Oliver Burkeman on Deep Time

Jason Chatfield
5 min readDec 7, 2021

A book review, apropos the author’s conversation with Sam Harris

Last week I got to draw a portrait of the columnist and author Oliver Burkeman for Sam Harris’ Waking Up app. (See other portraits here.)

Their conversation was as enlightening as it was terrifying. The stark truth of how very finite your existence in this plane of consciousness is can jolt you awake pretty abruptly. Kind of the way you feel walking out of a church after a funeral service; realising the banality of the quotidian anxieties you had before walking in.

I tore through Oliver’s fantastic new book, Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals on account of my very complicated relationship with time.

Over the past 14 years, I’ve been a syndicated comic strip cartoonist, which means I’ve lived under the shadow of a looming due date every day of my life since signing that contract. My ensuing dance with the dreaded deadline demon has changed my very perception of time, how psychological time is perceived as I get older, and how it relates to the notions and laws that Burkeman delves into in this book: most specifically, Parkinson’s Law* and Hofstadter’s Law.

Sidenote: *I’ve written about Parkinson’s Law before, in elucidating my weekly process of working from a calendar instead of a to-do list to ensure you have a realistic idea of how long to allow for the work you have to get done.

The exploration of Psychological time VS. Clock Time is a fascinating part of the book. Not only as to how it changes once you’ve practised meditation and explored your relationship with the mind over time, but also when cross-referenced with the work done by Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky on the Remembering Self VS. the Experiencing Self and the numerous “cognitive illusions” that affect human judgement.

Burkeman’s writings on Hofstadter’s law were enlightening, particularly as it pertained to allowing slack into our schedules: nothing ever takes the amount of time you plan it to take, no matter how carefully you plan.

Jason Chatfield

New York-based Australian Comedian & Cartoonist for the New Yorker. Obsessed with productivity hacks, the creative process, and the Oxford comma.