Essentialism

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do/
With your one wild and precious life?”

—Mary Oliver, “The Summer Day”

“Path at Jacobsburg Park”    oil on board, 4x7 inches

“Path at Jacobsburg Park” oil on board, 4x7 inches

I feel myself growing older, and as I approach middle-age, I come up against the true limits of my energy, physically and mentally. My spirit longs to be infinite in its passion and creativity, but my body tells me that its resources are clearly finite. I dearly wish to manage my resources in the best way possible, and this has resulted in me reading a whole lot of books about time management and priorities. One of the very best books I have read so far is called Essentialism, by Greg McKeown.

The message of McKeown’s book is: Less, but Better. Basically, you can only do a few things really well. I guess this isn’t “news” but it was certainly helpful for me to read.

“There are a thousand things we could be doing. But there [are] only one or two that are important.” — Jack Dorsey

It follows that if you can only do a couple things really well, it’s important to pick the right things. You need to be honest with yourself about what your goals are.

Question: What is my goal?

My Answer: To have a regular studio practice. To get better and more authentic. To make progress with meaningful work. *

Once you know your main goal(s), you then must remove obstacles to your goal. You can do this by designing a routine where the essential is the default position. For me, the default is that I’m working in my studio on weekdays. I have set hours, and I stick to them.

*Besides having a regular Studio Practice, my other two main goals are to take care of my Health and spend time with my Family. Before taking on something new in my life, I must ask myself if it will become an obstacle to one of these three important goals.

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“Without great solitude no serious work is possible.” — Pablo Picasso

One huge obstacle for many people is over-committing to things that fragment your time and energy. For me, especially, I need to be wary of saying yes to anything that infringes upon my solitude, which is absolutely essential for my work. McKeown recommends a “Slow Yes, Quick No” approach. Also, it’s helpful to pause before you speak.

Before you commit to anything, ask yourself:

  • Am I investing in the right activities?

  • Is this the very most important thing I should be doing with my time and resources right now?

  • Will this activity or effort make the highest possible contribution to my goal?

  • Is this Essential?

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“In work, do what you enjoy. In family life, be completely present.” — Lao Tzu

McKeown advises his readers to “practice extreme preparation.” This means not packing too much “stuff” into your time. This will help you not to “do too much.” A good rule is to “add 50% to your time estimation.” So, if you think something will take you an hour, give yourself an hour and a half.

However, from my own personal experience, I would have to say that’s way too low. I need to give myself at least four times as much time as I think I need. So… my one hour project is really a four hour project. At least.

I hope that this blog post has helped you a little, and I encourage you to read the whole book, Essentialism by Greg McKeown. You might also enjoy last week’s blog post in which I discuss Deep Work by Cal Newport.

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What is essential?

Eliminate everything else.