Book Summaries

Four Thousand Weeks

Rating 9.5/10. Up there with Meditations.

– Our modern way of thinking about time is so deeply entrenched that we forget it even is a way of thinking; we’re like the proverbial fish who have no idea what water is, because it surrounds them completely.

– We imagine time to be something separate from us and from the world around us.

– When there are too many activities to fit comfortably into the containers, we feel unpleasantly busy; when there are too few, we feel bored.

– There was no anxious pressure to “get everything done,” either, because a farmer’s work is infinite: there will always be another milking and another harvest, forever, so there’s no sense in racing toward some hypothetical moment of completion. Historians call this way of living “task orientation,” because the rhythms of life emerge organically from the tasks themselves, rather than from being lined up against an abstract timeline, the approach that has become second nature for us today.

– It’s tempting to think of medieval life as moving slowly, but it’s more accurate to say that the concept of life “moving slowly” would have struck most people as meaningless.

– “The clock does not stop, of course,” Eberle writes, “but we do not hear it ticking.

– There’s one huge drawback in giving so little thought to the abstract idea of time, though, which is that it severely limits what you can accomplish. You can be a small-scale farmer, relying on the seasons for your schedule, but you can’t be much other than a small-scale farmer (or a baby). As soon as you want to coordinate the actions of more than a handful of people, you need a reliable, agreed-upon method of measuring time.

– Some cantankerous industrialists came to feel that workers who didn’t drive themselves hard enough were literally guilty of stealing something.

– Once time is a resource to be used, you start to feel pressure, whether from external forces or from yourself, to use it well, and to berate yourself when you feel you’ve wasted it. When you’re faced with too many demands, it’s easy to assume that the only answer must be to make better use of time, by becoming more efficient, driving yourself harder, or working for longer—as if you were a machine in the Industrial Revolution—instead of asking whether the demands themselves might be unreasonable.

– And it becomes a lot more intuitive to project your thoughts about your life into an imagined future, leaving you anxiously wondering if things will unfold as you want them to. Soon, your sense of self-worth gets completely bound up with how you’re using time: it stops being merely the water in which you swim and turns into something you feel you need to dominate or control, if you’re to avoid feeling guilty, panicked, or overwhelmed. The title of a book that arrived on my desk the other day sums things up nicely: Master Your Time, Master Your Life.

– The fundamental problem is that this attitude toward time sets up a rigged game in which it’s impossible ever to feel as though you’re doing well enough

– It becomes difficult not to value each moment primarily according to its usefulness for some future goal, or for some future oasis of relaxation you hope to reach once your tasks are finally “out of the way.

– It also reflects the manner in which most of us were raised: to prioritise future benefits over current enjoyments.

– As this modern mindset came to dominate, wrote Mumford, “Eternity ceased gradually to serve as the measure and focus of human actions.” In its place came the dictatorship of the clock, the schedule, and the Google Calendar alert; Marilynne Robinson’s “joyless urgency” and the constant feeling that you ought to be getting more done. The trouble with attempting to master your time, it turns out, is that time ends up mastering you.

– Service to the belief that if I could only find the right time management system, build the right habits, and apply sufficient self-discipline, I might actually be able to win the struggle with time, once and for all. (I was enabled in this delusion by writing a weekly newspaper column on productivity, which gave me an excuse to experiment with new techniques on the grounds that I was doing so for work purposes; I was like an alcoholic conveniently employed as a wine expert

– We don’t have to consciously participate in what it’s like to feel claustrophobic, imprisoned, powerless, and constrained by reality.

– It’s also painful to accept your limited control over the time you do get: maybe you simply lack the stamina or talent or other resources to perform well in all the roles you feel you should.

– Or we procrastinate, which is another means of maintaining the feeling of omnipotent control over life—because you needn’t risk the upsetting experience of failing at an intimidating project, obviously, if you never even start it.

– We labour at our daily work more ardently and thoughtlessly than is necessary to sustain our life.

– Instead, the endless struggle leads to more anxiety and a less fulfilling life. For example, the more you believe you might succeed in “fitting everything in,” the more commitments you naturally take on, and the less you feel the need to ask whether each new commitment is truly worth a portion of your time—and so your days inevitably fill with more activities you don’t especially value. The more you hurry, the more frustrating it is to encounter tasks (or toddlers) that won’t be hurried; the more compulsively you plan for the future, the more anxious you feel about any remaining uncertainties, of which there will always be plenty.

– But the more you confront the facts of finitude instead—and work with them, rather than against them—the more productive, meaningful, and joyful life becomes.

– In practical terms, a limit-embracing attitude to time means organizing your days with the understanding that you definitely won’t have time for everything you want to do, or that other people want you to do—and so, at the very least, you can stop beating yourself up for failing.

– It also means resisting the seductive temptation to “keep your options open”—which is really just another way of trying to feel in control—in favor of deliberately making big, daunting, irreversible commitments, which you can’t know in advance will turn out for the best, but which reliably prove more fulfilling in the end.

– Missing out on something—indeed, on almost everything—is basically guaranteed.

– This confrontation with limitation also reveals the truth that freedom, sometimes, is to be found not in achieving greater sovereignty over your own schedule but in allowing yourself to be constrained by the rhythms of community—participating in forms of social life where you don’t get to decide exactly what you do or when you do it.

– Eigenzeit, or the time inherent to a process itself.

– Anne Helen Petersen writes in a widely shared essay on millennial burnout, you can’t fix such problems “with vacation, or an adult coloring book, or ‘anxiety baking,’ or the Pomodoro Technique, or overnight fucking oats.” But my point here is that however privileged or unfortunate your specific situation, fully facing the reality of it can only help. So long as you continue to respond to impossible demands on your time by trying to persuade yourself that you might one day find some way to do the impossible, you’re implicitly collaborating with those demands. Whereas once you deeply grasp that they are impossible, you’ll be newly empowered to resist them, and to focus instead on building the most meaningful life you can, in whatever situation you’re in.

– Let’s begin with busyness. It isn’t our only time problem, and it isn’t everyone’s problem. But it’s a uniquely vivid illustration of the effort we invest in fighting against our built-in limitations, thanks to how normal it has become to feel as though you absolutely must do more than you can do.

– We would be forced to acknowledge that there are hard choices to be made: which balls to let drop, which people to disappoint, which cherished ambitions to abandon, which roles to fail at. Maybe you can’t keep your current job while also seeing enough of your children; maybe making sufficient time in the week for your creative calling means you’ll never have an especially tidy home, or get quite as much exercise as you should, and so on.

– Companions in distress—that innumerable band of souls who are haunted, more or less painfully, by the feeling that the years slip by, and slip by, and slip by, and that they have not yet been able to get their lives into proper working order.” His blunt diagnosis was that most people wasted several hours each day, especially in the evenings; they told themselves they were tired when they could just as easily pull up their socks and get on with all the life-enriching activities they claimed they never had time.

– The problem with trying to make time for everything that feels important—or just for enough of what feels important—is that you definitely never will.

– For a start, what “matters” is subjective, so you’ve no grounds for assuming that there will be time for everything that you, or your employer, or your culture happens to deem important. But the other exasperating issue is that if you succeed in fitting more in, you’ll find the goalposts start to shift: more things will begin to seem important, meaningful, or obligatory. Acquire a reputation for doing your work at amazing speed, and you’ll be given more of it. (Your boss isn’t stupid: Why would she give the extra work to someone slower?)

– Labor-saving” devices like washing machines and vacuum cleaners, no time was saved at all, because society’s standards of cleanliness simply rose to offset the benefits; now that you could return each of your husband’s shirts to a spotless condition after a single wearing, it began to feel like you should, to show how much you loved him. “Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.

– This whole painful irony is especially striking in the case of email, that ingenious twentieth-century invention whereby any random person on the planet can pester you, at any time they like, and at almost no cost to themselves, by means of a digital window that sits inches from your nose, or in your pocket, throughout your working day, and often on weekends, too. The “input” side of this arrangement—the number of emails that you could, in principle, receive—is essentially infinite. But the “output” side—the number of messages you’ll have time to read properly, reply to, or just make a considered decision to delete—is strictly finite.

– At the same time, you’ll become known as someone who responds promptly to email, so more people will consider it worth their while to message you to begin with. (By contrast, negligent emailers frequently find that forgetting to reply ends up saving them time: people find alternative solutions to the problems they were nagging you to solve, or the looming crisis they were emailing about never materializes.)

– Think of it as “existential overwhelm”: the modern world provides an inexhaustible supply of things that seem worth doing, and so there arises an inevitable and unbridgeable gap between what you’d ideally like to do and what you actually can do.

– The more we can accelerate our ability to go to different places, see new things, try new foods, embrace various forms of spirituality, learn new activities, share sensual pleasures with others whether it be in dancing or sex, experience different forms of art, and so on, the less incongruence there is between the possibilities of experience we can realize in our own lifetimes and the total array of possibilities available to human beings now and in the future—that is, the closer we come to having a truly “fulfilled” life, in the literal sense of one that is as filled full of experiences as it can possibly be.

– It’s certainly nicer to have a long list of Greek islands left to visit than a long list of homeless families left to find housing for, or a huge stack of contracts left to proofread.

– Perhaps it goes without saying that the internet makes this all much more agonizing, because it promises to help you make better use of your time, while simultaneously exposing you to vastly more potential uses for your time—so that the very tool you’re using to get the most out of life makes you feel as though you’re missing out on even more of it. Facebook, for example, is an extremely efficient way to stay informed about events you might like to attend. But it’s also a guaranteed way to hear about more events you’d like to attend than anyone possibly could attend.

– Email is an unparalleled tool for responding rapidly to a large volume of messages—but then again, if it weren’t for email, you wouldn’t be receiving all those messages in the first place. The technologies we use to try to “get on top of everything” always fail us, in the end, because they increase the size of the “everything” of which we’re trying to get on top.

– Dedicate your retirement to seeing as much of the world as you possibly can, and you probably won’t even get to see the most interesting parts.

– The reason for this effect is straightforward: the more firmly you believe it ought to be possible to find time for everything, the less pressure you’ll feel to ask whether any given activity is the best use for a portion of your time.

– Yet because in reality your time is finite, doing anything requires sacrifice—the sacrifice of all the other things you could have been doing with that stretch of time.

– If you never stop to ask yourself if the sacrifice is worth it, your days will automatically begin to fill not just with more things, but with more trivial or tedious things, because they’ve never had to clear the hurdle of being judged more important than something else.

– The more efficient you get, the more you become “a limitless reservoir for other people’s expectations.

– I got done most diligently were the unimportant ones, while the important ones got postponed—either forever or until an imminent deadline forced me to complete them, to a mediocre standard and in a stressful rush.

– And so, instead, like the dutiful and efficient worker I was, I’d put my energy into clearing the decks, cranking through the smaller stuff to get it out of the way—only to discover that doing so took the whole day, that the decks filled up again overnight anyway, and that the moment for responding to the New Delhi email or for researching the milestone article never arrived.

– Once you truly understand that you’re guaranteed to miss out on almost every experience the world has to offer, the fact that there are so many you still haven’t experienced stops feeling like a problem. Instead, you get to focus on fully enjoying the tiny slice of experiences you actually do have time for—and the freer you are to choose, in each moment, what counts the most.

– It works like this: In start-up jargon, the way to make a fortune in Silicon Valley is to identify a “pain point”—one of the small annoyances resulting from (more jargon) the “friction” of daily life—and then to offer a way to circumvent it.

– But sender and recipient both know that it’s a poor substitute for purchasing a card in a shop, writing on it by hand, and then walking to a mailbox to mail it, because contrary to the cliché, it isn’t really the thought that counts, but the effort—which is to say, the inconvenience.

– Don’t even realize something is broken until someone else shows us a better way.

– To make time for what mattered, she needed to give things up.

– You have to choose a few things, sacrifice everything else, and deal with the inevitable sense of loss that results.

– Everyday language reflects our everyday ways of seeing.

– For a human, is above all to exist temporally, in the stretch between birth and death, certain that the end will come, yet unable to know when.

– Finitude. Our limited time isn’t just one among various things we have to cope with; rather, it’s the thing that defines us, as humans, before we start coping with anything at all.

– In this situation, any decision I make, to do anything at all with my time, is already radically limited.

– Limited in a retrospective sense, because I’m already who I am and where I am, which determines what possibilities are open to me. But it’s also radically limited in a forward-looking sense, too, not least because a decision to do any given thing will automatically mean sacrificing an infinite number of potential alternative paths

– The only real question about all this finitude is whether we’re willing to confront it or not.

– Rather than taking ownership of our lives, we seek out distractions, or lose ourselves in busyness and the daily grind, so as to try to forget our real predicament. Or we try to avoid the intimidating responsibility of having to decide what to do with our finite time by telling ourselves that we don’t get to choose at all—that we must get married, or remain in a soul-destroying job, or anything else, simply because it’s the done thing.

– It’s only by facing our finitude that we can step into a truly authentic relationship with life.

– I could never take my life to be at stake, and I would never be seized by the need to do anything with my time.” Eternity would be deathly dull, because whenever you found yourself wondering whether or not to do any given thing, on any given day, the answer would always be: Who cares? After all, there’s always tomorrow, and the next day, and the one after that…Hägglund quotes a headline from the magazine U.S. Catholic that has the air of being written by a devout religious believer on whom an awful possibility has suddenly dawned: “Heaven: Will It Be Boring?

– This is the kernel of wisdom in the cliché of the celebrity who claims that a brush with cancer was “the best thing that ever happened” to them: it pitches them into a more authentic mode of being, in which everything suddenly feels more vividly meaningful.

– We learn something. We are mortal. You might say you know this but you don’t. The news falls neatly between one moment and another. You would not think there was a gap for such a thing…It is as if a new physical law has been described for us bespoke: absolute as all the others are, yet terrifyingly casual. It is a law of perception. It says, You will lose everything that catches your eye.

– If you can hold your attention, however briefly or occasionally, on the sheer astonishingness of being, and on what a small amount of that being you get—you may experience a palpable shift in how it feels to be here, right now, alive in the flow of time.

– Or to put it another way, why treat four thousand weeks as a very small number, because it’s so tiny compared with infinity, rather than treating it as a huge number, because it’s so many more weeks than if you had never been born?

– I happen to be alive, and there’s no cosmic law entitling me to that status. Being alive is just happenstance, and not one more day of it is guaranteed.”

– Your whole life is borrowed time.

– Wouldn’t it make more sense to speak not of having to make such choices, but of getting to make them.

– So the point isn’t to eradicate procrastination, but to choose more wisely what you’re going to procrastinate on, in order to focus on what matters most. The real measure of any time management technique is whether or not it helps you neglect the right things.

– Here the story ends—but 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 rocks—and most of them are never making it anywhere near that jar.

– Principle number one is to pay yourself first when it comes to time.

– You take a portion of your paycheck the day you receive it and squirrel it away into savings or investments, or use it for paying off debts, you’ll probably never feel the absence of that cash; you’ll go about your business—buying your groceries, paying your bills—precisely as if you’d never had that portion of money to begin with.

– The trouble is that we’re terrible at long-range planning: if something feels like a priority now, it’s virtually impossible to coolly assess whether it will still feel that way in a week or a month.

– The same logic, Abel points out, applies to time. If you try to find time for your most valued activities by first dealing with all the other important demands on your time, in the hope that there’ll be some left over at the end, you’ll be disappointed.

– The second principle is to limit your work in progress. Perhaps the most appealing way to resist the truth about your finite time is to initiate a large number of projects at once; that way, you get to feel as though you’re keeping plenty of irons in the fire and making progress on all fronts. Instead, what usually ends up happening is that you make progress on no fronts—because each time a project starts to feel difficult, or frightening, or boring, you can bounce off to a different one instead. You get to preserve your sense of being in control of things, but at the cost of never finishing anything important.

– Once you’ve selected those tasks, all other incoming demands on your time must wait until one of the three items has been completed, thereby freeing up a slot. (It’s also permissible to free up a slot by abandoning a project altogether if it isn’t working out. The point isn’t to force yourself to finish absolutely everything you start, but rather to banish the bad habit of keeping an ever-proliferating number of half-finished projects on the back burner.

– Which is that in a world of too many big rocks, it’s the moderately appealing ones—the fairly interesting job opportunity, the semi-enjoyable friendship—on which a finite life can come to grief.

– You need to learn how to start saying no to things you do want to do, with the recognition that you have only one life.

– For him, procrastination is a strategy of emotional avoidance—a way of trying not to feel the psychological distress that comes with acknowledging that he’s a finite human being.

– Bradatan argues that when we find ourselves procrastinating on something important to us, we’re usually in some version of this same mindset. We fail to see, or refuse to accept, that any attempt to bring our ideas into concrete reality must inevitably fall short of our dreams, no matter how brilliantly we succeed in carrying things off—because reality, unlike fantasy, is a realm in which we don’t have limitless control, and can’t possibly hope to meet our perfectionist standards. Something—our limited talents, our limited time, our limited control over events, and over the actions of other people—will always render our creation less than perfect.

– We invariably prefer indecision over committing ourselves to a single path.

– But this is a mistake, too, and not just because settling is unavoidable but also because living life to the fullest requires settling. “You must settle, in a relatively enduring way, upon something that will be the object of your striving, in order for that striving to count as striving,” he writes: you can’t become an ultrasuccessful lawyer or artist or politician without first “settling” on law, or art, or politics, and therefore deciding to forgo the potential rewards of other careers.

– The cause of your difficulties isn’t that your partner is especially flawed, or that the two of you are especially incompatible, but that you’re finally noticing all the ways in which your partner is (inevitably) finite, and thus deeply disappointing by comparison with the world of your fantasy, where the limiting rules of reality don’t apply.

– Ideally, you should settle in a way that makes it harder to back out, such as moving in together, or getting married, or having a child.

– When people finally do choose, in a relatively irreversible way, they’re usually much happier as a result. We’ll do almost anything to avoid burning our bridges, to keep alive the fantasy of a future unconstrained by limitation, yet having burned them, we’re generally pleased that we did so.

– That problem is distraction. After all, it hardly matters how committed you are to making the best use of your limited time if, day after day, your attention gets wrenched away by things on which you never wanted to focus.

– Attention, on the other hand, just is life: your experience of being alive consists of nothing other than the sum of everything to which you pay attention. At the end of your life, looking back, whatever compelled your attention from moment to moment is simply what your life will have been. So when you pay attention to something you don’t especially value, it’s not an exaggeration to say that you’re paying with your life.

– It’s that the distracted person isn’t really choosing at all. Their attention has been commandeered by forces that don’t have their highest interests at heart.

– Who was able to fend off despair as a prisoner in Auschwitz because he retained the ability to direct a portion of his attention toward the only domain the camp guards couldn’t violate: his inner life, which he was then able to conduct with a measure of autonomy, resisting the outer pressures that threatened to reduce him to the status of an animal.

– All of which helps clarify what’s so alarming about the contemporary online “attention economy,” of which we’ve heard so much in recent years: it’s essentially a giant machine for persuading you to make the wrong choices about what to do with your attention, and therefore with your finite life, by getting you to care about things you didn’t want to care about. And you have far too little control over your attention simply to decide, as if by fiat, that you’re not going to succumb to its temptations.

– You might also be aware that all this is delivered by means of “persuasive design”—an umbrella term for an armory of psychological techniques borrowed directly from the designers of casino slot machines, for the express purpose of encouraging compulsive behavior.

– McNamee suggests, is that we’re the fuel: logs thrown on Silicon Valley’s fire, impersonal repositories of attention to be exploited without mercy, until we’re all used up.

– Because the attention economy is designed to prioritize whatever’s most compelling—instead of whatever’s most true, or most useful—it systematically distorts the picture of the world we carry in our heads at all times. It influences our sense of what matters, what kinds of threats we face, how venal our political opponents are, and thousands of other things—and all these distorted judgments then influence how we allocate our offline time as well.

– I’d catch myself speculating about how I might describe it in a tweet, as if what mattered wasn’t the experience but my (unpaid!) role as a provider of content for Twitter.

– The only faculty you can use to see what’s happening to your attention is your attention, the very thing that’s already been commandeered.

– As the technology critic Tristan Harris likes to say, each time you open a social media app, there are “a thousand people on the other side of the screen” paid to keep you there—and so it’s unrealistic to expect users to resist the assault on their time and attention by means of willpower alone.

– We should be honest: much of the time, we give in to distraction willingly.

– And yet as icy deluge followed icy deluge, Young began to understand that this was precisely the wrong strategy. In fact, the more he concentrated on the sensations of intense cold, giving his attention over to them as completely as he could, the less agonizing he found them—whereas once his “attention wandered, the suffering became unbearable

– The more intensely he could hold his attention on the experience of whatever he was doing, the clearer it became to him that the real problem had been not the activity itself but his internal resistance to experiencing it.

– It’s not usually that you’re sitting there, concentrating rapturously, when your attention is dragged away against your will. In truth, you’re eager for the slightest excuse to turn away from what you’re doing, in order to escape how disagreeable it feels to be doing it.

– The solution to this mystery, dramatic though it might sound, is that whenever we succumb to distraction, we’re attempting to flee a painful encounter with our finitude—with the human predicament of having limited time, and more especially, in the case of distraction, limited control over that time, which makes it impossible to feel certain about how things will turn out.

– This is why boredom can feel so surprisingly, aggressively unpleasant: we tend to think of it merely as a matter of not being particularly interested in whatever it is we’re doing, but in fact it’s an intense reaction to the deeply uncomfortable experience of confronting your limited control.

– You’re obliged to deal with how your experience is unfolding in this moment, to resign yourself to the reality that this is it.

– No wonder we seek out distractions online, where it feels as though no limits apply—where you can update yourself instantaneously on events taking place a continent away, present yourself however you like, and keep scrolling forever through infinite newsfeeds, drifting through.

– The overarching point is that what we think of as “distractions” aren’t the ultimate cause of our being distracted. They’re just the places we go to seek relief from the discomfort of confronting limitation.

– The most effective way to sap distraction of its power is just to stop expecting things to be otherwise—to accept that this unpleasantness is simply what it feels like for finite humans to commit ourselves to the kinds of demanding and valuable tasks that force us to confront our limited control over how our lives unfold.

– Yet there’s a sense in which accepting this lack of any solution is the solution. Young’s discovery on the mountainside, after all, was that his suffering subsided only when he resigned himself to the truth of his situation: when he stopped fighting the facts and allowed himself to more fully feel the icy water on his skin.

– “Hofstadter’s law,” which states that any task you’re planning to tackle will always take longer than you expect.

– The trouble with being so emotionally invested in planning for the future, though, is that while it may occasionally prevent a catastrophe, the rest of the time it tends to exacerbate the very anxiety it was supposed to allay. The obsessive planner, essentially, is demanding certain reassurances from the future—but the future isn’t the sort of thing that can ever provide the reassurance he craves, for the obvious reason that it’s still in the future.

– There’s no solace to be gained from the fact that everything turned out fine, because that’s all in the past now, and there’s the next chunk of the future to feel anxious about instead. (Will the plane land at its destination in time for you to catch your onward train? And so on and so on.) Really, no matter how far ahead you plan, you never get to relax in the certainty that everything’s going to go the way you’d like. Instead, the frontier of your uncertainty just gets pushed further and further toward the horizon. Once your Christmas plans are nailed down, there’s January to think about, then February, then March…

– Worry, at its core, is the repetitious experience of a mind attempting to generate a feeling of security about the future, failing, then trying again and again and again—as if the very effort of worrying might somehow help forestall disaster. The fuel behind worry, in other words, is the internal demand to know, in advance, that things will turn out fine.

– Instead, you just find yourself in each moment as it comes, already thrown into this time and place, with all the limitations that entails, and unable to feel certain about what might happen next.

– And it has real psychological consequences, because the assumption that time is something we can possess or control is the unspoken premise of almost all our thinking about the future, our planning and goalsetting and worrying. So it’s a constant source of anxiety and agitation, because our expectations are forever running up against the stubborn reality that time isn’t in our possession and can’t be brought under our control.

– Our efforts to influence the future aren’t the problem. The problem—the source of all the anxiety—is the need that we feel, from our vantage point here in the present moment, to be able to know that those efforts will prove successful.

– You can’t know that things will turn out all right. The struggle for certainty is an intrinsically hopeless one—which means you have permission to stop engaging in it.

– Whatever you value most about your life can always be traced back to some jumble of chance occurrences you couldn’t possibly have planned for, and that you certainly can’t alter retrospectively now. You might never have been invited to the party where you met your future spouse. Your parents might never have moved to the neighborhood near the school with the inspiring teacher who perceived your undeveloped talents and helped you shine. And so on—and if you peer back even further in time, to before your own birth, it’s an even more dizzying matter of coincidence piled upon coincidence.

– Jesus says much the same thing in the Sermon on the Mount (though many of his later followers would interpret the Christian idea of eternal life as a reason to fixate on the future, not to ignore it). “Take no thought for the morrow, for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself.

– Demand to know that the future will conform to your desires for it—and thus without having to be constantly on edge as you wait to discover whether or not things will unfold as expected. None of that means we can’t act wisely in the present to reduce the chances of bad developments later on. And we can still respond, to the best of our abilities, should bad things nonetheless occur; we’re not obliged to accept suffering or injustice as part of the inevitable order of things. But to the extent that we can stop demanding certainty that things will go our way later on, we’ll be liberated from anxiety in the only moment it ever actually is, which is this one.

– A plan is just a thought.” We treat our plans as though they are a lasso, thrown from the present around the future, in order to bring it under our command. But all a plan is—all it could ever possibly be—is a present-moment statement of intent. It’s an expression of your current thoughts about how you’d ideally like to deploy your modest influence over the future. The future, of course, is under no obligation to comply.

– There’s another sense in which treating time as something that we own and get to control seems to make life worse. Inevitably, we become obsessed with “using it well,” whereupon we discover an unfortunate truth: the more you focus on using time well, the more each day begins to feel like something you have to get through, en route to some calmer, better, more fulfilling point in the future, which never actually arrives. The problem is one of instrumentalization. To use time, by definition, is to treat it instrumentally, as a means to an end, and of course we do this every day: you don’t boil the kettle out of a love of boiling kettles, or put your socks in the washing machine out of a love for operating washing machines, but because you want a cup of coffee or clean socks. Yet it turns out to be perilously easy to overinvest in this instrumental relationship to time—to focus exclusively on where you’re headed, at the expense of focusing on where you are—with the result that you find yourself living mentally in the future, locating the “real” value of your life at some time that you haven’t yet reached, and never will.

– Weren’t really looking at the Rosetta Stone, the ancient Egyptian artifact on display in front of them, so much as preparing to look at it later, by recording images and videos of it on their phones.

– This future-focused attitude often takes the form of what I once heard described as the “ ‘when-I-finally’ mind,” as in: “When I finally get my workload under control/get my candidate elected/find the right romantic partner/sort out my psychological issues, then I can relax, and the life I was always meant to be living can begin.” The person mired in this mentality believes that the reason she doesn’t feel fulfilled and happy is that she hasn’t yet managed to accomplish certain specific things; when she does so, she imagines, she’ll feel in charge of her life and be the master of her time.

– People are like donkeys running after carrots that are hanging in front of their faces from sticks attached to their own collars. They are never here. They never get there. They are never alive.

– It can’t be the case that concerns for the future must always automatically take precedence

– Likewise, the question of whether or not it’s okay to let your nine-year-old spend hours each day playing violent video games doesn’t turn solely on whether or not it’ll turn him into a violent adult, but also on whether that’s a good way for him to be using his life right now; perhaps a childhood immersed in digital blood and gore is just a lower-quality childhood, even if there aren’t any future effects.

– Because children grow up, we think a child’s purpose is to grow up,” Herzen says. “But a child’s purpose is to be a child. Nature doesn’t disdain what only lives for a day. It pours the whole of itself into each moment…Life’s bounty is in its flow. Later is too late.

– Yet usually there’ll be no way to know, in the moment itself, that you’re doing it for the last time. Harris’s point is that we should therefore try to treat every such experience with the reverence we’d show if it were the final instance of it.

– But in focusing so hard on instrumentalizing their time, they end up treating their lives in the present moment as nothing but a vehicle in which to travel toward a future state of happiness. And so their days are sapped of meaning, even as their bank balances increase.

– This is also the kernel of truth in the cliché that people in less economically successful countries are better at enjoying life—which is another way of saying that they’re less fixated on instrumentalizing it for future profit, and are thus more able to participate in the pleasures of the present. Mexico, for example, has often outranked the United States in global indices of happiness. Hence the old parable about a vacationing New York businessman who gets talking to a Mexican fisherman, who tells him that he works only a few hours per day and spends most of his time drinking wine in the sun and playing music with his friends. Appalled at the fisherman’s approach to time management, the businessman offers him an unsolicited piece of advice: if the fisherman worked harder, he explains, he could invest the profits in a bigger fleet of boats, pay others to do the fishing, make millions, then retire early. “And what would I do then?” the fisherman asks. “Ah, well, then,” the businessman replies, “you could spend your days drinking wine in the sun and playing music with your friends.

– The Catholic legal scholar Cathleen Kaveny has argued that the reason so many of them are so unhappy—despite being generally very well paid—is the convention of the “billable hour,” which obliges them to treat their time, and thus really themselves, as a commodity to be sold off in sixty-minute chunks to clients.

– That life is nothing but a succession of present moments, culminating in death, and that you’ll probably never get to a point where you feel you have things in perfect working order. And that therefore you had better stop postponing the “real meaning” of your existence into the future, and throw yourself into life now.

– John Maynard Keynes saw the truth at the bottom of all this, which is that our fixation on what he called “purposiveness”—on using time well for future purposes, or on “personal productivity,” he might have said, had he been writing today—is ultimately motivated by the desire not to die. “The ‘purposive’ man,” Keynes wrote, “is always trying to secure a spurious and delusive immortality for his actions by pushing his interests in them forward into time. He does not love his cat, but his cat’s kittens; nor in truth the kittens, but only the kittens’ kittens, and so on forward forever to the end of cat-dom. For him, jam is not jam unless it is a case of jam tomorrow and never jam today. Thus by pushing his jam always forward into the future, he strives to secure for his act of boiling it an immortality.” Because he never has to “cash out” the meaningfulness of his actions in the here and now, the purposive man gets to imagine himself an omnipotent god, whose influence over reality extends infinitely off into the future; he gets to feel as though he’s truly the master of his time. But the price he pays is a steep one. He never gets to love an actual cat, in the present moment. Nor does he ever get to enjoy any actual jam. By trying too hard to make the most of his time, he misses his life.

– You’re so fixated on trying to make the best use of your time—in this case not for some later outcome, but for an enriching experience of life right now—that it obscures the experience itself. It’s like trying too hard to fall asleep, and therefore failing. You resolve to stay completely present while, say, washing the dishes—perhaps because you saw that quotation from the bestselling Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh about finding absorption in the most mundane of activities—only to discover that you can’t, because you’re too busy self-consciously wondering whether you’re being present enough or not.

– A more fruitful approach to the challenge of living more fully in the moment starts from noticing that you are, in fact, always already living in the moment anyway, whether you like it or not.

– As the author Jay Jennifer Matthews puts it in her excellently titled short book Radically Condensed Instructions for Being Just as You Are, “We cannot get anything out of life. There is no outside where we could take this thing to.

– Enjoying leisure for its own sake—which you might have assumed was the whole point of leisure—comes to feel as though it’s somehow not quite enough.

– Defenders of modern capitalism enjoy pointing out that despite how things might feel, we actually have more leisure time than we did in previous decades—an average of about five hours per day for men, and only slightly less for women. But perhaps one reason we don’t experience life that way is that leisure no longer feels very leisurely.

– The Latin word for business, negotium, translates literally as “not-leisure,” reflecting the view that work was a deviation from the highest human calling.

– But industrialization, catalyzed by the spread of the clock-time mentality, swept all that away. Factories and mills required the coordinated labor of hundreds of people, paid by the hour, and the result was that leisure became sharply delineated from work. Implicitly, workers were offered a deal: you could do whatever you liked with your time off, so long as it didn’t damage—and preferably enhanced—your usefulness on the job.

– We have inherited from all this a deeply bizarre idea of what it means to spend your time off “well”—and, conversely, what counts as wasting it. In this view of time, anything that doesn’t create some form of value for the future is, by definition, mere idleness. Rest is permissible, but only for the purposes of recuperation for work, or perhaps for some other form of self-improvement. It becomes difficult to enjoy a moment of rest for itself alone, without regard for any potential future benefits, because rest that has no instrumental value feels wasteful.

– The truth, then, is that spending at least some of your leisure time “wastefully,” focused solely on the pleasure of the experience, is the only way not to waste it—to be truly at leisure, rather than covertly engaged in future-focused self-improvement. In order to most fully inhabit the only life you ever get, you have to refrain from using every spare hour for personal growth. From this perspective, idleness isn’t merely forgivable; it’s practically an obligation. “If the satisfaction of an old man drinking a glass of wine counts for nothing,” wrote Simone de Beauvoir, “then production and wealth are only hollow myths; they have meaning only if they are capable of being retrieved in individual and living joy.

– Social psychologists call this inability to rest “idleness aversion,” which makes it sound like just another minor behavioral foible; but in his famous theory of the “Protestant work ethic,” the German sociologist Max Weber argued that it was one of the core ingredients of the modern soul.

– We are the sum of all the moments of our lives,” writes Thomas Wolfe, “all that is ours is in them: we cannot escape it or conceal it.” If we’re going to show up for, and thus find some enjoyment in, our brief time on the planet, we had better show up for it now.

– The Christian theologian Walter Brueggemann describes the sabbath as an invitation to spend one day per week “in the awareness and practice of the claim that we are situated on the receiving end of the gifts of God.

– Somehow thicker experience of time that comes with being “on the receiving end” of life, the feeling of stepping off the clock into “deep time,” rather than ceaselessly struggling to master it. Societal pressures used to make it relatively easy to take time off: you couldn’t go shopping when the shops weren’t open, even if you wanted to, or work when the office was locked. Besides, you’d be much less likely to skip church, or Sunday lunch with the extended family, if you knew your absence would raise eyebrows. Now, though, the pressures all push us in the other direction: the shops are open all day, every day (and all night, online). And thanks to digital technology, it’s all too easy to keep on working at home.

– Personal or household rules, such as the increasingly popular idea of a self-imposed “digital sabbath,” can fill the vacuum to some extent. But they lack the social reinforcement that comes when everyone else is following the rule too, so they’re inevitably harder to abide by—and because they’re reliant on willpower, they’re prone to all the hazards involved in trying to force yourself to be more “present in the moment,” as explored in the previous chapter.

– Even a walk to the supermarket has a goal—getting to the supermarket – whereas on a hike, you either follow a loop or reach a given point before turning back, so the most efficient way to reach the endpoint would be never to leave in the first place.

– We spend our days pursuing various accomplishments that we desire to achieve; and yet for any given accomplishment—attaining tenure at your university, say—it’s always the case either that you haven’t achieved it yet (so you’re dissatisfied, because you don’t yet have what you desire) or that you’ve already attained it (so you’re dissatisfied, because you no longer have it as something to strive toward.)

– But that might be part of why he enjoys it so much: to pursue an activity in which you have no hope of becoming exceptional is to put aside, for a while, the anxious need to “use time well,” which in Stewart’s case presumably involves the need to keep on pleasing audiences, selling out stadiums, showing the world he’s still got it. My other favorite pastime besides hiking—banging out the songs of Elton John on my electric piano—is so uplifting and absorbing, at least in part precisely because there’s zero danger of my chimpanzee-level musicianship ever being rewarded with money or critical acclaim.

– It’s a howl of rage at the fact that the honker can’t prod the world around him into moving as fast as he’d like it to.

– Things just are the way they are, such metaphors suggest, no matter how vigorously you might wish they weren’t—and your only hope of exercising any real influence over the world is to work with that fact, instead of against it.

– We tend to feel as though it’s our right to have things move at the speed we desire, and the result is that we make ourselves miserable—not just because we spend so much time feeling frustrated, but because chivying the world to move faster is frequently counter-productive anyway.

– Working too hastily means you’ll make more errors, which you’ll then be obliged to go back to correct; hurrying a toddler to get dressed, in order to leave the house, is all but guaranteed to make the process last much longer.

– It has been calculated that if Amazon’s front page loaded one second more slowly, the company would lose $1.6 billion in annual sales

– What they mean is that when they do find a morsel of time, and use it to try to read, they find they’re too impatient to give themselves over to the task. “It is not simply that one is interrupted,” writes Parks. “It is that one is actually inclined to interruption.” It’s not so much that we’re too busy, or too distractible, but that we’re unwilling to accept the truth that reading is the sort of activity that largely operates according to its own schedule. You can’t hurry it very much before the experience begins to lose its meaning; it refuses to consent, you might say, to our desire to exert control over how our time unfolds. In other words, and in common with far more aspects of reality than we’re comfortable acknowledging, reading something properly just takes the time it takes.

– Which asserts that alcoholism is fundamentally a result of attempting to exert a level of control over your emotions that you can’t ever attain.

– You know you must stop accelerating, yet it also feels as though you can’t.

– And whereas if you find yourself sliding into alcoholism, compassionate friends may try to intervene, to help steer you in the direction of a healthier life, speed addiction tends to be socially celebrated. Your friends are more likely to praise you for being “driven.”

– That you can’t truly hope to beat alcohol until you give up all hope of beating alcohol.

– Only then, having abandoned the destructive attempt to achieve the impossible, can he get to work on what actually is possible: facing reality—above all, the reality that, in his case, there’s no level of moderate drinking that’s compatible with living a functioning life—then working, slowly and soberly, to fashion a more productive and fulfilling existence.

– Peck’s insight here—that if you’re willing to endure the discomfort of not knowing, a solution will often present itself—would be helpful enough if it were merely a piece of advice for fixing lawn mowers and cars.

– Either she made the very first change that came to her mind within a matter of seconds—making them eat more breakfast or sending them to bed earlier—regardless of whether such a change had anything to do with the problem, or else she came to her next therapy session…despairing: ‘It’s beyond me. What shall I do?’

– The first is to develop a taste for having problems. Behind our urge to race through every obstacle or challenge, in an effort to get it “dealt with,” there’s usually the unspoken fantasy that you might one day finally reach the state of having no problems whatsoever. As a result, most of us treat the problems we encounter as doubly problematic: first because of whatever specific problem we’re facing; and second because we seem to believe, if only subconsciously, that we shouldn’t have problems at all.

– Develop an appreciation for the fact that life just is a process of engaging with problem after problem, giving each one the time it requires—that the presence of problems in your life, in other words, isn’t an impediment to a meaningful existence but the very substance of one.

– The urge to push onward beyond that point “includes a big component of impatience about not being finished, about not being productive enough, about never again finding such an ideal time” for work. Stopping helps strengthen the muscle of patience that will permit you to return to the project again and again, and thus to sustain your productivity over an entire career.

– What’s the solution? “It’s simple,” Minkkinen says. “Stay on the bus. Stay on the fucking bus.” A little farther out on their journeys through the city, Helsinki’s bus routes diverge, plunging off to unique destinations as they head through the suburbs and into the countryside beyond. That’s where the distinctive work begins. But it begins at all only for those who can muster the patience to immerse themselves in the earlier stage—the trial-and-error phase of copying others, learning new skills, and accumulating experience.

– To experience the profound mutual understanding of the long-married couple, you have to stay married to one person; to know what it’s like to be deeply rooted in a particular community and place, you have to stop moving around. Those are the kinds of meaningful and singular accomplishments that just take the time they take.

– It’s a principle common to virtually all productivity advice that, in an ideal world, the only person making decisions about your time would be you: you’d set your own hours, work wherever you chose, take vacations when you wished, and generally be beholden to nobody. But there’s a case to be made that this degree of control comes at a cost that’s ultimately not worth paying.

– Yet the truth is that time is also a “network good,” one that derives its value from how many other people have access to it, too, and how well their portion is coordinated with yours.

– The truly troubling thought, though, is that those of us who’d never dream of choosing a lifestyle like Salcedo’s might nonetheless be guilty of the same basic mistake—of treating our time as something to hoard, when it’s better approached as something to share, even if that means surrendering some of your power to decide exactly what you do with it and when.

– The point, to be clear, isn’t that freelancing or long-term travel—let alone family-friendly workplace policies—are intrinsically bad things. It’s that they come with an unavoidable flip side: every gain in personal temporal freedom entails a corresponding loss in how easy it is to coordinate your time with other people’s. The digital nomad’s lifestyle lacks the shared rhythms required for deep relationships to take root. For the rest of us, likewise, more freedom to choose when and where you work makes it harder to forge connections through your job, as well as less likely you’ll be free to socialize when your friends are.

– Meanwhile, if you can be sure the whole office is deserted while you’re trying to relax, you’re spared the anxiety of thinking about all the undone tasks that might be accumulating, the emails filling up your inbox, or the scheming colleagues attempting to steal your job. Nonetheless, there was something a little spooky about how widely the beneficial effects of synchronized vacation rippled through the country. Hartig showed that even retired people, despite not having jobs from which to take a break, were happier when more of the Swedish workforce was on holiday.

– The reason is that part of what makes weekends fun is getting to spend time with others who are also off work—plus, for the unemployed, the weekend offers respite from feelings of shame that they ought to be working when they aren’t.

– On a work trip to Sweden a few years back, I experienced a micro-level version of the same idea in the form of the fika, the daily moment when everyone in a given workplace gets up from their desks to gather for coffee and cake. The event resembles a well-attended coffee break, except that Swedes are liable to become mildly offended—which is the equivalent of a non-Swede becoming severely offended—if you suggest that’s all it is. Because something intangible but important happens at the fika. The usual divisions get set aside; people mingle without regard for age, or class, or status within the office, discussing both work-related and nonwork matters: for half an hour or so, communication and conviviality take precedence over hierarchy and bureaucracy. One senior manager told me it was by far the most effective way to learn what was really going on in his company. Yet it works only because those involved are willing to surrender some of their individual sovereignty over their time. You can choose to pause for coffee at some other time instead, if you insist. But eyebrows may be raised.

– Marching aimlessly about on the drill field, swaggering in conformity with prescribed military postures, conscious only of keeping in step so as to make the next move correctly and in time somehow felt good. Words are inadequate to describe the emotion aroused by the prolonged movement in unison that drilling involved. A sense of pervasive well-being is what I recall; more specifically, a strange sense of personal enlargement; a sort of swelling out, becoming bigger than life, thanks to participation in collective ritual…Moving briskly and keeping in time was enough to make us feel good about ourselves, satisfied to be moving together, and vaguely pleased with the world at large.

– And as dancers know, when they lose themselves in the dance, synchrony is also a portal to another dimension—to that sacred place where the boundaries of the self grow fuzzy, and time seems not to exist.

– From the point of view of military commanders, after all, the chief benefit of synchrony among soldiers isn’t that they’ll march for longer distances. It’s that once they feel they belong to something greater than themselves, they’ll be more willing to lay down their life for their unit.

– And undoubtedly these have a role to play: we do need to set firm boundaries so that bullying bosses, exploitative employment arrangements, narcissistic spouses, or a guilty tendency toward people-pleasing don’t end up dictating the course of every day.

– Soviet experiment with a staggered five-day week. We live less and less of our lives in the same temporal grooves as one another. The unbridled reign of this individualist ethos, fueled by the demands of the market economy, has overwhelmed our traditional ways of organizing time, meaning that the hours in which we rest, work, and socialize are becoming ever more uncoordinated. It’s harder than ever to find time for a leisurely family dinner, a spontaneous visit to friends, or any collective project—nurturing a community garden, playing in an amateur rock band—that takes place in a setting other than the workplace.

– For the least privileged, the dominance of this kind of freedom translates into no freedom at all: it means unpredictable gig-economy jobs and “on-demand scheduling,” in which the big-box retailer you work for might call you into work at any moment, its labor needs calculated algorithmically from hour to hour based on sales volume—making it all but impossible to plan childcare or essential visits to the doctor, let alone a night out with friends.

– Work seeps through life like water, filling every cranny with more to-dos.

– It’s in the interests of an autocrat that the only real bond among his supporters should be their support for him.

– A malaise that had been growing in her for years had crystallized in the understanding that she was spending her days in a way that no longer felt as if it had any meaning. The relish she’d had for her work had drained away; the rewards she’d been pursuing seemed worthless; and now life was a matter of going through the motions, in the fading hope that it somehow all might yet pay off in future happiness.

– To realize midway through a business trip that you hate your life is already to have taken the first step into one you don’t hate—because it means you’ve grasped the fact that these are the weeks that are going to have to be spent doing something worthwhile, if your finite life is to mean anything at all.

– What happened is inexplicably incredible. It’s the greatest gift ever unwrapped. Not the deaths, not the virus, but The Great Pause…Please don’t recoil from the bright light beaming through the window. I know it hurts your eyes. It hurts mine, too. But the curtain is wide open…The Great American Return to Normal is coming…[but] I beg of you: take a deep breath, ignore the deafening noise, and think deeply about what you want to put back into your life. This is our chance to define a new version of normal, a rare and truly sacred (yes, sacred) opportunity to get rid of the bullshit and to only bring back what works for us, what makes our lives richer, what makes our kids happier, what makes us truly proud.

– And it follows, of course, that your own life will have been a minuscule little flicker of near-nothingness in the scheme of things: the merest pinpoint, with two incomprehensibly vast tracts of time, the past and future of the cosmos as a whole, stretching off into the distance on either side.

– You might think of it as “cosmic insignificance therapy”: When things all seem too much, what better solace than a reminder that they are, provided you’re willing to zoom out a bit, indistinguishable from nothing at all? The anxieties that clutter the average life—relationship troubles, status rivalries, money worries—shrink instantly down to irrelevance

– The Universe Doesn’t Give a Flying Fuck About You. To remember how little you matter, on a cosmic timescale, can feel like putting down a heavy burden that most of us didn’t realize we were carrying in the first place.

– Most of us do go around thinking of ourselves as fairly central to the unfolding of the universe; if we didn’t, it wouldn’t be any relief to be reminded that in reality this isn’t the case.

– But what actually happens is that this overvaluing of your existence gives rise to an unrealistic definition of what it would mean to use your finite time well. It sets the bar much too high. It suggests that in order to count as having been “well spent,” your life needs to involve deeply impressive accomplishments, or that it should have a lasting impact on future generations—or at the very least that it must, in the words of the philosopher Iddo Landau, “transcend the common and the mundane.” Clearly, it can’t just be ordinary: After all, if your life is as significant in the scheme of things as you tend to believe, how could you not feel obliged to do something truly remarkable with it?

– We do not disapprove of a chair because it cannot be used to boil water for a nice cup of tea.

– And this realization isn’t merely calming but liberating, because once you’re no longer burdened by such an unrealistic definition of a “life well spent,” you’re freed to consider the possibility that a far wider variety of things might qualify as meaningful ways to use your finite time.

– From this new perspective, it becomes possible to see that preparing nutritious meals for your children might matter as much as anything could ever matter, even if you won’t be winning any cooking awards; or that your novel’s worth writing if it moves or entertains a handful of your contemporaries, even though you know you’re no Tolstoy. Or that virtually any career might be a worthwhile way to spend a working life, if it makes things slightly better for those it serves.

– The reason time feels like such a struggle is that we’re constantly attempting to master it—to lever ourselves into a position of dominance and control over our unfolding lives so that we might finally feel safe and secure, and no longer so vulnerable to events.

– For some of us, the struggle manifests as the attempt to become so productive and efficient that we never again have to experience the guilt of disappointing others, or worry about being fired for underperforming; or so that we might avoid facing the prospect of dying without having fulfilled our greatest ambitions. Other people hold off entirely from starting on important projects or embarking on intimate relationships in the first place because they can’t bear the anxiety of having committed themselves to something that might or might not work out happily in practice. We waste our lives railing against traffic jams and toddlers for having the temerity to take the time they take, because they’re blunt reminders of how little control we truly have over our schedules.

– You’ll never reach the commanding position of being able to handle every demand that might be thrown at you or pursue every ambition that feels important; you’ll be obliged to make tough choices instead.

– We’ll never get the upper hand in our relationship with the moments of our lives because we are nothing but those moments.

– Time is the substance I am made of,” writes Jorge Luis Borges. “Time is a river that sweeps me along, but I am the river; it is a tiger which destroys me, but I am the tiger; it is a fire which consumes me, but I am the fire.

– Because in each of the moments that you inescapably are, anything could happen, from an urgent email that scuppers your plans for the morning to a bereavement that shakes your world to its foundations.

– Once you’ve cleared the decks, you tell yourself; or once you’ve implemented a better system of personal organization, or got your degree, or invested a sufficient number of years in honing your craft; or once you’ve found your soulmate or had kids, or once the kids have left home, or once the revolution comes and social justice is established—that’s when you’ll feel in control at last, you’ll be able to relax a bit, and true meaningfulness will be found. Until then, life necessarily feels like a struggle: sometimes an exciting one, sometimes exhausting, but always in the service of some moment of truth that’s still in the future.

– There is a strange attitude and feeling that one is not yet in real life. For the time being one is doing this or that, but whether it is [a relationship with] a woman or a job, it is not yet what is really wanted, and there is always the fantasy that sometime in the future the real thing will come about…The one thing dreaded throughout by such a type of man is to be bound to anything whatever. There is a terrific fear of being pinned down, of entering space and time completely, and of being the unique human that one is.

– Entering space and time completely”—or even partially, which may be as far as any of us ever get—means admitting defeat. It means letting your illusions die. You have to accept that there will always be too much to do; that you can’t avoid tough choices or make the world run at your preferred speed; that no experience, least of all close relationships with other human beings, can ever be guaranteed in advance to turn out painlessly and well—and that from a cosmic viewpoint, when it’s all over, it won’t have counted for very much anyway

– The human disease is often painful, but as the Zen teacher Charlotte Joko Beck puts it, it’s only unbearable for as long as you’re under the impression that there might be a cure.

– It means embarking on ventures that might fail, perhaps because you’ll find you lacked sufficient talent; it means risking embarrassment, holding difficult conversations, disappointing others, and getting so deep into relationships that additional suffering—when bad things happen to those you care about—is all but guaranteed.

– Does this choice diminish me, or enlarge me?

– But you usually know, intuitively, whether remaining in a relationship or job would present the kind of challenges that will help you grow as a person (enlargement) or the kind that will cause your soul to shrivel with every passing week (diminishment). Choose uncomfortable enlargement over comfortable diminishment whenever you can.

– The truth is that it’s impossible to become so efficient and organized that you could respond to a limitless number of incoming demands.

– What would you do differently with your time, today, if you knew in your bones that salvation was never coming—that your standards had been unreachable all along, and that you’ll therefore never manage to make time for all you hoped you might.

– What would you do differently with your time, today, if you knew in your bones that salvation was never coming—that your standards had been unreachable all along, and that you’ll therefore never manage to make time for all you hoped you might.

– Let your impossible standards crash to the ground. Then pick a few meaningful tasks from the rubble and get started on them today.

– In what ways have you yet to accept the fact that you are who you are, not the person you think you ought to be?

– This is it.

– It’s better to begin from the assumption that tough choices are inevitable and to focus on making them consciously and well.

– A complementary strategy is to establish predetermined time boundaries for your daily work.

– But the great benefit of strategic underachievement—that is, nominating in advance whole areas of life in which you won’t expect excellence of yourself—is that you focus that time and energy more effectively. Nor will you be dismayed when you fail at what you’d planned to fail at all along. “When you can’t do it all, you feel ashamed and give up.

– A poorly kept lawn or a cluttered kitchen are less troubling when you’ve preselected “lawn care” or “kitchen tidiness” as goals to which you’ll devote zero energy.

– You can’t feel good about yourself until it’s all finished—but it’s never finished.

– As a counterstrategy, keep a “done list,” which starts empty first thing in the morning, and which you then gradually fill with whatever you accomplish through the day.(If you’re in a serious psychological rut, lower the bar for what gets to count as an accomplishment: nobody else need ever know that you added “brushed teeth” or “made coffee” to the list

– Social media is a giant machine for getting you to spend your time caring about the wrong things.

– It’s also a machine for getting you to care about too many things, even if they’re each indisputably worthwhile. We’re exposed, these days, to an unending stream of atrocities and injustice.

– Digital distractions are so seductive because they seem to offer the chance of escape to a realm where painful human limitations don’t apply: you need never feel bored or constrained in your freedom of action, which isn’t the case when it comes to work that matters.

– Meanwhile, as far as possible, choose devices with only one purpose, such as the Kindle ereader, on which it’s tedious and awkward to do anything but read.

– Pay more attention to every moment, however mundane: to find novelty not by doing radically different things but by plunging more deeply into the life you already have.

– The desire to feel securely in control of how our time unfolds causes numerous problems in relationships, where it manifests not just in overtly “controlling” behavior but in commitment-phobia, the inability to listen, boredom, and the desire for so much personal sovereignty over your time that you miss out on enriching experiences of communality.

– Try deliberately adopting an attitude of curiosity.

– To figure out who this human being is that we’re with.

– I’m definitely still working on the habit proposed (and practiced) by the meditation teacher Joseph Goldstein: whenever a generous impulse arises in your mind—to give money, check in on a friend, send an email praising someone’s work—act on the impulse right away, rather than putting it off until later.

– When it comes to the challenge of using your four thousand weeks well, the capacity to do nothing is indispensable, because if you can’t bear the discomfort of not acting, you’re far more likely to make poor choices with your time, simply to feel as if you’re acting—choices such as stressfully trying to hurry activities that won’t be rushed.