There are so many options in our lives. We can choose to get news from many different sources. We can choose from multiple options for the way we spend our leisure time, what movie to see, which books to read. We are given many opportunities for volunteering our time each week. Our lives are so full. The last thing I want to do in these days before the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays is to suggest that you add one more thing to your “to do” list. Instead I would like to invite you to take some things off of your list.

I recently read Greg McKeown’s book, Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less. He makes the argument for a systematic discipline that helps individuals discern what is absolutely essential and then eliminating everything that is not. His reasoning for doing this is to increase our capacity to make the highest possible contribution to the things that we value most. McKeown is not arguing that essentialism is one more thing to add to our list, he argues that it is a completely different way to live our lives.

I found his challenge to clearly define the criteria we will use to choose from many good opportunities and invitations we receive on a regular basis. There is no list of how to make these decisions, but rather he asks us to create our list of three criteria by which we will judge each invitation. What are the three we feel called to accomplish in the next three months? The answer to this question will form the criteria for decision making.
This is the hard part. The invitation must meet all three of our self-defined criteria or the answer is no. Two out of three is not enough. We must fight the urge to take care of someone else’s problem or the fear of saying no to a friend. This is the disciplined pursuit of less.

I have been practicing this discipline for a couple of weeks. This is what I have experienced.

The discipline of creating my list of three criteria has taken longer than I expected. I wanted to add a fourth and then a fifth. Choosing three helped me be clear about what I wanted to accomplish in the next three months.
Anne Lamott once said: “No is a complete sentence. When I say no I often need to provide an explanation for my refusal. I’m learning that no is enough.”

As McKeown says in the book, setting boundaries is freeing. I could spend a lot more time each week working and not be as productive as when I have time for rest, renewal and time with family and friends.

Staying in the present moment is crucial. It is important for me to not let the future get in the way of living in the present. I can be distracted by what has to be done tomorrow and not do what needs to be done now.

Practicing what is essential in my life is good stewardship. I am able to make a greater impact the things that matter most to me.

The busy life is not necessarily a productive life. We can’t do everything. We can make a difference. What are the essentials in your life?