gathered over the years started to congeal.
Burkeman suggests we decide in advance what to fail at so we can focus on what’s really most important to us in this moment in time.
In The ONE Thing, Gary Keller suggests we choose what matters most and give it all the time it demands — which requires getting extremely out of balance in relation to other things in our lives.
In Triggers, Marshall Goldsmith suggests that when we want to make positive changes in our lives, we must choose one thing to eliminate.
In my mind, it all boils down to one important concept:
There will always be too many things in this life we want to (or have to) do — and by default, we’ll miss out on certain things and/or not do the best job with certain things. So why not choose in advance what things you’ll let go?
Imagine the freedom in that.
Here are some things I’ve personally decided to fail at (for now) as I focus elsewhere:
- Turning everything I learn into content for others to consume. I live to learn — learning makes me happier than anything else — and it’s okay to just learn because I love it.
- Keeping my house perfectly clean.
- Being perfectly in shape. If I can fit into my pants, I’m good to go.
- Highlighting my hair. My natural dark blond is going to have to do.
- Learning French. Adieu!
Come on. That’s a fun exercise, right?!
But we’re not done.
Because there’s one more thing we human beings have to watch out for: the Zeigarnik effect.
The Zeigarnik effect is our human tendency to remember unfinished tasks better than finished ones.
So it’s not enough to say you’re letting certain things go, or you’re going to choose to fail at some things. You also have to give your brain permission to close that loop.
One thing that works pretty well for me is to create a “not doing” list. Literally take out a pen and paper and write out a list of the things you are choosing to fail at. The act of committing a thought to paper triggers the neurological response of closing a loop. It’s out of your brain, now. No need to review that list or even add to it (unless you want to). You are now free to focus on things that are meaningful to you in this moment in time.
What will you do with this portion of your four thousand weeks?