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What "the disciplined pursuit of less" means to me today.
My life has changed quite a bit since first reading the book in 2018. I've gotten married, bought a home, and had two kids (at once!). Which is to say, I've got a lot more responsibilities now than I did back then, which I think makes the core idea of essentialism — the disciplined pursuit of less — even more important.
What is it that I'm pursuing? It's pretty simple: a sustainable creative career. That's been my north star for the past decade. While my progress in that direction has ebbed and flowed, I generally feel good about the path that I'm on. It's books like Essentialism that have helped me to carve that path, which is why I think it's worth revisiting.
Here I’d like to share one big idea from each section of the book and why it resonates with me right now.
Within the Explore section, one of the suggestions is simply to look, to be both an active observer of the world around you and a journalist of your own life, looking for interesting stories from the day.
At various times in my life I've used an actual journal to do that observing and capturing, sometimes even keeping a visual log, which can be a great way to capture highlights from your day while also practicing your drawing skills.
Lately daily journaling hasn't appealed to me, but weekly reflection has, in the form of this publication. Each week I'm writing an essay (like this one) that focuses on a singular topic, as well as round-up of interesting visual thinking work that caught my eye that week.
Knowing that I'll be putting together those types of written reflection each week causes me to be a keener observer in my day-to-day experiences. I've got my eye out for visual thinking work that I think others would enjoy seeing, and I'm regularly ruminating on whatever topic I choose to focus on for that week's essay.
I look harder and perhaps see more because of it.
In the second section of the book, we Eliminate. While revisiting this section, it was the advice dare to say no that stood out to me.
In what ways am I saying no these days? And am I doing so both firmly and gracefully? I'll give two examples.
The first is freelance sketchnoting gigs. As much as I enjoy doing visual work and chatting with others about this field, over the years I've found that freelance gigs take too much out of me. I find them to be more stressful than they're worth (my introversion is showing), and I find it much easier to bring regular creative energy to my own projects, which is why I don't mind dedicating so much time to building Verbal to Visual, this publication, and the YouTube channels.
Thankfully I'm in the position to not just say no, but also recommend other visual thinkers who might be interested in the gig. That's a recurring theme inside of Verbal to Visual, with folks regularly wanting to make the leap from creating sketchnotes for themselves to creating them for others. So I've got a feel for who might be interested in a particular project that comes my way, and I can pass it on to them.
The second opportunity that I've been saying no to is workshops outside of Verbal to Visual. Since I'm already hosting weekly live events, I don't want to stretch myself too thin. Eventually I do hope to participate in free events like The Visual Jam and give back to the broader visual thinking community in that way, but for now I find it important to focus on the recurring events that are already on my plate.
In both of those cases I'm able to say "No, but..." and provide an alternative. "No, I'm not doing freelance work right now, but here are some other sketchnoters you might check out..." and "No, I don't host workshops outside of Verbal to Visual right now, but I hope to in the future." That's a way for me to say no firmly as well as gracefully.
As I think about those two examples, what I'm realizing about myself is this: I prefer a minimum number of scheduled commitments in my life. I enjoy time to myself and being in control of how I spend that time. That's another take on the disciplined pursuit of less — actively pursuing fewer scheduled commitments.
Within the Execute section of the book, the idea that stood out to me was to subtract: remove the obstacles that get in the way of what's most important.
In my visual summary I mentioned how I'd begun removing face-on-camera intros and outros for my YouTube videos because that required an entirely different setup of tools (as well as concerns about my appearance) compared to the overhead shot of me sketching out ideas.
I've recently been experimenting with another simplification to the video creation process by using the app Notability to draft and record my sketchnotes, as opposed to analog tools. As much as I love pen and paper, there's a lot more flexibility when using my iPad, including the ability to work from anywhere, with that single device serving as my recording studio.
There's also the unique recording and playback features of Notability, which allow me to create a video by tracing over a fully drafted sketchnote. That gives me the opportunity to do slightly more complex things with my sketchnotes compared to the freehand drawing that I do when making videos with analog tools.
So I've subtracted the need for memory cards and a good lighting setup and large poster paper and bold markers and precise drawing placement. It's those subtractions that get me excited about building multiple YouTube channels, with Verbal to Visual, Doug Draws Icons, and Doug Draws Books at the top of my list right now.
With all of this talk about less, I'd also like to acknowledge a new more to my life: the writing of these essays and the weekly issues of Simply Sketched.
That's a recent addition to my workload, and could be seen as the opposite of “the disciplined pursuit of less,” but I think it’s serving an important role, both in the become a journalist of your life realm that I described above, and also a remind yourself of what’s important realm by encouraging a more public act of reflection that gets me out of my own head and away from my typical ruts.
It also rounds out a trio of work that feels powerful to me: I'm the host of a learning community, a maker of YouTube videos, and the writer of a Substack publication. I've got a consistent through-line of visual thinking to keep me focused, along with the right amount of variation to keep it interesting.
That sounds like a creative career that I can stick with for a long time.