Essentialism is a pursuit of a life when you’re doing less, but better.
The book starts with a great quote on productivity:
Essentialism is not about how to get more things done, it’s about how to get the right things done.
It’s about the wisest possible investment of your time.
Success can be a problem
The pursuit of success can be a catalyst for failure.
Focusing on success can become an undisciplined pursuit of more.
We have to answer this question: Tell me what is your plan to do with your one wild and precious life?
We don't want to spend our life doing things we detest or buying things we don't need
with money we don't have to impress people we don't like.
Learn to understand your choices and your ability to choose
The thing is that if we surrender our ability to choose, something or someone else will step in to choose for us. That’s why an essentialist must spend as much time as possible exploring, listening, debating, questioning and thinking. Very often doing less and thinking more really produces better outcomes!
Options (things) can be taken away why our core ability to choose (free will) cannot be.
Change your language: instead of saying "I have to" say "I choose to". This way you really know it’s all up to you!
The essentialist doesn't just recognize the power of choice he celebrates it.
Work hard... but better
We work hard because we think that everything we’re working on is sooooo important... and it’s really not.
You cannot overestimate the unimportance of practically everything.
Working hard is important but more effort does not always yield more results! It’s because sometimes what we don't do is just as important as what we do.
Certain efforts actually produce exponentially more results than others.
Everything is a trade-off
A definition of a non-essentialist would be a person who thinks that there are no trade-offs. That you can have a cake and eat it at the same time.
The reality is saying yes to an opportunity by definition requires saying no to several others.
We can try to avoid the reality of trade-offs but we can't escape them
Just like choices, we can’t be rejecting trade-offs, we must embrace them because:
As painful as they can sometimes be trade-offs represent a significant opportunity!
Explore your options
In the world we live in we basically run from one thing to another. We have no time to think, breathe and explore all the possibilities. That’s why very often we choose unwisely.
Before you can evaluate what is and isn't essential you first need to explore your options.
Author says that a true essentialist spends more time thinking and analyzing all the options than anyone else:
The purpose of the exploration is to discern the vital few from the trivial many.
For that we need a space to think, time to look and listen, permission to play, wisdom to sleep
and the discipline to apply highly selective criteria to the choices we make.
Focus on your work
In order to have focus we need to escape to focus
We have to make sure we schedule and protect time devoted to deep work and maximize our time spent in this state...
Focus on the flow. The essentialist designs a routine that makes achieving
what you have identified as essential to the default position.
Nothing fires up the brain like play. Play stimulates the part
of the brain involved in both careful logical reasoning and carefree unbound exploration.
Sleep to protect the asset
A good night's sleep actually makes us more productive not less.
It’s because when we sleep, our body really re-builds itself and re-calibrates:
When we wake up our brains make may have made new
neural connections thereby opening up a broader range of
solutions to problems literally overnight.
"If it isn't a clear YES then it's a clear NO"
Say YES to only the top 10% of opportunities
This is so hard... we very often want to do more, think some opportunities are "good enough" and give in to the non-essential...
Social media, news... and FOMO...
Avoid FOMO fear of missing out. If we ever say YES because it is an easy reward,
we run the risk of having later to say NO to a more meaningful one.
Essentialism is not NO-ism but learn to say NO...
I like this quote:
People are effective because they say NO.
People respect and admire those with the courage of conviction to say NO
And remember that:
A clear NO can you be more graceful than a vague or noncommittal YES
Because if we don’t say it clear - people will take it one way or the other...
Joy - no joy - how to uncommit...
Just like in Marie Kondo’s guide to decluttering we should learn to uncommit from things and possessions by practicing our decision-making muscles. I like her approach to choosing clothes to keep: "does it bring me joy?" - which helps us fight our internal urge to keep everything we’ve got.
We have a bias when it comes to non-essential activities as well
as belongings. When we feel we own an activity it becomes harder to
uncommit. Only when we admit we have made a mistake in committing to
something, can we make a mistake a part of our past.
Greg McKeown also admitted that a phrase that helps him uncommit is this one:
You are not married to this.
The problem is that we’re just saying YES to too many things easily:
Stop making casual commitments. Every use of time energy or resources
have to justify itself anew - if it no longer fits, eliminate it altogether!
It’s this attitude that we think what we do for others really matters... when in fact it very often doesn’t - so ask yourself this:
Are there commitments you routinely make to customers colleagues
friends or even family members that you have always assumed made a
big difference to them but in fact they might barely notice?
There’s also this problem of letting go of things that are very dear to us... but no longer serve their purpose:
Kill your darlings! Even when this breaks your egocentric heart, kill your darlings!
Which leads us to editing...
Editing is key - become an editor, curator...
CEO has to be chief editor of the company. A good editor is
someone who uses deliberate subtraction to actually
add life to the ideas setting plot and characters.
An essentialist produces more, brings forth more, by removing more instead of doing more.
That’s why we need time and focus for editing.
To write is human, to edit is divine...
When I’m editing articles and workshops I know the result will be worth it.
Becoming an essentialist means making cutting, condensing and correcting
a natural part of our daily routine. It means making editing a natural cadence in our lives.
Embrace the constraints...
Very often we believe constraints are our problems, but again, we should embrace them:
Limits set boundaries. If you have limits you will become limitless.
Limits and constraints are blessing in disguise as they let us focus on what’s truly essential.
Create buffer, add margins...
One of the certainties of life is that it’s very uncertain, that’s why:
The essentialist looks ahead. She plans, she prepares for different contingencies,
she expects the unexpected, she creates buffer to prepare for the unforeseen.
You might want to think you’re completely in control but you never truly are:
Essentialist accept the reality that we can never fully anticipate
or prepare for every scenario or eventuality. The future is simply too unpredictable.
Instead they build in buffers to reduce the friction caused by the unexpected.
That’s why we need to plan buffers, give ourselves some additional space and time to have it when we truly need it in order to execute calmly and without too much stress.
Keep walking - Minimum Viable Progress
It's all about progress. It's about small wins.
Of all the things that can boost emotions motivation and
perceptions during a workday, the single most important
is making progress in meaningful work.
Start with your first win and use that momentum to work towards
the next win and the next one and so on until you have a significant breakthrough.
When we start small and reward progress we end up achieving more
than when we set big lofty and often impossible goals.
And be like this guy:
By checking in with people frequently to reward small wins and
help people remove obstacles, he bolsters the team's motivation
and focus. He enables them to make more meaningful progress.
There is something powerful about visibly seeing progress towards a goal.
Taking time to get clear about the one thing that is actually
required, the essentialist leader makes follow up so easy
and fiction less that it actually happens.
Truly live in the moment - enjoy the present...
When you focus on what’s now, you’ll succeed more often:
The way of the essentialist is to tune into the present.
There is no guarantee that you’ll win every time - because there are things beyond your control.... but what you can be sure of is that you’ve given your best:
There is a difference between losing and being beaten.
Remember to stop and listen to yourself:
When faced with so many tasks and obligations that you can't figure
out which to tackle first stop take a deep breath get present in the moment and ask
yourself what is the most important this very second.
And again a friendly reminder how we should look at our family time:
In the work do what you enjoy and in family life be completely present.
Create your "essential intent"
This concept is very powerful - it tells us what’s really important
Essential intent is to make a decision that eliminates 1000 later decisions.
It has to be meaningful and memorable. If we could be truly excellent
at only one thing, what would it be?
This is not easy, but it’s focused:
There are often multiple obstacles to achieving any essential
intent however at any one time there is only ever one priority.
Work on your "essential skills"
Learning essential new skill is never easy but once we master them and
make them automatic, we have won an enormous victory because the
skill remains with us for the rest of our lives.
It’s a constant pursuit and development:
Becoming an essentialist is about living a life of meaning
and purpose to become a better version of yourself.
It’s You 2.0 and beyond...
Ultimately this is you as an essentialist:
When other people are saying yes, you will find yourself saying no.
When other people are doing, you will find yourself thinking.
When other people are speaking, you will find yourself listening...
To sum it up:
A life of an essentialist is a life lived without regret.
Thanks to your own choices:
You'll become proud of the life you have chosen to live.
Book Essentialism By Greg Mckeown