In medieval times, there emerged a provocative artistic concept called memento mori, Latin for “remember that you have to die.” All things florid and frivolous were depicted next to stark symbols of death, acting as both a reminder to live it up as well as a warning to use time wisely because one day it runs out.
It was a motivational approach that was very on-brand for the Dark Ages.
Surely, by now, we’ve seen the light, right? Or thought of a way to encourage people to value their time and lead productive lives without all of the doom and gloom? In a timeline where living often feels more like waiting, one entrepreneur has found a way to help people reclaim control over their days. He just had to stare death in the face four times to do it.
“I’ve learned a lot about living by almost dying,” says Zeb Evans, founder, and CEO of ClickUp, a billion-dollar productivity platform on a mission to make the world more productive.
The first time Evans faced death, he was a child. In 1999, a near-fatal boating accident had left 10-year-old Evans bedridden and connected to a network of morphine and feeding tubes for days on end in a North Carolina hospital.
It turns out the boating injuries weren’t the only threats at play. With his condition rapidly deteriorating, doctors were at a loss as to how to save his life. If not for a serendipitous discovery made by a visiting resident who suggested checking for a ruptured appendix, Evans time would have been up.
That was the first of Evans’s four near-death experiences—one of which was during a 2012 home invasion where he was held at gunpoint–that ultimately changed the entire course of his life.
Like many survivors of near-death experiences (NDEs), a sense of clarity had washed over Evans. It crystallized his path towards unparalleled growth in his life and career and inspired him to build a company that can help others do the same.
“The key to success, however, isn’t in the clarity of vision,” Evans says. “All the best intentions don’t mean anything if you don’t know how and where to put in the work. I had to find a way to work towards my goal every single day.”
One of ClickUp’s core values as a company is “Grow 1% each day.” The company has had massive growth since its inception in 2017, and the platform now has more than 3 million users. The prospect of breaking down years of grinding into mere days might seem like a time-suck. But shifting the perspective on what can be achieved in a single day inspired it all.
“One of my favorite books, The Slight Edge, has a really powerful quote that I think about every day: ‘The truth is, what you do right now, in this moment, matters. What you do today matters. What you do everyday matters,'” Evans says, growing more animated. “It all begins with making that 1% growth every day.”
“Even the most motivated, intelligent person will fail at making the most of their time if they don’t establish a system for success,” he adds.
Luckily for those of us who don’t have any near-death experiences under our belts, realizing the preciousness and potential of our time isn’t strictly reserved for death-dodgers who live to tell the tale. Evans’s quartet of NDEs may have been the catalyst for building a tool that “does everything for everyone,” but the first step towards fulfilling that mission happens to be the same for everyone: Minimizing the distractions that kill your time.
“The best way to overcome distractions is to establish daily practices that keep your mind focused,” Evans says, pulling a well-worn notebook from his desk. He sets it down and gives it a friendly jab. “One of my favorite tools for decluttering my mind.” Evans starts each morning (including weekends) by journaling his intentions and plans for both work and life. He also ends each day by recording what he actually accomplished, then sets his intentions for the following day. “Even with the best software, it’s important for your brain to be stimulated in the tangible world, which is why I still journal.”
It’s a discipline that anyone who’s tried the “bullet journaling” fad knows isn’t as easy as it sounds, but as Evans explains, the motivation shouldn’t be about tying your identity to a daily habit. It’s about creating a reliable system that tracks your intentions and actions. It should allow you to take control of your time and make your passions a bigger part of your life.
The irony of technology being one of the most insidious distractions today, however, isn’t lost on the creator of a platform designed to minimize them. “Technology has done a ton to make our world better, but one of the biggest challenges with so many apps and tools available today is distraction,” he explains. “It’s no wonder most of us struggle to even stay on top of our basic responsibilities, let alone find the time to work towards achieving our dreams.”
In times of increasing uncertainty and upheaval, distractions themselves have become a mutated strain of “self-care.” As Evans reminds us, dodging distractions isn’t about immersing yourself in what’s stressing you out—it’s about focusing your attention on absorbing and analyzing the information that will lead you to your current goal.
“This is still just the beginning,” he says.
Many believe that death is not an end, but simply a new beginning somewhere else. Luckily for those of us still hula-hooping amid this mortal coil, we get a new beginning each day we open our eyes.
For Evans, there is no timeline for success as long as he continues to grow 1% each day; he never forgets that he, like all of us, are truly in control of our own destiny.
“We can’t always control what happens to us, but we can control how we respond to what happens. Once you learn to accept that reality, you realize that even when life seems bad or chaotic and out of your control, you actually have an incredible amount of power over what you make of your time on Earth,” Evans says.
Your dreams, just like your life—or near-death–experiences, may be wildly different from those of Evans, but as sure as the sands of the hourglass keep trickling, you have the same opportunity each day to spend your time passionately, intentionally, and productively. Thanks to his brainchild, ClickUp, taking that first step is just a click away.
“One of the keys to feeling fulfilled in life and making the most of your time is to take ownership of each minute of each day.” Evans states this in a way that can only be delivered by someone who doesn’t just preach it but has built a system that helps people achieve it.
“Figure out where you want to go, set goals for yourself, and build towards what fulfills your passions. Life is too short, and time is too precious, to be wasted.”