Deliberately distinguish the vital few from the trivial many

Deliberately distinguish the vital few from the trivial many

The caption sounds a bit deep and that's because it is a profound topic. In an era that emphasizes having more, doing more, and achieving more it is crucial to know what is important to you and your environment. This post is all about how you can achieve a workflow that gets the essential things done and makes you feel comfortable with what you are going to accomplish.

“Essentialism is not about how to get more things done; it’s about how to get the right things done. It doesn’t mean just doing less for the sake of less either. It is about making the wisest possible investment of your time and energy in order to operate at our highest point of contribution by doing only what is essential.”
- Greg Mckeown, Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less

This quote is from the book "Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less" and it's all about how you can become a so-called Essentialist. If you are more interested in this subject you should definitely read that book. I don't want to go further into the details of this book, but rather focus on points that can help you to spend your time on important work.

Increase the value of your approval

Or in other words: learn to say no gracefully. At first, it seems like an easy tip. But put yourself in the following position:

You are on track with the tasks you've planned to finish today. Suddenly, a colleague asks you to take over a task that is important for him and you agree. Maybe you think that it won't take that long and because you are on a good way with your tasks you have an abundant good feeling about it. A little time passes and another co-worker does the same with you. And because you are a nice guy you agree the second time. Now you need to finish your own work including two tasks from your buddy because you do not want to disappoint them. You may even put this work before your own and end up disappointed because you didn't get your assignments done.

I do not want to say with the prior example that one should deny any kind of help and collegiality, quite the opposite. But only once you permit yourself permission to stop trying to do it all, to stop saying yes to everyone, only then you can make your highest contribution towards the things that really matter.

What problem can I manage to live with

We all make choices in life and in our profession. Often, we look for ways to avoid the trade-off of having to make a decision in the first place. Unfortunately, this hardly works and in the end, we only have more difficulties because we could not make a choice. Instead, we should do trade-offs deliberately and ask ourselves the question, "Which problem do I want?". With this thinking, we can stop considering what we might lose by our made decision and rather ask ourselves "What do I want to go big on?"

Being unavailable is an advantage

This is a point described earlier in my post "Deep Work in an Environment of Distractions", but I want to mention it here too. Our world is a noisy environment and often we fail to create space to think. However, we need this space to explore our options and to gain clarity regarding what really matters. Even when you think you are incredibly busy you should allow yourself the time to think on a daily base.

Meaningful thinking spaces could be:

  • reflect on your work without distraction
  • explore the multitude of questions and possibilities in your field of vision

“Without great solitude no serious work is possible."—Pablo Picasso

Cutting Your Losses and win big

Have you ever heard of sunk-cost bias? It's the tendency to continue to invest time, money, or energy into something we know is a losing proposition simply because we have already incurred, or sunk, a cost that cannot be recouped. It is normal that we want to see our investment into something paying off for us. But this can also be a vicious cycle; the more we invest, the more determined we become to see it through and see our investment pay off. The more we invest in something, the harder it is to let it go for us.

What we should do instead is to admit that we have made a mistake in committing into something too hard. Only then we can make a mistake a part of our past.

A second point that is definitely worth mentioning is to get a second neutral opinion. This is also a good way to evaluate whether one's own thoughts may have been too tempting.

And last but not least on this point. Be on alert for the status quo. This is the tendency to continue doing something simply because we have always done it this way. "We've always done it that way" - you're sure to have heard it at least once in your work environment. And I find that this line of thinking nips new ideas in the bud. Instead, you should look for ways to optimize and ask yourself if there might be a better way to solve this type of problem.

Setting boundaries is a good thing

This is the last point I want to mention in this post. Boundaries are often seen as something negative. From another point of view, boundaries can also protect us and prevent our time from being stolen to further other's objectives instead of our own.

All of these points can help you focus on important goals without having to spread your focus time too thinly on smaller issues, so you never make the best possible contribution to a given subject.