Live and work as if this year was your last

Death. I’ve been thinking about it a lot recently. It seems to be going around. Just this month, I’ve heard of the loss of Uncle Jack, a lovely kindergarten teacher and a great friend’s father. We’re all in its shadow.

Fun fact: When things get stressful in our business – yes, in a first world problem kind of way – I like to listen to a song called Funeral by Phoebe Bridges, who begins…

“I’m singing at a funeral tomorrow, for a kid a year older than me. I’ve been talking to his Dad, and it makes me sad, when I think too much about it I can’t breathe.”

Phoebe Bridges

It’s a devastating jolt of perspective that I find oddly calming and even inspiring.

Then, to really get my spirits soaring, I often follow that up with Bonnie & Clyde by Vance Joy where he sings…

“You might as well say what’s on your mind, 
‘cause you never know when it’s your time to go.”

I think these lines resonate because they underline the fleeting nature of all the seemingly important small stuff that we sweat so much about in business and life.

If nothing matters or lasts, isn’t it all pointless?

The reality of our mortality doesn’t mean we should pack up our toys and go home. Quite the opposite. If the end is nigh, I think it means that right here right now matters even more.

As the wise Dalai Lama once quipped wittily:

“Analysis of death is not for the sake of becoming fearful, 
but to appreciate this precious lifetime.”

In a recent article I asked What makes a good life? I found my answer in The Harvard Study of Adult Development which examined the lives of 724 men for 75 years.

The single conclusive finding of the study was that “Good relationships keep us happier and healthier. Period.”, dwarfing other factors like fame, fortune, looks, possessions or achievements.

Focus on and prioritise what really matters

The cliched advice to ‘Live each day as if it was your last’ has never worked for me. With 24 hours left you’d surely frisbee the laptop, grab your nearest and dearest and go down in your own version of a blaze of glory.

But, the idea of living as if time is short does resonate with me. I recently discovered the book A Year to Live by Stephen Levine, in which the author decides to embrace life as if he has 12 months left.

This mindset radically changed his view of the world and forced him to scrutinise his true priorities. In an interview he comments:  

“…if [people] imagined the end was coming, wouldn’t they just grab a lady or a guy and a bottle of tequila and head for the beach? That’s what I thought too. But the truth is, when people know they are going to die, that last year is often the most loving, most conscious, and most caring. So don’t wait. Start practicing now.”

While many people ignore, laugh off or deny our mortality, Levine suggests that preparing for death is one of the most rational and rewarding acts of a lifetime.

Here are three ways I’m trying to translate this awareness into practical action.

1. Find and nurture your devoted dozen.

Your long-term success, health and happiness relies on the support of just 12 individuals.

2. Prioritise your to-do list every day, month, and year.

Start by doing the two things each day that will have the biggest impact on your life and business. Then squeeze in the rest.

3. Identify the essential, eliminate the rest.

Every single thing you say YES to, unquestionably means saying NO to someone else. Do less but achieve more by deciding what to stop doing altogether.

Driven by this laser focus and a deadline, you can surely achieve incredible things in one year. So imagine what can be done in a focused few decades (touch wood!).

In the long-term, this focus will make you – and your business – healthier, happier and sustainable. All the rest are details.

Have you got more important things to do?