The situation for many of us is that life is fast and full of opportunity. The complication is we think we have to do everything. The implication of this is that we make a millimeter progress in a million directions. My position is we can make a different choice. We can learn to recognize what is essential and eliminate nonessentials. If we do this then we can operate at a higher point of contribution. Below are five simple ways to simplify your life so you can focus on what is most essential.

The Priority Game

When the word priority came into the English language in the 1400s, it was singular. Think for a moment: What did it mean? The answer is the prior or very first thing. What’s interesting is it stayed singular for the next 500 years. It wasn’t until the 1900s that we came up with the pluralized term and started using the word priorities. But what exactly does the word mean? Can there be multiple very first things?

In the spirit of this, take five minutes to write down the most important six activities for tomorrow. Then cross off the bottom five. Write down your priority on a Post-it note and put it on your computer. Schedule a ninety-minute window to work on that priority – preferably the first thing of the day.

60 Seconds to Clarity

Pause once every hour for one minute to ask, “Is this the most important or valuable thing I could be doing right now?”If the answer is no, simply stop.

Two for the Price of One

Establish a new rule for one day: If you want to add a new activity you need to edit out two existing activities.This simple rule ensures two things. First, you don’t add an activity that is less valuable than something you are already doing. Second, it helps to ensure you move toward reducing your overall burden each day.

Hold tightly to this idea if you are considering setting up any regular or repeated commitment and think long and hard about all the things you would have to give up in order to take this new thing on.

The Automated No

Saying no is one of the most socially awkward things for people to do. Perhaps the most socially acceptable way most of us do this is when we are on vacation or know we will be out of the office: “I will be out of the office from X date to Y date. If this is urgent call me on Z.”

We can use a similar bounceback when we need to concentrate. In this case the bounceback can read: “I am off the grid from 1-4PM today working on a priority project. If this is urgent call me on X.”

There are a growing number of apps and services that do this. AwayFind, for example, sends an auto-reply that includes a way to contact you (in an emergency) through a text. There are three advantages: First the person has to decide if it is worth the extra effort, second you only have to respond with a text-message length reply, and third it ensures you can be found just in case something actually is essential.

Frictionless Tomorrow

Think through tomorrow’s schedule from the moment you will wake up until you go to bed. Look at each activity. Identify any way you can make it a little easier through preparation. If you are planning to exercise, get your running clothes out so when you wake up in the morning, you won’t have to spend time digging through your closet. The idea here is to make doing the essential activity almost easier than not doing it.

I encourage you to experiment with Essentialism. Prototype ways of working. Try out these ideas – and many others. Live by design rather than by default. Use what works. Eliminate the rest.


Greg McKeown is the author of Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less. His “why” is inspiring people to design their lives and careers in order to achieve their essential mission.

Post originally published in Everyday eBook