I wrote this post several days ago, before Steve Jobs's passing. Steve's death caught me off guard and moved me greatly. At first, I was torn over whether I should publish this draft as-is, edit it, or just trash it. I wasn't exactly sure why. Then I reread it, and I realized at the same time why I was torn and why I should publish the draft unaltered. If that makes sense, then this is for you.
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Time isn’t money. People talk about “saving time,” but in a literal sense, that’s absurd. You can’t save time for later. You can’t earn it. If time is like money in any way, it’s more like a use-it-or-lose-it shopping spree check.
Time must be spent constantly and in equal units. Until it’s gone.
Given that we can’t save or accumulate time, and given that we have no idea when our time account will close, we can only do one optimal thing with this cosmic currency: We can spend time as wisely as possible.
I can’t think of a more eloquent expression of the intrinsic urgency we face as short-duration beings than Steve Jobs’s 2005 Stanford commencement address. Since first hearing them, his words have driven me to act more often than not.
While I’m a healthy man entering the prime of his working years, I know that I can’t count on realizing those years. I’m entitled to nothing. And so I act. I write, I build, I solve, I connect, I love.
And in the process, I complicate.
I constantly forget that it doesn’t make sense to spend all of my time trying to be productive. Incessantly doing stuff is a waste of my time endowment. It also has a way of making life needlessly complex.
Jason Fried really opened my eyes a little over a year ago when I saw him on The Big Web Show:
… Don’t make things hard on yourself… Things are pretty easy until you make them hard…There’s no shame in taking the easy way out.
Less is always an option. There’s always a simpler version. There’s always a version of what you’re doing that has less things. Maybe it’s less words in a sentence. Maybe it’s less sentences in a paragraph. Maybe it’s less pages in a proposal.
I now see my life as a constant balance of two compulsions:
- The desire to act as often as possible in the time I have.
- The desire to produce a richer total body of work by eliminating superfluousness in what I make.
I fail at it all the time. Almost daily. But I think maintaining a drive to do more and deliver less can polish every surface of anyone’s life. Others benefit, too.
As a communicator, it means not wasting an audience’s time with unnecessary words. In business, it means getting paid to translate complexity into elegant, understandable, and usable simplicity.
In personal relationships, it may just mean being present—for others. Simply being here is often enough—while you and those you love still have the time to spend.