Cover of book Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less

Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less

by: Greg McKeown

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276 Highlights | 10 Notes
  • So he went to speak with a mentor who gave him surprising advice: “Stay, but do what you would as a consultant and nothing else. And don’t tell anyone.”
  • He was tentative at first. He would evaluate requests based on the timid criteria, “Can I actually fulfill this request, given the time and resources I have?”
  • Now when a request would come in he would pause and evaluate the request against a tougher criteria: “Is this the very most important thing I should be doing with my time and resources right now?”
  • Instead of spinning his wheels trying to get everything done, he could get the right things done.
  • Instead of making just a millimeter of progress in a million directions he began to generate tremendous momentum towards accomplishing the things that were truly vital.
  • In this example is the basic value proposition of Essentialism: only once you give yourself permission to stop trying to do it all, to stop saying yes to everyone, can you make your highest contribution towards the things that really matter.
  • He is driven by the idea that almost everything is noise. He believes very few things are essential.
  • There are far more activities and opportunities in the world than we have time and resources to invest in.
  • It doesn’t mean just doing less for the sake of less either. It is about making the wisest possible investment of your time and energy in order to operate at our highest point of contribution by doing only what is essential.
  • In many cases we can learn to make one-time decisions that make a thousand future decisions so we don’t exhaust ourselves asking the same questions again and again.
  • In other words, Essentialism is a disciplined, systematic approach for determining where our highest point of contribution lies, then making execution of those things almost effortless.
  • Says “no” to everything except the essential Removes
  • If you don’t prioritize your life, someone else will.
  • Eager to build on his success, he continued to read as much as he could and pursue all he could with gusto and enthusiasm. By the time I met him he was hyperactive, trying to learn it all and do it all.
  • And in the process, he lost his ability to discern the vital few from the trivial many.
  • Curiously, and overstating the point in order to make it, the pursuit of success can be a catalyst for failure
  • We are unprepared in part because, for the first time, the preponderance of choice has overwhelmed our ability to manage it. We have lost our ability to filter what is important and what isn’t. Psychologists call this “decision fatigue”: the more choices we are forced to make, the more the quality of our decisions deteriorates.5
  • What is new is how especially damaging this myth is today, in a time when choice and expectations have increased exponentially. It results in stressed people trying to cram yet more activities into their already overscheduled lives.
  • The word priority came into the English language in the 1400s. It was singular. It meant the very first or prior thing.
  • and not just getting rid of the obvious time wasters, but cutting out some really good opportunities as well.
  • Most of these efforts didn’t come with an expiration date. Unless we have a system for purging them, once adopted, they live on in perpetuity.
  • “Do I love this?” and “Do I look great in it?” and “Do I wear this often?”
  • Let’s say you have your clothes divided into piles of “must keep” and “probably should get rid of.” But are you really ready to stuff the “probably should get rid of” pile in a bag and send it off? After
  • If you’re not quite there, ask the killer question: “If I didn’t already own this, how much would I spend to buy it?” This usually does the trick.
  • In other words, once you’ve figured out which activities and efforts to keep—the ones that make your highest level of contribution—you need a system to make executing your intentions as effortless as possible.
  • “What do I feel deeply inspired by?” and “What am I particularly talented at?” and “What meets a significant need in the world?”
  • The purpose of the exploration is to discern the vital few from the trivial many.
  • What if society encouraged us to reject what has been accurately described as doing things we detest, to buy things we don’t need, with money we don’t have, to impress people we don’t like?
  • What if instead we celebrated how much time we had spent listening, pondering, meditating, and enjoying time with the most important people in our lives?
  • As poet Mary Oliver wrote: “Tell me, what is it you plan to do / with your one wild and precious life?”12
  • There are three deeply entrenched assumptions we must conquer to live the way of the Essentialist: “I have to,” “It’s all important,” and “I can do both.”
  • “I choose to,” “Only a few things really matter,” and “I can do anything but not everything.”
  • IT IS THE ABILITY TO CHOOSE WHICH MAKES US HUMAN. —Madeleine L’Engle
  • result of a twenty-minute spontaneous brainstorm about what I currently wanted to be doing with my life.
  • “If you could do only one thing with your life right now, what would you do?”
  • Up to that point I had always known logically that I could choose not to study law. But emotionally it had never been an option.
  • when we surrender our ability to choose, something or someone else will step in to choose for us.
  • choice—a choice is an action.
  • while we may not always have control over our options, we always have control over how we choose among them.
  • For too long, we have overemphasized the external aspect of choices (our options) and underemphasized our internal ability to choose (our actions).
  • The ability to choose cannot be taken away or even given away—it can only be forgotten.
  • One example I heard is that of a child who struggles early on with mathematics. He tries and tries but never gets any better, so eventually he gives up. He believes nothing he does will matter.
  • When people believe that their efforts at work don’t matter, they tend to respond in one of two ways. Sometimes they check out and stop trying, like the mathematically challenged child. The other response is less obvious at first. They do the opposite. They become hyperactive. They accept every opportunity presented. They throw themselves into every assignment. They tackle every challenge with gusto. They try to do it all. This
  • To become an Essentialist requires a heightened awareness of our ability to choose.
  • certain types of effort yield higher rewards than others.
  • It would have been easy to think of the jobs in terms of that ratio between time and reward. But I knew what really counted was the relationship between time and results.
  • “Less but better” does.
  • Getting used to the idea of “less but better” may prove harder than it sounds, especially when we have been rewarded in the past for doing more … and more and more.
  • “Pareto Principle,” the idea, introduced as far back as the 1790s by Vilfredo Pareto, that 20 percent of our efforts produce 80 percent of results.
  • Distinguishing the “trivial many” from the “vital few”
  • “power law.” According to the power law theory, certain efforts actually produce exponentially more results than others.
  • “The top software developers are more productive than average software developers not by a factor of 10X or 100X or even 1,000X but by 10,000X.”
  • As John Maxwell has written, “You cannot overestimate the unimportance of practically everything.”
  • We discover how even the many good opportunities we pursue are often far less valuable than the few truly great ones. Once we understand this, we start scanning our environment for those vital few and eagerly eliminate the trivial many. Only then can we say no to good opportunities and say yes to truly great ones.
  • An Essentialist, in other words, discerns more so he can do less.
  • To practice this Essentialist skill we can start at a simple level, and once it becomes second nature for everyday decisions we can begin to apply it to bigger and broader areas of our personal and professional lives.
  • The moral of the story: ignoring the reality of trade-offs is a terrible strategy for organizations. It turns out to be a terrible strategy for people as well.
  • We can try to avoid the reality of trade-offs, but we can’t escape them.
  • After all, by definition, a trade-off involves two things we want.
  • Do you want it done faster or better?
  • Essentialists ask the tougher but ultimately more liberating question, “Which problem do I want?”
  • As painful as they can sometimes be, trade-offs represent a significant opportunity. By forcing us to weigh both options and strategically select the best one for us, we significantly increase our chance of achieving the outcome we want.
  • in getting him accepted. They said, “We had him try out a lot of different things, but as soon as it became clear an activity was not going to be his ‘big thing’ we discussed it and took him out of it.”
  • Essentialists see trade-offs as an inherent part of life, not as an inherently negative part of life.
  • Instead of asking, “What do I have to give up?” they ask, “What do I want to go big on?”
  • Nonessentialists get excited by virtually everything and thus react to everything.
  • To discern what is truly essential we need 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.
  • creating space to explore, think, and reflect should be kept to a minimum. Yet these very activities are the antidote to the nonessential busyness
  • WITHOUT GREAT SOLITUDE NO SERIOUS WORK IS POSSIBLE. —Pablo Picasso
  • He wrote: “I think it’s critical to set aside time to take a breath, look around, and think. You need that level of clarity in order to innovate and grow.”
  • Unfortunately, in our time-starved era we don’t get that space by default—only by design.
  • to think about life Creates space to escape and explore life
  • For some reason there is a false association with the word focus. As with choice, people tend to think of focus as a thing. Yes, focus is something we have. But focus is also something we do.
  • In order to have focus we need to escape to focus.
  • They are given assignments to practice deliberately discerning the essential few from the many good.
  • I blocked off eight hours a day to write: from 5:00 A.M. to 1:00 P.M., five days a week. The basic rule was no e-mail, no calls, no appointments, and no interruptions until after 1:00 P.M.
  • It seems obvious, but when did you last take time out of your busy day simply to sit and think?
  • I’m talking about deliberately setting aside distraction-free time in a distraction-free space to do absolutely nothing other than think.
  • by abolishing any chance of being bored we have also lost the time we used to have to think and process.
  • Here’s another paradox for you: the faster and busier things get, the more we need to build thinking time into our schedule. And the noisier things get, the more we need to build quiet reflection spaces in which we can truly focus.
  • Today he still takes the time away from the daily distractions of running his foundation to simply think.
  • One practice I’ve found useful is simply to read something from classic literature (not a blog, or the newspaper, or the latest beach novel) for the first twenty minutes of the day.
  • The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius; and the Upanishads. There
  • WHERE IS THE KNOWLEDGE WE HAVE LOST IN INFORMATION? —T. S. Eliot
  • “In that instant,” Ephron recalls, “I realized that journalism was not just about regurgitating the facts but about figuring out the point. It wasn’t enough to know the who, what, when, and where; you had to understand what it meant. And why it mattered.”
  • Have you ever felt lost and unsure about what to focus on?
  • Being a journalist of your own life will force you to stop hyper-focusing on all the minor details and see the bigger picture.
  • By training yourself to look for “the lead,” you will suddenly find yourself able to see what you have missed.
  • Essentialists are powerful observers and listeners.
  • Pays attention to the signal in the noise Hears what is not being said Scans to find the essence of the information
  • Therefore, one of the most obvious and yet powerful ways to become a journalist of our own lives is simply to keep a journal.
  • I also suggest that once every ninety days or so you take an hour to read your journal entries from that period.
  • Instead, focus on the broader patterns or trends.
  • Getting to the essence of a story takes a deep understanding of the topic, its context, its fit into the bigger picture, and its relationship to different fields.
  • One trick she uses is role play: she puts herself in the shoes of all the main players in a story in order to better understand their motives, reasoning, and points of view.
  • “What question are you trying to answer?”
  • A LITTLE NONSENSE NOW AND THEN, IS CHERISHED BY THE WISEST MEN. —Roald Dahl
  • The word school is derived from the Greek word schole, meaning “leisure.”
  • Play, which I would define as anything we do simply for the joy of doing rather than as a means to an end—whether it’s flying a kite or listening to music or throwing around a baseball—might seem like a nonessential activity.
  • “Nothing fires up the brain like play.”3
  • Knows play is essential Knows play sparks exploration
  • “In a world continuously presenting unique challenges and ambiguity, play prepares these bears for a changing planet.”
    Note: eq Bob Fagan
  • Yet of all animal species, Stuart Brown writes, humans are the biggest players of all. We are built to play and built through play. When we play, we are engaged in the purest expression of our humanity, the truest expression of our individuality.
    Note: eq, Stuart Brown
  • Play is fundamental to living the way of the Essentialist because it fuels exploration in at least three specific ways.
  • First, play broadens the range of options available to us. It helps us to see possibilities we otherwise wouldn’t have seen and make connections we would otherwise not have made. It opens our minds and broadens our perspective. It helps us challenge old assumptions and makes us more receptive to untested ideas. It gives us permission to expand our own stream of consciousness and come up with new stories. Or as Albert Einstein once said: “When I examine myself and my methods of thought, I come to the conclusion that the gift of fantasy has meant more to me than my talent for absorbing positive knowledge.”6
  • Second, play is an antidote to stress, and this is key because stress, in addition to being an enemy of productivity, can actually shut down the creative, inquisitive, exploratory parts of our brain.
  • Third, as Edward M. Hallowell, a psychiatrist who specializes in brain science, explains, play has a positive effect on the executive function of the brain. “The brain’s executive functions,” he writes, “include planning, prioritizing, scheduling, anticipating, delegating, deciding, analyzing—in short, most of the skills any executive must master in order to excel in business.”8
  • Play stimulates the parts of the brain involved in both careful, logical reasoning and carefree, unbound exploration.
  • Play doesn’t just help us to explore what is essential. It is essential in and of itself.
  • He suggests that readers mine their past for play memories. What did you do as a child that excited you? How can you re-create that today?
  • EACH NIGHT, WHEN I GO TO SLEEP, I DIE. AND THE NEXT MORNING, WHEN I WAKE UP, I AM REBORN. —Mahatma Gandhi
    Note: eq
  • The best asset we have for making a contribution to the world is ourselves.
  • I also remember Bill Clinton was quoted as saying that every major mistake he had made in his life had happened as a result of sleep deprivation. Ever since, I have tried to get eight hours a night.
  • Essentialists choose to do one fewer thing right now in order to do more tomorrow. Yes, it is a trade-off. But cumulatively, this small trade-off can yield big rewards.
  • One hour more of sleep equals several more hours of much higher productivity.
  • Sleep is for high performers. Sleep is a priority. Sleep breeds creativity. Sleep enables the highest levels of mental contribution.
  • The best violinists slept an average of 8.6 hours in every twenty-four-hour period: about an hour longer than the average American.
  • Over the period of a week they also spent an average of 2.8 hours of napping in the afternoon: about two hours longer than the average.
  • Our highest priority is to protect our ability to prioritize.
  • In a piece called “No More Yes. It’s Either HELL YEAH! Or No,” the popular TED speaker Derek Sivers describes a simple technique for becoming more selective in the choices we make. The key is to put the decision to an extreme test: if we feel total and utter conviction to do something, then we say yes, Derek-style. Anything less gets a thumbs down. Or as a leader at Twitter once put it to me, “If the answer isn’t a definite yes then it should be a no.” It
  • You can think of this as the 90 Percent Rule, and it’s one you can apply to just about every decision or dilemma. As you evaluate an option, think about the single most important criterion for that decision, and then simply give the option a score between 0 and 100. If you rate it any lower than 90 percent, then automatically change the rating to 0 and simply reject it.
  • Says yes to only the top 10 percent of opportunities Uses narrow, explicit criteria like “Is this exactly what I am looking for?”
  • Making our criteria both selective and explicit affords us a systematic tool for discerning what is essential and filtering out the things that are not.
  • If it isn’t a clear yes, then it’s a clear no.
  • the result of a disciplined and continuous approach to figure out what works and what doesn’t.
  • But if we just say yes because it is an easy reward, we run the risk of having to later say no to a more meaningful one.
  • In other words, they would have to be more selective in the work they took on, so they could channel all their energies toward excelling in the area that had become their specialty.
  • First, write down the opportunity. Second, write down a list of three “minimum criteria” the options would need to “pass” in order to be considered. Third, write down a list of three ideal or “extreme criteria” the options would need to “pass” in order to be considered. By definition, if the opportunity doesn’t pass the first set of criteria, the answer is obviously no. But if it also doesn’t pass two of your three extreme criteria, the answer is still no. opportunity What opportunity is being offered to you? minimum What are your minimum criteria for this option to be considered? extreme What are the ideal criteria for this option to be approved?
  • Instead, why not conduct an advanced search and ask three questions: “What am I deeply passionate about?” and “What taps my talent?” and “What meets a significant need in the world?” Naturally there won’t be as many pages to view, but that is the point of the exercise. We aren’t looking for a plethora of good things to do. We are looking for the one where we can make our absolutely highest point of contribution.
  • After all, there is still that nagging reluctance, that nagging fear that “what if” years down the road you come to regret giving away that blazer with the big shoulder pads and loud pinstripes.
  • Likewise, in your life, the killer question when deciding what activities to eliminate is: “If I didn’t have this opportunity, what would I be willing to do to acquire it?”
  • Instead, ask the essential question: “What will I say no to?”
  • It is the question that will uncover your true purpose and help you make the highest level of contribution not only to your own goals but to the mission of your organization.
  • TO FOLLOW, WITHOUT HALT, ONE AIM: THERE IS THE SECRET TO SUCCESS. —Anna Pavlova, Russian ballet dancer
  • “What do you really want out of your career over the next five years?”
  • hand, people thrive. When there is a lack of clarity, people waste time and energy on the trivial many. When they have sufficient levels of clarity, they are capable of greater breakthroughs and innovations—greater than people even realize they ought to have—in those areas that are truly vital. In
  • In the same way, when individuals are involved in too many disparate activities—even good activities—they can fail to achieve their essential mission. One reason for this is that the activities don’t work in concert, so they don’t add up into a meaningful whole.
  • Has a strategy that is concrete and inspirational Has an intent that is both meaningful and memorable Makes one decision that eliminates one thousand later
  • An essential intent doesn’t have to be elegantly crafted; it’s the substance, not the style that counts. Instead, ask the more essential question that will inform every future decision you will ever make: “If we could be truly excellent at only one thing, what would it be?”
  • powerful essential intent inspires people partially because it is concrete enough to answer the question, “How will we know when we have succeeded?”
  • The concreteness of the objective made it real. The realness made it inspiring. It answered the question: “How will we know when we have succeeded?”
  • Creating an essential intent is hard. It takes courage, insight, and foresight to see which activities and efforts will add up to your single highest point of contribution. It takes asking tough questions, making real trade-offs, and exercising serious discipline to cut out the competing priorities that distract us from our true intention. Yet it is worth the effort because
  • COURAGE IS GRACE UNDER PRESSURE. —Ernest Hemingway
  • But the deeper I have looked at the subject of Essentialism the more clearly I have seen courage as key to the process of elimination. Without courage, the disciplined pursuit of less is just lip service. It
  • I say this without judgment. We have good reasons to fear saying no. We worry we’ll miss out on a great opportunity. We’re scared of rocking the boat, stirring things up, burning bridges. We can’t bear the thought of disappointing someone we respect and like.
  • “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing”—to
  • One simple answer is we are unclear about what is essential. When this happens we become defenseless. On the other hand, when we have strong internal clarity it is almost as if we have a force field protecting us from the nonessentials coming at us from all directions.
  • They distract us from the reality of the fact that either we can say no and regret it for a few minutes, or we can say yes and regret it for days, weeks, months, or even years.
  • The only way out of this trap is to learn to say no firmly, resolutely, and yet gracefully.
  • But Essentialists know that after the rush comes the pang of regret. They know they will soon feel bullied and resentful—both at the other person and at themselves. Eventually they will wake up to the unpleasant reality that something more important must now be sacrificed to accommodate this new commitment.
  • Dares to say no firmly, resolutely, and gracefully Says yes only to the things that really matter
  • Only once we separate the decision from the relationship can we make a clear decision and then separately find the courage and compassion to communicate it.9
  • Essentialists choose “no” more often than they say no.
  • If we have no clear sense of the opportunity cost—in other words, the value of what we are giving up—then it is especially easy to fall into the nonessential trap of telling ourselves we can get it all done.
  • graceful “no” grows out of a clear but unstated calculation of the trade-off.
  • I am simply saying everyone is selling something—an idea, a viewpoint, an opinion—in exchange for your time.
  • Essentialists accept they cannot be popular with everyone all of the time. Yes, saying no respectfully, reasonably, and gracefully can come at a short-term social cost. But part of living the way of the Essentialist is realizing respect is far more valuable than popularity in the long run.
  • Below are eight responses you can put in your “no” repertoire. 1. The awkward pause. Instead of being controlled by the threat of an awkward silence, own it. Use it as a tool. When a request comes to you (obviously this works only in person), just pause for a moment. Count to three before delivering your verdict. Or if you get a bit more bold, simply wait for the other person to fill the void.
  • 2. The soft “no” (or the “no but”). I
  • 3. “Let me check my calendar and get back to you.”
  • 4. Use e-mail bouncebacks.
  • When I was writing this book I set an e-mail bounceback with the subject line “In Monk Mode.” The e-mail said: “Dear Friends, I am currently working on a new book which has put enormous burdens on my time. Unfortunately, I am unable to respond in the manner I would like. For this, I apologize.—Greg.”
  • Say, “Yes. What should I deprioritize?” Saying no to a senior leader at work is almost unthinkable, even laughable, for many people.
  • Say it with humor. I
  • 7. Use the words “You are welcome to X. I am willing to Y.”
  • 8. “I can’t do it, but X might be interested.”
  • Tom Friel, the former CEO of Heidrick & Struggles, once said to me, “We need to learn the slow ‘yes’ and the quick ‘no.’ 
    Note: eq
  • HALF OF THE TROUBLES OF THIS LIFE CAN BE TRACED TO SAYING YES TOO QUICKLY AND NOT SAYING NO SOON ENOUGH. —Josh Billings
  • Sunk-cost bias is the tendency to continue to invest time, money, or energy into something we know is a losing proposition simply because we have already incurred, or sunk, a cost that cannot be recouped.
  • Have you ever continued to invest time or effort in a nonessential project instead of cutting your losses?
  • Have you ever kept plodding down a dead end because you could not admit, “I shouldn’t have pursued this direction in the first place”?
  • Asks, “If I weren’t already invested in this project, how much would I invest in it now?”
  • Thinks, “What else could I do with this time or money if I pulled the plug now?” Comfortable with cutting losses
  • When we feel we “own” an activity, it becomes harder to uncommit. Nonetheless, here is a useful tip: PRETEND YOU DON’T OWN IT YET
  • Don’t ask, “How will I feel if I miss out on this opportunity?” but rather, “If I did not have this opportunity, how much would I be willing to sacrifice in order to obtain it?” Similarly, we can ask, “If I wasn’t already involved in this project, how hard would I work to get on it?”
  • Why are adults so much more vulnerable to the sunk-cost bias than young children? The answer, he believes, is a lifetime of exposure to the “Don’t waste” rule, so that by the time we are adults we are trained to avoid appearing wasteful, even to ourselves.8 “Abandoning a project that you’ve invested a lot in feels like you’ve wasted everything, and waste is something we’re told to avoid,” Arkes said.9
    Note: eq, Hal Arkes
  • INSTEAD, ADMIT FAILURE TO BEGIN SUCCESS
  • There should be no shame in admitting to a mistake; after all, we really are only admitting that we are now wiser than we once were.
  • STOP TRYING TO FORCE A FIT
  • GET A NEUTRAL SECOND OPINION When we get so emotionally hung up on trying to force something that is not the right fit, we can often benefit from a sounding board.
  • The tendency to continue doing something simply because we have always done it is sometimes called the “status quo bias.”
  • APPLY ZERO-BASED BUDGETING Typically, when accountants allocate a budget they use last year’s budget as the baseline for the next year’s projection. But with zero-based budgeting, they use zero as the baseline. In other words, every item in the proposed budget must be justified from scratch.
  • You can apply zero-based budgeting to your own endeavors. Instead of trying to budget your time on the basis of existing commitments, assume that all bets are off. All previous commitments are gone. Then begin from scratch, asking which you would add today.
  • If you’ve already made a casual commitment you’re regretting, find a nice way to worm your way out. Simply apologize and tell the person that when you made the commitment you didn’t fully realize what it would entail.
  • GET OVER THE FEAR OF MISSING OUT
  • TO FIGHT THIS FEAR, RUN A REVERSE PILOT
  • In a reverse pilot you test whether removing an initiative or activity will have any negative consequences.
  • By quietly eliminating or at least scaling back an activity for a few days or weeks you might be able to assess whether it is really making a difference or whether no one really cares. Even
  • Clearly, editing—which involves the strict elimination of the trivial, unimportant, or irrelevant—is an Essentialist craft. So
  • An editor is not merely someone who says no to things. A three-year-old can do that. Nor does an editor simply eliminate; in fact, in a way, an editor actually adds. What I mean is that a good editor is someone who uses deliberate subtraction to actually add life to the ideas, setting, plot, and characters.
  • disciplined editing can help add to your level of contribution. It increases your ability to focus on and give energy to the things that really matter. It lends the most meaningful relationships and activities more space to blossom.
  • You must, as Stephen King has said, “kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.”4
  • Thinks that making things better means subtracting something Eliminates the distracting words, images, and details
  • The Latin root of the word decision—cis or cid—literally means “to cut” or “to kill.”
  • Since ultimately, having fewer options actually makes a decision “easier on the eye and the brain,” we must summon the discipline to get rid of options or activities that may be good, or even really good, but that get in the way.
  • That may be one reason why Stephen King has written, “To write is human, to edit is divine.”6
  • Condensing means saying it as clearly and concisely as possible.
  • Thus to apply the principle of condensing to our lives we need to shift the ratio of activity to meaning. We need to eliminate multiple meaningless activities and replace them with one very meaningful activity.
  • Similarly, in our own professional or private lives we can make course corrections by coming back to our core purpose. Having a clear overarching intent, as discussed in chapter 10, enables us to check ourselves—to regularly compare our activities or behaviors to our real intent. If they are incorrect, we can edit them.
  • Becoming an editor in our lives also includes knowing when to show restraint. One way we can do this is by editing our tendency to step in.
  • Becoming an Essentialist means making cutting, condensing, and correcting a natural part of our daily routine—making editing a natural cadence in our lives.
  • It’s true that boundaries can come at a high price. However, not pushing back costs more: our ability to choose what is most essential in life.
  • Essentialists, on the other hand, see boundaries as empowering. They recognize that boundaries protect their time from being hijacked and often free them from the burden of having to say no to things that further others’ objectives instead of their own. They know that clear boundaries allow them to proactively eliminate the demands and encumbrances from others that distract them from the true essentials.
  • DON’T ROB PEOPLE OF THEIR PROBLEMS
  • Similarly, when we don’t set clear boundaries in our lives we can end up imprisoned by the limits others have set for us. When we have clear boundaries, on the other hand, we are free to select from the whole area—or the whole range of options—that we have deliberately chosen to explore.
  • Another quick test for finding your dealbreakers is to write down any time you feel violated or put upon by someone’s request.
  • Even a small “pinch” (to use a description I think is helpful for describing a minor violation of your boundaries) that makes you feel even a twinge of resentment—whether it’s an unwanted invitation, an unsolicited “opportunity,” or a request for a small favor—is a clue for discovering your own hidden boundaries.
  • The only thing we can expect (with any great certainty) is the unexpected. Therefore, we can either wait for the moment and react to it or we can prepare. We can create a buffer.
  • A similar thing can happen if we forget to respect and maintain buffers in our lives. We get busy and distracted, and before we know it the project is due, the day of the big presentation has arrived—no matter how much extra time we built in.
  • This time, however, she started packing a week in advance. She made certain the car was fully packed the night before so that in the morning the only thing she had to do was wake up the children and get everyone in the car. It worked. They got off early, with a good night’s sleep, nothing was forgotten, and when they hit traffic it wasn’t stressful because they had a buffer for that possibility.
  • The Nonessentialist tends to always assume a best-case scenario.
  • Builds in a buffer for unexpected events Practices extreme and early preparation
  • USE EXTREME PREPARATION
  • “planning fallacy.”6 This term, coined by Daniel Kahneman in 1979, refers to people’s tendency to underestimate how long a task will take, even when they have actually done the task before.
  • One way to protect against this is simply to add a 50 percent buffer to the amount of time we estimate it will take to complete a task or project
  • Think of the most important project you are trying to get done at work or at home. Then ask the following five questions: (1) What risks do you face on this project? (2) What is the worst-case scenario? (3) What would the social effects of this be? (4) What would the financial impact of this be? and (5) How can you invest to reduce risks or strengthen financial or social resilience? Your
  • TO ATTAIN KNOWLEDGE ADD THINGS EVERY DAY. TO ATTAIN WISDOM SUBTRACT THINGS EVERY DAY. —Lao-tzu
    Note: eq
  • It’s counterintuitive to have the fastest person at the back of the line, but the moment he does it the pack begins to move in a single group.
  • The question is this: What is the “slowest hiker” in your job or your life? What is the obstacle that is keeping you back from achieving what really matters to you? By systematically identifying and removing this “constraint” you’ll be able to significantly reduce the friction keeping you from executing what is essential.
  • the Essentialist simply makes a one-time investment in removing obstacles.
  • An Essentialist produces more—brings forth more—by removing more instead of doing more.
  • We can’t know what obstacles to remove until we are clear on the desired outcome.
  • So just as Alex fixes the least efficient machine first, followed by the second least efficient, and so on—instead of trying to fix them all at once—we too must tackle the removal of obstacles one by one.
  • Removing obstacles does not have to be hard or take a superhuman effort. Instead, we can start small. It’s kind of like dislodging a boulder at the top of a hill. All it takes is a small shove, then momentum will naturally build.
  • EVERY DAY DO SOMETHING THAT WILL INCH YOU CLOSER TO A BETTER TOMORROW. —Doug Firebaugh
  • The way of the Nonessentialist is to go big on everything: to try to do it all, have it all, fit it all in.
  • The way of the Essentialist is different. Instead of trying to accomplish it all—and all at once—and flaring out, the Essentialist starts small and celebrates progress.
  • Starts small and gets big results Celebrates small acts of progress
  • “Of all the things that can boost emotions, motivation, and perceptions during a workday, the single most important is making progress in meaningful work,” they said.5
    Note: eq, Teresa Amabile,Steven Kramer
  • we need to start small and build momentum.
  • As former Stanford professor and educator Henry B. Eyring has written, “My experience has taught me this about how people and organizations improve: the best place to look is for small changes we could make in the things we do often. There is power in steadiness and repetition.”
  • A popular idea in Silicon Valley is “Done is better than perfect.”
  • The idea is, “What is the simplest possible product that will be useful and valuable to the intended customer?”
  • Similarly, we can adopt a method of “minimal viable progress.” We can ask ourselves, “What is the smallest amount of progress that will be useful and valuable to the essential task we are trying to get done?”
  • I would share a short idea (my minimal viable product) on Twitter. If it seemed to resonate with people there, I would write a blog piece on Harvard Business Review. Through this iterative process, which required very little effort, I was able to find where there seemed to be a connection between what I was thinking and what seemed to have the highest relevancy in other people’s lives.
  • “Early and small” means starting at the earliest possible moment with the minimal possible time investment.
  • Often just ten minutes invested in a project or assignment two weeks before it is due can save you much frantic and stressed-out scrambling at the eleventh hour.
  • Take a goal or deadline you have coming up and ask yourself, “What is the minimal amount I could do right now to prepare?”
  • There is something powerful about visibly
  • ROUTINE, IN AN INTELLIGENT MAN, IS A SIGN OF AMBITION. —W. H. Auden
  • He also gave Phelps a routine for what to think about as he went to sleep and first thing when he awoke. He called it “Watching the Videotape.”
  • The Essentialist designs a routine that makes achieving what you have identified as essential the default position.
  • Designs a routine that enshrines what is essential, making execution almost effortless Makes the essential the default position
  • Without routine, the pull of nonessential distractions will overpower us. But if we create a routine that enshrines the essentials, we will begin to execute them on autopilot.
  • Think about the first time you had to perform a certain critical function at work. At first you felt like a novice. You probably felt unsure and awkward. The effort to focus drained your willpower. Decision fatigue set in. You were probably easily distracted. This is perfectly normal. But once you performed the function over and over, you gained confidence.
  • There is another cognitive advantage to routine as well. Once the mental work shifts to the basal ganglia, mental space is freed up to concentrate on something new.
  • The work Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi has done on creativity demonstrates how highly creative people use strict routines to free up their minds. “Most creative individuals find out early what their best rhythms are for sleeping, eating, and working, and abide by them even when it is tempting to do otherwise,” Mihaly says. “They wear clothes that are comfortable, they interact only with people they find congenial, they do only things they think are important. Of course, such idiosyncrasies are not endearing to those they have to deal with.… But personalizing patterns of action helps to free the mind from the expectations that make demands on attention and allows intense concentration on matters that count.”6
  • The danger is that we may develop routines that are counterproductive. Without being fully aware, we can get caught in nonessential habits—like checking our e-mail the second we get out of bed every morning, or picking up a doughnut on the way home from work each day, or spending our lunch hour trolling the Internet instead of using the time to think, reflect, recharge, or connect with friends and colleagues.
  • What this means is that if we want to change our routine, we don’t really need to change the behavior. Rather, we need to find the cue that is triggering the nonessential activity or behavior and find a way to associate that same cue with something that is essential.
  • Ray has followed an extraordinarily consistent routine. He wakes up at 5:30 A.M. every single morning, including Saturday and Sunday (as he’s done for more than fifty years). He then exercises for an hour. He eats breakfast at 7:30 A.M. and arrives at work at 8:15 A.M. Dinner is at 6:30 P.M. with his family. Bedtime is 10:00 P.M. But what really enables Ray to operate at his highest level of contribution is that throughout the day, his routine is governed by a single rule: “Focus on the hardest thing first.”
  • LIFE IS AVAILABLE ONLY IN THE PRESENT MOMENT. IF YOU ABANDON THE PRESENT MOMENT YOU CANNOT LIVE THE MOMENTS OF YOUR DAILY LIFE DEEPLY. —Thich Nhat Hanh
  • It is all based on a simple but powerful idea: to operate at your highest level of contribution requires that you deliberately tune in to what is important in the here and now.
  • Do you spend more time thinking about the things you can’t control rather than the things you can control about the areas where your efforts matter? Do you ever find yourself busy trying to mentally prepare for the next meeting, or the next assignment, or the next chapter in your life, rather than being fully present in the current one?
  • Kairos is different. While it is difficult to translate precisely, it refers to time that is opportune, right, different. Chronos is quantitative; kairos is qualitative. The latter is experienced only when we are fully in the moment—when we exist in the now.
  • The way of the Essentialist is to tune into the present. To experience life in kairos, not just chronos.
  • What we can’t do is concentrate on two things at the same time. When I talk about being present, I’m not talking about doing only one thing at a time. I’m talking about being focused on one thing at a time. Multitasking itself is not the enemy of Essentialism; pretending we can “multifocus” is.
  • 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 most important this very second—not what’s most important tomorrow or even an hour from now. If you’re not sure, make a list of everything vying for your attention and cross off anything that is not important right now.
  • Getting the future out of your head enables you to more fully focus on “what is important now.”
  • So now, as he gets to the door of his house, he applies what he calls “the pause that refreshes.” This technique is easy. He stops for just a moment. He closes his eyes. He breathes in and out once: deeply and slowly. As he exhales, he lets the work issues fall away. This allows him to walk through the front door to his family with more singleness of purpose.
  • It supports the sentiment attributed to Lao Tzu: “In work, do what you enjoy. In family life, be completely present.”
  • Pay attention through the day for your own kairos moments. Write them down in your journal. Think about what triggered that moment and what brought you out of it. Now that you know what triggers the moment, try to re-create it.
  • BEWARE THE BARRENNESS OF A BUSY LIFE. —Socrates
    Note: eq
  • In the latter, it is a different way—a simpler way—of doing everything. It becomes a lifestyle. It becomes an all-encompassing approach to living and leading. It becomes the essence of who we are.
  • But the way of the Essentialist isn’t just about success; it’s about living a life of meaning and purpose.
  • As these ideas become emotionally true, they take on the power to change you.
  • The Greeks had a word, metanoia, that refers to a transformation of the heart.
  • In many ways, to live as an Essentialist in our too-many-things-all-the-time society is an act of quiet revolution.
  • Choosing to push back a work deadline in order to go camping with my children
  • Choosing to regularly spend a whole day on that day’s priority, even if it means doing nothing else on my to-do list
  • As the Dalai Lama, another true Essentialist, has said: “If one’s life is simple, contentment has to come. Simplicity is extremely important for happiness.”
    Note: eq
  • The life of an Essentialist is a life of meaning. It is a life that really matters.
  • The second is the pathetically tiny amount of time we have left of our lives. For me this is not a depressing thought but a thrilling one. It removes fear of choosing the wrong thing. It infuses courage into my bones. It challenges me to be even more unreasonably selective about how to use this precious—and precious is perhaps too insipid of a word—time.
  • keeps his own mortality front and center.
  • “What is essential?” Eliminate everything else.
  • DEBATE UNTIL YOU HAVE ESTABLISHED A REALLY CLEAR (NOT PRETTY CLEAR) ESSENTIAL INTENT
  • Out of all virtues simplicity is my most favorite virtue. So much so that I tend to believe that simplicity can solve most of the problems, personal as well as the world problems. If the life approach is simple one need not lie so frequently, nor quarrel nor steal, nor envy, anger, abuse, kill. Everyone will have enough and plenty so need not hoard, speculate, gamble, hate. When character is beautiful, you are beautiful. That is the beauty of simplicity.3
    Note: eq, Ea Bhatt