January 29

Define Your Essential Work


Define Your Essential Work

By Deborah Johnson

January 29, 2022

core values, Drucker institute, Essentialism, Goals, Greg McKeown, Peter Drucker, podcast, trade off, Warren Buffet

Essential Work

During our world’s huge shutdown, there was a focus on essential work, including essential workers. Those workers never quit going in to their offices or place of business, while other businesses were shuttered. We continued to get our mail every day from essential mail deliverers, shop for groceries at essential stores and filled up our vehicles with gas. There were many who found ways around the regulations, setting up an essential work place in their homes and on patios, such as hairdressers and barbers. I took advantage of still getting my hair done!

Thinking about what consists of essential work for each of us is a valuable exercise, especially at the start of every new year or season. I suggest we do it quarterly to weed out the non-essentials. There is a book I read once a year called Essentialism by Greg McKeown. It is a good reminder to focus on what is most important. Taking the time to focus on essential work will multiply my time and effectiveness. We will focus here on three areas: defining your core values, deciding what is essential work and making trade-offs.

Women at Halftime by Deborah Johnson Define Your Essential Work 2-1-22
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Your Core Values

Your core values are what drive your every decision. Taking the time to define those values (Core Values free download) will serve as a navigation tool for your life and business, especially when deciding what to do and what not to do. It’s not easy to scale them down, but I urge you to focus on only three to five values. They can be simple and you can create one chart for your personal and one for professional.

I took the time to once again define my core values this year. On the top of my list has always been my family and relationship with my husband. That is listed in my personal core value area, but it crosses over to professional. When that those relationships are off, it affects everything else in my life. That doesn’t mean I discount anything else but it means I pay attention to the important relationships in my life and make time for them.

Core Values-Deborah Johnson

Also on my list is the time to think, produce and create. It’s what I love and what I’m very good at—at least the creating part! But this means that I’ve scaled down live coaching and programs. I only offer a few programs a year and most are virtual. I do take select live stage events and that fits in with my outreach plan for influencing leaders and entrepreneurs for  those who are in my audience demographic.

I can’t emphasize enough the importance of taking time for this. It is not a waste of time and helps you weed out the non-essentials. If you are like most, there is so much noise that it feels strange to be quiet and think. As a multi-tasker, stopping is not an easy task for me. But this process helps me to stay focused. This year, I will be posting my core values where I can see them in my office. It helps me to say No when I’m tempted to say Yes!

What to Do When You Do Fail

Failure happens. There is always a risk of failure when trying something new. How do you respond when you feel like you’ve failed? Many make excuses or try to cover up for what should have been a successful venture. I have done this with certain programs I planned to produce where I’ve just cancelled them with lack of signups. But if we continue to shove failures under the rug, we won’t learn from our mishaps. I think the biggest thing we can learn from a so-called failure is what not to do. There are very few experiences that should be called a total failure as there’s usually a part of what happened that is redeemable and something very positive to build upon.

In 1967, Apollo 1 never launched because of a fire in the command module that killed the crew and destroyed the module. It took until 1969 with Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins and Buzz Aldrin on Apollo 11 to land on the moon. There were test flights for other Apollo launches between those dates but they had to fix what caused the fire and any other issues in order for the astronauts to land successfully.

An important note is that space travel does not stop because of accidents.  Even the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster in 2003, killing all seven crew members when it reentered the atmosphere, did not stop space travel. Elon Musk with SpaceX is offering commercial flights to both earth and lunar orbit. Even with all the tests and trials, I guarantee there will be a certain amount of risk. Richard Branson and Virgin Galactic is offering tickets for future spaceflights. I am sure they and their team have taken a step back to evaluate what goes wrong with every flight. Each failure is an opportunity to build upon what did work. And there are people who have actually already bought their ticket!

What is Essential

McKeown says almost everything is non-essential. This is a drastic statement. But if you were standing on the edge of a cliff and had a decision whether or not to jump into the water below, your decision could be influenced by a number of scenarios. If there was a shooter aiming right at you, you’d take the risk and jump. That would be an essential jump.

Most people don’t find themselves at gunpoint, but we tend to put off important priorities until we do feel under the gun. I’m sure you’ve made decisions where you’ve looked back and realized what you just did was a total time-waster. Technology projects can definitely feel like that! What helps in this area is to define exactly what you want to do first. If it’s within your reach, the time invested will be worth it.

Adding a live switcher (ATEM Mini) to my studio as well as additional camera and lighting was worth it for expanding virtual events and livestreaming. (see my resource page for more equipment links) Learning the tech involved was not for the faint of heart! But I’m on the other side of it now. Very few have the resources to bring in a T.V. or camera crew for every virtual event. I’ve decided that I have to take risks and sometimes experience failure to get better at coordinating all the pieces from my end because I wanted to use the technology. That has been my decision and may not be for every reader. But I’ve dealt with tech for enough years with a music studio that I know it’s just going to take time. I stopped counting how many times I’ve been stuck!


Have you ever tried to copy another person’s business model and then found it doesn’t work? There are many clones to be found with look-alike businesses. I get messages from them every day. What distinguishes one from the other? I propose it comes down to the core values and mission of each one, not just the method. What is the uniqueness and how is that being communicated?

The Summit-Land of Allure-Deborah Johnson

Peter Drucker (1909-2005), said, If you want something new, you have to stop doing something old. He was extremely focused on his mission and The Drucker Institute is rated in the top 250 in the Wall Street Journal Management ranking. One of Drucker’s principles is, Doing the right things well.

In the allegorical book The Summit, I created the Land of Allure with a Social Media Circus. No one was found in the Idea Factory because they were all distracted at the circus. The Seminar Clone Factory was putting out what you can guess, clones! The Styleless Music Shop wasn’t putting out anything new, just repeats of the same old phrases. You can get the gist of what was happening with all the distractions and trade-offs for the wrong focus.

A good trade-off is deliberate, strategic and thoughtful. Warren Buffet invests in just ten investments and he quotes, The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything. My husband would agree, who has been a Registered Investment Advisor for a number of years. It’s easy to jump when the market moves, but that’s the wrong move. It’s also easy to think someone else’s ideas will work better than your own. Evaluate carefully and simplify as much as possible.

Others will apply their own fears and failures to your situation. You don't have to listen to them.

deborah johnson

Thought Leader, Keynote Speaker, Author

If you are interested in growing and learning, check out our online courses here: Online Learning

1,100 words

Deborah Johnson

About the author

DEBORAH JOHNSON, M.A., creator of Hero Mountain® and former president of Los Angeles National Speakers Association, is an international award-winning music artist, author, speaker and National Media Commentator. She also hosts the popular podcast "Women at Halftime." Deborah provides tools to create your ideal lifestyle and work at mid-career or during the halftime of life, getting unstuck. You can live your second half fulfilled, focused and free! Up for multiple GRAMMY Awards and spending over 20 years in the entertainment industry, she's an expert on how to constantly reinvent yourself in a gig-economy. She is also the recipient of the Women's Economic Forum Exceptional Women of Excellence Award. Deborah is the author of multiple books, over twenty albums and musicals and speaks and performs in both live and virtual events.

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