I’m reading a book called Essentialism. It’s the manuscript for simplifying your life and removing much of the bullshit that clutters our minds and distracts us from those things that are truly important. No organization I’ve worked for has done this. At all.
Essentialism, by Greg McKeown

If you’ve ever read anything by Tim Ferriss, you already know the premise. Keep meaning. Remove crap. Pick and choose ruthlessly. Only, this book wasn’t written by Tim Ferriss. Greg McKeown is the mastermind behind this one. Link is to the right (Warning: Affiliate link!!!!).

It all started to hit home beginning with McKeown’s discussion of the word priority. “The word priority came into the English language in the 1400s. It was singular. It meant the very first or prior thing. It stayed singular for the next five hundred years.”

Then, the 19th century hit and society began to redefine the word, bending it to include more, and more, and more. Now, we have multiple “first things”. We must not direct our limited attention spans to a single, unifying purpose or goal. Instead, organizations and people insist on dividing up our focus to so-called “multiple priorities”.

Ever heard the phrase “list of priorities”? Of course you have. If you work at a typical organization in corporate America, you hear this all the time. Whiteboards contain these lists. The “10 top list of priorities”. Every organization I have ever worked for – and likely yours as well – bends the word “priority” to include more. As much as possible.

What’s the problem with more?

Humans are not machines. We suck at multitasking. Our attention spans are very often limited. The faster we go, the more mistakes we make. Any society that equates “doing” with “productivity” is guilty of this more syndrome.

I do not work well within organizations that incessantly clamor for more. Perhaps that’s why I retired early.

Many evenings I spent in the office – generally after everyone else had more wisely departed for the night, grinding through an assignment. The office was eerily quiet. Occasionally, I would look up from my computer monitor and listen. Listen to the nothingness. Outside, the sun quickly faded – as it often does. It felt strange wandering a quiet, empty office at night. I would peek into cubicles and take note of desktop clutter. What must that person be doing right now? Dinner with family, maybe? Relaxing with a beer?

Why was I stuck in this fluorescent hell pounding through lines of code until some sweet harmonic convergence finally put the pieces of the puzzle into place? Was I really this much of a sucker?

…but I digress.

Naturally, everything needs to be done “now” or, more cleverly, yesterday. Then, we can’t stop there. We need more.

More features. More power. A hell of a lot more widgets…as many of those damn things as we can possibly cram into a product. Always, more.

But, here’s the sad truth:

More does not equal better

The more we do, the faster we work. The faster we work, the more mistakes we make. We are human, after all. Not machines. And even machines fry under loads that they weren’t designed for. They smoke and die. Or steam, like an overheated car engine.

What makes us humans believe we were designed to endure insane workloads? Split our focus among a dozen “priorities”? The idea that we can fully operate at near-100% of our mental and physical capacity under the guise of “more” is flawed to its very core. More creates burnout.

And I don’t know about you, but I hate frying. Tell me, has any of your organizations successfully navigated the not-so-complex waters of essentialism? Doing few things well? Identifying a single priority? Eliminating, not adding, nonsense to your everyday employment life?

How many management presentations were shorter than you expected, not longer? How many suited presenters yielded the remainder of their time due to sheer efficiency of message rather than overrunning their allotment?

A few additional notables from the Essentialism book:

On page 121:

Cooperation deteriorates
when there is a lack of purpose.

On page 159:

The latin root of the word
decision
means “to cut”, or ” to kill”.

On page 181:

I know someone who always thinks it will take her five minutes to get to the store because she made the journey in five minutes once.

On page 230:

Essentialism isn’t just about success. It’s about meaning and purpose.

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