Essentialism, by Greg McKeown, subtitle is The Disciplined Pursuit of Less. This blog title is a rephrasing to emphasis the issue.
One of the biggest obstacles to a business leadership team and often the CEO is the desire to have it all, and have it all now. It’s the reason why the word priority evolved into priorities. It means we can get more done if we have more than one priority right?
In our planning meetings I frequently remind our leadership teams of this axiom: We tend to overestimate what we can do in a short period, and underestimate what we can do over a long period. As a rule what we’ve discovered is in quarterly planning we attempt to shove more in than we can accomplish, and in annual planning we tend to short change our ability to achieve.
The short story here is we tend to want and believe we can accomplish more in the short term. We believe we can have it all, and we believe we can have it all now.
As Clint Eastwood noted, “A man’s got to know his limitations.”
Suppose you have a closet in your home you’ve been planning to work on to eliminate clothes and items that are mostly collecting space and dust. Essentialism offers help on how to clean out that closet that’s full. Here’s a short version of how they describe coming to terms and effectively using essentialism to empty your closet:
- EXPLORE AND EVALUATE Instead of asking, “Is there a chance I will wear this someday in the future?” you ask more disciplined, tough questions: “Do I love this?” and “Do I look great in it?” and “Do I wear this often?” If the answer is no, then you know it is a candidate for elimination.
- ELIMINATE Let’s say you have your clothes divided into piles of “must keep” and “probably should get rid of.” But are you really ready to stuff the “probably should get rid of” pile in a bag and send it off? After all, there is still a feeling of sunk-cost bias: studies have found that we tend to value things we already own more highly than they are worth and thus that we find them more difficult to get rid of. If you’re not quite there, ask the killer question: “If I didn’t already own this, how much would I spend to buy it?” This usually does the trick. In other words, it’s not enough to simply determine which activities and efforts don’t make the highest possible contribution; you still have to actively eliminate those that do not.
- EXECUTE If you want your closet to stay tidy, you need a regular routine for organizing it. You need one large bag for items you need to throw away and a very small pile for items you want to keep. You need to know the drop-off location and hours of your local thrift store. You need to have a scheduled time to go there. In other words, once you’ve figured out which activities and efforts to keep—the ones that make your highest level of contribution—you need a system to make executing your intentions as effortless as possible.
This last step is very similar to David Allen’s practice in Getting Things Done. He mentions that most of us know what to do, but we simply haven’t put down on our list the next step. Get an oil change is an example of this. In reality the next step is to make an appointment (so write the number down or make the call), or if you are going to shop for where to get it, write down the numbers of the places you’ll call. This way you’re ready for the next step. Not having the next step tends to make us procrastinate.
Essentialism is about learning how to do less but better so you can achieve the highest possible return on every precious moment of your life. In short, it will teach you how to apply the disciplined pursuit of less to every area of your life.
WHAT IS THE CORE MIND-SET OF AN ESSENTIALIST?
- Individual choice: We can choose how to spend our energy and time.
- The prevalence of noise: Almost everything is noise, and a very few things are exceptionally valuable.
- The reality of trade-offs: We can’t have it all or do it all
Here’s a quick review of the essential steps to Essentialism.
STEP 1. EXPLORE: DISCERNING THE TRIVIAL MANY FROM THE VITAL FEW
Ask three questions: “What do I feel deeply inspired by?” and “What am I particularly talented at?” and “What meets a significant need in the world? Look for your highest level of contribution: the right thing the right way at the right time.
STEP 2. ELIMINATE: CUTTING OUT THE TRIVIAL MANY
The key to making our highest contribution may well be saying no. As Peter Drucker said, “People are effective because they say ‘no,’ because they say, ‘this isn’t for me.’
STEP 3. EXECUTE: REMOVING OBSTACLES AND MAKING EXECUTION EFFORTLESS
Many of us celebrate being busy as a measurement of importance. Are you guilty of this? Suppose we actually celebrated the time we spend listening, pondering, meditating, and enjoy time with the most important people in our lives? Give yourself permission to be more selective in what you choose to do.
K. Anders Ericsson’s completed a study on violinists, popularized by Malcolm Gladwell as “the 10,000-Hour Rule,” Anders found that the best violinists spent more time practicing than the merely good students. Do you know what the second most important factor differentiating the best violinist from the good violinist?
We’ll explore that next blog, plus….
The process of eliminating items from your closet is called the 90 Percent Rule. It’s one you can apply to just about every decision or dilemma.