Do you ever find yourself “humblebragging” (a brag disguised as a self-deprecating remark) about being an overachiever? Do you catch yourself “complaining” to friends and acquaintances about how many hours you clocked at the office last week, how many projects and commitments you are involved in, and how little free time you have, while secretly hoping they’ll be impressed by just how busy and productive you are? Have you ever been known to proclaim boldly (and no un-proudly) “oh, I can easily get by on 5 hours of sleep a night?”
These are all symptoms of what I call “The addiction to more.” But unlike other obsessions and addictions, addiction to more is something a lot of people celebrate, believing it’s an asset. But in reality, overachieving is the enemy of productivity and happiness.
This is why the way of the Essentialist celebrates less over more. Because the people who are happiest and most successful in life aren’t the ones who put in the most hours at work, or who have the longest to do lists, or who deprive themselves of the biological requirements for basic human functioning. It’s the people who understand that it’s the quality, not the quantity, of what we do that wins the day. It’s the people who give themselves permission to cut out all the activities designed to simply make us feel busy and important, and focus on the few things that truly matter.
But figuring out what matters isn’t always easy. One paradox of Essentialism is that when deciding where to spend their time and energy, Essentialists actually explore more options than their Nonessentialist counterparts. Whereas Nonessentialists commit to doing everything or virtually everything in the name of “overachieving” Essentialists systematically explore and evaluate a broad set of options before committing to any. Since they know they will achieve better results by “going big” on one or two ideas or activities that really have impact, they deliberately explore more options at first to ensure that they commit to the right one, eventually.
To help get you on the path to becoming an Essentialist, here are 5 easy ways to start exploring. Each one can be done in 10 minutes or less.
• Create a technology “Walden Zone”: That's the name William Powers gives for designating a room at home (or at work) that is technology-free. Banish all computers and put a basket by the door phones and other devices.
• Keep a Haiku Journal. Keeping a journal doesn’t have to take more than 5 minutes a day. Haiku is a form of Japanese poetry distinguished by its exceptionally short form. It contains only 17 “ syllables (5 in the first line, 7 in the second, and 5 in the last). So a haiku journal requires writing approximately the equivalent of one sentence a day.
• Create a ritual of play: When you first get to your desk in the morning, instead of checking email or Facebook, spend the first 10 minutes of your day drawing a picture (consider hanging your work proudly in your office to remind others to make time to play). Or put on a purely feel good song and listen to it while you start your day.
• Get the noise out of your head before bed: Instead of checking your email one last time before your go to sleep, write down (in a journal, not on your laptop) anything that is still on your mind so you aren’t distracted by it as you try to fall asleep.
Exploring more today will allow us to do less but better tomorrow.