It can’t all matter. There’s got to be a way to rank everything that’s important in your life and identify the things that really aren’t. It’s going to take some time—meaning you’ll want to dedicate an hour or two—to get really real with yourself about what truly are the things that make your life a good life and which things are just a distraction.
This is the path of an essentialist, which Greg McKeown describes as someone who takes on the relentless pursuit of less but better. “Only once you give yourself permission to stop trying to do it all, to stop saying yes to everyone, can you make your highest contribution towards the things that really matter,” he writes in his book, Essentialism.
But what really matters? How do we know? It’s not always easy to whittle our list down. At first glance you might say, “it all matters! I can’t cut anything!” Essentialism is a skill we develop; it isn’t something most of us know how to do intuitively. So, I’m going to share some thoughts from five different books I’ve read about how to distill your life down to only the most important things.
The first book is called The Lazy Genius Way: Embrace What Matters, Ditch What Doesn’t, and Get Stuff Done by Kendra Adachi. The book lays out 13 Lazy Genius Principles but I’m going to focus on #10: essentialize.
For Kendra, embracing what matters must start with knowing what matters. She writes: “True fulfillment comes from subtraction, from removing everything that distracts you from what matters and leaving only the essential.”
Let’s say I have a jam-packed weekend ahead. In the Lazy Genius Way, the first step is to name what really matters to me. As I consider this, I land on three things that matter this weekend: rest, connection to Marc and the girls, and restoring order to our house.
The second step is removing what’s in the way. Doing my laundry feels essential because that restores order to my wardrobe. Going for a hike with Aly feels essential because it creates connection. Staying in my pajamas Sunday morning and reading a book in front of the fire feels essential because it creates rest.
Something that could get in the way is weekend errands. It’s amazing how much precious weekend time gets used up driving from A to B to C picking up and dropping off stuff if I’m not paying attention to being deliberate about how I spend my weekend.
While some errands feel necessary (I really do need to pick up one of those round batteries before my key fob completely dies) I can essentialize my errand list so it only takes a few hours instead of an entire day. A full day of running around would definitely be counter to rest, which I’ve already established is a priority.
Kendra’s last step is to keep only the essentials. If it doesn’t reeeaaaalllllly matter, and if it’s in the way of what does, it’s nixed.
The key takeaway is this: name what matters.
The next book I want to share with you is Soulful Simplicity by Courtney Carver. I love this book, especially chapter 26, which is all about taking a sabbath. Some of you may remember that most things used to be closed on Sunday. Can you believe that was only about 30 years ago?
What would it be like to have one day a week when you’re completely free of tasks, appointments and obligations? Taking a sabbath is all about putting a fence around one day each week and keeping it protected from everything that doesn’t serve you.
According to Courtney Carver (who I interviewed in episode 17), you start by scheduling your sabbath. Put it in your calendar. Number two, tell the world. “Call your friends, text your colleagues, tweet the news that you have scheduled a day off and won’t be available,” she writes. “Let them know that you won’t be answering the phone, checking email, or updating your Facebook status.”
What would your sabbath be like? Maybe you keep all screens off all day or at least until 1pm. Maybe you sleep in or go for a long hike or read a novel. What would feel exceptionally restorative to you and then ask yourself, why not? Why not take a full day of complete rest?
The next idea I want to share with you is from Kate Northrup’s book, Do Less. Here’s the big idea: receive help. She articulates it this way: “Let’s both of us see what happens if we let go of the lie we’ve been told and that we’ve been telling others—that having it all together or doing it all ourselves is what makes us valuable. Let’s replace it with shooting for genuine connection, true happiness, a full tank, the courage to be vulnerable by owning where we need support, and being willing to receive it when it shows up.”
Those of us who have spent a lifetime being highly self-sufficient—and likely getting a lot of praise from parents and bosses for being so reliable and having such steady follow-through—have probably built an identity around never needing anyone’s help. We’re the ones who chose the independent study over the group project. Why rely on others when we’re so dang good at doing it ourselves. If you can identify, you’re likely similar to me in that asking for and receiving help is really hard. But just like most things, it’s an underdeveloped skill that can be developed. We can get better, maybe even ninja-level better, at receiving help.
Kate recommends we take on this mantra: I am allowing this day to be easy. She recommends that we ask ourselves:
1. Does this need to be done?
2. Does this need to be done by me?
3. Does this need to be done right now?
When we pause to reflect and consider, we might not only see where we could ask for help, or where we could eliminate a task completely.
This topic wouldn’t feel adequately covered without bringing in some important insights from Becky Hall, who wrote the book The Art of Enough: Seven Ways to Build a Balanced Life and a Flourishing World. When I interviewed Becky for episode #148, she spoke a lot about having an “enough mindset,” which is rooted in the idea that there is enough, we can do enough, and we are enough.
Of course, we can always do more. Having an enough mindset is a deliberate approach to our lives that acknowledges the endlessness of our tasks and obligations but draws a subjective line in the sand when we’re come to close to our edge. It’s realizing when we’re almost overdrawn physically, emotionally or psychologically and granting ourselves permission to say, “enough.”
Becky thinks of enough as a state of being and also a way of living. “With Enough we learn to live within the natural limits within our lives,” she writes. With an enough mindset, we honor that we each have limits. It’s only human to reach the end of our capacity and then need to go renew our resources. In fact, those of us who learn to renew our resources effectively through rest and quality leisure become “well rooted and well resourced so that we can flourish with creativity and brilliance.”
In her book, Becky references a practice she read in Jim Collins’ book, Good to Great, which is to create a “stop doing list.” Try this out. Make a list of 10 to 20 things that you could stop doing. Rethink everything through the lens of this question: do I really need to be doing this?
I’d like to leave you with one final thought from Celeste Headlee’s book, Do Nothing. She writes: “The truth is, productivity is a by-product of a functional system, not a goal in and of itself. The question is not whether you are productive but what are you producing.” By the way, I interviewed Celeste in episode #97, and it was one of my favorite interviews.
We weren’t put on this earth to get our to-do list done. It can’t be that the purpose of life is to get everything done. What I think Celeste Headlee is asking is what is all this doing creating? Stress or happiness? Constraint or connection? Is it creating a life that you’re madly in love with? Maybe the answer is to do much, much less.
I’m not suggesting we all sit on our couches and stare at the wall. What I’m suggesting is a that we look really closely at what we give our time and energy to and make really sure it’s giving us the life that we want. This will require that we dedicate some time taking this closer look.
Go for a walk, sit on a Sunday morning with your journal, find a friend who can listen well and ask good questions so you can tease it out. Whatever it takes, get really clear on the essentials of your good, happy, peaceful life.
Next week I’ll be talking about how to become a No Ninja. See you then.
ABOUT KRISTEN MANIERI (COACH, HOST OF 60 MINDFUL MINUTES)
Kristen Manieri is a coach who works with teams to increase both productivity and wellbeing. She also helps individuals navigate transition with clarity and confidence. Her areas of focus are: stress reduction, energy management, mindset, resilience, habit formation, rest rituals, and self-care. As the host of the weekly 60 Mindful Minutes podcast, an Apple top 100 social science podcast, Kristen has interviewed over 200 authors about what it means to live a more conscious, connected, intentional and joyful life. She is the author of Better Daily Mindfulness Habits: Simple Changes with Lifelong Impact. Learn more at kristenmanieri.com/work-with-me.