Doing less, but better

I’ve been giving 110 percent for as long as I can remember – attempting to do it all, while taking advantage of every opportunity that came my way. I became a master juggler of priorities and thrived on the adrenaline of always being busy. I may have spent my whole life on this track but recently I read a book called Essentialism by Greg McKeown.

The premise of the book is “doing less, but better.” Determining what is essential and then eliminating the rest. I realized I was living my life the exact opposite of the concepts in the book, so I decided to be open to it and see where it led me. It has only been a couple of months but I have never felt better.

“Essentialism is not about how to get more things done; it’s about how to get the right things done. It doesn’t mean just doing less for the sake of less either. It is about making the wisest possible investment of your time and energy in order to operate at our highest point of contribution by doing only what is essential,” McKeown writes.

There are so many great tips and tricks in the book but the ones that I am currently working on are below:

Eliminate an old activity before adding a new one. This ensures that you don’t add an activity that is less valuable than something you are already doing. Think long and hard about all the things you would have to give up in order to take on something new.

Add expiration dates on new activities. Not every new initiative has to become an ongoing project. The next time you have a successful event – experience it, learn from it, and then move on to the next opportunity.

We can either do many things reasonably well or we can do a few things really well. The situation for many of us is that life is fast and full of opportunity. The complication is we think we have to do everything. We end up making a small amount of progress in a million directions. It is up to us to recognize what is essential and eliminate the nonessentials.

Sometimes we need to say no to good opportunities. Just because we are invited to do something isn’t a good enough reason to do it. It’s counterintuitive to say no to good opportunities, but if we don’t do it then we won’t have the space to figure out what we really want to invest our time in. Saying no to good things in order to say yes to great things – tradeoffs are to be made deliberately, strategically and thoughtfully.

Since reading Essentialism, I have sorted through my full range of commitments with a critical eye and have reluctantly stepped down from a few long standing committees I have been involved in and have turned down a couple of new opportunities I would have said yes to in the past. I also developed a game plan for where I want to invest my time and energy by taking into consideration the skills and abilities I would like to develop and improve upon in the future.

I’ve even applied Essentialism to my personal life. Summers go by so quickly and in the past I always filled my evenings and weekends with soccer, tennis, yoga, golf, kayaking and stand up paddle boarding (SUP) – trying to fit everything in. This summer I’ve decided that I won’t commit to any teams or classes – that way my evenings are free and I can focus as much time as possible on SUP – my true passion.

The serendipitous thing is I may never have come across this brilliant book. On “Pay it Forward” Day, a kind soul on twitter sent me their copy that they had just won in a give-away. I am grateful to have discovered these ideas and will implement other concepts from the book in the future.

I plan to live by design rather than by default, find what works best and eliminate the rest – focus on what matters most and contribute my efforts to the best of my abilities. All while doing less, but better.


Jodi LeBlanc
Jodi LeBlanc is a Values and Ethics Advisor with Veterans Affairs Canada and an Outreach and Engagement Advisor with the GC 2.0 Tools Team at Treasury Board Secretariat. She is also a member of CGE’s editorial advisory board. You can connect with her via @jodilynne3 or http://ca.linkedin.com/in/jodileblanc

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