There is a story which I have read a few times in different books. It’s called the Buridan’s Ass in philosophy. It refers to a hypothetical situation wherein an ass that is equally hungry and thirsty is placed precisely midway between a stack of hay and a pail of water. Since the paradox assumes the donkey will always go to whichever is closer, it dies of both hunger and thirst since it cannot make any rational decision between the hay and water.

The moral of the story, the ass did not know what is ‘essential’ for him. Do you?

I got motivated to write this article based on the book Essentialism by Greg McLeod but which is a phenomenal book and a ‘must read’. Lot of deep insights, lot of interesting examples that will help understanding the importance of essentialism.

Essentialism broadly means identifying what is important and being laser focused on just that, rather than getting distracted by the range of opportunities and the number of options which are available at any given point of time. Let’s accept it, the time we have in life is limited. We can only do so much in the given time and if we can do only limited activities, then we should do the one’s that are most essential.

Let’s see some example: You enter a restaurant and there’s a buffet menu there are 5 types of starters , 8 types of salads, 3 types of curries; 5 types of breads, 4 types of rice after all this, there is an unending choice of deserts to enjoy. Most often, we want to taste bit of everything, not wanting to miss out anything. However the amount of food we can have is limited by the size of our stomach and we don’t realise how soon we are famished as spent time on trying out too many items.Instead, if we had just selected 4-5 items and enjoyed them to the core (replacing one or two that did not meet the mark), we would have had a far better experience.

Now let’s take example of a school student, who typically has many subjects to study. Their parents, teacher  and the entire ecosystem pressurises them to study all subjects with equal intensity and score maximum marks (100, mostly). However, in reality, what is ‘essential’ is to first ensure that they are clear of getting the passing marks (say 30) and if the student’s capability is at 60, then anything above 60 (lets say 70)  is fine and one can feel satisfied. But due to the incessant pressure to score 100, even with a 75, the student if left disappointed. A totally uncalled for situation,  purely created by random expectations and miss-guided plans. Topping the class can be a desired outcome, it should not be the goal. The effort in both cases is the same, however, final result in the latter approach will be much easier to handle.

The scenario in case of a college student is no different. When the school student is bombarded with choice of extra curricular activities to be indulged in, right from ballet to piano to tennis and soccer; the college student’s mind and whacked up nowadays with the career choices to opt for, right from engineering to medicine to fashion designing to what not. Even if one narrows to the field of arts, one can remain confused between choices like philosophy , sociology, literature, journalism, etc. What is essential is to narrow down the choices and go deep in any one of them, the degree of effort expensed in doing well in that one field will definitely help the person do well in that particular stream. One gets enough opportunities to change tack later on, if required.

The professional at work is no different, inspite of their maturity. People are wanting to take up more tasks, more meetings, more assignments, more travel, assuming doing more means jumping up the career track much faster. Whereas in reality, quality trumps quantity, ALWAYS. Take up the task which is the most essential, do it super-duper well and bring out the learnings for self and the advantages for the organisation and then chart the next step for yourself and elucidate on why you are best suited for the same.

As Greg rightly states in his book: the non-essentialist says ” I am so busy, I have so much to do”. The Essentialist says “I have just one thing to do”.One of the best point illustrated by Greg was about prioritise.  The word priority came into the English language in the 1400s. It was singular. It meant the very first or prior thing. It stayed singular for the next five hundred years. Then we started loading our calendar with multiple tasks and then we had to prioritise the ‘more important’ one. Yet, we did not understand how to ‘not do’ the non-essential ones.

The essentialist lifestyle entails living intentionally rather than accidentally. Instead of making decisions on the spur of the moment, an essentialist systematically separates the important things from the unimportant ones, gets rid of the unnecessary things, and then takes down any barriers that stand in the way of what is truly important. To put it another way, essentialism is a methodical, disciplined methodology for identifying our greatest areas of contribution and for practically effortless execution of those activities.

We place too much value on things that are not necessary, such as a bigger car or home, or even intangibles like the quantity of our Twitter followers or how we appear in our Facebook photos. Because of this, we skip out on things that are really important, like spending time with our loved ones, taking care of our spirits, or looking after our health.

When we forget our ability to choose, we become helpless. We allow the loss of our authority to happen gradually until we are reduced to being a result of the decisions of others or even of our own prior decisions. In return, we give up our ability to make decisions. The more decisions we make in OUR life are taken by US, the happier we would be. The opposite is also true. Even if you are influenced by what someone has told us/suggest, apply your own thinking cap, apply your own logic and then do the act. The satisfaction level will go up several notches.

In the end, I will only say that it’s all about stepping back and thinking for a moment. Is this the best thing to do at the moment? Is this the right thing to do now? Is my time going to be utilised in this particular activity? If its not a clear Yes.. its a clear NO.