How Knowing This One Date Will Change How You Look at Work Forever

Because urgency can breed action, here’s a quick video on a tactic to help you stop the busywork and start the work that matters. It’s a bit of a short, sharp shock that will help you stay focused.

Full Transcript

Hey, it’s Michael Bungay Stanier here. I am here on my home street. This is Marion Street here in Toronto. I’m using it as a metaphor. If you look way back there, towards the end of the street, I’m going to say that represents where I was born. Then if you look over way up there, towards the other end of the street, that’s where I died. So this whole strip of street, that’s like my life.

I’m actually going to talk to you about the day you die. I know that can feel a bit of a grim conversation, but it’s been an incredibly useful tool for me to stay focused, to stay productive, to stay courageous so I get to do my own great work. In fact, let me show you what I keep on my desk and here it is. You can see there is a quote from Pema Chodron and a date. Here’s the quote, “Since death is certain and the time of death is uncertain, what’s the most important thing?” Then what I did, is I actually went and I figured out my theoretical, my statistical date of death. It’s September 15th, 2043.

I saw this as an exercise first on Kevin Kelly’s blog. If you want to check it out it’s kk.org. Kevin Kelly is a great thinker, a founding editor of Wired amongst other things, and he actually kind of went, “Okay, here’s how you tap into actuarial tables, the statistics. Are you a man? Are you a woman? Where do you live? Are you Caucasian? Are you African American?” All that sort of stuff and you can go, okay, I can roughly calculate, in theory, the day you die. The other thing Kevin Kelly said, which I felt was really interesting was this, “You have about five years per major project you want to take one. Five years.” So I’m like, “Okay. I’m gonna die September 15th, 2045. That means I have,” and I’ve worked this out, “9,557 days left. What am I doing with this one and precious life? How am I gonna spend my time? What impact do I want to have?” Where do I direct my attention because, as somebody once said, “The days move slowly but the years move quickly.” I don’t have that many five year slots left to have the impact I really want to make in the world.

So, in this moment, if you want to you can go to the kk.org and calculate your own statistical date of death but if you don’t do that you can just look what I’m doing, which is street stretching up there, I can see the end. Street stretching down there, I can’t really see the beginning. I mean, I know the date, December 23rd, that’s my birthday in case you wanted to send me a happy birthday on that date, it would be great. But, I’m closer now to carking it. So what do I need to do? What focus do I need to bring to the work that matters to me? I’m Michael Bungay Stanier of Box of Crayons, also, and this is exciting to tell you, new website dedicated to myself, MichaelBungayStanier.com, MichaelBungayStanier.com. Actually, if you go there you’ll see there’s some great downloads that you can grab for free. At the moment, there’s a fantastic e-book on courage, but we mix these things up all the time so if you want to go and kind of check out what we’re giving away for free right now, please go to MichaelBungayStanier.com.

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Written by

author of ‘The Coaching Habit’ and Founder of Box of Crayons. We help people do less Good Work and more Great Work.