15 Characteristics of an Essentialist SLP

Essentialism*, Greg McKeown’s book on productivity and time management, seemed to take over the world a few years ago. But somehow, I hadn’t read it until this month (January 2023). But, when I decided this year to read books that focused on my career and on mental health, Essentialism was the first one on the list. I already knew that forming intentional habits was a struggle in my life—one that I knew was vital to me whatever work I was doing. Could I become an essentialist SLP?

I had been intrigued by one idea that McKeown shares in the first chapter of the book: the etymology of the word priority. Because of course it was. He shared that the word priority was originally singular. It wasn’t until the 1900s (aka The Industrial Revolution) that people began to speak of priorities, plural. And that didn’t make sense, because the definition of priority was the very first or prior thing.

An anecdote about word origins, the impact of morphology on word meaning in society, and throwbacks to Thoreau? Yeah, I was in.

When I began reading Essentialism, I had intended to use it for the business side of my career—working on my blog, building my TpT store, launching an editorial side hustle. However, as I read, I became intrigued by how I could use the ideas in this book as part of my clinical career, even disregarding the entrepreneurial side.

With that in mind, I wanted to share some of the things I took away from Essentialism as a practicing SLP. And, I wanted to share 15 characteristics of the Essentialist SLP.

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book summary

McKeown broke his book down into four sections with each section broken down into actionable verbs and nouns. The headings below are McKeown’s (gotta love some alliteration), but the descriptions and summaries are what I took away from them.

Essence: The Mindset of an Essentialist SLP

  1. Know that you have the ability to make choices.
  2. Learn how to discern between the essential and the nonessential.
  3. Understand that every discerned choice involves a trade off.

Explore: How to Discern the Essentials

  1. Make yourself unavailable and giving yourself space to think.
  2. Look for what’s important and clarify the big questions.
  3. Give yourself time to play in order to destress.
  4. Prioritize sleep and other self-care habits.
  5. Create an exteme set of selection criteria.

Eliminate: Getting Rid of the Nonessentials

  1. Have very clear goals for yourself.
  2. Be courageous enough to say no.
  3. Don’t just not overcommit—uncommit.
  4. Edit, edit, edit—even when you don’t want to.
  5. Set boundaries.

Execute: Making Essentialism a Habit

  1. Give yourself a buffer.
  2. Remove obstacles to your success.
  3. Create small wins to measure progress.
  4. Change the way you look at routines and habits.
  5. Understand what’s important now.

Obviously, there’s a lot more to each of these sections, and I do recommend reading the book for yourself to get the full content of each. But when I sat down to make an actionable summary for myself, these are the points I walked away with. If you’re like me, you may already be noting some similarities to clinical practices. But let’s dig in just a little bit more, anyway.

essentialism book with cup of tea held by an essentialist SLP

the essentialist slp

What does becoming an essentialist SLP really look like? Instead of breaking down how to apply these principles, I want to create a profile for you. The profile of an SLP who focuses on the essentials.

  1. The essentialist SLP knows they have a choice about whether to stay at work late or go home on time.
  2. They know that it’s okay to block out time in their daily schedule to refresh their mind or research their trade.
  3. They know that, when looking at a list of client deficits, it’s vital to determine the most important skill rather than just ticking skills off of a list.
  4. They know that they deserve time to rest, and so they prioritize hobbies and healthy meals and a full night’s sleep.
  5. They know that their clients also deserve rest, and so they plan in time for rapport building and fun.
  6. They know that there are a million things their clients could work on, so they create a strict set of criteria for determining the next treatment strategy.
  7. They know that they’re the experts and aren’t afraid to say “no” to goals or strategies or activities that won’t benefit their client’s endgame, even when asked by parents or administration.
  8. They’re not afraid to change course—whether that’s rewriting an IEP goal, changing up the service delivery method, or even discharging clients who have reached their fullest potential.
  9. They know that their cannot be two priorities. When it’s time for progress reports or IEP meetings, they adjust their practices to focus on the day’s priority. They give themselves grace if that means playing Uno with their clients until their other work is finished.
  10. They ruthlessly edit their therapy materials’ collection instead of holding onto everything “just in case.” They keep only the materials that are relevant, engaging, and effective.
  11. They set clear boundaries for their schedule. They give themselves more time than they need to pick up students, conduct assessments, and write reports.
  12. They protect the boundaries of their work-life balance. They set boundaries at work so that they can protect their boundaries at home.
  13. They recognize the triggers that threaten their essentialist lifestyle and they actively make changes to them. They notice when finishing their sessions too late in the day results in them staying at work late to plan, and they adjust their schedule accordingly. They recognize that browsing Pinterest results in more therapy materials than they need and browse elsewhere.
  14. They take every moment as it comes and adjust to the most important thing happening now. They know that when they’re at home with their partner, the most important thing isn’t responding to that email from their principal. They know that when a student is upset, the most important thing isn’t how they just made their /r/ sound.
  15. They know that their worth as a person isn’t tied up in their sucess as an SLP. But they also know that their beautiful, intrinsic being is what makes them a great SLP.

Should we finish with Thoreau? We should.

I do believe in simplicity.  It is astonishing as well as sad, how many trivial affairs even the wisest thinks he must attend to in a day; how singular an affair he thinks he must omit. So simplify the problem of life, distinguish the necessary and the real. Probe the earth to see where your main roots run. 

Henry David Thoreau

The thoughts shared in this post are strictly my opinion and meant for inspiration and encouragment. They are not advice or admonishment about how you do your job. You should always work with your employer to establish healthy rules for the workplace that ensure you’re taking care of yourself, helping your clients, and fulfilling the expectations of your employment. You have an important duty to maintain the ethics of an SLP while also taking care of yourself, and that can only be done by cooperation between employers and employees.

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