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A Nod to the Discipline of Essentialism

Updated: Aug 24, 2020

As I’m sitting down with a cup of coffee this morning, I find myself pondering one of my favorite books, Essentialism, by Greg McKeown. Essentialism is defined by Mr. McKeown as “a systematic discipline for discerning what is absolutely essential, then eliminating everything else that is not, so we can make the highest possible contribution toward the things that really matter.”

I call it seeing through the noise.

The discipline of essentialism is more than just prioritizing the innumerable tasks we take on each day. It requires conscious thought and consideration as to which of the tasks on our plate will result in the highest and best use of our time, talent and energy. When the essential is identified, we can see through the noise and apply absolute focus on the project at hand, producing work with higher quality in a more efficient timeframe than we would have been able to otherwise. A great concept, but challenging if you are trying to break bad habits.

There was a time in my life that I prided myself on DOING IT ALL. Striving to be all things at all times for all people, I had my hand in everything. Working full time and busting my tail to impress my boss and rise through the ranks, I was balancing school, three kids and home life. I had drive, I had energy, I had goals.

And then I had doubts.

Could I really continue juggling the demands my life and feeling like I had excelled at them all? Was I sacrificing more than I was gaining? Was I teaching my children about disciplined success or blind ambition? And was it me, or did the damn finish line keep moving!

I finally reached a point that a wiser and more balanced voice took over the sportscaster calling play-by-plays in my head, and with the realization that something had to give or else I would crater, work-smarter-not-harder became my mantra. That, in my case, was the first step towards becoming an essentialist.

But what about the endless list of tasks, projects, goals and chores? It ALL was important! And lord help me if I forgot to write something down! Ticking everything off the list was indicator of organization and discipline – right? It may have started that way, but at some point for me, it had taken a turn where the only priority became clearing the list with little thought as to the importance of what was actually on the list. I finally realized that I was hyper-focused in some areas, completely oblivious in others.

So, I stopped writing lists for a while. Truth be told, they had become so lengthy, that it was both a burden and a disappointment to carry over all the unfinished tasks from day to day. Instead, I forced myself to start thinking about my ultimate goals for my family, my career-turned-business, and me personally, and what it would take to accomplish them. Finally defining boundaries between work, personal and family space (another intuitive yet largely ignored practice) I then began keeping my list again, but this time with much more discipline.

The only things that make the list are those that support a business/family/personal priority. If something doesn’t make the list, it’s just not important enough to focus on today. While still a work in progress, I have found that giving 100% of my energy and effort to tasks and projects that support the SINGULAR PRIORITY in each dimension of my life has proven to be vastly productive, satisfying and successful. Curiously, all the other things that didn’t make the list turned out to be either truly unnecessary or were accomplished without much ado once the important things were done.

So, today I give a nod to a good read, Essentialism, and encourage those running on hamster wheels to try seeing through the noise to bring focus and balanced discipline back into their life.

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