• Advice

How to be an Essentialist: Defeating busyness and finding business power

You’re responsible. You’re crucial to every project you involve yourself in. You’re always willing to lend a hand. Clients and professional organizations and your church and your bowling league all deserve a little chunk of your time and pat you on the back for being such an obliging person.

But you’re also stressed, exhausted, and don’t spend any time with the people who matter to you -- which makes it a little hard to enjoy your well-earned success. How can we feel joy in the moment when everything seems like it’s top priority and there’s never enough time to get it all done?

Greg McKeown is an independent consultant and teacher who talks about the power of setting priorities in your life and asking tough questions. I think his advice especially relates to his fellow freelancers, who juggle more priorities, clients, projects, and business-ownership needs than most. Here are 3 tips on how to become an Essentialist from his new book:

**1. Figure out what matters to you. **Sit down and write the answers to these questions: Where am I? Where do I want to be? And what are the six things I need to do this week to try and get there? McKweon asks himself this every week, puts them in order of priority, and crosses off the last five. Even the practice of writing down your priorities can help clarify your business.

2. You need to escape in order to focus. McKeown talked to people who stayed at one job much longer than they wanted to -- simply because they didn’t take the time to reflect on the fact that it’s not what they wanted to do. Our freelance careers can easily veer in the wrong direction if we don’t take a break to reflect on where we’re headed.

Similarly, you can’t focus on coming up with creative ideas for your next client project if you don’t put aside everything else, turn off your phone and your Twitter notifications, and escape your clutter. at Stanford has a “Booth Noir” -- a soundproof room just for thinking.

3. When you say yes to everyone, no one is happy. Not your clients, not your family, and definitely not yourself. You have absolute power over how you spend your time. It’s the realization that you have this power that is the key, McKeown has found. We often choose things by default, as if they’re the only option, not realizing that we always have options.

4. Always be wary of the phrase “But I have to!” Saying “I have to” in your head is a sign that you’re going in the wrong direction. Most things are noise. Very little has real value. If you are disciplined about catching yourself when you use a “have to” phrase rather than saying “I choose to” do such-and-such, you’ll find things that were “essential” in the past falling aside, while things that you really want and need to do rise to the top.

5. Explore options before diving in. Essentialists know when to act at the right time, with the right thing, for the right reason. They reflect and consider before making a business decision. I often find myself guilty of coming up with a few ideas for a client project and then leaping right into the one that seems best, without really thinking through my original idea. Of course you don’t want to get trapped over-analyzing, but I would save a lot of time (that I could devote to developing my career) if I spent just 30 more seconds just thinking about the viability of my idea before executing it.

6. Find joy in small wins. Essentialism is really about living with intention and choice, and there is something inherently joyful about fulfilling a purpose. It’s actually joyful to make small choices that lead to big change. Remember that feeling you had when you were first mapping out your business idea, or the excitement you felt when you were mapping out your website? You can maintain that original excitement by remembering what’s important about your business or your website or your life, and reflecting on the accomplishment of those original visions.

Freelancers, how have you simplified your lives? Have you ever found that by cutting out a certain activity, it leads to longer-term happiness or profit for your business?