Essentialism, Part 2 – Essentialism in Practice
About last time…
You might remember that we talked about Essentialism a while ago. To sum everything up, there were basically three key points that you needed to apply if you wanted to become an Essentialist.
First of all, you have to re-establish choice. If you do something, know that you do it because you ‘choose to’, not because you ‘have to’. No should always be an option.
Second, you have to realize that not everything is equally important. Some things are just worthless details, others are essential elements.
Third, you have to know that, to be able to get something done, you have to pick one thing over the other. Your time and resources are limited, so allocate them carefully.
All in all, Essentialism is about knowing that there are limits to what you can and should do, and use those limits to your advantage.
But just knowing what to do isn’t enough. You also have to know how to do it. That’s why today we’ll give you a few strategies that will help you implement Essentialism.
Separating the wheat from the chaff
A simple truth: before you’re going to be doing a certain thing in an extremely productive manner, it’s important to know what that certain thing should be. And there’s a lot of options to choose from, so establishing this fact is the first and one of the most important things to do.
- Look for the clues
Imagine that there’s a project at work you have to finish by tomorrow. You have limited time, so you’re going to have to work hard. What are you going to do to get it done? Have a meeting about it? Send e-mails back and forth about how you’re going to do it?
It might be a good idea. Or it might not.
In some cases, you still need more information, and it’s essential that you have it to get a good job done. In other cases you have to be honest with yourself and realize that you’re just wasting time. A good Essentialist has learned to be aware of what he’s doing and why he’s doing it. Also important: he figures out what he’s not doing that he should be.
All of that sounds great in theory, but how does one figure out the essential?
Start journaling and write down them clues, Sherlock
A great practice to start, which will allow you to find the key points in your life, is to start journaling. Simply keep a daily log of your thoughts. Over time, you’ll notice that certain things will keep coming back, and each time you keep a log a dot appears. Over time, you’ll be able to connect all those dots and see the narrative thread.
Why does this work? Well, for starters, it provides you with daily feedback. While you’re working, you can easily fool yourself every day by doing useless stuff. But at the end of the day, when you’re logging, you’re going to have to be honest with yourself and evaluate what fruits your efforts have borne. If your daily journal shows again and again that going to meetings has not brought you one step closer to you working goal, you’ll know that you’re not doing anything remotely essential.
Also, we’re bombarded with thoughts and information every day. Journaling also helps us by filtering out the useless parts and leaving only…the essential.
- The F**k Yeah-test
A second cue, and a more emotional one to figure out what is more radically important to you is just to feel your own response to it. When presented with a certain option, you might go ‘meh, okay’. It elicits a positive response, but not one that makes you jump through the roof.
Then you’ve got the opportunities that make you think ‘F*** Yeah!’ (fill in the blanks yourself). It’s something that when you see it, you know it’s right for you. It’s love at first sight. It’s fireworks.
For example, imagine having multiple so called ‘life goals’. One might be to write a novel, another one to start a business, and maybe you’d like to learn how to play guitar as well. Even though there’s something to be said for every one of them, not all of them elicits the same emotional response.
Starting a business might be something you’d want to do for the money, even though your heart is not really in it.
Playing guitar is something that you think would be pretty cool, because you like music. Still, it’s doesn’t really hit that sweet spot.
Then there’s writing a novel. Just the thought of creating a full-fledged story makes your heart beat twice as fast. You’re constantly daydreaming about potential story lines, thinking up characters and imagining a bound copy of the first edition, fresh in your hands. That’s what you’re really passionate about.
A non-Essentialist would just hop on board with all of these at once, and thinks he can do them all. He wrongly believes they will all equally contribute to his happiness. Whereas the Essentialist knows that real personal fulfillment will most likely only follow from writing the book.
Making the cut
Now that we know what we want to do and what we have to do, it’s time to literally cut the fat. Take that knife, stick it in the meat and remove all that isn’t 100% prime, juicy beef.
Here are two simple tricks to making that work.
- Just say NO
One of the hardest parts of keeping only those important things in your calendar is the fact that you’re going to have to let people down. In particular, you’re going to have to use an awkward word: no.
When someone comes up to you with a request, you don’t want to be the one to turn them down. Deep down, you truly do want to help everyone, but that always comes with the cost of your time. At that moment, you think you’ll manage, but later on you’ll find yourself to be overwhelmed with all the work you have and the things you have to do because of the promises you made.
Saying no to people is also very hard because it makes us feel very awkward, and we’re afraid to lose popularity if we keep turning people down.
But in reality, you’ll actually lose respect if you keep saying yes all the time. If you don’t respect your own free time, don’t expect others to do this for you either.
Say no to drugs, say no to the non-Essential, say yes to life.
We’re also eager to say yes, because we don’t really think about the price we pay for doing so. When someone asks you something, before deciding on it, think about the opportunity costs. What are you going to have to give up by saying yes? How much time is it going to cost you? Saying yes seems easy because it’s only a word, but once you realize you’ll lose precious time by agreeing, you’ll be less likely to do so.
So think about all of your current obligations and the additional time and focus you’ll lose when you agree. Maybe even put it down on paper. Before saying yes, first do the math and calculate the opportunity costs.
It’s very likely saying no will suddenly become a lot easier when you realize it will significantly hurt your ability to reach your own goals.
- Be your own editor
As I am writing this article, I’m not just writing strings of words on paper. For the most part, I’m editing. What that means is that I have a thousand ideas of what to say, and for each of those ideas, there are hundreds of variations of how to say it. Now, I can’t write them all down. I have to be picky and choose the essential ones. I have to select a few great ideas and use them to form a coherent story line.
At the same time, editing is not just about saying no to things and cutting them out. It’s about subtracting and removing things in such a way that it actually creates something, in a way that it adds something new.
I could turn these 2000-ish words into double the amount, easily, but if I did that, I would likely risk depriving the article of its essence. I only want to include the sentences and ideas that make a difference, and if I made this article too long, I would lose your attention and there wouldn’t be as much added value.
If it’s not Essential, it doesn’t make the final cut
You should try doing the same thing with your life and become the director of your own life’s movie. Sure, there are going to be quite a bit of deleted scenes, but this will only enhance and streamline the entire experience, add colour to the story, and make sure the audience doesn’t fall asleep.
Let’s give a concrete example: meetings. Sa y, you could choose to attend the weekly staff meeting. But being an Essentialist, you decide your presence there isn’t of the utmost essence, and you opt to skip it. Instead, you ask your colleagues to give you the Cliff’s Notes of what was discussed. Congratulations, just like that, you’ve condensed a two hour meeting in ten minutes.
Making Essentialism Easy
Now you know what is important to you and how you can get rid of the non-Essential, our final lesson will be about how to make everything nice and easy and automatic.
It’s good to have all the knowledge of what to do and how to do it, but unless you have a real system to implement everything, you won’t be likely to succeed.
- Build a routine
Before you do anything to implement Essentialism in your life, first you have to design a routine.
That’s because having strong, consistent habits might be the one most important thing you can do if you want your life to be a 100% smooth sailing all the time.
A common hurdle that causes people to fail to achieve their goal, is that they run out of willpower. By leaving their success in the hands of their conscious mind, they set themselves up for failure.
By consistently doing the right things at the same time every day, you basically create an autopilot for yourself that removes willpower from the equation.
All you need to do is identify the Essential things, do them consistently, and then turn them into habits.
- Create a Snowball Effect
When we start doing something new, we often have the tendency to go completely overboard in the beginning. The classic example of this is someone who’s trying to lose weight.
These people start by trying to exercise for an hour every day, and cutting their calories to a thousand per day.
Unsurprisingly, they’re setting themselves up for failure. Few people can handle such an extreme regimen. As a result, it doesn’t take long for them to quit and start gorging themselves again.
That’s why it’s very common for dieters to end up fatter.
The lesson to be learned is this: if you want to succeed, start small, and create small wins for yourself.
Go run for ten minutes instead of trying to run a marathon from the get-go.
Practice your guitar for 15 minutes per day instead of 2 hours.
Write 500 words a day instead of 5000.
Build those ‘small wins’ to build morale, then use that morale to do bigger things. Create a little snowball, let it run down the mountain, and see how it turns into a massive avalanche.
- Use FocusMe
Our app, FocusMe, is specifically designed to cut out the non-Essential from your life. When you want to check your non-essential e-mail every half hour, it prevents you from doing so.
When you want to play the non-essential World of Warcraft for five hours a day, FocusMe says ‘not today, buddy’.
Whenever you want to check your Facebook feed for some more absolutely non-essential click-bait articles, only FocusMe stands between you and complete ruin….
Putting it all together…
Being an Essentialist is hard. You have to choose between many different paths, you have to say no and risk making yourself unpopular, and most of all, you have to use a lot of conscious effort to stay true to the path. Even though Essentialism basically means doing less, you can’t expect to become an Essentialist if you’re lazy.
A lazy person won’t take the effort and journal to be able to connect the dots and find out what’s Essential. A lazy person will not do the effort of calculating the opportunity costs that come with saying yes. A lazy person will not work on creating habits through intent.
And that’s why a lazy person will never really be free. He’ll constantly have to worry about getting things done on time, and he’ll never be able to accomplish his goals with ease.
If you’d like to learn more about Essentialism, and more awesome Essentialist strategies, I suggest you check out Greg McKeown’s book ‘Essentialism – The Disciplined Pursuit of Less’ on Amazon.
Until next time,