“A man who dares to waste one hour of life has not discovered the value of life.” – Charles Darwin
I shared the above quote in my last piece on Silent Meetings, but it continues to be at the forefront of my mind.
I’m in the last year of my twenties, and I’ve been thinking a lot about time – it’s a rather limited resource.
The longer I’m on this planet, the more I realise that the time it takes to achieve things is very often an attitude or a viewpoint, rather than an immovable fact.
Somewhat proving this point is this list of “examples of people quickly accomplishing ambitious things together” from Patrick Collison of Stripe.
Patrick’s list includes the first version of Amazon Prime (six weeks), the first iPod (approximately 290 days), and Disneyland (366 days).
This weekend I also read a profile on Elon Musk in Rolling Stone – this quote stood out to me (emphasis mine):
Beyond all this, most maddening or exciting for Musk’s employees, depending on which one you ask, is the time scale on which he often expects work to be done.
For example, one Friday when I was visiting, a few SpaceX staff members were frantically rushing back and forth from the office to the parking lot across the street. It turns out that during a meeting, he asked them how long it would take to remove staff cars from the lot and start digging the first hole for the Boring Company tunnel. The answer: two weeks.
Musk asked why, and when he gathered the necessary information, he concluded: “Let’s get started today and see what’s the biggest hole we can dig between now and Sunday afternoon, running 24 hours a day.”
Within three hours, the cars were gone and there was a hole in the ground.
Not everyone is comfortable moving fast, but I don’t think there’s any option when running an internet business: you have to move fast or you die.
When someone says something will take two weeks, you can either take them at their word, or you can challenge them to think: what would it take to achieve this in two days? What needs to change?
The folks at Basecamp made this point better than I ever could in this short chapter of their original book Getting Real – keep time and budget fixed, be flexible on scope.
How does a project get to be a year behind schedule? One day at a time. —Fred Brooks, software engineer and computer scientist
Speed isn’t the only thing that matters when running a business, but it’s often treated as optional, and it’s easily lost one hour at a time.
Hours add up to days. Days cause weeks to slip. Weeks drag out into quarters. Quarters impact entire years. And we don’t have many years to waste.