The Farnham Street email:
A different take on what makes us feel so busy, stressed, and anxious.
As a rule, the larger your surface area, the more energy you have to expend maintaining it. Of course, when most of us think of surface area, we think of the area of a rectangle or how much grass we have to mow. But there is a surface area of life, and most of us never realize how much it consumes.
If you have one house, you have a relatively small surface area to maintain (depending on the age and size of the house, of course). If you buy another one, your surface area expands. But it doesn’t expand linearly - it expands slightly above that. It’s all the same work plus more.
Friends are another type of surface area. You have a finite amount of time to spend with friends before you die. The more friends you have, the less time you can spend with each one individually.
Money is another form of surface area. The more money you have, the more you have to keep track of different types of assets and investments.
When your surface area expands too much, you hire people to help you scale. Assistants, property managers, family offices, etc. They’re scaling you - but they’re also scaling the surface area of responsibility. This, of course, only masks the rapidly expanding surface area by abstracting it.
Beliefs are another type of surface area.
The thing about surface area is that the more you have, the more you have to defend and maintain. The larger your surface area, the more you are burdened with mentally and physically.
If you think in terms of surface area, it’s easy to see why we are so anxious, stressed, and constantly behind.
We feel like we need more time, but what we’re craving is more focus. What we need is a smaller surface area.
Your surface area becomes part of your identity. She’s the ‘busy person’ with her hand in every project. He’s the guy with four houses.
Competition can drive expansion. Most people want a bigger house to compete with someone else who has a nicer house. We are animals, after all. On a group level, this causes great benefits. On an individual level, it can cause unhappiness.
Most of the really happy people I know have a relatively small surface area. I know billionaires with two houses. Most of my close friends only have 4-5 close friends - everyone else is a friend in the loose sense of the word. Most of the productive people I know at work are focused on one or two things, not 5.
The way to maximize your enjoyment in life is to keep your surface area small. It’s a lot of work but if the happiest people I know are any indication, it’s a lot less work to keep it small than to maintain it when it’s large.