Already feeling skeptical about how many of those New Year’s resolutions you’ll keep? The bleak statistics in, only 8% of people keep their resolutions, and most give up after a week. Yet wanted change is still well within reach. I sat down with Greg McKeown, best-selling author of Essentialism, the Disciplined Pursuit of Less, and you might be surprised to learn your aspirations to do more this year may be at the heart of why well-intended resolutions fail. In a world that screams, “You can have and do it all,” social pressures to be on 24/7/365 make it impossible to make trade-offs because, as Greg notes, “The preponderance of choice has overwhelmed our ability to manage it.” Greg’s movement is to help the world redesign their lives around more essential, focused, and better choices that allow greater lives of intentional purpose. That is the way of the essentialist.
And the first step requires doing less.
We live in a world that celebrates and rewards busyness in ways that are addictive. “The conditions for something to be addictive are, first, you must receive a reward. Second, you must sometimes receive a punishment. It has to be randomly rewarded or punished. This creates addiction. And finally, you crave and fear it – you are constantly scanning for opportunities to indulge. Our obsession with remaining technologically connected, especially to email, meets these conditions.” At the core of our busyness addictions are needs for personal importance, to please others, and to feel a sense of purpose, artificial though it may be. Our lives, and our children’s lives, are over-committed, our finances over-extended, and our schedules over-programmed. We know it and when asked, most wish it were different.
Here are three ways you can change your year, and life, with the discipline to do less.
Design your day around essentials
“When I ask people, If you got three important things done every day in your professional life, would that be a good day?, everyone says yes.” It’s astounding how few actually design their days to realize that outcome. Greg models this in his life by starting each day asking, “What are the top three most important things I want to do today personally and professionally?” By doing so, it enables him to be intentional with his choices, especially when nonessential options lure him off course. He notes, “When the word priority came into the English language in the 1400s, it was singular. It meant the very first priority or thing. It wasn’t for 500 years in the 1900s that we pluralized the term and starting talking about priorities. We illogically reasoned that by changing the word, we could now have multiple “first” things.” Greg believes if people were choosing consciously, they would choose essentialism despite a culture that unconsciously pulls us into nonessentialism. He says, “On days I do it, my day calms down and seems to expand. When I don’t, my day seems to shorten.” For leaders, he suggests making sure your assistant knows your intentions and helps manage your calendar accordingly.
Learn the graceful “no”
Most people, especially leaders, struggle to say, “no.” In my experience working with executives, this is painfully true. Whether fear of social rejection or conflict, or to win favor with a boss, we say yes without thinking. “In practical interactions, we are rewarded for bad behavior. We over commit. We are at least saying yes to someone, so we feel we’ve been helpful and therefore needed.” When you get internal clarity on what’s truly essential, you are able to say no. Though you can be punished in the short term for good behavior, you are rewarded eventually. The non-essentialist wants the short term reward that surges from saying yes.” Learning to say “no” is foundational to essentialism. It means you have the courage to hold fast to committed intentions and not chase your sense of purpose in every opportunity that arises. “It’s hard because we don’t want to feel guilty or let anyone down, or worse, damage a relationship.” Greg warns that “it’s vital to separate the decision from the relationship, and accept that sometimes saying no requires trading popularity for respect .”
For too many professionals, the urgency of the next email or meeting hijack capacity to think beyond today. For leaders, it is more essential to spend time on questions of strategy and identity than succumb to the immediacy of whatever is detouring attention from farther horizons. Greg suggests leaders have “personal quarterly off-sites where they check and refine goals every 90 days.” He notes, “Most teams can identify the top five most important things they need to get done in the coming year. The problem is they can’t eliminate the 30 other things they shouldn’t be working on that will derail their efforts to focus on the top five.” Long-term thinking is vital to being able to answer the question, “What’s important right now?” If you don’t understand the relative trade-off, the implicit criteria to figuring out what’s essential is left to chance. He uses the metaphor of drivers who are lost. “The issue isn’t being lost, it’s being unwilling to admit you’re lost.” Once you acknowledge being lost, you know what to do. “People who know they are lost can be committed to essentialism because they know what’s really important.” The implications for executives and organizations are undeniable. Having a strategy that is “roughly clear” undermines performance in countless ways. Resources are squandered and people become cynical about the value of their contributions.
As you set out to fill the fresh canvas of 2016, are you confident the painting you are creating will be the masterpiece your aspirations imply? Before you get to far, limit your palette of colors. Be sharp about the vital few things you can, and should, accomplish. Choose now what you won’t do. Modify key routines to help make daily choices in the service of those accomplishments. You will be amazed by all you get done, how key relationships are strengthened, and how much more gratified you are by the contributions you make to the world.
This article was written by Ron Carucci from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.