[Roughly paraphrasing because I don’t have the book in front of me] take your ten year life plan and ask, Why can’t I do this in six months? -Peter ThielTim Ferris, “Tools for Titans.” New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016
The point of the exercise of imagining a time frame twenty times shorter is to see if you aren’t imposing artificial constraints on yourself. And why stop there? Also, why not go the other direction?
Imagine you had a ten year life plan and two hundred years to implement it. Or, what about a single day? Approaching a problem with incredibly short or long time frames eventually collapses into the fact that not all limits are artificially created by our sense of the possible and sometimes having more time increases our creative potential rather than just having the rate of work expand to fill the allotted time.
In the real world, there are always limits. We just rarely have an accurate sense of those limits and are really good at claiming something is impossible. The former U.S. Navy Seal David Goggins describes it as the 40% rule, i.e., when you think you have reached your physical limit, you have only tapped 40% of your physical potential. It’s seems likely true of our assessment of the possible for everything.
We live in a culture that values productivity, “Getting Things Done,” “time management” and so forth. When asked what we want, we respond like Samuel Gompers, we want, “More.” But, we rarely think about the costs in terms of time.
A Wait But Why article by Tim Urban that gives a graphic representation of a ninety year life in different units of time: years, months, and weeks gives us a useful reference point. It helps you look at what you have done, what you plan to do, and the time you have and then ask the very important question: “Are you making the most of your weeks?” Peter Drucker famously said: “There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all.”
Appropriately given how we just started 2019, Tim Urban invites us to narrow down our scope and look to the week rather than the six month, year or ten year plan. Adopt new week’s resolutions and choose smaller, incremental goals. Evolution requires iteration. Increase the rate of iteration, and you will often increase the rate of evolution. But, if you keep doing the same things you aren’t evolving, you’re in stasis.
So, by all means, ask yourself if the major project you plan on working on for the next ten years can be done in six months. But, also ask yourself whether, in the context of a ninety year life span, it should be done at all or whether it might be worth narrowing down your scope to a more manageable week and smaller goals. A lot can be done in a week, and we can often string weeks together to make something more interesting than a top down plan concocted years ago by our former selves.