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Chapter 1: Death And All His Friends

“We all have our time machines. Some take us back; they’re called memories. Some take us forward; they’re called dreams.” 

Jeremy Irons

 

Introducing time

It may be that this book finds you relaxing back on a flight to some exotic, foreign clime. Taxiing expectantly along the runway, you dig out this breezy yet reassuringly chunky tome — your whimsical pre-flight purchase. Doubtless hoping to stave off boredom for the next few hours, you’ll dip into this opening exchange with very little expectation that anything life-changing is about to happen to you.

And if you’ve hurriedly picked this book up at the airport expecting a dose of late-nineteenth-century time travel, courtesy of a certain Mr. H. G. Wells, I have to apologise. Short-term disappointment lies ahead of you.

On the plus side, it’ll teach you to pay more attention in airport bookshops. And, unlike Mr. Wells’ original, reading this book has the potential to more than double your productivity and change your life.

So how can this book pack so much punch? I mean, it’s got a natty enough cover, and the paper is not an unreasonable thickness. But when you boil it all down, it’s just some paper, a bit of glue and a collection of words. Eighty-odd thousand of the things, but they’re still only words, although it took me quite a while to get them in the right order.

Since you ask, I guess it punches above its weight because we’re dealing with something that’s, without doubt, the most precious commodity in the universe.

Yes, you’ve guessed it. Please give it up for the one and only:

TIME!

(applause as Time enters stage left, looking a little smug, winks at a friend in the front row and then stops to take a deep bow to the rest of the audience).

At this stage, I should probably address a couple of points to save you worrying unnecessarily later.

Firstly, the more discerning among you may already have spotted that there’s no plug or power cord attached to the back of this book. And, if you’ve just turned the book over to check this fact, I salute your thoroughness.

This ‘sans plug’ situation is a big clue to the fact that the ‘time machine’ referenced in the title is a metaphor. Yes, it’s not an actual working electrical device (apologies if this wasn’t made clear to you by the salesperson).

Just thought I’d mention it, to avoid any disappointment. You know, in case you had completely reasonable expectations that you could pick up a portable time travel device for the price of a bag of donuts.

Secondly, if you’ve bought this book to find out whether time travel is physically possible, then let me answer a question with a question, courtesy of a Mr. Stephen Hawking:

“If time travel were possible, where are the tourists from the future?”

So that’s two key issues put to bed already, and we’re not even halfway through the first chapter. I don’t mind telling you; this is going even better than I’d hoped.

Anyway, let’s get back to the real question, which is ‘why is time so valuable, and why should you waste any of it reading this book?’.

You may not think about it day-to-day, but of course, you only have a finite amount of time available to you. Which means I need to give you a word of warning; this part of the book could get a little dark because I need to talk about death — specifically, your death.

I know, I know. We’re only a few pages in, and already I’m banging on about you becoming late.

But I’m afraid I need to be honest with you. Death could be a bit of a low point in your otherwise rosy future. And it can also present something of a stumbling block when it comes to freeing up your time. So I need to mention it at the outset; please hold on to something steady and bear with me if you can. It’ll soon be behind us.

The magic diary

I’d like you to imagine you were rummaging through your attic when you discovered a magical diary that started on your date of birth and ran for 100 years. A diary that related exclusively to you and your life. It details not only everything you’d ever done but it also (and this is the magic bit) told you what you were going to do. How fascinating would that be?

As you flicked through the pages, you’d see your past — all the things you ever did; all those landmark events. Your entire childhood would be there. Memories like your parents teaching you to ride your first bike. Every childhood Christmas, birthday, and summer holiday you ever had. All those new words you learned when your dad gave you your first driving lesson. Your first job, your first kiss, your first boyfriend or girlfriend, your first marriage. It would all be in your 100-year diary.

You keep going and eventually reach today’s date. It says, “Spent an hour or so reading my magic 100-year diary, that I found in the attic.” Wow, spooky! And before you know it, you turn the page again, and now you’re looking at tomorrow.

How amazing would that be? You’re starting to read about how your future will unfold — all the stuff you’ve yet to do. You scan forward through the diary, looking at all the exciting things you’re going to live through. The jobs, the holidays, the family events, the children’s stuff, the second Brexit, the Mars Landing, some more of your marriages…

What a fascinating read!

Then, without warning, you reach a completely blank page. Puzzled, you turn the next page and then the next. They’re all empty, all the way to year 100. For a second, you can’t work it out. Then it dawns on you – and with a sickening feeling in the pit of your stomach, you slowly flick back to the last entry.

It reads, “Felt a sharp chest pain again this morning; it’s probably nothing. Maybe I’ll get it checked out next week…”.

And suddenly, you realise the significance of those empty pages.

Of course, it might not say anything about chest pains at all. It might say, “Think I’ll stay in tonight and re-heat those partially defrosted pork and prawn dopiaza leftovers. I’m sure I saw them lying around the kitchen somewhere”.

Or it could say, “Can’t believe that electrician wanted two grand to rewire the house! Think I’ll have a go at doing it myself later – after all, how tricky can it be?”.

Or, for the more adventurous, “Meeting Don Carluzzo tonight at the old docks to discuss the money he discovered I accidentally borrowed. I’m sure it’ll be fine, he seemed very chilled on the phone…”

Unfortunately, that last entry could equally read; ‘Thoroughly enjoyed reading the beginning of that ‘Time Machine’ book. I can’t wait to start Chapter 2 this evening when I get home…”.

So, the magic diary has identified the last day of your existence — the official date of your demise.

What a scary thought that would be. I mean, would you want to know the date you’re going to die?

Well, would you?

What a question! Here’s another – if you knew you were going to die on a specific date, what would you do differently? After all, we’ve all heard stories about those terminally ill people who’ve been given just a few months to live. They decide to cram in as many life goals as they can into whatever time they have left. Suddenly, they’re on a mission, and it’s incredible what they can achieve in such a short space of time.

So, is that what you’d do?

I once attended a charity golf day in aid of an organisation called the Make-A-Wish Foundation. While there was a coincidental link to the eighteen wishes I made at the event, it turned out that the charity did something altogether much more worthwhile than host golf tournaments.

In a nutshell, they grant wishes to critically ill children. Things like meeting their sporting heroes, or taking them and their families to Disneyland, for (often quite literally) the trip of a lifetime. It’s a real there-but-for-the-grace-of-God moment; to watch the video of little Johnny and his family meeting his all-time favourite celebrity hero. And then to hear that little Johnny succumbed to his illness a few short weeks later. It certainly makes you think.

But we don’t think about these things for long because we don’t think they’ll happen to us. Plus, it’s just too depressing. We assume that there’ll be some nasty, death-related stuff that will happen to us at some point when we’re rather old. It may be a short sharp shock or a long drawn out affair. But either way, it’s all quite a long way off, so much easier and generally more helpful not to think about it.

Now if we knew when we were going to die, we’d make sure we’d do some of those things we always promised ourselves we’d do. We may even throw a big party the night before, just to say goodbye to everyone. That could be quite emotional. You could even invite the people you’ve secretly detested for years. And then tell them what you think of them, without having to live with the consequences.

Let’s face it; if you knew your tomorrows were in short supply, you’d probably make a little more of your todays.

Well, I’m sorry to tell you this, but I have some bad news. Your tomorrows are in short supply. And I suspect you’re not yet making the best use of your todays.

If today were your last day

According to his wife, on the twelfth of June 2005, Steve Jobs, co-founder, and CEO of Apple, was feeling uncharacteristically nervous. He’d been invited to give the Stanford Commencement Address at that year’s graduation ceremony, and he’d spent months crafting his speech. It was only fifteen minutes long, but Steve had been through it countless times. He’d rehearsed it with friends and colleagues. He’d rehearsed it with his family. He’d made hundreds of tweaks until it was, he felt, just right. Giving the address was, for him, a huge honour, and he wanted to do his very best.

And so the big day arrived. The audience of bright young graduates waited expectantly to hear what advice this visionary could give them, as they left education on their way into the workplace. The speech isn’t long, and I can tell you it’s well worth a listen (YouTube is your friend). But let me share with you one of the key points that he made that day. This is what he said:

For the past thirty-three years, I’ve looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I’m about to do today?”. And whenever the answer has been “No” for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.

Too often, people omit that last sentence when they relay the quote, but for me, that’s the clincher. Without it, the premise is unreasonable. After all, no one can do exactly what they want to do every day. Everyone has to do stuff they’d rather not have to do, like go to work, clean the house and deal with people who are complete idiots.

But that’s not what Steve Jobs was saying. His point is not that you always have to do what you want. It’s that if you find yourself not doing what you want for too long, you need to break the cycle. You need to make a change. It’s time to make sure you have some days when you do what you want to do.

Sadly, as it turned out, Steve had a lot fewer tomorrows left than he’d hoped. Poignantly, in that same speech, he said that now his cancer was in remission, he hoped to be around for a few decades to come.

Six and a half years later, he was gone.

Which is precisely the point. You never know when your time will be up, so you need to make sure you jolly well fit in all the things you want to do during whatever time you have left.

And so it becomes rather important to make the most of the time you DO have, which is where this book can help.

I remember hearing about a chap who’d read a magazine article called “50 wines to drink before you die”. He’d then proceeded to down fifty glasses of some of the world’s finest vintages and died from acute alcohol poisoning. One suspects it wasn’t what the article’s author had in mind, but to be fair, he hadn’t been entirely clear.

Don’t worry; I’m not about to give you a list of ‘things you must do before you die.’ Nor will I be suggesting you knock back fifty glasses of the world’s best plonk.

But I hope I can teach you how to free up the time you do have so that you can fit as many of those things in as possible, whatever they may be.

Right, that’s enough about all that – I’m sure you get the point.

I was a bit worried that death could end up being the elephant in the room for the rest of our time together in this book. But if you’ve got half an eye on the fact that your time is both a) finite and b) of indeterminable length, while you read this, that’s probably no bad thing.

The billionaire’s perspective

So are we all agreed on how valuable time is?

Of course, we are. You only have to ask any self-respecting billionaire what their most precious commodity is, and they’ll tell you it’s time. The big ‘T.’ Hands down winner, no question.

What have billionaires got to do with anything? Well, I mention them because what they do with their lives is not affected by a need to earn money. As a result, they potentially have a more unobstructed view of what’s important.

And what I’ve learned over too many years is that us non-billionaires often can’t see the wood for the trees. We get a bit fixated on earning more of the green stuff. Yet the tools and knowledge that billionaires have can be borrowed by us poorer folk. And they can give us a perspective we couldn’t previously see, because of all those pesky trees.

Here’s an example. There’s a fascinating Charlie Rose interview involving the legendary investor Warren Buffett and Microsoft billionaire Bill Gates. A single conversation involving two of the world’s wealthiest people.

Rose asks Gates what he’s learned from Buffett during their time together. In other words, what do billionaires learn from each other?

Gates motions to Buffett and asks him to get out his tiny little paper appointment book. Buffett hands it to Rose, who starts flicking through it.

“But there’s nothing in it?” says Rose.

“Absolutely,” says Buffett.

Rose turns to the April page and counts a total of three appointments. Buffett confides that there may end up being as many as four appointments by the time April finally arrives.

“Time is the only thing you can’t buy,” he says. “I can buy anything I want, basically, but I can’t buy time. So I’d better be careful with it.”

And so he makes sure his diary is as free as possible so that he can spend more time doing exactly what he wants.

Gates then confides that he’d been cramming in as many appointments as possible into each day, until Buffett showed him his appointment book. Then the penny dropped.

I suspect you’re a bit more like Gates in that respect than Buffett. We all are. We always seem to be at the mercy of our diaries, our routines, and our jobs. We never have enough time to do all the stuff we have to do, let alone want to do. And of course, we could always do with a bit more free time, in particular, couldn’t we?

It’s an odd quirk of human nature that people take pride in being busy. Why do we do this? Well, we equate busy-ness with being needed and important. If we’re busy, then we matter. And since we worry a lot that we might not matter that much, then talking about how busy we are gives us some reassurance.

Some people are even masters of ‘competitive busy-ness’. They’ll regale you with their impressive catalogue of chores, in an effort to appear so much busier than you are. No matter what you’ve got to do today, you can bet they’ll have more on their plate (these people are really worried that they might not matter very much).

There’s something slightly ironic about the fact that we do this. You’d have thought that being so successful that you could afford to be as unbusy as Buffett, would make people brag about their unbusy-ness. But it turns out that we’re more worried about being valued than being viewed as successful. And that’s why we like to look busy.

Yet here’s the thing. We’re not really that busy – we’re just terrible at making good use of our time.

How bad? What if I said I could save you over 42 hours a week by implementing a few of the ideas in this book? I suspect you’d be pretty impressed. Or very sceptical.

Why 42 hours? Well, ultimately, it’s precisely one-quarter of your entire week. It’s also roughly equal to one working week. So you could implement some of the ideas in this book, and get enough time back to have a second job (I know you want one of those like a hole in the head, but you get the gist).

Actually, it’s even better than that. After all, you’re asleep for 8 hours out of every 24. And then you spend another 4 hours doing non-negotiable things. Like showering, toileting, getting dressed and undressed, eating, drinking, travelling, and playing those apps on your phone. So that only leaves 12 hours a day doing other stuff.

And if I can get you back 6 hours a day of extra productivity, then, in percentage terms, that’s quite a lot (I’ll let you do the maths; my head hurts already).

Now, you might be thinking that sounds a little ambitious. A bit, well, impossible. After all, it’s not as if you’ve been twiddling your thumbs up to now, is it?

But here’s the thing. I can get you back 42 hours a week, but it’s not because I’m some kind of miracle-worker.

Nor will I be teaching you how to live on 2-hours’ sleep a night. Or insist that you give up your social life or don’t spend any time with your family. In fact, I can get you 42 hours a week back, and you can STILL enjoy spending zero time with your family.

No, the reason I can get you that much time back is that when it comes to time efficiency, you’re about as effective as a motorcycle ashtray.

A bit harsh, perhaps?

No, not really. You’re actually pretty useless.

Now, before you take umbrage at this crassly offensive yet eerily accurate assessment, let’s all chillax, put the gun down, and ask ourselves a fundamental question. One that I suspect you may not have asked yourself before.

Which is, why are you such a complete numpty when it comes to wasting time?

© Ian Child 2020. All rights reserved