There are a few aisles of a book store that I never visit – the sports section, Sci-fi books and the increasingly large ‘Self Help’ section. Apart from buying the occasional diet book, I’ve always preferred to get my ‘self help’ from reading novels or poetry. But it’s a genre that is growing increasingly popular and offers you titles on getting rich/thinner/fitter/kinder/calmer, or on how to become more successful in love/work/friendship or life.
However, I broke that pattern recently and purchased Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals by Oliver Burkeman. I was intrigued by the title. Burkeman states that if you live to the age of 80, you can expect to have 4,000 weeks of life. I’d never thought about life-span in terms of weeks before and somehow it seems a smaller amount of time than does the figure of 80 years.
We do all tend, in our modern world, to get too caught up in the habit of using time well – making lists so as to fit more into each day, trying to ‘get through’ a certain amount each day, and trying to control time. The book is a good reminder of how much of what we do is using time for a future benefit, rather than just enjoying the moment. There’s the example of tourists looking at the Rosetta Stone in the British Museum in London – most are so busy taking photos of it so as to share the experience or look at the famous artefact later that they are not really looking at it properly at all. Burkeman also gives the intriguing example of being made (as part of a course he was doing) to spend 3 hours looking at a work of art (no phones or gadgets or even pen and paper allowed – he simply had to sit and look). To begin with he was fidgety and time seemed to pass slowly, but once he relaxed into the experience, he noticed details in the painting he’d never been aware of before.
Some of what Burkeman wrote felt irrelevant to my own life. He spoke of “boredom on Sundays” – I can’t remember the last time I felt bored on any day of the week (maybe it was the last time I had to visit the sports book section in a bookshop), so I couldn’t relate to any of his comments on boredom. However, he did have useful tips as to how to savour the moment, to work out priorities in life so as not to waste time on pointless stuff, and how to achieve a sensible work-life balance. As a chronic list-maker, I know I’ll still be writing ‘To Do’ lists, and I know I’ll forever feel frustrated that there’s not enough reading time in my life, but I did feel the book taught me some lessons which I’ll try to incorporate into my busy life. However, that’s probably enough ‘self help’ for some years to come – it’s back to novels for me, to revel in all the rich meaning they introduce into my life!