A new post on the Harvard Business Review blog site by Greg McKeown, entitled Why We Humblebrag About Being Busy, points out something that is endemic to most Americans and occurs at a high level among attorneys: we’re not only extremely busy, but we’re proud of it. In what the author calls the latest bubble, our “undisciplined pursuit of more,” (a phrase coined by author Jim Collins), we pursue the idea of “doing it all, having it all, achieving it all.” Unfortunately, all of this is achieved by pushing ourselves and harnessing all available technology to do more for the sake of more — and at the expense of our health and peace of mind.
Fortunately there is an alternative and a rising number of people are turning to the “disciplined pursuit of less, but better.” Dubbed the “Essentialists” by the author, this group focuses on getting the right things done instead of doing it all. They take weekends and vacations, knowing that they’ll come back to work refreshed and recharged. They sleep well. They take their teams offsite on a regular basis to ask important questions and brainstorm strategies. And they are particular about the opportunities they choose to pursue.
Read the following to learn more about what the author says it takes to become an Essentialist:
1. Schedule a personal quarterly offsite. Companies invest in quarterly offsite meetings because there is value in rising above day-to-day operations to ask more strategic questions. Similarly, if we want to avoid being tripped up by the trivial, we need to take time once a quarter to think about what is essential and what is nonessential. I have found it helpful to apply the “rule of three”: every three months you take three hours to identify the three things you want to accomplish over the next three months.
2. Rest well to excel. K. Anders Ericsson found in “The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance” that a significant difference between good performers and excellent performers was the number of hours they spent practicing. The finding was popularized by Malcolm Gladwell as the “10,000 hour rule.” What few people realize is that the second most highly correlated factor distinguishing the good from the great is how much they sleep. As Ericsson pointed out, top performing violinists slept more than less accomplished violinists: averaging 8.6 hours of sleep every 24 hours.
3. Add expiration dates on new activities. Traditions have an important role in building relationships and memories. However, not every new activity has to become a tradition. The next time you have a successful event, enjoy it, make the memory, and move on.
4. Say no to a good opportunity every week. Just because we are invited to do something isn’t a good enough reason to do it. Feeling empowered by essentialism, one executive turned down the opportunity to serve on a board where she would have been expected to spend 10 hours a week for the next two to three years. She said she felt totally liberated when she turned it down. It’s counterintuitive to say no to good opportunities, but if we don’t do it then we won’t have the space to figure out what we really want to invest our time in.
A hundred years from now, when people look back at this period, they will marvel at the stupidity of it all: the stress, the motion sickness, and the self-neglect we put ourselves through.
So we have two choices. We can be among the last people caught up in the “more bubble” when it bursts, or we can see the madness for what it is and join the growing community of Essentialists and get more of what matters in our one precious life.