Review of Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals by Oliver Burkeman

Picture of the cover of the book - Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals

I’ll admit upfront that I’m not sure how many folks will read this and my writing this review is more to help me synthesize and retain the learning that Burkeman presents in this book than to provide a full review of his book. That said, if you are reading this, I appreciate it and hope that you gain something from my write-up. And I’d suggest that you both listen to Krista Tippet’s interview of Burkeman – https://onbeing.org/programs/oliver-burkeman-time-management-for-mortals/ – and read the whole book – if you feel it’s important enough, otherwise – use this short write-up to help you improve your approach to time management.

I was introduced to Oliver Burkeman’s work by Krista Tippet’s interview with him in her On Being show/podcast. I personally spend lots of effort trying to organize my time and found Burkeman’s approach and thinking on this subject very useful, particularly because he hit on exactly the largest issue I have with time management – confronting the limited time we have. I am still trying to completely internalize and live out what this means in my life, but I have already begun to make significant changes in my life based on this book.

Burkeman has a lot to say about time management and rather than summarize the entire book, I want to focus on the parts of his writing that specifically spoke to me and the issues I have with time management. This is definitely a poor summation – each time I page through the book I remember more and more gems and I don’t want to cover them all.

You Can’t Do it All

Just like you can’t have it all (where would you put it?) you can’t do it all. He writes “it’s painful to confront how limited your time is, because it means that tough choices are inevitable and that you won’t have time for all you once dreamed you might do.” And this is exactly the trap I fall into. I want to think that I will have time to read all the books I want to, go on all the trips I want to, listen to all the podcast episodes that are interesting to me, and many more things. But that’s entirely unrealistic. The problem is that not only can you not do it all, but you can’t even do all the important things.

He recounts the standard time management story that perhaps you’ve heard countless times (and maybe even used yourself as an example) that supposedly demonstrates how you should approach fitting all of your tasks in the time you have. It’s the one about the teacher who brings in a jar and some large rocks, pebbles and sand. The idea the teacher is trying to get across is that in order to fit everything in the jar, you must first put the large rocks in – which represent the most important things in your life – then the pebble and lastly the sand. If you put the unimportant sand in first, you can’t get all the rocks in. Burkeman blasts this example by writing “it’s a lie. The smug teacher is being dishonest. He has rigged his demonstration by bringing only a few big rocks into the classroom, knowing they’ll all fit into the jar. The real problem of time management today, though, isn’t that we’re bad at prioritizing the big rocks. It’s that there are too many [big] rocks.”

We have to accept that we can’t do everything we might want to do, which means the important thing is to make those tough choices and really focus on what matters. As he says in the interview with Krista Tippet – “you do have to go through some kind of a defeat or a surrender.”

So how has this helped me and how have I implemented his philosophy in my life? The first change I immediately made is to remove the guilt about not being able to keep up with everything. That guilt makes me hold on to old emails from different information sources that I “might read when I have the time.” The reality is that those emails will never be read because there never will be the time. And the information is probably out of date at this point anyway. I will admit I have one crutch here. If I really do think it’s interesting, I have the crutch of a folder of “Things to Read/Listen To” where I can put the email. It still won’t be seen again, but there’s always the chance.

Not Caring About Everything

Social media tends to tell us about all sorts of things that we could care about. Too many in fact. So one thing I’m trying to do is focus my attention and energy on a couple of things rather than trying to care about all of it. It’s not that fires in the Amazon aren’t important, but my attention is limited.

Don’t Wait Until the Decks Are Cleared

There’s no way to “clear the decks” and have everything done so you can sit down and do what you really want to do. Instead, you should do those things first. And understand that some things won’t get done – because you will never clear the decks. There will always be something else to do.

Lastly, this sentence hits home with me now more than ever – “We should rejoice that we have the opportunity to make a choice about how we spend the time.” I have a couple of friends with unexpected health issues and now the most important thing in their life isn’t how many emails they have in their inbox, but what the biopsy report says or when their next PT appointment is. To some extent, we are all living on borrowed time. We should enjoy our time now because that is the only time we have.

What Every K Academy Rookie Should K

FeaturedK Academy logo on a basketball court
K Academy logo on a basketball court

My Story Briefly

I have been a Duke fan since we moved to Durham in 1979 when I was 14. I had no experience as a college basketball fan, but it quickly became clear that in North Carolina you had to pick one shade of blue or the other. Thankfully my dad was working at Duke so the choice was obvious – otherwise I might have made a dreadful mistake!

I was lucky enough to be a rookie at the 2021 K Academy held in August of that year because of COVID. I had signed up for the 2020 K Academy, but we all know how 2020 turned out. I had a great time. It is really hard to describe just how much fun it is and how friendly and nice the other campers and the whole staff is.

But, as a rookie, I ran into a few things that I wish I had known before the week started, so I thought I’d share those thoughts in this post.

Why should you go?

I’m going to mostly assume that if you are reading this, you are already planning on attending K Academy. But, if you are still on the fence, I suggest you read Sarah Goswick’s blog posts from her rookie and sophomore seasons – http://blueinthe212.blogspot.com/. Her rookie season post played a big part in convincing me that I would regret it if I didn’t go to K Academy at least once.

I’ll also add this. My rookie season was the 2021 version of K Academy, held in August that year. With COVID still an issue in August of 2021, the staff did a great job of keeping everyone safe with vaccine requirements and daily testing. Unfortunately, a number of us got hit with a different infection and made national news – https://today.duke.edu/2021/08/possible-legionella-exposure-duke-athletics-program. Even with that unfortunate end to our time at Duke, everyone on my team wants to return again. That should tell you everything you need to know about what a great week it is.

Preparation before you go

How much you prepare is really up to you. There were solid athletes there who were in great shape and good basketball players, and there were weekend warriors who may not have touched a basketball since they were playing pickup in fifth grade. And that really didn’t matter – everyone cheered for each other, supported each other, and had a great time. Everyone gets a chance to play, and the coaches are competitive so the better players will get more playing time, but you can have fun whatever your skill level is.

Since I’m not a good basketball player, but am a long-distance runner, I decided to work on my stamina and did a lot of running and sprints to prepare for the camp. I figured if I wasn’t skilled, at least I could use my endurance and speed to help my team.

You are playing two games a day for three days and, if your team is lucky enough to make it to the finals, you might play three on the final day. Building up some endurance may allow you to enjoy the week more, but it is certainly not a necessity.

What to pack

Don’t make the mistake I did and overpack. You get lots of clothing at camp.

Lots of athletic clothing on a bed.
This was the clothing from K Academy my year

You can see, you don’t need to bring a lot of gear. I ended up needing to check an extra bag on the flight home because I had so much gear.

K Academy provides you with laundry service – you just throw your gym clothes in a bag and they end up getting “magically” washed (by the hard working managers who make things run smoothly behind the scenes). So, for your playing/workout apparel, you should bring minimal stuff – you can get by with one set of shorts and a shirt, if it makes you feel better, bring two. As you can see, they also gave me a pair of Kyrie basketball shoes. I brought two pairs, just on the off chance I pulled a Zion and blew out a pair of basketball shoes. Clearly, I didn’t need to do that.

And while we’re on the subject of the shoes, it’s key to try things on to make sure they fit – like the shoes. The next to last day I started packing a bag and thought “I’ll feel really silly if I bring these shoes home and they don’t fit. Better try them on.” Of course, they didn’t fit. Which was no big deal because I just needed to take them to the managers in Cameron and ask for the next size up (which, for me, is a 16). Those managers, always helpful!

You also should think about who you might want to share some of the SWAG with. You get a lot and there’s plenty to hand out to kids, spouse, etc. But that means you need to think about what size they are. Since none of my family came with me, I really didn’t think about switching some shirts out to another size so they would fit one of them. Switching sizes is really simple, just bring it to the managers’ station in Cameron.

When you are there

So, now you’ve made it to Durham, checked in to the Washington Duke, and picked up your gear at registration. What should you do while you’re at K Academy.

First and foremost – enjoy the moment. Soak in the fact that you are going to be playing and practicing where the Duke team plays and practices. When you are in Cameron, look around, make sure to savor the experience. Remember you’re there to have fun.

Next, take every opportunity to meet other campers and current and former players. Everyone I talked with was warm and welcoming. At check in I had some questions for the staff and a veteran was also checking in introduced himself and told me I could ask him if I had any questions. After check-in I went to lunch and sat down with a veteran and had a great conversation and he gave me some great advice. Take the opportunity to sit with people and get to know them at meals. My last lunch there I was later than my team and none of them were around, so instead of eating by myself I sat down with a former Duke player and some of his friends and family. We had a great conversation, and they were all sorts of nice to me.

As far as actual playing goes…

The first suggestion that several veterans told me was – take a deep breath and don’t use all your energy in the evaluation game. You’ll have four more days to play hard, don’t get tired or injured the first day.

Secondly, while it’s a fun time, the coaches are coaches and you should take it seriously. If you’re supposed to be in the K Center for practice at 3pm, you’d better not show up at 3:01pm. Not only will coach have some words with you, but the guys who were there at 3 will be starting the next game.

Lastly, paraphrasing The GOAT himself one night after dinner. This is a fantasy camp. It’s unlikely that your fantasy is to pass the ball all the time. So, shoot it once in a while. Who knows, it might actually go in. My coach – Coach C-Well – stressed this as well. He wanted us to shoot and didn’t complain when we did.

And then it’s time to leave

I hope you have the chance to attend K Academy, have a wonderful time and want to come back another year.