4 Ways Agency Pros Can Do More By Doing Less

By | September 2, 2015
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Greg McKeown is an Essentialist. If that particular belief system sounds foreign to you, don’t worry: he made it up. But in doing so, he might have found the secret to working and living better.

McKeown is a business consultant and author of the book Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less. In the book, he’s created a smart, necessary new belief system for work and life that emphasizes getting more done by doing less.

“The way of the Essentialist isn’t about setting New Year’s resolutions to say ‘no’ more, or about pruning your inbox, or about mastering some new strategy in time management,” McKeown writes. “It is about pausing constantly to ask, ‘Am I investing in the right activities?’”

The Essentialist skillset is, well, essential for marketing agency owners and pros. There are more marketing channels and activities than ever. Clients continually demand results. And marketers have never been under more pressure to prove ROI.

Unfortunately, agency culture and business culture at large often prize a “do-it-all” mentality where success means constant multi-tasking and juggling a variety of tasks. But research shows that multi-tasking like this reduces IQ, decreases productivity and can potentially do permanent damage to your cognitive capacities.

In short, there’s never been a more important time for marketing agency pros to become Essentialists. Here’s how to do it.

1. Ask the Most Important Question

You must ask yourself: What is the one thing I could do (at this moment, this month, this year, in your life) that would make the highest contribution?

There are unprecedented choices available to us today. Resisting obligations and distractions is harder than ever. That makes answering the above question the critical first step to becoming an Essentialist. As McKeown writes:

“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 500 years. Only in the 1900s did we pluralize the term and start talking about priorities.”

Step one to becoming an Essentialist is taking back the roots of the word.

2. Get Tougher—Way Tougher—On Yourself

Stop asking “Do I like this pursuit or activity?” and start asking yourself “Is this absolutely necessary?” You’ll need to hold yourself to a much stricter standard as opportunities, activities and events arise. If you’re not all in on it, you’re all out.

Don’t worry if determining the right moves takes time. McKeown writes of the skilled Essentialist:

“Because they will commit and ‘go big’ on one or two activities or ideas, they deliberately explore more options at first to ensure they pick the right one later.”

Once you do determine the right moves, you’ll need to say “no” to the others which, McKeown notes, takes both mental and emotional fortitude that you may need to learn and become more comfortable with over time.

3. Destroy the Big Three Assumptions

There are three assumptions we either tell ourselves or broadcast to others that must be utterly and categorically destroyed before you truly master an Essentialist lifestyle. These three assumptions are:

  • “I have to.”
  • “It’s all important.”
  • “I can do both.”

All three must never be thought or spoken again. They must be replaced, McKeown notes, with:

  • “I choose to.”
  • “Only a few things really matter.”
  • “I can do anything, but not everything.”

4. Create the Space to Think Through the Essentials

Once you have the mental framework to start thinking about obligations and actions in the right way, you must create the space and time to think through them.

In other words, just because you know the essentials of Essentialism doesn’t mean you’ll immediately know what one or two things you must go big on, and what hundred or two hundred things to ignore.

You have to work at it. “To discern what is truly essential, we need the space to think, time to look and listen, permission to play, wisdom to sleep, and the discipline to apply highly selective criteria to the choices we make,” McKeown says.

This is extremely difficult in current business culture. The activities McKeown lists as necessary are often seen as luxuries or frivolities, not rigorous, essential tasks. To succeed at becoming an Essentialist, you’ll need to toss this non-essential idea out the window.

A great first step is to read through the whole book.

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