Essentialism – Be a Better Medic and Live a Better Life


Do you ever feel like you’re constantly overcommitted? If you’re anything like me, then you’ve probably felt like you’re constantly rushing from one commitment to the next. Extra shifts, special projects, family commitments and continuing education classes can make us feel like our time is never our own.

This is unfortunately the norm for us in EMS and society in general. When asked to participate or commit in something, we usually ask ourselves if we can “fit it in”. This often leads to us lying to ourselves in an effort to please whoever it is that is looking to cut into our time. The end result is the feeling of stress and frustration.

I recently read “Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less” by Greg McKeown. I initially bought the book after hearing an interview with the author on Dave Ramsey’s Entre Leadership Podcast. I was interested in applying his principles to my personal life, but I quickly found that they are very much applicable to improving our patient care and achieving our career goals.

The art of essentialism is something that’s actually commonly practiced in EMS, we just don’t realize it. Well, to be more specific, it’s practiced during times of patient care while the opposite is usually practiced everywhere else (more on that later). Once I realized this, I started drafting up some ideas on how EMS professionals can use these principles to not only improve their quality of life, but also achieve their career goals and improve their skillset.

So, what is “Essentialism”?

To quote the author:

The Way of the Essentialist isn’t about getting more done in less time. It’s about getting only the right things done.  It is not  a time management strategy, or a productivity technique. It is a systematic discipline for discerning what is absolutely essential, then eliminating everything that is not, so we can make the highest possible contribution towards the things that really matter.
-Greg McKeown

In a nutshell, essentialism is not finding ways to fit 100 outfits in your closet. It’s about picking the ones you absolutely love and getting rid of the rest. It’s about figuring out where you want to be in life and with your career and doing only the essential tasks to get you there.

How does that apply to EMS providers?

It seems that once we complete paramedic school, the only goals we set are either paying the bills at the end of the month, or getting out of the industry. While making ends meet and exploring new career opportunities can be good things, focusing on that alone falls short of accomplishing what we really want out of life and in our careers.

By applying the principles of essentialism we can not only eliminate the feeling of being “spread thin”, but we can truly dedicate time towards accomplishing our goals and growing as healthcare providers.

Where do we start?

For starters, we need to have clear long and short-term goals for our lives and careers. For example, if you want to retire before age 55, then you might want to focus on investing, paying off your mortgage, and creating residual income. If your career goal is to promote to a specific position, then you might need to focus on leadership training, a degree, or building your resume. The type of goal isn’t important, it’s just having one that’s essential.

I would recommend checking out the book if you’re truly ready to make changes in your life. For me, it was a total game changer and totally worth the money I spent on it. You can get it on Kindle, paperback or audio over at Amazon. If nothing else, check your local library!

How can this make me a better medic?

If you’ve stuck with me this far, then you’re probably wondering how we can possibly use these principles to improve our skills as EMS providers. Like I said earlier, essentialism is something that we commonly practice during the course of patient care. When tasked with caring for the ill and injured during the short duration of time that our patients are with us in the ambulance, we typically do the most important and beneficial interventions that we can given our time constraint. For example, not every chest pain patient is going to receive 3 nitroglycerine tablets, but they should all be assessed with a 12-lead ECG and a set of vitals. Likewise, we aren’t going to waste time assessing body systems that aren’t affected by the primary problem.

When we look at how we spend our time at work, we can use these principles to focus on doing our jobs to the best of our abilities and improving our skills and knowledge. When you’re faced with downtime, think about doing tasks that are essential to accomplishing just that. Granted, large amounts of downtime isn’t always a luxury afforded to us, but as I pointed out in my recent post, “How 10 Minutes a Shift can Make You a Better Medic“, we don’t necessarily need a whole lot of time to focus on improving our skills and increasing our knowledge. By saying no to the station Xbox and making the most of our time on the clock, we can grow as professionals without having to sacrifice as much of our personal time.

Putting it all together

There’s simply no way to completely explain the art of essentialism in a single article, but I will sum it up the best I can. When you look at making commitments – whether it be overtime shifts, extra projects, committees, or part-time jobs – ask yourself if this is something that is absolutely essential to accomplishing your goals. Likewise, if you’re already overcommitted to several projects, look at each commitment and ask yourself: “If I wasn’t currently committed to this activity, what would I be willing to do or pay to get involved?” You would be surprised how quickly you discover non-essential tasks. To put this into perspective, look back at the closest analogy. If you had 100 outfits in your closet, you could take each one out and ask yourself: “If I lost this, or didn’t already own it, what would I be willing to pay to obtain it?”

By learning to say no and truly mastering the art of essentialism, you can completely transform your life. Reduced stress levels, more free-time, clear paths to success and a rewarding career are all reasons to give this a try.

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