As busy teachers, essentialism is not always a skill we have successfully acquired and my interest in this book was piqued when Kat Howard recommended it on Twitter. Personally, I feel like I have gone through an ‘essentialiam’ process over the last three years, stripping back and, despite falling off the bandwagon at the start of the year, I am meandering my way back to an essentialist lifestyle aided by a series of lockdowns.
Greg McKeown argues that ‘essentialism is about making the wisest possible investment of your time and energy in order to operate at your highest point of contribution by doing only what is essential.’ A philosophy that seems at odd with the busy, vibrant real life and online world. In fact, McKeown argues that non-essentialism is everywhere because we have so many choices in front of us; there is a significant amount of social pressure and, inherently, we have this infallible desire to have it all.
So how do we strip back to and step back into a life of essentialism? This is what McKeown had to say:
- Choose – The invincible power of choice – choice is an action. The Essentialist knows that when we surrender our right to choose, we give others not just the power but also the explicit permission to choose for us.
- Discern – the unimportance of practically everything – the idea that so much of what we do has little value and yields little result. Instead we need to focus on the few things that work fantastically well and have tremendous impact.
- Trade-offs. Which problem do I want? A strategic position is not sustainable unless there are trade-offs with other positions. We have to prioritise and make deliberate and strategic trade-offs.
- Escape – the perks of being unavailable – we need to have space to think and time to be silent. We also need time to read. Building in time for this is essential.
- Look – See what really matters – we need to evaluate what our most important things are. We need to reflect on the big question and we need to listen in order to understand the things that aren’t being said or missed.
- Play – we need joy in our lives. Restoring ourselves comes from laughter and enjoyment so we need to step back and ensure there is time for this in our lives.
- Sleep – those who get more sleep, function better. Not only do people perform better, making better contributions but it helps to boost creativity as well.
- Select – we need to say yes to only the top 10% of opportunities and ask ourselves whether what we are being asked to do suits what we are looking for. If it isn’t a clear yes, then it is a clear no.
- Clarity – we need to be clear on what our priorities are – our essential intent. Anything that doesn’t feed into this priority isn’t a priority.
- Dare – dare to say no and say yes only to the things that matter or that will make a difference to you.
- Uncommit – ‘half of the troubles of this life can be traced to saying yes too quickly and not saying no soon enough’ (Josh Billings). Key questions we need to ask ourselves include if I weren’t already invested, would I invest now? What else could I do with this time? But in doing this, we have to be comfortable with what we stand to lose.
- Edit – eliminate distractions.
- Limit – set boundaries. Organise your time and stick to it. See having boundaries as being a liberating experience.
- Buffer – have buffers to ensure you have planned for / considered the worst case scenario. Be prepared and be prepared in advance. When planning tasks, add 50% to your time limit.
- Subtract – remove obstacles.
- Progress – don’t focus on the big picture but create opportunities for small wins. Celebrate these small wins.
- Flow – create routines that pay attention to that which is essential. Make the essential the default position – this might include making incremental changes to your routine initially.
- Focus – life is only available in the present. Don’t be consumed by your past or your future. Focus on the here and now. Tune in to what is important about the now. And enjoy living for the moment.
This book arrived during a timely period with the amount of work at work ramping up, a tighter lockdown again restricting our freedom and not the happiest of terms. Reading this reminded me of how much I adore leading a simple, quiet, peaceful life – something I have been working hard to achieve over the past three years. It has also made me think and re-consider my priorities (although big priorities) to focus in on and not deviate from.
- Professional: I want all my schemes of work written. This causes me such stress not having schemes of work. I feel like I have spent three years stressing about it, and, more recently, have had many conversations with myself about it. I don’t want to go back to long days and endless hours of work but this is something that will make my life immeasurably better so…short term pain for long term gain, but work wise, this will now be the only thing I properly commit to until they are done.
- Professional-personal: complete the CTeach programme successfully. I am all for research and fully invested in CPD. I need to strip back the CPD I do do and give everything to this course. I need to maintain my focus on my CTeach areas and not be distracted by other shiny CPD.
- Personal: As soon as physically allowed, get back out travelling – one of the things about living in this country that keeps me happy along with good food and good wine. In the mean time, read all the books. Make it a routine, every day. I have reading highs and lows and I need to ensure that regardless of how tired I am, it becomes the habit.
Here’s to essentialism!