“What’s the worst that could happen?”

A question often asked in jest – in fact, a question usually asked only in jest – but a valuable enquiry all the same. It’s a valuable time management question. It’s a valuable question because asking it produces answers, and those answers create the opportunity to plan in such a way and to such a degree that the worst doesn’t happen. Or, if it does, its effects are lessened.

In 2006 I went to my dentist and casually mentioned a swelling on my palate. He x-rayed it and sent it off. I was then summonsed to an oral surgeon who diagnosed a swollen saliva gland and said he’d cut it out to stop it becoming something nastier. He cut it out and arranged weekly visits to change the dressing left in the big ‘ole he left behind. For the next 3 weeks I dutifully attended, and afterone of those visits a colleague said to me, “Aren’t you worried it was something awful?”

I replied, “Never worry until you have to.”

At the third visit the doctor said a biopsy revealed Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and I had an appointment at the nearest cancer specialist hospital ‘next week’. He must have thought I wasn’t listening because I took it so well. Halfway down the hospital car park I felt my knees going. When I got back to the Major Incident Room set up for the force’s biggest ever murder enquiry I was deathly quiet, although no-one mentioned it. I went home and gave the news to my family. Understandably, there were tears. I also pondered the appointment ‘next week’, thinking ‘What’s the rush?’ and declining to consider the answer!

Then my time management persona kicked in. and I went back to ‘Never worry until you have to’.

My specialist visit allayed some of my concerns and treatment was successful. I only told one supervisor, because I hate the hushed tones that accompany such news if it becomes a ‘thing’. People actually whisper about colleagues’ life-threatening illnesses when they aren’t even there. Which is weird.

But I also made a ‘plan’ about any worst-case scenario, which included taking the view that if nothing else, I’d been given notice and could ensure that things I needed – and wanted – to do, got done. Which is quite cathartic.

Since then I have ‘suffered’ a few professional challenges, and on every occasion I have asked the question and considered the statements – “What’s the worst that could happen?” and “Never worry until you have to” and as a result I have made decisions and I have taken actions that have served me well. Others may disagree, but I have been content with, and dignified about the decisions I have made.

Those may be ‘ultimate’ situations where the question applies, but the same can apply to any circumstance within which you find yourself. It can apply to any incident, and if you ask it early enough you can even deal with the event quickly and effectively to the degree at which ‘worry’ isn’t even an issue.

In the Seven Habits it’s called ‘Begin with the End in Mind’, and this promotes consideration at the outset of any venture/event/incident/required decision as to what is needed and what could be done to get the outcome desired. It can even apply to Life, as discussed in Chapter 19 of my book.   

I don’t want to promote ‘worry’. But ask yourself this – “What do I want, when do I want it, so how will I make it happen?” Even if worry is the initiating factor, answering those questions can turn that worry into effective action. Which is far better, don’t you think?

Published by policetimemanagement

30 year policing veteran and time management authority. Now I've combined the two.

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