Monday, November 08, 2021

TIme management and why the lives of digital nomads suck


When philosophers write books on personal development, what you get are excellent prose and very clear reasoning. What you do not get is a strong list of actionable items.

But I don't think that's the aim of Four Thousand Weeks by Oliver Burkeman. If I am to summarise the work, the idea is that since Singaporeans tend to live up to 85 years old, we have about 4,420 weeks to live so it's not a good idea to focus on productivity and try to fit everything into a to-do list. Instead, given the fact our time on Earth is short, we have to focus on living well and actively reject even some fairly useful uses of our time.  

As much as reading his books will probably not change my life, he's a deliciously subversive author who forces you to rethink common tropes in self-help. 

Remember the story about fitting stones, pebbles, sand and water into a jar made famous by Stephen Covey's book that's quoted to death by your pals? 

Burkeman's insight is that it's never about fitting everything into the jar. In life, there are too many large stones in the first place, so you need to decide which ones get into the jar. Productivity frameworks like GTD may not have the right answer for you. 

This book is a gem because it raises a good point about the FIRE movement and Burkeman is not such a big fan of digital nomads. 

The reasoning is quite novel. Most of these digital nomads have lives that we envy, which is why Tim Ferriss ideas have gained so much traction over the years, but according to Burkeman, even though digital nomads travel to many countries, they are actually quite lonely people.


Because time is a networked good. Digital nomads and FIRE folks spend many years ultimately getting control over their own lives, but time can only be valuable only if we are surrounded by folks who also have the same control over their time. The psychological research to back this idea up came from Sweden when they found that the sale of antidepressants drop only when everyone gets a long holiday together.

I think that this is a really good argument against the Retire Early leg of FIRE. 

No matter how financially free I can be, I can only travel when my kids are having a holiday. Even though I can afford to travel during school term, I can't find a travel buddy who is as financially free as me. Even if there is a person who is financially independent, we need common interests and hobbies to make good travelling companions.  Maybe a good gamer friend can have one major trip with me, but he may exhaust his assets while I can reset and fly again after a one month break.  

One way of solving this is for FIRE bloggers to have more meet-ups. More connections mean a higher probability of finding good travelling and eating cmpanions. I think that will happen as we slowly emerge from COVID-19. We need a larger group to scale our operations and promote our side hobbies, FIRE should be something like the Toastmaster's movement. But FIRE also attracts intensely introverted individuals.  

Alternatively, most of us should just lower the bar. After my law school experience, I prefer hanging out with younger folks because they have fresher ideas and are fairly crypto proficient. There's probably no need to travel too far and break our budgets. So I prefer to play small, organise hikes, have cheap meals. 

Maybe when there is a closed group of pals, we can travel to Malaysia together one day.

This blog will take a break as I am conducting a course beginning tomorrow. I will see you guys on the weekend !


  1. Or you can psycho your travel buddies to try achieve FIRE. I am doing that now.

  2. It's not that simple, FIRE folks can be introverted and not make fun, spontaneous travelling companions. The zaniest folks you can talk along with you can barely count their money.

    1. that is very true, fair point! :)

  3. Money or FI just amplifies what you already are. If you are an asshole, you become a bigger asshole. If you're introverted, you become more introverted. The $$$$$ becomes an enabler to your base temperament or personality.

    There's a simple reason why many sportspeople, actors, pop stars, lottery winners blow through their fortunes. People who thrive in these careers or play the lottery often have (and need) YOLO personalities.

    Having a more meaningful, happier life just involves more purposeful actions, and yes, a bit of self-psychoing.