If you follow me here regularly, you know I'm a bit of a junkie for a good productivity read. So when I saw Greg McKeown speak with Michael Hyatt in the recent online productivity summit, I knew I had to get his book - Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less.
First, here's the back cover:
Have you ever felt the urge to declutter your work life?
Do you often find yourself stretched too thin?
Do you simultaneously feel overworked and underutilized?
Are you frequently busy but not productive?
Do you feel like your time is constantly being hijacked by other people’s agendas?
If you answered yes to any of these, the way out is the Way of the Essentialist.
The Way of the Essentialist isn’t about getting more done in less time. It’s about getting only the right things done. It is not a time management strategy, or a productivity technique. It is a systematic 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.
By forcing us to apply a more selective criteria for what is Essential, 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 others the implicit permission to choose for us.
Essentialism is not one more thing – it’s a whole new way of doing everything. A must-read for any leader, manager, or individual who wants to do less, but better, and declutter and organize their own their lives, Essentialism is a movement whose time has come.
This book has a lot of fantastic information and guidelines for how to go about your "disciplined pursuit of less." But I think the way the concept resonated for me was that it's about editing. When I write a book, I look at every word, every scene, every character and ask--is this necessary for the story? Does this add something valuable to the book? Essentialism is doing that with your life and job, with all those tasks and activities and demands that take up our time. But instead of asking, "Does this add to the story?" we're asking, "Does this add to my life?" or "Does it add to what I'm trying to accomplish in my life/job/etc?" It's the idea of doing Less But Better.
Though this book is geared toward the business people of the world, I think it's applicable to more people than that. I'm a writer, which is what I do, but I'm also running my own business of being an author and all the things involved with that--marketing, promotion, working with my publishers, organizing things, going to events, soon indie publishing (which is another stack of tasks). Plus, I'm a mom so have those home duties layered in.
So, often I find myself working, working, working and being constantly busy, but not actually, you know, WRITING. It's been driving me a little bit crazy. That's what originally led me to read Deep Work by Cal Newport (which I talked about more here), and I think these two books pair well together. Pare down your life to the essentials and make room for deep work (or whatever it is that's most important/fulfilling to you.)
But how do you do that? What does that mean? That's what this book answers.
I can't give a full summary because there's too much info and you should read the book, but here are some of my takeaways.
1. Learn the art of "no"
This is a huge one for me. I think women, in general, tend to have more trouble with the no because we're taught to be people pleasers, to be nice. We want to be nice and helpful--and there's nothing wrong with that. But if we say yes to every request, we're actually saying no to something else. We only have a set amount of time and energy in a day. Everything is a trade off. So a yes is always a no as well.
It's important to understand what you're saying no to by throwing out that mindless, "Sure I'll bake 100 cupcakes for the school fair." or "Sure, I'll critique your manuscript." or "Sure, I'll take on that extra project." Because it might be simultaneously saying, "Sure, I'll give up family time on my weekend." or "Sure, I'll miss my kid's soccer game." or "Sure, I won't get my own important work done this week." McKeown makes the point in this book that if you don't choose how to spend your time, someone else will choose for you.
I also like the method of "No, but instead..." I use this a lot. You switch out the request that would take a lot of time for something for something that is less of a time suck but still provides something helpful to the person. "I can't bake the cupcakes, but I can order some from the local bakery." "I can't make it to your Facebook party, but I can donate a prize."
2. Getting over FOMO (Fear of Missing Out)
This goes along with the "saying no" thing. Especially in business, we're afraid of turning down opportunities. But often we make the mistake of seeing every opportunity as having equal weight. They don't. In writer land, this translates for me that if anyone offers an opportunity at promo, I should take it. But if a guest blog post takes me an hour to write (which it generally does) and it's posted on a blog that gets no traffic, I've just taken an hour of time I could've been using to write my books--the thing that is my essential--and used it to maybe get a post in front of a handful of people.
This also applies to social media. We are all trained to be SO afraid that we're going to miss something, so we're connected all the time. We also can justify it because it's often part of our jobs to be connected. But social media and the internet are the greediest of time stealers. And it's fluff for the most part. Fun and social and nice for the occasional break. But when I look back on my life, I'm not going to say, "Wow, I wrote some great tweets and saw some fantastic cat pictures." I'm hopefully going to be able to say, "Wow, I wrote some great books and had an amazing time with family and friends." So I'm not saying social media/the internet doesn't have its place, but we often give it a way bigger place at the table then it deserves. And it will eat all your food if you don't keep it in check.
3. Giving yourself space to think
This, I think, is probably one of the hardest ones because we're so used to being busy and connected. We don't leave room for quiet and boredom anymore. I'm in a creative job. That space is vital to me (which is often why I end up getting ideas in the shower or before I fall asleep at night--because it's the only time I let myself be bored now.) Instead of all those pockets of time we used to have nothing to do--waiting in lines, sitting in the doctor's office, walking somewhere--we have our phones to fill the void. But there are good, ripe things in the void--ideas, solutions to problems, time to breathe and refresh. That's what had made me read Deep Work. I knew my ability to lose myself in thought was waning. Essentialism also speaks to this--making space for focus. Blocking time off in your schedule where you are unapologetically unavailable and not connected. This is probably what I'm taking home the most from the book. I'm ready to cut out a lot of the noise. Because, wow, life is noisy these days.
There are so many more takeaways in the book. I'm only skimming the surface. But between this book and Deep Work, I've changed my outlook on a lot of things and will be making some changes. I'll blog more on what those changes are, but for now, I'd love to hear your thoughts. AM I the only one fighting with these things? What's frustrating you right now with your time?