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. 

Create Space 

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. 

The session was well structured and the explanation was very clear. It was amazing how Shelley managed to squeeze so much info in just one hour and a half! Colin’s support and contributions were also very valuable, and so were “Virtual Veronica”‘s. Thank you for a most interesting and useful training session at the Miss Jones Virtual Summit!

Laura Carizzo- Royal Norwegian Embassy in Argentina

I haven’t used PowerPoint in 20 years, this has really boosted my confidence.

Lyn Parker

Course is packed with so much valuable information in a easy-to-understand and follow language, even for a complete beginner. I can respect the fact that sometimes it’s very hard for an expert to break the information down to basics. but Shelley has done it brilliantly. I was sure that I knew quite a bit but Shelley has proven me wrong even at the very beginning of the basics of PowerPoint. Lessons are short and precise which allowed me to easily transfer the new skill into practice without being overwhelmed and to carry on adding on more with each lesson. I had so many ‘Aha!’ moments and for most of them I couldn’t believe I used to pay graphic designer to do it for me, now, thanks to Shelley, I am looking forward to creating, designing, converting my presentations all by myself!

Iva Freeman – Vertex Human Capital

Shelley was very thorough and knew a lot of tip’s for using Teams, thank you 🙂

James O’Connor – Cavannah Homes

Very informative, constantly getting everyone in the meeting involved, loved every bit of it!

Dylan Teal Hopkins – Cavannah Homes
Fantastic and informative training and great to see all of the exciting functions with Microsoft Teams.
Laura Rigby – The Apprenticeship College
Shelley was really clear in her teaching and went at a pace that was helpful to us. We covered all we needed to know to get us started, as a small team, using MS Teams. She was also very helpful in the run up to the session, with check in calls and ensuring our platform was set up correctly. I would highly recommend Shelley to anyone wanting to learn to navigate their way around MS Teams.
Leigh Dowling – Innuous

Microsoft Teams One to One Training Session

Shelley was approachable, easy to work with, and agile with answering questions to apply the session to my specific needs

Melissa Marshall – Present Your Science

A course on Outlook had been on the top of my list when Shelley asked VA’s what they wanted to learn.

It was a real case of ‘so that’s how you do it’ or ‘I never knew that’. I have to say that I learnt so many great tips it has definitely improved the way I work in Outlook and my inbox is looking colourful and organised and I can’t wait to share this knowledge with my clients.

Jacqueline Leake – JLeake VA Services – Outlook

A great course with lots of examples and step by step instructions. I can now confidently create infographics and as a bonus, I learnt a lot of new PowerPoint functionality that will enhance all my PowerPoint work and save me so much time.

Jessica Bailey – Integral Resource

I really like Shelley’s courses. She has a clear and easy to follow teaching style. In ‘How to Create Fillable Forms’ I’ve learned about the functions of the Developer ribbon which will mean I’ll be able to create a bespoke Returns Form for a client who has an online shop

Freya Henderson – Virtual Office Orkney

Shelley was really clear in her teaching and went at a pace that was helpful to us. We covered all we needed to know to get us started, as a small team, using MS Teams. She was also very helpful in the run up to the session, with check in calls and ensuring our platform was set up correctly. I would highly recommend Shelley to anyone wanting to learn to navigate their way around MS Teams.

Sarah Clements – Inuous

Absolutely superb course, easy to follow and to refer back whilst putting it all into practice! I was unaware of the extent you can customise a presentation and it’s just made me want to know more – what’s next Shelley?

Denise Williams

I thought I had a pretty good grasp of Outlook until I did this course! In her videos, Shelley is clear and concise, and the language she uses is straightforward and jargon-free. Each module is broken down into manageable chunks, which helps keep your attention and means the course is easy to fit in around other commitments. I’ve created email templates and implemented rules that are already saving me time, and as all the other things I’ve learnt start to become second nature, the positive impact on my efficiency is fast becoming clear. This course has been incredibly beneficial and I would highly recommend it to anyone looking to strengthen their skills and boost productivity.

Pip Doleman VA

I thought I knew Powerpoint really well, but I wanted to specifically learn how to use Powerpoint to create better infographics, easily and quickly. Shelley explains everything in a very logical and clear way, so I understood everything the first time I heard it. The most useful thing I learnt was that Powerpoint can do so much more than I thought it could. By also using the short cuts that Shelley showed me I am much quicker than I have ever been and I thought I was already quick!

Susan Marot

Shelley Fishel of Tomorrow’s VA has a wealth of experience in Microsoft Office. I met her in person 2 years ago at the PA Show in London. I also saw her in action in a fab workshop and knew she was the whizz that everyone had told me she was. I have since bought a lifetime access to her HUB and all the courses in there are a MUST if you are a VA on a mission. The courses will give you confidence in all the Office 365 components and will catapult you to dizzy heights

Alex Hughes