Six life lessons from Dan’s cat, Annie


by Carolyn Thomas    @HeartSisters

My friend Dan Curtis is an award-winning documentary filmmaker, an adult educator, a certified life coach, and all-round lovely person. I first met Dan when he showed up on our hospice palliative care unit many years ago to film part of a documentary he’d been working on for three years, following the end-of-life journey of Robert Coley-Donohue, a man living with ALS (whose wife Barbara had also, tragically,  died of the same condition).

Unfortunately, because I was new at my PR position at the time, I knew nothing of this project – so I tried to sternly hustle Dan and his intrusive camera equipment right out of the building, thus inadvertently threatening to ruin forever an especially poignant scene in his documentary. Despite this, he forgave me my bossy ways and we went on to become friends, and his moving documentary about Robert went on to become a popular National Film Board of Canada film called Bearing Witness: Robert Coley-Donahue, and then Dan went on to become a professional personal historian, one who helps record the life stories of others for posterity.

Dan also has a cat named Annie. She is an endless font of useful life lessons, according to Dan.  I loved his essay on Annie’s tips for good time management so much that I asked his permission to repost it here for those of you who have ever wished there were more hours in the day.

So with a grateful hug aimed in Dan’s direction, here’s what he writes about Annie and her lessons on good time management: 

1. Decide what’s important and drop the rest.

“There’s always time to do the important things. Annie has clear priorities – sleeping, eating, observing, playing, and snuggling. Anything else is of little interest to her and she doesn’t do it. Take a moment and make a list of things you have to do today. Now put an “A”  beside the absolute must-do items. Drop the rest. This may sound drastic –  but you can’t humanly tackle everything you think needs doing in a day.”

2. Learn to say “No”!

“Ever try to convince a cat to do something it doesn’t want to do? It’s taken me a while to do what Annie does really well, and that’s to say “No!” and not feel guilty about it. “No!” is a very powerful word. It helps you set boundaries and drop those time-sucking activities.”

3.  Concentrate on one thing at a time.

“Annie never multi-tasks, and she’s wise because studies show it doesn’t work.”

4.  Reward yourself.

“Annie has learned that good behaviour, like coming when I whistle for her, comes with a small treat. It reinforces good habits I want to instill in her. When you’ve completed a difficult task, make sure you give yourself a treat – maybe a good bottle of wine or fine chocolate truffles.”

5.  Establish routines and stick with them.

“Annie is a creature of habit. She thrives on routine. She expects me up at 6 a.m. to feed her. While my porridge cooks, we have a 10-minute play time. This is usually followed by her first outing of the day. If we know how our day is structured, we can better fine tune it to meet the demands that arise.”

6.  Start your day right.

“Annie has a good breakfast followed by 30 minutes of meditation. For some reason she loves to curl up with me as I do my daily Vipassana meditation. If you’re too rushed to find a moment of calm in the morning, the chances are you’ll start your day stressed.  This in turn will lead to poor decision-making and ineffective use of your time.”

Dan adds: “While we can’t create more hours in a day, we can manage our time so that we create the  space we need for those important projects, like our life story.”



Q:  What are you doing to manage your own time more effectively?

7 thoughts on “Six life lessons from Dan’s cat, Annie

  1. NO is a very hard thing for me to say at any time, but I’m learning. I have too many routines that I do during the day, I’ve been trying to get rid of some of them. My day starts around 4 in the morning and ends about 1. I can’t force myself to lay down one minute earlier. If I say I’m going to bed, I’ll just sit at my computer and read, at one point I would do work from home. My Chair is trying to break me of that habit so if I do work, they yell at me the next day for not going to bed.

    But the one thing on this list I do very good and that is reward myself. After losing some of my Ejection Fraction, I made up my mind that I can not miss my cardiac maintenance classes, so on Fridays when I finish I go to the hospital cafe and get an order of chicken tenders and fries. Hospital food may not be the best, but to me they taste great.



    1. Hi Robin,
      Sounds like you are somehow surviving in an alarming state of sleep deprivation most days (sleeping from 1-4 a.m?) We know that not getting enough healthy sleep is a very real risk factor for heart disease. New York sleep specialist Dr. Steven Park, author of the book Sleep Interrupted, cites many studies showing that untreated sleep problems are major risk factors for heart attack, stroke, and sudden death. A large study of over 40,000 people in Norway recently found that those with chronic insomnia have up to a 45% increased risk of having a heart attack. Inadequate sleep and insomnia may feel “normal” for you if you’ve been living like this for a long time, but these conditions are NOT normal at all – please see your doctor about this issue.

      As Dr. Park writes: “Breathing and sleeping are THE MOST fundamental processes you have to do to not only survive, but to thrive.”

      See also: “Are Your Sleep Problems Linked to Increased Risk of Heart Disease?”


      1. Hi Carolyn,
        Your link was very informative but I don’t think it will help. I have suffered with Chronic Insomnia for my then fifty years. It may have been the cause of my heart attack, I have dealt with it since pre-school. Just as long as I get two or three hours sleep my regular Doctor doesn’t see any harm in it because I wake refreshed. She does however get very upset when I stop sleeping altogether, if I go for three days without sleep or sleep for only one hour a night, I am to call and she sees me right away.

        The longest I’ve gone without sleep was two weeks, but I don’t let it go on that long any more. That was when I didn’t know you were to go that long without sleep. I have an appointment with my cardiologist in two weeks I’ll ask him if it is a problem. I don’t like taking sleeping pills and the last ones my PCP had me taking only worked three days before I was back to sleeping only a few hours.



  2. This is WorkingBoomer and people call me Annie when they get to know me. Yes, sometimes I think animals have more sense than we humans. I am trying to get the things mentioned in this post down pat right now. Saying no and not doing has always been a problem for me, but I am learning that it is best. Actually, I am now enjoying it too.

    My dog Sweetie is teaching me a lot of her relaxing tricks. Thanks again for sharing. You are great!


    1. Hi Ann (or can I call you Annie yet?) You have a dog named ‘Sweetie’? That’s adorable. Dogs and cats are good at teaching relaxation…


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