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Embrace the Essentialist outlook

Business Moving Up

Business Moving Up

In addition to your usual college course load, you join the debate, drama and quizzing societies. As you are an active member in each one, your days are packed.

Though you are already stretching yourself thin, you decide to do a part-time internship at a local startup, after college hours, three days a week. As you hadn’t expected to get the internship when you applied, you now feel compelled to take up the offer. But, as you are loath to forsake any activity, you find yourself on a very tight rope.

And, sure enough, you begin to slip up. First, you are late in submitting your record work. Then, unlike your usual stellar accomplishments, your marks on tests are below average.

To add to your woes, the head of the quizzing society pulls you up for missing two meetings in a row. When you take part in a debate, your performance is lacklustre. Just when the work at the startup gets interesting, you contract a nasty flu. Being forced to rest in bed gives you a much-needed respite to assess your situation objectively.


You have taken up an insurmountable load that it is simply not possible to do justice to your commitments. Business consultant and author, Greg McKeown, advocates the less is better principle, and urges you to become what he calls an ‘Essentialist’. He says that if want to succeed, you have to “give yourself permission to stop trying to do it all” so that you “can you make your highest contribution towards the things that really matter.” In other words, you need to evaluate how you are investing your time and energy, and prioritise things that are most significant. By opting to do what is essential and weeding out the rest, you can make a more meaningful contribution.

In order to embrace an Essentialist outlook, let go of the notion that can do it all if you simply work harder. If you keep pushing yourself by taking on more, soon enough you will reach breaking point. Besides your work getting slipshod, you will also compromise your health. Instead of aiming to do more, pick and choose what you take on. Given that there is limited time, make judicious choices on how you want to spend your day.

To make the most prudent selection, first, be open to all available possibilities. But before committing to an activity or duty, ask yourself if these tasks inspire you. Do they tap your talents or fulfil a need within you?

Don’t feel guilty when you eliminate extraneous activities. McKeown exhorts us to switch from the “undisciplined pursuit of more to the disciplined pursuit of less.”

Ironically, success can compel you to assume more responsibilities as you feel confident of handling more tasks. But as you assume more duties without necessarily assessing your impact, your efforts may get diluted and you may grow increasingly distracted. McKeown refers to this as the “paradox of success.” So, even when the going is good, be discerning of the choices you make. And, this involves learning to say ‘No’, firmly but politely, to activities or commitments that detract from your most salient goals. Eminent management guru, Peter Drucker, once said in an interview, “People are effective because they say ‘no,’ because they say, ‘this isn’t for me.’”

Take stock of your progress and periodically review your objectives, which may change in subtle or profound ways. Being in touch with yourself will help distinguish essential from superfluous goals.

The author is Director, PRAYATNA.

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Printable version | May 23, 2022 6:34:23 pm |