How a 'do less' approach can help leaders lower stress, add value to business

In an era that glorifies busyness, an essentialist — someone who has the ability to determine what is truly critical and not give too much attention to trivial, nonessential demands — will be a more valuable and productive leader than one buckling under too many daily tasks, according to a Talent Management report on Greg McKeown's new book, "Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Doing Less."

In his book, Mr. McKeown argues people — especially those in leadership roles — take on too much work and responsibility, and by "strategically doing less," leaders can reduce stress and become more valuable assets to their organizations.

The more commonplace nonessentialist is someone who is always piling more onto their plate. In his book, Mr. McKeown includes an interview with an executive who found himself in a new role after his company was acquired by a larger one. In an attempt to be a likeable team player and leader in his new company, this executive found himself saying yes to mostly everything without giving anything much thought.

Eventually, he was consumed with stress and the quality of his work was plummeting. On the verge of quitting his job, the executive took a personal day to think deeply about the issues he was facing in his new role. He determined he was not spending his time and energy in the most productive way. He asked himself, "What is the very best and highest use of me? What if I was only paid for the value creation that I bring to the table," according to the report.

From that point forward, the executive started evaluating every aspect of how he typically spent his days, meaning he would no longer be included in every email chain, conference call or attend every meeting he was invited to. By strategically doing less, the executive was able to regain control of his time at work and in his personal life, which improved his overall satisfaction level, in addition to his performance. Since making an effort to become an essentialist, the executive's performance increased and he ended the year with one of the largest bonuses of his career.

As jobs across industries increase in complexity, the value of an essentialist also increases. A leader with the ability to filter out the nonessentials and provide his or her team with clear communication on what needs the most focus will be the most productive, according to Mr. McKeown.

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