S4-EP7: Oliver Burkeman on Embracing Finitude and Completing a Few Meaningful Things

Dec 17, 2021


Debbie Weil talks to author Oliver Burkeman from his home in Yorkshire about the finitude of the human lifespan, the problem with bucket lists, and our use of social media as a distraction.



Debbie is always on the lookout for guests who can lend a new perspective to the concept of time and our perception of how much of it we have. For those in midlife and beyond, the better phrase might be how much time we have left. So when she read Oliver Burkeman’s new book, Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals, she knew he had to come on the show. 

Plus the book is terrific and it’s getting lots of notice.

The first sentence is “The average human life span is absurdly, terrifyingly, insultingly short.” In other words, about 4,000 weeks.

Oliver is a British author and journalist who wrote a popular weekly column, This Column Will Change Your Life, for The Guardian for over a decade. He has reported from London, Washington and New York and recently moved with his wife and son from Brooklyn, NY back to Yorkshire in the UK to be near his family. 

He has established himself as a tongue-in-cheek expert on productivity and time management and how that does – or does not – lead to happiness. 

He sums up his new book very nicely in his Twitter profile: explaining that 4,000 Weeks is about “embracing limitation & finally getting round to what matters.” 

As he’s 46, he’s only lived about 2,400 of those 4,000 weeks himself but he tells Debbie in this episode that he may be getting closer to a better relationship with time.

Debbie and Oliver talk about time and self-worth, why we are so future-oriented, the connection between time and happiness, and why it might be okay that we use social media as a distraction. 

Oliver is a contrarian thinker but he’s truly interested in how to build a meaningful life. Debbie had a number of aha moments in this conversation and listeners will too!


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Encore.org, our newest media partner, is an ideas and innovation hub tapping the talent of those 50+ as a force for good. Founder and CEO Marc Freedman is an award-winning social entrepreneur and author, most recently, of How to Live Forever: The Enduring Power of Connecting the Generations. Looking for a great gap-year transition program? Check out Encore Fellowships, which match skilled, seasoned professionals with social-sector organizations in high-impact, paid assignments.


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Next For Me is an important new resource for the 50+ crowd focused on rewriting life. Taking a gap year or timeout may be the best way to figure out "what's next" when you're in this stage of life. Founder Jeff Tidwell explains, Next For Me "connects and inspires our generation to evolve our post-50 lives through new work, a new purpose, or a new social contribution."