‘Essentialism’ is the title of a book that was brought to my attention by a friend.
It’s been out for a few years now, I understand and is about ‘the disciplined pursuit of less’.
According to author Greg McKeown, most of us have at some point felt overworked, stretched too thin, busy yet not productive, or just spinning around as if on a hamster wheel.
Perhaps you recognise one or two of those descriptions.
I haven’t read the book but, from what I’m told, it asks questions about what is essential to us and provides a framework of systematic discipline for creating more time for the ‘essential’ things in our life and work.
If you could only do one thing with your life right now, what would you do? What is essential?
What are your values? Do you have a mission and what does it mean? What can you ‘go big’ on?
I was intrigued by the book title because the word ‘Essential’ plays a big part in the online Microsoft Office training courses and programs I offer.
The Hub is a box set that covers the essential tasks a VA or other assistant may be asked to do. My new program, Essential Office for the Savvy Assistant, is very fresh and includes updates on how to work with Windows 11.
Some training out there tries to cover ‘everything’ Microsoft can do when the practical reality is that the smart PA, EA or VA only needs to know some of it. It often leads to waffle or padding, something you’ll never find in my videos.
I’m a big fan of sharing and practising only what’s essential. I’m also open to seeking expert help when the need arises. I see that not as being weak but being smart. Let’s say savvy.
It’s why I asked the friend who mentioned the book to share some of their notes – so I could share them with you here.
Here’s what I discovered for you about ‘Essentialism’ and how it could play a part in the life and work of a PA, EA or VA.
This has two aspects. One is about the idea of creating space to escape and explore life. The other is about the practicalities – blocking out time and finding more time to do this ‘bigger picture’ thinking.
Can you set aside an hour a day for not doing stuff and instead think about what’s important – or give your mind and body space to rest and play? Could it be an hour a week, an hour a month or perhaps 5 minutes each morning?
Look and Listen
With any situation, look for the point, the ‘story’, the essence. What’s being said? What’s not being said? What questions spring to mind?
Whether you work with bosses or clients, understanding what’s most important with a task, project or decision can help you to serve them better.
In your own work and life, journalling can be a way to see what messages or patterns emerge. Instead of feeling you need to write reams, think along the lines of ‘less is more’.
Rest and Play
Children are wonderful, aren’t they? They just live in the moment and love to play. Greg McKeown says adults should not forget the beauty and value of play. Quite the opposite – actively bring it into your week.
He also encourages people to build deep sleep into their schedules. A good 8 hours a night is what he recommends for the budding ‘Essentialist’.
Be Very Selective
Essentialism is about putting a focus on the most valuable activity. That is about tapping into your talent, passions and intuitive sense of why you do what you do.
It also requires the ability to be ruthless with your time. A bit like the clutter in your wardrobe, some activity needs to be thrown out of your schedule.
What will you say ‘No’ to? What are you prepared to give up, to serve your higher purpose?
Clarity of Purpose
To help know whether to say Yes or No to things, get clear on your purpose and goals. If something is not in alignment with those, chances are you can delay or ditch it.
You might also ask yourself questions like “How will we know when we’re done (with a task/project)?” or “How will we know when we have succeeded?”
The Graceful Art of Saying No
Saying Yes to ‘Essentialism’ means saying no to some things. The key is to separate the decision from the relationship with the person asking.
There are ways to say No which ensure both parties feel respected. For example, you could use a ‘soft’ No like “Not now but I would love to catch up later”. You might say “Let me check my calendar and get back to you” and this gives you time to weigh things up.
Uncommit and Edit
If you’re already involved in something, you may wish to consider whether continuing to be involved is a good idea. Is it something you need to do or could it be dropped – to free time for more ‘essential’ work?
Uncommitting to projects, tasks or events may not be easy but may prove a valuable decision.
Essentialists are also prepared to edit. Not just words for clarity but also their time. Set your boundaries. Be clear about your working time and the type of work you want to do. What are your dealbreakers?
Empower yourself to live and work the way that uplifts and energises you.
Have you read ‘Essentialism’? What did you think of the book? And have you implemented any of the suggestions in it?
Do let me know in the comments below.