how much time do you have left?

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Considering the first modern humans appeared on the plains of Africa some 200,00 years ago and current estimates are that life, in some form, will continue for more than another billion years, the average human lifespan is terrifyingly short and truly does represent the proverbial blink of an eye. Assuming you live to be 80, you’ll have about 4,000 weeks ahead of you, which will obviously appear even more paltry as you age. Personally, I’ve about a thousand weekends left. Ouch. That makes me feel a tad queasy.

Oliver Burkeman’s new book, “Four Thousand Weeks: Time and How to Use It”, reflects upon the intractable conundrum of how to use our remaining time to best effect and it’s not as daunting as you first think. Thankfully, Mr Burkeman, who masqueraded as The Guardian’s in-house therapist for years, does not set out to berate us into wringing every last drop of pleasure and productivity from our meagre ration but rather, accepts the impossibility of the situation and urges us to pushback against the often joyless urgency of today’s digital age. Time can never be brought under control as there simply isn’t enough of it and we want to do too much with it.

Apps supposedly allow us to streamline our lives for greater efficiency. Whole business models are built on the number of seconds a web user will wait for a slow-loading page. If Amazon’s homepage loaded a whole second slower, the company would apparently lose $1.6bn in annual revenue and just imagine the impact that would have on its tax receipts (er, none – ed). Each time you open a social media app, there are hundreds, if not thousands of people on the other side of the screen paid to keep you there, so it’s no wonder we usually don’t have the willpower to ignore the distraction they create. And this distraction really matters. 

Our experience of being alive consists of nothing more than the sum of everything we do and everything we pay attention to. On your death bed, with your life flashing before your eyes, whatever compelled your attention from moment to moment, experience to experience, is simply what your life will have been. It’s probably a bit of an exaggeration to say that when you pay attention to something you don’t particularly enjoy or value, then you really are paying with your life, but you get the idea.

However, with so many things to do procrastination is pretty much unavoidable. Factor in FOMO – fear of missing out – and you can see how so many actions influence and impact our lives. Burkeman diagnoses this condition as ‘existential overwhelm’ and advises us to embrace JOMO – the joy of missing out! Renounce those alternative distractions and focus on what matters to you, whatever that may be. The key is to be discerning and make the choice. Our German cousins call it Eigenzeit, and it refers to the fact that if something’s worth doing, then it’s worth doing well, and it will take just as long as it takes.

I don’t know about you but I’m already planning for the weekend ahead. Time’s running short!