Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less

Not too long ago, I became intrigued by a book mentioned by one of my favorite influencers, Michael Hyatt. The book Michael was referring to was Greg Mckeown’s Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less. Just inside the jacket cover was this profound statement:

Essentialism isn’t about getting more done in less time. It’s about getting only the right things done.

If life has you running around in five different directions at the same time right now, stop and let that sink in.

The Layers of Life

Personally, when reading this, I find myself thinking back to an earlier time in my life: no kids, no wife, and working at my “starter” job. Anything I wanted to do, I could do it! I had total freedom, and everything was within my reach! Then the layers of life started to show up: A beautiful wife, great kids, and a fulfilling career. One day you wake up and realize that there just isn’t enough time in the day to do everything you want. All of a sudden there’s a choice to make—either spread yourself too thin, or give something up.

I believe that we all reach a point in our lives, perhaps without even realizing it, where the time that’s required to fulfill all of our desires and commitments begins to outweigh the time available to us in a day. Something’s gotta give. It might be our sleep, relationships, career ambitions … anything.

Making Essential Choices

That’s where the ideas of Essentialism come into play. As soon as your things to do outweigh your time to do them, you have to make a choice. You can either choose to limit your commitments and do only what’s truly essential, or you can choose to say “Yes” to every possible thing that comes your way.

If you find yourself saying “Yes” to everything, you might find that you’re actually saying “No” to some very important things. Try saying “Yes” to everything and watch what happens: Pretty soon you and your spouse hardly know each other, your kids grow up, graduate and move on (before you even realize they have no more ball games for you to attend!), and your projects at work become mediocre at best. All that’s left are the things you thought were so important.

It really comes down to this. You can’t do everything. You either have to make a conscious decision to say “No” to all the non-essential items in your life, or you can try to do everything and let the flow of life make the decisions for you on what what is going to be pushed out of your life. Wouldn’t you rather be in control?

A Selfish Mindset

Now, let me take the Essentialism thought in a different direction. Trying to “do it all” is selfish. The “do it all” mentality robs others from the opportunity to do things for you. Should I spend that hour fixing the car because it’s “less expensive” or should I take it to the shop? In my younger days I would have thought it made sense to save the money and do it myself. Now, however, I know that spending the time personally fixing the car is not an essential part of my day. It’s a job that someone else can do much better than me, and it frees up the time for me to do the things that are better suited to my skill set…the things that only I can do.

Are you trying to do it all and, instead, finding that you’re not really doing any of it well? It might be time to take a lesson from McKeown’s book Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less.

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What items in your life have you discovered to be more disposable than essential? Please share your thoughts on Essentialism in the comments section below.