Working Flat-Out With Little to Show For It? You Should Embrace Essentialism

Written by Paul Marchildon, on July 22, 2014.


“Just don’t do it.” Nike would have sold a whole lot fewer shoes if they’d gone with that motto, but for the rest of us, strategically not joining committees, taking on projects, accepting invitations, answering emails, and overextending ourselves personally and professionally may be the key to success and fulfillment. “Essentialism” asks us to question continually whether or not we’re investing in the right activities. And if we’re not – just don’t do it.

The Trivial Many and the Vital Few

“Success is a catalyst for failure.” I have said some brilliant things in my day. Ask anyone, including me. I wish I could take credit for this one, too. Alas, this gem belongs to Greg McKeown, author of Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less.

Success, McKeown explains, “leads to the ‘undisciplined pursuit of more.’” To maintain success, and reach the next level, we have to do more, more, more. There’s always more to do – but there’s never more time. Employers always ask their people to work more. But why not ask them to be more productive? That often occurs when they do less.

Why? If we have finite time and resources, expending them on a thousand different tasks means we make very little progress on any given front. If, instead, we focus on a limited – “vital” – few, then we can gain significant ground and increase our contribution. McKeown writes:

The Essentialist deliberately distinguishes the vital few from the trivial many, eliminates the nonessentials, and then removes obstacles so the essential things have clear, smooth passage.

Managing Time to Achieve Goals

Most of us don’t give our essentials clear, smooth passage. We accept too many meetings; we agree to be involved in too many groups or activities. Sometimes, it’s because we’re hoping it will enhance our careers. Other times, we’re just too good-natured to say “No.” In any case, we have to learn to be more frugal with our time.

Employees Lacking Motivation?

Paul Marchildon, an experienced Leisureologist, can work with you and your team to increase productivity by incorporating a leisure mindset into the workplace.

“Easier said than done, Paul. I’ve got to do this, this, this, and this.” Well, do you, though? It’s imperative – in both our business and personal lives – to establish clear goals and objectives. That way, when an opportunity to become involved in a project or a group comes up, you can ask: “Is this really aligned with what I’m trying to accomplish?”

And guess what? If it isn’t – just don’t do it. It could be something as simple as taking an afternoon off to go to lunch with a former coworker. She’s nice enough, and it’d be good to catch up. But is it worth two or three hours of your time? Maybe, maybe not. You need to assess whether or not that’s going to help you advance your business or personal goals. It might. It might just be fun – and that could be an investment worth making. The point is to make a deliberate choice between what you see as “nonessential” and “essential.”

You Can’t Do It All

But the good news is that you don’t have to do it all. The truth is that if you never say, “No,” you’re going to fail someone, or yourself, at some point. If you truly assess that there’s not enough time during the day to undertake another obligation, then opting out is the best course of action. Both for you, and for whomever you seem to be “letting down.” (They’ll get over it and find someone who can put in 100%).
Essentialism is not about doing less, not really. If it were, lazy people would rule the world. Instead, it’s about filtering out the unnecessary, the noise, and concentrating on what you really need to do in order to accomplish your objectives.

Paul Marchildon

Paul Marchildon

A self-proclaimed Leisureologist and Motivational Speaker, Paul Marchildon applies his vast expertise in human engagement to help leaders create more productive, effective organizations. Building on an influential career as a pioneer in employee incentive and loyalty programs, strategic creative communications, social media and mobile marketing, Paul provides insight into the advantages of incorporating a leisure culture in the "work" place. He is past president of Society of Incentive and Travel Executives’ (Site) Canadian Chapter and founder of Atlantis Creative Group (now part of Maritz Canada). He is one of a select group of Canadians who have received the Certified Incentive Travel Executive (CITE) designation.