We published a paper last week. 🎉 We worked on this project for several years, plus one additional year for the editorial process (broken, I know). A conservative measurement estimates at least 5 years from start to finish. If a cycle takes 5 years to complete, how many cycles are left?
While this is not common language, scientists work in cycles. Start a project, "find the mechanism", publish the project, student/fellow moves on, and the cycle begins again. While we have lines of investigation that are a continuous thread of interest, the transient nature of lab trainees and funding whims means that science is inherently cyclical.
Which leads to the question, how many cycles are left? If a project takes 5 years, and it's divided by the number of years left in a career, I have to ask “is this really what I want to work on?” Similarly, if I write an article a week for a year, and I only have a handful of articles remaining, do I really want to write about this?” If you only have x amount of time, are you really going to spend it on y?
This is not a Memento mori. Nor a kick-in-the-pants. Any motivated person won't be able to do all the projects they want, won't be able to read all the books on the shelf, and won't be able to close all those tabs.
Anything of importance takes time. Calculating the amount of time required before starting is standard; calculating the time it takes away from other things you might be doing is not. Even before we lived in a hyper-distracted, attention economy, everyone had limits on their time. Now, it's just more obvious.
However, time constraints are "a feature, not a bug". Constraints are required for creativity and encourage focus. An infinite amount of time or an unlimited number of cycles cannot lead to optimal solutions. While an infinite number of monkeys typing for an infinite amount of time will eventually produce Hamlet, Shakespeare did it in a lifetime. We won't ever know if Shakespeare counted cycles, but from 'Richard II' (1595) act 5, sc. 5, l. 49
I wasted time, and now doth time waste me.
Counting cycles can drive creativity, encourage focus, and ensure no time is wasted.