• Article
  • November 8, 2017

Leadership Expert: How to be More Productive by Pursuing Less

Feeling busy but not productive? That means it's time to take a step back and consider making some changes. 

Greg McKeown recently delivered a presentation about focusing on what's important at CHA's 2017 Annual Leadership Conference and Meeting of the Membership in New Orleans.

What is Essentialism?
It's an antidote to arguably the biggest problem of our time, which is the undisciplined pursuit of more. Essentialism is for anyone who feels busy but not productive, who feels stretched too thin at work or at home, and who feels their day gets hijacked by other people's agendas and expectations. That's the problem, and you can't really understand Essentialism unless you understand the problem. Non-Essentialism is the disease, and Essentialism is the cure.

About McKeown

  • New York Times bestselling author of Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less
  • Expert on leadership, productivity and business growth
  • Founder and CEO of THIS Inc., a leadership and strategy design agency in Silicon Valley

Why is it difficult to focus on the essential?
There are a few reasons, but one reason is hidden in plain sight. It's the "paradox of success." At some point in their lives, people get focused on a few things because they really matter, such as their education or building a career. When they achieve these things, and they get the job and become successful, they are insufficiently aware of how massively that increases the opportunities that come their way.

They don't recognize this because that's exactly what they wanted. That's why they were focused in the first place—they wanted great opportunities, great things… but they are insufficiently prepared for that ultimate success.

A lot of people have studied how to achieve success. This is a primary subject of study in business schools, in strategy companies and centers of excellence. But no one studies what to do once you become successful. There's almost nothing written about that. This is a relevant problem for every health care executive who will be attending the Annual Leadership Conference.

How can Essentialism benefit people who work in the health care industry?
I think there will come a turning point when the current approaches to the medical profession—the intensity, high stress and overwork—will be viewed as counterproductive. We are killing ourselves trying to heal other people. If you're living that way, it affects your ability to see clearly, and this is true in every profession.

If you're healthier and rested, your decision-making is increased. You should have the time to step back and say, "Why are we approaching medicine this way? Maybe there's a preventive approach that would give us 10 times better outcomes." But you can't think about that if you're exhausted, mentally crushed and constantly going.

Can you share an example of the impact being an "Essentialist" can have?
I recently got an email from the wife of a surgeon. She told me her husband got a rash on the back of his hand, which started to make it impossible to do the work he had spent his life preparing to do. Someone had given them a copy of Essentialism, and they both read it. After discussing the book, it became apparent to them that the stress was too much, and his body was manifesting it.

So they made an entire strategy change. They removed a massive amount of things from his plate and figured out what's absolutely essential for him. A complete healing took place, and now he's better. His wife told me, "I don't think you changed his life, I think you saved his life."

It's not about me. It's about Essentialism. Essentialism saved his life, and of course, now he's saving other people's lives.

Send questions or comments to magazine@childrenshospitals.org.