In our search for meaning and significance–for a life that matters–it’s easy to get buried in an accumulation of “stuff”: activities, commitments, possessions, that complicate, rather than enhance, our lives. In an increasingly noisy world, one key to building a life of lasting significance and satisfaction is learning to identify and pursue only the truly essential. This is the premise of Greg McKeown‘s inspiring and thought-provoking book: Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less. In this episode we’ll consider some of the book’s key lessons. (Quoted language in this post is from the book. I strongly encourage you to pick up a copy of this book and read it carefully.)
What Does it Mean to Be a Productive Woman?
We tend to think about productivity in terms of how much stuff gets done. But being productive is about more than just getting stuff done; it’s about ordering your life in such a way as to be able to make a difference. To me, a productive woman isn’t one who’s powering through a long to-do list and juggling lots of balls. A productive woman is a woman who is making a real contribution to the world, maximizing the positive impact she has on the people in her life. It’s not about being famous or powerful, but about finding that place where you belong, where you can really contribute and made a difference, whether in a highly visible place or in your quiet corner of the world. All this stuff about time management and organization and goal-setting—it’s all just tools to let you create that life that matters, in whatever spheres of influence, large or small, that you find yourself.
Building a Meaningful Life by Choosing What’s Essential
Of the many books I read in the past year, few have had more impact on me than Greg McKeown’s Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less. The book is full of ideas that inspire both reflection and action, but here are a few of the thoughts that particularly resonated with me:
Guiding Principle: “less but better”
McKeown talks about this in the context of activities and obligations, but it applies equally well to possessions: instead of many “okay” clothes or tools or furniture (or anything else), what if we chose fewer but better quality possessions.
It’s about pausing constantly to ask, ‘Am I investing in the right activities?'”
The core mindset involves acknowledging three key realities:
- We can choose
- “Almost everything is noise, and a very few things are exceptionally valuable.”
- The reality of trade-offs
Follow a three-step approach of
- exploring many options, asking the right questions: “What inspires me?”, “What are my particular talents and gifts?”, and “What meets a significant need in the world?”
At the intersection of passion, talent, and need is “our highest level of contribution”
- eliminating everything that’s not essential, and
- executing on those things that truly matter.
A simple guide to making decisions
If it isn’t a clear yes, then it’s a clear no.”
Several sections of practical applications:
- Make space in your life to concentrate, to read, to escape from the noise of a busy life and think
- Protect the asset:
The best asset we have for making a contribution to the world is ourselves. If we underinvest in ourselves, and by that I mean our minds, our bodies, and our spirits, we damage the very tool we need to make our highest contribution.”
- A great section on saying no gracefully, with pages of different ways to say no
For more on this:
Read the book!
I’ve only skimmed the surface of what McKeown discusses in this book. Do yourself a favor and read it for yourself.
Check out episode 89 of Beyond the To Do List, featuring host Erik Fisher’s conversation with John Bell, author of Do Less Better: The Power of Strategic Sacrifice in a Complex World.
What do you think?
Have you read Essentialism? What did you think of it? Did any of the concepts discussed in this episode resonate with you? Share your thoughts in the comments section below, or email me!
Tool of the Week: Daily Challenge
If you find yourself and your health at the bottom of your to-do list, a little website called Daily Challenge offers a great tool to help you start creating healthier habits. Simply sign up at their website (sign-up is free!), and they’ll send you an email each day with a challenge of one small thing you can do that day to improve your health and well-being. Check them out. And thank you to Candra Creason for the tip!
Thanks to you, The Productive Woman is a finalist in the 10th Annual Podcast Awards. That vote of confidence means more to me than I can say. Thank you.
What productivity rules DON’T work for you? I need your input for an upcoming episode . . .
I’d love to have your help for an upcoming episode on “Productivity Rules That Don’t Work.” No matter what “they” say, nothing works for everybody all the time. I’d like to talk about the “rules” that “everybody” says we must follow. What time management or organization “rules” have you heard that just do not work for you? Please send your thoughts to me via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or send a voice message by clicking on the button near the top right of the website (or the “voicemail” button at the top of The Productive Woman Facebook page. Thank you for helping me make the upcoming episode really helpful to listeners!
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Sonia Harris says
Thank you so much Laura for recommending Essentialism. All I can say is wow! The book took me through a journey. First of all understanding what essentialism means and how identify the essential (important) from the non-essential (trivial). I think the next session was so important for me because we often know what we don’t want to do, what is less important or what we don’t have time to do. We just don’t know how to extricate ourselves – included in this of course is saying “no”. Finally those things that we have chosen – so that we can focus on what or who is most important in our lives – we can do with less effort and feel good about ourselves.
Laura McClellan says
Sonia, I’m so glad you found the book helpful. I certainly did.
Are you making any changes to your life or activities based on what you read in the book?