Why You Need to Be An Essentialist

Where many of us falter is not in a lack of time, but in a lack of clarity. We fail to realize just what’s essential in our lives and in our businesses. Our priorities, if we were to sit down and write them on a piece of paper, would drastically differ from what we give our time to. This needs to change.

Looking at how I plan and structure my days, I need some clarification with a few things, and I’m guessing you do as well. Within my life and my business I need to figure out what’s essential, and what isn’t. What deserves my time, and what doesn’t. And whether you know it or not, you do too. (Read: The Missing Ingredient in Modern Men: Character)

Thus, this article is being written, in part, to help you find clarity, but it’ll also serve as an exercise that may have otherwise found its way into my journal rather than this site. I’m putting this out here to hopefully use my questions and struggles and answers to help you find some clarity.

First, a little background as to why I’m doing this, now.

Through my recent travels I’ve had the wherewithal to pick up a few audiobooks for the road trips, flights, and bus rides. Instead of playing music to start my day or sitting in silence, I’ve pressed play and listened to an audiobook to get the mental juices flowing before I head out for a morning run to explore the city.

One such audiobook is actually a book I’ve read but needed to go over again because it’s of such great importance. That book, Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, by Greg McKeown.

I hold this book and audiobook in such high regard because it makes us question whether what we’re giving our time and effort to what we should be giving our time and effort to. Are the things that fill your day each, individually, essential to your success and happiness?

These questions are so vital because it’s what we give our time to that will make us either successful, or a failure, that will lead us to live strong, powerful, fulfilling lives, or empty lives filled with little accomplishment.

It’s simple. If we can figure out the best use for our time in every minute of the day, we’re going to live pretty awesome lives.

Alas, it’s not always that easy.

Finding The Essential

Letting everything in your life feed your priorities, helping them evolve and grow, giving you the enjoyment you crave from life. This is the way of the essentialist.

The Big Priority

Many of you have families, and as men with families nothing should ever be put before the family or instead of the family, yet many of us take meetings and work late nights and go back on promises to please bosses or coworkers or business partners, each of which takes away from the time we have with our family.

The Stuff That Clutters Our Lives

Much of what we own is utterly non-essential to our goals and to us living the lives we want to live. The channels we have on our TV, for example. Most of them are useless. Or the gadgets we have but never use or the clothes we bought but never wear. Not only are they non-essential, but they do more to clutter our lives and our minds than any ounce of happiness they give.

Every couple of months I de-clutter. I go through everything and give it to Goodwill. Yet, I still have too much. I’m not being ruthless enough.

The best of us focus on the essential and only the essential. We don’t waste our time with things that don’t help us improve or become better.

Are You An Essentialist?

On some level, many of us are already Essentialists, but we still cling on to the forces that oppose this clarity, this purposefulness. We Facebook and Twitter rather than doing what we’re put here to do. Which brings me to another book I’m reading, Where Men Win Glory, by Jon Karkauer, the story of Pat Tillman. It’s an incredible book with great insight into a very interesting and honorable man. A man of principle and values, and reading the book I’m exposed, forced to look at my own life and my values and how often I compromise them.

It’s another eye-opening read, and the best reads like Where Men Win Glory and Essentialism, force you to take a look at your life with raw honesty. They strip you naked and allow you to see who you are and how it opposes how you’re living.

One of the stories of Pat in the book follows his unique decision to partake in a triathlon during one NFL offseason. It’s unique because, as you fitness buffs know, an ironman isn’t necessarily made for the mesomorphic, muscular types, which Pat was. In fact, he was the only one to partake in such an event during that offseason, or the marathon he competed in the offseason before.

The explanation given by the author as to why Pat did such a thing, not only risking injury, but something that opposed the golf-heavy off-seasons of his teammates, gives us insight into how to be a man of character, and a man whose values take precedence over society’s – which also has a lot to do with this Essentialism.

…the Tillman family creed nevertheless imparted to him an overarching sense of values that included a belief in the transcendent importance of continually striving to better oneself – intellectually, morally, and physically.

Endurance events were the complete opposite regimen of a pro football player. Their bodies weren’t made for it. But that’s exactly why he did them. They forced him to extend himself, to strengthen his weaknesses, and most importantly, they gave him a mental battle that he had to fight through. They forced toughness upon him.

Essentialism is one part removal, one part self-realization. When you know very clearly what you want from life, and determine how to create this life, rather, the steps you need to take to create this life, you can then work on removing what you don’t need and focusing only on what you do. Check out: 7 Ways to Become a Better Man

Removing the Non-Essential

Our (my) daily lives are not only filled with things we don’t need in order to succeed or to improve, but dominated by such things. We spend the vast majority of time wasted on things that don’t help us take purposeful steps toward the guy we want to become or the business we want to create or the mission we’re attempting to accomplish, the obstacle we’re aiming to conquer.

Removing this stuff from our lives would free us up to finally become who we are capable of becoming, but we have to be ruthless.

Now, the book goes into way more detail about a much broader group of topics from the need to sleep effectively, to managing teams and companies and even your family, but for the purpose of this article let’s keep it focused on the essentials we need to give our time to on a daily basis, and what we can remove.

To help, a list of things that are non-essential in many of our lives (feel free to add to this in the comments section):

  • Facebooking or Twittering or Instagramming. We spend too much time admiring the lives others are leading and not living our own.
  • Mindlessly watching TV without really thinking about what we’re watching
  • The internet, by-in-large, is useless for many of us. Most of our time spent on the interwebz  doesn’t help us become better (although some stuff, ahem, like this site, does).
  • Email. When do you answer your email? If it’s in your peak energy hours, you’re giving your best hours to the requests of someone else.
  • Meetings. Most of them are useless. We schedule them just to feel important, a part of something.

Those are easy ones. But when you really focus on what will most help you succeed, you’ll find that much of your time is wasted on stuff that’s actually holding you back. Check Out: Small Priorities = Small People

Making the Big Picture, Specific.

What’s the grand, audacious goal you want to accomplish?

It can be a vision, like a family life you want to create, or a company you want to build, or a book you want to write.

For myself, to use an example, I don’t just want to create a web site and a following online. I’d like this to be the resource for guys who want something more from life. This, however, is an exceptionally broad and bold goal. It’s something that can have so many different parts. A book, a course, a site, a following on social media, even coaching or live events. The possibilities are endless.

Looking at the broad picture can be overwhelming. Specification is needed. Before I can do it all, I have to figure out not only what the first step is, but what the best first step is. What thing is most essential to this overall, grand vision?

I know my first step, that most essential thing. The struggle now lies in removing everything else or handing it off, somehow getting it off my plate.

What’s most essential to your success within your work? Or is the most essential thing getting out of your work?

Are you really doing what you want to do, or what you feel you’re put here to do?

The thing that’s essential to your success also has to be essential to your happiness. Figuring out how to focus on what you should focus on also has to do with relinquishing control over those things you can’t control.

All That Exists Is The Present. And It’s All We Can Control.

We can’t control our past, it has come and gone, though we can learn from it. We can’t actually control our future, though things we do in the present will surely have an effect on said future.

All we have the ability to control is the present, yet it’s the present where few of us live. Most of us, by a vast majority, spend almost all of our time thinking and worrying about the future.

If you can figure out the first step toward greatness in any area, or simply toward happiness, you then have to figure out the boldest, most audacious and important thing you can do to make that step a success.

We’re focusing on work here, but for most of us, our families will be the most important thing in our lives. So the first step may simply be to schedule 1 full day a week with our families. To accomplish this step, though, we’ll have to become much more focused and effective with our work than tends to extend into the weekends. So no matter your “big thing”, this stuff will still apply.

Within my business there’s a lot that needs to be accomplished to fulfill that initial, important step.

There’s the site, which still needs a lot of improvement and growth and I really have to thank you guys for passing on the word about the articles and what we’re doing here.

There’s also social media, and video (the latter I’ve really let slide lately). The pieces of this puzzle are many, but there can only be one most important focus, one essential task at a given moment.

With there being many moveable and important parts to this mission, though, I can’t simply remove everything and focus only on one thing all the time. As an example, I think a book is a vital part of what we’re trying to accomplish. I think it’ll enable us to reach a lot more people and positively affect their lives. There’s something about holding a book in your hands that connects to you more than a web site can.

As a result, I’ve given days to certain aspects of the vision I’m creating, and I’ve done this for a number of reasons.

For one, I hate “pure” routine, doing the same thing day in and day out, but I love routine at the same time.

I enjoy waking up at the same time everyday, and having my morning routine, but what I do in that day needs to differ in some kind of way, or else I’m living the monotonous life I started this business to break free from.

Thus, I’ve broken my week down as follows – something that’s relatively newly implemented and have yet to fully perfect or adhere to, so it’s a work in progress for sure. But it’s something that you may want to try as well. Instead of trying to do bits and pieces of everything, everyday, get big chunks of big things accomplished everything, backed with the ruthless, undisturbed focus that they deserve.

Here’s an example of how I may set up my week.

Sunday – Newsletters, immediate site stuff

Monday – Big picture stuff, book, courses coming up for you guys

Tuesday – Blogs/site growth

Thursday – Big picture stuff, book, courses coming up for you guys

Friday – Blogs/site growth

Saturday – Big picture stuff, book, courses coming up for you guys

Emails are scheduled. I don’t answer them throughout the day. Facebook is scheduled. I’m not on there all day, or at peak times of the day. Just a thought. Do these things, the emails, the TV, whatever, but do them after you’ve given your best hours to the essential things in your life. Check Out: The Beauty of Ambition

The Myth of Having No Time

I don’t have the time…

This is something I’ve said in the past and something I hear almost daily, and it’s bullshit. Granted, some people work jobs that do, indeed, simply require hours. However, if you have any control over your time, if you’re in a sales job, for example, you have time for whatever your priorities may be.

We all have enough time for those things that are most important to us if we ruthlessly rid our lives of those things that are not only not important, but useless; things that bring us no closer to our goal, tasks that we feel we need to do but if we just didn’t do them we’d find that not only would our lives get better, but we’d get a hell of a lot more done on the things that are important, and not waste our time on the things that aren’t.

By identifying the essential, you open yourself up to remove the non-essential. When you can remove the non-essential, you now have the time to not only give your time to the things that will make you more successful, but the things that make you happy.

The Myth of “I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead”

Our culture is set up in such a way that we, oddly enough, look down on those who sleep and praise those who sleep very little, spending all of their time working, hustling, creating.

I’m in this trap, so I can’t point the finger in any way with this. I love those stories of the guys who’d get home from work at midnight and be back at it at 4am simply because that’s what he had to do.

Now, with all of this talk about using your time on the shit that actually makes a difference, the stuff that’s essential to your success, does not mean that your work day will be 4 hours.

It could. I did that in Italy, actually it was 5 or 6, but close, and my business killed it while I was there. You still may work 17-hour days. In fact, me being a single guy, I don’t see much point to doing anything else. My days are filled with fitness and reading and working.

I’m just learning, battling, to focus on the things that really matter.

Back to the topic of sleep.

Some people can last on 4, 5, or 6 hours of sleep. They’re rare. Many of them have just slid into accepting the fact that they’re going to be tired all the time and gotten used to. But when I get 7 to 8.5 hours of good sleep every night, I’m at my best.

I can focus, make the tough decisions that need to be made in a day, like sitting in the chair (soon to be a standing desk) and writing when I’d like to be outside, or avoiding ESPN.com or checking my NFL fantasy team’s stats, or reading awesome articles that just don’t need to be read at this very moment.

I think we’re all better when we’re rested. Thus, I’d put sleep in the category of the essential, as does McKeown in his book. When I routinely go to bed at the same time and get up at the same time, that quality improves and I actually need less of it.

It’s on my list of essentials, and you’re seeing it on the list of many of these “hustle and all cost” CEO’s that once prided themselves on their lack of sleep. Hopefully, culturally, we’re moving away from the “I don’t sleep I hustle” outlook and into the “I hustle better when I sleep better” viewpoint.

Must Read on this topic: Sleep Is The Cousin of Death = NONSENSE!

Don’t Overhaul Everything All At Once

Learning from my mistakes, don’t get all excited by this article, or the books mentioned within, and aim to change anything and everything in your life. It just doesn’t work like that.

The habits you and I have built up over the years, good or bad, are hardwired into how we act, the decisions we make, and the actions we take on a daily basis, on a minutely basis. It takes time and the creation of new habits to truly conquer and decimate the old ones that left us with nothing but mediocrity in comparison to what we could have and could become.

Start with one thing at a time.

For myself, it’s determining what is the most essential thing to the growth of this business, then setting my days up to accomplish those things that are most important, and, ideally, handing everything else off to someone else.

A few little things that have helped:

1. Going to an internet-free zone.

This takes away any chance of fucking around on sites that I shouldn’t be visiting during my workday. Primarily ESPN and NFL Fantasy. Those bastards take up too much of my time.

2. Setting a timer.

Ninety minutes to two hours seems to be my optimal focus time. Sometimes 3 or 4 hours goes by without a though, like tonight, writing this having had a bottle of wine and a fine slab of salmon, I got to this wee little Irish bar at 8pm and it’s now 11pm.

Just realizing that, I should probably head home and head to bed.

Regardless, the timer thing is huge if you work at a job where focus is key. Don’t push the focus. If it’s flowing, let it flow, but break your work day up with active breaks, which brings us to why you use the timer.

3. Move!

Movement in any sense will help you perform your essential tasks at a much higher level. When that timer goes, get up and do some push ups or go for a run or do some chin-ups.

Get your blood pumping, your endorphins a flowin’, and make the most of your day.

For one, movement will help you hormonally in a big way. Just by moving 25 or 30% more everyday, you’re likely going to boost your T levels.

4. Diet.

My morning routine is also a morning nutrition routine. There are things you can do with your diet that will help you have sustained energy levels throughout the day.

We help you structure all of this with the Man Diet. I highly recommend you check that out.

As yourself the questions posed in this article.

Buy the books presented within this article.

Your success, your happiness, they are all dependant on doing the right things, the best things, and removing the non-essential from your life.

I’m on the path to be an Essentialist. Join me.

This will also help you get started: 7 Ways to Get Out of a Funk