Essentialism for Interior Designers

Sometimes running an interior design business can feel like you are doing a million things at once.  By exploring what is essential, you will be able to eliminate what is not important and not helping you achieve your goals.  You can actually do less to achieve more.  

I just finished the book Essentialism by Greg McKeown and was blown away by how much the ideas in the book paralleled my teachings and personal philosophies in both running a business and in life.  It was apparent to me that I was an essentialist, but that most people probably aren't.  If you ever feel like you have to do it all, that you have too much on your plate, that you are overwhelmed, that you don't know what to focus on or what is most important than this book is for you.  And from what I hear from you in your comments, emails, and in coaching sessions this is pretty much everyone running an interior design business.  I highly recommend you read the book if any of this sounds like you.  

What is essentialism?

Essentialism is doing only what is most essential.  It is exploring what you find essential, then eliminating the non-essential, and then executing what is the essential effortlessly.  McKeown says, "Only once you give yourself permission to stop trying to do it all, to stop saying yes to everyone, can you make your highest contribution towards the things that really matter."  When you try to do everything for everyone your energy, your brainpower, your willpower, and your effectiveness is spread too thin on all accounts.  When you focus on the essentials, your energy, brainpower, willpower, and effectiveness is concentrated on what you have decided is most important.  

The diagram below sums up the book for me.  Energy expended in a bunch of different areas won't get you far.  




One of the first things participants of The Golden Blueprint do is find their Guiding Light. This helps them home in on what is essential to them running a business.  Essentialism states, "If you don't prioritize your life, someone else will."  And there should only be one priority, not 5, not 10, because there can really only ever be only one thing on top.  One thing will be the MOST important thing.  To discover what is most important in your life and business, you need to get a little separation.  This is when I say you need to stop working IN your business (the daily tasks) and start working ON your business.  This gives you time and perspective.  You can do this by taking an hour a day to work on your business and not in it - your CEO time or you can take a day or two off and do a business retreat.

There are trade-offs that will need to be made.  The process of focusing your energies means some things will have to be given up, abandoned, left behind.  This may feel liberating or this may be scary.  But you'll want to keep your priorities and your Guiding Light in mind.  You have to realize that by letting go of some things you'll be able to give your all to one thing. You have to look at every opportunity and say, “Well, no… I’m sorry.  We’re not going to do a thousand different things that really won’t contribute much to the end result we are trying to achieve.”


The practice of essentialism means that most everything is NOT important and that you must choose what is most important and focus your energies on that.  In practice, during your CEO time or business retreat you can look at all your tasks and be ruthless, eliminating only the most essential.  Maybe you're blogging every once in a blue moon.  Eliminate it.  Maybe you go to a monthly networking group that never sends you ideal clients.  Eliminate it.  Maybe you spend hours expediting orders.  Considering hiring a virtual assistant.  Maybe it takes you an hour to get dressed in the morning, think about a work uniform.  Perhaps you spend too much time scrolling through Instagram daily.  Kick the habit.  Take a look at the diagram above and think about how much energy you are expending in areas that are not propelling you to where you want to go.

When you don't know what your goals are, you don't know why you are in business, or what your Guiding Light is, if you aren't clear where you want to go and what you want to achieve other people's priorities and agendas will run your life.  One of the first lessons in The Golden Blueprint is to not compare yourself to others, because by doing this you are getting distracted by their priorities and their goals, not your own.  For every step, every move, every decision you are faced with in your business, you must ask yourself, "If we could be truly excellent at only one thing, what would it be?"


To eliminate takes a lot of courage.  It takes courage to say no.  There is an excellent anecdote in the book how graphic designer Paul Rand responded to Steve Jobs request that Rand design "a few" logo options.  Rand said,  “No.  I will solve your problem for you.  And you will pay me.  And you don’t have to use the solution.  If you want options go talk to other people.  But I will solve the problem the best way I now how.  And you use it or not.  That’s up to you."  It was this quote that was the lightbulb moment while I was reading Essentialism that I thought: Interior designers need to read this!  Because I have had to say something similar to interior design clients.  I've said, "If you want many options, I'm not your designer.  I take your lifestyle, your home, your family, and your style and provide you with the best solution possible.  Interior design is a puzzle and there is one best solution.  I weigh all options before presenting the best one to you."  Paul Rand, went on to say, “The designer who voluntarily presents his client with a batch of layouts does so not out prolificacy, but out of uncertainty or fear. He thus encourages the client to assume the role of referee.”  You are the CEO of your company and can run it how you want.  You can have the courage to say no.


An important part of eliminating the non-essentials from your business is to create boundaries.  Do you feel guilty for not immediately responding to clients?  What about it it is 8pm or a Sunday?  Are you getting multiple text messages from vendors, subs, and clients at all hours and then taking more time to dig back through those texts trying to find information?  Does a client expect to see 100 fabrics before deciding on one?  If any of this sounds familiar to you, you may have a lack of boundaries, my friend.  

We are all guilty of not fortifying our boundaries and protecting them.  Letting our work creep into family time or not taking time for ourselves for the sake of our clients.  McKeown says that you'd have no problem working on a Saturday, but what about bringing your child to a client meeting Monday morning?  "Boundaries are a little like the walls of a sandcastle.  The second we let one fall over, the rest of them come crashing down.  The Essentialist view is that boundaries are liberating not limiting.  You set your boundaries and stick to them, eliminating the need to make decisions.  If you don't respect your boundaries no one else will either.


The way to execute boundaries in your interior design business is to set up systems and processes so it becomes a rule rather than a decision.  We know that the process of making decisions leads to decision fatigue and ultimately the quality of your decisions declines.  When you set up systems you eliminate the need to deliberate and analyze the things that you do regularly.  

The essentialist way is to allow the process to become unconscious so that you can free up your brain power to focus on something more important.  

Put it into practice:

  • Read Essentialism
  • Take time out of running your interior design business to get clear on what is essential.
  • Do the Guiding Light exercise
  • Eliminate & Say No
  • Set up business systems so the process becomes unconscious and you can think about more important things!
  • Share how you practice essentialism in the comments below.

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