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January 19, 2004
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The H.R. Doctor Is In

When You Die, Your Inbox Will Still Be Full

A great number of people take things too seriously at work and at home. Their focus is limited and their perspective narrow. They may lack a sense of humor, which signals trouble maintaining any balance. They may feel that all planets orbit around them and their issues. If they own a dog, they may find that the dog growls at them.

The HR Doctor often reminds such colleagues that when you die, your inbox will still be full. It is not a fulfilling life to be over-focused on one dimension, such as work only. When the latter is the case, family will suffer, personal health will suffer, interpersonal relationships will suffer. The impact of neglecting these other dimensions may not be obvious on any given day, and they may not appear for years.

Of course, it is important to take work or career or family very seriously. It is important that the project due next week be completed properly and on time. It is important that next year’s budget be balanced and that work on the budget begins several minutes after the adoption of the current year’s budget.

However, the message of this article is to take time to enjoy other dimensions of your life - before that life is completed. Take time to cultivate diverse interests, a broad perspective and a sense of humor. Do work for charity and find hobbies, which make you feel good, and make you a bit of an expert in a particular area different than the one around which your career is focused. That area might be music, art, history, nature or science. There is no shortage of subjects to learn about. The only shortage is the time available to learn (see the HR Doctor article “Learn as Though You were Going to Live Forever” at

There are some personal matters, however, which should be the subject of an immediate outburst of strong attention because these are very serious matters which are very often neglected or ignored.

One of these, a difficult subject indeed, is to think about your own mortality. Have an up-to-date will to help the people who will carry on after you by making the difficult decisions in the immediate aftermath of your death a bit easier. The living will provides guidance for those who love you about terribly difficult subjects such as whether or not it is your wish to have extraordinary measures taken to prolong your life. Consider being an organ donor so your death may, ironically, save another life or two.

Take steps now to ease the burden on others by making long-term care arrangements and perhaps by taking out long-term care insurance so that when your health suffers greatly, your financial stability and that of your family, built up over the years, will not also come crashing down in a matter of months.

Perhaps take the time to write a “letter of final instructions,” which will help your spouse or your children act on important matters when you are no longer able to do so. These may include funeral arrangements, burial or cremation decisions, location of key records and others.

Take the time to write a personal letter to each of your children and your spouse saying to them in private correspondence, to be read after your death, what you might never say to them personally and while you are alive.

These are examples of matters, completely different from any day-to-day work project, which should be taken very seriously and acted upon immediately!

In a sense, taking these steps and sparing those you love from even greater grief is a wonderful gift indeed. Give this gift to those you love even if they may not know you made these arrangements until they read your final instruction letter.

You may recall the HR Doctor article entitled “Applying the Pareto Principle,” which referred to the rule of the vital few. The basic concept is that most things in life are trivial; few things in life are vital. Ironically, taking steps now to consider your own mortality is among those things that are vital.

As is taking the time to celebrate your achievements and those of the people around you! This is much more fun than contemplating one’s own mortality and it is equally important! Demonstrating your caring side, your humorous side and your self-deprecating side accents your humanity for others to see. This “better side” of you also adds to your inbox, but in a much more positive way! Think about it over dinner with someone you love!

The HR Doctor hopes that your inbox will always be full, and that you will be around to empty it regularly and watch it refill!

Phil Rosenberg
The HR Doctor


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