For the past five years, I have been lucky enough to attend the Social Innovation Summit in Silicon Valley, an interdisciplinary conference that brings together leaders at the intersection of technology, investment, philanthropy, international development, and business to share innovative ideas about social change. It is always an inspiring learning experience. This year, one of my favorite authors, Greg McKeown, who wrote Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, gave a talk about the ideas in his book. (Video is here). Yesterday, I was able to interview Greg to learn more about his massive social experiment called EssentialLive to get many people to try Essentialism for a year.
Essentialism is about the relentless pursuit of less but better. It isn’t just about setting New Year’s resolutions or adding a new productivity technique to try. It is a lifestyle change You shift from a state of always busy and overwhelmed to pausing to constantly ask, “Am I investing in the right activities?” There are so many paths we could pursue in our careers and life and they all may offer some benefits. The principles of Essentialism teaches us to know the difference and use our resources wisely. Greg describes it as “Living a happy life.”
Like any life style change, it takes daily practice and small wins. It reminds of the choices you have make when you decide to make a lifestyle change in terms of diet and exercise. It isn’t about waking up and all of sudden going to the gym and going a fad diet – and not having it stick. A lifestyle change for diet and exercise, is living it every day by walking and eating healthy food choices to live a healthy life.
Like any other lifestyle change, it is about making choices, the right choices, everyday. Practicing Essentialism is hard work and when I interviewed Greg, he told me would emphasize this more if he were writing the book today. He also told me that you have be vigilant and put the principles into practice and if you make a mistake to be gentle on yourself.
He shared a recent story about his ongoing pursuit to live the principles in his book. He scheduled our interview during his one media day a month where he does interviews. He can’t do all the media interviews he wants, so this places some limits on it – and frees up time for other pursuits. However, on this media day, he had a scheduling snafu – one of the interview slots conflicted with his son’s holiday concert. (One of his goals is to be a good father). So, he struggled with the trade off of cancelling the interview, trying to do both (non-essentialists think they can do it all), or doing the interview at the expense of not going to his son’s concert. He rescheduled the interview.
“I tell you this story because living Essentialism is hard work that you have to do every day.” says Greg.
The experiment he is conducting is called EssentialLive. It is free to participate, but you need to show proof of purchasing the book like taking a selfie with the book. Then you get access to four online quarterly sessions with Greg and Shawn Vanderhoven. These sessions are on video and walk you through the steps of Essentialism with a video and worksheet. They even tell where to pause the video to take time to think through the exercise. Although the first quarterly session launched on December 15, during our interview, Greg told me anyone join this experiment at any time. In fact, I did not participate live, but watched the video later and plan to do the exercises during my end-of-year down time.
When you sign up, you name a “design partner” who serves as your accountability process as you navigate the process. I’m doing the program with my Aliza Sherman, my co-author of the Happy, Healthy Nonprofit because we think Greg’s ideas are important to our work.
In Aliza’s previous book, Mom Incorporated, about mothers who are also small business owners, Aliza wrote extensively about work/life balance. In fact, she hates that term and prefers the term “juggle.” She explains her philosophy a bit more in this blog post. Others are calling for a ban on the term “work/life balance” and call it work/life integration. Semantics aside, I think Greg’s Essentialism is very much aligned with this thinking.
Greg launched this event because he sees so many people who burdened with stress and overloaded because they are trying to do it all. It is hard for people to make a change when they are so stressed out. So this effort is all about taking a year long approach to helping people design a better life. The videos and worksheets will help people development the Essentialism mindset, skill set, and tool set to live their lives with this philosophy. He says, “We all make mistakes, so can’t beat ourselves up. I wanted to combine design thinking with Essentialism, so participants could experiment, have fun, and development this discipline.”
The videos are authentic, not polished corporate training videos which makes the training very accessible. Says Greg, “We had let go of the idea of pristine videos. We aren’t sages at the top of the mountain. We are real people with real lives. I have four children and I know how difficult it is to make changes and trade offs to live an essential life.”
Greg describes the process as one of making tiny habit changes. “When I didn’t live an essential life and tried to do everything, I lost track of what was important including self-care. We all get sucked into being too busy. And, with technology we get into the habit of shorter term goal setting – like answering the next email. With Essentialism, the first step is to get people to articulate very specific goals based on taking a long view — looking back on family traditions through several generations and looking ahead to what you want pass down to your children and grand children.”
In this social experiment to bring Essentialism to many people, Greg says it is ultimate life design challenge. “We do not have perfect information about the future, it is highly unpredictable. So, having having a year long experiment in testing the ideas is the perfect experiment. You figure things out and you get back on track and back to focus. You get to identify a life goal and 90 day goals – and build tiny habits every day to get there. And the cumulative impact of many tiny changes over time is what enables us to live a better life.”
As we finish 2015, going through the guided process of Essentialism with Greg McKeown is the perfect way to think about designing a better life in 2016. How do you plan to live a happy life and juggle work and personal goals for 2016?