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Essentialism in 2018


It’s the start of a new year – 2018. Have you thought about what you will do differently?

There are so many demands on our time. A constant stream of emails, a never-ending to-do list, social media accounts that need constant attention and, on top of that, you need to show something ‘concrete’ for your time!

We live in a world where we’re continuously pulled in different directions, not only at work, but also in our home life. How do YOU respond to the endless demands on your time?

If we were to take everybody in the world and split them in two groups, we’d probably have the following:

In the first group, we have the people that try to do it all. Everything on their to-do list is important, and they find ways to fit everything in. They say yes a lot, because successful people always find a way to get it all done. Sometimes they take on too much and tend to feel out of control, but who doesn’t?

In the second group, we have the people who think that less is better. Only a few things on their to-do list really matter, and everything else can wait, or perhaps never get done. They find themselves saying no a lot, which doesn’t make them all that popular. But they feel in control, and seem to enjoy their work.

If you are like most people these days, you would probably identify the most with the first group – which Greg McKeown (the author of Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less) would call the Non-Essentialists. This is where most people spend their time, and I can certainly relate.

The people who truly make a difference, McKeown argues, spend their time hanging out with the second group – the Essentialists. These people believe that it’s more important to make significant progress in a few things rather than making a millimetre of progress in a million directions.

At the most basic level, an Essentialist gives themselves the permission to stop trying to do it all, so that they can focus all of their energy and time on the things that truly matter. In a world that demands more and more of you, it’s maybe a good opportunity to learn how to start saying no.

Here is someone you can take inspiration from…

Steve Jobs was an Essentialist

When Steve Jobs came back to rescue Apple from the clutches of bankruptcy, he ruthlessly reduced the number of products they produced from 350, to 10.

When asked about innovation and why Apple rose from the ashes to become the most valuable company of all time, here’s what he said:

“People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully. I’m actually as proud of the things we haven’t done as the things I have done. Innovation is saying no to 1,000 things.”

Essentialists are good at saying no

If you want to become an Essentialist, you need to become good at saying no. And not only that, you need to realize that by saying no, you are making a trade-off. For everything that an Essentialist says yes to, there are many many things they have to say no to.

Often we end up as a Non-Essentialists simply because we lack the skills to say no gracefully. It’s funny to think of it that way, but it’s true. There’s no class in high school or university that teaches you this skill, and isn’t there an unwritten rule that we shouldn’t say no?

McKeown gives us 8 responses we can use to say no to the unimportant, so that we can say yes to the vital.

  1. An awkward pause. People hate silence, and if you pause long enough after somebody requests something of you, they’ll eventually fill the void and find a reason to withdraw their request.
  2. A “no but”. Use this in situations where you don’t want to take on a task now, but would consider it in the future. You can respond by saying “no, but I would love to help you a few months from now … can we connect on this then?” Generally s you won’t hear again.
  3. The “let me check my calendar and get back to you” method. This gets you off the hook for responding immediately, and if it’s something that you ultimately don’t want to do, you can simply say that unfortunately, you’re not available.
  4. An email auto-reply. If you are really courageous, you could set up an email auto-reply that replied to each of your emails letting people know that you aren’t available to respond to email for a period of time.
  5. The “yes, what should I reprioritize” method. This works very well when receiving requests from superiors. By letting your boss or teammate know that you’ll have to drop something else in order to get their request done, they’ll frequently move on to somebody else who can squeeze the task into their schedule.
  6. A bit of humour. This one is difficult to do well, but it can diffuse a potentially uncomfortable situation.
  7. The “you are welcome to X. I am willing to Y” response. McKeown gives the example in his book about his friend asking to borrow his car. His response would be “you are welcome to borrow my car, and I’m willing to make sure the keys are here for you.” This way, he’s let his friend know that he is able to take the car, if his friend is willing to pick it up. And it’s clear that he’s not willing to take his friend himself.
  8. Suggest somebody else to do it. It’s much easier to say “I can’t do it, but X might be interested” than to reject their request outright. You are able to be helpful, without taking on the task yourself.

So practise these ways to be an Essentialist.

My challenge

I want to give you a challenge. For the next week, whenever you are asked to do something for somebody else:

Respond with the “let me check my calendar” technique.

Then, take some time to reflect on whether or not the request is essential to your long-term success.

If it’s not, respond to the person using one of the other techniques you just learned.

Continue working on the vital few things that will ensure you achieve everything you want to achieve in life.

Have a focused 2018!

About David Lawson

Finding the Light is a locally owned and operated counselling and life coaching business based in Bundaberg. We seek to empower our clients to find their way forward to a better life by using the approaches of counselling or coaching. If this blog article has raised more questions please contact us by email or call us on 0407 585 497 to arrange a time for us to discuss the article. Mention this blog and we will give you a FREE 30 minute session to discuss.


  1. Linda Reed-Enever

    Great tips David it a technique I use often to review what is right for me and our team

  2. David

    Thanks Linda, Saying no is hard BUT rewarding when you do it.

  3. Sonja Balzarolo

    Thanks for this great article David. I have that book on my wish list to read! It is sucah an important way to provide focus in such a busy and easily distracting world today.

    • David Lawson

      Thank-you for your kind words

  4. Shell

    Very enlightening blog. Thank you!

    • David Lawson

      My pleasure

  5. Kathie Thomas

    Great tips. I struggle between the two, mostly the first, but sometimes the second.

    • David Lawson

      Thanks for sharing.

  6. Beck Co

    Great tips, I think I swing between both!

    • David Lawson

      Thanks for kind words

  7. Marissa Towndrow

    Great blog David, some very valuable tips and advice here. I look forward tackling the challenge & seeing how it affects my mindset.

    • David Lawson

      Great – go for it.


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