In Praise of The Inessential, Optional, Unrequired, and Otherwise Unnecessary

Closeup shot of stirring cherry jam with spoon in metal saucepan

I love making preserves. I am the jam, jelly, and marmalade queen, man. Beyond fancy cars, beyond jewellery, beyond a pair of handmade tango shoes from Buenos Aires, homemade preserves are where luxury is at.

What makes them luxurious? The fact that someone took old-fashioned time and care to make them. And furthermore, took time and care to make them when it really isn’t necessary. Think about it: no matter how good, a jar of jam is still a jar of jam, and it’s pretty much something that anyone can buy anywhere. And yet people like me – without orchards or even a single fruit tree – find themselves in the kitchen, thoughtfully stirring pans of sugared fruit.

Luxury. The luxury of the unnecessary.

A luxury that’s becoming rarer every day. Why?

Well, it’s certainly not time: we actually have more leisure time now than we did 40 years ago, even if it doesn’t seem that way. (And “seem” is right: the faster pace of our lives affects how we perceive time, and how we distribute it makes us feel that there isn’t enough of it.)

But there’s another issue: that despite us seeing ourselves as modern, forward-thinking people, we still have profoundly puritanical* roots, and as many of the old virtues are set aside in this brave new world, the puritan inside us still needs expression. And the most common expression is our attitude towards our usage of time.

Truly. Most of us tend to pride ourselves on being open-minded, non-judgmental individuals, and yet when we see someone doing something we think is unnecessary, we exclaim, “How do you have time for THAT?” Rather than being sorry that we don’t have time to do that thing, we feel… well, we feel a little important. A little virtuous. Years ago in an ad for supermarket cakes, two schoolgirls compare lunches: one displays the homemade goodies her mother has made her, and then the other displays the supermarket cake and says, “My mum packed me this – because SHE has a LIFE?” And if that’s not self-righteous, or judgmental, or self-important, I’ll eat my tall, black Puritan’s hat.

Get a life, we say, meaning a life that includes only The Important Stuff. Because, in some whacky reasoning we picked up somewhere along the way, we figure that when we only do Important Stuff, that makes us Important.

Not that I’m against Important Stuff. What I’m against is that relatively few of us sit down to ask whether what we’re doing is important to us, to whether it’s someone else’s idea of important. (Take “Time is money”, for example. Is this our personal philosophy, or that of the people who first put clocks in factories in the 18th Century? And who was that money for really: the workers or the factory owners? Seriously.)

I put it to you that the Inessential, Optional, Unrequired, and Otherwise Unnecessary may not be “important” by anyone else’s standard, but it can still play a vastly important role in your life. Devoting time to the Inessential, Optional, Unrequired, and Otherwise Unnecessary can give you bountiful riches.

To understand why and how, we have to go back to talking about luxuries. How do you feel when you buy yourself a luxury? It’s an indulgence, right? And something else. Something you may not admit, particularly if you’re strapped: you feel as though you have plenty.

Here’s the beautiful irony in all this: when you spend time on the Inessential, Optional, Unrequired, and Otherwise Unnecessary, you feel as though you have plenty of time. Suddenly, the idea that that you’re time poor vanishes like the illusion it always was.

There is, however, one rule – the rule that ensures you honour your time on this planet for the gift it is: you have to do that unnecessary thing with volition. In other words, you have to choose it, and be aware why you’re choosing it.

On Valentine’s Day, I launched The Hearting Project. I’m doing it for fun, and because I think it can make a difference. It’s not a necessary thing, either to me or those who choose to do it with me. I launched it during a very busy time in my life; a time when I could be doing just about any other worthwhile thing. But because I chose to do it, and know exactly why, it is a luxury that makes me feel rich, in so many ways.

What Inessential, Optional, Unrequired, or Otherwise Unnecessary thing will you choose today?





* I don’t mean literally Puritan, or at least not necessarily; just their influence, and similar cultural influencers. Got me? OK – let’s move on.

Photo credit © Kryzhov via Depositphotos

Why you need to keep this one secret


I’m all for transparency. Transparency, unless we’re talking about David Lee Roth’s stagewear circa 1984, is a good thing: it’s a linchpin of trust and communication, and you know that at some point somewhere, no matter how many scary-looking, spiky charts the company accountant shows you, it all boils down to trust and communication.

Still, some secrets are worth keeping. Superheroes from Clark Kent to Jessica Jones keep their identities secret so that they can be left alone to save the world in peace. My mother believed that a woman should neither put on or take off her girdle in front of her husband. And me? I believe that every business, before it grabs the shiny new thing – whether it’s story, or content, or marketing communications, should have a secret message.

A secret message combines elements of your business’s core values and strategy and stands above everything you do and communicate, informing your actions and communications directly. It is a guiding principle that helps you make every decision, and helps you construct and send every message. Without it, everything you say will either fall flat, or fall in a heap when you or your business is tested.

When you keep your secret message front and foremost, it gives you precise focus, and directly influences everything you do and say, and how you do and say it.

It’s for your eyes only; not your customers’ or clients’. Why? Because first and foremost, they won’t care. All they care about is the results. This is exactly as it should be, and also good for you because of the second reason: your secret message doesn’t have to be pretty.

I have seen, time and time again, businesses get stuck on a public message, tagline, or vision/mission statement. I’m talking months here (the maximum so far is 18 of them)! Everything is in suspended animation until they get their message just so. They imagine dire consequences if they don’t megaphone exactly what they’re about to the world in the exact right words.

But it’s simply not true. With a secret, internal message guiding your decisions and communications, your clients and customers will get the message of what you’re about loud and clear.

And without it? That’s shaky ground, right there, no matter how good you are at expressing yourself. Where is your focus coming from? How are your clients and customers supposed to read your words and actions? The pretty stories you tell – what are they actually for? What is keeping your words congruent with your values?

It’s not worth skipping your secret message, particularly when it’s so quick and easy to put one together.

Your secret message is made up of three simple things:




When you’re talking people, you’re talking about you and your team, and your clients or customers. Who are you all? Define everyone, but not too specifically: you want to leave room for creativity and the vagaries of the market.

Next is your practice. Here you need to define not only what it is that you do, but also what your clients or customers think that you do for them. It’s vital that you are able to see your practice from their point of view as well.

Finally, let’s talk why. Why do you do what you do? And also, importantly, why do your clients or customers come to you?

You can put it together in a few sentences, or in – forsooth! – dot points. It doesn’t need to be pretty, just practical.

We’re a bunch of programmers and assorted IT geeks who work for decision makers in the freight transport industry. We provide them with software that logs and tracks freight. It makes freighting a lot more efficient, and saves them time and money. We do this because we care about the impact of freight transport on the environment; the more efficient it is, the less impact it has. Also, we think trains and trucks are cool. Clients come to us because we’re reliable and available 24 hours a day, and there’s nothing we won’t do to make freight as efficient as it can be.

And that’s it. You can see how a secret message like this can impact all your messaging, whether it’s in the form of marketing, or internal or external communications, and in fact, any decision you make. Crucially, it also allows you to see where your goals and your clients’ or customers’ intersect. This makes for better communications, and better business. And that’s no secret.

Thank you!

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