Essentialism is a systematic discipline that involves discerning essential from non-essential matters to allow you to contribute to the things that matter the most.

Essentialism is not about how to get more things done but about how to get the right things done.

A helpful way to understand essentialism is to understand the difference between the life of an essentialist versus the life of a non-essentialist.

Non-essentialists divide their energy into many different activities, making little progress in countless directions, which is often an unfulfilling experience.

Essentialists, by comparison, focus on fewer activities, making significant progress in the things that matter the most, which leads to a satisfying experience.

Non-essentialists make choices reactively, whereas essentialists deliberately distinguish the vital few from the trivial many.

A non-essentialist believes “I can do it all,” whereas an essentialist understands the impossibility of this.

Essentialism allows people to explore the critical projects they want to pursue, eliminate the rest, and better understand their goals and skills to say “no” more effectively.

This prioritization practice enables you to utilize your hours and resources more efficiently, boosting productivity, reducing procrastination, and enhancing performance.

The ability to prioritize has also been linked to improved

well-being and work-life balance, reduced work-related stress and anxiety, and better management of competing demands and goals.

In this two-part exercise, you will learn about essentialism and understand where you are on the essentialist vs. non-essentialist continuum before exploring ways to apply essentialism to your professional lives.

You may need additional support with learning to say “no,” particularly if you’re a “people-pleaser” and tend to offer a vague or non-committal “yes” instead of a clear “no.”

If so ask yourself if you tend to avoid getting back to people or string people along with non-committal responses, like “I will try to make this work” or “I might be able to,” when you know you can’t.

Being vague is not the same as being graceful, and delaying the eventual “no” will make it much harder.


How often do you feel overwhelmed at work by all the things you have to do?

How often do you feel frustrated because you are not making much progress?

One of the most common reasons for being overwhelmed at work is that there are too many things to do in too little time. Many of us are involved in several competing projects at work.

For example, a university professor may conduct research studies, give guest lectures, build courses, volunteer on an advisory board, supervise students, and so on.

The left circle in the following illustration illustrates the most critical downside of being involved in too many projects:

Because you are involved in too many projects, you are making little progress in each of them.

The right circle highlights an interesting alternative: eliminating what is not vital can make great progress in what matters most.

This approach has been termed “essentialism”.

The premise of essentialism is that you must consciously stop yourself from spreading your efforts and instead orient your focus and energy to just one most important project (or the few that matter the most) to make a bigger difference on your most important projects.

Essentialism helps us figure out how to get the right things done rather than how to get more things done. Essentialism is about less, not more. It is a disciplined, systematic approach to help us determine our greatest contributions and focus only on those things.

Finding the essence

To become an essentialist, you have to know what essence is. Simply put, the essence is your true intention. It is that which matters the most.

What is it that you truly want to achieve? What is your most important mission at work?

In your owner’s manual, please formulate the essence of your mission at work.

Applying essentialism in your daily life

Essentialism is not a trick or a technique. Essentialism is a way of living that requires your daily attention.

Apply the following principles daily to gradually turn into a true essentialist:

  1. Make a habit of asking yourself: “Is this the most important thing I should be doing with my time and resources right now?”

2. Become more selective in your choices by checking whether you feel completely convinced to do something. If so, say “yes.” Anything else should be a no. If the answer isn’t a definite yes, it is a no.

3. Practice saying “no.” The more you do it, the easier it becomes. Remember that you do not have to use the word “no” to convey the message that you are declining a request.

For example, the statements “I would love to attend, but unfortunately I’m overcommitted,” “I’m afraid I don’t have the availability at the moment,” and “Thank you, but unfortunately I am not available” convey the message “no” clearly and
politely without using the word.