05/31/2013 11:13 am ET Updated Jul 31, 2013

How Deadlines Help You Get More Out of Life

"What day will I die?"

That's a question my toddler had for me once upon a time, and remembering it makes my heart break all over again.

It reminded me of when I'd been about her age, asking my mother if everyone had to die. My mom was honest. She said yes. I went into my room, threw myself on the bed, and sobbed. "What was the point," I wondered, "if everyone winds up the same way -- gone?"

In his book, When I Stop Talking, You'll Know I'm Dead, legendary film producer Jerry Weintraub says death makes the rope taut. You need an endpoint, after all, to give your story structure -- and meaning. Maybe that's why they call it a deadline.

Think about it. Haven't some of your best discoveries come from not having time to deliberate anymore? Mine have. Just in the last week.

I accidentally discovered a way to keep pulled pork moist while heating it in the microwave. Instead of laying a dry paper towel across the top of it the way I usually do, I tossed in the wet one I had handy. Voilà. The pork was as juicy as it was the day we got it from the deli. Shades of placing a piece of bread on a pile of cookies. The moisture from the bread seeps into the cookies. The cookies taste fresh, and the bread is... toast.

I figured out a better use for some bendy -- and temperamental -- foil garland I was going to string around a photo display for a party. It quickly became apparent it might take hours to do that -- and threatened to bring the display down with it. In a moment of "oh, screw it" impetuousness I tossed the garland on one of the tables and couldn't believe the beauty of its shiny randomness -- upright and glistening in the candlelit room.

Most impressive of all, to my husband, I solved an engineering problem with said photo display. Yeah. Me. Engineering. We were hanging the photos -- a couple hundred of them -- with miniature wooden clothespins on lines of purple ribbon strung between two poles. Doesn't that sound cute? It was! But as I pinned the photos the ribbons started sagging, and it was only going to get worse with every photo. Darrell had made sturdy bases for the poles. They weren't going anywhere. They were tall, though -- and the weight of them made them lean a little bit one way or another. So he took more ribbon and anchored them away (get it?) from the display itself -- which kept them more vertical but didn't really keep the ribbon from sagging.

What now? It was after midnight, we still had hours of setup before the party, and the main attraction -- this display -- was not coming together. In another burst of impetuousness I just reached down and slid one base farther from the other. And it worked! Beautifully! I mean, on the one hand -- duh. But Darrell hadn't thought of it, and he's the mechanical genius in the family. I looked at him at him with a big smile, made that touchdown gesture, and kept working. There wasn't time to bask. There would be time for basking later.

That's what I imagine heaven to be. A big party to celebrate the job you did in this life before the next adventure begins. Did you discover a way to do something really special with this round? Did you share your gifts? Did you have fun, and learn a lot?

Then take a bow, my friend.

Someday I might get the nerve to tell you about an idea I have to celebrate someone's life.

You know, instead of with one of those endless funeral sermons that bore the people who love you... to death.

Party on.

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