December 9, 2023




On The Shortness Of Life

At a glance

Today’s Fast Summary:

  • Instant gratification is the practice of giving into the ‘now.’ When you break down the numbers, the shortness of life feels abysmal. For example, by the time you’re 18, you’ve already spent at least 70% of the total time you spend with your parents.  

  • Giving into instant gratification changes our habits and can make us more likely to make impulsive decisions in the future.

  • Delayed gratification is the practice of putting off immediate satisfaction in favor of a long-term reward.

  • Adopting a future-oriented mindset, and asking yourself, “Where do I want to go?” can help you understand your true intentions. Think about your intentions when you’re faced with instant gratification temptation.

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On The Shortness Of Life

Life is short. So short that even if you’re lucky enough to live to 90, all of the days in your life can be summarised in less than a page: 

Seemingly, this is plenty of days. However, when you break down the numbers further, the shortness of life feels abysmal. 

Tim Urban, the creator of the above graphic, designed another to put life’s shortness into perspective. He was 34 when he created this, and theorized he only had 60 or so more Superbowls to look forward to:

Looking at it visually, life seems relatively short. Mathematically too, life is short. Think about relationships for example.

Let’s say you live in a different city than your parents. You see them three times a year. 

If you’re 30 years old, and your parents are around 60, that’s only 90 more visits. 

To aid perspective, by the time you’re 18, you’ve already spent at least 70% of the total time you will with them.  

If you’re a parent, you’ll only spend 52 weekends with your five-year-old. Time with your childhood friends operates similarly. 

So–if life is short, how do you determine how to spend it? 

Notes On Spending the Time You Have

Shifting your mindset is an easy way to determine what you should spend your time on. Do the math. 

Let’s say your sibling is in town on business. You’d like to meet them, but you’re swamped with work. 

Break it down mathematically. Let’s say you see them 5 times a year, and you’re both in your 30s. 

150 times. That’s not a large number. And, in the context of life, you’re already reaching the tail end of these meetings. 

Instead of telling yourself, “We’ll try again next time,” try this, “This is one of the last 150 times I’ll get to see them.” 

Paul Graham offers another suggestion. Ask yourself, “What is my life too short for?” 

His response was ‘bullshit,’ but BS is difficult to define. Another suggestion is to seek out things that matter. 

Check out this link to the hedgehog concept to learn more about finding meaning. 

In my experience, the best question comes from Jim Collins’ 10 suggestions for young people. I find it yields the most practical advice. 

Imagine you wake up tomorrow morning with $20 million in your bank account. But, you also learn you’ve contracted a terminal illness, and have only 10 years to live. 

If this occurred, what would you stop doing? Visualize the scenario in detail. 

Then, create a stop-doing list: Write out a list using the information you collected in the last suggestion. 

Name the concrete and abstract tasks and behaviours you’d stop doing. Consider what you’d potentially outsource or quit altogether. 

As Collins says, “The real task is to always be clear about what to stop doing.” 

My stop-doing list is as follows: 

  • Leaving a large gap between thought and action

  • Useless check-in meetings

  • Feeling the urge to say “yes” to every new request

What’s left in your routine should be things that bring you meaning and satisfaction. 

Prune what isn’t contributing to your life. It’s short, after all.

Consider the concrete, practical ways you plan to act on this information. Reflect on your life and consider what you should be doing. 

  1. Prune the bullshit. 

    a. Define ‘bullshit.’ Think through your routine. What comes to mind? Make a list. 

    b. Think more abstractly. What relationships, tasks, jobs, etc, fall into the bullshit category? 

    c. How can you cut the BS from your life and schedule? Consider practical and impractical mechanisms.

  1. Create a stop-doing list. 

    a. Imagine you wake up tomorrow morning with $20 million in your bank account. But, you also learn you’ve contracted a terminal illness, and have only 10 years to live. Visualize the scenario. 

    b. What would you stop doing? Consider this in detail. 

    c. Make a list of your conclusions.

    d. Most importantly—stop doing those things. 

As Seneca said, “It is not that we have so little time, but that we lose so much.” Cut the BS. Stop wasting the short time you have. 


I’d love to hear from you:

  • Do you feel life is short? 

  • What would you stop doing? 

  • What would you add to this list?  

Tweet at me (@_alexbrogan) or respond to this email — I’ll try to respond to everyone.

Have a wonderful Saturday, all.

Until next time,


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