Why It’s Essential We Learn to Live by Design and Not Default

Why It’s Essential We Learn to Live by Design and Not Default

“Boil an egg for eight minutes,” she says.

“Then wrap the hot egg in a thin dishtowel and hold it to your eye.”

I’m in the examining chair at the Eye Specialists of Mid-Florida and I have a sty, the doctor tells me. It’s down inside the bottom lid of my left eye.

If you’ve ever had a sty (this is my first), listen up. This is good stuff.

“It is essential that you do this three times a day for ten minutes at a time. Periodically, gently rub the place where the sty is. A sty is just a plugged oil gland and the heat and massage hopefully will soften the plugged gland and allow it to heal. If not, check back in two weeks and we’ll need to lance it.”

Sounds easy enough, doesn’t it? I don’t want the other procedure – the lancing. So I sit in my reading chair with a hot egg that fits perfectly into my eye socket and I try to read instant New York Times and WSJ Bestseller Essentialism – the disciplined pursuit of less by Greg McKeown.

As I absorb Mr. McKeon’s philosopy of eliminating the nonessentials from my life, I can’t help but wonder if this isn’t a ploy of the Holy Spirit. I’ve been praying about my need for focus and alignment lately.

Here are some of his key points.

  • Essentialism is not about how to get more things done; it’s about how to get the right things done.
  • Essentialism is not just about less, but better.
  • It is the practice of living by design rather than default.

I love the illustration the author puts in his book.

Graphic essential

This says everything we need to know about why doing the nonessentials waste energy. Doesn’t it?

Sitting still for 10 minutes three times a day seems like a good waste of my time, but the doctor said it is essential. If I want to get rid of this sty, I have to align my focus on this one thing daily, even if it’s the only thing I do.

Most of my life, I’ve lived the life of a Nonessentialist. This was how I thought and acted:

  • I can do it all
  • I have to
  • I said Yes to people without thinking
  • I reacted to what was most pressing
  • I took on so much I did little with excellence
  • I often felt overwhelmed and exhausted

The Essentialist is a person in control of her own choices. If she’s led by God’s Spirit she’s learned to exercise integrity in the moment of choice. To give herself some space to evaluate before she says Yes. She…

  • Decides what is less but better
  • Says No to everything except what is essential to her present focus
  • Gets the right things done
  • Knows that only a few things really matter
  • Experiences joy in the journey

A Nonessentialist thinks almost everything is essential.

An Essentialist thinks almost everything is nonessential.

~ Greg McKeown

Essentialism is a disciplined pursuit that pays big rewards. Not only do we reap the end result of accomplishing what is most important, but we give up the exhausting notion that we have to do it all. Discipline and setting boundaries result in such lovely freedom. Like Anne Lamott said

“NO is a complete sentence.”

These days you’ll find me with a hot egg in my eye socket three times a day. It’s the one thing that’s most essential right now.


[My thanks to Sue Riger for replicating the author’s graphic. You’re the best Susie!]






  1. Wow! This hits me right between the eyes (talking about eyes) this morning. As a woman who has run into the fray with all “good” intentions and willingness to fix everything, your blog has knocked me on my backside. I must admit that I too have been experiencing nudges if not outright pokes from the Holy Spirit regarding this very thing. My husband and self have been discussing this during devotion time as I had shared a quip from a Facebook page that said, “not my circus, not my monkeys”. We both carry the fault of diving in at a moments notice and often find ourselves in over our heads. Not at all what the Lord would want for us. Will share your blog with him Cathee. Prayerfully we will keep our focus on the Lord’s direction and His voice. Again my girl, you have blessed my morning. Thank you.

  2. Yessiree .. I think this may be a woman thing. At my age, I’m still learning to think before saying “yes” and feeling so proud when I recognize the thing as non-essential (I would have said to myself, ‘mind your own business. You don’t need to be involved in that.’) And such tranquility follows when I limit my involvement to those things God has called me to. I remember a quote about the famous Dorothy Parker. “She could speak seven languages fluently and couldn’t say “no” in a single one of them.” Thanks, Cat. Hope your sty heals. I had one while I was in FL and it flared up again when I got home, but finally went away even though I didn’t do the egg trick.

  3. I will be retired on July 31, after 20 years in public education. I have had a notion for a long time that my purpose there was over and I had to search for a new direction. I have prayed for a long time about what I was supposed to do. The stress of trying to be everything to everyone, on the job, at home, in the community was taking a toll on my spiritual, emotional and physical health. Then it dawned on my one day, my focus should be smaller, on more essential things in my life. I should focus on my own self and health, my two children, who have to sacrifice their Mother’s attention and presence a lot due to working full time and my husband, who has carried a heavy load, (gladly I might add) doing a lot of double duty while I worked. I prayed and got the answer one day out of the blue: stay home, be the swim team Mom and the Eagle Scout coordinator, make homemade meals. Be available to my husband when he needs me. All the things mentioned below.

    ?Decides what is less but better
    ?Says No to everything except what is essential to her present focus
    ?Gets the right things done
    ?Knows that only a few things really matter
    ?Experiences joy in the journey

    And now I can put a name on it.

    Fran, I use that saying, “Not my circus, not my monkeys” at least twice a day. Now I know exactly who is in my circus and they are my very loving monkeys.

  4. Catwoman,

    I always enjoy helping you. I think it’s one of my favorite essentials. 😉

    Thanks for the reminder to live deliberately instead of running around spreading myself too thin. Every time I hear this theme, it kinda surprises me. I get it. I agree with it, but I’m amazed at how quickly I stray from practicing it. Is it because saying “no” seems to lack compassion? Or maybe there’s a tinge of sorrow that I can’t be all things for all people so I try to do it all anyway? Lord, give me wisdom…and the courage to stay focused by making the decision to say no…and YES at the right times.

    • You’ve nailed it here, Sue. It’s hard to say No to worthy causes but if what we’re doing is God-directed I guess we have to assume some of the other things are not. It’s never easy!

  5. Dear Cathee,
    One of the joys of growing older is I feel the freedom to say no. It is such a relief to not feel the need to be involved in everything, be the first to volunteer or try to pick up all the unfinished work of others. I no longer have to attend every meeting or be involved in all the good things around me. I have enjoyed it all, but feel it is someone else’s turn to carry on. I feel at rest in my new found place. I haven’t even begun to explore all that this means for me. God always has a new gift to open if I will accept it. I look forward to the future, even if it is unknown. There is joy coming. Thanks for the reminder.

  6. Wow! This was definitely timely for me. My dear hubby is always telling me that I can’t be everything to everybody, that I spread myself too thin and then wonder why there’s nothing left of me when it’s all said and done. I have been doing a lot of reading on simplicity, downsizing and getting rid of the “clutter” in my life. I think I’m making progress and this blog this morning was a great reminder to keep pressing toward the higher goal!
    Thanks, Cathee. <3

  7. Patricia Hilliard

    Cathee, I read your blog every time without fail and always (just like in the old days) it’s as though you are sitting across from me talking just to me. And then I read Cynde’s reply and she’s at the table too.
    Every time I think of posting it’s seems I’m on the run, or I say I’ll do it tomorrow… always chasing the never ending list of to do.
    I a great new opportunity to more into a deeper level in ministry; something I’ve been moving toward for a long time. I’ve been reluctant to move forward because it feels like more “WORK”.
    In my mind I’ve listing the work list and saying to myself , “How do I do this all”? I have been wrestling with this for several weeks.
    Then comes CATHEE’S BLOG!!! Just reading this has moved me from frantic to the place where I feel the peace of letting go and coming into focus with the essential
    Cathee, you still still inspire and motivate me !

    • Pat
      With tears I read your words and all the old memories – great ones – flood back. The wonders we beheld. The best part is that it’s still happening and I truly believe He’s saved the best wine for last. You are my forever partner – along with all the other wonderful gals on the Servant Team. We beheld His glory and saw such transformation in women’s lives. Our ministries have changed but the light is still shining. Thank you, dear friend, for your comment. You’ve made my day!

  8. Indeed there is a time for everything. The older I get the more I’m inclined to refer people to younger fruitful people while I calmly reassure them The Lord will provide. I am treating an eye infection/drops four times a day; but that’s ok. I have wise friends like you to keep me on His path/with joy and no guilt.

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