Short and Sweet

Time and energy are two sides of a rubber band: You can stretch either one of them for a while, but sooner or later, the other one will follow.

When you extend the timeline of a project, at first, the same amount of energy spreads over more days. You do a little less, but if you do so consistently, you’ll get a similar result a little later. If you keep dragging your heels, however, there comes a breaking point when energy needs to catch up. You’ll either have to put in a lot very quickly and finally ship, or give in and call it quits. Snap! That’s the rubber band zipping back into its relaxed, equilibrial state.

While this might be the scenario we’re more familiar with, the opposite also holds true: If you push on a rubber band, nothing will happen at first, but eventually, it will move. Reduce the time until the deadline is close enough, and voilà, a lazy student springs into action and writes his paper in a day.

As frustrating as a last-minute attitude can be at times — especially when we’re the ones struggling with it — it does have a silver lining: Just because you don’t have a lot of time to spend on something does not mean you’ll do a bad job. In fact, the opposite is often true. By compressing the timeline, you squeeze more energy into a smaller window. That makes it unlikely you’ll dedicate all of it to doing the task in the same, humdrum way you would if you had more time. Instead, you’ll use a smaller amount to do the work, and the rest will spill over into creative ideas.

That’s how we got Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech. How the Foo Fighters released One by One after a complete, last-minute overhaul. It’s how Casey Neistat produced 800 daily vlogs that felt like movies, and how Sam Smith wrote a Bond movie song in a day.

Not every goal needs to be a magnum opus — and many a great opus wasn’t intended to be magnum at all. Pay attention to the rubber band, and don’t be afraid to keep it short. You might not feel as if you have enough time, but none of us ever do, and sometimes, that’s exactly why we do our sweetest work.