I got an email from the president of a club I was previously active in.
I haven’t seen you at our meetings for a while. Just wondered if there’s anything I can help with, or if you plan to return.
Hope to hear from you soon!
It was such a nice email. I was happy that they were reaching out (to me! They like me!) and I also thought it was also a very smart thing for them to do for the health of their organization.
The truth was, I did think about returning. I still paid my dues. I had the regular meetings on my calendar and every other week when I got the meeting reminders, I would consider whether it was a good time to return to meetings. But the meeting times didn’t work well for my schedule, and so I wouldn’t go. My plan had been to pay my dues for another 6 months and see if my interest returned.
Then the email came. I started to reply that I’d been busy, but hoped that I’d return someday to see everyone. I had the email mostly composed when it the thought occurred to me: I could just quit now. Why am I waiting?
Rip Off that Band-Aid
True confession: I love books in the “self improvement” category. My recreational reading often entails books on personal growth, behavioral psychology, or productivity. It’s just how I’m wired.
But even if you don’t like that type of book, I’d probably still recommend Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less to you. Should you read this book? Well, has anyone ever asked you how you’re doing, and your reply involved some variant of “busy”? If so, then yes.
The premise of the book is “less, but better.” Focus on fewer things, those that are essential for your happiness and well being. The author, Greg McKeown, recommends ruthlessly eliminating everything that is not essential. If something is not an absolute, jump-up-and-down, exuberant YES!, it is a very firm No. One a scale of 1 to 10, he says you should only do things that are a 10.
But what if you’re not that ruthless?
I’m not. I struggle with making decisions, and can’t imagine feeling the certainty of an absolute yes about anything. So that’s why I like this version:
Go ahead and rate how you feel about the activity or action on a scale of 1 to 10—but you can’t use the number 7. All of a sudden, everything below a 7 drops away as being lackluster and everything that remains rises to the surface as being important. It’s the 7s—the things that sound a little interesting, a little fun—that will suck all of your time away if you don’t stop them.
I had been letting the club linger in my inbox and on my calendar, even though it was not even a 7. Once I realized this, I deleted the email I’d been writing and started a new one, one that said this wasn’t a priority* for me now and that it was time to quit.
It probably wasn’t the answer that she wanted, and it even caught me by surprise. But the decision was an immediate relief. The feeling was like when you clean out a cabinet and you feel so good that you want to clean out the entire room. I couldn’t help but wonder: What else can I quit doing?
I haven’t quit anything else—yet—but I could probably benefit from doing less but better. What about you?
*In Essentialism, Greg McKeown also points out the the word “priority” originally referred to the single thing that was most important of all. It had this meaning for hundreds of years, and it was only in the 1900s that the plural version came into being.
- Not convinced enough to read the Essentialism book yet? Check out this podcast with the author that hits a lot of the main points.
- Another book on time management that I love is 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think by Laura Vanderkam. I like her blog too.