Her hair began falling out. The wrinkles on her face deepened. When asked what she did for fun, she forgot. Even a few minutes of thinking back produced no answers. “I’m not sure—I only work. I only stay busy.” It was the answer of a Nonessentialist. The miserable, overstressed, and overworked type of person author of Essentialism, Greg McKeown, says you turn into when you stop believing you have the choice to control your work and life.
The unnamed worker described above could be any one of the 57 percent of people who experience chronic daily stress in the U.S. and Canada. The repercussions of chronic stress include anxiety, depression, heart disease, digestive issues, lack of sleep, memory loss, and productivity issues. With 75–90 percent of all doctor visits being stress-related, it’s an issue more people should want to solve.
Learning how to become an Essentialist is a great place to start.
To begin limiting your stress and creating more freedom in your life, find out more about what essentialism is, key takeaways from Essentialism (the book), and practical ways to start practicing essentialism.
What is Essentialism?
Essentialism is a concept popularized by Greg McKeown’s Essentialism. To put it short, being an Essentialist is like being a minimalist on a mental level. This hyper-focused state of being produces more freedom in a person’s life by identifying top priorities and eliminating outside noise. Assessing and evaluating opportunities with a selective criteria allows a person to tap into their power of choice. As a result, Essentialists feel more control over their lives.
Benefits of Becoming an Essentialist
- Reduces stress, which allows for a healthier mind, body, and spirit.
- Stops people from feeling stretched too thin.
- Maximizes focus on achieving what matters most.
- Gets people into a mindset of seeing the bigger picture instead of dwelling on small details.
- Instigates critical thinking which produces better long-term decisions.
- Increases productivity on goals that move the needle.
- Takes insignificant or low-priority projects off your mind and desk.
- Helps you realize and feel like you have control over your life.
7 Ways to Start Becoming an Essentialist
In his book, McKeown helps people answer the questions “What is essentialism?” and “How can I become one?” Below, get seven ways you can start practicing essentialism now using the advice he gives.
1. Know You Have the Ability to Choose
“When we forget our ability to choose, we learn to be helpless. In turn, we surrender our power to choose. That is the path of the Nonessentialist.”Greg McKeown
Think about all the times you’ve experienced work burnout. When you consider the root of the problem, it usually feels like you’ve lost control over your work life, which can extend into your personal life.
Practicing essentialism is saying, “I know I have a choice, and I’m not going to give it up.”
While this isn’t necessarily an actionable step, it is the mentality that guides the following tips. If you don’t protect your choice to live life on your terms, then putting the rest of the suggestions into play won’t matter.
2. Discover Your Priority
“Discerning what is essential to explore requires us to be disciplined in how we scan and filter all the competing and conflicting facts, options, and opinions constantly vying for our attention.”
Stop asking yourself what your priorit(ies) are and start focusing on what your priority is. As McKeown explains, the word “priority” was singular for hundreds of years, meaning “the very first or prior thing.” He says people began trying to bend reality at the turn of the century, which got them in the predicament of being overworked and overstressed.
Essentialism is about using all your mental energy to focus on the most important thing you need to accomplish. To do this, you must be able to vocalize what exactly your priority is—if you can’t do this, it means you don’t really have one.
3. Set Time Aside to Play
“Mine your past for play memories. What did you do as a child that excited you? How can you recreate that today?”Greg McKeown
One of the core tenets of essentialism is exploration, which is done through play. The key to play is looking at the world through the eyes of a child. For instance, think about the first time you experienced snow. You spent all day sledding and throwing snowballs at your friends, right? You didn’t worry about “acting like an adult.” Lose your self-judgment and tap back into your sense of awe and wonder—it’ll reinvigorate you, help restore expended energy, and birth new creative ideas.
Play also provides opportunities to expand your mindset by seeing things from a new perspective. For example, if you like to play by traveling, you might meet someone from a different culture who has a different take on life. Chance encounters like these expand our worldview and influence our behaviors, beliefs, and habits.
Finally, unplugging and playing also helps a person manage stress. When people engage with their interests and stop to reset, they restore themselves and become more creative and productive.
4. Get Enough Sleep
“Sleep will enhance your ability to explore, make connections, and do less but better throughout your waking hours.”Greg McKeown
Essentialism is about doing less but achieving more of what matters. To do this, a person has to have energy—they can’t be running on empty. For this reason, Essentialists make rest and sleep their priority at night so they can focus on their priority during the day.
Good habits for sleeping well at night include:
- Stopping caffeine intake after 3:00 p.m.
- Having a balanced, healthy diet.
- Eating dinner at least three hours before going to sleep.
- Using blue-light-blocking screen shields or glasses.
- Turning off all screens at least one hour before bed.
- Establishing a nightly bedtime.
- Diffusing relaxing essential oils like lavender, bergamot, or ylang-ylang.
5. Eliminate Trivial Tasks
“Being busy does not always mean real work. The object of work is production or accomplishment and to either of these ends there must be forethought, system, planning, intelligence and honest purpose, as well as perspiration.”Thomas edison
Productivity and busyness are not the same. The goal of essentialism is downsizing what you work on to make real progress on objectives that matter. For example, checking emails, answering calls, exchanging texts, and attending meetings all day keeps a person busy, which prevents them from being productive.
To limit busyness:
- Create habits that prevent interruptions when you’re doing deep work (working solely on one task for several hours at a time). For instance, this might look like not checking emails between 11:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m.
- Focus on your priority. What small goal do you need to accomplish today?
- Establish productive daily routines.
- Plan time in your schedule to escape all distractions so you can design your life. This helps you stay in control of what you do and where you go.
- Give yourself room to do nothing but think and concentrate on what you want to achieve. During this time, contemplate what you’re currently doing versus what you need to be doing to accomplish your goals. Walking through a Stop Start Continue exercise is a great way to help you eliminate the trivial tasks you need to stop doing.
6. Learn How to Say “No”
“No More Yes. It’s Either HELL YEAH! Or No.”Derek Sivers
When it comes to essentialism, you must have the ability to say “no.” You’ve only got 16 waking hours to be productive. Because of this, a person must be strategic about how they want to spend their days. When you say “yes” to everything, you let someone else determine your schedule. Little by little, you begin to lose control over your life.
To say “no”:
- Eliminate any activity that doesn’t support your big-picture goals.
- Strategize and plan for achieving what is essential. Block out any opportunity that gets in the way of your “must do.”
- Don’t let people put you on the spot and commit to something you’re not sure aligns with your goals. Let someone know you’ll get back to them to let them know your decision.
7. Edit Your Life
“Be an editor of your life. Take out the fluff. Make the story better. The important things stand out more.”Josh Axe
The practice of essentialism should be effortless. Intrinsic motivation should fuel the work you do. For instance, say you have a huge objective you want to accomplish, but working on it feels like a drag. When this occurs, it’s time to edit the story you’re writing. Why is this work draining? Are you attempting to fulfill someone else’s definition of success? As referenced above, thinking time is crucial for Essentialists. It gives them the space to rewrite a better draft.
Essentialism Creates a Greater Sense of Freedom
Essentialists celebrate their right to choose—they know they have the power to be in complete control of their lives. They refuse to let someone else dictate their choices. It’s one of the best methods of reclaiming what many tired, overworked, and stressed professionals feel they’ve lost somewhere along the lines. If you feel this way, give essentialism a shot by starting small.
There’s a couple of ways to do this:
- Use the 90 Percent Rule: Rate decisions between 0–100. Anything that falls under 90 should be rejected and discarded. Only pursue the things that rank above 90 percent.
- Work on a Few Small (But Concrete) Wins: Choose a few small tasks you know you can accomplish. When you complete them, celebrate the little victories, as they drive momentum and bring you closer to achieving your most important goals. This also bolsters your desire to achieve your most important objectives because progress keeps people motivated in life.
- Try the “Minimal Viable Progress” Method: When tackling any task, stay focused on what you can do right now to put a dent in achieving your overall objective. Small actions add up over time, resulting in the accomplishment of huge goals.
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