Embracing Essentialism

Over the weekend, I finished the book Essentialism by Greg McKeown and it made me realize how often I focus my time and energy on things that aren’t going to help me in the long run, despite my best intentions.

This book spoke to me almost immediately when I read the line “only once you give yourself permission to stop trying to do it all, to stop saying yes to everyone, can you make your highest contribution towards the things that really matter”. This is something that so many of us have dealt with that last year, I wrote a post titled “You Don’t Have to Do It All” where I explained the importance of learning to delegate. Well, Essentialism (aka doing only what is ESSENTIAL) takes that one step further and says that after you IDENTIFY what is important in your life, you must learn to ELIMINATE anything that falls outside of that category.

So, how do we make this happen? I’ll explain my key takeaways…

1. WE NEED TO REALIZE THAT THE PRESSURE TO DO IT ALL SURROUNDS US CONSTANTLY

Greg explains that “For the first time—literally—substantial and rapidly growing numbers of people have choices. For the first time, they will have to manage themselves. And society is totally unprepared for it .” Once I realized that we are all faced with more choices that we could ever know how to handle, I was able to be much kinder to myself about doing too much. It also allowed to be focus on my next takeaway..

2. EVEN THE LITTLE THINGS CAN TAKE AWAY FROM WHAT REALLY MATTERS—SO START ELIMINATING

Think about how many times you receive email notifications a day. For the average American, that is about 120 times. That breaks down to about 13 notifications an hour or a new email EVERY 4 AND A HALF MINUTES. If you hear a bing every 4.5 minutes from email alone, how could you possibly concentrate on what is essential? I think we all know the answer to that. You can’t.

So, to get started, I challenge you to try the “Do Not Disturb” challenge and turn off all of your phone notifications for 24-hours. Once the day is over, notice how different you feel and consider joining me in turning off ALL NOTIFICATIONS for good. I’ve been notification-free from all devices since May now (you can read about what got me started here) and the difference it has made in my ability to concentrate (and forget to even check my phone) is incredible.

3. YOU NEED TO BE CLEAR ON WHAT IS ESSENTIAL

Unless you know what you want to focus on, you won’t be clear about what you can and can’t say no to. Take 5 minutes today to answer the question “What is essential to me?” and once you have your answers, write them somewhere you will be able to see for the next day and spend your time focusing on just those items. For me, my answers were “my marriage, my family, my friends, me time, travel, and delivering books and blog posts that help others to grow”. Make this a short list so you can really focus on only what matters.

4. START ASKING THE ESSENTIAL QUESTION

The most important lesson I learned from Essentialism (and what I hope you learn from this post) is that we need to constantly ask ourselves “Is this essential?”. The more and more you start doing this, it will be easier to identity what is essential and what isn’t.

“Ask yourself ‘Is this essential?'”.

-Greg McKeown, Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less

If you want to start adopting what Greg calls “the disciplined pursuit of less”, I highly encourage you to pick up a copy of Essentialism and/or follow the takeaways I provided here and start saying no to the non-essentials with me.

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