Essential Vs. Optional


Just because I'm always focusing on trimming the fat and pairing things down to their most basic and efficient elements does not mean I do not enjoy the optional things in life. As a matter of fact, everything I talk about on the blog, the entire framework of optimize, automate, and outsource, is meant to free up your time and your mind so that you can do the things you really want to and not just the things you have to.

If you have a half hour of free time during the work day because you used the principles of Less Doing to get your work done and you feel like blowing off some steam on Facebook, by all means, eat your heart out. I don't want you to ever feel guilty about doing the things you want to do because you "should" be doing something else. The important thing is being able to separate the essential from the optional. This applies in several situations, see my previous post on how I manage email by eschewing the dozens of folders many people have for a simple "Optional" folder.

Let's apply this to a personal situation of mine, blog reading. I follow over 150 blogs and power through over 1000 news items each day. Why? Because I love being in the know on the latest trends, coolest gadgets, and latest psychological studies on productivity. When I meet with my Acheivement Architecture clients and they ask for a software recommendations, odds are one of my blogs covered it and I can retrieve the answer. How can I possibly get through all these feeds each day? By making sure I cover the essentials and if I have time (which I always do, thank you Less Doing) I work my way through the optional stuff while making phone calls or watching tv. Optional by definition means "available to be chosen but not obligatory" so treat it that way.

When I pull up my RSS reader in the morning on my iPhone (I like Reeder since it syncs with Google Reader and my iPad) and there are 200 new items, there will usually be 20 essentials. Which means I can read them, post them to my blog, tweet them, and email them to people I think would be interested in them, all while walking my dog for 15 minutes. Then throughout the day I'll get through the other stuff but if for some reason I can't, I know that I'm not missing any of the essentials and that gives me real piece of mind.

In Google Reader it's very easy to organize feeds into folders, simply by choosing feed settings and then putting a check next to the folder you've created. Most RSS readers offer similar functionality.

As usual, I like to be able to provide these principles to other things like email, errands (though you should never run errands), even nutrition. Don't over complicate your life by creating so many boxes and organization systems that just getting through the system is a chore in itself. Two "boxes" are all you need, Essential and Optional.