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Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less

Last week’s blog post discussed how I need to clone myself. A more realistic solution though would be to refine what I focus on and how I choose to spend my time each day. Whether it’s work, family, or play, it is possible to fit everything in, but I have to be willing to say “no” to some things. That’s the subject of a new book I’m reading Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less.

In the first chapter, author Greg McKeown defines “Essentialism.” He says, “Essentialism is not about how to get more things done; it’s about how to get the right things done. It doesn’t mean just doing less for the sake of less either. It is about making the wisest possible investment of your time and energy in order to operate at our highest point of contribution by doing only what is essential.”

This book has really made me think about how I choose to spend my days. McKeown says, “Only when you give yourself permission to stop trying to do it all, to stop saying yes to everyone, can you make your highest contribution towards the things that really matter. When we don’t purposefully and deliberately choose where to focus our energies and time, other people – our bosses, our colleagues, our clients, and even our families – will choose for us, and before long we’ll have lost sight of everything that is meaningful and important.”

The problem is that sometimes it’s hard to tell someone “no.” Instead of asking, “What do I have to give up in order to make this happen?” maybe you should ask yourself, “What do I want to go big on? What do I want to excel at or what am I truly passionate about?” If you were to give up some of the less important things in your daily routine or in your life, what would it allow you more time to focus on?

Now, let’s take this a step further. Take out a piece of paper and write down what’s important to you. Seriously, what do you want to achieve and what’s getting in the way of that? I want you to write this out as detailed as possible. It’s important that you get to the emotion of why these things are important to you. Now, the next step is learning how to say no to the other things in your life that are not as important.

Learning how to say “no” is more than just using the words. Sometimes it’s saying no to an activity that you might actually enjoy.

Years ago as I was building my real estate business, I became so busy with work, that our grass was not getting cut regularly at the house. I’d roll out of the driveway in the morning, see that the grass was getting too high, and think to myself, “I really need to get home and mow the lawn tonight, but it’s probably not going to happen today.” Honestly, I did like getting the lawnmower out of the garage, smelling that fresh-cut grass, and seeing a perfect lawn; but at this point in my career I just did not have the time, so one day I decided to hire a guy to do it for me. My time working with clients had become much more valuable and profitable than my time spent mowing my lawn. I had to say “no” to cutting the grass so that I could say “yes” to working with more real estate clients.

The really hard part is learning how to say no without being rude. You may be asking yourself, “How do I graciously say no to someone?” Let me give you a few suggestions that I’ve learned in my life.

1.)  “To be honest, I’m not sure. With my current schedule, I’m afraid I might not be able to give it my full attention right now and I wouldn’t want to disappoint you.”

2.) “I’m honored that you would think of me for this, but it’s just not something I’m interested in. I’m sorry I can’t help you. I know you’ll find another person that’s a better fit for this.”

3.) “I’m on a deadline, and I can’t take anything more on until it’s finished. Can I follow up with you in two weeks?”

4.)  My right-hand person at work, Elizabeth Gilbert has learned how to respond to my many requests so that she doesn’t get overloaded. When I walk into her office and ask her to do something, she will sometimes say, “I have too many things on my agenda right now, is this a priority and where does it fit into the rest of my tasks?” Too often, what I wanted from her is not a priority and I’ll either find someone else to do it, figure it out myself, or tell her it can wait until tomorrow. I appreciate her directness and I’m not offended by it at all. The last thing I want to do is frustrate her.

McKeown says a “non-essentialist” thinks “I have to”, “it’s all important” and “how can I fit it all in?” Embracing the essence of Essentialism requires we replace these false assumptions with three core truths: “I choose to,” “Only a few things really matter,” and “I can do anything, but not everything.” Instead of focusing on the efforts and resources we need to add, the Essentialist focuses on the constraints or obstacles we need to remove.

Whatever decision or challenge or crossroads you face in your life, simply ask yourself, “What is essential?” Eliminate everything else.

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