What is Essential?

Written by Melissa Kessler, MA, PCC

We have been forced to live very differently for the past four weeks. For many this has meant slowing down, spending more quality time with family, and doing without non-essentials. Maybe this forced pause is what we needed at this point in time where so many people find themselves stretched too thin and constantly in motion without real satisfaction or results. I think the book Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown said it best, “What if society encouraged us to reject what has been accurately described as doing things we detest, to buy things we don’t need, with money we don’t have, to impress people we don’t like.”

The book Essentialism talks about how we have bought into the myth that we can have it all and do it all. We really can’t. We can do anything, but not everything. Time is a finite resource, and we can only do so much in the 24 hours available to us each day. We must make trade-offs. We can either do this intentionally based upon what is most meaningful and important to us, or we can allow others’ agendas to control our lives. To do this effectively, the book provides a three-step process to determine what we should take on and pursue and what we should let go of.

  1. Explore and Evaluate – Ask yourself, “Will this activity or effort make the highest possible contribution towards my goal.” (You must first be clear on your personal and professional goals to answer this question.) What are the key few that really matter? Most do not if you really take the time to evaluate them.
  2. Eliminate – After you identify which activities and efforts make the highest contribution, you must actively eliminate those that don’t. Instead of asking yourself what you will take on, ask yourself what you will say “no” to. Whenever you fail to say “no” to something that is non-essential, you say “yes” by default. This robs you of your ability to focus on what is really essential.
  3. Execute – Have a system that makes executing your intentions as effortless as possible. You can do this by preparing for anything that can go wrong and having a contingency plan, and by adding 50% to your time estimate of how long something should take.

The book Essentialism provides specific details on implementing each of these three steps. My hope is that we take this opportunity to identify what is really essential and what we can really do without. And then live our lives more intentionally on-purpose going forward rather than regressing to being on auto-pilot once things return to normal. Regardless of what is happening around us, we always have the ability to choose our attitude, our beliefs, our feelings and our actions.

“The wisdom of life consists in the elimination of non-essentials.” – Lin Yutang

“If it isn’t a clear yes, then it’s a clear no.” – Greg McKeown, Essential: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less

“Half of the troubles of this life can be traced to saying yes too quickly and not saying no soon enough.” – Josh Billings

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