Kevin Kelly's Life countdown clock


Wired co-founder Kevin Kelly created a personal countdown clock that shows him how many days of life he has left to him. He made the clock to remind himself to make the best use of his remaining days, all 8500 of them.

I am now 55 years old. Like a lot of people in middle age my late-night thoughts bend to contemplations about how short my remaining time is. Even with increasing longevity there is not enough time to do all that I want. Nowhere close. My friend Stewart Brand, who is now 69, has been arranging his life in blocks of 5 years. Five years is what he says any project worth doing will take. From moment of inception to the last good-riddance, a book, a campaign, a new job, a start-up will take 5 years to play through. So, he asks himself, how many 5 years do I have left? He can count them on one hand even if he is lucky. So this clarifies his choices. If he has less than 5 big things he can do, what will they be?

I decided to take the idea of number days seriously, and to revisit my earlier experience of counting down my remaining time on this lovely mortal plane. My hope was that a reckoning of my numbered days would help me account for how I spend each precious 24 hours, and to focus my attention and energy on those few tasks and projects I deem most important to me. Indeed, it might help me decide which ones are most important, which is the harder assignment.

I've been using this system for several months now and it has been very powerful. Day to day I am aware -- and can rattle off if I am asked - how many days I have left. I decided to post my project today because on my clock it shows a handily rounded off sum. So here is the news: As of today I have 8,500 days left to live. That's not much in my book. I can almost hear them ticking away as we speak. I look at my lifelist of current dreams and I realize that in only 8,500 days I won't get to but a few of them. And what of any new dreams?

Note also that Kevin's blog contains all the posts he makes on all the other blogs he's active on -- Cool Tools, Geek Dads, The Technium, etc. He calls this his "Lifestream." Cool idea! Link


  1. This is tricky, and not just limited to older people, because any of us could be dead tomorrow, or a year from now, due to a car wreck, plane crash, etc. e.g. how would it affect your priorities if you knew you only have 30 days left? You probably wouldn’t spend much time sitting around reading novels or watching sitcoms, right? You’d probably quit your job immediately, unless you have no loved ones and you really, really love your job. Now let’s say it’s 500 days, or 8500 days, instead of 30 — how would that affect your choices? I guess his technique is an attempt to find a balance between “I could be dead tomorrow” and “I’ve got all the time in the world to read comics and make giant knitted action figures.”

    I’m surprised he didn’t call it the Clock of the Short Now…

  2. What if the clock shows 1? What does he do then? And Mark, what’s with you and time, anyway?
    Personally, I don’t think one should worry too much about time. It won’t stop… ;-) ‘Only the unlimited clear space of mind is lasting and nobody knows how long conditions will remain for recognizing that.’

    Have a good time ;-)

  3. What if the clock shows 1? What does he do then? And Mark, what’s with you and time, anyway?
    Personally, I don’t think one should worry too much about time. It won’t stop… ;-) ‘Only the unlimited clear space of mind is lasting and nobody knows how long conditions will remain for recognizing that.’

    Have a good time ;-)

  4. Wow. Its the ultimate existential “put up or or shut up.” I never wanted to do one of those death clock things because I kinda think they’re creepy. I never thought about viewing it as a way to focus more purpose into someone’s life.

  5. David #2 – I’m a fan too, but I make a conscious effort to balance this with the acknowledgment that, until such research starts to show palpable success in humans, we continue to be just as frustratingly gravebound as our stone-age ancestors.

    Because of the presence of de Gray et al, I actively resist the memento mori nature of popular culture, and have been known to disagree with friends’ macabre one-liners about the inevitability of death for all. It’s just not a sure thing any more. Convincing people of this is hard, since it goes against thousands of years of human culture’s (heretofore quite correct) acceptance of it.

    At that said, I appreciate this clock, though if it were me I might add a parenthetical (all things being equal) after Dead. It’s good to be part of the fight against aging, and also good to remind yourself what you’re fighting for.

  6. So you’re spending time discussing how little time you have left. And the discussion itself makes it seem like there is less time. I aknowledge my 26-year-old bias, but that doesn’t sound awesome.

  7. Hmmm… But how many of those remaining days are likely to be useful toward his projects? As I finish my 50th lap around the sun, I’m already feeling the subtle, inevitable waning of ability that comes from old-age disease. Realistically, I suspect Mr. Kelly has only about 2000 days of fully useful days, followed by 6500 days of increasingly non-functional dotage.

  8. If you haven’t already heard it, Kevin Kelly was part of the first (I think?) episode of This American Life on NPR. The episode was “New Beginnings”, and the first act is about Kevin Kelly and some earlier attempts at understanding mortality. It is outstanding, and well worth the time spent listening.

  9. Doh. I should have read the article before commenting. Please consider my redundant linking to the This American Life episode retracted.

  10. I am reading a story called Ovenman where a character is keeping a countdown like this and was thinking I might try to figure it out. Why use the CDC life expectancy of 78? Does that jibe with Kevin’s family history? Why aim so low? What if you’re right? My dad’s folks died in their 60s and 70s. My maternal grandparents lived into their 80s and 90s why shouldn’t I be able to do better with more knowledge and science on my side?

  11. “You’s bein’ a bit of a pessimist there..”

    “I like to think that 4 out of 5 people is definitely going to be .. after-death thing happen to them.. one out of five .. Jah bless.. keep goin’! Keepin’ it strong!”

  12. Moses said it best!:
    “Teach us to count our days rightly, that we may obtain a wise heart”
    -Moses, Psalm 90

  13. If you print out a 64×64 grid and tack it to the wall, you have 4096 weeks, or roughly 78.5 years, in an immediately visible, understandable format. Then you cross out each week as it goes by.

    You can shade in some relevant boxes (graduations, job changes, marriage, etc) to see where they occurred in your life.

    I find this a lot more salient than some high number (like 8500) of days remaining.

  14. Do something about getting old, (watch your life clock) and also how about supporting the Mprize foundation ( (now sitting at 8 million) that has the mprize, a prize for gerentology and any researchers investigateing breakthroughs in stoping, slowing down and controlling/reversing aging cellualr processes in mice models (next 10 years ?), then human models (next 15 years?)…they have allready made some breakthroughs. The research site is:
    With all the baby boomers getting really old and a lot of them into high-tech, its about time we used the new technologies of gene-chips, bioinforamtics, nanotech etc. to find cures for aging instead, for instance, wasting 200 to 1.3 trillion on the war in Iraq (it would only take 100 mill to 1 billion to do this in mice, then humans, once its proven in mice, then govenments will be forced by their people to really commit to aging research.

    So lets stop, fora example: wasting 2-billion on each stealth bomber and plow some of that money into aging research, after all, if the US does it, then a lot of other trouble-making countries like, say Iran would find it hard to justifying to their populations that they have to follow the super-powers and buy more war toys instead of spending on medical research into health and aging!

  15. Edsger Dijkstra once said “if we wish to count lines of code, we should not regard them as ‘lines produced’ but as ‘lines spent.’ If you are cognizant of having a fairly specific, limited amount of a resource, be it money, time, or computer memory, you are more likely to try to spend it wisely than you would if you just view it as some vague, relatively large amount.

  16. “This is the first day of the rest of your life, enjoy it!” That’s more what I say to keep me running. But on the other hand why do we have to be so fulfilled before dying… life is not only a list of dreams that have to be done before death, but life is the conscious path to some end… spread love and make yourself unforgettable, that are real goals!

  17. Mind you, for SENS to work, there’d have to be a *lot* more research.

    Right now, IIRC, for every year we age, we gain about a month on our life countdown clocks thanks to ongoing medical research. The aim of SENS is to make that month into a year, so that the countdown clock stops or even runs backwards.

    So you need to increase the output of medical research by an order of magnitude.

  18. I have started refering to my birthday as “D-Day”; i.e., how many years I have left. Recently I celebrated d-day 32. (In the older numbering system B-day 53 … hey, I am optimistic!) Some of my friends think that is morbid but like Kelly it is giving me a handle on what time remains.

    The counting-by-day idea is good however the counting-by-year can give a more firm handle on what to expect. 5000 days really means nothing. However D-year 32 … well, I can remember what I was like at B-year 32 and how much I had gotten done by then. I’ll probably retire from the 8-5 job around D-year 22 which roughly corresponds to when I started ‘normal’ work. When I get to D-year 18 that will remind me the sensations I had during that B-year. And for D-years 5 … 4 … 3 …? Well, I remember how little I was able to do during those B-years and so have to plan ahead on not being able to do much during those D-years. Perhaps go play in the woods again, floating small wooden boats down the creek, being fascinated with the world around me, and waiting to … to …

    — Rick

  19. Although the idea of a life countdown clock may seem a little macabre, I do believe in setting deadlines in order to achieve focus, and I guess this includes in my own life. I blogged on this topic in One Hundred Books in which I came to realize that, at age 51 and at my current rate of consumption, I would have time to read only about one hundred science fiction novels. Truly things like the countdown clock make you realize that life really is too short.

  20. I’m really surprised nobody’s mentioned Futurama. In one of the episodes, the professor invented a death clock. From this idea came a website which actually tells you this. This has been around for years. The Death Clock
    Also, remember in that Twilight Zone episode where nobody ages and everybody looks the same? Do we really want that?

  21. Roll-your-owners:
    This is all the javascript it takes to generate your days left.
    Replace “2012,11,21” with your preferred End date.
    Remember: on an HTML page this needs to be inside SCRIPT tags.
    If you drink a LOT of coffee, you can choose to remove the “/(1000*60*60*24))” part, then replace “days” with “milliseconds”.
    // days left
    today=new Date()
    var theEnd=new Date(2012,11,21) //Month is 0-11 in JavaScript
    document.write(“Days left: ” +Math.ceil((theEnd.getTime()-today.getTime())/(1000*60*60*24)) +”days”)

  22. What a horrible, morbid, depressing idea. The omnipresent hair-raising presence of a reminder of our mortality is enough to make me more stressed out than I already am. There’s a happy medium between youthful immortality and cancer-patient desperation.

  23. Good grief, people, some of you are taking
    Kevin’s clock way too seriously. I applaud the
    idea. You get to go around one time in this
    world, you have one life, that is it, zip, it’s

    What, in that short period of time, will you do?

    I’m not going to be one who sits back when I’m
    on my death bed and think of all the things I
    wish happened. I’m going to make them happen,
    with the assumption of living a normal life now.
    If I die before my estimated time, so be it.
    Life ends. Live for today, but hope for tomorrow. And make plans just in case.

    As Morgan Freeman once stated in the movie “The
    Shawshank Redemption”… “Get busy living
    or get busy dying.”

    Kevin’s clock combines the best of both worlds.

    Karen Marie

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