Where Did The Time Go?

My Life In A Graph.

This image is a graph I threw together to represent my life on earth.  I don’t know how long I will live but for the sake of the graph, I chose 94 years old.  Each block represents a week.  There are 52 blocks wide and 94 blocks down.  The highlighted portion shows the time that I’ve already spent.  The blocks that are not highlighted represent the yet to be lived portion of my life.

my-life

I got the idea for this graph, watching Tim Urban give a TEDtalk about procrastination (see link at the bottom).  Tim showed a similar graph for a 90 year old person.

While some might think this is a bit morbid, I think it’s important to measure these things because we as humans, have a tendency to drift and put things off until “Someday”.

Where did the time go?

Have you ever looked back at some important event in your life and suddenly realized how many years had passed since it happened?  Where did the time go?  It may seem like it was only yesterday.  We’re human. If we are not intentional, we will lose track of time.  That’s really what this is about…Time, and how we use it.

In Tim’s speech, he humorously outlines the difference between the brain of a normal person, and the brain of a chronic procrastinator.  While they both looked very similar, the procrastinator’s brain had one difference.  It’s what Tim calls the “Immediate Gratification Monkey”.

People everywhere living with regret.

One of the thoughts that I came away with after watching Tim’s talk was that there are people everywhere living with regret.  Why?  Because regret is usually what comes after procrastination has run it’s course.

Many things that we might procrastinate on are short term & temporary.  A report due to your boss at the end of the month, or a low interest rate on a loan.  These things are tied to time and have a relatively immediate consequence attached to them.  Even if you have to put in extra hours, do extra stuff, or lose sleep to get these done, you’re not likely to totally forget because of the consequences.

There are other things though, that are not tied to time and don’t have an immediate consequence.  It’s these things that cause so much of our regret.  These are the things in the “Someday” slot.  I wrote in a previous post about how I had asked my dad if we would ever go see Elvis Presley live.  My dad said “Someday”.  Just a few years later Elvis passed away.  Someday never came (see link at the bottom).

Someday!  

How many people had big dreams, dreams of traveling to some place they long desired to see, but in the twilight of their lives, they looked back with regret? They never made it happen.  Maybe they had broken relationships that they always intended to fix, or hurt feelings they always intended to forgive…someday.  Suddenly, they realized that it’s too late.  they are too old, their health is failing, or that other person is now gone.

These “Someday” issues often carry a far greater weight of regret.  The problem is that they are not tied to a short term consequence, so we don’t ever get to the point of panic over a deadline.  We will put off something that may be hard or painful to deal with, telling ourselves that we will deal with it eventually.  Eventually is a very nebulous, ethereal word. It’s not concrete.  Eventually is a synonym for Someday.  They both describe a realm where things go to never get done.

Chip & Dan Heath wrote a tremendous book called Decisive.  In chapter 11 they discuss the need for trip-wires.  They tell the story of a woman from Alabama who always wanted to visit Italy.  She had a chance to go once but because of work, she decided to put the trip off.  While she often thought about Italy, time slipped by. After several decades pass, her health deteriorated to the point that she couldn’t go at all.  The Heath brothers ask the question “When did she ‘Choose’ not to visit Italy?  Was it every day? Or never?  She surely never expected that her first decision to postpone the trip, would become a permanent one.”

Deciding by not deciding.

For plans like this, we need to install a trip-wire.  Something that would bring the choice to the forefront of our mind, forcing us to reconsider our plan, make it happen, or discard it.  We have to be intentional about these things because we have a tendency to run on autopilot a lot more than we know.  If this woman from Alabama could have put a time limit on her postponed trip, that said something like “If I haven’t visited Italy by my 38th birthday, I will either make it a high priority, or discard it”.

There are a lot of examples of this.  Has anyone heard of the band Van Halen’s stipulation in their concert rider that a bowl of M&M’s would be placed in the dressing room with all of the brown M&M’s removed?  I remember the first time I heard about that, I thought they were being ridiculous and difficult to work with.  It turns out though, that it was a trip-wire to quickly tell the band that the venue hadn’t fully read or followed the details of the contract.  It automatically put the band and roadies on high alert.  They would need to be extra careful about the staging, power availability & safety.

Moving forward.

It may be because I’m getting older, I don’t know.  I have been thinking a lot about my time.  I want to make sure I’m not just drifting.  I don’t want to let my dreams just float by and not live them because I let Busy get in the way of Important.

Where do you stand?  Is there something important to you, that the busyness of your life has crowded out?  Maybe it’s time to put it on the calendar.

 

Tim’s TEDtalk

My previous post Someday is never a safe bet.

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