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127 Hours to Live

Problem: We don’t get much done without a deadline, and we’re not very good at keeping the ones we set for ourselves.

Solution: Set short deadlines that force you to act now and involve others in your biggest goals.


I don’t watch many movies these days, but every so often I’ll be intrigued enough to invest two hours in a show. Last weekend I saw the movie 127 Hours, the true story of Aron Ralston, a rock climber who got his hand caught between two boulders while canyoning in Utah .

For 127 hours, Aron sits trapped with little food or water, no warm clothing, and no one with any idea where he is. For five days and seven hours, he sits alone in a crevasse, plotting his escape. As the hours wind on, he becomes more and more distraught. He starts to hallucinate. During these hallucinations, he begins to see his future self—the life he could have if he escapes.

Near-death hallucinations must be quite motivating because, ultimately, he decides to cut his own hand off and crawl out of the wilderness.

There are plenty of lessons you can learn from a story like that:

  • Don’t go spelunking alone.
  • Tell someone where you’re going.
  • Be prepared with extra food and water.
  • Bring a saw so you don’t have to cut your hand off with a pocket knife.

Those are all good to remember, but I came away from the movie with a different lesson—a renewed belief in the power of deadlines—those often arbitrary points in time that somehow force us to make decisions and get things done.

All Hail King Deadline

The power of a deadline can be phenomenal. When we’re faced with a challenge and limited time to solve it, we usually rise to the occasion. And anyone with a procrastination problem like I often suffer from is agonizingly familiar with Parkinson’s Law:

However long you give yourself to complete a task is how long it will take.

The answer to procrastination, then, is to set short deadlines for yourself. The problem, of course, is that a deadline loses much of its effectiveness when it’s set internally rather than externally. What I mean is that it’s harder to stick to a deadline you set for yourself than it is to stick to one dictated by someone else.

We reject our own deadlines because there’s no immediate punishment for missing them. The pain caused by letting ourselves down is nothing more than our own disappointment, which is something we’re, unfortunately, pretty good at coping with.

Besides a constant effort to become more intrinsically motivated, a solution I’ve found effective is to involve others in your own goals. That’s why I created the 1% Club. If that list were only a piece of paper in a notebook by my desk, I doubt I’d have even started on it yet. For better or worse, I’m highly motivated to not let others down. When I know I have thousands of people rooting for me, I pursue my goals with fervor.

Another example: I like the feeling I get as an early riser, but I’m not always so great at convincing myself to get out of bed. Two months ago, Jonathan Mead proposed we create an early-rising accountability team. I immediately said yes, and over the last 60 days, I’ve been happily awake at 6:00 AM for about 58 of them.

Your Next 127 Hours

What would you do if you had only 127 hours to live? The question is cliché, but I still think it’s worth pondering. Would you change drastically or would you make only minor adjustments to your life? Maybe you wouldn’t change anything at all?

127 hours isn’t a very long time and the trick to making this a useful exercise is to not overestimate your resources. Don’t assume you all of a sudden have a hidden pile of money to use up. Don’t fantasize about the limitless gifts people will shower upon you when they learn of your impending demise.

Given the resources you have at your disposal right now, what would you change to make the next five days and seven hours a more meaningful experience for yourself?

I’m happy to say that I wouldn’t change much. I’d probably make a few more calls to family—maybe go see another part of the world I’ve put off getting to. All in all though, I feel like I’d probably keep doing the same work I’m doing right now. That’s a good feeling to have.

Whether or not you’re happy with your life as it is, it’s good to remember that what you do right now,in the next 127 hours, will do more to influence your life than anything you plan for in the future.

What’s your plan?


For more on the power of deadlines, read this compelling piece by Pam Slim. Photo by: energeticspell.

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What smart people are saying about this...

  1. I know it will not happen in 127 hours, but I can’t think of a better change to make than to continue to make more money online in order to free up my time.

    That’s what I am focusing on right now!

    • Well best of luck, Graham. No, it won’t happen in 127 hours, but it’s good to at least think about what you can do in that time span to make things better.

    • …Ahahahaha!! That’s what Tyler makes, right?

      Anyway, I like always very much to read Tyler Blog and Ev Bogue too! Inspired us! Keep going! :-)

  2. This is a great way to assess whether or not we are where we want to be in our lives. Like you mentioned, you’d probably be doing about the same thing, so it’s a good sign. Myself, I’d be changing a lot, but I’m already working on it. :-)

  3. “What would you do if you had only 127 hours to live? The question is cliché, but I still think it’s worth pondering.”

    Of course it is. :) I’ve always been bothered by the perceived uncoolness of cliches. If something moves you, it moves you, whether it’s cutting edge or it’s been around for years. Books and questions and concepts that help people change their lives for the better are always good, cliche or not. One of my favorites will always be the “make it count” theme in the movie Titanic.

    If I had only 127 hours, I’d say “no” to any obligations I felt I “ought” to do. I’d go to the beach every day and watch the sunset, without worrying how much gasoline it takes to get there. I’d go to my favorite pub and buy a round for the house, just because. And looking at things like that, I ask myself, why am I not doing that now? Thanks for poking my awareness once again, Tyler!

    • You’re right, Laurie. The reason something becomes cliché is because it makes sense to a lot of people, so it gets used again and again. Nothing wrong with that, I guess.

      And I like you answer to the question–doing things that are important to you despite the cost. With such a short deadline, cost becomes pretty unimportant, doesn’t it?

  4. Great post! I can totally agree with the last part: I know I’d want to continue my current work until its natural completion, so that’s very comforting. That said, I’d love to be able to create an entire videogame of my current project’s scope in 127 man-hours, but it unfortunately doesn’t work that way.

    But I get to thinking I could also live with simply trying to see a few places, telling a few people how much I appreciate them, etc. And then I’m reminded that I could do that today, regardless of what will happen.

    Aside: I’m a new reader and am absolutely thrilled with the content here. It describes exactly the sort of lifestyle I’ve always wanted to live, though I’ve never completely understood how. As we Catholics sometimes say, “you’re a very rich man.”

    • That’s the other great thing about an exercise like this, Kevin – it forces you to think of things you can do *right now* to make life better.

      Thanks for reading, and I really appreciate your input.

  5. If I had 127 hours to live, one thing I’d do is reach out to an old friend I’ve been estranged from for several years and offer an apology . . . and in a funny twist of events, I actually did exactly that just an hour or so before I read your post. It’s nice to be reminded that I did the right thing.

    Off to figure out what other loose ends I need to tie up in case of my untimely demise . . . :)

  6. Nice article. I’ve been a subscriber for a few months and this is my first post (how many other Aussie subscribers do you have??)

    Anyway, I have been putting my own business venture off for a few months now because my actual job has been very demanding and time consuming. I am going to put together a bunch of proposal documents and get them sent within the next 127 hours!

    • Go for it, Dave! I’m not sure how many Aussie subscribers there, but I know there’s at least a small group. There will definitely be a meet-up when I make it there. :)

  7. it’s so true that involving others keeps you more accountable.. That’s why I announced my travel plans/move to Asia way before I had started actually planning/saving and didn’t even know if it would REALLY happen. there’s something amazing that happens in the process of telling everyone, and dreaming about it though, that makes it start to seem more REAL. and naturally, you take the steps to do it.

    not to be reminded, but i also feel somewhat of a ‘disappointment’ being the winner of your giveaway a long time ago.. i don’t want to disappoint so i feel more invested in following through than if i hadn’t reached out to people, etc. come to think of it, that was almost a full year ago… but it took a year for me to finally step on the plane from when i first told ONE person that i would move to the philippines.. case in point: my actions often take slower to brew and that’s ok. time is only a concept and psychologically/cosmically, my sense of time seems to be slower (not easily operating on 24 hr cycle). it took me a year to get to a point where i was flying to asia BUT there were LOTS of little baby steps along the way. don’t discount the baby steps.. i’m working towards my self-employment/internet rockin’ goals but it’s a slower brew.. and that’s ok. :)

    and to answer your question, i don’t really get why people would continue to try to run their businesses? what’s the point? my answer remains the same to this question: i would jump off a plane. 😉

    • Hey Janet, it’s so great to hear how your big plans have all started coming together over the last year. As I like to say, it doesn’t really matter how long it takes as long as you’re moving towards something personally meaningful.

      If you’re on the right track, and you’re happy, then who cares, right?

      As for your question about business: I think it all depends on the *type* of business you’re running. If you started a business because it sounded fun, you were good at it, and nothing else, then I think it would make a lot of sense to give it up.

      On the other hand, if you started because it’s the #1 thing that gets you out of bed in the morning and it makes you happy to run your business, then why change no matter what the circumstances?

  8. Tyler – I’ve been thinking about this since you posted, and honestly, I’m not sure it’s the right way to frame what you’re trying to get at.

    If I were going to die in 127 hours, there would be no consequences to my actions. Even assuming I wouldn’t magically have some pile of money and was operating with only the resources I have on hand, I wouldn’t have to deal with the situations resulting from my choices.

    For instance, if I was going to die in 5 days, the first thing I’d do would be to quit my day job. As a thought exercise, that would make sense in terms of optimizing my happiness, but in reality, that doesn’t serve my personal or business goals.

    I actually like my day job, I learn things that are relevant to my personal business and the income I generate there allows me to pursue other goals of mine. If I don’t die in 5 days, I lose those benefits, and for me, that doesn’t make sense if I plan on living past 5 days (which I do).

    At least for me, a better question is, “What one thing will I be most disappointed in if I don’t achieve it within the next 127 hours (or 127 months, etc)?” From that answer, I can set time-sensitive deadlines to ensure it’s done.

    Sorry for the long winded response – just an interesting topic and you’ve got me thinking… :)

    • Hey Sarah,

      That’s a good way to frame the question, and if makes more sense to you to do it that way, by all means, go for it!

      However, I’m a little confused by your explanation. I’m curious why you say you like your job but the first thing you’d do if given only a few days to live is quit?

      I get the idea that the job supports long-term rewards, but does it not provide you with something worth doing *right now*? Is there not enough reward from it to make it worth the time in the short term?

      If there is, why would you quit? If not, why do you enjoy it?

      Hope that makes sense. I’m interested in understanding better. :)

  9. Like another poster above, I would make some big changes… but they are already in progress, and assuming I live past 127 hours, they will be accomplished according to schedule next year. :-)

  10. Good reminder thanks Tyler – I’m definitely motivated by deadlines. When I wrote about my challenges with rising early on my blog Jonathan commented and mentioned he had used an accountability partner, so I was interested to find out it was you! Maybe I need to find someone in the UK who can do that with me.

    If I had only 172 hours left to live though, I’m not sure how important a routine would be. I’d definitely quit my job, get outside in nature as much as possible, maybe write a short book about what I’d learned in life and definitely try to see everyone I loved in person.

    I guess I’m lucky as I can do all of those things already! The job will have to wait a while longer but I’m at least working on building a business on the side – so I feel pretty good about the next 172 hours overall, just need to get on with that book (and to do that I need to get up on time!)

    And with that, I think I’ll log off the internet and go to bed :)

    • Hey Milo, glad to hear that you wouldn’t change too much. That’s always a good feeling.

      As for getting up on time, I can definitely say that having Jonathan as an accountability partner has helped tremendously. I’d recommend finding a friend you can do the same with (obviously they need to be in the same or at least a close-by timezone).

      Good luck on that book!

  11. Excellent work as usual, but I have a slightly different take on deadlines.

    I find that when I create a long list of deadlines and goals it creates too much clutter and makes the process more complicated than it should be.

    What I do is something called time blocking. I set small goals, give my self a definite time to complete them, and then hammer it out. It works brilliantly and is very simple.

    You never have to write anything down and it allows you to completely focus on the task at hand. Although similar to the Pomodoro Method, my strategy is more flexible and can be extended if necessary.

    Awesome work Tyler!


  12. I wouldn’t change a thing, except to write letters to my kids.

    This last two weeks have shown me that what I have to say matters and that it is a voice that needs to be heard.

    I am humbled by the response I have received. Thank you Tyler for helping me take this risk!!


    • When you believe in what you have to say, people listen. It sounds like you’ve had the pleasure of discovering that. Congrats Debbie, you’re quite the riskologist. :)

  13. Great article Tyler. This article puts a lot into perspective. We need pick what we worry about and decide what’s important.

Founded with love by Tyler Tervooren

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