A minute is a longer time than it sounds, and there are 60 of them every hour, 480 of them in eight hours.
If it only takes a minute to make a difference and change a life, that’s nearly 500 opportunities to make a difference. And that’s just today.
Some time ago I calculated that 30 years works out to about 10,000 days. I’ve been thinking about the days of our lives since my father passed last month, after living 96 years, eight months and four days. My mom died at 82, my grandfathers both lived to be 85, and my grandmothers lived to 50 and 96, respectively.
No one knows how many years, days, hours and minutes they have left, of course. Most of the time we forget we’re working on deadline, which is sad because, if truth be told, people work better on deadline. “This work has to be done by Friday” gives urgency to the task. “This paper is due the day after tomorrow” guarantees two days of keen attention, or at least a few sleepless hours of keen attention a day and a half from now.
“I have somewhere between 10 minutes and 29 years to complete my life’s mission” is vague and amorphous and not that helpful. It certainly doesn’t focus one’s attention the way an exact date would. “I will expire on Sept. 29, 2042” — now that’s a start. But 2042 is far away, isn’t it? Like 1984 was far away when Orwell wrote 1984. Like 2001 was far away when Kubrick and Clarke created 2001. And like 2023 was far away when I first calculated it was the year I would turn 70, Lord willing and the creek don’t rise.
When I’m 70: That’s when I would be free to do whatever I want to do, which is, what, exactly? (And why couldn’t I do what I wanted before — oh, no, don’t go there.) Write “The Great American Novel”? Fill the world with words and music? Read all the books I’ve accumulated in a lifetime and watch the DVDs (and tapes) and listen to all the records (and CDs and tapes)? Walk a mile a day and enjoy the sunshine? All of the above and more?
Yes, all of the above, and not in 2023. Not if I refuse to waste another minute. Imagine the possibilities.
Fewer than 30 minutes went by as I wrote what I’ve written here so far, leaving me 450 minutes to go if I work only eight hours today. Imagine how many words if I wrote all day, how many thoughts, how much music. Imagine if I divvied everything that needs to be done and everything that could be done and scattered the list among those 450 minutes because they had to be finished by 1:30 this afternoon (which would be eight hours after I started)? Imagine if I succeeded. Then, I imagine, I would have a template for how to make the most of eight hours in a day, using all 480 minutes at my disposal.
A cottage industry of time management has been built around such imaginings. They all — well, most of the ones I’ve read — center around the idea of giving yourself a deadline. We’re hardwired to work better on deadline because we all have a literal one, waiting out there somewhere in the vague future. And so we set firm, artificial deadlines for our various projects.
So now we see how many words I can scratch into my journal in, let’s see, 45 minutes. And the answer is (I will fill in this blank when I retype this for the blog) 607, not counting the words that follow. Not bad. And obviously I can type faster than I scratch/scrawl/whatever, so my potential for word generation is enormous if I were to devote 480 minutes a day to it — not that I can. There are animals to feed (I hear one whining now) and woods to clear and other tasks awaiting. Still, if writing is my priority, I have the ability to write a pretty pile of words in a certain amount of time — if I prescribe a certain amount of time for the task. When I put it that way, it seems so simple.
And all I have to do is commit to a deadline.
You do understand that when I say “I,” I’m also talking about you, right? The same 480 minutes await in your eight-hour workday.
Imagine, if you and I commit to making a difference every minute, how much different the world will be when we knock off for the night.
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