Essentialism Part 4: Execute
Tracey: Hey, I’m glad you’re here. This is Episode 18, and I’m finishing my conversation with my friend Karen Backway about Greg McKeown’s book Essentialism. Karen and I cover part four of the book- Execute- and we share a quick wrap up of our thoughts on it. Karen’s a physician turned life coach, and we both agree that this book is a great primer on how to own your life. You don’t have to have the book to benefit from our discussion. So here we go.
Welcome to An Owner’s Guide for Your Life, the podcast that combines psychology, coaching, common sense and fun. I’m Tracey Browning, an entrepreneur, life coach and lover of people. Now let’s talk about how to live love, make money and change the world.
Tracey: And now we are back for part four- execute- which I sound really happy on “execute”. It’s not a “I’m gonna get you” execute kind of thing. It’s a “Let’s DO this. Let’s do this.”
Karen: It’s a “Get ‘er done” approach to life.
Tracey: Yes. And you were right. You told me last week when I was agonizing over it, I don’t like part three where I’m having to decide and cut things and wade through it. I do like this much better.
Karen: It is much more encouraging. And actually, if you take your steps, you put them into effect. It’s actually quite productive. In fact, I had an extremely productive weekend, which I already shared with you. Oh, I finished off a governance course which is unbelievably dry, but it’s done.
Tracey: Yay for done, yay. But as you’re telling us, we’ve got to stop and put this into application here because what do we need to do? We need to celebrate your progress.
Karen: Absolutely. Celebrate the small wins. It was a massive win.
Tracey: I was going to say that’s not a small win to finish a dry governance course. It’s a big win to see that I did it. It’s done and you’re that much farther along towards meeting your other goal.
Karen: I even passed!
Tracey: Even better, which I had no expectation at all that you would not pass, but yeah, you did it.
Karen: All right. I did it. And I’m very pleased that I finished it. That is done and I’m trying to not let myself sign up for the next part. Not yet.
Tracey: All right. Now I will ask, is that something you are going to do? Because does it help you move along towards where you want to be, or is it that oh, you and I both know we love to study things. So is it falling into that well, I’ll just do the next thing because it’s the next part of that course?
Karen: It is the next part of that course, and it’s advanced governance, and I think it will actually be quite helpful for my role with the school that I’m the chair for that board. So I think it will help. I don’t want to go through it too fast because the course that I just finished, I now need to learn how to apply that information. It’s not just get it and move on. It’s get it. Let’s implement it. Let’s see how it goes. And then I will decide if I will take the advanced course. So I need to now work with the material that I learned.
Tracey: And that’s a beautiful example. I love that so much because as you’re talking about it, I’m thinking I think of it as you’ve learned these things. Now you need to live with it. What works? Where do you need more? What do you need some help with and all that. To me, it’s like moving into a new house. I don’t want to just do everything, redesign everything in one fell swoop. I want to live in it and go here’s where I want to sit while the morning sun comes in. Oh, yeah. And here’s where I want to hang out in the evening. How does it fit with the flow of your life?
Karen: Right. And that’s also part of the second chapter, which was like, explore. Explore your different options. What is it you need to do? And, yeah, I finished this course. Do I need to do the second course? It’s a possibility. I’ll keep it open. We’ll see what direction it takes. Yeah. The create small wins chapter for me, as you know, is a bit of a challenge, because I do tend to turn things into very big projects, which is what I’m doing right now. But taking the second part of this course is like, no, just one at a time. Slow down, pause. Figure it out. It’s hard for me.
Tracey: Yes, it is. So again, I just give you that “Atta girl”. You did it and you stopped to celebrate. All right.
Karen: Absolutely. It’s done.
Tracey: Well, as I’m looking, I keep turning to look at my whiteboard. I’ve kind of noted the names of the chapters in this part four section and just put a few little phrases from each one. The chapters that he talks about- he talks about buffering and subtracting and progress, the small wins and flow and focus and all of these. It really was a revisiting of the points he made earlier. Here’s what you need to do to be an essentialist. To BE an essentialist. Not just do essential things, but to be, to become the essentialist with the buffering and the luxurious space. I’ve done that in my life before- allowed luxurious space. I’m not always successful at it.
I will share with you. I told you earlier that I’d tell you what I did this weekend. Oh, my goodness. It got away with me so badly, but it tells me how tired I have been. We had a wedding to go to Saturday and we had to travel 2 hours to get to the wedding. So Todd and I hopped in the truck and we go 2 hours and we get there and we’re there at what I thought was half an hour early. We were half an hour late. I thought the wedding was at six. No, the wedding was at five and we didn’t even realize it was outdoors. People are milling around. We’re like, when is it going to get started? It happened. You missed it. So we were there for the reception, for the hanging out and being with our family. But my first reaction, which I wish somebody had been able to take a picture of my face when they said, “No, it was at five”. What? I don’t mess up on details like that. Typically, I really don’t. Usually I obsessively check those things, but my sister in law and my husband looked at me and said, “You weren’t the bride. You weren’t the groom. You weren’t the pastor.” I didn’t have to be there for that. It was fine. They got married just fine without me being there. So I gave myself grace to not beat myself up for making a really silly mistake and just relaxed and enjoyed it.
Karen: Good for you. Bravo.
Tracey: Thank you. Small win. Celebrate it. Look at us doing applying what we learn here
Karen: A perfectly good opportunity to beat yourself up. That you skipped. And that in and of itself is quite the skill.
Tracey: It IS a skill. It’s one of those things that nobody else was beating me up for it. I mean, a couple of people I’m sure thought, “Really, you couldn’t read the invitation?” Well, there were two different times. One was for the wedding, one was for the reception and I goofed. I’m human.It’s all okay.
And I thought I was doing really… And that’s part of it too. I thought I was doing so well at leaving some space. Todd is really good at this- some of these chapters with the buffering and the subtracting- with his background in lean manufacturing. In the book, he mentions The Goal [a book] in one of his chapters. Todd had that years ago. He had me reading it that it’s take, adjust your speed to the slowest hiker. Don’t put the fastest hiker in front to lead the group. Adjust your speed to the slowest hiker and make those accommodations. I’d read that years ago and Todd, his method of operating is for years now he has done these things with the buffering, the allowing space. The quote, the Abraham Lincoln quote, “Give me 6 hours to chop a tree and I’ll spend 4 hours sharpening my saw”. That’s how my husband operates. He spends the time to plan, which is really hard for me to deal with, because that’s not my natural way of being. I do want to plan, but also I want to jump in and act. So taking that time to plan… And I was thinking too, when I’m thinking about driving and I see this a lot when I ride with other people who are impatient drivers, they don’t want to sit and stop at a stoplight. If they see the light turning red think, “Well, I’ll just turn. I’d rather be driving, continuing to go even though it may take me as long or longer”. Instead of stopping at a stop light, it’s that be still with yourself concept.
Karen: People can’t do it anymore, right? Really challenging.
Tracey: It is challenging because once you’re still, you’re a little quieter and then you have to start dealing with yourself. And what’s going on in your head?
Karen: I had to actually read the slowest hiker concept a couple of times to wrap my brain around it. How do you know that the slowest hiker is not just going to slow everything behind it?
So identifying that one element that’s getting in the way. I think he refers to it as constraints. Right. You need to subtract it, get those obstacles out of the way. Putting the slowest hiker in the front to me could be an obstacle in the way.
Tracey: Yeah. There are some concepts there that I thought, like you say, how do you know that it’s a good thing to put the slowest hiker there, that it’s NOT an obstacle? And some of it, maybe, it is an obstacle. And you’re just figuring out which is the most important obstacle to deal with. When he’s talking about the Scout trip, my sons were in Scouts, so I can think literally they’ve done this. This is how the Scouts operate. Well, not all of them, but this is how their troop operated. That what they did was put the slowest hikers in front. And in his example, you have the slowest hiker, and then you start going, okay. What will help the slowest hiker go a little bit faster. So they took some things out of his pack and they spread it out. You’re not going at the rate of the fastest hiker that then everybody’s got to kind of ebb and flow and stop and start. And with the goal being to keep your group together.
And I think that’s where this is important is to think about what’s your essential intent. What’s your goal? Your goal is to keep the group together. Your goal isn’t to get one person to the finish line the fastest. Then you would do things differently. But if your goal is to keep the group together, then you put the slowest hiker as your lead man, and you share, you share the load. That’s a helpful thing to think about. And he keeps hammering this home. But to be an essentialist, you’re removing more. You just keep removing things. You’re not adding, adding, adding.
Karen: Well, it’s that construct of subtract the obstacles versus add more momentum. Right. And if you remove the obstacles, then the momentum is going to come.
Tracey: Right? Yeah.
Karen: I’m a big fan of Abraham Lincoln, and my favorite quote of his is ”The best way to predict the future is to create it”.
Tracey: Yes, that’s good.
Karen: It’s like think about what you’re doing right now. Is that going to get you to where you want to be later, even if later is only tomorrow. Right. Which brings me to one of the chapters. Focus, he says, right under it. He says, What’s important now? And some people will shorten that as W-I-N win, and you want to win, win as much as possible. So that again takes you back to essential intent. That’s hard to say.
Tracey: It really is.
Karen: What is important now is actually what you’re holding as your essential intent, like keeping the group together. Right. So they do tie together. In that sense,
Tracey: They really do. And what’s important now he talks in there about the Greek word Kairos that is ‘be in the now’. And that’s what mindfulness is about being the now. Don’t be rehashing what you messed up on last week. And don’t be daydreaming always about what’s happening in the future, possibly be in the now. Be aware of what’s happening now.
Karen: Absolutely. This weekend I stumbled across an article on daydreaming and creativity and how the two are quite nicely linked together. And I think we talked about that way back in the very first episode that you need to be bored to some degree so that you can let your mind wander and wonder what’s going on so that you can actually use your imagination and be creative. And that’s what this article was talking. But it was very fascinating.
Tracey: I like that. I do. And when you’re talking about that, in his chapter, on his Flow chapter, he’s using the example of Michael Phelps. Michael Phelps, Olympic swimmer, the very detailed routine he goes through. And I’ve shared with you, you know I personally have fought against routine because I think, oh, no, that’s just going to suck the life right out of me. But his point being that when you have a routine, that frees you so you can be doing the routine things. But then your mind can, not necessarily wonder and wonder as you were talking about there, but you’ve got the ability to be a little more creative, to problem solve at a higher level about what’s happening. You get, he calls it an energy rebate, that you have ingrained your routine so deeply that you can excel. So I have been over the past few months working on creating more of a routine that allows me the freedom. I’ve got some boundaries to put some boundaries in. I’m getting the riff raff out of my pasture and I’m putting my fence up.
Karen: The thing with routines is you have to be careful what you’re routinizing. Yes. Right now, Michael Phelps was routinizing the 2 hours before his get up onto the whatever it is, they jump off of
Tracey: The diving platform.
Karen: Yeah, the platform. And then by then, he had got himself into a very focused state of mind so that he would just go and do his two minutes of butterfly or whatever and win a gold. But he was very intentional about what he was putting into that routine. He clearly had that kind of mind that he could direct it that way. And you’re also being very intentional about the processes that you’re setting up for, the things that you want to be making your routines, because I remember you complaining about how much you don’t like processes. And then three weeks later you were talking about, “Hey, I’m kind of enjoying these processes things”. Yeah, I remember that.
Tracey: Isn’t it lovely that I’m willing to tell on myself?
Karen: Well, it just proves that you’re growing from what it is you’re trying to do, and it’s very freeing to figure out what the right process for you is.
Tracey: And some of this, I think, has to do with personality types. I’ve never been one for busy work, whether it’s for myself or to assign it. No, if there’s not a point, if there’s not a reason that it makes sense to do this thing, why do it? Why bother? It’s a waste. Even as a child I didn’t like that. So when I understand the reason why and that when my routine is right, my processes are right and I see the reason why.Don’t you tell me, “Have a routine because it frees things up”. No. Okay. Here’s why you want to have things in order. Here’s why you want to do the hardest thing first. Here’s why you want to not waste your energy decision making on what are you going to wear every day? Just throw a uniform on and be done with it. Here’s why. When I understand the why, then I’m good. Or I’m better, I’m not perfect. But I’m better with it. It makes sense.
Karen: Right. And when you refer to a busy life, he talks about that in the chapter that he entitled Be. And then he put a quote by Socrates, which is “Beware the barrenness of a busy life” because you get so full of busy activities that you’re not actually doing the meaningful things. Right. And that’s what, as an essentialist, you want to focus on the meaningful things and get rid of the busyness. Yeah. And it’s almost a badge of honor for some professions to be really busy.
Tracey: How are you? Oh, I’m busy. Oh, good. You’re busy.
Karen: So what does busy actually mean, right? Does that mean that you’re distracted trying to do 100,000 different things? Does it mean that you’re efficient? Does it mean that you’re effective? Does it mean that you’re just disorganized? I mean, it could mean many things.
Tracey: It could mean all of those things. And it could mean none of those things.
Karen: Yeah. So busy is kind of a useless word. You can be active. You can be focused doing things. You could be bored. What a concept.
Tracey: You could be just plain tired. That’s what I see. So many people. I’m busy. I’m so tired. I’m so busy doing all the things. I’m tired. That’s what happened with me this weekend. That was a sign to me. Oh, I am tired. All the things that have built up, my sleep’s been off, I was sick during the week, so I knew these things were off. So I made a silly mistake that didn’t shatter anybody’s life- ah, really?
Well, having read this book now that I am finished with my first read, and I don’t know how many times you’ve read it before, but I really do like- I’m very glad I read it. I’m very glad that we’ve gone through it this way because it has slowed me down to think and apply and work on it. I will go back. And it’s one of these books I think I’ll just kind of refer to periodically. Let me refresh myself because I do what he describes as an essentialist. That’s where I’ve had that essence of it most of my life.
Karen: He just pulls it together and articulates it well.
Tracey: He does .
Karen: …in an essential format.
Tracey: There you go. He does.
Karen: He’s distilled it down quite nicely. And when you’re ready, maybe we’ll consider doing another short series like this in the future. But his next book is called Effortless which takes a very focused essentialist and makes sure that he’s doing the right things with as little effort as possible. Very fascinating concept.
Tracey: And it’s so appealing to think of not expending lots of effort to get things done.
Karen: Well, if you’re doing the right things, it should be fun. What a great way to finish up.
Tracey: And I think my final thought here is- it’s the pursuit of it. You’re not going to reach the goal of “Whoo, I’m an essentialist. I’m done”.
Karen: I read the book. I’m done.
Tracey: I did it. Check that off. It’s a way to be, to continually remind yourself to be focused on what’s important now, what’s your win, to be mindful, to have your routine set. Back in the beginning of the book, when he talks about organizing your closet, you need to have your routines so you’re not having to go in once a year or every five years and cull everything out. Have your daily routines to keep life flowing, to keep you on track so you CAN enjoy life. Good stuff. Good stuff. All right. Well, thank you. I have enjoyed having the journey of discussing this book. I like this.
Karen: It’s been great fun.