Unlike so many of the other philosophical schools, the Stoics were doers. The Epicureans might have been content to play in their gardens and the Cynics might have believed that most of the obligations of society were a scam, but the Stoics were responsible and public-minded. Marcus Aurelius lead the empire. Seneca was a writer and a political advisor and he ran the many estates his family owned.
These were busy people. But they also understood the importance of work-life balance, and were early practitioners of what the author Greg McKeown calls essentialism. They worked hard, but they knew it was impossible and self-defeating to try to do it all. As Seneca wrote:
“We will benefit from that helpful precept of Democritus, showing us that tranquility lies in not undertaking tasks, either in public or private, that are either numerous or greater than our resources.”
Each of us needs to take the time to set our priorities straight and to understand our limits. What’s the most important thing in our lives? What’s the next most important thing? What are we going to say no to so we can focus on those things? What are we going to say no to (or yes to) in order to protect our personal happiness and peace?
The key isn’t to always do more, more, more, but sometimes to do less so that we can do more of what we care most about.
P.S. “If you seek tranquillity, do less. Or (more accurately) do what’s essential,” Marcus said. We set up the Daily Stoic Freedom Challenge to help you do just that—21 actionable challenges to help you do less and do it better. Learn more and sign up here!