What Would You Do With Only a Short Time to Live?


What would you do with only a short time to live? I’m sure you’re familiar with this question and have probably asked yourself this before, but I’m going to do things a little differently. If you’re like most people, your answers will be things like travel, spend time with family or something crazy and exciting, but I’m going to go a little deeper.

This question is important because we often get caught up in our daily lives and forget to see the bigger picture of what matters most. Trying to juggle jobs, home life, various chores and other commitments can have us running in circles. All of this can distract us from what we really want out of life. This question can help you put your life into perspective and guide you to what you really consider important.

What Would You Do With Only a Short Time to Live?

Ask yourself this: what would you do with only twenty years to live? Take your age and add twenty years. That‘s your reference point. Where do you want to be in life? Would you want to be doing the same thing you’re doing now in twenty years? Are there any changes that you want to make in that time? Take as long as you need and write down all your answers.

Hopefully you have a list of things you want to do, change or accomplish. Twenty years is plenty of time to get most of those things done. These are your long term goals.

Now ask yourself this: what would you do with only five years to live? Ask yourself all of the questions you did in the first part. Really take time to do this and keep in mind that you don’t have as much time to do everything you want as in the previous section. Write down all your answers.

You’ll notice that some of your goals may have changed. There will be some overlap, but you’ll probably notice many other goals will have been dropped or added because of the difference in time you’re given. These are your medium term goals.

What Would You Do With a Shorter Time to Live?

Ask again: what would you do with only one year to live? Go over the same questions as above. Where do you want to be in life? Would you want to be doing the same thing you’re doing now in one year? Are there any changes that you want to make in that time? Once again, write down all your answers.

This is where you’ll start to see big differences in your list. If you compare your one year list to the twenty year list, you’ll see many different things. These are your short term goals.

One final time: What would you do with only one day to live? This is going to be the hardest question of all. If you’ve kept up with this, than you’ll have some good ideas of what you want already. This list will probably be different from any other list you’ve done up to this point. These are your immediate goals.

Finding Out What’s Important to You

Now you have a list of what you would with only a short time to live for each time period: twenty years, five years, one year and one day. Compare them. Are you surprised at what you see? What are the major differences from the twenty year list and the one day list? If you’re like most people, you’ll notice that the twenty year list is made up of self indulgent items such as long term travel and things you want to do or see. The one day list is probably made up of selfless things such as friends and family you want to talk to or spend time with.

Nothing is wrong with anything you wrote out on any of your lists. Just because you picked an around the world trip or beer festival in your five year list and hugged your grandmother on your one day list doesn’t make one better than the other. Priorities change with time.

In fact, everything on your one day list is just as important as everything on your twenty year one. It’s just that your one day list can be done, by definition, in just one day so you’d easily find time for it in twenty years. Therefore, it isn’t as high a priority in your twenty year list since you have plenty of time to do it.

The point of this exercise is to make you realize just how many different things are important to you.

By focusing on different time frames, you’ll realize every area of your life you value.

Now ask one more question (last one, I promise). Are there any areas of your current life that you didn’t mention anywhere on any of these lists? If there are, then you just found areas that need to be changed. If you didn’t mention them on your list, it is likely you don’t find value in those areas at all. You should focus on these areas since they seem to bring less value to your life.

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  1. I like the idea of having lists for different points. I did my 31 before 31 because I had a bunch of new interests that I wanted to try out. But, I don’t think it is the same list it would be if I was planning 1 year to live.

    • It’s good to get different time perspectives because that gives us different ideas and perspectives. I know that I would be planning things differently if I only had one year to live.

  2. Yeah, there are a lot of “little” things that I’ve been “meaning” to do, but haven’t done it for whatever reason, usually that I’ll get around to it eventually/procrastination. However, you’re never guaranteed a tomorrow, so might as well do today what you might not get a chance to do tomorrow!

    • Yeah, isn’t it crazy how many little things that people want to get done, but put off? I know that I’ve been guilty of that before too. That’s why I think it’s good to look at the short term goals as well as the long term ones. That way you have as much covered as possible.

  3. nice post. ive been thinking about this for awhile and it helped me re-focus my attention to the ‘more’ important things in my life. thanks for sharing…

    • I’m glad you could re-focus on the more important things of life. It’s good to figure out what’s important so you can prioritize them.

  4. This is the first time that I’ve managed to properly put things in perspective. I’ve often come across posts or books that say to make a list of the things you want to do with your life, but never one that managed to zero in on the important things like this post has. Thanks for sharing this, and I look forward to going through the rest of your articles :)

    • I’m glad this post put things into perspective. It’s good to focus on the important things in life since those are the things that matter most.

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