Do you take on too much and feel scattered and out of control?
Are you unsure whether you get the right things done?
If you said yes to any of these questions, essentialism might be the life discipline you’ve been looking for.
In his highly praised book Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, author Greg McKeown gives us a refreshing analysis of today’s hectic world.
We are lured by the temptation that we can “have it all, be it all”.
The result? We say yes to people and activities without really thinking it through. We forget about the inevitable trade-offs. In short, we forget to actively choose.
Fortunately, there is another way. It’s not an easy path, but it’s one that will lead you to a life that truly matters.
Are you willing to take the road less travelled?
Less is better
An Essentialist’s mindset can be summed up as “less but better”. You actively explore your options, cut out the trivial many, and execute on what truly matters.
It sounds easy, but it takes practice and discipline.
The Essensialist is acutely aware of the power to choose. As Greg McKeown points out in his book:
The ability to choose cannot be taken away or even given away – it can only be forgotten.
To practise the discipline of less, McKeown suggests we sit down and ask ourselves some hard questions.
If your life was a wardrobe full of stuff, what items would you really want to keep, and which would you want to throw away? Put differently, what people and activities are most important to you? What do you want to go big on? Do that.
An essentialist mindset consists of the ability to ruthlessly prioritise:
- “I choose to”
- “Only a few things really matter”
- “I can do anything, but not everything.”
Essentialism is about pursuing less things, so you can become more. To reach your highest point of contribution, you look for:
- The right thing:
What’s right for you?
- The right reason:
What’s your why?
- The right time:
What time suits you?
An Essentialist evaluates all options carefully before committing to the task. And this is the hard part: it means saying no to some very good opportunities.
But how can we begin to make room for the essential parts of our lives?
Learn to say no
I’ve discovered a painful truth lately: you can’t be all things to all people. If you’re a people pleaser like me, it can be hard to say no. But there is hope for us people pleasers, too!
One thing that works well for me is to say “Let me check my calendar and I’ll get back to you”. This buys me enough time and space to think it through, rather than to say yes on the spot.
(In my experience, saying yes on the spot often leads to overcommitment.)
Ask yourself: What will I say no to? Answering this question will help you set up healthy boundaries and clarify your priorities. When in doubt, follow this simple but powerful rule:
If it’s not a clear YES, then it’s a clear NO.
Learn to say no to the non-essentials, and you’ll have more time and energy left for the most important.
Not every opportunity is created equal
Another tip is to apply tougher criteria. Greg McKeown shares this useful checklist:
Opportunity: what opportunity is being offered to you?
Minimium criteria: what are the three mimimum criteria for this option to be considered?
Extreme criteria: what are the three ideal criteria for this option to be considered?
Here’s the catch: ALL your minimum critieria need to be met, and TWO extreme criteria need to be ticked, for you to take up on the offer.
Sounds a little too extreme? Well, yes, that’s because it is. But if you want to feel less scattered and overwhelmed, that’s what you have to do.
Are you investing in the right activities?
If you want to become an essentialist, you’ll need to explore your options, eliminate the fluff, and remove the obstacles, so you can make your highest point of contribution. That’s a sacrifice I’m willing to make.
How about you? Are you ready to embrace essentialism? Share your thoughts in the comments!