On Becoming an Essentialist vs. a Nonessentialist

My sister gave me a copy of the book Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg Mckeown for Christmas and I had put on the night table beside my bed.  I had a number of books to finish and so postponed starting it until two weeks ago.

It was a good thing that I began to read it sooner than later. It has helped open my eyes. I like several key messages which are so true. These are some of the ones that resonate.

Yes, I want to be an essentialist! Am I investing myself in the right activities? Which problem or opportunity do I want? That depends on what my immediate, short-term and long-term goals are. I suppose that I was, sometimes still am, guilty of wanting to have it all. With limited resources, time being the most important, I must admit that it makes sense to make hard choices about what to focus on. This starts with discerning my most important goals, and activities follow. Less but better. There’s no point in trying to do to many things and not doing well in the most critical ones. Better to focus on a few that make a difference and where I can make a difference.

Cut out the trivial many. This will be quite a challenge. After taking the HarvardX Course on Unlocking the Immunity to Change: A new Approach to Personal Improvement, one of the the things I realized was that I just had too many activities lined up and it wasn’t easy to decide which were real priotities. Now, also realizing that, let’s face it, the reality is such that there are always trade-offs and that we can’t choose to do everything, I’m able to help myself eliminate more of the activities that matter less.

Now, this one is a gem among gems. Apparently, Peter Drucker had told Jim Collins, author of the business classic Good to Great, that he could either build a great company or build great ideas but not both, and that Collins chose ideas. McKeown continues with the observation that Collins still has only three full-time employees in his company, yet his ideas have reached millions of people through his writing. I started to think, well couldn’t he do both? Hold on, that’s precisely how a nonessentialist thinks: I can do both. Again, there are, and will be, trade offs. So, better to make a choice, avoid spreading oneself too thin, and instead to maximize one’s success and contribution. Less is better. Less is more.

Create space to escape and explore life. Space to read. Space to concentrate. Space to think. This I think I am a little better at, but there is always room for improvement. It’s encouraging to know that some very well known and famous entrepreneurs deliberately carve out such space regulary to help them refresh themselves, discover new ideas, and learn new things. A good tip is to plan and schedule creating space in your calendar and stick to it.

I have a long way to go to being a true essentialist, one who thinks that almost everything is nonessential and being able to distinguish between the vital few from the trivial many. I am nevertheless happy that I’ve become more self aware of my nonessentialist beliefs, assumptions, and actions.  Telling myself that my “big” nonessentialist assumptions are not true (e.g., “Everything is important. I can do everything.”),  I can gain distance from them, test and modify them.  I can be less captive of my big assumptions, overcome my immunity to change in this area, and move a few steps closer to an essentialist “self-authoring mind.”