Do less to be more, or learn to say no early

Schalk Neethling
3 min readDec 31, 2023

I was listening to a podcast from Mark Manson (The subtle art of not giving a f*ck) titled, “How to Stop Wasting Your Life.” In this episode of the podcast, he speaks with the author Oliver Burkeman (4,000 Weeks: Time Management for Mortals) and this was exactly what I needed to hear.

I have been trying to juggle and plan my days and weeks around a seemingly never-ending list of tasks and projects for the longest time. I have even been strategizing with ChatGPT on how I can make all of this fit into a day and a week without losing it. Alarm bells should have been ringing already at this point, right?

Sliding in from stage left comes Oliver and says something like the following:

I think it’s fundamentally to do with facing up to the realities of one’s limitations, right? The degree to which you are limited by time, the fact that you only have so many hours in a day, the fact that you’re going to have a finite number of years in a life.

Instead of being in a constant struggle against this to try to somehow achieve escape velocity from your own situation, you’re working with it.

And then the kicker:

I think one of the things that means is getting more comfortable with working sequentially on things, being willing to neglect almost everything for large chunks of time.

While you work on a small number of them, it’s about being willing to neglect some things, perhaps entirely, because you understand that your situation is a finite person in a world of infinite possibilities, and that trying to get your arms around all of them, or get so efficient that you could do all of them, is kind of like a denial of the truth of what you are, which is a finite person in the world. Even though that sounds at first like a kind of defeat, right?

The only reasonable response to that is the mind-blown emoji 🤯 Am I right? And I totally get where he comes from with that last sentence.

Even though that sounds at first like a kind of defeat, right?

This has been the driving force of me not taking this path. In my head, I would hear a thousand angels sing about how I would not be living up to my truest potential. How I will be less of a human compared to this other person next to me and therefore leave opportunity behind, or money on the table, or just be a sucky human in general. To that, Oliver says:

It’s sort of like serendipity. So, I’m going to do fewer of the things that I’d dreamed I might do? But, it’s actually a way of really concentrating your energies on a few things, not being perpetually distracted and made anxious by the fact that there are all sorts of other things you could in principle be doing and sort of entering more and more fully into the state of being a finite human.

To that I say, and excuse my French, fuck yeah! And to those angels, I am sorry but, shut the fuck up. 😃

This was a short one, but I wanted to share it before the new year in case you, like me, have a list that is simply not possible to manage and introduces more anxiety than creativity, in turn increasing the likelihood of failure. Now, failure is to be celebrated as one step closer to success, but let’s be honest, we suck at celebrating failure.

So while we figure that one out, let’s increase our chances of small victories every day.

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Schalk Neethling

I write about mental health, addiction, sober living, living your best life through an active lifestyle and a whole food plant-based diet. Psychedelic curios :)