• Melissa Hills

Applying Essentialism to Our Lives

Updated: Mar 25, 2019

Learn to prioritise your most important things in life.

I listened to a great podcast the other week between Allie Casazza, a minimalism and motherhood blogger, and one of her guests, Greg McKeown. He is the author of a book called Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less.

He mentions how some people can focus on the right things, which leads to success, but they can also lose focus of the most essential things in life, and they are left feeling torn and stretched between pleasing everyone and trying to do everything. He shared a brief story of when his wife was due to have a baby and his boss sent an email saying, “Friday between 1-2pm would be a very bad time for your wife to have a baby”. His wife ended up having the baby Thursday night, and on the Friday morning he felt so torn between staying with his wife and new baby or going to the meeting. He ended up going to the meeting and felt an instant regret because he chose something less important, less essential, over the most important thing.

The rest of the podcast was about helping the listeners understand what essentialism is, and how to work towards it. No matter what is going on in your life, whether you are a working professional, a parent, a student, single, or married, your life is going to be full of things to keep you busy and pulling you in all different directions. I know for me, as a full-time mum to 5, with the arrival of #6 in the next week or so, as well as helping my husband in his business, I am busy. I have so many tasks that need to be completed, so many things screaming for my attention. If I choose to do one thing, I’m saying no to something else. Greg says this:

“ the problem is this paradox of success is the undisciplined pursuit of more. This is the problem. Where you feel like you have to do everything for everybody and that your job is really to stuff everything in. Because if you can stuff it all in, then you can have it all. This is the illogic of nonessentialism. This is our problem. This is the challenge that we have to overcome."

There is a solution to this problem that a lot of people in society now have. We don’t have to feel this constant strain. We can lessen the noise around us, and Greg goes into how:

“And the antidote to that challenge is the disciplined pursuit of less, or essentialism. Essentialism, really, is this perpetual, continual, pursuit of (1) What is essential. (2) Elimination of what is nonessential. (3) The creation of a system that makes execution as easy as possible in supporting the things that you've identified as being most important. That’s what essentialism is."

He talks about something he calls the “importance continuum”. Think about the room you are in. One side of the room is 0-10% important, and the other side of the room is maybe 90-100% important – the most important, the essential things. Everything that we do or could do is placed on this continuum. He talks about thinking of a certain thing you do or “need” to do, and to put it on the continuum line somewhere. Start with something that is essential, but that your feel you aren’t investing in, or maybe you are under-investing in it. For me at this point, it would be getting the house tidy and clean ready for the arrival of our new baby. I want as much done as I possibly can.

Greg has a few steps to work with, which I won’t go into too much, but I will focus on the two steps I found helpful. Part of doing step one is to figure out how much time it would take to complete that task. The task I chose would take at least 30-45 minutes each day. Step 2 is looking at the other end of the continuum. What is an activity or task I do that is very unimportant, or nonessential, that I am spending more time on than I need to? Instantly, a few things come to mind: Facebook, Pinterest, checking my phone etc. I am able to check on my phone just how much time in the last 7 days I have spent on Facebook, Pinterest, and Messenger. It is embarrassing! Now I don’t mind spending some time on those apps, I think there are times it’s ok, especially for some physical downtime, but the sheer amount of time is completely unnecessary, and I could be using that time more wisely elsewhere. If I want to spend 30-45 minutes a day tidying and cleaning, then my 4 hours of Pinterest time this past week could be reduced to 2 hours, and my 2 hours of Facebook could be cut in half, and I would magically have 3 hours to spend on something more essential to me right now. That has really changed the way I view my day, and how I spend it. Why am I neglecting the most important things in my life – my family, my faith, my friends, my home, to things that are on the other end of the spectrum? Somehow, the tasks and activities in my 0-10% have moved more into my 70-80%, and my 90-100% have also moved down.

We all only have 24 hours a day, and we all have things in life that are so important to us. Why not have a real hard look at how you use your time, and where your energy and attention is going, to see if you can make some adjustments in your day and week? You may just find that you are doing the more important things better when you start putting the nonessential things in their place – at the bottom of your priority list.

If anyone wants to listen to the podcast about Essentialism click the link below. There are notes, special links, and the conversation written out as well.


To read about Greg McKeown, check out his website here: https://gregmckeown.com/

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