Time in context – understanding the time you have and how to accept it

Posted by Jim Hitch, chief executive of Legal Futures Associate Casedo

For those who haven’t yet read Oliver Burkeman’s Four Thousand Weeks, you need to know this: it’s a time-management book like no other, already a classic.

Though you really must read it, it will, only a few pages in, open up a temporary void inside you, a kind of vertigo that may well verbalise itself as ‘Oh, is that all I have left?’. My sister lent it to someone on a camping trip recently, who devoured it before handing it back with a devasted, “But I’m already 62”.

For, though refreshing, it’s a shocking book. It delivers that much-needed metaphorical punch in the gut: you can’t do all those trips you’ve been fantasising about for years; you won’t ever get to the bottom of your task list; and possibly most devastatingly (for myself at least), is that that time in the future when everything will be ‘just so’, will never arrive.

Once the bad cop side of the book is delivered, Burkeman uses the rest of the text on how we can, as humans, make the best of this devastating knowledge; get a hobby, procrastinate better.

Time, after all, is how we mark off the passing of, well, everything. Indeed, as Burkeman points out, according to the German philosopher Martin Heidegger, we are the limited time we spend on this planet.

This is relevant to all of us, but what about those who count time as they work? As noted in my recent post on the billable hour, most legal work is still charged in minute increments, at huge administrative expense, and much to the chagrin of clients who see ballooning invoices as if they were state funded capital projects.

According to the tenor of the book, working like this, aiming to squeeze every last efficiency out of your workforce, by counting time, must be the worst of all worlds.

The Burkeman book arrived in 2021, and the above has been picked over and taken up in a variety of articles from the major newspapers to more esoteric blogs.

My further interest in it, however, comes from a book I picked up and read at the same time. It was Easter and we were down at Lyme Regis with the children, fossil hunting (if you haven’t been, go, you can literally pick fossils up off the beach: there is a never-ending supply slowly falling out of the cliffs), and what better time to browse the wonderful bookshop and pick up a book on geology, which is perhaps the study of earth time.

Having a literary bent, I opted not for a wonderful Dorling Kindersley, but instead Helen Gordon’s marvellous Notes from Deep Time, also from 2021.

Little did I know how well these two books complimented each other. Whilst Burkeman deals with how to deal and comes to terms with the vanishingly small amount of time we exist, Gordon attempts to put Earth’s geological time within a context that we can understand without the vertigo of coming to terms with 4.5 billion years of Earth’s existence.

Knowing that we are on this planet for a flash is underlined by reading Gordon’s book and yet context can be gained through certain of the gems she shares.

For example, most of us know that non-avian dinosaurs vanished 65 million years ago (in fact, recent discoveries appear to have found evidence of the actual meteor that did for them within the glass beads that fell from the sky following the impact) and may also be aware that their reign lasted a staggering 150 million years.

But most of us have not considered that dinosaur species appeared and disappeared such that in linear time two of my childhood favourites, the Stegosaurus and the Tyrannosaurus Rex would never have met.

Indeed, the Stegosaurus died out 77 million years before the T Rex appeared at the tail end of the dinosaur period, meaning that the Tyrannosaurus Rex is closer in time to humans than it is to the Stegosaurus.

This last fact, and others in the book, helped me accept Burkeman’s thesis and situate myself in the great sweep of the Earth’s history. A flash in the pan perhaps, but a flash, one hopes, nevertheless.


    Readers Comments

  • Carla Gavzey says:

    I like your choice, Jim.
    I was planning to start counting down when I was 50, fooling myself perhaps. Still, when is ‘later’, better live now!

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