Eliminating the Nonessential: “Less But Better”

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Once many years ago, I was in Spring City, Utah. As I stepped out of the house, two sheep  were running as fast they could, terrified out of their minds, right in front of me. I was like. “Holy Cow!” and wondered who the owner was, but  then went on to the meeting I was going to.  An hour later I came out of the meeting, which was on a different street,  and lo and behold, the same two sheep galloped past me  again as fast and wide-eyed as they were the hour previously. The speed and intensity were the same, but they were going in a completely different direction. I have never forgotten that strange sight of terrified, directionless sheep.
Sometimes I feel like those sheep. We can  find ourselves feeling out of control  and overwhelmed with too many choices and too much stuff, spending our lives in many non-essential activities, too many voices wanting to direct our lives.  I felt like that a lot of time while I was raising my children— too much to keep track of, after-school bedlam, not feeling like I was getting the critical things done.
Greg McKeown wrote a book called “Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less”. Craig and I read it this year and it has changed our life profoundly. Just go on Amazon and read some of the 1300 plus reviews:

It has centered us on what is essential for us.

This book came into our lives while we were gone on a trip and we had more time for self-reflection. It helped us examine what we were spending our time on and to prioritize more. What were we using our precious time and energy on? Because of this book we have:

  • Thought a lot about “mandatory employment”, which means showing up somewhere everyday, and that we would rather spend less money and have more time to do the things we want to do.
  • Streamlined our birthday celebrations  to make them less expensive and more thoughtful. We have had birthday picnics this last month instead of automatically going to a restaurant and gave more thoughtful gifts  rather than handing over  a check.
  • Gone through our budget more thoroughly to see what we could cut out.
  • Stopped over scheduling ourselves.
  • I am still working on doing better with what Greg McKeown talks about having a buffer so I can not be 5 minutes late to everything.
From Greg McKeown’s website:
 “The Way of the Essentialist isn’t about getting more done in less time. It’s about getting only the right things done. It is not a time management strategy, or a productivity technique. It is a systematic discipline for discerning what is absolutely essential, then eliminating everything that is not, so we can make the highest possible contribution towards the things that really matter.

Essentialism is not one more thing – it’s a whole new way of doing everything… Essentialism is a movement whose time has come.”


“Three steps to Essentialism:

  1. Discern the vital few from the trivial many.
  2. Eliminate the nonessential
  3. Make it frictionless to execute the essentials.’

“The way of the Essentialist is learning to tell the difference, learning to filter through all of those options and selecting those that are truly essential.”

Our favorite takeaway is how Greg McKeown focuses on “Less but better”.

 Look at what President Hinckley said about “less but better”:

“The observance of four simple things on the part of parents would in a generation or two turn our societies around in terms of their moral values.

They are simply these: Let parents and children

(1) teach and learn goodness together,

(2) work together,

(3) read good books together, and

(4) pray together.

I wish I had known this earlier in my life.

Really, those four simple categories are the essentials in raising a family.

Below is a 5 minute summary with Greg McKeown and then an 11 minute one. They are both worth your time and give excellent summaries.


I also  read this post on lds.org on Sunday,  about being in the thick of thin things, by Michelle Craig, one of my favorite people. She gives excellent advice at the end of her post:

“Elder Kim B. Clark, speaking to seminary and institute teachers, shared a life-changing piece of advice. On a regular basis, he and his wife prayerfully consider the following two questions:

  1. What am I doing that I should stop doing?
  2. What am I not doing that I should start doing?

Ask yourself these questions, listen carefully for the answers, and then act on what is taught.”

That is essentialism!”It is a systematic discipline for discerning what is absolutely essential, then eliminating everything that is not, so we can make the highest possible contribution towards the things that really matter.”

What do you think? Do you have essential things you do everyday that make your life better? Please Share!


Hinckley, G. B. (1996, September). First presidency message: four simple things to help our families and our nations. The Ensign, 7. Adapted from a March 5, 1994, address given to the Washington, D.C. chapter of the Brigham Young University Management Society.