The key to a meaningful, powerful life is week-by-week

This post originally appeared at WaitButWhy.com.

This is a long human life in years:

 

And here’s a human life in months:

Months1

But today, we’re going to look at a human life in weeks:

Weeks

Each row of weeks makes up one year. That’s how many weeks it takes to turn a newborn into a 90-year-old.

It kind of feels like our lives are made up of a countless number of weeks. But there they are—fully countable—staring you in the face.

Before we discuss things further, let’s look at how a typical American spends their weeks:

There are some other interesting ways to use the weeks chart:

Weeks-block-LIFE1

Weeks-block-DEATHS2

Weeks-block-WOODS1

Weeks-block-template-EINSTEIN-3

But how about your weeks?

Weeks-block-YOU

Sometimes life seems really short, and other times it seems impossibly long. But this chart helps to emphasize that it’s most certainly finite. Those are your weeks and they’re all you’ve got.

Given that fact, the only appropriate word to describe your weeks is precious. There are trillions upon trillions of weeks in eternity, and those are your tiny handful. Going with the “precious” theme, let’s imagine that each of your weeks is a small gem, like a 2mm, .05 carat diamond. Here’s one:

Diamond-ring2

If you multiply the volume of a .05 carat diamond by the number of weeks in 90 years (4,680), it adds up to just under a tablespoon.

spoon-of-diamonds1

Looking at this spoon of diamonds, there’s one very clear question to ask: “Are you making the most of your weeks?”

In thinking about my own weeks and how I tend to use them, I decided that there are two good ways to use a diamond:

1) Enjoying the diamond

2) Building something to make your future diamonds or the diamonds of others more enjoyable

In other words, you have this small spoonful of diamonds and you really want to create a life in which they’re making you happy. And if a diamond is not making you happy, it should only be because you’re using it to make other diamonds go down better—either your own in the future or those of others. In the ideal situation, you’re well balanced between #1 and #2 and you’re often able to accomplish both simultaneously (like those times when you love your job).

Of course, if a diamond is enjoyable but by enjoying it you’re screwing your future diamonds (an Instant Gratification Monkey specialty), that’s not so good. Likewise, if you’re using diamond after diamond to build something for your future, but it’s not making you happy and seems like a long-term thing with no end in sight, that’s not great either.

But the worst possible way to use a diamond is by accomplishing neither #1 nor #2 above. Sometimes “neither” happens when you’re in either the wrong career or the wrong relationship, and it’s often a symptom of either a shortage of courage, self-discipline, or creativity. Sometimes “neither” happens because of a debilitating problem.

We’ve all had Neither Weeks and they don’t feel good. And when a long string of Neither Weeks happens, you become depressed, frustrated, hopeless, and a bunch of other upsetting adjectives. It’s inevitable to have Neither Weeks, and sometimes they’re important—it’s often a really bad Neither Week that leads you to a life-changing epiphany—but trying to minimize your Neither Weeks is a worthy goal.

It can all be summed up like this:

Venn1

Wait But Why posts regularly. They send each post out by email to over 185,000 people—enter your email here and they’ll put you on the list (they only send a few emails each month). If you like this, check out Wait But Why’s life calendar poster here. If you liked this post, check out these related Wait But Why posts: Your Family: Past, present, and future, Putting time in perspective, and Life is a picture, but you live in a pixel. You can also follow Wait But Why on Facebook and Twitter. We welcome your comments at ideas@qz.com.

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