Dedicated to my dearest friend Kevin D. Love you amigo.
- Know Yourself
- The Original Problem
- What’s Happening Here?
- A Path to Efficiency
- Walk a Thousand Meters in the Right Direction
Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?
– Mary Oliver
This raises two questions.
What is it that I want?
How do I march in that direction?
What Is It That I Want?
To answer the first question, you have to stop acting and stop doing. Not doing is hard.
But you need to leave the habit of busyness because it’s blinding you.
There needs to be some breathing space where nothing happens. It’s in that quiet space that your subconscious can whisper to you what you really want.
Your answer could simply be I want to be happy, a very good starting point.
What’s important here is that you gain awareness of your intent.
Without intention, you are relying exclusively on luck to see what you desire manifest.
With intent, you increase your luck dramatically.
So, increase your luck. Be intentional and be firm with your intent.
Having a firm intent leads us to our second question.
How Do I March In That Direction?
Greg Mckeown tries to answer that question in his book Essentialism. He shares a method to work more effortlessly towards our goals.
A good read I just went through and which I recommend.
Its core idea is less but better.
The Original Problem
To understand why less but better is relevant to help us attain our goal, we have to first understand what problem it addresses.
A problem you probably have if you are hard working, busy with many projects at once, and always willing to help around.
We learn early in life that the more we work, the more we are rewarded. This is especially taught at school and college: study more, get better grades.
This idea then drags on in our early career.
No one wants to look bad their first job. So we work our ass off and, luckily enough, early success comes in after a few months. We gain expertise and unnoticeably we are acknowledged as the “go-to” person, the smiling person who can help any colleague.
The problem is that now no matter how much harder we work we can’t keep up with everything. What used to be a good ratio “work:reward” becomes less and less rewarding. Harder work is required for an equivalent reward. Much more mental energy is drained just to keep up.
The old recipe is broken. Early success has slowly become a blinder to our new reality: we are exhausting ourselves trying to do it all.
Faced with that we either step up our game or we lose our energy. We need to tap into what made us good to begin with: finding solutions to problems.
What’s Happening Here?
There are hidden trade-offs we completely miss.
We don’t realize that saying yes to any project and opportunity is ALSO saying no to opportunities to act, think and live differently.
Our natural willingness to work our way out is blinding us from the fact we don’t actually choose what we are working on.
Our actions don’t align with our intent but with those of others.
We need to think more.
Let’s see what tools Mckeown proposes to us.
A Path to Efficiency
We want to walk a thousand meters in the right direction.
Not a thousand meters in any direction.
Mckeown prescribes a disciplined mental framework to help us remain aligned with our intent:
- explore the options
- eliminate what is not essential
- execute on what is essential
Repeat the cycle frequently in many different fields of life.
Explore The Options
We want clarity.
We want to understand the trade-offs, the conflicting options we have.
We need to stop acting and dedicate time to exploring our options.
Remember the ecosystem mental model. We want to analyze the environment in which our options evolve. What’s the context? To what other options do they relate? Where and why am I involved?
To further improve our exploring skills, Mckeowns’s recommends among other things:
- playing more as a great tool to foster creativity and help the mind attain clarity
- journaling daily as a way to plug a feedback loop to our own mind which allows later self-reflection
- using explicit criteria to assess the options we study to help initiate the cognitive process
- sleeping a lot as a way to protect the most important assets we have: our body and our mind
Our highest priority is to protect our ability to prioritize.
So, get some sleep. Play.
Give yourself time to understand the options available.
Do less in order to think better.
Eliminate What Is Not Essential
Remember we don’t want to walk a thousand meters in any direction. We need to decide where we walk based on our intent. So give yourself time to answer this question:
What is my highest priority presently?
If you struggle to find an answer it means you don’t have clarity. Maybe you are too busy. Maybe your intent is not clear. In which case your highest priority is to make space to think.
“All of humanity’s problems,” Blaise Pascal said in 1654, “stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.”
After you answered the above question, you may still face competing priorities. But you still have to make one your top priority. That’s because in the end, you can only focus on one thing at once.
To filter the priorities you identified, imagine you’re starting fresh. All previous commitments are gone and you have to allocate your time to different projects or activities. Now, what do you want to do?
If I did not have this opportunity, what would I be willing to do to acquire it?
– Greg Mckeown
Filtering is hard. No one will give you any reward. It will only feel good once you’ve done it.
So help yourself. Reward yourself.
Every subtraction is a self high five. Start with small subtractions. Celebrate each time you subtract. Repeat. Tap into the power of celebration 🎉.
No More Yes. It’s Either HELL YEAH! Or No.
Execute On What Is Essential
There’s no need to rush in the fire like a madman. We want to make things easy first.
Sun Tzu in The Art of War, teaches us about the importance of knowing the terrain. So first study the terrain to identify the obstacle that’s slowing you down the most.
What’s preventing you from achieving what’s essential?
Work on removing that obstacle. Use the power of SUBTRACTION. Referring back to the mental model of viscosity: work smarter, not harder.
Also, don’t be stupid. You will most likely not have accurate estimates due to uncertainty. Create time buffers when you plan.
The only thing we can expect (with any great certainty) is the unexpected.
When thinking about executing, always make sure things are easy first. Make the execution fluid.
Now you have basic tools to walk the path of the Essentialist.
Less but Better. Explore. Eliminate. Execute.
Walk a Thousand Meters in the Right Direction
Essentialism is a disciplined practice inviting us to live our life with intent.
Essentialism does not come naturally to the “go-to” person.
Essentialism reminds us there comes a time where more hard work does not yield more results.
Essentialism suggests we take a mental break to become what we’re good at: finding solutions.
To attain knowledge add things every day.
To attain wisdom subtract things every day.
Thank you for reading 🙏
Jan 11, 2021