Monday, January 5, 2015

Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less

Today we have a guest blog from Shannon Bruce:

Every now and then I find a book that “cuts to the heart” with provocative truth. The title of this blog is actually one of those books. It’s written by Greg McKeown and is, what I believe, a “must read” for every Executive.

Essentialism isn’t about getting more done in less time. It’s about getting only the right things done.

Imagine that you had a life where you spent your time focused on what’s most vital, and that you “ditched” the remaining 90% of your “to-do” list. Consider the impact this would have on your productivity? Your aliveness? Your results?  Your impact? Your relationships? I want this sense of enthusiasm and ease that a “less but better” approach will have for you—the opportunity to be fully present, engaged, alive, playful, having fun and getting results all at the same time!

Let’s see if you could benefit from the disciplined pursuit of less. How would you answer the following questions?

·         Have you ever found yourself stretched too thin?
·         Do you simultaneously feel overworked and underutilized?
·         Are you often busy but not productive?
·         Do you feel like your time is constantly being hijacked by other people’s agendas?

If you answered “yes” to any one of these, read on!

“The way of the Essentialist means living by design, not by default. Instead of making choices reactively, the Essentialist deliberately distinguishes the vital few from the trivial many, eliminates the non-essentials, and then removes the obstacles so the essential things have clear, smooth passage. In other words, Essentialism is a disciplined, systematic approach for determining where our highest point of contribution lies, then making execution of those things almost effortless.” Greg McKeown

So where do you start?

The answer is simple and extremely difficult at the same time. It all starts with your calendar!

Go grab your calendar. When you look at what is currently scheduled, what do you notice? Is it filled up with appointments, meetings, events, and activities?

Do you have any unscheduled time that you use to breathe, explore, think, process, or reflect?

My hunch is that you have “zero” margin time in your workday, and yet this time is critical if you want to create a “less but better” approach to life and work.

In the book, the author talks about the CEO of Linked In who schedules two hours a day of unscheduled time in 30-minute increments. This same concept was recently reinforced by Brian Turner, the former CFO of Coin Star who currently serves on 6 for profit boards of directors and is a well-sought out speaker. Excell Puget Sound, along with several other sponsors, hosted Brian Turner as our keynote speaker at our recent Impact 2014 Annual CEO Retreat. Brian’s comment, “you need to have two hours in your day of unscheduled time just to think”. It’s fascinating that 2 executives are pointing to the same idea of scheduling 2 hours of uninterrupted time in your day! Coincidence? I don’t think so. The time has come for “Essentialism”.

I know what you’re thinking…”Yes, but….”

I know this to be true because I’ve heard it from myself and many of the Executives I coach. “That won’t work for me. I’ve got too many things on my plate,” or “It sounds good in theory but there’s no way that will ever work.”

I want to challenge your assumptions. I believe it’s not that you can’t, it’s that you don’t know how. Chances are you don’t have this uninterrupted time placed into your calendar because you say “yes” to too many other things and there’s no room because you’re overcommitted. And if you did have it on the calendar, you probably dropped it the minute someone needed you to do something because you don’t know how to hold appointments with yourself as “sacred”. I also believe the biggest obstacle to getting and keeping this time in your calendar is that you have no idea on what would you spend your time doing because your focus is on forward momentum!

If any of this resonates for you, and you have a spark of hope and desire drawing you to focus on the vital few, it’s going to require a different approach. So where do you begin? Consider the list below:

1.    Schedule an appointment with yourself. Make the time in your calendar so you can put energy and attention to plan, think, dream, breathe and explore. And hold this appointment “sacred”. My hunch is that you show up to all of those appointments that are specifically scheduled in your calendar for others. Whether it’s a doctor’s appointment, a meeting with your team, or a strategy session to discuss the current initiative, you’re there without exception, right? Offer this same level of commitment to yourself.

2.    Challenge everything you have in your calendar. Stay curious as you contemplate: Why am I doing this activity? Is it essential? What are the benefits? Is it still necessary? Remove at least one or two of those trivial and unimportant activities from your calendar.

3.    Challenge your “yes”. For every person or activity you say “yes” to, you are saying “no” to someone or something else. Identify one “yes” that you can turn into a “no” and do it! Focus on the BIGGER yes you get to embrace when you say “no” to the trivial.

4.    Filter your choices for long-term success. With the insight and awareness from #1 - #3, measure each activity and “yes” using a “good”, “better”, “best” approach. From here, take a look at each “good” activity and pick one you will stop doing. With the activities in the better category, proceed with caution about continuing these—stay aware as this could be your next opportunity to free your time. Redirect and focus your attention on the “best” activities that produce the greatest results.

5.    Fill the void. When you go from an overcommitted, “stretched too thin” schedule it’s impossible to just “sit and contemplate”. So fill the void with an activity that allows you to be reflective yet active until you can become comfortable with a slower pace. Examples—go for a walk/run and listen to something positive that energizes you. Better yet, get and read the Essentialism book.

So what’s your next step? If you don’t start now to focus your energy on the vital few so you can let go of the trivial many, when will you? As the title says, it takes discipline and today is the best day to begin.


Shannon Bruce, PCC is a Professional Certified Coach and current President and CEO of StoryBridge, Inc. of Kitsap County. She has been in the professional coaching industry for over 11 years working in many capacities as an Executive and Leadership Coach, Team Coach, Facilitator and Trainer. Her diverse background also includes 13 years as a CPA with Ernst & Young, Corporate & Regional Operations Management in the wholesale distribution field, and entrepreneurship launching multiple business start-ups.

Shannon considers herself a Catalyst for Culture Change who is an “out-of-the-box” thinker looking for new and life-giving ways to enhance business results and team relationships. With her corporate background and coach training, Shannon understands the needs of both “people” and “profit” to help companies produce more with less. Her true passion & mission is “going into companies” to “create communities”.

Living in Bremerton, WA with her 13-year old daughter, Shannon enjoys quality time with family and friends in addition to reading, exercising and hiking.

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