Are you an Essentialist?

Trying to do it all isn’t sustainable and its not how we were designed to work.

That’s the premise of a book I recently read entitled Essentialism by Greg McKeown. But how do we break away from the corporate culture that has us constantly hitting refresh on our emails and running from one unproductive meeting to the next? McKeown urges readers to adopt the mindset of less is more. This concept is what he calls essentialism– a discipline for identifying what is absolutely essential, and eliminating what’s not, so that we can focus on the things that truly matter.

While this idea went down like a jagged pill, it ultimately changed the game for me. Practicing essentialism hasn’t been easy, but I’ve found that it has fostered a renewed sense of focus and rest, allowing for growth both personally and professionally.

Here are two key learnings from my journey to becoming an essentialist:

1 | If the answer isn’t a clear yes, it’s no.

Both personally and professionally, if you ask me to do something, I’ll say yes. It’s a bad habit that I haven’t quite learned to kick. Even when I am fully aware of the fact that I’m scattered, stressed and overcommitted, saying no seems impossible.

But McKeown says, “if it isn’t a clear yes, then it’s a clear no.” Having clear criteria for decision making is what ultimately keeps us from committing to projects we aren’t passionate about or spreading ourselves too thin.

Now, when I make decisions, I employ the 90% rule McKeown outlines in his book. I simply give the option or decision a score between 0 and 100 based on my convictions, interest level and priorities. Anything scoring less than 90 is an automatic no. This simple system can be incredibly empowering for someone (like myself) who doesn’t have much practice with the no word. As world-renown business consultant and author Peter Drucker said, “People are effective because they know how to say no.”

2 | Prioritize white space thinking time.

If you don’t prioritize your life, someone else will.

In the book, McKeown references LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner, who schedules at least two hours of blank space into his day, to decompress and process. He goes on to cite a CEO who asks his staff to schedule a day at the beginning of every month to focus on planning and ideation without checking emails or taking calls.

We live in a constant, on-the-go era, that leads us to believe that pulling away from the daily grind is a luxury we can’t afford. But, McKeown explains that by intentionally finding the time and space to design, concentrate and read, we take a critical step towards learning how to discern the essential few from the trivial many. As a business owner, this principle translates into action: I started marking off two hours each Friday to learn about a new method, to brainstorm, and just think. Those dedicated hours always prove to be well-spent and I feel more focused on the “essential few” priorities and projects by the time I’m done.

Ultimately, as McKeown puts it, “If people are too busy to think, then they’re too busy, period.”

Want to find out more the concept of essentialism? Click here to take the “How Essentialist Are You?” quiz. If you’ve read the book, post your thoughts and and feedback with the Roam community on Network!