Five Ways to Find Essentialism

It was a difficult time for me. I had a packed schedule and not a lot of space in my life.

I was easily irritated, annoyed and unavailable for anything new. During the middle of Startup Weekend Fargo I confided in our facilitator, Shane Reiser, about my frustration with being overwhelmed and he stopped me in my tracks and asked, “What is essential in your life?”

Shane encouraged me to take a stack of sticky notes and write down everything I did in the course of a month. (boards, committees, personal projects, etc.) When I was done, he asked me to go through them quickly and decide with my gut, was the task essential in my life or non-essential? This took more thought than I expected, but after I was challenged to begin taking steps to remove the non-essential activities as soon as possible.

This was painful. It was uncomfortable to step away from boards, to say goodbye to activities I had once enjoyed in order to make space for things that were important to me.

The process was both cleansing and healing, as I was reclaiming time and resources for my life that I desperately needed.

Next, I read one of Greg Mckeown’s books, “Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursue of Less.” The book crystalized my need for focus, less activity and a dedication to pursuing people, activities and experiences that were life giving and essential in my life. The realization that I was overwhelmed paired with Shane’s interjection and Greg’s book has lead me on a path to generating more resources, having more fun and being able to make a bigger impact.

I had no idea having less activity in my life would lead to greater output.

Do you want to have a life focused on essential things? Do you want more time for those you love? Projects you want to start? Space to feel more alive? Here are a few ideas that might be able to guide your process.

1. Rest.

In Bec Heinrich’s talk at TEDxFargo in 2016, she talked about the rest revolution. She made a case for how prioritizing rest in one’s life was a strategic move that positively impacts leadership capacity and personal relationships. Her research indicated that creating space to rest, recover, and prepare can lead to more fruitful activities.

Can you create a lifestyle where you wake up rested? Ready for the day? Ready to tackle difficult challenges? Rest may be your answer to getting more done, even if you do less.

2. Shutting Doors.

At dinner with longtime friend Maneesh Apte, he shared that his challenge wasn’t creating opportunities for himself, it was shutting doors and moving out of organizations that he had lost interest in. He had prided himself on being busy, yet it created less opportunity for meaningful relationships. His encouragement to me was that it is okay to move on and close chapters.

My gut says that our service organizations and associations, professional groups and learning circles, want engaged and dedicated members more than those that are involved out of obligation and guilt. Maybe it’s time for you to step away from certain groups to create space for others to thrive. Could you be more effective for a few causes versus being slightly affective for many? What groups and activities could you step away from to focus on the essential ones?

3. Being Proactive.

Boulder couple, Sam and Emily, meet weekly for family planning. They discuss their consulting business, their kids’ schedules and their hopes and dreams as a couple. One area they focus on is thinking intentionally about the people they want to spend time with.

Their approach is to be proactive, living their life rather than filling up their social schedules with requests from others. What does it look like for you to have a life where you are actively building out your social schedule and making sure to spend time with those you find essential for your life?
Who do you want to get to know better this year? How can you create a schedule where you get more time with those you care about?

4. Philanthropy.

Shortly after I married Christy, we met with Dakota Medial Foundation leader Pat Traynor to explore our philanthropy. He guided us to have a strategic plan for giving where we prioritized an initiative or cause we really cared about. An idea that we thought was essential for the world, and work to make a big impact in one area.

If your family makes giving part of your life, how could you focus your time and resources to move the needle versus spreading around your impact? How can you take fewer bigger bets to spur change?

5. Minimalism.

Joshua and Ryan, the Minimalists, encourage people to think about their stuff. They talk about removing the physical clutter in your life to create room for the most important moments. Their work has challenged me to think about ways to let go of old belongings, buy clothing items that are high quality but less of them, and how to position my life to essential experiences versus a lot of stuff around the house.

What in your home can you let go of? What spaces are filled with things that are not used? What can you part ways with, give away, or trash all together to create an environment in your home that only has the essential materials you want in your life?

For all of us, we are filled with opportunities and competing requests for our time and resources. In 2017, I’m betting on being focused, on doing more with less and spending my time on essential activities that contribute to a better world for all.

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