Marcus Aurelius, the Roman emperor and a relentless student of philosophy, was an incredibly busy man. After all, he was a king and he had countless obligations and responsibilities that he had to fulfill as a leader of the empire.
In one of his personal reflections, he wrote, “If you seek tranquility, do less.” He further clarified that by doing less, he meant not doing nothing but doing what’s essential and added, “Which brings a double satisfaction — to do less, better.”
This is the core idea principle behind the notion of Essentialism — less is better.
In his book Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, Greg McKeown explains that most of us in this day and age are “busy” but not productive. We overstuff our schedules, put too much on our already full plates, and start giving priority to other people’s agendas and saying yes to them, instead of focusing on ours.
Most of the tasks that we think we must do, and most of the tasks that we end up doing are actually not essential. But we still do them out of habit, guilt, or obligation. We do them out of greed, ambition and faulty thinking. And then we question ourselves when our productivity and performance plummet. We wonder why we lose interest in doing those tasks and why attaining a good work-life integration remains a distant dream. But deep down, we know that our heart isn’t really in doing so much of what we do because there’s no point to it.
Once we give ourselves permission to stop becoming a “superhuman” and try to do it all, only then we’ll be able to focus on things that really matter and perform the daily tasks that reflect our values and take us towards our goals. Instead of repeating our misaligned, hamster-wheel patterns, we can start walking on the path of Essentialism, which is nothing but a disciplined, systematic approach for establishing where our highest point of contribution exists, and then making execution of those key things almost effortless.
As we let go of the non-essential stuff, we’ll attain the freedom to do what’s essential and do it better. In doing so, we’ll be able to get intimate with tranquility and also experience the double satisfaction that Marcus Aurelius talked about.
PS: My new book Minimalism (Meditations for the Learning Mind, Book 4) releases today. If you enjoyed this essay and agree with the notion of “Less is Better”, I’d encourage you to read it. The condensed timeless knowledge in the daily meditations will help you navigate through the complexities that come with modern living and guide you in your quest to living a happy and meaningful life.