Consider a fable:
A poor young man once approached an old, rich king after a long journey.
“My King, after a great quest, I carry with me a magical pot that can free me from poverty. This pot allows me to give you one of my years of life in exchange for a portion of your fortune.
It will make me one year older, but ten years richer. And it will make you slightly poorer, but one year younger. You have more wealth than anyone else in this land, but you have lost your youth. This seems a fair trade for us both.”
The king thought for a minute.
“Young man, you speak the truth. I’d be a fool not to accept your offer. I shall give you some of my fortune in an exchange for one year of more youthful living.”
After a half a year had passed, the young man came back.
“My king, I have spent my year’s fortune far more quickly than I imagined. May I exchange five of my years for five times the original fortune.”
The king thought once more.
“I shall accept your offer once more. Five times the fortune for five years.”
“Thank you greatly, my liege, I shall now be set for life!”
Three years later, a more mature looking man approached the king.
“Sire, I cannot believe I come to you a third time. Admittedly, the journey here was much more difficult than I remember. But my king, I swear, this journey shall be my last. I seem to have consumed all of the fortune I was given again. This time, I will make sure to set myself for life. I will exchange thirty of my years for a lifetime fortune.”
The king deeply considered this proposition.
“Are you sure, my boy? What is done in this world can hardly be undone.”
“I am sure my liege. I shall never come here again.”
The king again accepted.
In an instant, the king was looking into the eyes of an old man. And the old man was looking into the vibrant, youthful eyes of a younger man wearing a crown.
“You were right, my boy” the young king said. “You shall never make this journey again. For you will not have the strength or ability to make it again. For you did not understand, my boy. It did not take me a lifetime to build up this fortune. And now that I have the exuberance of youth, I can build ten times what I have given you. I have gained richness itself, and you have gained nothing. In fact, you have lost it all.”
And the young king parted ways the old man, who shed a tear as he saw the figure set out on a great journey.
We all live in a world that is fraught with inequalities: inequalities in strength; inequalities in intelligence; inequalities in social status; even inequalities in happiness. But there is one thing that always exists with a balanced scale. No matter who you are, where you are, what you’ve done, or even when you are – time is the same for all.
They say that only difference between the rich man and the poor man, the happy man and the miserable one, is how they spend their time. You hear it often in societies and contexts the world over, “I have a few spare minutes, so I need to kill some time.” This is one of the most destructive ideas that exist in our world today. Great creations like Anna Karenina, the 1st Cello Suite, Gone with the Wind, and so many others were allowed to be brought into existence because their creators valued every precious moment of their time.
Kings have oft sought the potion for immortality, often at their cost of their own final minutes. But the fact will always remain that time is limited, and infinitely open to how you choose to mold it.
Time is doled out in equal parts. You can never have more minutes in a day than anyone else. You can never live your minutes faster than anyone else. Moments up until your final one are given to you no matter how much you waste them. But unlike friends, love, or even the greatest fortunes – time can never be recovered once it has gone.
Regrets allow us to fix our mistakes; we can apologize to someone whom we’ve wronged, we can pay a debt that has been long since owed. But time is the most just of all sovereigns. It never allows those who have wasted their moments to go back and join the company of those who haven’t. Time doesn’t allow you to ask “What if?” It only allows you to see “What is.”
You can never relive what was, and you can never know what will be. They say that time is money, but this is incorrect, or rather incomplete. Time is money; and love, and happiness, and dreams, and success, and legacy – time is everything. It is so much more than a transient pence or penny could ever capture.
Time doesn’t punish those who fritter it away. But it always rewards those you use it to the fullest extent. Those who are willing to go the extra mile – the extra minute – are rewarded in the embraces of loved ones and the lasting marks left by their efforts. What you do with it, is completely up to you.
So think. Really think. How are you spending your time? If you looked back on this moment 20 years from now, would you be satisfied with how you spent it? If your health suddenly declined, would you be happy with how you spent your able days? For the moment in which you kill time, could be your very last moment of all.
You Should Not Be Going All of the Time
There is a common misconception among men — especially in the West — that in order to be an effective person and leave a powerful legacy, you have to be producing and working all of the time. However, the opposite is true.
If you want to create a prolific body of work, or simply dedicate your time to giving to others or to working toward a particular pursuit, they must not focus on producing constantly; rather, you need to focus on maximizing your production.
Henry Ford was the pioneer of changing the American work system from working 10 hours a day for six days a week to working eight hours a day for five days a week.
“Dost thou love life? Then do not squander time, for that is the stuff life is made of.” – Ben Franklin
Ben Franklin was known to keep a very effective schedule. He would start each day with the question: “What good shall I do this day?” And although he would work 8 hours a day, he would spend three hours a day planning his day both academically and spiritually.
He would spend another 3 hours in the day to “put things in their places,” engage in creative pursuits, and review the day.
But the Ben Franklin system was not necessarily the best.
More recent studies of shown that if you want to do effective work, you should work in micro-moments of stillness into your workflow. Rather than working for long stretches of time, you should work for concentrated stretches of time of ~30 to 40 minutes and be sure to take a break through something you find soothing.
Maybe you find relaxation through reading; maybe you find rejuvenation through mediation – or calling a friend. Whatever your particular thing is, you should do that and working to your day. You will find that in work, just as in life, the most powerful things are comprised of the smallest components.
Keep a Zero Schedule
In the life of any great man, the most powerful word in your arsenal is “no.” As you continue to improve your skills and yourself, more and more people will try to make demands on your time. Although you should endeavor to do your best to provide as much individual value as you, you must also stay focused on your most important skill: the art of creation.
Kevin Ashton, a writer who notes the similarities between prolific CEO’s like Warren Buffet and luminary writers like Charles Dickens, notes: “Saying ‘no’ has more creative power than ideas, insights and talent combined. No guards time, the thread from which we weave our creations. The math of time is simple: you have less than you think and need more than you know.”
Warren Buffet has always been known to keep an empty schedule. He fills his days with reading, connecting with people he chooses, and pursuing his goals. He purported had a conversation with one of his pilots that went like this:
One day Buffett went up to his pilot named Steve and jokingly said to him that “the fact that you’re still working for me tells me I’m not doing my job.”
“You should be out going after more of your goals and dreams,” Buffett reportedly said.
To help him with that, Buffett asked Steve to list the 25 most important things he wanted to do in his life.
Then Buffett asked that he review each goal and choose the five most crucial ones.
After considering a moment, he drew circles around five fantastic goals, confirming with Buffett that yes, indeed, they were his highest priorities.
And the rest?
“What about these other 20 things on your list that you didn’t circle?” Buffett asked. “What is your plan for completing those?”
Steve knew just what to say.
“Well, the top five are my primary focus, but the other 20 come in at a close second,” the pilot said. “They are still important, so I’ll work on those intermittently as I see fit as I’m getting through my top five. They are not as urgent, but I still plan to give them dedicated effort.”
Buffett suddenly turned serious.
“You’ve got it wrong, Steve,” he sai d. “Everything you didn’t circle just became your ‘avoid at all cost list.’ No matter what, these things get no attention from you until you’ve succeeded with your top five.”
As Reddit CEO Yishan Wong once explained, time is very limited:
- Time ishighly limited: As humans, we’re immature in our first decades, and declining in health in our last
- Time isuniquely limited: You can’t bank, transfer, or recover time, unlike money.
- Time isequitably limited: Americans can, on average, expect to live about 77 years. That expectation isn’t equal with resources like money.
Live in Quadrant II
Steven Covey always talked about “Quadrant II” living. This was one of the quadrants in the matrix of important/unimportant and urgent/not urgent. Pick up 7 Habits to really get a full understanding of what he was talking about. But in a nutshell, Quadrant II pertains to things that are important but not urgent. And this is the most important Quadrant of your life. These are things like planning out your business strategy, writing a daily page of your novel/journal, writing a considerate letter to a loved one.
These are all things that aren’t immediately pressing, but things that will pay large dividends in their own ways in the long run.
When Warren Buffet talks about his philosophies of living, he is really talking about living a mode of Quadrant II priority.
The Time is Now
Time cannot be replaced by anything. Not fame, not prestige, not objects, not wealth. It cannot be stopped. And it cannot be turned back.
So the next time you think that there’s no equality in this troubled world – look at the clock. Time is ticking.