In this article: I walk you through an exercise to measure and plan your life in weeks. The free, downloadable worksheet will be an unforgettable reminder that life is short and to enjoy it while it lasts.
This article was originally going to focus on how to measure your life, but after completing the exercise myself, it became a profound reminder that life is short and to enjoy it while it lasts. In the classical era, this concept was called memento mori, which is Latin meaning “remember you must die”. The skull and crossbones motifs adorning many classic buildings and paintings are a memento mori. It’s not a pleasant reminder. Then again, it’s not supposed to be. It’s a kick in the butt to get busy living life while the living is good.
But death is easy if not preferable to forget. In fact, you may not realize that Halloween is a celebration of memento mori. Halloween is not meant to inspire fear but to inspire a love for life or what’s left of it.
Though I vaguely understand that my time on Earth is limited, I’ve never put it into perspective. And that is what this exercise does. Measuring your life in weeks is a very practical measure because it literally gives your dreams a deadline. And, it is easy to understand and visualize. But first, let’s talk about some other ways to measure your life.
How to measure your life
To help you choose goals and prioritize steps of action, it is useful to establish a baseline or yardstick for measuring your life. In research, this is called defining an endpoint. For example, we could measure our health in terms of blood pressure or body weight or many other things.
You can create any ruler to measure your life. In my book Dream It!, I suggest measuring your life by smiles — the more smiles the better. I call that measure your smileage. You could also measure your life by successes and failures. Failures are a different kind of success — a lesson learned. In other words, maybe success is more a matter of how many times you get up and get in the game. Michael Jordan not only made the most baskets, he also missed the most baskets.
The fabulous hit song Seasons of Love from the musical Rent poses the same question: How do we measure our life? Here are the opening lyrics:
Five hundred twenty-five thousand, six hundred minutes Five hundred twenty-five thousand moments so dear Five hundred twenty-five thousand, six hundred minutes How do you measure, measure a year? In daylights, in sunsets In midnights, in cups of coffee In inches, in miles In laughter, in strife In five hundred twenty-five thousand, six hundred minutes How do you measure a year in the life? How about love? How about love? How about love? Measure in love Seasons of love Seasons of love
Love sounds like a good measure, but I find it too abstract. Am I meant to find my soulmate? Do I count the number of things I love? Or do I try to love those things bigger and better? Love is complicated. But measuring your life in weeks is simple. It is similar to something I often wonder: How many heartbeats do I have left? And am I using my heartbeats wisely?
How to do the exercise
First off download the PDF below. Then simply start crossing off the weeks you’ve already lived. If you want to get fancy, you can use an “age calculator” to pinpoint the weeks of special events. I like to use TimeandDate.com.
I encourage you to do this exercise and imagine each week as it passes. It may seem unnecessary. It’s not that hard to cross off some boxes. In fact, there are websites that will do it for you.* But crossing out the weeks by hand will be harder than you think and really drive the lesson home.
You will notice that the PDF has a few important milestones. It shows several ways that you are older than you think you are. And, even worse, you don’t have as much time as you think you do. The average life expectancy in the United States dropped for the second year in a row and now only stands at 76.1 years, down 2.7 years since 2020. Meanwhile, the average retirement age has gone up from 57 in 1991 to 61 in 2022. So, if you are doing the math, that’s a recent loss of almost 6 years of life. And even if you beat the average lifespan, will those remaining years be quality years? **
It took me 41 minutes to cross off the weeks of my life. By the third row, my hand was already aching. Week after week. What was I even doing then? I barely could remember anything. My mind began to wander, as it usually does, and I wondered how much time I had lost not even paying attention. Halfway through the exercise the dread of my life ticking away, like sand in an hourglass, made me feel I was wasting my time.
When I got to my bike trip around the world (marked in green) my hand was hurting as much as my legs did back then. It took a while to mark off the 4 years of weeks. I was proud to have really lived my life then. Unlike all the black squares of working and saving money. I feared all the time that had passed since my trip, and not doing much of anything except sitting in front of a computer and writing some books, with an occasional vacation thrown in. Those weeks were really ticking by now.
Seeing two-thirds of my life gone was sobering. Ugh! Time is running out. Life is short. Enjoy it while it lasts. I had several friends die this past year, and they both said that same thing.
Making the most of your time left
Now that you know how many weeks you have left on Earth, you can begin planning your future. This was yet another sober realization for me. Books and adventures are two big measures of my life, but this chart makes it apparent that I have only two big trips left. That is if I make the most of my life. I need to get busy saving money, planning and training. Likewise, I may only have a few more books left in me. My recent book, Breathless, took 5 full-time years to write, and probably another 6 years of thinking/procrastinating.
I can even count my favorite hobbies, like the number of books left to read. At my current rate, which is low due to surfing my phone too much, I can only expect to read 275 more books. When I figured this out, I tossed out a box of unread books that suddenly didn’t seem worth reading. I could go on to count dinners, vacations, time spent with family and friends…
As you can see, I hung my memento mori on the wall. Though this post wasn’t much fun, like Halloween, I wasn’t trying to scare you as much as inspire you. Now is the time to dream and to put those dreams into the framework of time. “Life is short. Enjoy it while it lasts!” That’s what I keep telling myself.
Let me know how it goes.
Download: My life in weeks
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This is a printer-friendly, high-res PDF. You’ll get both a color (if available) and black and white version. Each PDF comes with simple instructions. We recommend building a life planner by putting all your activities into a 3-ring binder. Thanks! And have fun!