At this point you’ve either made your New Year’s resolutions or not. If you have, you should still deploy Greg McKeown’s Essentialism framework to ratchet up your current best thinking. If you have not, it’s time to pause to discern what really matters.

The ideas in Greg McKeown’s book, Essentialism, can have a massive impact on your effectiveness and happiness in 2024 and beyond. The core premise is that you should focus on what truly matters and eliminate or minimize everything else. He argues that by doing fewer things and doing them better (“Less is better”) you can be more in control and achieve more meaningful and fulfilling results.

In brief, think in terms of less is better, knowing that only a few things matter, and making conscious trade-offs to do what you choose to do, instead of trying to fit it all in and be all things to all people, thinking it’s all important, and doing what anyone else suggests you have to do.

The applications for 2024 both personally and professionally flow from those and McKeown’s other frameworks.

Essential Intent

Think through what matters to you and how you want that to play out in 2024. Get it down to one overriding thing, whatever you call it, and a very few general priorities for the year to help you make choices along the way.

Do the same thing for the people you’re leading. Think hard about the one most important overriding thing that you need to accomplish together in 2024 to set yourselves up for successes to follow. Imagine it’s five years later and you’re telling someone, “2024 was the year we….” Fill in the blank so you can write your own story.

Then determine the buckets of actions required to make that true. The people you lead will figure out what things to put in the buckets. This is just about defining the buckets so you’re all aligned on what matters. If something fits in a bucket, they should pursue it. If it doesn’t, they should pass. Essentially (pun intended,) the buckets define the selection criteria, inform what trade-offs to make, and empower people to say “No” to things that don’t fit in any bucket.

Essential Tools

McKeown lays out a set of really useful tools:

Buffer. Give yourself a buffer. Under-promise and over-deliver to those to whom you make commitments and to yourself. When an app tells you it’s going to take 38 minutes to get to the airport, know that’s its current best forecast which will blow up if there’s an unanticipated glitch. And then allow for unanticipated glitches. Utilize range forecasting to give yourself an 80 or 90 or 99.99 percent confidence level.

Subtract. Give yourself more time to focus on what matters more by spending less time on what matters less. Start by breaking your addiction to excessive meetings. Then cull the less useful reports you’re writing or reading. Choose to spend less time with people contributing less to your effectiveness and happiness. You know who they are.

Progress. Embrace the power of small wins, making the minimum viable progress towards what matters most. Reinforce those by handing out what McKeown calls “Positive tickets” to recognize and reward others.

Flow. Some routines make things easier. Cue the routine. Run the routine. Reward the progress. Rinse. Wash. Repeat. All the while, paying just enough attention to avoid Amy Edmondson’s basic failures.

Focus. In some ways, the whole book is about focus. McKeown’s specific point here is to live in the moment and focus on what matters most at that moment. No multi-tasking. Just be present for those that matter most personally or professionally.

Leverage the white space

Doing this right frees up time. Use that time in the pursuit of happiness, doing the combination of good for others, things you are good at, and good for you in the balance that works best for the you you aspire to be. Help others. Invest to build on your innate talents with learned knowledge, practiced skills, hard-won experience and apprenticed craft-level caring and sensibilities.

Setting priorities is almost never the hard part. The hard part is cutting out the things and people that matter less. You cannot focus more on one thing without focusing less on something or someone else.

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