mortality—the ultimate deadline

mortality—the ultimate deadline

So…maybe it’s just me, but if I’ve got all the time in the world to do something—that sh*t is just not getting done yet.

Don’t get me wrong, it will get finished—eventually, and on time. But there is no way I’m buckling down and working on a project six months before it’s really due. I seem to need a little (and sometimes, a lot of) pressure to get my neurons firing and mobilized.

I’m sure you’ve heard people say, “I work better under pressure.” And, maybe that’s you, too?

When you know your CEO is sitting there scowling and twiddling her thumbs at 8am expecting that report to land on her desk, or the IRS has gotten out the handcuffs and is just waiting to drag you off to the slammer if you don’t get your taxes filed on time, or the realtor is walking up to your front door with a gaggle of prospective buyers for the open house, then you’re on it.

You’re efficiently pasting in clever charts with the circles and arrows, gathering up your receipts and filling in the forms, and finally, and I mean finally, getting the living room painted that neutral and agreeable color they advised you to use. But not a moment sooner.

What the holy hell?!

You knew that quarterly review was due, because it’s always due, well, um, every quarter. April 15th didn’t sneak up on you. And…you and your agent made that plan to open up your house to the whole world months ago when you went in to their office to talk about the sale.

But, instead of starting right away some of us…



Are we not getting enough excitement in our lives? Is this last-minute-frenzy some kind of self-induced, emotional bungee jumping? I suppose we could be doing it for the adrenalin rush, but that collection of sensations isn’t particularly pleasant.

The panicked rushing about, face flushed, heart racing, images of the horrible consequences of NOT getting the thing done on time wildly careening around inside your head?

Seriously, you’d think we learn. I wish I’d learn.

parkinson’s law

You may have heard about Parkinson’s Law—though I never knew that’s what it was actually called. It was apparently named after the guy who made it up, Cyril Northcote Parkinson. (That’s the dude’s real name…how British, huh?)

Anyhow, Ol’ Cyril said, “Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” Meaning if I give you a task with 5 years to get it done it will take five years, if I give you the same task, but say it’s due on Tuesday—well, you get the point.

So, what’s going on here? For me it’s often that I have 65 other things that are actually due on Tuesday, so they take precedence over the one that I’ve got 5 years to complete. In cases like that I’m basically just triaging my to-do list.

Sometimes if it involves making a decision, and I’m worried about making the WRONG one, then I’ll hold off on making any decision until I’m really pushed.

And sometimes, and this may sound weird, the compressed time actually does seem to focus my mind and I feel I can concentrate more. I’ve read that fear has this effect, so this likely speaks more to the state of my mental health, or brains in general, than my productivity skills.

When the stakes are higher, and the time is shorter, our motivation increases—we all tend to concentrate on what’s most important, eliminate distractions, and take risks to accomplish what we’ve set out to do by the due date.

Which brings me to what I really wanted to talk about…

the heart of the matter

We all have a lot of run-of-the-mill deadlines in our lives—due dates, timeframes, schedules, etc.—but very few of them are really ever a matter of life and death.

But, for every single one of us, mortality is the ultimate deadline. In fact, it is THE deadline we all share in common.

If there’s something you want to accomplish before THAT due date arrives, well you’d better get on it. There’s no rescheduling that one. The challenge is of course that most of us don’t really know where, or when, on our life’s calendar that date actually falls.

So, we imagine (or hope) that it’s waaaaaay, waaaaaayyy off in the distance and we can just put off all of that really important stuff—the stuff close to our heart that makes us feel vulnerable and exposed—our life’s goals and missions—until some OTHER day.

I’ll start tomorrow, we say…

We get distracted by our day-to-day business and busy-ness, and the risk (and fear) associated with doing the thing we really, REALLY want to do gets overshadowed by the inertia and complacency (and security) of maintaining the status quo.

Life though, has a way of offering us a series of little (or big) nudges to remind us that that deadline could well be right around the next corner. Someone close to us dies suddenly and unexpectedly. You find yourself experiencing the compressed cacophony of an MRI tube.

We or someone we know has a heart attack or a car accident—a near miss—that wakes us up (sometimes again) to the possibility and reality that time may very well be short, and that life definitely is precious.

remembering and forgetting

Sometimes our lives are a series of remembering and forgetting. Remembering what’s truly important and forgetting to put that first. Remembering who we are and forgetting to live in alignment with that truth. Remembering that we may not have all of the time in the world and forgetting that we will not live forever.

So, fine, put off doing the little and insignificant things until the night or minute before—but don’t put off following your heart. If you’ve got something to share or do or say—don’t wait. We have to do what we can and what we must in our lives and in our relationships—now and every day.

Besides—living from a place of integrity and authenticity day after day certainly can feel riskier, but it is ultimately more satisfying. The true risk comes from checking out before you’ve had the chance to cross those truly meaningful things off of your to-do list. That’s the real tragedy.

With that “live in alignment” strategy, if you die tomorrow you won’t have any regrets, and if you stick around until you’re a seriously old fart, you will have spent all those long years in the full expression of your heart and your true self.

And, that my friend, is the whole damn point of it all.

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