This entry has been inspired by Greg McKeown’s book called ‘Essentialism – The Disciplined Pursuit of Less’.
Links to places, where you can buy it, are located directly on Greg’s website – Greg McKeown – official website


Less, but better – it is, in short, the doctrine known as essentialism. These days, we have fallen victim to the vicious circle of doing as many things as possible and participating in as many activities as possible. But is this attitude useful in our lives?

In reality, the currency that counts is not the dollar. Neither it is the euro, nor the pound. The most important currency we use in our life is our time. It is time that we spend on ‘buying’ certain things, by devoting it to them. It is time that allows us to buy activities, do additional training, courses, etc. It is time that we spend on watching TV, playing computer games, going out to a pub with friends. It may seem to us that we don’t pay for certain things at all, but it is a fallacy. We do pay, with the most valuable currency there is – we pay with our time.

To cap it all – we have tendencies to make very bad purchases. It is caused by a number of factors – too many things to choose from, the social pressure and the illusion that we can have it all. This factor, in particular, has been growing increasingly in the last few years. After all, we are fed by this illusion in commercials, on the Internet, at corporations and by social expectations (e.g. a large number of extracurricular classes and additional activities after school). And despite the fact that our daily schedules are already overloaded, as soon as we have some free time, we begin to wonder – will I be able to squeeze in this one more thing?… The answer is – you will, but you shouldn’t.

Even one of the richest Poles, the owner of Comarch, prof. Janusz Filipiak, properly diagnoses this problem:

The older I become, the more I try to use every second of my life. Apart from health, time is the most valuable resource we have. The majority of other resources, money and material goods can be multiplied. Time flies irreversibly, linearly and it cannot be retrieved. I prefer to give people money than my free time. As far as allocating our free time to different people and matters is concerned, we should remain selfish.

The Latin word for ‘priority’ has entered English language in the 14th century. It meant the prior, most important, first thing. And until the end of 19th century this word remained singular. It was only at the beginning of the 20th century that people began speaking of ‘priorities’ – we thought that by changing the wording we could stretch the reality. As if we could have a few ‘first things’. It creates an impression that many things can be of paramount importance to us, yet in practice, it results in lack of clarity and focus. As far as the focus as such is concerned – many people believe that focusing means saying ‘yes’ to the thing we want to concentrate on. I, for one, believe that focusing consists of saying ‘no’ to a hundred of other things, which could take your time and attention at the same time.
To be an essentialist means to replace the following expressions:

  • I must
  • All things matter
  • I can do this and that

with:

  • I choose
  • Only some things matter
  • I am able to do anything I can think of, but not all

The word ‘opportunity’ explains the idea very well. It means a chance. Paradoxically, the problem is that we believe that we should grab every opportunity that occurs in our life… This has been identified by the Pareto principle, namely that 20% of our efforts is responsible for 80% of the effects. The remaining 80% of our efforts translates only to 20% of the effects. We thus obtain 16x bigger gain. Every activity from the first group set gives us 16 times more effects than activities from the second set. Thus, the moment an opportunity appears on the horizon we must identify whether it belongs to the first set. If not – we should not take it. We will pay with time which we will use for this opportunity. And we won’t have it when we actually need it. But how can we identify that?

Let’s start from an escape. An escape from being always available on the phone, social networks, checking e-mails every minute, going to all meetings, checking our to-do lists… an escape to free time, time devoted to thinking. Since if we are too busy to think, because we only switch from one task to another, without even thinking whether or not we should actually do them, that means we are too busy. Period. We need a space for reflection, to separate what is trivial and what is really important.

Disciplined Pursuit of Less instead of Undisciplined Pursuit of More. If the answer to what is in front of us isn’t Definitely yes, that means it should be Definitely no – and this is probably the most important thought that should guide an essentialist. If we’re thinking ‘alright, it seems fine by me, I can take part in it, it sounds good, why not?’ – it means that contrary to what seems right, we should not take part in it, as this is the very definition of Undisciplined Pursuit of More. If we want to know What Is Important – what is important to us, we must apply much more restrictive criteria.

The first of them is the 90% principle – if you are evaluating a potential choice or decision that you are about to make and you’re wondering whether to replace your most precious currency, i.e. time, for what this decision or choice brings, try to assess it by giving it points from 0 to 100. If your evaluation is less than 90 points, you should automatically change it to 0, reject this option and move on. In this way you will avoid being stuck before a heap of choices, which range from 65 to 75 points. They seem good, offer a lot, but please, answer the following question – do you want to live your life at 65% of what is possible?

The second should be a diagram/checklist. Write down on a piece of paper what opportunity was offered to you. Write down 3 ‘minimum’ criteria – such that must be met for this option to be worth considering. Next write down 3 ‘maximum’ criteria – conditions that must be met for this option to be considered as the best of possible solution at this time. The elimination process is as follows: by definition if the opportunity does not pass all of the three ‘minimum’ criteria – it should be rejected. However, it should also be rejected if it meets fewer than 2 ‘maximum’ criteria.

I’m not saying that making decisions is an easy process. In fact, it is very difficult. The reason for that usually lies in the social pressure – friendship, work relations, relationships with neighbours. However, if we don’t apply extreme criteria and identify things, which are the most important to us, somebody else will make choices on our behalf. And we will be left with no other choice but to adjust to them, instead of actively creating the reality around us, we will be mere reactionaries. People are effective, because they say ‘no’, they say ‘this thing is not for me’ and finally, they as ‘I’ve decided to devote my time to something else’. If you have defined your agenda for today, what is important to you and out of the blue:

  • your friend you haven’t seen for a long time invites you to a dinner
  • your boss asks you to engage in an additional project
  • your neighbour needs your help

then why would you let their agenda to, all of a sudden, become yours? Why would things that are important to somebody else replace things that are important to you?
This could also be illustrated by a thinking experiment. If you were offered a certain opportunity and you cannot decide whether to take it or not, if you are afraid that by passing it up, you will lose something, assume that you don’t have it (the opportunity) at all. Think how much you would be ready to pay and sacrifice to get this opportunity?
If you are wondering whether to accept an invitation to a dinner, assume that you have never been invited. Think for a while, how much you would be ready to sacrifice to receive that invitation?
If you are wondering whether to get involved in another project, assume that you have not been offered that at all. Think for a while, how much you would be ready to sacrifice in order to enter this project?
If your answer on the scale 0-100 (0 – nothing, 100 – everything) is anything below 90 points, you should automatically turn this option down.

Today’s world glorifies the state of being busy. If you are not doing 100 thousand things at the same time, that means you’re not doing enough and you are considered a lazy person. Nowadays, people ask themselves the question – ‘is this a good opportunity?’ – and if it is, they try to seize it. Essentialists ask themselves such 3 other questions:

  1. What inspires me and motivates me to work?
  2. What is it that am I much better than others at?
  3. Does it meet any serious need?

And only answers to these 3 questions combined together can give us a list of things and activities we should devote our time to. Naturally – this list will not be as long as the answer to the question ‘what would be good for me?’ – but that is the actual aim of this exercise. In order not to end up with tens of pages to view with a variety of answers, but to have only one with a few items on it. And it is to them that we should only allocate our time, as they will bring us the highest return on investment, they, in accordance with the Pareto principle, will be responsible for the biggest majority of our effects.