FREE QUIZ!What's your Calm Business Bottleneck?
What’s keeping your business from steady, sustainable growth? Take the quiz to find out—and get tips on how to grow a thriving digital products business without burning out.
Don’t show this again, thanks!

Made Vibrant

Framing Your Year With Thoughtful Reduction

Thoughtful reduction is another interpretation of Greg McKeown's Essentialism philosophy. Here's how you can use it as a guiding force for your year.
Caroline ZookCaroline Zook Caroline ZookCaroline Zook

Written by

Caroline Zook

Framing Your Year With Thoughtful Reduction

As I write this, it’s the first week of 2016.

It’s a new year, a fresh start, and now is as good a time as any to start living your most vibrant life. So let’s see if we can make that happen, okay? Okay!

Just to recap, last week we talked about taking a departure from the typical resolution mindset and instead of thinking about how to cause a revolution in the way you think about your life—a mindset shift that could really make a huge impact on your life one year from today.

Well, this week I want to talk about another practical way that I implement that kind of big change in my thinking at the start of each year.

You may have seen or heard about this approach before, but I like to choose one word as a way to frame up my year and intentionally move forward toward the life that I want. I’ve been doing this since 2012 after getting the idea from a few blogs I followed, and now Jason and I have done this together as a couple for the past two years.

2015’s one-word theme was SAVOR. To me, that word was like a capsule for all of these other things I knew I wanted to fold into my life: a slower pace, sinking into joyful moments, showing gratitude, being fully present, finding contentment in my current circumstances whatever they may be. One of the very definitions of the word savor in fact — which I adore — is “to give oneself to the enjoyment of.” How delightful is that?

I truly believe that by keeping this word (savor) top of mind, these concepts were able to truly permeate my year. I found myself (mostly) soaking up a slower pace and really allowing myself to enjoy some of the fruits of my labors rather than living in a perpetual “hustle mode.” (This was, of course, helped along by our decision to move to sunny California where we found ourselves surrounded by natural beauty, gorgeous weather, and so many other happy components to our daily life.)

Fresh off this year of savoring life’s best moments, I now find myself ready to evolve that intention to something slightly different. But what?

Well, the past month has served as an incredible time of reflection and clarity as I take a look at my daily life and Made Vibrant as a whole. While so much feels like it’s right where it should be, there are still a few areas where stress or anxiety stubbornly remains.

Thinking about how to improve upon that — and largely influenced by one of my favorite books I read last year, Essentialism by Greg McKeown — the one word I want to contemplate this year is: CURATE.

For me, to curate conjures up the idea of thoughtful reduction. It’s about selecting and sorting a few quality things from the many. It’s separating the signal from the noise.

Over the past few years, Jason and I have been making gradual strides towards a more minimal lifestyle and I’ve seen such a positive impact on my happiness from a lot of those experiments. Experiments like selling most of my wardrobe (I currently own about 15% of the clothing I used to) or getting rid of all our furniture/possessions when we moved (with the exception of a bed frame, two desks and a love seat we purchased when we moved to California, everything we own can fit inside our VW Tiguan.)

Ridding myself of all that tangible excess led to some interesting discoveries. Not only do a feel like a lighter, freer, more flexible human being because of it, but throughout that process, I’ve also naturally found myself more concerned with seeking out things that are of higher quality.

In the words of Essentialism, it is the simple notion of “Less, but better.”

That mentality has now bled into so many aspects of my life: less but better possessions, less but better opportunities I say yes to, less but better things I decide to focus my energy on.

By focusing on that word, curate, I want 2016 to be about fully assimilating that idea into every aspect of my life — more specifically my business.

I’m a person who has never found myself hurting for ideas. In fact, I often feel I have far too many ideas. (This will not shock most of you given our history together over the course of these weekly letters.)

The problem with that, however, is that I have this palpable sense of urgency all the time that tells me everything has to be done all at once. As I result, I often find myself working on 15 different things and planting seeds in about 15 different gardens, never fully feeling like I’m fully able to harvest anything to the best of my ability. To use an illustration from Greg’s book, it’s the difference between this and this:

On that note, recently I was listening to Tim Ferriss’s podcast episode with Derek Sivers, and Tim offhandedly says something to the effect of: “We often vastly overestimate the number of things we can get done in one day and vastly underestimate the things we can get done in one year.”

That is so true, I thought, thinking immediately of all the times I’ve had a daily to-do list about 10 things long, and only found myself getting around to 1 or 2 of them. This is a direct result of what’s illustrated above.

“Focus, by definition, requires some elimination. When we try to focus on ‘more’ we often accomplish less.”

Instead, I thought, what if I curate my day more intentionally. In fact, what if I conservatively just give myself ONE to-do item every day. Something I can focus on without the distraction of all my other to-dos. That way, if I get that one big thing done, all the other little things are gravy on top.

And to take that point further: What would happen if curated my relationships — if I focused on maintaining a few of my deep, meaningful friendships instead of feeling guilty over and overwhelmed by trying to keep up with every casual friend and connection I have. What would happen if I more consciously curated the events I attend or the places we travel or the blogs that I read? What if I had a curator’s mindset when selecting the projects I’m working on at any given time?

That’s what I want this year to be an exploration of: less, but better.

All of this not in an effort to restrict or restrain myself, but in an effort to trim the chaos down just enough to reveal the quality.

As the girl who wants to do it all and do it all RIGHT NOW, I know it won’t be easy but I think it will be a great experiment nonetheless! I think there’s a time for exploration and expansion and also a time for reduction. Both can serve us at different times in our journeys and right now I’ve found that I can do a lot more with less.

So, my question for you this week is: what’s your theme word for this year?

What comes to mind when you think of where last year has led you and where you hope to be next January?

Whatever word you choose, it’s my belief that mindful, intentional living is always a recipe for a vibrant year, so I know this exercise will bring you value!

Framing Your Year With Thoughtful Reduction

(Big Fat Takeaway)

The idea of thoughtful reduction asks us to select and sort a few quality things from many. This approach allows you to apply your energy and resources to less, but better things.


This article written by

Caroline Zook

She/Her | Artist, designer + writer passionate about helping soulful creatives grow into their brightest selves. Lover of bright colors + even brighter people! One half of the crazy duo running these parts!

Continue the conversation:

Now What?

Join "Growing Steady," a Monday newsletter designed to help you grow a calm business—one that is predictable, profitable, and peaceful.

Each Monday we'll visit your inbox with our 3 P’s format: Get 1 actionable tip for improving your systems or strategic planning [🔄 Predictable]; 1 actionable tip for boosting your audience or sales [🤑 Profitable]; 1 actionable tip for bringing more ease, contentment and fun to your journey. [🧘 Peaceful].

Wandering Aimfully Through Intentional Living Running A Business

Our 2023 Year-End Review and 2024 Preview

Hello, hello friends! As another year comes to a close, we are happy to reflect on the past year and look forward to the next one. We’ve been writing these reviews publicly for years, and you can read the others here if you like: 2022, 2021, and 2020. If love you photos, make sure to […]

Wandering Aimfully Through Intentional Living Running A Business

Our 2022 Year-End Review and 2023 Preview

It’s another year-end review, friends! We’ve been writing these reviews for quite a few years now and we really enjoy cataloging our lives in these annual recaps. 2022 was definitely a year for the record books for us! Many of you already know we spent (almost) the entire year traveling throughout Europe and then we […]