We’re praised for being busy and we often humblebrag about having a lot to do.
With the help of social media and our smart phones, we buy into the myth of multitasking and “doing it all,” becoming distracted and stretched too thin in the process. The world and the people in it are constantly demanding our attention. We’ve become non-essentialists, writes Greg McKeown.
In his book Essentialism, he writes about the way of the Essentialist: to pursue only what is essential and eliminate everything else. This sounded easy enough to me, as like most people I try to prioritize what is most important to me. Upon reading Essentialism, I found that just trying to prioritize what’s important is not enough. If we truly want to focus on what is essential to us, we must eliminate the trivial many and turn down good opportunities.
Eliminate the trivial many. Mckeown makes clear a simple truth that many of us overlook: we can’t do it all. Our time is limited. If we want to focus on what is essential to us, we must eliminate the trivial many from our lives.
Turn down good opportunities. The more opportunities we say yes to, the less time we have to focus on what is essential. Thus instead of immediately saying ‘yes’ when a good opportunity comes our way, an essentialist looks at the opportunity and considers if it passes her highly selective criteria. The opportunity must pass all of her criteria in order for her to say yes to it, or in other words it must be deemed essential. If it does not pass, she says no to the opportunity. McKeown writes, “The point is that the very act of applying selective criteria forces you to choose which perfect option to wait for, rather than letting other people, or the universe, choose for you. An essentialist says yes only to the top ten percent of opportunities.” Using this Essentialist approach, I’ve become ruthless about what I say yes to. I turn down many good opportunities so I can truly focus on the essential few. To live a life by design, we have to question everything and say no to almost everything. Saying yes to a night out means saying no to my essential goal of reading more in the evenings. Saying yes to a hobby or activity means saying no to spending time with my family. This is the simple reality of trade-offs. An essentialist doesn’t shy away from making these choices. He celebrates the power of choosing.
Becoming an essentialist is an ongoing process. McKeown writes, “we live in a society where bad behavior (saying yes) is rewarded, while good behavior (saying no) isn’t.” In the past I’ve almost always said yes to the requests of my friends or to good opportunities. Doing so led to some interesting experiences, yet ultimately just made me busy, but not productive. It hasn’t been easy shifting to an Essentialist mindset. And it’s not uncommon to get asked questions like, “Why would you ever quit that?” or “Why would you turn THAT down?” But it’s not about them. It’s about me. It’s about you. It’s about what is essential to us.
“It is about making the wisest possible investment of your time and energy in order to operate at our highest point of contribution by doing only what is essential.”