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What if this was your last ‘to do’ list?

Emma Grey

“Intention isn’t anywhere near good enough. It’s not the thought that counts, it’s the follow-through.”

A friend confided in me recently that she’d seen her GP for help with depression only after my husband died, because she felt she needed to address her health in order to support me the way she wanted to. I thanked her for taking this step for me, but observed how sad it is (and how common) that we don’t rate our own needs as highly as we rate those of others. What about seeing the GP for herself, so she could be present in her own life to a full extent? That’s something she’d been putting off — swept in the chaos of family life and the never-ending ‘to do’ list.

I gave an awareness-raising talk at a government department on Friday, about the importance of prioritising our health over all else. I was able to share our story, to show the impact of thinking “I’ll get around to that …” (whether “that” be changing our habits or having routine or specialist tests or seeing a GP about a niggling concern that is “probably nothing”).

When we were clearing out my husband’s office at work, it wasn’t the photos of his children on his desk that upset me. It was seeing his last To-Do list. There were 15 items. Ten were crossed off. Missing was the one thing that might have saved his life: “book GP and have heart tests done”. And this was missing despite a strong family history of heart disease and early death.

I could feel angry about that, and perhaps I will be one day, but I’m not now because I know I’ve been guilty of the same thing. I’ve thought: “I’ll get to it when we’re through the next week…”

Or fortnight …

Or after the school holidays …

Or when I submit my final book draft …

The intention is there, but the timing is inconvenient.

Our family has learned that intention isn’t anywhere near good enough. It’s not the thought that counts, it’s the follow-through. Everything we believe to be important is rendered null and void if we’re prioritising any of it above health and well-being. All those other pursuits — the work pressures and family commitments, even the “me time” and dream-chasing — are rendered pointless if we no longer exist.

There were some big things on my husband’s last To-Do list:

Rhodes Scholarship reference
ABC stuff
Book chapter
Conference paper

But which of these was more important than ‘find out I urgently need heart surgery’? The conference paper? The radio stuff?

Those things, and all the other achievements he pulled off in his productive, prolific, love-filled life have been traded now with seeing our five-year-old son grow up. That’s the stark reality of it.

I’m overdue for a routine skin check, but I’m off to Adelaide later in the week for a workshop. Even though, based on this message, the skin check is my top priority this week, another part of my brain is still playing it way too cool. Maybe I’ll schedule it for the week after, when it’s less stressful …

It’s so easy, putting things off — dicing with death the way we all do, whenever we write a list of things that we effectively rate more highly than the only thing that matters: staying alive to enjoy it all.

I challenge you, before you click away…

Please pick up the phone and make a GP’s appointment for a check-up, or for any tests you’ve been putting off.

Because there’s no ‘bliss’ and no ‘work’ without ‘life’. It’s that simple. 


Emma Grey

Emma Grey is the Canberra-based author of ‘Wits’ End Before Breakfast! Confessions of a Working Mum’ and ‘Unrequited: Girl Meets Boy Band’. She’s director of the life-balance consultancy, WorkLifeBliss and co-founder of a fresh approach to time-management, My 15 Minutes. She lives just over the ACT border with her two teen daughters and young son. More about the Author