The Lost Power of Compound Time

There’s a common saying: if you want something done, give it to a busy person. And in my experience, both personally and in working with others, it seems to be true. Partly it’s because the most successful folk tend to be busy and therefore more efficient (by necessity) at building systems to avoid dropping the many balls they’re juggling. It’s a skill they have to practice every day – and like anything else, practice makes perfect.

But perhaps more counterintuitively, there’s another reason. The more reliable you are in hitting your deadlines, the more trust other people have in you. If you consistently prove that you get sh*t done – you’re a do-er, not just a talker – the result is that you’re likely to get far more opportunities coming your way.

Are successful people ever not busy?

But it’s a fine line. Keep on piling on the work and you risk getting overburdened and burnout. And there’s a difference between achieving what you want and just a ton of things.

Alan Lightman once wrote a book called ‘Einstein’s Dream’. It’s a collection of fictional stories that might have been told by the young Einstein during his many spare hours during his early career working as a patent clerk. In one story, people live forever. They are split into the Nows (who constantly learn, act and do things, eager to pack in as much as possible) and the Laters (who avoid rushing into, and therefore doing, anything much at all, because they have all the time in the world – so why start today?).

If you think about the way that you’re living your life today: are you approaching it as a Now or a Later? Because the most expensive resource that any of us has – by a long, long way – is our time. Material possessions, money, whatever – everything else can be earned or recovered when lost. But we’re still a long long way from being able to earn back even a small amount of any time that we’ve wasted.

Of course, as individuals, each of us values different things. But most of us aren’t clear on precisely what we want. So in the drive for success, we fill up our time with ‘busy’ work or improving our productivity. That’s rarely the answer though.

First, as Stephen Covey once wrote:-

“If the ladder is not leaning against the right wall, every step we take just gets us to the wrong place faster”.

But it’s actually far worse than that. Because time is limited. And taking on more of the wrong kind of work just means that with every passing day, you’re not only using up more of the most valuable resource that you will ever possess but you’re also losing the benefit of time spent compounding progress on the work that you should have been carrying out in the first place.

Most of us are delusional. We live life like we’ll be around forever. Whereas it’s probably far better to approach life with the opposite attitude – that it could all be gone in an instant. So you might choose to go ahead and pile on all the work in the world in pursuit of success. But you’d better be damn sure that it’s bringing you closer to the things that you’re actually looking for.

As Charles Darwin put it:-

““A man who dares to waste an hour of time has not discovered the value of his life.”

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