NOTE: You can alternatively watch this article on YouTube—it’s pretty cool and features some of my favorite movie scenes.
Hi, my name is Blake Snow. I am an author and practicing husband and father from Provo, Utah. I recently published my second book called Measuring History about an unknown Texas company that quietly changed the world. I hope you read it.
Many years ago, a hospice nurse from Australia named Bronnie Ware asked thousands of patients on their deathbeds to share their biggest regrets in life. This was number one: “I wish I lived a life that was true to myself instead of trying to satisfy others’ expectations of me.” This was number two: “I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.”
To avoid these common mistakes and prevent history from repeating, each of us must change our default, human behavior. The good news is there are three, science-backed daily habits we can adopt to accomplish this. I discovered these while writing my first book, Log Off, and have closely followed them to wonderful heights over the last decade.
These 3 life-saving strategies are as follows:
- Live the rule of thirds. You get 24 hours each day, not a minute more. To live our most balanced and fulfilling life, we must divide our days into thirds: 8 hours for sleep, 8 hours for work, and 8 hours of free time. Never let one third overtake another. There are no long-term exceptions to this rule.
- Employ a “life calendar.” This sounds silly. But it works. Instead of separating our work and personal calendars—or worse having a significant other control one or both—we must take full control over the limited time we are given. We must prioritize, schedule, and reschedule every event and relationship ourselves. When we concede control of our own, often separated calendars to others, we lose control of time. When we do this, we eventually die with regrets.
- Cancel 99% of your notifications. Here’s something you probably already know: your phone alerts are killing you. Addictive? Yes. Make you feel important? Completely. But always-on notifications are also terribly short-sighted. If we want to live a life for ourselves and avoid overworking, we must turn all alerts off unless they come from our soulmate and/or children.
We cannot let the interests of others interrupt, distract, or redirect us whenever they see fit. We must act for ourselves. Even Apple CEO Tim Cook recently admitted to “guting” his phone alerts. “I recommend you do this if you haven’t already,” he said. I want you to let that sink in for a moment: the maker of the world’s most popular smartphone says you shouldn’t use it as designed. Having seen my professional productivity, relationships, and personal life skyrocket over the last 10 years since deleting 99% of my notifications, I couldn’t agree more.
People want their lives to have meaning. Since we don’t want a majority of it to be spent in vain, we often delude ourselves into thinking that our work has some cosmic purpose to justify working more hours, which, on the surface, would suggest more importance. But quantity is not the same as quality. If I’m really being honest with myself, my epitaph should read: “Occupation: Helped companies sell more widgets and advertising with written words.”
None of us are that big of a deal. Yes, industry and ambition are important endeavors. But they’re not as important as sharing a smile with someone, realizing your child will be smarter than you, feeling insignificant amid a majestic landscape, experiencing and nurturing true love, finding your calling in life, watching an underdog upset the establishment, catching a righteous wave, or eating a homemade chocolate chip cookie. The sooner we accept our dispensability and nothingness, the sooner we’ll rightfully fill our lives with greater, more qualitative meaning.
I believe there’s more than one way to live a rich life. I also admit to not having all the answers. But I know with certainty that the above three life-savers can help you avoid the biggest regrets of the dying. Although my deathbed is over half a century away (I hope), I’m confident the choices I’m making today will make that deathbed a less painful experience, and dare I hope, an exalted one.