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1000 Weeks: How Should We Use Them?

By Renee Langmuir March 28, 2024 Lifestyle

If you are fortunate enough to reach the age of 65, according to the latest research on aging, your destiny might enable you to live approximately 20 more years, or about 1,000 weeks. Oliver Burkeman, the British/American author of 4000 Weeks: Time Management for Mortals has some great ideas of how to live those weeks fully, deeply, and more aligned to your values and passions.

I don’t believe Mr. Burkeman was pondering the retiree who might have already squandered some portion of the preceding 3,000 weeks. Rather, he appears to address the multitudes who are eternally “under the gun” to perform at increasingly higher levels in the realms of work, physical fitness, appearance, contributions to the world, and raising their progeny (if applicable).

Advice to Mortals

Drawing upon a lengthy bibliography of philosophers, iconoclasts, and pop culture figures in a very reader-friendly style, Mr. Burkeman lures his audience to accept the fact that the human lifespan is incredibly short, and that work/life balance is impossible, without reconfiguring some long-held assumptions about core values and the capricious nature of time. He urges his readers to accept our insignificance in the universe and to live life as it unfolds, rather than trying to control it.

Among his alarming, but comforting “truths,” are the ideas that the perfect future will never arrive, and life seems to be a process of engaging with problem after problem. Additionally, we all manifest an egocentricity bias, thinking that we really matter (which we don’t, in the long run). Many of us are trapped into believing we need to constantly be doing things to justify our existence. Alpha retirees… sound familiar?

I find all of these ideas ferociously validating. I don’t really start checking off my ‘To Do’ List items until 10:30 AM, and I’m ready for my nap around 3:30! Thank goodness Oliver Burkeman does not see rest as wasteful, even though on the surface, it appears to have no apparent intrinsic value. Burkeman thinks all of us need more rest! He would approve of my before and after prime-time hours which are filled with contemplation, reading, writing, companionship, and self-nurturing activities.

How Did Modern Society Get Here?

Burkeman references Lewis Mumford who describes the “dictatorship of the clock” in his 1934 work Technics and Civilization. He viewed the clock as the “key machine of the industrial age,” effectively transposing nature and natural events to man-made hours, minutes, and seconds. Ironically, the clock was invented in the industrial age because workers and management needed to synchronize their schedules, essentially the end of the natural rhythms of the day and seasons, to which our lives were aligned.

Those of us in retirement have an immediate need to reorient our temporal thinking, which has been ingrained since we entered school. Those of us who have the most difficult time adjusting tend to manifest behaviors similar to our still-employed peers: obsessively planning and/or worrying. Both of these behaviors, according to Burkeman, are attempts to control the future, which is never possible.

Many of us transfer the place in our psyches for occupational goals to leisure time goals: strength training, learning a new language, traveling to every country in Europe, etc. Such pursuits are not activities of leisure time! Burkeman argues exercise, travel, and learning new things should be enjoyed for their own sake, not to achieve a level of personal excellence.

A Better Use of Those 1000 Weeks

While the suggestions in this book are intended for those still in the world of work, many hit the sweet spot for retirees.

Surrender to the Speed of Reality

A better way to conceptualize time is to surrender to the speed of reality. I believe the transition of our bodies and appearance in later life is a constant temporal reminder that “times-a-wasting!” Embracing a more honest relationship with time enables us to enjoy fewer tasks in greater depth. Maybe, for the first time ever, we can master “Temporal Sovereignty,” when previously our time was under the ownership of all the others in one’s life.

Loosen Up on the Egocentricity Bias

In our younger years, there is often the looming feeling of being under constant surveillance by those in close proximity. For the most part, the reality is that no one but you is aware of exactly what you are doing in the moment. The same holds true in retirement. There is no seated judicial panel observing how we choose to spend our time. Tech icons like to think they can make a “dent in the universe.” Truly, no one is capable of such a grandiose idea.

Try Developing the Patience Principles

Problems of every stripe will continue to pop up, even in retirement. Even an incremental approach to their solution will move the needle. This also applies to dealing with the bombardment of crises in the world. Select an issue or two and do what you can in your local environment.

In the later stages of life, focus on what you have already accomplished – quite a lot in your 3,000 weeks! You have earned the right to relax. Practice doing nothing, if it doesn’t come naturally to you. Try your hand at new skills, but allow yourself to fail. (Remember, no one is watching or really cares!)

Burkeman posits that one’s life consists of all the things one chose to pay attention to. These years are the time to prioritize your values. A bucket list doesn’t necessarily have to be a list of unique, untried experiences. It could and should include the elements which make daily life satisfying. The decisions for the 3,000 weeks which have already passed have been made. How will you live the 1,000 weeks that might be left?

Let’s Have a Conversation:

What is on your bucket list that you can do today in your present circumstances? How does it feel to really embrace the idea of being a fleeting being in the universe?

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Thank you for this. I’m going to look up this book. It seems rather fitting since my 85-year-old uncle died late last night. It was unexpected and quick. I’m 61 and looking at what I will do with the rest of my time here.

Catherine Vance

An exceptional article! I don’t remember where I read this quote, but it was something along the lines of, “We are tiny beings in a raging ocean; we lift our heads out of the
waters briefly to make a feeble gasp—and then we’re gone.” Now, this is NOT to say life has no meaning so why bother. I think it means — don’t overthink your brief moment. Drink
up as much life as you can–it is fleeting. Or something.


Great article! Thanks.


Thank you for the article :)


I, too, am a firm believer in more rest! 💤💤💤

The Author

Renee Langmuir was an educator for 34 years in public schools and at the university level. After an unplanned retirement, Renee chronicled her transition in a series of personal essays on the website, Her writing has appeared on the websites Agebuzz, Next Avenue, Forbes and in The AARP Ethel Newsletter.

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