Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less
Podcast #59 — Aired April 23, 2015

What if you could do better by doing less? That’s the idea behind best-selling book, “Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less,” for anyone who has ever felt overworked and entirely too busy. This week on BetterWorldians Radio we’re talking with “Essentialism” author Greg McKeown. McKeown will explain how listeners can figure out what’s essential at work and at home in order to channel their time and energy toward what really matters.

 

 

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Greg McKeown
Author, Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less

Greg McKeown is the author of the best-selling book Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less. Greg writes, teaches, and lectures around the world on the importance of living and leading as an Essentialist. He has spoken at companies including Apple, Google, and Facebook and is among the most popular bloggers for the Harvard Business Review and LinkedIn’s Influencer Group. He co-created the course “Designing Life, Essentially” at Stanford University and serves as a Young Global Leader for the World Economic Forum. Greg holds an MBA from Stanford University. Learn more at GregMcKeown.com.

 

Episode Transcript

Gregory Hansell
Hi, this is Greg. Im so glad you can all join us here on BetterWorldians Radio. Let me first just tell you a bit about my Dad, Ray, who you just heard from. Hes a serial entrepreneur, who successfully founded and with MarySue and took public a national marketing firm. Giving back has always been really important to Dad, who supports many causes, especially disadvantaged children and their families. By the way we are the family team that created the popular social game on Facebook called A Better World. It rewards players for doing good deeds while helping to raise money and awareness for charities. To date, over 25 million good deeds have been done in A Better World by more than 2.7 million people. And in the month of April were supporting Northern Children Services, a nonprofit that supports the healthy development of children while stabilizing their families to build stronger communities. When our players complete 300,000 good deeds in the game this month well release funds to the Mothers Fresh Start Program to fill welcome suitcases for new moms in need with personal care and baby necessities, including clothes for mom and baby. This week on BetterWorldians Radio were discussing the best-selling book, Essentialism, The Disciplined Pursuit of Less with Author, Greg McKeown. Greg writes, teaches and lectures around the world on the importance of living and leading as an Essentialist. He has spoken at companies, including Apple, Google and Facebook and is among the most popular bloggers for The Harvard Business Review and LinkedIns Influencer Group. He co-created the course, Designing Life Essentially, at Stanford University and serves as a young global leader for the World Economic Forum. Greg holds an MBA from Stanford University. Hi, Greg, welcome to BetterWorldians Radio.

Gregory Hansell
Im just so happy to be with you.

Gregory Hansell
Thank you for coming. Thank you for being here. So you say Essentialism is the disciplined pursuit of less what does that mean?

Gregory Hansell
Well, really what it means is to not just pay lip service to the idea of prioritizing now and then, every so often as if its one more thing we have to stuff into our already overstuffed lives, its about the continual, perpetual, disciplined ongoing ever present pursuit of the essential instead of the undisciplined pursuit of the nonessential.

Gregory Hansell
So in what way does Essentialism go against the modern workplace culture?

Gregory Hansell
In every way. No, seriously, I knew that this book was countercultural when I wrote it, but it has proved to be far more countercultural than even I appreciated in putting it together. I got a call from, actually it was from NPR, the National Radio Station and somebody there said, listen, I havent read Essentialism but my Boston boss has and I just want to know if what theyre doing is what you said for them to do? And, yes, and what they meant by it was this person suddenly seemed like they were acting the way so different from what they usually did that it was slightly freaking everybody out.

Gregory Hansell
Yes.

Gregory Hansell
And thats because today we live in a busyness bubble where almost everybody is not just connected, but hyper connected, where everybody sort of seems to think if I can just fit it all into my schedule then I can have it all in my life.

Gregory Hansell
Right.

Gregory Hansell
And the reality is that they cant, but that seems to be the dominant logic and dominant culture of our times.

Gregory Hansell
Yes. No, I think thats true, and I think it can be tricky to be able to say no in a workplace, but well get to that in just a minute. You begin your book, Essentialism, with the story of Sam Elliott, which really illustrates your point that you can do more by doing less. So can you share that story?

Gregory Hansell
This is a true story. A leader based here in Silicon Valley who was doing award-winning work for one company and then that whole company got purchased by a larger, more bureaucratic firm. And as he went into the new company he was seen to be a team player, and what he meant by that loosely was say yes to everyone and everything without really thinking about it.

Gregory Hansell
Right.

Gregory Hansell
And what he noticed was that his stress was just going up at exactly the same time as the quality of his work was going down.

Gregory Hansell
Sure.

Gregory Hansell
And that led him to almost think about leaving the company, but somebody gave him some counterintuitive advice and the advice was retire in role, and what they meant was not to quit, stay and dont tell anybody, but pretend that youre only going to get paid for the value you actually create into this company. And suddenly he said, well, being invited to a meeting didnt seem like a good enough reason for going.

Gregory Hansell
Thats great.

Gregory Hansell
And so he didnt, and what happened? Well, by the end of that year he said I got my life back. He said at work my performance evaluations went up, I ended the year with one of the largest bonuses of my whole career. Now you can take that to mean different things, but you can, you know, you could say, well, this is a problem of 10 equals one, this is one person where, yes, youve got an example but that doesnt show that its true for everybody else. Thats one interpretation of the story. Another is that basically its something far more universal, basic arithmetic, in fact. And that is this, that you can either do a few things superbly well or you can do very many things averagely well.

Gregory Hansell
Yes.

Gregory Hansell
And he suddenly discovered that by doing a few things superbly well he could actually have a better life at home and a better life at work with a higher contribution. So thats I think not just true for him, I think its true universally for everyone.

Gregory Hansell
I think thats exactly right, and as we were talking about before we started the show Ive experienced that in my own life. I know that you write that Essentialism is basically less, but better. How difficult can it be to convince people that doing less can be better?

Gregory Hansell
Well, actually, I dont find it hard to convince people of this. I find that almost universally people accept that theyre in a fundamental tradeoff in life, that they can either do as we mentioned before a few things superbly well, that is less but better, or they can do very, very many things averagely well. And then they will be stretched too thin at work or at home, then they will be busy but not productive, then they will find that their inbox is getting longer by the end of the day. This is an experience people know because its what they really live day in and day out. Now heres the thing, to convince people there is a better way than that is not hard, but heres what makes the principle of Essentialism hard to live and practice is that thats so not what everyone is doing right now.

Gregory Hansell
Yes.

Gregory Hansell
So its not the path of least resistance, and so or rather yes, exactly so the path of least resistance is four million directions. And so really people are so theyre getting conned in a way by the idea that they can have it all, whereas, if they actually were being constantly given two clear options well, today would you like to do a few things superbly well or would you like to do a lot averagely well, they would choose a few things superbly well if they were being given that option. But because that isnt the option that they are given, because its not presented that way, they fall into this undisciplined pursuit of more, they fall into a path that they wouldnt have deliberately and strategically chosen, but they are choosing by default.

Gregory Hansell
Have you heard from people that they have a difficult time kind of bringing this insight into their workplace and into their everyday lives or have they had a good time, an easy time enacting it once they really give it a go?

Gregory Hansell
I think Ive had definitely two types of experiences that people have had. I mean but I am the first to put out there, but obviously Essentialism is so countercultural you cant do it alone. I suppose, you know, there are exceptions to this, but I definitely wouldnt advocate it. I mean I think the military have a phrase that they say, one is none and two is won, meaning w-o-n and winning.

Gregory Hansell
Right.

Gregory Hansell
Youve got to do this for somebody else, youve got to have somebody, not just to sort of keep you honest in a sense of accountability, but keeps you inspired that they are an aspiring Essentialist and youre an aspiring Essentialist. I go to breakfast with a couple of people who are in this category, and every time Im with them they inspire me it can be done, theres a different way, theres a better way, and theyre trying the Essentialist experiments in their lives. Its a small example, but its illustrative that somebody saw how many cards I brought, a wallet, that I had sort of in an elastic band and I thought that was fairly Essentialist. And they said, you know, I just bring two cards, one with my ID and one credit card, thats it. And somebody living a simple, albeit a small thing, made me think, well, what am I doing with all of these others, I dont need it, its not necessary, so I was able to simplify what I was doing. So I think what people have to do is if they need Essentialism and they find themselves saying I would prefer this alternative path, this way of the Essentialist then they ought to find at least one other person who they think they can take with them on this journey so that they can help each other be inspired for this journey.

Gregory Hansell
Thats interesting. I know you learned an important lesson about Essentialism on the day your daughter was born, can you share that story?

Gregory Hansell
So this was a few years ago now and I got an e-mail from my doctor at the time and she said Friday would be a very bad time for your wife, Anna, to have a baby. I mean I should say that my wife was expecting.

Gregory Hansell
Right, right.

Gregory Hansell
That would have been even odder.

Gregory Hansell
Thats right.

Gregory Hansell
But sure enough Friday came and that is when our daughter was born. And I was in the hospital and my wife was looking radiant, the baby is healthy, but instead of being so focused on this clearly essential moment in life I was pulled in two different directions. And as every non-Essentialist will I was trying to fit both in, how can I do both was the question I was trying to answer, how can I do both? And then I thought, no, I know about leadership, I know, Ive studied this for years, I know what to do. And but actually, you know, I managed just to say yes and go, I failed, and I went to the meeting. And I remember that my doctor at the time said afterwards the client will respect you for the choice you made.

Gregory Hansell
Yes.

Gregory Hansell
I dont think that the look on their faces meant that kind of confidence and, furthermore, even if it can surely I had made a fools bargain. And that was really where I learned this simple lesson that I paid a price for which is that if you dont prioritize your life someone else will. And that is really what gives me fire for the deed, it took a while after that, and not years and years by any means, but it took a little while to finally just say I cant do this, this isnt the right direction for me, for my family, for what Im trying to do. And so I left, I started a business, and specifically focused on this issue, and thats how I wrote the book, Essentialism. The book became a New York Times bestseller. Its been published it just came out a year ago today, in fact.

Gregory Hansell
Thats great.

Gregory Hansell
Published in a dozen countries. Travel around the world seeing thousands of people, certainly thousands, tens of thousands of people who have communicated and said, yes, this is relevant to me, this is my challenge, too. I say that just because I feel a sense of mission with this.

Gregory Hansell
Sure.

Gregory Hansell
Its not just a book, its personal to me and its something that I think many people can relate to, yes.

Gregory Hansell
No, I think thats exactly right. When I read the book one of my takeaways was not just that this would be great in kind of my tasks and to do list, both in my personal and work life, but also that really this is a book about finding meaning and purpose in your life because it does help reduce that cluttering and get to the essence of the matter. We have to head into break in just a second, I wanted to ask you one more question before we do because youre talking about needing to prioritize your own life, so tell our listeners about the power of choice as you discuss it in the book?

Gregory Hansell
Well, it just goes directly to what we were just talking about. How did I find myself in a position that I would allow somebody else to prioritize my life to that extent? And it happens drip by drip that we give up our power to choose. And whats interesting is that we cannot give away our ability to choose, this is inherent, this is forever, this is an innate part of what it means to be human. So what we do instead is we forget that we have the power to choose, so there are these folks in our lives that really are selling to us the idea you have to do these things. I say so you have to, other people are doing it, you have to, people are doing it on Facebook, you have to. And this idea, this mantra is sold to them and theyre buying it without realizing theyre buying something. So remembering that we have the ability to choose, not just knowing that logically, but knowing it in our hearts makes a big difference. I was at law school 16 years ago and I logically knew I didnt have to be there, but emotionally I have to be there.

Gregory Hansell
Sure.

Gregory Hansell
Im signed up so all that, and it was only when I was traveling here to the US for a friend, Seans wedding, did I have the space to suddenly feel this emotional freedom, you dont have to, you have a choice. And so I quit law school and really that was the day that I chose, just discovered, Im supposed to teach and write, thats what Im supposed to spend my life doing. And it was when I made the mistake with my wife and my daughter that I realized what I ought to be teaching about.

Gregory Hansell
We need to take a break, but before we go I want to take a moment to congratulate the players in our A Better World game on Facebook for reaching our charity partner goal of the month in March. Because you completed 300,000 good deeds in the game we are releasing funds to Cancer Schmancer to provide cancer screenings to 25 women in need. Great work, BetterWorldians. MarySue will talk more with Essentialism Author, Greg McKeown, when we come back in just a minute, and well be right back.

MarySue Hansell
Youre listening to BetterWorldians Radio. Were speaking with Essentialism Author, Greg McKeown. Greg, you write about the importance of taking the time and space to focus, can you share the story of Bill Gates Think Week and what the benefits there are?

Gregory Hansell
Well, so this is a story thats been covered in a few ways, but this was when Bill Gates was at the peak of Microsofts domination, he was under incredible pressure from every angle and you can just imagine how many people were trying to get a piece of his time. And in the midst of all of that pressure he still every six months would take a week for what he called Think Week, and what he would do with that is he would be reading constantly, he might read as many as 80, 90 different papers about trends in technology, what he needed to understand, where things might be going. And so he had this discipline and he goes to a specific location for years, a secret location that he would go to away from everybody and everything so that he could think. And while Im not sure that its realistic for everybody to be able to just take a week every six months to do that, I think the principle is true that if we want to focus then we have to escape from our normal environment to focus. And I mean what I really recommend people do, what I think the very best way is to apply Essentialism is to take a personal quarterly offsite. So every 90 days take a day out of the office, away from technology, away from distraction and to sit and to really review the past, what have I spent the last 90 days doing, how are things going, and come up and identify the one, two, as many as three things that we think are really essential for the next 90 days and to also decide what things to trade off, which things wont we do right away, which things can wait till later. Theyre really good, theyre really interesting, they might really be very important, but we just cant get to them yet.

MarySue Hansell
Yes, I think thats

Gregory Hansell
And if people go ahead, yes?

MarySue Hansell
No, I think thats a great idea because were just so pulled in all directions, in our business life and our personal life. I can imagine Bill Gates, my heavens, with the responsibility that he had, why he had to do that, but were really not that much different.

Gregory Hansell
Well, I think this is exactly right, as the CEO of our own lives we seem to often approach the primary challenge that a CEO has in an odd way. The primary challenge every CEO has is resource allocation. They have finite resources and an infinite number of ways to be able to use those resources. So you can choose how you want to put your time and energy out there, but as the CEO of our own lives we seem to often approach that challenge by just making a million different progress in a million different directions instead of being able to say, well, Im just going to focus on the one, two or three things for the next 90 days that I know will really take me to the next level.

MarySue Hansell
Yes, you know, you make another very interesting point in the book about that we really need to take the time to play, tell us more about that because I think everybody would be interested, everybody kind of feels guilty with everything going on just to take the time to play, maybe they think they shouldnt be doing that why do you think they should?

Gregory Hansell
Well, look, humans are the ultimate players in the very best sense and often in a very particular version of the Industrial Age view of how people should be productive, play got eliminated.

MarySue Hansell
Yes.

Gregory Hansell
So the Industrial Revolution took place and the factory system took hold, all of the modern organizations that were built were built in the factory, with a factory logic in mind. I mean schools today look like factories, people sit in rows, youre trying to get people through a system, its age based, its like a batch system. Children learn in a whole variety of ways, right? And, in fact, you see a trend often now where recess has been reduced and reduced in many different schools in favor of more test time, more memorization, more rote learning and so on. And this has the risk of killing the very hunger that comes so naturally to children, which is to learn, is to play, is to explore. So for children play is the work of a child. And really I think Im making the argument and the research is very strong on this that play is also the work of adults, too. That we dont we ought not to be thinking so much about work life and then separately play life and we ought to be thinking of our lives more as playing more and creation, innovation, testing things out, trying things, exploring. This is a critical part. Its not that yes, play is essential in itself, yes.

MarySue Hansell
You know, heres one of my favorite things that you talk about in the book and thats about sleep, that sleep is one of the first things that gets compromised, that people give it up. I like the fact that you say its so important, tell us why its so essential?

Gregory Hansell
Well, the science is very strong on this, I mean if you have four hours of sleep youre pretty much the same as if you were drunk.

MarySue Hansell
Oh, jeez.

Gregory Hansell
Your cognitive abilities are so reduced, your ability to discern what matters and what doesnt, what is essential and whats nonessential, what is trivial versus what is vital is massively reduced. And so this whole idea, again an extension of Industrial Age productivity mindset, which says an hour less sleep equals an hour more productivity may be true for machines, but it is not true for the human animal. And yet I was just talking to somebody just the other day and they said, oh, Greg, they said I am so busy, they said and theyre smiling Im so I have slept an average of four hours a night for the last two weeks.

MarySue Hansell
Oh, my.

Gregory Hansell
And my sense was they didnt know they were talking to an Essentialist because I was not impressed and in sort of the nicest way possible I sort of started to explain that to her. And she e-mailed me a couple weeks later and she said, you know, I am getting my hours and what a difference it is making. Now this is somebody who is capable, theyre driven, they have been very successful, all of those things, but what theyve also got is an idea that theyve been sold that turns out to be a bill of goods, that they believed this idea if you can just fit it all in you can have it all. Now if you believe that is true then just sleep less, shove more into your schedule, do more and you will accomplish more.

MarySue Hansell
And you certainly will be very, very grouchy too, wouldnt you?

Gregory Hansell
You would be grouchy. Essentially, youre absolutely right, but its a lot more than that. What youll be is your cut down your progress, and you will get far less accomplished of what matters.

MarySue Hansell
Yes, thats it.

Gregory Hansell
Youll be far more likely to constantly be in an addictive cycle with e-mail, but all youre doing is reacting to the next request because you dont have the cognitive ability, space, discernment to be able to focus and say this, all of these things dont really matter, thats the thing I ought to be focused on there. And so youll get yourself and talk about getting into a rat race, thats exactly what produces it. Sleep deprivation equals lack of discernment, equals reacting to the requests being made that may not be important, and so it goes and the cycle continues.

MarySue Hansell
You know, I really like the idea that you talk about, too, about the extreme criteria, can you explain to our listeners what that is and how it works?

Gregory Hansell
Okay, I will, but first you have to describe what your closet looks like to me?

MarySue Hansell
Well, my closet lately looks good, but thats only in the last two weeks.

Gregory Hansell
Yes, why?

MarySue Hansell
Why? Because I

Gregory Hansell
In the last two weeks, yes?

MarySue Hansell
-- I organized it, I threw out things that I didnt want to wear. Were thinking about moving so I thought, oh, I might as well take this opportunity to give to the Purple Heart, you know, the Good Will type people.

Gregory Hansell
Yes.

MarySue Hansell
But before that I must admit it was a big mess, things were all in a different order and only the things I wear more frequently were in the front. And now its very pleasant, when I go in there its all organized, it seems like it has more room, and I felt good because I gave to charity.

Gregory Hansell
You just articulated the argument against non-Essentialism and for Essentialism.

MarySue Hansell
Oh, good.

Gregory Hansell
You just did it, you just said that less can be better, that having the right few things is actually more pleasant for you than having more things of the wrong stuff. Now Im not talking about our literal closets, although I 100% believe Essentialism does apply to that.

MarySue Hansell
Yes.

Gregory Hansell
But Im talking about the closet of our lives in which we follow I think the very same kind of logic, which is a logic that leads someone to say, look, if I just had a logic bubble that would solve the problem. And people think that until they actually end up with a larger closet sometime and then they realize that they stuff that full, as well, and they suddenly realize, oh, who would fit the scene of both crimes? Its me, and because something Im doing is leading to this, so what is it the people are doing? And I think it really comes to the idea of being insufficiently selective, so the criteria that people often use is they take an item off the shelf and they look at it, to think about giving it away. They think, well, maybe sometime in the future it will come back into fashion and Ill wear it again.

MarySue Hansell
Yes.

Gregory Hansell
Maybe, maybe I know this hasnt happened to you, but to me maybe it will fit me one day again.

MarySue Hansell
No, we all go through that, maybe Ill lose a few pounds so I shouldnt throw it out.

Gregory Hansell
Yes, and so we keep these things, and maybe I can wear it sometime. And so because there is basically almost not criteria, at all, thats saying if I could ever possibly wear this then I should keep it. And that is massively too wide a criteria. If suddenly somebody changes the question to, for example, Marie Kondo in her recent book, thats the Lifechanging Magic of Tidying Up, she suggests this question. She said ask does it spark joy? You hold every item in your hand and you say does it spark joy? And if the answer is no youre free to pass it on to someone else. Well, so now can you imagine being that selective in ones life, as well? That we say, look, is the very best use of me? Would I hire me to do this job? Youre asking is this what Im truly passionate about?

MarySue Hansell
Yes.

Gregory Hansell
Is this my essential mission? Is this the highest contribution I could be making? And those questions are complete game changers and they are so radically different than what people are doing typically. I think of how thats different, how different that is rather than the broad criteria like this if somebody e-mails me and asks me to do it, then I do it. I mean thats the kind of criteria that were really using today. I mean basically no matter what anyone does first the next thing theyre going to do is check their phone and check their e-mail. And Ive always got to hope, by the way, in that strategy, what we have to hope is that all of the people who are e-mailing us have colluded together in a room, you know, theyve got together and they said weve just got to make sure that were only using MarySue for her absolute highest contribution and theyve all made sure, they all said, yes, this is how were going to do it, and well all e-mail her different things, but thats what it will add up to. Now you were laughing, it is laughable. And yet we have absolutely outsourced the strategic function of our lives to e-mail. Just on NPR theres a piece they were doing called Brilliant But Bored, implying in fact that people ought to challenge themselves not to use their phones and be bored instead. In fact, allow themselves to be bored because creativity is on the edge of boredom. And the same idea of allowing there to be space so that you can play. And in that same piece they quoted some research that suggests that what we had given up since we put e-mail on our phones is long-term thinking. Can you imagine?

MarySue Hansell
Oh, jeez.

Gregory Hansell
What kind of tradeoff, were going to do short-term, instant, reactive thinking to requests that may have absolutely no relevance to the mission we actually want to pursue in life, instead of long-term thinking. I mean thats a fools bargain if ever I heard one and yet thats exactly what weve produced. And I just put that question, its really a pretty big question now, but the question what would the whole society be like that never stops to think, ponder, make long-term strategic choices?

MarySue Hansell
We need to take a break now. When we return well talk more with Essentialism Author, Greg McKeown when we come back. If youre a fan of BetterWorldians Radio then you should check out our social enterprise, A Better World, whose mission is to make uplifting games and apps to brighten the world. Our goal with everything we do is have fun, do good, and change the world. Were committed to creating some awesome digital products designed with the purpose of making a difference through optimism, altruism and charity. And so far to date over 25 million good deeds have been done in A Better World by more than 2.7 million people. You can join in and find out more at ABetterWorld.com. Well be right back.

Raymond Hansell
Were back now with Essentialism Author, Greg McKeown. Hi, Greg.

Gregory Hansell
Hi, its great to be back with you.

Raymond Hansell
Its great to have you onboard. Ive been listening to the session, wonderful work that youre doing, really needed at this point. So we congratulate you on the work that youre doing. Theres a lot of interesting and intriguing stories that youre telling along the way. Tell us a little bit about the boundaries that are important and theyre empowering for Essentialists?

Gregory Hansell
Well, look, I mean theres a story that I came across in the research for the book, which I just love, which is of a man who is complaining about his son to a therapist and saying, you know, he just hes addicted, hes got all of these problems and issues, we have him staying at the house, hes all grown up in his 30s now. And he just he doesnt want to, he doesnt contribute properly, he doesnt do what hes supposed to do. And the therapist said, well, where is he today? And he said, well, he doesnt think he has a problem so I came without him. And the therapist says I think that hes right, I dont think he does have a problem. And the man is not impressed by this and what do you mean? He says, well, imagine that your next door neighbors yard is green and its lush, but its being watered by your watering system thats faulty, its gone in the wrong direction, its watering the next door neighbors grass? Who has the problem, does your next door neighbor have a problem or do you have a problem? And they conclude that, yes, that he has the problem, that the father has the problem because he hasnt set any boundary. And so thats the problem that has to be corrected and, of course, we dont all have that kind of extreme situation going on in our lives, but what we do have is a huge problem is no boundaries between work and home, none. And this is just one example, theres lots of examples we could use, but thats an important one. I mean for the first time I just received an invitation from someone struggling to find some time to meet for an appointment. Said, oh, its a work appointment, could we meet on Saturday? I turned him down twice for that meeting and said, look, that doesnt work for me. And, finally, he offered me a Sunday evening instead. And I just thought if I give up my Saturday or Sunday for this meeting Ill never get it back.

Raymond Hansell
No, youll never get it back, no.

Gregory Hansell
So boundaries are important.

Raymond Hansell
Yes, yes.

Gregory Hansell
We talked about Sam Elliott earlier on.

Raymond Hansell
Yes.

Gregory Hansell
It was critical for him to be able to contribute better at work and at home, to set boundaries.

Raymond Hansell
You know, I had a situation that was exactly what you just mentioned as an example, which is a neighbor came to me when we were moving some things around and doing some landscaping in a house I had and said you just cut off the sprinkler system. Apparently, my sprinkler system because I hadnt owned the house before was actually sprinkling his watering his grass, and he was highly offended that I shut off the water. And said, look, we used to give the old neighbor an occasional dinner or give them a case of beer or something, a bottle of wine, to thank him for the water. I said, well, I said hes not here anymore I said, there are now new boundaries, a new sheriff is in town.

Gregory Hansell
Our new boundary.

Raymond Hansell
Yes, there are new boundaries.

Gregory Hansell
Well, but resting on that for a second, I mean this is the thing, in the moment pushing a new boundary is going to create a bit of a relationship withdrawal.

Raymond Hansell
Yes, it does.

Gregory Hansell
Because nobody likes to have their relationship altered.

Raymond Hansell
No.

Gregory Hansell
The rules of the game changed.

Raymond Hansell
I can validate that, yes.

Gregory Hansell
Yes, but its the only mechanism by which we can get into healthy long-term relationships with people that really work, that are really mutually beneficial. And so many of the relationships were in are only one way, they dont have boundaries. In fact, I guess I remember a story that really hit me hard, this was before the book came out, but after Id been teaching Essentialism to a group. And someone said I have never set boundaries with my boss not in five years. If my boss asks me to do something, Id say what, no matter how late it is at night, no matter how anything. And so she decided shed try an experiment. She said, okay, I am going, you know, Im about to get married in five weeks, Im going to go and Im going to say, look, heres my work, Im going to get this stuff done before I leave, but I need five days of uninterrupted time to focus on my wedding. And she negotiated that, she felt empowered, she did it, and they reached an agreement. She got the work done ahead of schedule. The boss was pleased. Everything was going well. But then the five days hit, the boss e-mails her, says so sorry to do this to you, but someone has dropped the ball, I need you to step up. Well, for five years she has told her boss thats fine, no problem, and heres the first time in her life she says we came to an agreement, this is really essential to me, Im going to choose this and go forth. Well, in the moment the boss wasnt so pleased about that. She got to spend her five days, though, focused on her wedding and was so empowered by the experience that she actually added into her vows I will essentialize this relationship over all others.

Raymond Hansell
Oh, my gosh, its now going to become part of a religion. Oh, thats amazing.

Gregory Hansell
Yes, its fundamentally part of what theyre trying to do now. What actually ended up happening at work was that the boss ended up having to do that work themselves.

Raymond Hansell
Yes.

Gregory Hansell
And then they realized that the problem theyd really made as a manager is that theyd always been excusing other peoples nonperformance and giving it to this one employee. And so announced to everybody, okay, Im going to be going through and talking to each of you to really make sure that we are we have proper expectations. And thats not always how it turns out, but its a good example of how in the moment it can get worse before it gets better, but you have to know yourself, you have to have the clarity about what matters most to even be in a position to negotiate with other people.

Raymond Hansell
And how do you recommend that we actually figure out what matters most?

Gregory Hansell
Well, I think that its not that complicated, its not that complicated. Its about but what is hard is creating space to do it. So I mentioned earlier on this idea of the personal quarterly offsite and I highly recommend that to people. One day every 90 days get clear about a few simple questions. Basically, these are the questions, ask what is the priority personally, my personal priority over the next 90 days? And maybe you get down to just one or two of those, like maybe you have a major and a minor, thats pretty much it.

Raymond Hansell
Yes.

Gregory Hansell
And then you say professionally what is essential professionally over the next 90 days and again you get a major and a minor. So Im not saying you absolutely only get one thing and thats it, but I am saying if you do fewer things more thoughtfully then you can make a higher contribution.

Raymond Hansell
Yes, Ive found that meditation also helps on a daily basis, although its not I think as much of a bigger event as youre suggesting a quarterly retreat or as Bill Gates does his whole Think Week. I think what it does do is it gives you a little bit of a buffer so that you create some space and when sort of things start to come over you, whether its e-mail intensity or some other reactive situation you sort of step back from that occasionally because youve had the space to create a little bit of a neutral zone on a daily basis, so.

Gregory Hansell
Its absolutely true. I want to play on that for a second. Somebody that I know that was a very successful executive, but he found himself very stressed all the time. And so he was if this is what success is like, you know, like Ive got to get to the point where success feels better than this. And so he started reading all about the mindfulness work and it made a huge difference in his life in a variety of ways. But one of the practices he suggests is, for those who have never got into meditation, is just stop every time you sit down at your desk, the trigger, you close your eyes and you give three deep breaths, thats it.

Raymond Hansell
Just take that moment right there, yes, thats great advice.

Gregory Hansell
A tiny change in the pursuit eventually of a more deliberate and developed mediation practice, hell take half an hour now, but he couldnt start with half an hour. He couldnt believe that he had that kind of control over his schedule until slowly he realized, yes, theres a lot more within my sphere of influence than Im using for.

Raymond Hansell
It sounds like this has changed your life quite a bit?

Gregory Hansell
Well, I think thats absolutely right. And I would go further to say that its not over yet. This is one of the few principles or disciplines that Ive ever come across, that I ever have seen that doesnt seem to have a point of diminishing returns. Theres a lot, okay, thats good, dont go too far with that one. I dont know how you go too far with Essentialism, but you could get the principle wrong, you could believe that what I wrote was a book called No-ism, so no to everything and that that would be wrong, but thats not what its about.

Raymond Hansell
Yes, right, right.

Gregory Hansell
The book is Essentialism, so can you go too far on just focusing on what is essential? No, I dont think so.

Raymond Hansell
Let me ask you

Gregory Hansell
Yes, go ahead?

Raymond Hansell
-- let me ask you one more question, were actually going to have to wrap up, believe it or not weve gotten so carried away here. In speaking about Essentialism we ask this question every week of every one of our guests, what do you hope that by people embracing these principles of Essentialists how that can actually help to make the world a better place?

Gregory Hansell
Well, I mean I think that essentially were not rich, its the very work of life. Its not a sideshow, its not an add-on, it is what we are supposed to do here, is to constantly be asking what is my conscience counseling me to do, what is the voice inside saying? Instead of all the noise outside saying? And to perpetually, as we mentioned at the beginning, in a disciplined pursuit of that essential voice and to push other stuff out. I mean we know quite a lot about what people regret on their deathbeds because Im not trying to be too morbid about it, but a lot of people have died and a lot of people before they died told people what they regretted. And what we know is that the number one regret of the dying is to have lived a life based on other peoples noise and expectations instead of our internal voice.

Raymond Hansell
Nobody regrets not getting to that last batch of e-mails I suspect. This has been an amazing adventure with you, Greg. We really appreciate your participation on our Better World show today. For our guests, for our listeners you can find out more about Essentialism and Greg McKeowns work by going to gregmckeown.com. Greg, wed like to thank you, once again today, for joining us on BetterWorldians Radio.

Gregory Hansell
Thank you ever so much for having me. Bye.

Raymond Hansell
Youre very, very welcome. As we end our show each week we like to share our BetterWorldians mission. We strive to make the world a better place by encouraging the very best in everyone. We focus on positive thinking, positive values and positive actions. In short, our vision is to bring out the BetterWorldian in everyone so that we can all make it A Better World. And so until next time please be a BetterWorldian.