Optimize Your Life With Essentialism

In a world surrounded by our ability to perform, we often try to accomplish too much. We juggle tasks between all aspects of our lives, where it feels like we’re living on autopilot. The overload of work hinders our productivity. However, you can optimize your life by focusing on what’s truly important. That’s where essentialism comes in. Greg McKeown makes a case in his 2014 book ‘Essentialism: The Disciplined Purpose of Less’, in which he argues that if we want to achieve our full potential, we must embrace the “Essentialist Way” and the systematic approach that less is more.


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The Key Points Of Essentialism


1. Do less, but do it better. It’s the never-ending task of identifying and removing the less critical tasks in your life and doing what’s remaining to a higher standard. 

2. Accept that you shouldn’t accomplish everything. To optimize your life, choose the area that you can excel in. Do you enjoy playing a specific sport? Choose one, and practice it. Although we often see making tiny leaps in different areas of our life as impactful, essentialism is about choosing a direction and making significant strides in what matters most. 

3. Question yourself and update accordingly. The process of finding what’s essential and recognizing anything non-essential is ongoing. A lot of the time, we have non-essential habits built-in that we need to remove. Become conscious of the small decisions you’re making and decide if they’re important. If they’re not, replace those decisions with something that is.

4. Waste no time with changes. By making sure we implement our essential changes right away, we will practice the first three points above. It helps us to become consistent with essentialism and effectively optimize our life. 


How Do You Decide What’s Essential


In a world where we have so much information, there comes the point in time where we’d like our lives to be simplified. There can be a misunderstanding between streamlining our life and cutting something out completely, leaving a void. People believe that living a simple life is boring and uninteresting, but it’s the opposite. I thought that doing many different things would improve my life, but I couldn’t be more wrong. The real goal of simplifying your life is to do what you love and what’s essential- then cut out the distractions that keep you from doing what’s important. So how can you decide what’s essential?

Ask Yourself

Question#1: What is important to me? The answer to each person would be different. I love writing, spending time at the boxing gym and being around family and friends. You might enjoy cooking or playing a musical instrument. When you ask yourself this question, focus on something you can do most days and is realistic. For example, you might like to travel or watch sport, but can you do it every day?

Question#2: What do I currently do? What’s going on in your life, and how is it related to what’s important to you? Examine all your commitments and question their relevance to what you enjoy. Do you currently get value for your time? 

Question 3#: Are the possessions you have essential to you? Do you really need them? There might be possessions you have that are of no use. It’s an excellent opportunity to remove clutter from the house and make it easier to be surrounded by the simpler things you can appreciate and enjoy. Ask yourself, If my house burnt down, what few things would I want to replace?

The same concept can be applied in your professional life. If you’re in the office and become inundated with data and projects, you may feel overworked and overwhelmed. Do you take on too much from your boss because you’re not used to saying ‘no’? Or do you struggle to let go of control and delegate to another worker? Essentialists are great at saying no because there are only a couple of important things on their to-do list at any given time. 


Optimize Your Life By Saying No


At the most basic level, an essentialist allows themselves to stop trying to do it all, where they live guilt free from responding to requests. They are great at managing time and energy on what matters most. Here are some responses you can try when you’d like to say no, but struggle to come up with a response. 

Use a “no, but”. In situations that arise, you may not be able to take on more than you can handle right now. You can respond by saying, “no, but I can do this for you after I finish XYZ”.

“Let me check my calendar and get back to you”. I’m sure you have used this one before. It’s a classic example of saying no to attending a social event that you may not want to attend. It allows you not to respond right away and allows a future response of “Sorry, I’m not available”.

Suggest somebody else do it. Rather than reject a request to undertake more unimportant work, it can be much easier to say, “I can’t do it, but X may be able to?” You come off as being helpful without doing the task yourself. 

“You’re welcome to X; I am willing to Y” response. If you’re willing to supply the meat, I’m eager to have a gathering at my house. It lets everybody know that you’re willing to host a party but not willing to cater for it all. 


Forward Planning For Essentialism


Design a routine around what’s essential to you. It will help execute what’s important. It will require initial conscious energy to create the routine, but it will free up mental space to focus on something new once you start. Focus on these three things when building an essential routine:

Cue: A trigger that tells your brain to perform essential behaviour. For example, if you want to wake up and exercise earlier, prepare your clothes the evening before. When you wake up in the morning, they will be ready and waiting for you. The cue reminds you of the routine.

Routine: Write down your routine as a formula. For example, before I go to bed, I will ______ to ______ in the morning so that I can achieve _______.

Reward: What motivates you? Give yourself a reward that helps your brain figure out the habit is worth it in the future. For example, after you finish exercising in the morning, you may enjoy a morning coffee with a friend. Use that as a reward after exercising. 

Essentialism is about challenging the assumption of ‘I have to do everything’ and replacing it with pursuing what you love the right way, at the right time. By applying a selective focus on what’s essential, you can regain and control your energy, time and effort, where you can optimize your life.