The year of not keeping on top of everything

by | Jan 7, 2022 | Leadership

You may be wondering if the “not” in the title of this post is an error. Surely trying to keep on top of everything is A Good Thing and perhaps something you want to get even better at in 2022?

I’ve recently read Oliver Burkeman’s latest, excellent book Four Thousand Weeks, 4000 weeks being roughly the amount of time we can expect on this earth if we live to be eighty.

The subtitle is “Time and how to use it” which sounds suspiciously like another time management book. However, what’s different about this book is that Burkeman helps us understand the unhelpful way we have learned to see and relate to time, and how our misguided attempts to master it sabotage our efforts to live a meaningful and enjoyable life.

Time used to be just a medium in which life unfolded, like the water we swam in. Imagine a medieval peasant living by sunset and sunrise, weather and the seasons.

Once we started standardising time in recent centuries and measuring our activity by it, it became something separate to us and therefore natural to treat as a resource, something to be used as efficiently as possible.

The problem is that we’ve come to believe that the solution to getting things done and feeling “on top of things” is to be better at “using” time, to be more efficient – and berate ourselves if we don’t.

This is the crux of the matter. The truth is that it’s impossible to do more than we can do. We are only human.

We cannot do everything. And anyway, what is “everything”? From conversations with many of my coaching clients, it’s a catch-all term not only for what they want and need to do, but a constant stream of demands from others in the form of requests or emails or meetings which they feel they should meet.

In other words, they’re often allowing other people’s priorities to become theirs because they don’t want to let people down, or acknowledge that they’re only human and have a finite capacity. So they end up spending time on things that don’t really matter and battle to find time for the things that do.

The risk is to become what Burkeman calls a “limitless reservoir for other people’s expectations”. 

The pipeline filling that reservoir will never stop and will likely increase in proportion to your willingness to meet those people’s expectations.

Living a life that is meaningful and fulfilling – doing the things that matter to you in your life and work – means making tough choices. 

It means acknowledging that you will never be able to do everything, you will never feel in total control and you will disappoint people in the process.

The good news is that you are in choice. The sometimes unpalatable truth is that all choices have consequences. Only you can decide if an uncomfortable consequence is worth the benefit of choosing what’s most important.

Why not make this the year when you don’t try to keep on top of everything to allow yourself to make the most of your four thousand weeks?


What do you think? Drop me a line at 


Subscribe to Alison's mailing list

* indicates required

Alison Reid is an experienced executive coach who helps Directors lead with confidence and step-change their influence and impact. She works with them 1-1, empowering them to focus on what matters, communicate with impact and stay calm under pressure so they can lead themselves and others to great results. She's the author of Unleash Your Leadership : How to Worry Less and Achieve More. Download an extract or buy the book.

Sign up to her mailing list to receive blogs like these direct to your inbox.

Share This