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I recently watched a pod cast presented by Greg McKeown, author of the book Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less. McKeown defines essentialism as a “systematic discipline for discerning what is absolutely essential, then eliminating everything that is not, so we can make the highest possible contribution towards the things that really matter.”

We live in a culture that celebrates busy-ness. We are a society that wants to have it all – a successful job, marriage, kids who have athletic and intellectual achievements, pets, hobbies, travel – the list goes on and on. People boast with pride about how busy they are, and fill their days with endless amounts of activity and work. We check our phones constantly (according to one study, 150 times per day). We commit to too many people in too short a time, and exhaust ourselves trying to make it all happen.

The shift to essentialism takes an identity change, and accepting that you “can do anything, but everything.” Post-industrial revolution, and as we navigate the information age, we have endless options available to us. However, we are not prepared to handle everything that is suddenly available, and we quickly become overwhelmed.

Essentialism requires internal clarity and resistance to external pressures. A good start is to look at what you have in your life and evaluate, if you didn’t already have it, how hard would you work (or what would you pay) to get it. If the answer is “not much” than it’s probably something you can let go of without missing it. You can also look at your activities and how you spend your time and ask “does it spark joy in my life?” If not, it’s likely not worth your precious time (of which we all seem to have too little). When evaluating your work ask, “Is this the very best use of me?”

Just as leaders of organizations take off-sites every quarter to evaluate business goals, we could benefit from a personal “off-site” every 90 days. During your off-site, you should step outside of your daily routine/environment and set your priority for the next 90 days (one personal priority and one professional priority if you really can’t live with setting just one). The Latin root of the word priority means first thing. It was only in the 1900’s that we pluralized the word. However, it is actually quite impossible to have multiple things that you can do first. Thus, the recommendation to set a single goal for each 90-day period on which you can focus your attention.

Once you have established your priority, make decisions on whether to answer yes or no to what is asked of you based on your goal – if it doesn’t contribute to the goal, set it aside until your single goal is complete. With only one priority, you can make a contribution 10 times greater than if your focus is split between multiple goals. Set a concise mission statement that resonates with you to keep you on target.

In the words of Susan McHenry “Work when there is work to do. Rest when you are tired. One thing done in peace will most likely be better than 10 things done in panic…I am not a hero if I deny rest; I am only tired.” Be prepared to meet resistance to your newly discovered essentialism as you will be going against the grain of cultural norms where you’re expected to say yes to everything. Unfortunately our culture of busy is bad for our health. Be sure to check out next week’s blog post for an eye-opening look at how stress is affecting our health.

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