Crossing the finish line

In an organization class I took about 20 years ago, one of the exercises we did was writing our obit. When you spend time puzzling out what you want to be remembered for, top priorities on your daily to-do list are magically re-arranged.

When I did the obit exercise, a top priority that popped out for me was that I wanted to write a novel. I love books. Books on the shelves. Books by the bed. Libraries. Bookstores. I still have many of the books I read as a child because the characters and stories are real to me and have helped shaped who I am.

How could I die without adding to the book-ness of the world?

Deciding I wanted to write a novel was easy. Doing it seemed impossible with a demanding job and two little kids at home. Where could I possibly find the time?

I knew that writing a novel, especially the historic novel I had in mind, would take time. What could I give up that was a lower priority than writing? Here was my list:

  1. Watching TV.
  2. Reading novels.
  3. Reading magazines.
  4. Going to the movies.

I thought about cutting just one but decided to cut them all. Instead of watching TV at night, I started doing research for the novel. And while cutting novels was difficult, I became so engaged with historic research that I didn’t really miss fiction.

Cutting magazines was more difficult because they’re easy to grab when you have a half-hour or so to spare or want to read something that doesn’t take much thinking. But I needed every spare moment and decided to clear the house of magazines, just like you would clear out junk food if you were on a diet.

I still remember the call I made to cancel my Time magazine subscription.

“I’d like to cancel my subscription.”

“Your subscription runs through the end of December. Do you want to call us back then?”

“No, I’d like to have you stop sending it to me now.”

“Can you tell me why you’d like to cancel?”

“Because I like it.”

“Did you say you like it?”

“Yes. I look forward to getting it every week and read it cover to cover.”

“But you want to cancel?”


[silence – the sales rep for Time did not know how to overcome this objection 🙂 ]

So that took care of my biggest magazine time-taker.

Then there were the movies. I didn’t spend a ton of time at the movies, but they did take up a night or two a month so away they went except for an occasional splurge.

Even clearing out my time-takers, it still took me years to research the book and another schedule to finally write Gunny Malone and get it published, but I enjoyed every minute because my heart was in that work 100%.

Want to jump in on this idea? Try this for a plan.

  1. Draft your obit. Don’t ponder this deeply – just write and see what comes out.
  2. Pick one thing you’d love to have in your obit that isn’t there now. You may have a dozen ideas of stuff you’d like to include, but pick one for today.
  3. Do a time audit. How can you re-prioritize your free time?
  4. Set up a schedule. What’s the first baby step you can take this week to get started?
  5. Do the work. There’s no getting around this. Good work takes time.

P.S. Just because you have your obit doesn’t mean it’s time to go. Think of all the good work you have to get done! 🙂

P.P.S. If TV’s a hot-button for you, the Washington Post ran an article today about cutting TV from your life.

  • How stories in books are more vivid in your mind than a story told on TV.
  • How books don’t have commercials.
  • How when you don’t watch TV (or Netflix or Hulu), you don’t see the “next show”, and the less you watch, the more you don’t know what you’re missing.
  • How you can choose an occasional show – but choose it with intent. Don’t just sit down in front of a TV and expect to be entertained.
  • And how this writer ended up running a half-marathon, finished her Ph.D… You know. Little stuff! Her obit is going to be awesome… 🙂

P.P.P.S. I’d love to hear what you’re working on – and how you found time to do it. Please post comments below!

The shoreline is melting and the barnacles are quite happy. 🙂




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