Want to see what other books SEJ has covered? Read all our reviews in the SEJ Book Club archive.
Have you ever accepted a project for work or a new client and thought to yourself “How am I going to get this all done?” Yep, this is a phrase that often replays in my head. But, after reading Greg McKeown’s book, Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, I’m learning how to say “no” more and prioritize what matters in my personal and professional life.
Let’s get one thing straight: Greg McKeown’s book is not a one-size-fits-all self-help book. This book has taught me how to live a life I want; not the life others expect me to live.
He gets real on how to take on a minimalist lifestyle. You learn how to replace false assumptions of “I have to,” “everything is high-priority,” and “I can do it all” with “I want to do this” “This is the only thing that matters right now” and “I can do anything but not everything.”
This book is a new way of life. McKeown wants you to go through the journey of transition from Nonessentialist to Essentialist.
As I was reading this book, I started to think about a few small things I could change in my daily life to help guide me to make better choices. In usual Essentialist manner, I thought I’d share some of the simple basic life skills this book has taught me.
This book is broken down into four parts as sort of an Essentialist roadmap. So what I wanted to share the lessons I learned along with my roadmap to becoming an Essentialist.
The key is to become an Essentialist is discovering “the relentless pursuit of less, but better.”
“I can’t do this.”
“I have to do this?”
“How am I going to do this?”
Dream big. Work hard. When you have passion and drive, magic can happen — but that’s only something your parents tell you when you’re growing up.
The truth is that you have to work hard at the right things. Ask yourself: What are your real priorities? You must discern what those “right things” are in your life. And, choose to put them first. Thinly distributed effort doesn’t do good for anyone.
The “less is better” mantra that McKeown repeats throughout the book can’t be hacked. But, it can be practiced. Warren Buffett practices it in his investments. His book The Tao of Warren Buffett shares that “90% of his wealth came from 10 investments.”
Below is a great example drawn out of what happens when you discover what those “right things” are:
The unused gym membership. The unopened book. The languages left to learn. This happens to all of us. I make my to-do list unachievable, and in turn, I am disappointed in myself.
Instead of saying no to these little things that make me happy, why not say yes? After reading this book, I started to do the things I love.
By becoming a better listener and observer, I can remove the non-essential things in my life. For instance, when I’m preparing to take on a new freelance SEO client, I listen more carefully to the meaning behind their words, tone of voice, and personality to see if the client and I would make a great fit.
I cut my client list in half without losing money by learning to listen and observe more to things that matter most to me in freelance SEO client relationship. I’d rather go big for a client that with a long-lasting relationship than with a new client that is just looking for a quick SEO fix.
Every six months, I clean my entire house. I divide everything into piles of “forever” “meh” and “gotta go!” As I sort through the “meh” pile, I ask “When will I use this again?” and “How much would I pay for it now?” I can’t answer those two questions with a high value, it goes. I want to surround my life with things that will provide the greatest possible contribution to my success. This not only offers clarity but reminds of my personal future goals of wanting to travel.
Nelson Mandela spent 27 years in jail becoming an essentialist. He focused on eliminating apartheid in South Africa, and now his name lives on.
While, I’m not Nelson Mandela. He has inspired me to make trade-offs in my life to determine what is most important. Do I want to have knick-knacks in my house? Or, stay minimal to be able to pick up and move wherever and whenever? By eliminating what is nonessential in my life, I’m able to open up more to what is essential.
Remember that time when you took on a new client and realized it would make WAY more work than you budgeted? Yep, it happened to me many times. I underestimated the amount of time it would take to perform the work the client needed, so I ended up losing out on dollars in my pocket.
Now, I buffer 50% of my time to every project. Why? Think about all the emails, phone calls, reports, then doing the work needed.
I’ve also learning not to forget about the small wins. When I log into my Trello account every morning, I organize my to-do list in a very granular manner, so I’m able to check the smallest of wins off because I know this makes me happy. Plus, it reminds me to share with my clients!
10 Steps to Becoming an Essentialist
It takes courage and insight to take on an essentialist lifestyle. So, how do you decide what things to act? What if you remove important things from your life without knowing?
Understanding your voice and mindset of what essentialism means to you is the lifeblood of becoming an essentialist. Develop a system to organize your thoughts and life to help you decide the right choices every day.
While family, friends, and your career should always be a part of your life, not every idea that goes along with these can (or should) be shuffled into your day-to-day. Here are the steps I am taking to become an essentialist.
1. Journal every day.
I bought a Moleskin notebook to write in every morning when I wake up. And, I’m going to start sharing my personal stories on Medium.
2. Saying no to more clients that aren’t the best fit.
I am creating more room to enjoy my nights and weekends. If a client doesn’t fit with my personality, then it probably won’t be a long-term client either way.
3. Stop checking my emails on Saturdays.
Saturday is my only day I do not work. I get one day a week, and I cherish it.
4. Live in the moment.
I walk my two basset hounds every day. I used to check my emails, make phone calls, and update my social profiles. Now, I focus on them, their habits, and their goofy smiles.
5. Sleep 8 hours every night.
I used to have the perception that sleep was time wasted. I could be working and making money. As I get older, I understand how important getting a full night of sleep is to my creativity and my clients. Sleeping 8 hours every day is a choice I make to invest in myself.
6. Stick to my 4:00 AM work routine.
Yes, I work a 9-to-5 job while trying to manage a freelance SEO career. I discovered I’m most productive in the morning so I’ve turned my morning routine into my freelance time.
7. Celebrate small wins.
I was a college athlete. I am extremely competitive with myself. The expectations I have for myself, my career, and personal life sometimes seem unattainable. By celebrating small wins, I keep myself grounded and positive. It’s my way of saying thank you to myself and expressing gratitude to my clients.
8. No more multitasking.
I set my iPhone timer for 30 min sprints of work. I start with the most challenging project first because I know that’s most likely the piece I’ll procrastinate on.
9. Make exercising fun again.
Instead of forcing myself to run on the treadmill or do another leg lift, I’ve joined an adult soccer league twice a week and group fitness classes every morning.
10. Slow down.
“Slow down everyone
You’re moving too fast
Frames can’t catch you when
You’re moving like that.”
Inaudible Melodies by Jackson Johnson is one of my favorite songs. As an athlete, I’ve been conditioned to be a “go-getter” “hustler” “trailblazer” and other words to describe hard worker. When something falls into my lap, I need to take it on full-force at that very moment, right? Not true. When I slow down, I’m able to tune in to what matters. I have more clarity, more control, and comfort going into the journey.
Give Yourself Time to Become an Essentialist
Every day I’m inspired by public or historical figures like Mother Theresa, Leo Tolstoy, Michael Jordan, and the Dalai Lama that are examples of leaders practicing essentialism. Essentialism isn’t for everyone. Some people enjoy being surrounded by things and filling their life with obligations. And that’s okay. It takes a special kind of person to excel at essentialism because it takes passion and focus to dedicate yourself to this lifestyle every single day. Essentialist isn’t something I do naturally. It is something I am becoming with discipline and mindfulness.
Next Month on SEJ Book Club: The Power of Broke by Daymond John
Grab a copy online or check out your local library to read along with us! Curious to see what the SEJ Book Club has next on our reading list? Check out our GoodReads profile.
Editor’s Note: This post contains Amazon affiliate links. Thanks for supporting SEJ.
Featured Image: Paulo Bobita
In-post Photos #1: Image by Anna Crowe. Taken September 2016.
Subscribe to SEJ
Get our weekly newsletter from SEJ's Founder Loren Baker about the latest news in the industry!