Do Better Better #6: How to Spend The Next Ten Years

Quinn Emmett
September 9, 2020
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One of the most important rules you can adopt to become more productive is to say “no” to new obligations as often as possible (this is one I’m still working on).

“Yes” should be exclusively reserved for situations that prompt you to respond with “hell yes!” “Hell yes!” should be your threshold. Because our time is finite, and our bandwidth is constantly in need of replenishment.

That’s all great, but...what the hell comes after “hell yes”?

In other words, what are you really committing to?

Are you simply cutting a check? Are you taking on a new full-time role? Are you joining a board? Becoming an advisor? Going back to school? Running for office? Raising a family?

There’s a multitude of standard, actionable questions you should be asking before making that commitment -- even if your initial reaction is “hell yes” -- and we’ll get to those one at a time, in subsequent posts, but today, let’s assume you’re not just cutting a check, and focus on one of the most important parameters: the length of your commitment.

Let’s also assume you’re in this for the long-term, and imagine you’re signing up for a ten-year commitment.

Ten years. If you’re a child, one summer feels like an eternity. If you’re an adult, ten years goes by in the blink of an eye (unless we’re living in a pandemic, in which case, time is a flat circle). Now, this is partly because of how your brain probably processes time through stimuli, and because as you age, any given chunk of time is going to become an increasingly small fraction of your lifetime (when you are ten, that summer is 1/40th of your entire life; when you are 40, it’s 1/160th) but it’s also just because you’re increasingly so damn busy.

For all of the reversion from “multitasking is great” back to “deep focus is everything”, you’ve probably still got three hours worth of tasks that need to be done over the next hour. Working on and maybe even completing one deep task is great, but that doesn’t mean the other stuff magically gets done on its own. Believe me. I have 12 jobs.

So before you take on a substantial, “hell yes!” new commitment, you have to ask the baseline question: am I game to spend ten years -- a significant chunk of our lives, even for us old people -- on this?

If you’re twenty now, will this still be interesting to you when you’re thirty? Or if you’re forty, when you’re fifty? What else do you imagine spending your time on in five years, and in ten years? 

And most importantly, because our time is so in-demand, and so finite, what are you saying no to, because you’re saying yes to this?

***

Time is a zero-sum game, as I am constantly reminded every time my four-year-old takes eleven hours to climb out of his car seat. There are probably a number of potential obligations and opportunities where that applies, and that you’re already aware of over the next few months, and the next year or so. Other jobs, other volunteer efforts, other investments. 

But it’s important to think down the road, too, over those ten years. What will the world look like in five years, or ten years? What do you want it to look like? Does this opportunity affect the world you want to live in?

Does the commitment require you moving to and/or living in one geographical location (believe it or not, Zoomers, there are millions of jobs that still require you to physically show up to work)? Do you have kids? Do you want to have kids? What sacrifices will be required because of your commitment, over the span of those ten years? Will they increase over time, or decrease? 

If time is our sacrifice in exchange for wages, how will your wages increase over those ten years? And what would you like to do with those wages? Is that increase commensurate with the cumulative time you’ll have committed? How much of those wages, if any, are guaranteed, and how much more is available for increased performance?

None of this is to dissuade you from taking on said ten-year opportunity, but to simply interrogate it from every angle, as objectively as you can. To question your own assumptions, and to bring new ones to the table. To do the math on your tradeoffs, because there will be tradeoffs. To set expectations for you, for your aspirations, for your partner, for your children. 

Because -- and again I come back to the question, “How will you measure your life?” -- if you’re reading this, you’re probably over the age of 18 or so, and that means you’ll get maybe six, total, of these ten year chunks to work with, until, you know, end of story.

You’re making a “hell yes!” decision to fulfill one-sixth of your story. How will it go?

— Quinn

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