Contrary to popular belief, being successful in business isn’t about doing more in less time. It’s actually about choosing essentialism: the pursuit of doing only the most important things, in the right way and at the right time.
Yet, every day, organizations trap themselves in the hustle of working on too many projects and initiatives at once, thus sabotaging their ability to get the most important work done. As a result, team members hit their personal limits and become overwhelmed, frustrated, and even burned out.
As we stare down the reality of quiet quitting, mass resignations, and general workforce disillusionment, it’s more important than ever to make a holistic shift in how we see productivity. By adopting an essentialist mindset, we can help teams prioritize more critical tasks and focus on outputs that truly matter.
What is essentialism?
CEO, business leader, and author Greg McKeown coined the term “essentialism theory” in his New York Times bestselling book, Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less.
In his book, Mckeown explains that the “Paradox of Success” can lead us to feel overwhelmed by the sheer amount of options we have. At its core, essentialism theory is about identifying the most important tasks that will produce the greatest impact, then focusing intensely on those activities to ensure consistent, predictable progress.
Mckeown emphasizes that essentialism does not mean sacrificing progress, but rather making wise decisions about what to focus on and how to prioritize. This leads us to do fewer things, but better.
Adopting essentialism necessitates the acknowledgment of three primary facts:
- “I choose to”
- “Only a handful of things are truly vital,” and
- “I can do anything but not everything.”
These core truths, says Mckeown, will help us recognize what is important in our lives and allow us to make meaningful choices that bring true significance.
Essentialism for business
According to Mckeown, businesses have prioritized quantity over quality for too long. This can be seen in everything from long hours and multitasking, to company-wide efforts that spread resources too thin.
Previously, this mindset was seen as productive, intelligent, and even necessary. Why not get as much done as possible? However, this existence of “more” actually leads to less, as our workforces grow tired, our focus wanes, and our quality of work begins to suffer.
When we instead put essentialism into practice, we begin to unlock our focus on more impactful projects that will drive growth and development for our organization. For example, asking questions such as: “Which problem do we actually want to solve?” and, “Does this opportunity align with our organization’s ultimate goals and objectives?”.
This way, you’re not just saying “yes” to the first thing that comes your way; instead, you can identify the top 10% of opportunities and say ‘no’ to everything else.
By practicing essentialism, organizations can streamline their project management processes, eliminate manual workflows, create clear communication channels, and execute more consistently. This leads to less wasted effort, improved performance, and greater organizational clarity.
Essentialism for life
It’s important to note that essentialism isn’t just a productivity technique—it’s an approach that can be applied to all areas of life, from work and relationships to leisure and recreation. The essentialist mindset encourages us to ask hard questions such as: What activities are necessary to my success and well-being? How can I focus on the most important few—and let go of the rest?
For example, one of Mckeown’s key principles is recognizing the reality of trade-offs. Work, home, family, friends—trying to do it all can be overwhelming and often leads to burnout. Instead, essentialism encourages us to ask ourselves which priority or problem, if solved, will have the greatest impact on our lives.
If work is overwhelming you, perhaps the most impactful thing to do is to take a break and spend quality time with those you love. If your home life is chaotic, you may choose to focus your energy on one area and make a measured plan to improve it.
Mindfulness practices such as meditation and journaling can also bolster this learning. Meditation can help us bring clarity to clouded thoughts and feelings. Journaling works to structure our thoughts and emotions, allowing us to better prioritize what is most important in a given moment.
Adopting the essentialist mindset
While it’s easy to get stuck on the to-do list treadmill, essentialism challenges us to assess whether the task at hand is vital to our long-term goals and objectives. This shift in mindset allows us to take back control over our decisions, instead of giving others implicit permission to choose for us.
Here are a few easy ways you can adopt an essentialist mindset:
- Deliberately explore a broad range of options first: Don’t limit yourself to a single route or idea. Take the time to thoroughly explore different possibilities and narrow down your choices until you find the best, most impactful option.
- Create systems that remove barriers: Instead of forcing execution, invest in creating systems that make it easier for your team to do the work. Automation, process simplification, and delegating tasks can remove barriers and simplify workflows.
- Collaborate, discuss, debate, and decide: Work with your team to create a shared vision of success. Collaborate and communicate clearly when defining the goals you want to achieve. Discuss options, debate pros and cons, and decide on the best approach.
- Resist the pressure to say yes: When presented with a new task or opportunity, take the time to evaluate if it lines up with your long-term objectives before committing. If not, don’t be afraid to say no, and encourage your team to do the same.
Interested in Learning More?
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