Doing Too Much is Destroying Your Career

I talk about the core principles and lessons inside Greg McKeown's "Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less" and translate them into how you can apply them as an osteopath.

Podcast Episode Transcript

Have you ever found yourself stretched too thin? Or maybe you’re always super busy but not productive? Like you’re always in motion but never getting anywhere? The way out is Essentialism.

This is not a time management strategy, but a systematic discipline you apply every time you are faced with a decision. By forcing us to apply a more selective criteria, for what is essential, the pursuit of less allows us to regain control of our choices, so we can make the highest possible contribution towards the things that really matter.

Hello and welcome back to another episode of Behind The Osteopath. I’m Alan Zaia, and I’m thrilled to have you join me once again. First and foremost, I want to express my heartfelt gratitude for the incredible support you’ve shown so far. Your engagement and feedback have been actually quite emotional. If you’d like to connect with me or share your thoughts, you can find my email in the episode description.

So, as you know, this podcast is centred around the idea that you should never open a clinic without fully understanding what it takes. Today, I want to dive into the first book of a series of 10 I’m covering. It’s a concept that will change the way you approach your career and life – it’s the concept of essentialism.

In Greg McKeown’s book “Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less,” the concept of essentialism is explored as a way out of this cycle.

To give some background context, I first read this book in 2021 and have reread it to see if there was anything I had missed, as I will do with the all the books I’ll speak about on this podcast. It’s helped me in my personal and professional life. I promise you it will be helpful to you too, especially if you’re feeling like you’re not making progress in your career.

Oh, before I forget, it goes without saying that you should read this book for yourself if you want to find your own answers because I don’t talk about everything the book has to say, only the concepts that resonated with and helped me and the people I work with.

Let’s dive into this book then.

McKeown suggests that even if we attempt to prioritise our tasks, we often end up overwhelmed by too much to handle. So straight away, we know that taking all that’s on our to-do list and putting it into priority order isn’t much good. Which if that hit you as hard as it hit me when I first read it, you’ll love the practical themes threaded throughout this book.

Let’s start with how Essentialism centres on four key points that can transform how we approach our careers as osteopaths:

  1. Do less, but do it better: The heart of essentialism is identifying less important aspects of our lives and committing to higher standards in what remains.
  2. Embrace singular direction: Reject the idea of accomplishing everything. Instead of making tiny progress in many directions, choose a direction and make great strides in the things that matter most to you.
  3. Constantly question: The process of deciding what’s worth doing, where your time and energy should be put in to and what should be let go is ongoing.
  4. Immediate implementation: Once identified, your responsibility is to swiftly implement changes to focus on what truly matters. You shouldn’t waste any time in ensuring that the changes are put in place, without distraction.

I think now would be a good time, now you have the 4 principals in your mind, to cover the model of Essentialism.

I want you to imagine 2 columns. The left side side is for the Non-Essentialist and the right is for the Essentialist.

Now we know the four core principles of Essentialism and the overall model, the next thing to understand is that you must be fully willing and totally embrace trade-offs.

So, to fully embrace essentialism, we must be willing to make trade-offs. This is challenging. What do I mean by this. While the idea of cutting out unimportant tasks seems pretty straightforward, we often convince ourselves we can handle it all. Essentialism encourages us to be selective about our commitments by focusing on what truly matters. Greg explains that: as painful as they can sometimes be, trade-offs represent a significant opportunity. By forcing us to weigh both options and strategically select the best ones for us, we significantly increase the chance of achieving the outcome we want.

Alright, let’s dive into an example that hits close to home for us as osteopaths. Quality vs quantity. Okay, so, at some point or another, you’re going to build your reputation up to a point where you’ve got patients lining up, appointments back to back most days you’re available. It’s inevitable that you’re going to have a battle with yourself between providing the best possible care you can to each and every one of your patients, but you’re struggling to maintain the quality of your treatments. All of a sudden, it’s becoming a juggling act, and you’re worried that you’re spreading yourself too thin.

What do you do?

The essentialist would say instead of trying to see a high number of patients each day, you should embrace the trade-off by focusing on quality over quantity.

By embracing these trade-offs, you’re not just managing your patient load – you’re elevating your practice. Sure, you might not be seeing as many patients in a day, but the care you provide is next-level and you can always increase your prices. But the main point is that your patients feel heard, valued and have an excellent experience. And that, my friends, leads to patient loyalty, better patient-centred outcomes and a stellar reputation that will continue to grow.

After talking about embracing trade-offs, McKeown moves on to highlight the importance of escaping. Escaping is about creating a dedicated time and space for clear thinking and reflection. He explains that you need to block off a space in your working week just to think about your life – what options, problems or challenges you face – and this will help you assess which are vital and which aren’t.

For me, I’ve been going to the gym recently, they have a sauna, so at the end of every workout, I do a 20 minute sauna, which is great because I can’t take my phone in and I’m focusing on staying calm against the heat that it allows me to just think. Sometimes I think about the small things, but I always try to stay focused on the big picture – the next 12-24 months. If you want the lesson McKeown recommends, one way you can stay concentrated on the big picture is by keeping a journal, but instead of writing down everything you experience, force yourself to write as little as possible. This will require you to think through everything you’ve done and sift out only what you consider essential. And as you read back through what you’ve written, you will see the big picture.

Anyway, I can tell you with absolute confidence, no matter what stage of your career you’re at, if you want to see a significant improvement in your career, start allocating time to do nothing but think about the big picture of your career.

So, some of you may be thinking that it’s hard to decide what’s vital and what’s trivial. McKeown suggests two ways to help.

The first is what he calls the 90% rule. The 90% rule is where anything scoring below 90 is considered a zero. So, even if it’s an 89, it’s a zero. Have I found this useful? Somewhat. I think the 90% rule is good for culling your prioritised to-do list. It’s good in the sense th it forces you to make a decision.

The second method he suggests is to decide that “if it isn’t a clear yes, then it’s a clear no.” This one comes with what I believe to be one of the most helpful parts of the entire book which is a simple way to put “if it isn’t a clear yes, then it’s a clear no” into action is to list the 3 minimum things that something must have in order to keep it, as well as 3 ideal criteria that you want it to meet. Then when you’re deciding on what’s vital or trivial, it must pass the three minimum requirements as well as at least two of the ideal ones.

In my experience, “if it isn’t a clear yes, then it’s a clear no” is great when you get a new idea for something or someone else brings an idea to you. And if it is a clear yes, what is the other thing we must say no to, because we know it’s important to not fall into the trap of thinking that we can handle it all, so something must be replaced.

So, please try those two strategies when you’re deciding what’s vital and what’s trivial. I hope you find them useful. I believe this is an important reminder that as osteopaths and as people, we overcomplicate things by taking on too many things we think are vital. We put so much weight and responsibility on our shoulders that I can’t help but think back to the idea of moving millimetres in many directions, moving miles in one.

Later in the book, McKeown introduces a concept called the sunk-cost bias – the tendency to keep doing something even though you know it’s very likely to be unsuccessful, just because you have money, time and/or energy already invested in it. In other words, we stop making smart decisions because our current investment doesn’t allow us to let go of it.

The classic example I see all the time is osteopaths who dislike social media, and I’m talking to you here. If you don’t like social media, you’re not getting any results from it but you can’t see yourself moving away from it, you need to do what McKeown says and that’s counter the sunk-cost bias by acknowledging your mistakes and class it as trivial. If it’s clear that something isn’t going to work out, don’t be afraid to cut your losses and abandon ship.

McKeown goes even further by saying that you can avoid lots of sunk-cost bias scenarios by setting clear boundaries. A set of rules for yourself to protect you and the people you work with from making clear and obvious errors. A clear example of a great boundary that comes to mind is to complete all of your notes while you’re at work, opposed to doing them at home. That way you avoid associating home life with work life. I’ve had this conversation with people who sometimes say that they’ve got a home office they can work from, which I thought, yeah okay, that’s setting a boundary, right? Interestingly, as what many of us felt using lockdown, whenever you walk past your home office, we feel that we should be at work, or at the very least, we’re reminded of work and therefore you never switch off. So yeah, start setting up boundaries.

The final point McKeown makes, and to be fair, he hits on this point throughout the book, which is that if you’re going to keep on top of what’s important and avoid getting sidetracked by trivial things, you must practice the discipline of identifying and saying no to what slows you down and taking regular time to slow down and remember the big picture.

He explains that one of the most common mistakes he sees people make is assuming that our plans will go as expected and we will always allocate the right amount of time to completing a task. So, he recommends adding 50% more time on top of how long you believe it will take to complete a task. For me and our coaching clients, this has been very helpful when we’re planning what to achieve in the next 12 months because we always think 12 months is such a long time away, then before you know it, it’s this time next year and there are many things that are still the same.

So that’s what I’ve taken from Essentialism by Greg McKeown, I’d love to hear your thoughts on the episode. Overall, I want you to remember to do less, but better.

If you’d like to talk about how we can get you to where you deserve to be. Get started by taking our quiz, the link for which will be in the episode description.

If you’ve enjoyed this podcast and find value in what I’m striving to share, leaving a 5-star review would mean the world to me.

I’m already re-reading the next book for episode 4, subscribe to the podcast to be reminded as soon as it comes out.

I’d like to leave you on this quote by Greg: “If you don’t prioritise your life, someone else will.”

Thank you again for listening. Cheers.

Written by Alan Zaia M.Ost

Founder & CEO of Osteohustle. You’ll find Alan coaching osteopaths, travelling in a van or writing our weekly newsletter, The Hustle.

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