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November 15, 2023

Episode 14: Book Club – Four Thousand Weeks Time Management for Mortals by Oliver Burkeman (Part 1)

In this episode Pam & Sarah discuss Part 1 of the book Four Thousand Weeks Time Management for Mortals by Oliver Burkeman.

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This transcript was generated by AI so please ignore any weird errors. If there is anything really terrible, let us know.

[00:00:08] Pam: So I’m actually a little bit nervous about this one. First of all, because it’s the first time we’ve done this kind of book club format, but also because there’s always this pressure when you recommend a book to someone and they actually read it and then you’re like, oh my gosh, like, did they like it?

Did they love it as much as I did? Did they hate it? Like, there’s, there’s this weird pressure when you have someone else read a book that you loved. So it’s giving me a little bit of,

[00:00:31] Sarah: Yeah, and I guess that there’s something almost more formal about it because you’re talking about something that’s been published and spoken of at length by different reviewers. And now it’s our chance.

[00:00:45] Pam: Yeah. So the book that we’re talking about is called 4,

000 Weeks Time Management for Mortals by Oliver Burkeman. And I was actually introduced to his work, um, not via his book, but through the Waking Up app. He’s got a course in there that is called Time Management for Mortals and it’s kind of everything in the book in a condensed form, um, and in an audio form.

So I listened to that, not really knowing what I was getting into. I thought it was going to be productivity and, you know, tips for getting more done. And then by the end of it I was like, oh, I love this guy. This is great. I need to read the book. So, I want to set the stage real quick on who Oliver Burkeman is because he is a reformed efficiency guru.

You know, he did a lot of writing about how to get more done in a day and, you know, checking things off your to do list. And, um, he actually wrote an article about

time management hacks. And now he says… That he can see that it was in an effort to gain control over his productivity and procrastination and overwhelm.

And it was really just sort of an addiction

to procrastination. And he made that his job of, of doing more in, you know, less time and all of the, the anxiety that comes with that. So he’s a reformed efficiency addict and

he wrote this book that is titled 4,000 Weeks, which is not a very intuitive title for a time management book, but he called it that because On average, we can expect to live about 4,000 weeks. And thinking about our lifespan in terms of weeks, I think really does a great job of distilling how little precious time we actually have.

If we think about it in years, we always hear about lifespan in years, but I think we have a really hard time understanding that or thinking of that as a short amount of time because a year seems so long. So if you think about, you know, 83 years or whatever the lifespan is right

now, that feels like a long time, right?

But when you think about it in weeks, you really get a distilled idea of like, oh my gosh, we really don’t have a lot of time.

[00:03:10] Sarah: It gives it a new meaning, doesn’t it? So when you hear 4, 000 weeks, does it sound like a little or a lot to you? Like what’s your first hit?

[00:03:19] Pam: Initially, I think it kind of sounded like a lot until I did some quick math and was like, Oh, I only have, you know, 2000 or 2500 left. Then it really starts to get real. And I think that most people, when they get to reading a book like this, are probably about our age, you know, kind of in a midlife place.

And when you realize half of those weeks are gone, Then it’s not 4, 000 anymore. Then it’s 2, 000. And that’s even more real.

[00:03:47] Sarah: It’s funny because when I first, uh, was jotting down a few notes for the book, I actually wrote down 40, 000, clearly wishful thinking, but also it, it. It drills home this point that numbers can be really ab feel abstract, right? So it’s, even though I knew the, the premise is this is the number of weeks that many people, um, will live, uh, I still jotted down 40,000 and had to take a double take and think, what, and that can’t be right.

And then realized, no, no, no, it’s 4,000 . And then, and then, you know, crossed it out and wrote 4,000. So to me it, it felt, it feels short. 4, 000 seems like a small number, so it was, it’s an effective, an effective title and an effective premise, and I think that’s something he does really well. He takes this idea of time and, and a really meaningful life, not just time for time’s sake, but how to have a meaningful life.

And he, and he has a lot of interesting ways of looking at, at it. So that, so I really enjoyed it. Um, getting back to your, one of your earlier comments, um, you know, will I like it? Because you did. You, you really, you readily recommended the book, actually a long time ago, you recommended it to me. Even before this podcast.

You thought, this is amazing. You should read it. Uh, and now I finally did for this episode and I’m glad that I did. So it was a great recommendation.

[00:05:20] Pam: Good. That takes off some my

[00:05:22] Sarah: Mm hmm. And, and another thing just before we launch in is to say that, um, we decided for listeners, Pam and I decided to divide this episode into two because the book has so many useful and juicy concepts, we decided to divide our podcast into two. So, um, This first part, uh, really outlines the first part of his book.

He also divides his book into two, making it easier for us. Um, which is, how would we summarize it? This first part of the book? What would you say, Pam?

[00:05:55] Pam: I think it’s really just setting the stage for why this is important and kind of, um, giving context for the mindset shift and the mental shift around how we approach time as a concept and why it’s so important to use it wisely.

[00:06:13] Sarah: Okay. I think that that sounds right to me too. So really overview of the concept, a lot of the ideas, and then the second part, which we’ll get to in our next episode is more on on some of his techniques and approaches.

[00:06:24] Pam: So if listeners want to, um, kind of join the book club, read the first half, that is what this episode will pertain to. You can leave comments on YouTube about what you found useful, meaningful, what you disagree with, anything that stood out for you in the book. And we, um, can always do a follow up episode if we get a lot

of listener feedback.

[00:06:47] Sarah: Good. So let’s dive into part one of this book, part one of 4,000 Weeks.

[00:06:52] Pam: so I want to dig into what Oliver spends quite a bit of time on, which is why this topic is so important. Because I think we can think of time management as being, you know, it just, it kind of has an icky feeling to it that there’s this whole industry around productivity and, you know, timers and systems and planners and, as soon as you start talking about it, it kind of goes, you kind of just go like, I don’t want to hear another thing about that. I don’t want to get, you know, even more stressed out about what I’m not doing and how much I need to cram in a day.

And like, I’m already busy and it just, it just starts to feel kind of icky, I think, to a lot of people because we’re coming out of this hustle culture and really moving more into a space where I think people are recognizing that, um, we were probably doing too much and expecting too much from people.

And we’re in this kind of flux period right now where we haven’t really figured out what it, what the next phase looks like. And so I think this is really timely. This is really important right now to have this conversation and to talk about as Oliver says in the book that life really is time management. That all we’re doing is, is trying to get the most out of the little time we have.

And there’s a quote, in the book where Oliver says, We’ve been granted the mental capacities to make almost infinitely ambitious plans, yet practically no time at all to put them into action.

[00:08:25] Sarah: Oh, and that’s, yeah, because it’s such a source of frustration and pain for people, right? I want to do all these things. I’m, I have this longing to experience life in such a way, learn all these things, do these things, achieve these things, have all these moments. And then it’s this fallacy to think, well, if only I organized my time better, I could do that.

But because I can’t, I’m such an idiot. And now I’m never going to have… So not only do we have the disappointment of not Sort of having all those experiences, but we also feel badly about ourselves, that somehow we didn’t find the right productivity hack to figure it all out.

[00:09:05] Pam: Right. Yeah, somehow we’re failing. And that then intersects with what we’ve talked about quite a bit before, which is, you know, procrastination and avoidance and fear of doing meaningful things. So we have this, society and this pressure that we should do everything and, you know, respond to emails right away and be available by text or call constantly, and you know, all of this pressure that we should be doing all of these things all the time, and then we also want to do all these big things.

So we get in this cycle of feeling like, well if I just check off all the things on the to do list. If I just get the emails responded to, if I just get the work done, then at some point, I will be able to focus on the things that I really want to do, the things that are really going to make me happy. And then so we’re in this…

Cycle of constantly feeling like I’m not doing enough, I’m failing, I’m missing out. And it just feeds itself and it just goes and goes and goes and you kind of can never get out of it as long as you are still in that mindset of just I just need to do more.

[00:10:14] Sarah: Mm hmm.

[00:10:15] Pam: And all of the productivity books and methods and everything focus on that very topic of getting more done in less time, but they don’t focus on the quality of what you’re working on. And there’s another quote from the book where Oliver says, “the problem isn’t exactly that these techniques and products don’t work. It’s that they do work, in the sense that you’ll get more done. RaceToMoreMeetings, FerryYourKidsToMoreAfterSchoolActivities, GenerateMoreProfitForYourEmployer, and yet paradoxically, you only feel busier, more anxious, and somehow emptier as a result”.

So that last point was really kind of a wake up call for me because I think of myself as being a very efficient person.

I actually just had a, um, an interaction at the grocery store the other day because I have a system. With my, my bags in the cart and everything is organized really well. And I, I bag everything myself. And so I always see the look on the checkers face when I come up, they’re like, Oh my God, this woman.

Right. And I pile all this stuff onto the belt and I know they think that it’s going to take forever for me to get it back in to my bags. And inevitably I’m ahead of them by the time we get like halfway through, I’m waiting for them to check stuff and give it to me to get it in the bag. And they’re always

like, oh my gosh. And so the other day, this guy, he had that same process of like, oh my gosh, this is going to take forever. And then we get to the end and he looks at me and he goes. That was scarily efficient. So I told CK that story and he goes, that should be

your tagline, scarily efficient. And I’m like,

oh no, that’s great.

I love efficiency and I love, you know, making sure that things that shouldn’t take forever don’t take forever. But I am kind of known as someone who will respond to your email quickly, will get done the thing that you ask me to get done in a timely fashion. And, again, that’s great for a lot of reasons,

but at the end of the day, am I just doing the things that everyone else is asking me to do, or am I carving out time for the things that are meaningful?

[00:12:37] Sarah: That’s the question. It’s what’s, what’s the dark side of being scarily efficient. Right. Because I think that we, the, we as a society, we, we prize efficiency. Why? Why is it so much better to save more time so you can do more and then. What I, what I liked, um, so much, what was so resonant for me about this book is the idea that fine, if you get more done, you finish at the grocery store faster, so then you can get more work done.

So, and then even if you’re doing things that are meaningful for you, then you can work on your personal projects. You can do your writing. You can work on your podcast. You can have, go exercise the things that you do value, but if, if there’s not sort of a presence to it, a quality of presence and appreciation, not you, anyone, right?

What’s the point? Like, who cares that you’ve gotten more done, right? So I think, like, good for you. Lots of people get so much more done and they’re not necessarily more happy or fulfilled. I think that there’s a fallacy. We think, well, if I, if I had better balance and I’m using air quotes for that, if I had better balance, I could get more done.

I could get more meaningful work and more of my own personal interests done. But many people do that and they’re still not more fulfilled, right? They’ve just gotten better at being more efficient. So, I thought that was interesting and the thing about the checkout, reminded me of this, because now I’m not sure if you have it in California, but right now a lot of the grocery stores and the drug stores, it’s becoming self checkout, which irritates me to no end.

I’m not good at it. I don’t. Wanna do it and I don’t see it as more efficient. I think, you know, there were people who, my understanding like it was a good job for a lot of people. You have some interaction while they’re bagging your groceries for you. I don’t feel the need to to learn how to do this as a consumer.

I don’t think it’s a skill that I need to develop. And I think for plenty of people, it’s super frustrating. So that’s an example of how society is trying to make things more efficient for us, but we lose something. We lose a moment of interaction. Right? Which we can consider friction. Oh, it’s, it’s, you know, it’s too hard.

It’s too, he uses the example of, you know, people think it’s too hard now to call a taxi company, or it’s too hard to call a restaurant to place a takeout order. We, it’s too much friction. We have to go on UberEats or, or whatever delivery service. But in, in so doing, we’re moving, we’re losing some kind of texture that makes life interesting and meaningful for us. So something around this desire for speed and efficiency. There’s a fallacy in there where we’re losing some meaning.

[00:15:29] Pam: I was just listening to an episode of Armchair Expert where they were interviewing the founder of Airbnb and he was talking about kind of the same mental journey that he’s gone through and how he’s kind of rethinking efficiency and technology. Being involved in human connection. And he said something to the effect of technology loves efficiency human connection is not efficient. when you bring people into the mix and have to, you know, coordinate with a person and communicate with a person, it’s not efficient, but you’re gaining something else hopefully in the process. this is coming from someone, I’m a hermit. I’m anti social.

I don’t, you know, I would much rather put an order in on my, on an app than to call a restaurant and put in an order. But, um, I think that you’re completely right, that we’ve gone to this point where we’ve cut out all of the human pieces of the quality of our time and how we’re spending it and that efficiency isn’t the goal anymore.

[00:16:41] Sarah: So, yeah, so he’s really telling us or showing us that efficiency has become this goal. Um, society has made it be this goal for so many of us. And he’s really showing us the downsides of it, some of the risks, like loss of connection with others. What are some of the other, um, points that he was making around that?

[00:17:03] Pam: of the points that made was that we’re actually distracting ourselves by filling our time with so much kind of meaningless stuff at the end of the day, or even filling our time with with anything. It is a distraction in some sense, and we’re not present in anything that we’re doing because we’re just thinking about getting it done to get to the next thing.

And he made a really interesting point about, um, hobbies and vacation and things like that. If you are um, filling your time with these experiences and not being really present in them, then you’re just trying to get to the next one. It’s like, okay, well, we had this great vacation, so now what’s next?

And it’s just always this cycle of getting to the next thing, completing this one and getting to the next.

[00:18:01] Sarah: Yeah. That resonated with me a lot. Um, this idea of a bottomless bucket list. Um, which is his term, uh, this idea that, you know, because we have, as humans, we’ve been blessed with these huge imaginations, big brains, and then we have the internet showing us everything that’s possible, theoretically. Right, so we theoretically think it’s possible to, um, live anywhere, right, and do any kind of work and fulfill any kind of, um, personal dreams, hobbies, you know, new pets, new activities, new trips, new restaurants, new recipes.

We have almost an insatiable appetite because we’re seeing all of these ideas. And then I was thinking, oh yeah, the way the algorithm works. They’re constantly going to be popping back up in my feed, reminding me of these unfulfilled things that I want to do. And I’m in, I’m a coach. I’m in the business of, yeah, go for it.

You want something more? Go for it. Don’t limit yourself. Dream bigger. And so this felt like a reality check thinking, well, what’s the dark side of that? What’s the, or the downside of. Of that. How is that actually an avoidance technique or almost just impractical? ’cause he’s pointing out, yeah, in your brain you can do all of these things in your fictional, you know, mind of your future.

You can do all of these things, but there’s only so many, there’s 4,000 weeks, right? So it’s not. It’s not actually practically possible to do all of those things. So if you’re, if you’re just fantasizing that it is, you’re living in a fantasy and that actually is hindering your ability to pick something intentionally and love it and just do that and be at peace with say, well I am never going to do that and that’s great because I’m doing this and I, and I really love what I’m doing. Or I am never going to, you know, learn that instrument or whatever it is because I’m going to pick this other, I’m going to pick gardening instead. So I think it’s given me some food for thought in terms of how to approach personal fulfillment and, um, this idea that, well, maybe not, not trying to do, maybe, maybe trying to attempting to do everything or thinking you can do everything is not actually beneficial.

[00:20:52] Pam: Because if there are infinite possibilities and you can do all of them, then you are never happy with what you’re doing now. Like there’s always something better you could be doing or seeing or experiencing or, or learning or any of that. And you never kind of settle into… I don’t even like using the word settle there because it has a negative connotation, but you’re never content with or fully present with what you’re doing right now because it’s like, well, what else could I do?

What else could I do? And there’s this kind of like insatiable desire… for the

[00:21:29] Sarah: and actually he does use the word settle. He says you should settle. Yeah. And he talks about it in the context of partnership. That you should settle because yes, if otherwise, if you’re just thinking, oh, well, what if there’s somebody else better suited to me? You’ll never close that loop instead of saying, of course, there’s, you know, millions of people out there.

You will never know just like any choice you make, unless you choose to just embrace your choice.

[00:21:59] Pam: Make a choice and stick with it and work on this choice, work on this thing that you’ve picked rather than starting a lot of new things. Cause I think there is this, there’s this like hit of dopamine that you get it and starting something new, right? It’s exciting. And it’s, it’s kind of easy to start cause you maybe are just researching or learning or try, you know, trying new things and it’s not.

You haven’t gotten to that part where you have to do the hard work and you have to get through the slog of like actually finishing this thing. It’s like, Oh, something new and exciting. And so you’re constantly getting those dopamine hits and you never have to the hard work and the concentration or, you know, if it’s a relationship, do the hard work to make that relationship

[00:22:48] Sarah: Yeah. And he says. That, you know, choosing to, to be in the moment and he uses the, um, expression and concept of finitude a lot, right? So this 4,000 weeks is really taking a, uh, uh, direct look at the fact that, that we’re mortal, right? We’re mortal and the 4,000 weeks isn’t even guaranteed.

So if we’re mortal, how do we want to, how do we want to live each day? Right. So I found that quite, um, an impactful concept as well. An impactful reminder.

when we start. Getting into this conversation of like, not focusing on productivity and not focusing on doing more in less time, then inevitably people start saying like, well, now you’re telling me not to do anything. You know, you’re telling me to just, you know, settle and, um, and not have ambition or not want to do things.

[00:23:55] Pam: And he does make a a very strong point that breaking out of the productivity trap doesn’t mean you stop doing things. It actually just means that you’re separating your happiness from a future outcome and that you evaluate what you’re putting energy into. and what the benefit is from putting that effort in.

So you, you spend your time consciously and you make conscious decisions about what you’re spending your time on rather than simply focusing on completing things and being productive and


[00:24:35] Sarah: and also a byproduct, generally, of focusing, being really directed and focused on what we want to, what we do want to spend our time on, the result tends to be that we actually get more done on that one thing versus having a laundry list of, oh, well, I’m going to do all of these things because I want to make the most of my life. It becomes impossible to really focus. So I realize that intuitively, I’ve started doing this more with bigger projects because I know that I don’t have, um, the emotional capacity because doing something new is just emotional. It’s not just mental, right? I don’t have the emotional capacity to do that many new, big projects at once so I’ll do one.

For example, this spring I worked on my garden, right? That, that was really my free time. I spent thinking about that, working on it, and now I have a beautiful garden, right? If I was doing that and I took on various other, you know, household or personal projects at the same time, that might not have been.

Now, next season, it will be easier for me. So I’ll be able to do, other things at the same time. Not that I did nothing else, but I mean, in terms of a new project. And now actually what I’ve been working on and what I’m going to be continuing to work on is restructuring some of the systems and the budget further to some of our previous conversation.

Pam is doing jazz hands if you, if you’re listening. Um Related to, to my business. And this also is something, it’s using mental reserves, emotional reserves. And so that’s one big thing I get to focus on for a season. Maybe I’ll work on it for a quarter, right? And I know that I am not gonna be doing to, trying to take on a million other things at once.

While I do that, so he talks about that too, um, not, not being in this fantasy, thinking you can do everything at once, but really, um, knowing that your, your time is finite and, and then honoring what you choose, making a choice and really honoring it, knowing that it’s actually going to feel more uncomfortable in the moment, but you will feel more fulfilled ultimately when you actually make headway.

Imperfectly, he also acknowledges that, but you will make headway that way. That spoke to me a lot.

[00:26:57] Pam: to me as well. I love the idea of really just focusing on, on picking something that you’re going to commit to and finishing it. And, um, he talks about having a maximum of three, items on you kind of to do list, your open items, having only three at any given point in time, because you can’t always start something and finish it.

You know, there’s information that you need, or roadblocks, or for whatever reason, you can’t finish it. So having your list limited to a maximum of three things at any time that you could work on, and only choosing from those items. And either completing one or totally abandoning it. Like making the decision to say, I’m not doing this project anymore.

It’s not going to stay kind of open in the, you know, back of my mind and continue to take up space. I’m actively choosing to stop it. Those are the two ways that you can take something off of your kind of open project list at any given time.


[00:28:01] Sarah: The other interesting point that he makes about that and throughout the entire first section is reminding us that we’re going to have a lot of other things that we want to do. And it’s, it can feel painful to say, well, I’m not one of, you know, I’m not going to do this fourth thing, this fifth thing, this sixth thing, which also calls to me, but these three are the most important.

I’ve deliberately picked these three and the other ones will actually sabotage. He doesn’t use those words, I don’t recall, but really they’ll function to sabotage. So it’s essentially self sabotage think we can do more. And he uses that analogy of the rocks. So, he says, um, and I’m sure lots of people have heard this analogy before, imagine you have a jar.

So, it’s a time management analogy. You have this jar, and how are you going to fit in big rocks, small rocks, and sand? So, the traditional way of. Telling the story is saying, well, first you put in the big rocks. Those are your biggest priorities. After that, you put in the smaller pebbles. Um, those are your, you know, sort of secondary goals.

And then finally, you can throw in the sand and the sand is everything else that you’re interested in doing in your your life, meaning you pick the most important things first. And, um, Oliver Burkeman is saying, well, that’s, you know, a clever analogy, but it’s not realistic because most people simply have too many rocks. It’s an oversimplification. So essentially what the bottom line of what I was hearing him say is acknowledge the fact that you have too many rocks. First step is to acknowledge it.

Then you might grieve it and say, well, I’m not going to choose these, but then you get to celebrate. Well, I, I’m aware, I’m aware that I’m letting some things go. I’m aware that I’m going to live an imperfect life where I’m not going to get to do all of the things I want to do, but I’m going to really enjoy and be in full presence with what I’m choosing right now. I’m going to be fully, that’s the gift.

[00:30:10] Pam: There’s power and strength and fulfillment in choosing something and sticking to it and committing yourself to it and not yourself so thin that you don’t actually achieve any of the great things that you want to achieve.

does hurt to make that decision sometimes, sometimes of saying, well, I, I want to do this thing, but by doing that thing, I am actually choosing to not do this other thing.

And that’s a hard trade off for a lot of people. And this is a big point in the book is that we just kind of all live in denial that we all think that there’s not a trade off there and that you can. You know, add another rock to your jar.

[00:30:57] Sarah: If you just get a better tool,

[00:30:59] Pam: right,


[00:31:00] Sarah: get a

bigger jar.

Exactly. Get a bigger jar or get a better time management tool. That’s where it becomes dangerous.

[00:31:09] Pam: So that comes back to the just conscious choices and maybe even auditing your time and your projects every once in a while, because it is easy for things to start to creep in. You know, you can’t, you can’t be this vigilant every day and think like, Oh, I’m, you know, going to be super controlled with my time.

And I’m only going to focus on these three things because then you just end up in another kind of anxiety. But I think every once in a while, it’s a good idea to kind of look through like, you know, what have I put on my list and what am I working on and consciously go, Nope, that one’s out of here. I’m, you know, I haven’t made

quote, made time for it in six months, so I’m taking it off my list because it takes up a lot of mental energy to have all of those things kind of floating around that you wish you could get to or make time for.

[00:31:59] Sarah: And I think you’re right. It’s not about living, you know, day to day, moment by moment, thinking, am I, you know, am I doing the right? I think that’s, you know, the opposite of what he wants. I think it’s about making your choices in advance, right? So you’re making your choices in advance so that when you’re in the flow of your day, you can simply be in the flow of your day and give yourself full permission to be doing what you’re doing instead of thinking about all the other things you could be doing, which robs you of the moment and prevents you from completing the task.

[00:32:30] Pam: So he uses a concept that comes from the finance world, which is paying yourself first. And of course I love that because I’m a… I’m a fan of budgeting and money, but the technique is basically, you know, with money, when you get your paycheck, the way most people work is they, you know, maybe like pay out their bills.

And then at the end of the month, after they’ve done all their spending, then they go, Oh, is there anything left to put in savings or retirement or, or for things that I want? And this concept is the other way, which is when the money comes in, you give it a job. You dedicate it to what it should go to, and you pay yourself first, meaning you put the money in your retirement first, or in your savings first, or towards whatever goal you have first, and then you can, you know, let the, the rest of the spending happen.

And with time management, you can take the same principle, which is, blocking off time on your calendar for your priorities, um, or for self care appointments. Uh, fully taking weekends off so that you’re not feeling the pressure to be productive over the weekend or limiting the hours of the day when you’ll schedule meetings so that you can have dedicated time to work on the things that are your priorities.

And I really like that, um, that shift because so often, especially in the productivity trap, our time ends up being pulled in 50 different directions by everyone else’s priorities. So if you’re paying yourself first with your time, then you have a commitment to protecting that time and you know that it is already reserved for what you want it to be

[00:34:16] Sarah: And I feel that you model that really well. You’ve made some deliberate choices in your life around paying yourself first when it comes to time.

[00:34:27] Pam: It’s been, um, a lot of work for many years. I’m not gonna, you know, I’m going to lie and say that just overnight I went,

oh, I’m going to, you know, make my time mine. It doesn’t happen that way. I used to very much be the person who was available for meetings anytime that’s good for you. And, you know, would respond to emails whenever they came in and really, my time was kind of at the whim of what everyone else needed. And it was stressing me out. It was robbing me of mental energy. I couldn’t focus on anything that I wanted to focus on. And so I really made it a point to limit the hours. That was the first thing, limiting the hours that I was willing to take meetings, because if I didn’t do that, then I would have two meetings spaced throughout every day and never got chunks of time that were just mine.

So, um, if you have that issue, I definitely recommend, um, doing that. And it can be hard at first to limit your availability and tell people like, Oh, I’m only available during these hours, but I assure you people will adapt.

They just will. It’s, you know, it’s scary to do, but, but they will.

[00:35:44] Sarah: And, um, I love the way you put it because it’s a reminder that it really, it’s individual, right? What every person, what taking your time back or giving, paying yourself first time wise will look like, right? So it always comes back to this self awareness piece of knowing what you want to focus on, what you’re willing to let go of, and then giving yourself permission to actually spend the time, actually actively choose those activities and putting them in the calendar before you fill it up with whatever else.

[00:36:25] Pam: I was going to take us back to the rocks analogy, because there’s the big rocks that we were talking about, and then there’s the little rocks that go in, and they’re what Oliver calls middling priorities. There are buckets of things that you absolutely say yes to, and they are your priorities.

And then there’s buckets of things that you do want to do. They’re not priorities, but they sound great, and you’d love to add them into your life. And then there’s the bucket of things that you’re absolutely saying no to. You don’t want to do those things. So the first bucket and the last bucket are easy. Big yes, big no. Easy. Then there’s this huge chunk of stuff in the middle that sounds nice, and you would like to add it into your life, and Oliver has a quote in the book that actually comes from Elizabeth Gilbert, who is phenomenal. Um, the quote is, “you need to learn how to start saying no to things you want to do, with the recognition that you only have one life”.

And I think that’s such a huge point, and I know that we’ve already talked about that, but I really want to drive home the opportunity cost. That when you say yes to things that are not big yeses, you are taking energy, time, resources, everything away from your big yeses. So you really do have to identify the big yeses and be really strong about limiting the middling priorities.

[00:37:56] Sarah: It’s easy to eliminate the things you don’t want to do. The bigger risk is trying to eliminate the things you are interested in doing. And as a curious person with a lot of interests, that’s something that can be hard for me um, and so I love this idea related to that, uh, of JOMO, J O M O, the joy of missing out, which is a play on, um, FOMO, right?

The fear of missing out. And if I could just read, this is one of my favorite quotes from the book, um, where he explains his interpretation of JOMO. And he says, “the exhilaration that sometimes arises when you grasp this truth about finitude has been called the joy of missing out”. So again, I never really, I never thought of the connection between finitude and the joy of missing out.

Um, “it is. The thrilling recognition that you wouldn’t even really want to be able to do everything, since if you didn’t have to decide what to miss out on, your choices couldn’t truly mean anything. In this state of mind, you can embrace the fact that you’re forgoing certain pleasures or neglecting certain obligations, because whatever you’ve decided to do instead, Earn money to support your family, write your novel, bathe the toddler, pause on a hiking trail to watch a pale winter sun sink below the horizon at dusk, is how you’ve chosen to spend a portion of time that you never had any right to expect”.

I think for me, why I love that quote is a reminder that any moment is a gift and anything that you’ve chosen, if done intentionally and with care is, is your beautiful choice and own what that, whether, as he says, whether it’s bathing your toddler or going on a hike or doing meaningful work. It’s your choice and that that’s something to celebrate.

[00:40:00] Pam: I think that is really one of the overarching important themes is this idea of choice.

That you have to be consciously choosing what you’re putting your energy into and what you’re putting your focus on. And he talks quite a bit about the price of distraction because it takes us out of the conscious choice.

Um, you know, there’s so much now with social media and, you know, binging television and anything that takes us out of being present and being conscious. And on one hand, distraction is important.

We crave distraction as humans. It’s, it’s normal and it’s natural. But, what I really took away from this and what I really try and, um, live out in my life is choosing my distraction consciously. So it’s not negatively impacting the choices that I have with what I can do with my valuable time. So when we are constantly being distracted by things like social media, where you’re getting little tiny dopamine hits every second and a half, it takes away our ability to focus for longer periods of time on anything, even having a conversation with your partner or listening to your kid, tell you about their day. You really start to have trouble focusing on that thing because you’re not getting constant hits of information and dopamine.

So, when we are not conscious about how we’re distracted, it negatively impacts the things that we may still consciously be choosing to focus on. So we have to think about the quality of our distractions and what we are putting our energy and our time into when we aren’t being productive and, and, um, active in our lives, when we are kind of doing that checking out thing that we have to do just to refresh and to be, uh, you know,


[00:42:19] Sarah: It’s a huge issue. Um, I, it’s something that I, I talk about a lot in my classes because I teach courses online and also in person. And I’ve noticed that a trend for most online courses is that people have their cameras off. And then, and I know, I mean, I know, cause I take classes that what happens when people have their cameras off is they’re not paying attention, even when they have their cameras on, they’re often have other tabs open, phones on the desk…

Um, so part of what I love to teach because I, it’s such a huge value of mine is let’s be present. I mean, I’m teaching leadership presence. So let’s be present. Let’s be present for the full three hours. Aside from the break that we take, which is a huge ask because often for professional adults, we think, well, I want to get something else done at the same time.

So it’s certainly something that I think about a lot. I talk about a lot with my students and my clients. I understand the challenge is real. I understand people have real competing demands. Um, so it’s not a. You know, a trivial ask, I, I mean, I get it. Uh, and at the same time, I think it’s something we really need to work on as a society- adults and kids.

I see the quality of the TV shows that are aimed at kids and it’s not even like the shows we used to watch. I mean, you don’t have kids, but you probably know this. Now they’re all these short little clips, right? Or kids want to watch YouTube. Most kids want to watch YouTube and they’re not long conversations like yours and mine.

Right? The YouTube channels that they want to watch. It’s these things happening at the speed of light. Someone doing all these tricks and then switching from one trick to another, and then there’s a graphic, and then there’s a boing noise, and all kinds of stuff. That’s what they find riveting, right? And when we show them movies from our time, like Back to the Future, or things that we think that they’d like, they might like it, but they also think, oh my gosh, you know, this… it’s slow. It’s just a different pace.

So I think all, you know, we’re, our brains don’t take that long to adapt to whatever is being put in front of us. And now we’re constantly looking for those quick dopamine hits. It’s, it’s no secret. We know it. I think it’s a huge issue and I think it’s very worthwhile to continue to train ourselves to be without distraction and to have that quality of presence. I think it’s… It’s hard, but it’s worth it.

[00:45:06] Pam: Right. Because if you really think about when you

turn to distraction, when you reach for your phone, it’s often when you are doing something or thinking about doing something that’s difficult.

[00:45:19] Sarah: For sure.

[00:45:20] Pam: You know, if you’re working on a project that is very meaningful to you. It’s hard. It’s mentally hard. It, you know, you start getting that resistance of fear of

failure and perfectionism and, you know, all of those things that start to come up.

And so you go, Oh, well, I’m just gonna, you know,

[00:45:38] Sarah: i,

[00:45:38] Pam: Look at Instagram.

[00:45:40] Sarah: I, yeah.

[00:45:40] Pam: And

[00:45:40] Sarah: But it’s ridiculous. I mean, we do it, but it’s ridiculous. It’s like, oh, do I want to complete my really meaningful project, which is, you know, deeply meaningful to me as a person? Or do I want to see some photos of someone from high school’s holiday? I mean, it’s, it should be a no brainer, yet we’ll so often opt for the person from high school’s photos because it’s easier.

[00:46:07] Pam: It’s easier. Yes, that’s the big takeaway. We always talk about muscles that you have to build, and this is a muscle that you have to build is, is avoiding distraction and staying focused on the thing that you really do want to be working on. You have to learn to live in that anxiety and in the fear, in the unpleasantness of doing valuable things.

[00:46:29] Sarah: And that is what he says is facing our finitude. When we’re losing ourselves in the distraction of all of these things might be possible, we’re not coming face to face with, with the fact that there are x number of hopefully thousands of weeks left and what do we want to do with them really? Right. And what will it take, right? Well, it will take saying no to some things, which is painful. It will take resisting distraction, which might feel painful. It will take, you know, facing our own imperfect results, which can be painful. It’ll, it’ll take all that. So he’s saying, yeah, it’s going to be painful, but on the other side is the fulfillment of consciously choosing your life and getting, getting more, not more out of it, but more meaning out of it.

[00:47:25] Pam: Yeah, and getting comfortable with things being difficult and that the meaningful things are going to be harder. And so one of the things that I’ve started kind of leaning into and really embracing is this mantra of, I can do hard things. And I’ve brought it to as many areas of my life as possible.

And it’s not to push myself into like punishing myself or, or doing hard things for the sake of them being hard, but to break that habit of when something gets hard, quitting or trying to make it easier. Like, I will get to that point where that part of my brain starts going, Hey, you know, let’s go do something else or let’s, let’s stop.

And I will cut myself off and say I can do hard things. And it’s just sort of like this reinforcement of like, I am capable. I can do this. And it’s probably not as hard as I think that it is anyway. And if I just focus and I just do what I know that I can do, it’s gonna be so rewarding.

[00:48:32] Sarah: Yeah. I, I, I like that. And I loved in your notes, um, one of your prompts was what, what are you inspired to keep working on? Or how has this book inspired you for the future? I forget the exact prompt, but you said, well, one of the things you wanted to lean into was, um, taking on more challenging. Tasks? What was it?

I don’t want to get your exact words wrong. Um,

yeah, hold on. I’m going to find this. Oh, here it is. What changes are you working on implementing? Uh, and yeah, building resiliency and the ability to do harder, more involved tasks. And then I just wrote me too, because I thought that’s such a good way of putting it. And I think harder doesn’t always mean harder, like, Oh, becoming a brain surgeon.

It’s harder for you. Often things are harder because they take, because emotion comes up.

[00:49:31] Pam: Yeah, absolutely. It doesn’t have to be anything terribly difficult. Honestly, at this point, like for a lot of people, and for me sometimes as well, reading a long article or reading a book is hard because… we’ve talked about this before, that it takes the amount of time that it takes. It’s slow. You can’t speed it along.

You have to just sit in it and do it. And it starts to become uncomfortable because you get that pull to distraction. So that can be one of those hard things that you focus on building the ability to do.

[00:50:05] Sarah: I love it. I love it. And well, for me, reading books is not hard, especially novels, but I recognize, You know, that for plenty of people it is, and, and, you know, for me, plenty of things are hard that for other people would be easy. So, uh, but I do think that that’s a great one to work on, is, is an ability to make it through a book joyfully, uh, because there are so many rewards on the other side.

Um, so yeah, but, but I love this idea of doing hard things and I’ll put that in quotations because hard for me won’t necessarily be hard for you or hard for any of our listeners. It’s what feels, you know, what, what feels challenging, but is also meaningful. So how to kind of lean into that and know that that’s part of it and know that you know, that, that’s the choice. So I really liked that comment.

[00:50:58] Pam: And talking about choices, one of the things that you put on the list of ways that you have changed, or, or ways that you’re working on changing, is the mindset of working on owning all of my past and present choices with full permission, rather than wondering what if. I really like that. Can you talk about that ?

[00:51:16] Sarah: Yeah, I can. Um, that came out of this, this joy of missing out and, um, the concept that Berkman is talking about that, of course, not all things are possible and that it’s a fantasy to believe that they are. And I think to get here at this point in my life, I’ve had various chapters as we all have, um, but they’ve been delineated by living in different places.

For example, I lived in Asia for four years. Uh, I worked as a teacher full time. I worked in event management and project management. I worked in nonprofit. Um, I had very specific kind of professional or life chapters deciding to become, um, a mom, uh, deciding to settle in my home city, Toronto, um, with my partner.

So lots of times where life could have gone this way or that way. Um, so just saying, just reminding myself, you know, this, I own this choice. I love this choice. I own this choice. Um, And so when he talked about the joy of missing out, because sometimes I would, would have fantasies of, oh, what would it have been like, for example, if I stayed in Asia, I did a master’s in Asian studies, right?

I, I, I had thoughts that I was going to return. I was going to build a career in Vietnam. I had certain ideas, right, that I chose not to do, and I chose this life instead. So how to acknowledge that, yeah, all of those worlds would’ve been possible. Or we could have moved to Paris when the kids were younger, but we didn’t.

And so how to really own this and know that there are millions of things that could have been done. And that’s the same for everyone. And that’s a good thing. It’s not a bad thing. It’s a good thing.

[00:53:15] Pam: There are infinite timelines where you could be

doing all

[00:53:18] Sarah: Infinite.

[00:53:19] Pam: I’ve never really thought about it that way. Like I don’t have choices that I look back on and I’m like, Oh, you know, I, I wish my life or not wish

that it would have turned out that way or gone that direction. But I don’t have like big choices where I think about them like that a lot.

But what I do reflect on is I think with extreme gratitude about where my life is right now, and I connect that everything in life, whether it was good or bad at the time, or whether it felt like I was on the right path or not, every single thing lined up perfectly for me to be where I am right now. And that is


[00:54:03] Sarah: Mm

[00:54:04] Pam: On one hand, cause it’s like, you know, anything could have been different and not led me to this point where I’m at. But it also kind of takes away that feeling of like, I should have done something differently or whatnot, because I love where I’m at right now. And even if I didn’t, there would still be things that I could be grateful for and that I could see that my life trajectory could have been very different. I, I could have not graduated college and not moved to California and, you know, a million things could have gone wrong. I could have been in a very bad car accident and, you know, not been in the position that I am now. There’s, you know, anything could have gone wrong at any time.

So just really focusing on gratitude for where I am now takes away some of that, like, what if kind of feeling.

[00:54:54] Sarah: I I resonate with that and relate to all of that a lot and there’s an anecdote he has in the book of somebody who’s, um, grieving the loss of his friend or processing the loss of a friend. And this individual would reframe certain moments by saying, you know, just waiting in line or feeling irritated at the doctor’s office, you know, waiting for too long or being stuck in traffic or whatever, whatever it is to say, oh, like, what would have my friend given to have this one extra day?

How would they have looked at this moment, and I think that’s one of the most powerful ways to think about finitude. Really, every day is a gift, really, really, and truly, every day is a gift. Every day is a miracle to, to have this life on this earth with the options that we have and, um, all the many blessings and privileges, um, that you and I both have.

So grounding into that and not taking it for granted, um, is life changing, for sure. It’s a life changing perspective.

[00:56:03] Pam: Yeah.

[00:56:05] Sarah: Gratitude for the win.


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