How a Dose of Urgency can Save You Time and Make You Money

Updated to Business on January 3, 2023.

I was in a car the other day with a radiologist and a neurosurgeon talking about hypertension. 

This conversation is actually not as unusual as it might sound. I volunteer for a local society that does trail clearing in a popular hiking and mountain bike park and many of the volunteers happen to be recently retired doctors. 

Back in the car, one of the doctors happened to mention that recently his medical partner, who is in his early 60’s, had a mild stroke. As we wound our way further up the dirt road to our work site my education continued. 

I learned that strokes are the second biggest cause of mortality worldwide and the third most common cause of disability. The scary statistics get worse. As you age your chance of a stroke doubles every 10 years after 55

There’s a checklist of health conditions that make you more susceptible to a stroke, like obesity, high cholesterol, and diabetes. But the biggest culprit – six times out of ten – is hypertension or high blood pressure. In my books, that’s worth paying attention to.

What’s interesting is that stress, in itself, is not the direct cause of high blood pressure. It’s what we do when under stress that leads to nasty results. We eat too much, drink too much, and move too little. Basically, we deal with stress by making unhealthy choices.

For me, stress starts with worry.

Ngoc Son Temple, Hoan Kiem Lake, Hanoi, Vietnam

I’ve had a lot of worries

There is a world of problems you can worry about – take your pick. You can worry that Ukraine will be pummeled into a tiny province of rubble, or that we’ve passed the tipping point with global warming, or the tiny spot on your chin is cancer. 

Or not.

“I’ve had a lot of worries,” quipped Mark Twain “most of which never happened.” Our mind loves a good worry. Like a dog chewing a bone, we want to turn our worry around, looking from all angles, poking and prodding until it swells up into something bigger than it really is.

I used to worry incessantly before every keynote speech. I’d worry I’d miss my flight or wasn’t prepared enough, or I would be greeted by the “audience from hell.” Trust me, when you have 60 minutes to educate, entertain, inspire, motivate, and get laughs from an audience you’ve never met before, any sane person would invent a long list of worries.

It was at one of those events when a fellow speaker opened an exit door for my worries. He suggested that audiences don’t want you to fail – in fact, they want you to succeed. “They want to see you having fun—enjoying yourself. That way,” he explained, “they can enjoy the ride with you.”

When I accepted the long list of what I could never control – my flights, the audience, the speaker before me going overtime – I was free to focus on what I could control.

Enjoying the moment. 

What your life will have been

In her book, Comfortable with Uncertainty, Buddhist nun Pema Chödrön tells the story of delighting in the preciousness of every single moment.

A woman is running from lions. She runs and she runs, and the lions are getting closer. She comes to the edge of a cliff. She sees a vine there, so she climbs down and holds onto it. Then she looks down and sees that there are lions below her as well. At the same time, she notices a little mouse gnawing away at the vine to which she is clinging. She also sees a beautiful little bunch of strawberries emerging from a nearby clump of grass. She looks up, she looks down, and she looks a the mouse. Then she picks a strawberry, pops it in her mouth, and enjoys it thoroughly.

Learning what to focus on, and what to ignore, seems to be the ultimate secret to living a healthy, stress-free life. “Whatever compelled your attention from moment to moment,” writes Oliver Burkeman in Four Thousand Weeks (a must-read for anyone over 50), “is simply what your life will have been.”

So, what are you focussing on?

What to focus on

You can learn a lot when you’re the dumbest one in a car full of doctors. I learned that strokes are a silent pandemic. And that hypertension is the leading cause of that pandemic. And I learned the leading cause of hypertension is stress. 

I was also reminded that stress is a choice.

We all have lions and tigers in our life. Maybe even a mouse or two gnawing away at something we value. Meanwhile, we have the moment.

Choosing what to focus on (and what not to) might just be the healthiest choice you can make.

Got this far? You might also like these posts:

Photo of eggs by Nik on Unsplash
Photo of Ngoc Son Temple by author
Photo of tigers by author

I was sitting on the old sofa in our office eating salad and thinking about sales. We were in the final throes of selling seats for my annual BOSS (Business Of Speaking School) public speaker training course and it still wasn’t full.

Some 1,400 people had registered for the webinars that promoted BOSS, of those some 600 had attended the live webinars, and of those 74 had bought the course. That’s 20 more than last year, but I still wasn’t satisfied – what about the 526 who invested an hour with me on the webinars, but still hadn’t registered?

I knew the ultimate (but impossibly time consuming) solution would be to invite them to have a phone call with me. If I could get them on the phone, I reasoned, I could learn about their needs and help them decide if BOSS was a fit.

I decided to invite them to a 15 minute call the following day. Instead of impossibly time consuming, it seemed an impossibly short amount of time to accomplish anything.

I quickly wrote up the email (below) and went home.

Later that night I casually checked my scheduling software – I already had 8 bookings for the next day!

So I adjusted the limits in my booking software to accept bookings to 8:00AM. Those filled.

I opened it to 7:00AM – those filled as well.

My crazy call schedule

The next morning (at 6:00AM) I was in my office, headset on, launching into 26 back-to-back 15 minute calls.

Here’s the surprising bit, not only did 50% of the people I spoke with sign up for BOSS (yeah!) it was actually easy to wrap up every call in 15 minutes.

Here’s the lesson

We waste a lot of time. You, me, everyone.

It’s easy to get lulled into the delusion that time has no value. It does—make every minute count.

You’ve likely heard of the Parkinson’s Principle – work expands to fit the time allotted. In other words, book a one-hour call and – miracles! – it wraps up in 60 minutes.

What about that planning meeting, or that client visit, or coaching call. Are they fluffed out to fill the time?

In that one day, with my 15 minute calls, I was able to speak to Berlin, Croatia, London, Melbourne, South Carolina, New York (twice), New Mexico, Wisconsin, Chicago, Toronto, Nashville….heck, I finished in Dubai!

I could have spent the week sloughing through one hour interviews or I can add a dose of urgency and to the point.

Where are you wasting time?

In my Think, Plan, Act keynote I often ask the audience what their day is like the day before vacation. You know, that frantic, get-er-done, experience when you’re both excited and driven to complete what’s most important before you load up and head to Disneyland.

Here’s what I usually hear:

“I was amazed at what I got done!”

“I said ‘No’ to almost everything”

“I got so much finished – I should’ve been wearing a cape”

“It was the one day my desk looked amazing!”

Now, here’s the deal – they were being super productive and decisive BUT THEY HADN’T GONE ANYWHERE.

It was still them going to work – but on that one day they showed up with a sense of urgency.

The trick is they had a deadline.

Do this now

It’s time to get honest – ask yourself where you need deadlines and where you’re wasting time.

Just for fun (you’ll thank me later) I created this cheat sheet for you – pick one deadline and one time waster and then get to work.

It’s your life, it’s your time – now make it count. 

** Tell me in the comments what you waste time on. **