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Rashi Goel

100 years and 86,400 seconds

100years and 86400 hours
Reading Time: 7 minutes

Time is a man-made construct.

We’ve divided it into neat packages of 60-60-24-7-52-365.

Per our conditioning, every 365th day finds us in a reflective mood. We think of how far we’ve come and how much further we want to go. For a few hours, we feel powerful. We believe we can bend time to our will and, in doing so, breathe life into our vision board over the next set of 365 days.

But by day 7, all we can do is shrug helplessly as time swooshes past us, and we are back to our old life as the vision board gathers dust on a wall.

On this last day of 2023, I want to propose an alternate strategy.

I suggest we make “time” a sorting mechanism. A currency. A primary filter. And make “time” front and center of each decision – When making choices, think in terms of a 100-year lifespan. When executing, think in terms of daily 86,400 seconds.

This is the model.

I was inspired to build this framework after I read Someday is Today by Matthew Dicks, (a smart, insightful, and quick read for anyone interested in productivity). I have also layered in the Eisenhower Matrix and the rock-pebble-sand model.

Let’s dive in.

Choice filter: What would the “100-year-old me” value most?

What to eat? What career to pick? Which job to take? How much money is enough? Which friendships to invest in? Where do I want to live? How do I spend my leisure time? Do I want leisure time? What emotional state should I maintain throughout the day? Am I a taker or a giver? Who should I marry? How many kids should we have? Do I want kids?

The questions that form my big rocks will be different from yours. There might even be as many big rocks as there are people. But the sorting mechanism is only one – will the 100-year-old me thank the younger me for this choice?

A famous example that I’m sure you would have heard of is how Jeff Bezos decided to take the plunge and start Amazon.

Jeff Bezos’ Regret Minimization Framework

Jeff Bezos had a choice – stay in his cushy hedge fund job or build something new. He picked the risky route because he knew the older Jeff Bezos would regret it.

I knew that when I was 80 I was not going to regret having tried this. I was not going to regret trying to participate in this thing called the Internet that I thought was going to be a really big deal. I knew that if I failed I wouldn’t regret that, but I knew the one thing I might regret is not ever having tried.

Jeff Bezos

Strategic clarity

I think the art of picking big rocks boils down to strategic clarity. Strategic clarity is saying no to many paths and saying yes to a few that matter to us.

To have strategic clarity, we need to understand the external world. But it is so much more critical to understand ourselves – what makes us tick, what we value, what energies us, and what deflates us; in short, what is our mental model of the world?

I don’t know of any successful and fulfilled person who lacks strategic clarity.

Once we have strategic clarity, every decision flows from that. Strategic perfection. Strategic careers. Strategic curiosity. Even Strategic Marriage.

Warren Buffet’s year-end letters are masterclasses in strategic clarity

In a recent Tim Ferris podcast, Morgan Housel shares a story about Warren Buffet he heard from an investor. I paraphrase the story here.

The investor was driving around Omaha with Warren Buffett. It was 2009 – the year of the global recession. He asked Buffett, “Warren, how are we ever going to pull out of this? The country’s never going to be the same after this.”

Buffet replied, “Do you know what the bestselling candy bar was in 1962?”

The investor said, “No.”

Buffet said, “Snickers. Do you know what the bestselling candy bar is today?”

The investor said, “No.”

And Buffet said, “Snickers.”

Upon hearing this story, Morgan Housel decided to write his next book, Same as Ever, on timeless concepts – things that remain the same over decades and centuries.

Warren Buffet has designed his entire life around this big rock of timeless businesses that make him money.

Strategic career. All Warren Buffet wanted, was to make lots of money. So, he started investing at the age of twelve. He did not allow any other career path to distract him. And he only invested in timeless industries – consumer goods and insurance. Strategic curiosity. Even though he spends his entire day reading, he is actively uncurious about Bitcoin, AI, or e-commerce, no matter how ‘trendy’ it is.

We spend all our lives confused about our big rocks for two main reasons.

One, we live life in automatic program mode. We walk up and down calf paths of the mind or chase what we think we are supposed to want.

Two, the consequences of big-rock choices are slow-burn. Even if we make some choices, the second and third-order effects are only felt over time. We don’t always know if we have picked the ‘right’ big rock in the short run. Our conviction gets shaky, and we revert to automatic mode once again.

So how do we decide?

Luck helps. So does learning from the wisdom of people who came before us. Reading books that pass the Lindy test helps too.

I have come across three questions that I think are particularly useful in driving clarity.

  1. If you knew you could not fail, what would you do?
  2. If you had all the money you ever dreamt of having. What would you spend the rest of your life doing?
  3. How would you spend your time if you had only three days to live? How would your answer change if you had a year?

Two of my big rocks. I started thinking about these questions ten years ago. Yes. It’s taken me ten years to concretize my answers and to put a plan into action.

As Dolly Parton says, “Find out who you are and do it on purpose.” I realized that I am a knowledge worker. I want to pursue internal fulfillment instead of chasing external report cards – I want to spend my time learning, writing, and building cool stuff with cool people. I also realized that I get agitated when I see unmet potential in both people and brands – so if I can, I want to help people and brands get unstuck.

The answers take their time. But when they come, they are simple and so straightforward.

Once the big rocks are in place, the pebbles are all about daily execution. That’s where the execution filter is needed.

Execution filter: Maximize the 86,400 seconds of the day

We can convert our big rock dreams into reality if we focus our daily 86,400 seconds around them. There are two main aspects of this.

One, keystone habits are the pebbles to the big rocks

Charles Duhigg, the author of The Power of Habit, talks about ‘keystone habits.’ He says we should design our day around those habits and routines that can transform our lives over time, i.e., big rocks.

Even after we have been strategic in our choices, not everything we have to do is fun and easy. For such situations, Mark Twain asks us to Eat the frog first. He once said, “If it’s your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning. And if it’s your job to eat two frogs, it’s best to eat the biggest one first.”

My preference is to gamify my work whenever I get stuck. Perfection was getting in my way a few months ago, so I gamified my work using the Pomodoro technique. Pomodoro is a time management technique that alternates work time and break time. Each focused work session is 25 minutes long – followed by a short break of 5 minutes or a long break of 15 minutes1. I followed Pomodoro for about four weeks.

This gave my day structure. Racking up my Pomodoro leaderboard kept me excited and energized. I overcame the fear of a blank page and started getting shitty first drafts out! Try it. It worked for me.

There are millions of blogs and books on productivity and efficiency. But the essence, in my opinion, comes down to Unprocrastinating. Uncluttering. Unperfecting. Don’t spend time on things that don’t matter. There’s a reason Steve Jobs only wore black turtle necks and Mark Zuckerberg wears grey T-shirts.

“You need to remove from your life the day-to-day problems that absorb most people for meaningful parts of their day. You’ll see I wear only gray or blue suits. I’m trying to pare down decisions. I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing. Because I have too many decisions to make”

Ex-President Obama

We may not run a country. But we sure are the president of our own life.

Two, don’t underestimate the power of 10 seconds.

10 seconds can turn a silver medal into gold. The 10 seconds when our hand was on a hot stove is forever seared into our brains, or the 10 seconds when our crush smiled at us. The 10 seconds shaved off of TV viewing, social media, travel, gossip, and times we spend feeling sorry for ourselves add up to hundreds of hours throughout the year.

Matthew Hicks (Someday is Today) has mastered the art of juicing 10 seconds here, a minute there, and gets a lot accomplished. When his kids are looking for their shoes, Matthew does not stand at the door yelling at them. He writes ten more lines of his next book. He does not wait for the perfect moment, coffee, mood, and desk to be productive. He takes what time he has and maximizes it.

The main idea that underlines this sorting of our big rocks and pebbles is this.

Value time as life per minute instead of $$ per minute.

As a freelance consultant, I am forced to price my time while quoting for projects. On the one hand, this shift has made me more mindful of how I spend my time. But more importantly, it has made me realize that when I price the opportunity cost of my time in $$, I devalue life.

Since one of my big rocks is nurturing relationships, I never turn down the opportunity to vacation with my family. Instead, I fit my work into the crevices – burn the midnight oil or say no to new assignments. If I want to spend a day reading detective stories, I do. And so on.

“The cost of a thing is the amount of what I will call life which is required to be exchanged for it.”

Henry David Thoreau

With this, I wish you a wonderful new year. And thank you sincerely for your readership and encouragement.

See you on the other side.

  1. There are free Pomodoro timers available- apps for phone or online timers. They maintain a record of the number of Pomodoro sessions you have completed. ↩︎