Essential Versus Important: The Life Changing Power of Less

Have you ever found yourself saying, “The day got away from me?”

You set goals; you have a strategy; you think know what’s most important.  Then, somehow, your day is hijacked by other people’s agendas.

It’s like fish nibbling away at a giant carcass on the floor of the ocean.  One little fish or two won’t make much of a dent in the big body.  But when all the other fish get wind of its availability, they descend in mass and within minutes the carcass is gone.  It’s been devoured into little bits that have been eaten by others and strewn across the ocean floor.

Only in this case the carcass is you.  Your day, your week, your month, and even your life can get away from you if you let it.   When you continually find yourself at the mercy of other’s agendas, it’s often because you’re trying to do everything, rather than discerning what is truly essential.

essentialism book jacketGreg McKeown, author of Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less writes, “Essentialism is more than a time-management strategy or a productivity technique.  It is a systemic 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. “

Essentialism it not about prioritizing what’s important, it is about discerning what is essential.  The nuanced difference in language represents a quantum difference in thinking.

For example, a project meeting might be important.  But if you frame it in the context of Essentialism, it forces you to ask deeper questions:  Is this project actually essential?  Will it make a difference in our organization?  Is it the single most important thing we should be doing? Is it the single most important thing I should be doing?

Discerning what is absolutely essential for your highest contribution requires white space in your day. McKeown says, “No matter how busy you are you can carve time and space to think out of your workday.  Jeff Weiner, the CEO of LinkedIn, for example, schedules up to two hours of blank space on his calendar everyday.  He divides them up into thirty-minute increments, yet he schedules nothing.  It is a simple practice he developed when back-to-back meetings left him with little time to process what was going on around him. “

When I schedule 10 minutes before and after meetings to ask deep questions about why we’re here, and then process what happened, I have fewer meetings, and they’re more effective.

Jeff Weiner at LinkedIn experienced something similar.  “At first it felt like an indulgence, a waste of time,” writes McKeown.  “But eventually he found it to be his single most valuable productivity tool.  He sees it as the primary way he can ensure he is in charge of his own day instead of being at the mercy of it.”

It’s easy to claim, “My boss won’t let me choose my activities,” or “My family makes too many demands.”  But the people around you have a vested interest in your success and happiness.  They don’t know what your best contribution is until you figure it out and tell them.

McKeown says, “The disciplined pursuit of less empowers us to reclaim control of our own choices about where to spend our precious time and energy – instead of giving other the implicit permission to choose for us. “

You only get one life, don’t let yours get nibbled away from you.

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