We are terrible with time.
Managing it, estimating it, making the most of it.
Time is the only resource in our lives that isn't renewable.
Money, relationships, power—all things we can win and lose.
We can never gain more time.
Sure, life-extension drugs and exercise can extend your life. Money might buy you access to special treatments. But until we learn to extend life indefinitely, we all have a fixed amount of time left.
What do people regret most at the end of their lives? It varies a bit, but they all come down to one thing: a different allocation of time.
Bronnie Ware, a palliative care nurse in Australia, catalogued the top regrets of the dying:
- I wish I'd had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
- I wish I hadn't worked so hard.
- I wish I'd had the courage to express my feelings.
- I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
- I wish that I had let myself be happier.
One of the most important things we can do with our lives is learn to manage our time.
But it's difficult.
The shiny new thing, the new car, the new house: they distract us.
In theory, we should use our money to buy time. As much as possible.
In reality, salaries are addicting. Upgrading our lifestyle is the norm.
Never before has everyone else's life been so accessible to us.
There is always someone who is taking a vacation we'd like to be on.
Someone who got our dream car.
Someone with a more beautiful partner, or a better job.
There are two strategies I've found useful for convincing myself to better manage my time.
Annie Duke suggests this technique for making better decisions.
You place yourself somewhere in the future—a week, a month, a year, five years—and ask yourself what you'll think at that time.
The technique helps decide which decisions you should spend time on.
A year down the road, you'll care about which job you have, so you should spend time making a good decision.
But you won't remember what you decided to have for lunch today, so you should make that decision fast.
This is like listening to the regrets of the elderly. It's like asking someone from the future.
Part of the reason this technique is effective is we're putting ourselves in the future.
When we listen to other people, it's easy to say "ah, that won't happen to me."
It's harder to ignore our future selves.
Run The Numbers
I recommend one blog post more than all others: The Tail End.
The post is about how much of something we have left in our lives.
How many more times we will eat pizza, or how many more times we'll swim in the ocean.
The brilliance of this post comes from two things.
The first: making things visual.
When you can see how many pizzas you have left in your life in neat rows on a screen, suddenly it doesn't seem like so many. Making something visual helps us comprehend the scale.
The second: running the numbers to go with the visualization.
The stat I always remember from this post is how much time the author—Tim Urban—realizes he has left with his parents.
He sees them ~10 days a year (5 visits x 2 days).
When he does the math, he realizes that by the time he graduated high school, he had already spent 93% of the time he would ever spend with his parents. At his current age, he's down to 5% left.
Numbers like that stagger me.
Not only do they have implications for how we make day-to-day decisions, but they have implications for how we should live our lives.
Where we live, what we do, and who we build relationships with.
Adding urgency to our lives is difficult. Many things tempt us to trade time for money.
But we should be sacrificing money for time.