Editor’s note: So much great business advice, so little time to read. That’s why each month we’re reading a business book or bestseller so that you don’t have to. We’ll give you the gist, you’ll take away a few key points and, if inspired, you can rush to your local bookseller.
It doesn’t take the holiday season for many of us to strain under the pressure of having to do #allthethings. But it certainly piles on. There’s all the regular life things—work, gym, groceries, laundry, shuttling the kids to activities, etc.—plus all the extras: parties, traditions, gifts, tickets to shows, reservations at the hottest restaurants, and, of course, the modern tradition of baking Instagrammable cookies.
This is why it’s a good time to get real about doing less, as we prepare to embark upon a new year, the first in a fresh decade. According to Tonya Dalton, founder and CEO of inkWELL Press and author of The Joy of Missing Out (JOMO), it’s possible to live more fully by doing less. Notice she doesn’t say do more by doing less—though that’s possible, too. Dalton’s CLEAR framework is designed to help readers prioritize what’s most important so that we’re spending our time and energy on activities that make us feel happy and fulfilled, and so that we’re also working toward a North Star—whether that’s building a business or spending more time with family.
It’s a good time to get real about doing less, as we prepare to embark upon a new year, the first in a fresh decade.
“The North Star has long been known as a constant in the night sky,” Dalton writes. “Throughout history, it has guided sailors and adventurers on the path to their ultimate destinations, keeping them from being lost long before there were maps. The North Star is the beacon shining through the dark unknown, lighting our path.”
Dalton uses a powerful story to underscore the importance of a North Star. Scientist Alfred Nobel’s legacy might have been the many deaths attributed his invention of dynamite, but a misprinted obituary (intended for his brother) led Nobel to redirect his purpose. While he believed in the power of dynamite, he also realized the destruction it could cause and committed to establishing prizes for men and women who made outstanding achievements in science and literature, and who were committed to peace. Today his legacy is arguably the highest honor one might hope to achieve—the Nobel Prize.
[Related read: How to change the way you deal with change]
When you don’t chart your own course, you can end up adrift at sea, allowing others to decide how you spend your time, and ultimately, what’s important. That feeling of being adrift manifests as feeling chronically overwhelmed—an all too familiar feeling for Dalton’s primary audience. Many of the anecdotes are from women shouldering large loads at work and home, who tend to give away too much of their time and attention. And for a book for busy people, it does a great job of getting right to actionable strategies to help clarify values and purpose—even down to actual phrases you can use to say no the next time someone asks you to chair a committee for the PTA. Read like a guidebook, peppered with moments of levity (including quotes from Beyonce and Tina Fey), and with prompts to go online and use digital tools, readers can actually do the work that Dalton describes.
When you don’t chart your own course, you can end up adrift at sea, allowing others to decide how you spend your time, and ultimately, what’s important.
One of Dalton’s early points is that we’ve begun to lose the meaning of the word priority, because we all have so many priorities of seemingly equal importance. Once we’ve set our North Star, it becomes easy to let life crowd in and keep us from moving toward it. Dalton spends some time clarifying to-dos from priorities and offers strategies for evaluating whether a priority or task needs to be dealt with immediately, or later in your day. This is where her CLEAR framework comes in—if you’re faced with a decision and it’s difficult to determine its importance or the way forward, ask yourself these five questions:
- Is this Connected to my North Star?
- Is it Linked to a goal?
- Is it Essential?
- Is it Advantageous?
- Is it Reality-based?
These questions, as she lays them out, help one to see that perhaps some tasks can be delegated, because they are not essential. Others equate to busy-work and don’t move the needle. Others still are simply distracting, and we have to learn to say no. And it’s Dalton’s final question that is really interesting, because we all make many decisions around the stories we tell ourselves. Dalton uses an example from her personal life, about being a working mom who always makes time to bake a homemade cake for her kids’ birthdays. In her mind, this equated to being “a good mom.” But one year she was struggling to make it happen and was astonished to learn that her daughter actually wanted a store-bought cake. “At that moment I realized I was prioritizing all wrong,” she writes. “I was thinking all about my expectations—not hers.” So Dalton challenges her readers to not let our stories dictate our days.
[Related read: Can we do better work and be happier? Max Yoder thinks so.]
Less is more
The book does a good job of keeping it real—we can set up a new system or build toward a new, better habit, but the truth is that we aren’t going to be able to follow through 365 days a year. Dalton herself admits she only gets up at 4:30 a.m. to write a few days a week. But it is possible to do #mostofthethings, the regular life things like laundry, by setting up automations and processes that take the thinking out of it. She walks readers through how to simplify routines, to the end of clearing more time and headspace for focused work—which is the only way to truly be productive.
[Related read: Loonshots: Making room for innovation as your business scales]
In many ways, this book is about giving yourself permission to make decisions that work for you, even when they don’t work for others. It’s also a prompt to re-evaluate—if your North Star is to make time to write a book, then you need to make some life adjustments to support that goal—and this book shows you how. Following through is on you, but this becomes easier when you’re “uncommitting” and fulfilling fewer obligations, and working toward goals that are purposeful and carry meaning.
In many ways, this book is about giving yourself permission to make decisions that work for you, even when they don’t work for others.
Ultimately, our lives are defined by the choices we make, Dalton writes, and enacting larger change begins by making smaller and more manageable changes: “Take one step forward, one tiny step, each and every day. Each step of this process builds upon the last, creating a strong framework for a fulfilling life.”