ENCORE POST: Choosing Less But Better – Essentialism


In my last post, I shared about my work around creating and implementing my life plan, based on the book, Living Forward by Michael Hyatt.

As I noted in developing my life plan, I identified 12 accounts. As the old saying goes, “his appetite is bigger than his stomach.” I want to do a lot and experience a lot, and I struggle with taking on too many things and not experiencing as much success in any of them as I would like.

That’s why the book Essentialism, The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown, has been such a helpful wake-up call. I’m reading Essentialism for the second time, and I’m reminded that it is more about a mind-set with tactics for acting on the mindset. It’s about accepting the reality that life is about choices – identifying what really matters, the few things that really matter, and then focusing in on them intently.

Here are some select quotes from the introductory chapter.

Less But Better

“The way of the Essentialist is the relentless pursuit of less but better. It doesn’t mean occasionally giving a nod to the principle. It means pursuing it in a disciplined way.”

Why Non-Essentialism is Everywhere 

Too Many Choices. “…the preponderance of choice has overwhelmed our ability to manage it. We have lost our ability to filter what is important and what isn’t. Psychologists call this “decision fatigue”: the more choices we are forced to make, the more the quality of our decisions deteriorates.”

Too Much Social Pressure

“…the larger issue is how our connectedness has increased the strength of social pressure. Today, technology has lowered the barrier for others to share their opinion about what we should be focusing on. It is not just information overload; it is opinion overload.”

The Idea That “You Can Have it All”

The word priority came into the English language in the 1400s. It was singular. It meant the very first or prior thing. It stayed singular for the next five hundred years. Only in the 1900s did we pluralize the term and start talking about priorities.

The Essentialist approach “requires, not just haphazardly saying no, but purposefully, deliberately, and strategically eliminating the nonessentials, and not just getting rid of the obvious time wasters, but cutting out some really good opportunities as well.”

The book is organized into about three disciplines of essentialism: 1. Explore and Evaluate; 2. Eliminate, and 3. Execute. There’s too much to explain in a single post, but hopefully you’ve gotten a taste.

Essentialism 1.0 in my experience

As I said, Essentialism is a mindset and an ongoing process, not a “one and done” activity. Honestly, right now my knowledge and interest in essentialism far exceeds my experience of living by the credo.

However in the last few months, I’ve been learning the “art of the graceful no,” and have been able to decline many good, but nonessential time commitments in my personal life. Each decline is really choosing to trade off something nice for what I’ve determined to be more important. You can’t have it all – at the same time!

I’ve said yes to a few commitments that, in retrospect, I could have declined. I’m trying to really take note so I can learn and get better at determining the criteria for what I will take on, and what I will bypass.

This essentialist discipline is also important in the context of making better business decisions; we are applying decision criteria to opportunities that come across our desks for consulting, coaching projects as well as workshops. As we better define our core beliefs and mission, we try to stay close to that mission and only work on projects that are well aligned with the mission and where we think we can add the most value.

Life Planning is Essentialism

This mindset of Essentialism is the basis of Life Planning. Essentialism and life planning requires the discipline of articulating what’s really important and then structuring life around those priorities.

Whatever your life and career circumstance, consider taking advantage of both these wonderful resources. I think you’ll be glad you did.

Excerpts from:  McKeown, Greg. Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less. First edition. Crown Business, 2014.

Hans Meeder is President of NC3T, the National Center for College and Career Transitions (www.nc3t.com).  NC3T provides planning, coaching, technical assistance and tools to help community-based leadership teams plan and implement their college-career pathway systems and strengthen employer connections with education.

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