intentional living

Ep 079: Essentialism: The Key To A Life Lived on Purpose with Greg McKeown

October 15, 2018

I'm allie

I'm here to shake things up and challenge the status quo of motherhood. Let's throw out the old rulebook and create a new narrative where moms are living their dream lives unapologetically.

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Feel like you need a total revamp?


I get it, daily routines can be overwhelming. But you? You're seeking life ownership. Dive into this beloved guide and tap into easy self-reflection, without overtaxing your brain.

A book can teach you something new. It can inspire you to make positive changes in your life and can take you to a different level in your life. Reading is so important to me which is why I am excited for Allie Reads October here on the podcast! All month I am interviewing some amazing authors. We will talk about their books, life, and living a life of purpose and intention.

Greg McKeown is the author of the book Essentialism (one of the most important books I have ever read!). He is really good at taking people through the areas that are consuming too much of their time and guides them back to what is essential. In this episode, Greg guides me through that journey in specific areas of my own life and I am excited for you guys to listen in!

Use the hashtag #AllieReadsOctober to share with me this month. What are you reading? Did you get any of the books from the authors I’m talking to you about? Are you reading a different book? How are you taking this challenge to read more and putting it into action? I cannot wait to see what you share!




In This Episode Allie + Greg Discuss:

  • What the paradox to success means and how essentialism is the antidote.

  • The power that nonessential things have and why we get sucked into them without really knowing it is happening.

  • Practical steps you can walk through to focus in on what is truly essential in your own life.

Mentioned in this Episode:



Mom life. We are surrounded with the message that it’s the tired life. The no-time-for-myself life. The hard life. And while it is hard and full of lots of servitude, the idea that motherhood means a joyless life is something I am passionate about putting a stop to. I’m on a mission to help you stop counting down the minutes till bedtime, at least most days. I want you to stop cleaning up after your kid’s childhood and start being present for it. Start enjoying it. I believe in John 10:10 “that we are called to abundant life” and I know mothers are not excluded from that promise. Join me in conversations about simplicity, minimalism and lots of other good stuff that leads to a life of less for the sake of enjoying more in your motherhood. I’m Allie Casazza and this is The Purpose Show.


Hey, sweet friends! I’m so happy that October is finally here! For months I have been planning and dreaming this up for you and I’m so happy to finally unveil what it is I’ve been working on!

This month, October, is all about reading. We’re calling it “Allie Reads October,” and the purpose behind this is for me to inspire and encourage you to read more often. Reading is such a gift. We take it for granted way too often, myself included, but reading is powerful. You literally have a whole new life in your hands when you read a book.

A book can teach you something new. It can inspire you to make positive changes in your life and can take you to a different level in your life. Reading is so important. I read all the time and I wish that I would have started sooner and so I’m taking that passion of mine and turning it into Allie Reads October. Every October here on The Purpose Show, we are turning it into author central.

I’m interviewing some amazing authors this month and we’re talking about their books and I want to see you use this Hashtag. I’m going to be checking it every single day on Facebook and Instagram and I want you to use it. #alliereadsoctober.

Share with me. What are you reading? Did you get any of the books from the authors I’m talking to you about? Are you reading a different book? How are you taking this challenge to read more and putting it into action?

Let’s celebrate this month October! Allie Reads October. We’re going to talk about authors and books and encourage each other to read more books.

I encourage you to get other people involved in this. Get your kids involved. Encourage them, read with them, next to them or to them, or have them read in their own quiet time. Share this with your friends. Let’s encourage each other to get better equipped to live an intentional life by reading more.


Hey beauties! Welcome to another episode of The Purpose Show! Today’s guest is just such a sweet, kind, esteemed person. I am so honored to even be recording this intro. I just wrapped up our interview and it was so good. I am so, so freaking excited for you guys to hear this interview.

Greg McKeown is so many things. He is one of the smartest guys I’ve ever had the opportunity to speak with. He’s a gem and he is such a good man of faith. He’s a family guy, he’s an author. He’s so accomplished. I just sat down with him and felt like being here with him was so, so good.

Greg is the author of the book Essentialism. I’ve written blog posts about this, shared it and talked about it a lot over the past two years or so. I think the first time I read it was about two years ago.

I wanted to have Greg on the show specifically for this month, where we’re really talking about my favorite authors, diving into books and reading more. This book is so important. It’s so important that you read it. It’s actually a really great book for listening as well, so if you prefer audio books, this is one of those where you could totally listen to it and really still gain everything that you would gain if you are reading it in paper. I know sometimes you get an audio book and you listen to it and you’re like, “Dang it, I really wish I had that in paper.”

I think it’s a good one. You’re going to want to maybe take some notes to reference later, but it’s totally one you could listen to.

This interview with Greg was one of the most powerful interviews I’ve had so far in my career. It was practical. He takes me through essentialism in my own life right now, at the time of this recording. We opened my phone together and looked in settings and found that I was spending a lot of time texting and doing things on my phone that I didn’t realize was still so bad. You guys know I talk about phone time and getting intentional with that all the time, but the phone is a part of my job and I have to talk to people in my business throughout the day. And just seeing that number, the amount of hours was such an awakening for me and so humbling.

There’s always room to grow and improve and yes, there’s basically no time spent on social media, but there’s a lot of time spent texting and how can I improve that? Is that worth the time? He takes me through practically speaking, essentialism, and setting up a part of my life and what is essential.

It’s so good. I can’t wait for you to hear this. I’m so grateful to Greg for totally just taking over this interview and making it a practical life changer for you guys. I think hearing the examples that he walks me through is going to help you actually go and make changes in your life today. I am so, so excited. All of that to say let’s dive in with Greg. This is so good.

ALLIE: Hi Greg. Welcome! Yeah, I’m excited. So we’re just gonna dive right in. You are the author of Essentialism of course, and I love the story in the book about how you got into essentialism. Would you mind just kind of opening up by telling that story?

GREG: Well, there’s two parts to this story. The first is I was working with Silicon Valley companies and I noticed this pattern. The pattern was when people were focused on the right things, it led to success, which we had tons of opportunities which actually got in the way of continued success because it distracted them from the very focus that had led to success in the first place. I call this the paradox of success.

But simultaneously I also had an experience in my personal life that I realized this isn’t just a business phenomenon and this is a human phenomenon. And I received an email from my boss at the time that said, “Friday between 1:00-2:00 would be a very bad time for your wife to have a baby.” (I mean she was expecting otherwise that’s an even stranger email to receive.) And sure enough, we were in the hospital, our daughter is born in the middle of the night, Thursday night. We’re in the hospital Friday morning and instead of being present, focused, invested in the singularly important moment, I was feeling torn, stretched and pulled in at least these two different directions.

How can I keep everybody happy? And to my shame, I went to the client meeting. And really I walked away from that, in hindsight, clear, as I’d made a fool’s bargain. I violated something essential for something nonessential. And I learned from that a simple lesson which is if you don’t prioritize your life, someone else will.

And really, that’s me, but the people listening to this right now can ask themselves some litmus test questions. Have you ever found yourself being stretched too thin at work or at home (like I was)? Have you ever found yourself feeling busy but not productive (like I was)? Have you found your day being hijacked by other people’s agenda and feeling that you don’t have a choice, you just need to do it all? If the answers to any of those questions are “yes,” then this is what I wrote Essentialism for was to try and address people like me who find themselves saying “yes” to those kinds of questions.

ALLIE: Yeah, I love that. I think everybody can relate to that in some way, and I think especially in motherhood specifically, I mean now you have four kids, right?

GREG: That’s right. Four children.

ALLIE: You understand that things are popping up all the time and while some of it is a little outside of our control, there’s a lot of things in just being a parent and being involved in school, sports and things, and things just kind of come up. A lot of the time it feels like, like you say in the book, how can I do all of this well? And that’s not the question that we’re supposed to ask.

So, having said that, can you talk to us about what essentialism is. I know you break it down to a few steps in your book.

GREG: Yes. So, the problem is this paradox of success is the undisciplined pursuit of more. This is the problem. Where you feel like you have to do everything for everybody and that your job is really to stuff everything in. Because if you can stuff it all in, then you can have it all. This is the illogic of nonessentialism. This is our problem. This is the challenge that we have to overcome.

And the antidote to that challenge is the disciplined pursuit of less, or essentialism. Essentialism, really, is this perpetual, continual, pursuit of (1) What is essential. (2) Elimination of what is nonessential. (3) The creation of a system that makes execution as easy as possible in supporting the things that you’ve identified as being most important. That’s what essentialism is.

ALLIE: Yeah. Okay. That makes sense. So how exactly do we begin to discern what is really important for us in our lives when it can all feel like, oh, I can see how this is important, I can see how this might be worthwhile. If it helps to answer it, how do you discern what’s actually important for our lives?

GREG: So, Allie, are you up for a little experiment? Let’s take this conversation out of the philosophical and let’s make it sort of practical and apply it. As people are listening to this, they can do the same exercise themselves. Of course, their answers will be different.

The first thing to do is to think about importance continuum. So, think about the room that you’re in, right? One side of the room is like 0-10% important. It’s one far side of the room. And on the other side of the room is the most important, the very most important things, maybe 90-100% important, or the essential things.

So, you’ve got this full continuum and everything that we do or could do can be placed somewhere on that continuum. Does that make sense first of all?


GREG: So, Step 1 in essentialism is to explore what is essential, to create space to explore what is essential. And you’re doing that now, and I’m doing that now and everybody listening is doing that now. We are creating space to think about not just what’s good or important, but what is very important, the essential things, this 90-100% area.

Here’s what I want you to do. The first question I have for you is what is something right now that you know to be very important, essential, that you are either not investing in or you feel that you are underinvesting in right now?

ALLIE: I would say revenue-producing tasks in my business keep getting pushed to the back burner.

GREG: Revenue producing tasks in your business. Tell me what that means just a little more concretely.

ALLIE:  Writing some emails that will take me a lot of time that I keep pushing off that will produce revenue that we’re needing to meet our goals for September.

GREG: Right. So, you’ve got some emails that need to actually be created and sent out. That needs to be done. It’s a job. You know it needs to be done. You’re pushing it off. There’s something about this that’s not pleasant. I’m sure a variety of things, but that’s the work. Why does it matter to you?

ALLIE: Because it’s my family’s livelihood. It’s our revenue, our money. We need it.

GREG: Okay. Give me one more level of why. Why does that matter to you? So you need it for your family. That’s your revenue stream. Why does that matter? Give me one more level of why.

ALLIE: I don’t know if this is right, but what comes to my mind is that I also can’t get these women into the program that will change their lives if they don’t buy it. And then also we can’t do the things that we need to do as a family and as a business, if that money doesn’t come in.

GREG: Okay. This is jugular. This means your double bottom line is affected. That’s what you just said. It drives the mission. No margin, no mission. If you don’t get the revenue, then you can continue to make the contribution you want to make professionally to all of these people and also within your own family. You want to be able to provide so that they can live, grow and succeed. This is why.

Okay, we have now identified what matters and why it matters. Now a little more just on Step 1, this exploring what’s essential is, what would success look like? Like how would you know that this work was taken care of? That it was completed?

ALLIE: Spending about two hours, really thinking through the wording and the copy that would go into the emails. Actually writing it, proofreading it, editing it, and sending it off to my business manager for execution. That is my part of finishing that.

GREG: Perfect. In total? You said two hours, but was that two hours the first part or was that total? What do you think?

ALLIE: Total task done.

GREG: Ok, total task, two hours. That’s Step 1 done.

Okay. Now we’re going to move Step 2, which is the opposite side of this continuum. What we now are looking for is an activity that you know to be very unimportant, nonessential, that you’re still spending more time in than you think it deserves. Give me something that you go, “You know, I wouldn’t mind spending this much time, but I’m probably spending this much time.” Something that is still nonessential in your world.

ALLIE: I would say this week, kind of trivial, but time consuming, catching up on the laundry from a bunch of trips that we just took. I could easily give that to someone else.

GREG: Okay, so we’ve got laundry on there. How do you do on social media?

ALLIE: I delegate a lot of it, but I do spend quite a bit of time.

GREG: More than you wish you did? Would that also be on your list?

ALLIE: Yeah. I could cut that down for sure.

GREG: Okay, so I want to do this because I think this is a fun thing, and by the way you’re being helpful and brave to even do this experiment right now.

Okay. So, do you have your phone with you?

ALLIE: I do.

GREG: Okay, so everybody listening to this do the same thing. Pick up your phone and don’t get distracted by it. Look up, go to settings in your phone. Under settings, go to battery. Under battery is listed all the apps on your phone right now. It will be preset. There’s a blue tag there we preset to one day. Next to that blue tag is seven days. Will you click seven days? And then next to that seven days there’s a clock face and I want you to click that clock face as well. Okay?

Now what you can look at. Now, this is just one tiny but factual resource for how people are spending time. Underneath there now you will see how much time in minutes and hours you have spent on all of those different apps over the last seven days. Do you see that? Anything striking you?

ALLIE: I’m surprised by how much texting. 5 ½ hours texting? I feel like I don’t text that much, but this is humbling.

GREG: 5 ½ hours texting?

ALLIE: 5 ½ hours in Messenger; 7 minutes only is in the background.

GREG: You’re doing it. You can’t believe that, can you? Because you’re running lean in your life. You’re already applying these principles in your life. You’re already above average. But you could be above average in today’s world and still, in fact everyone is, still sucked into nonessentialism. This is the power of nonessentialism. It’s everywhere. And it’s not everywhere by default, it’s everywhere by design.

I think you said Messenger, but it could almost be any messaging app. How much money has been spent, how much effort has been spent building a system to make it effortless for you to be on Messenger. If it was neutral meaning if the world was not built nonessentialist right now, then we might say no money has been spent on it. You just live and you can choose to focus on one thing or another and it’s just neutral.

But it’s not neutral. Billions of dollars have been spent building the machine that you’re using, the phone that you’re using to be on Messenger. Billions of dollars have been spent by the team at Facebook to make sure that Messenger is built a certain way. All of this should help us to see why, “My goodness, of course I’m doing this.”

Now just found yourself 5 ½ hours. Now I don’t know how much of that for you is productive. I’m not saying every time you’re using Messenger that is a waste of time. Can you tell me what you would like that to be?

ALLIE: I would like to cut it in half. I know a lot of the texts in this are business management texts that need to happen. For me, I’m thinking 5 ½ hours doing anything that isn’t really money producing or intentional living is not okay with me no matter what I was doing.

GREG: Yeah. I remember the first time I ran this exercise with myself when I was first testing this and I was surprised too. I found an app, for me it was news. I was reading way more news in terms of hours per week than I realized and I thought, okay, that’s got to change. That’s not what I realized I was even doing. That’s one of the reasons I like just running through this little exercise

So, let’s say you said you cut it in half. That’s what you wanted. Look at that. We just found you over two hours, which is exactly the amount of time you’re looking for. And we didn’t get too close off the goal. We didn’t get too complicated about this. We didn’t have to get into lots of jargon. We just identified the extremes.  

Now, that is not sufficient. That might be sufficient for you because you might be somebody who just has a high execution capability so you’ll translate this. You’ll make you make the decision and you’ll go into operation.  

So, we’ve identified in Step 1, what’s essential. We’ve identified Step 2, what’s nonessential. And the trade-off is the inherent part of the essentialist strategy.

Essentialist strategy means trading these things off. It’s not just saying “yes” to something important. It’s not just saying “no” to something not important. It’s making the trade-off between the two so that you are now living a more essentialist life than before.

Once the decision is made, the tradeoff, we now move into the 3rd Step, which is execution. Execution has multiple parts to it. A nonessentialist approaches execution in a very forced way. At the last moment, I’ll make this thing happen. You know, I’ll stay up till midnight trying to get these emails done, let’s say, at the last moment. This is one approach, but what I have found is that essentialists approach execution from how do we stack the deck in our favor?

That’s what we’re trying to do. That’s what I want for you. I want us to right now build a system that means that it is more likely than not that you will do it, and even if you don’t feel like it. So that while you do feel like it, right now in this conversation you feel like making the change, you’re making the trade-off, you use that discipline to build a system that means you’ll execute even when you don’t feel like it.

So, it’s a different way of using your discipline currency. You’re buying a system instead of trying to buy directly the execution. You want to build a system that encourages execution.

So let’s do that. So, the first thing I want you to do is I want you to describe for me a graphical progress mechanism. Oh my goodness, that’s a lot of words. A chart of some kind that you use. Now I can give you options, but sometimes people have preference. They have some way that they like to do this.

Seinfeld uses a calendar and he makes a red cross over every day that he has sat down and written comedy, and if he doesn’t do that he won’t do it because this is the hardest part of his work. And so, he has a visual representation and his goal is to have as many consecutive days in a row.

So, let me give you another alternative. A star chart. Literally a star chart, just like we would use with our children. We’re all big children. We love star charts. You could have a stock chart, but I’m asking for a graphical representation of the work that needs to be done. What sounds right to you?

ALLIE: I have a big calendar on this wall in my office that’s just for looks and I would just put a big x on each day that I did what I need to do so I can see it.

GREG: Okay, so let’s break it down. Let’s say that it’s half an hour a day until you’re done. Is that how you’d want to approach it? So every day you get half an hour done. Every day you have traded off, like I might even encourage you to have one red diagonal line for every day you spend half an hour writing these emails. The second line that makes the “X” for every day you’ve given up half an hour of time on Messenger, so you are actually keeping yourself honest for both elements of the trade-off.

Okay, now we have checklist, we have a graphical representation. Now we need a reward. This is an external carrot. This has nothing to do with the intrinsic benefits that you will gain, and of course, motivate you inherently to want to make these trade-offs in the first place. But I mean something very tangible that’s some reward for you. Every day would be ideal, so every day I do this, every day I get both “X’s” I get to…what? I get what benefit? What’s something for you?

ALLIE: Being able to read in the evening. I never do it because I’m catching up on things I didn’t do during the day. I would love to be able to sit and read for a half hour before I go to bed instead of finishing up work things.

GREG: Super. So, you have a favorite book and you’re going to get to read it. If you do this, you get to reward yourself by reading this. Okay, good.

Now we need to take away. We need something that if you don’t do it, you don’t get it. Not just that you don’t get to read the book. Something that is, again, tangible, physical. I can give you examples from people that have done this before, but does anything come to mind for you? You want to examples?

Okay, so I have one person who has a hundred-dollar bill pinned up on the wall. On any day they do not do what they’ve identified, they have to rip up the $100 in multiple pieces, throw it away. It cost them $100 if they don’t do it.

I have another person who has a favorite wine. Both his reward and take away is this. He gets to drink his glass of wine if he does what he’s committed to, and he has to pour down that glass of wine, just pour it down the sink, if he doesn’t.

Here are examples. I can give more but what do you think?

ALLIE: I liked the money one because it motivates me and because my task is directly related to creating revenue and so it really hits me because it’s a physical, it’s related and it’s a big reminder.

GREG: It’s a physical, direct representation of exactly what you’re trying to do. I like that too. So literally, your job is to get $100 bill and pin it up right next to that calendar, so it’s there.

By the way, how do you feel about that? Like tell me about the emotion of it, the thought of taking that and ripping it up. How do you feel about that?

ALLIE: I feel incredibly stressed even just thinking about it. It’s funny because in writing these emails, like I’ll make much more than that. If I don’t do it then I’m losing. Not only am I losing that money from not writing the emails, now I’m losing $100 that could be given away to somebody who needs it or used to pay a bill. It’s so painful.

GREG: What it is, what the research shows, is that a takeaway is generally about six times more effective than a reward, which is just amazing. I almost wish it wasn’t this way, but it seems to be. Certainly when I share these ideas with people it’s the part that gets people’s attention. Everyone’s listening to this part. Oh my goodness they think, “I have to throw that away. I have to give that thing up. I have to rip up $100.”

ALLIE: My palms are sweaty just thinking about it.

GREG: The goal isn’t to stress you out, but it is to give teeth to this commitment. We say we’re committed, but somehow we’re more committed at the moment that we’re willing to rip up $100 bill. Somehow that changes the emotional intensity behind what we’re saying.


Most people know I’m a blogger and a podcaster, but that’s really just where the inspiration happens. I can only scrape the surface of equipping you to bring positive change to your life here. That’s why I create online courses on my Private Students-Only Platform.

I don’t spend months creating courses for no reason. This is where the action is. My courses are for the serious doers out there. If you want to see focused, real change happen in your life – change that lasts – this is what my courses are for.

This is where I dive all the way into actually implementing minimalism in your home and simplification to the cluttered parts of your life as a mom. We get legit detailed in these courses. My students have incredible success rates that they share in our Private Students’ Community and you can see some of their testimonials on my website.

I work really hard to keep my courses priced as low as I can, but you guys know I totally get being on a crazy tight budget, which is why I also have payment plans available

My courses are different from each other. They each serve different purposes and will take you to different places in your life. Don’t overthink which one to start with. Just go to the website and pick one that’s resonating with you and enroll.

For Purpose Show listeners only, you can take 10% off any course you choose with the code PURPOSESHOW.  Visit for the breakdown of all the different courses I have to offer, how they’re different from each other and which one might be best for you.

I cannot wait to cheer you on and take you onward and upward. Motherhood is much too sweet a time to be spent in survival mode.


GREG: There are many other things that we could do to aid in execution. I could go through them. I mean, you could take Messenger off your phone for this week. You can turn off your phone altogether for this hour a day. You can give your phone to somebody else. You can write out your email and not even be on technology. Just write it out on paper so that you don’t have that distraction in place. One thing that I think we should still do is now building an accountability partner, right? So who is going to help you stay accountable to what we’ve just described? I want a name.

ALLIE: Hayley, my business manager, that’s her job so I would enlist her for that.

GREG: Okay. So let’s do now this part of the exercise. There’s two better reasons to do it this way. One is to practice for this conversation with Hayley, but there’s a second benefit to it and I’ll get to that after we’ve done it.

I want you to tell me like as if I am Hayley. I want you to explain to me what we’ve just done just as if I am Hayley. Just tell me what we’ve just done and where you’re looking for help.

ALLIE: Okay. So, I’ve decided that I need to write some email copy for 30 minutes every single day and I need you to hold me accountable to that. If I don’t do it by 5 PM Pacific, then I have to rip up $100 and sweat. I would say, check in with me at 4:00 every day as a kind of you have one more hour to get this done if I haven’t done it already.

GREG: Okay. I love that. I thought that was so clear. You gave structure to it. Because we’d used the systematic way of building this, you were able to express some of that.

Let me share something that I would encourage you to do and I actually want you to do it again now, based on this idea. And let me just say this is universally not done when people go through this exercise. Even though we just did it, they still miss it, and that’s because…I don’t know why really, but it’s very inherently human, to not explain why.

For some reason we assume people know our intent and it’s the cause of an enormous number of human relation challenges. We assume people know our intent and in fact, it is unknowable. Our intent is the most private part of us. It’s like deep down in our secret part. A big improvement to becoming an essentialist is to express “why am I doing this” before asking people to do what.

You don’t have to get through the whole thing again, because the structural part was really clear, but can you just express, as is if I’m Hayley, why do you want to make this change?

ALLIE: Okay, I want to write this email copy every day because this task keeps getting pushed away until the end of the month and then it becomes a point of stress. And without this done, we are not able to meet our revenue goals. We are not able to give to the charities we would like to give to in the amounts we’d like to give. And everything as whole in the business becomes very stressful, versus peaceful and well planned.

GREG: Yeah. And there was even a little more because… I loved what you said…but there was more. There was, “This is jugular to the business and to my family. This is personally important to me. This is personal for me to make this change because it provides for my family, it provides for our business. This matters to me.”

What everybody needs, who is listening to this, is to be as clear about what they’re trying to do, what’s really important, what’s essential. As clear, and as many reasons as possible for why because that produces the emotional energy to be able to then make the trade-off. You need to have your “yes” be clear, poignant, visceral, strong, emotional, so that it gives you the energy to make the trade-off to build this system. That’s what pours energy into the process.

By the time you’re done with the process, the process is feeding you, so that when the emotional strength isn’t there, the system is there. You’ve now got an accountability partner. You’ve got a graphical representation. You’ve got a reward system for doing it and a takeaway for not doing it.

Now we have gone through the 3 Steps. That’s one application of essentialism. What’s essential? What’s nonessential that can be eliminated? And let’s build a system to support it. How do you feel as we went through that process?

ALLIE: I feel so good. I feel inspired and encouraged, because life is just so loud. You get distracted by other things and you forget like, what are the things I actually need to do though that have to get done? I’ve been distracted by, you know, we just started our busy season as a family with sports and homeschool, extracurricular activities, and all these things and they’re great. They’re good. But they’re distracting from the things that we won’t be able to do those things if these three, four or five things don’t happen.

And so those essential things are getting pushed because they’re time consuming and it’s such a reminder of that is not the order that is going to bring me a peaceful life at all. So I feel really smacked across the head and a good way.

GREG: {laughing} Well, I don’t know how I feel about having created a smacked across the head sensation for you, but I liked the idea that what I heard underneath of all that was a sort of wake up and an empowerment. A sense of first of all, I am not doing something that I clearly can do and now I’ve got a system that’s going to encourage me to do it.

What is your current confidence level in actually doing that within the next week?

ALLIE: I feel very confident actually. Writing emails and writing in general is what I feel I’m most good at and I like doing it. I don’t know why it always gets pushed. It’s probably really just a time thing. I don’t think there’s much in-depth heart things that I am not dealing with about it because I like writing and I am confident about it. But just the reminder and like you said, the awakening of this matters more than you’re treating it like it does. Let’s set this up so you’ll do it. I feel very, very confident that I’ll do it and I would never rip up that $100 bill so I will do it.

GREG: Yeah. See, there’s a few things you see. Something you just said I really liked was the idea that this exercise drew into contrast all these activities that were muddled in the middle that appeared to be all approximately the same level of importance. We’ve got the sports, we’ve got the extracurriculars, we’ve got curriculum that we’ve got to get through. We’ve got all these activities, we’ve got the emails to write, we’ve got Messaging, communication to have with other people. It sounded to me as if it was all melding into the sort of the middle area of that continuum. It’s all pretty good and it all kind of has to be done.


GREG: But when you try and stretch the continuum and be more precise, you find actually some things are hugely important. They’re way up one side and some things are way off down the other side. Of course, some things are in the middle. I mean that’s the idea of a continuum. But by stretching the continuum, you start to see they aren’t all approximately the same level of importance.

Some are way more important. Some must be done first. They enable the other things in fact. Like the kingpin in bowling, you hit the one right thing and it will have a positive effect upon many other things. And that’s confirming that you’ve chosen something that isn’t essential.

But let me just go one step further with this. The continuum we’re describing isn’t static. Meaning, if you take the whole continuum you just described, a year from now, five years from now, whenever, everything that you now think is 90-100% important, that could be stretched to be a whole new continuum.

I don’t want people to get stressed out listening to this, but things that used to seem important can be eliminated altogether. When you say, you know what, I’m done, I’m done with television, you can be done with television. These are extreme things to say. They’ll sound extreme.

I am done with Facebook. There’s no need to be on Facebook. I can be on Facebook one minute a month, a year. I am just done with it. Suddenly the things that you used to go 90-100% become your whole life. You’re spending all of your time on what you have identified previously as 90-100% important, so your whole life is now full of things that used to be just sort of a portion of your life.

And that process continues and continues so that in the new continuum, you keep looking for those items in your “new” 90-100%. This is the 90% rule. You keep on looking for 90 % and above. You keep trading off your 0-10. This is why it’s a disciplined pursuit. It’s an ongoing process so that eventually your life is fuller and fuller with more and more of the most important things.

So that’s how essentialism is different than almost every other productivity and efficiency approach anywhere. This is about perpetual pursuit. It’s not about doing more things, it’s about doing more of the right things. And you keep on doing that and you keep on becoming more selective. Things that you would have said were 50% important last year, now are no longer even on your list. That’s gone completely when you keep on becoming more and more selective.

And this way you become far more valuable. Your contribution goes up significantly. And over time your stress can also be decreased at the same time. That’s the value.

ALLIE: Yeah. That’s amazing. My mind is blown all over again just talking to you.

GREG: I’m pleased because essentialism for me continues to be a stretching, challenging model for me as well. I’m a struggler. I’m learning this and I continually try to apply these ideas. I have found that over time it’s a richer journey than it was in the beginning. It gets richer and richer over time. It’s not like an idea for me, like many of the ideas I’ve come to and even fallen in love with through my life to say, “Okay, that’s done. I’m done with that. I’m moving onto the next thing.”

For me, it is something that the more I live it, the richer it becomes, the more and more selective I can be, the better the opportunities. I’m investing in the right thing, so that means you get more of the right things coming. Relationships are the most important. People get better and better.

You get to discern better. At first, someone might be saying, “Hey, I’m going to go on dates with my wife.” Then eventually someone says, “Well, hold on. I’ve been doing that every single week. I never not do that. I’m going to start designing and planning it at the beginning of the week, not just last moment. Start designing it.”

Over time you become more and more thoughtful, more and more selective as you take this very rich journey into essentialism. Because the beauty of life…and whether it’s useful or not…the overwhelming reality is that almost everything is in fact noise, but a few things are so valuable, so important that they are incredibly useful to identify and pursue.

I’ll give a business example of that from a quote I read years ago that has been helpfully haunting to me. And it’s this: “All you need is the one right idea to live like a king for the rest of your life.” The idea that I think is powerful in that is that it’s not about ideas; I can have a million ideas. But find the right one, the most important one, now it’s rich.

This is true, I think, in all of life. It’s all about trying to pursue that trade-off with other things so that we can keep pursuing and discerning even more clarity within what we’ve identified as important.

ALLIE: Yeah, and I think even just the idea of what you’re saying for so many people listening and for me, is just what would life even look like if the only things I spent time and energy on were things in the 90%. Things that really mattered, were so worth my time, that were essential, that have to happen. I would imagine you would have a lot of free time that would either end up being fun and play, which you also talked a ton about in the book and I love that chapter, or more time spent on those things.

GREG: Exactly. Something that has been profound to me is I read a graphical essay available online that’s called The Tail End, and in it the author is giving graphical representation of how much time we have remaining or how little. He shows, for example, the crescendo insight that he has is that he plots out all of the face-to-face time that he will have with his parents. And he crosses off all of the face-to-face time he has had so far. And he concludes that by the time he left home he had had, I think the number was 94% of the face time he’ll ever have with his parents.

That’s like a shocking insight. It’s a shocking thought to me, but totally real. I mean once you leave, you can talk on the phone, yes you can meet in person, but unless you will be incredibly deliberate, and even then, you have spent that face-to-face time. That is done. Of course, as a parent we can see that from a reverse point of view that “Okay, we are all in the tail end of our parenting. We are all in the tail end of our lives in a sense, so we have to use our time differently.

This is all to set into context. The idea that in the final analysis we have so little time remaining that if I don’t spend it constantly searching for the 90% and above and pursuing those things, then I will be trading off those 90% and above for trivial things. I’ll be making a trade-off. Now it might not be as dramatic or as foolish as the trade-off I made to go to this meeting instead of being focused on my wife and daughter on the day of her birth, but it will still appear a fool’s bargain in hindsight.

I’ll give you another positive because I know there’s lots of negatives that have depressed us all, but I remember a positive for me, I went through a similar process like you and I just did and identified a top thing for me, an essential thing, would be speaking to my grandfather each week. I was probably at that time spending about 15 minutes a week on Facebook. Not a lot of time, but some time. It’s still 15 minutes, right?

And so I stopped. I made that trade off. Almost every week for the rest of his life, which was a couple of years or something at that point, I spoke to him on the phone and that was my trade-off. Nobody hearing that story has ever said to me, I think you really should have spent that time on the Facebook. It’s obvious. In hindsight, it’s obvious.

People can make these trade-offs. You can live a life that really matters. You can make small adjustments. Don’t get down about the times we get it wrong. Of course, we get it wrong, but keep coming back to what’s essential.  

I’ll leave you on this. When you are on a flight from San Francisco to New York, the plane is off track 90% of the time. It gets to where it’s supposed to get because it keeps coming back. It comes back to being on track. That’s exactly how I feel about living essentialism.  

We’re going to be lost. We’re going to be nonessential. All of us will be off. How frequently can we come back to that primary question, what is essential? What do I need to be focused on next?

As we do that, the faster we come back, the less time we waste and we get to celebrate the wins that we’re having and feel encouraged every time we get it right. Write it down. I do that in my journal. I write down every day the things that I felt grateful about, the essential things that did get done. It’s a positive cycle and I don’t have to feel discouraged about all the times I messed it up today. Keep coming back.

ALLIE: Yeah, just kind of constantly calling things under the light and looking at is this essential and do I want to keep going with this? I love that you say that. It’s not about get it right and then live your life that way. It’s about keep bringing it back underneath the light and looking at it and asking yourself and checking in. I love that.

GREG: That’s exactly right and you said it perfectly.

ALLIE: This is amazing. Thank you so much for making this practical. It’s so helpful, but it’s overwhelming sometimes and I think that you made it practical and gave those examples with me and my stuff. It’s so, so helpful. I just thank you so much for being here. This was so great.

GREG: Well, I very much appreciate it and best of luck to you and all your followers and listeners.

ALLIE: Thank you so much, Greg.


This was an episode of The Purpose Show. Did you know there is an exclusive community created solely for the purpose of continuing discussions surrounding The Purpose Show episodes? And to get you to actually take action and make positive changes on the things that you learn here? Go be a part of it. To join go to

Thank you so much for tuning in. If you are ready to uplevel and really take action on the things I talk about on my show, and get step-by-step help from me, head to There are free downloads, courses, classes, and ways to learn more about what the next step might look like for you and to focus on whatever you might need help with in whatever season you are in right now.  

I am always rooting for you, friend!

See ya next time!

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