Essentialism basically means: doing more with less.
Being in control of your money is a lifestyle, not a diet. And part of this lifestyle is being able to focus on what’s really important, whether it’s your money, your life or activities in general.
This post is based on one of my favourite books titled ‘Essentialism’ and written by Greg McKeown. McKeown defines an Essentialist as being someone who is able to see the bigger picture at all times, having a rough plan and actually achieving your goals. It’s about asking yourself, ‘What is essential?’ and eliminating everything else. A life changing book.
Thanks to practicing essentialism I am able to manage a podcast, a blog, a part time job, freelance work and on top of that I run, I have a great social life, I travel, read a lot, I’m currently learning how to speak in public and I sleep 8 hours every night. I believe becoming an Essentialist is not only the key to productivity, it’s also the key to fulfillment. What’s the point in working, in getting on with life if you’re not doing stuff that really matters to you?
If you’re in your twenties, now is the time to be exploring what matters to you. Searching for what fulfills you and matters to you now means fewer regrets and more intentional living. Essentialism is a mentality, it’s a lifestyle, it’s a way of being. 💁♀️
‘Essentialism is not about how to get more things done; it’s about how to get the right things done’
How to figure out what is essential
McKeown explains a snazzy 3 step process to figure out what is essential to you and how to become an Essentialist.
Ask yourself these three questions:
- What do I feel deeply inspired by?
- What am I particularly talented at?
- What meets a significant need in the world?
McKeown really emphasises on the importance of exploring before committing. And this is something I talk about a lot here at FM: figuring out what you want to do in life is life. McKeown says an Essentialist spends as much time as possible exploring, listening, debating, questioning and thinking. But exploring is not an end in itself, the purpose of exploration is to discern the vital few from the trivial many (i.e. what is important).
An Essentialist takes their time to explore their options. This is investment which is justified because some things are so much more important that finding them in the first place repays the effort ten times more. An Essentialist, in other words, discerns more so they can do less.
And this is why at FM I tell young adults not to go to university straight away and to really analyse your options before. To use student internships to figure out whether you like the corporate world. To financially educate yourself and build essential money making skills, so you can always put food on the table no matter what. When you’re young, you want to be exploring, not committing. 🌎
So once you’ve kind of answered those three questions and keep on exploring, you need to ask yourself what are the trade offs am I willing to make?
Am I willing to trade time playing video games for time learning how to code? Am I willing to trade partying money for money to invest in my future? Am I willing to trade quick money I could make now for more money I could be making later? (focusing more on skills now). If you know what is essential, making those trade offs is not too hard. Which is why exploration is so important in the first place. When you realise how essential investing is, trading that expensive festival out for investing suddenly isn’t so hard.
The only thing I would point out here is that this trade off should come from a positive stand point. This means that you shouldn’t ask yourself ‘What do I have to give up?’, but more ‘What do I want to big on?’. It’s not about never playing video games, it’s about going big on coding so you build an amazing and important skill. You don’t want to punish yourself, you want make the reward so essential that you don’t consider the alternative.
It all comes down to your emotional discipline. You may feel it’s hard at first, but with practice you do get better at it. Oh, and you learn a lot about yourself in the process 😉
This is the part where the action happens. This is where you actually decide what you want to go big on, what are the few things that really matter. You can do anything, but not everything. So what are you going to do? What is it that you are looking for? Here are a few McKeown quotes I like:
If the answer isn’t a definite yes, then it should be a definite no (be 100% sure about what you pick)
Courage is the key to elimination
The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.
The execution part is unique to every person. It’s the part where you set goals, you plan your week and you adapt your lifestyle so that everyday you are focusing on the essential. Start with 1 hour of coding a week. Every time you bring a packed lunch instead of eating out, send £10 to your savings account which will then be invested. Those hours you spend looking for discounts and coupons, use them to build an essential skill for the future. Identify what is essential to you and then implement it into your life. We’ll look into some cool tactics below 😛.
The sunk cost bias
The sunk cost bias is beautifully painful. It’s when you’ve been doing something for so long and put so much energy into it that you can’t give up now. When really, sometimes quitting and giving up is the smart thing to do. When figuring out what really matters, sometimes you’ll have to leave some stuff behind. Being an Essentialist means realising when this is happening and having the guts to quit it.
This could be a relationship, an online business, a client, a job or even a book! How do you remove your emotions from the factor and actually take an objective look at the project you’ve been doing for so long that you’re scared it’ll all be a waste?
McKeown has some great strategies to figure out whether you’re suffering from sunk cost bias:
- Ask yourself: what else could I do with this time or money if I pulled the plug now?
- Pretend you don’t own it – what would your life look like?
- Get a neutral second opinion, someone who isn’t involved
- Reverse pilot: test what would happen if you removed the initiative altogether
Identifying and practicing with sunk cost bias is a great way to practice Essentialism. Think of a project/relationship/client that you feel isn’t going anywhere, and use the 4 methods above to figure out if it’s still worth it. Time to focus on what truly matters.
Actionable steps towards Essentialism
What are some steps you can do right now to practice the skill of Essentialism? The steps in the first section are a great way to helping you first identifying what it is that actually matters to you. And then it’s about figuring out how to put those practice. Here are a few more tips:
Prioritise headspace: if you already work full time and have a side hustle, don’t start learning a new language, build another business online or do something that requires work concentration. Only do it if you know there’s a good reason, if you know you’ll commit and there’s something not as important you’re willing to trade off.
Routine: What are the areas in life that matter to you and how do you want to incorporate them into your everyday routine? Do you care about fitness? Travel? Reading books? If it truly matters to you, trade it for something not so important and find the time. ⌛
A priority: A priority means one thing that is important, not several priorities. How is it a priority if you have to do it with several other things too? Aim to have one priority a day/week. Focus on that one thing and get it done.
Don’t be mediocre at a lot of things, be good at few things: The sentence says it all – doing a lot of things means lack of focus and stress. Being good at a few things means you really get to involve yourself. Don’t try to get good at Spanish, German and Italian at the same time – pick one and stick to it. 🗣
Change the language: Instead of saying ‘I don’t have time’, use the words ‘It’s not my current priority’, or ‘It’s not on my list of goals for this week’. You’ll be amazed at how much more in control you feel, and how much more respect you’ll get from others.
Personally, what has worked for me is simply working in blocks. My concentration time is sacred, and it starts at about 6.30 am and finishes at around 5 pm (although afternoons are flexible). Every day I wake up and focus on doing stuff that I know I care about, that I know are important to me right now. In 5 years it may all change, but since exploring is a constant part of my routine (books, startup events, travel), I know that I can only be going in a direction that matters to me. Make exploration a priority, and learn to be ok with asking yourself ‘What do I want to do with my life?’, and then going out there an figuring it out.
Read the book. It may help you understand a few things 😉.