How to Do Less to Get More

Do you ever feel like you don’t have enough time in the day to get things done? You feel busy yet unproductive?


If this even sounds remotely like you it will be well worth your time to read my interview with Greg McKeown, the best selling author of Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less. McKeown is the CEO of THIS Inc, a company whose mission is to assist people and companies to spend 80 percent of their time on the vital few rather than the trivial many. Clients include Adobe, Apple, Google, Facebook, Pixar,, Symantec, Twitter, VMware and Yahoo!


Q: Why is it important to pursue less in today’s world?


A: We aren’t in a neutral culture. What is the culture that we are in? It’s easier to ask that than to answer it because we’re so normalized to how it is right now. For a lot of people, what is normal is that they’re busy but not productive. They are being hijacked by somebody else’s agenda, often by an email, they say yes to please and to avoid trouble.


This is what I would call the undisciplined pursuit of more, or to use another term non-essentialism. Non-essentialism is the enemy of our story. It isn’t people, it isn’t an organization or an institution. It’s an idea that happens to be a lie. Non-essentialism is really saying if you can fit it all in to your schedule and into your life, then you can have it all.


The reality is so different when you try to do it all, when you try to fit it all in. You don’t reap all the things you want, but what you reap is exhaustion and stress. It’s not productive. It doesn’t deliver on its promise.


The antidote to the problem is the disciplined pursuit of less but better. There’s no point in talking about the antidote until you understand the disease. The book I wrote Essentialism, a Disciplined Pursuit of Less has this relevancy in the environment we are in now because at first it’s just a survival strategy, and at second it’s actually a strategy for a sustained success.


Q: What would a person’s life look like if they pursued essentialism and the disciplined pursuit of less?


A: Essentialism isn’t the content program, meaning it’s not me saying to people this is what your life should look like. The key is this - I didn’t write a book called Knowism. I wrote a book called Essentialism. I’m not saying, you’ve just got to cut lots out of your life, the end. It’s what is essential to a person and that could be different to different people.


It’s about a life full of purpose. What is my highest point of contribution? What is the very best way I could make a difference for the longest period of time? That gets to the essence of essentialism instead of feeling like I just have to do whatever everyone else is doing. It’s a different path.


A non-essentialist will say yes to people, to almost anything without really thinking about it. Like I said before, you get an email and you’re already saying yes. Whereas an essentialist is saying no to everything other than what is essential. A non-essentialist tries to force execution at the last moment. It’s all about making it happen, pulling the all-nighter, whereas an essentialist removes obstacles and creates systems to make execution as easy and effortless as possible.


Their whole orientation towards life is very different. To become an essentialist in today’s cultural environment is very counter-cultural. You will tend to say yes when other people say no and no when other people are saying yes. It is the path less travelled the path of less is the path less travelled. You’re not making more trade-offs than a non-essentialist. You’re just making different tradeoffs.


Q: How would you advise someone to find their purpose?


A: I think that the big distinction you have to begin with is, do you think of finding purpose, finding what’s essential as one more thing one ought to do or do you see it as the very work of your life?


I think there are only two kinds of people in the world. The first is people who are lost and the second group of people who know they are lost. It’s being that second category that all the magic starts to happen.


For example pre GPS as soon as you admit you’re lost, you know what to do, go ask for directions. I think the same is for life. Ask yourself - what am I supposed to do today, what’s important, what would be my highest contribution?


The answers will come. Clarity will come, but we’ve got to keep coming at it, not thinking about it occasionally as an extra thing. I recommend a simple practice every night of summarizing the items of progress from the day and things you are thankful for.


Then make a list of the six things you think are really important, essential for the next day. Put them in priority order and then cross off the bottom five. That becomes a priority until you finish that and then you move onto the next item on the list and that becomes a priority.


Kirsi Bhasin helps overachieving, busy professionals overcome exhaustion and burnout and be happier and healthier.  She is the creator of The Burnout Test


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