Essentialism by Greg McKeown


RATING: 9/10

One of the best books on time-management / clarifying life choices. Essentialism keeps illustrating the value of focus and cutting out all distractions.

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Only once you give yourself the 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.

The way of the essentialist is the relentless pursuit of less but better.

If you don’t prioritize your life, someone else will.

The word priority came into the English language in the 1400s. It was singular. It meant the very first or prior thing. It stayed singular for the next five hundred years. Only in the 1900s did we pluralize the term and start talking about priorities. Illogically, we reasoned that changing the word we could bend reality.

What if we stopped celebrating busy as a measurement of importance? What if instead we celebrated how much time we spent listening, pondering, meditating, and enjoying time with the most important people in our lives?

ESSENTIALIST: “I choose to.” Exercise the power of choice.

NON-ESSENTIALIST: “I Have to.” Forfeits the right to choose.

A strategic position is not sustainable unless there are trade-offs with other positions. By trying to operate two incompatible strategies they started to undermine their ability to be competitive.

If you believe being overly busy and overextended is evidence of productivity, then you should probably believe that creating space to explore, think, and reflect should be kept to a minimum. Yet these very activities are the antidote to the non-essential busyness that infects so many of us. Rather than trivial decisions, they are critical to distinguishing what is actually a trivial diversion from what is truly essential.

Jeff Weiner, the CEO of LinkedIn schedules up to two hours of blank space on his calendars every day, 30 minute increments, schedules nothing. He found it to be the single most valuable productivity tool—in this space he is able to think about the essential questions: what will this company look like in three to five years; what’s the best way to improve an already popular product or address an unmet customer need; how to widen a competitive advantage or close a competitive gap—also recharge emotionally as a leader.

The word school is derived from the Greek word schole, meaning “leisure.” Yet our modern school system, born in the Industrial Revolution, has removed the leisure—and much of the pleasure—out of learning.

PLAY: anything we do simply for the joy of doing it rather than means to an end.

ESSENTIALIST: Knows play is essential. Knows play sparks exploration.

NON-ESSENTIALIST: Thinks play is trivial. Things play is an unproductive waste of time.

  1. Play broadens the range of options available to us.
  2. Play is an antidote to stress
  3. Play stimulates the parts of the brain involved in both careful logical reasoning and carefree, unbound exploration.

ESSENTIALIST: Sleep is a priority.

NON-ESSENTIALIST: Sleep is a luxury.

While sleep is often associated with giving rest to the body, recent research shows that sleep is really more about the brain. Indeed a study from the Luebeck University in Germany provides evidence that a full night’s sleep may actually increase brain power and enhance our problem-solving ability.

Our highest priority is to protect our ability to prioritize.

If it isn’t a clear yes, then it’s a clear no.

ESSENTIALIST: 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 decisions.

NON-ESSENTIALIST: Has a vague, general mission statement; Has concrete quarterly objectives but ones that fail to energize or inspire people to take their efforts to the next level; Has a value set but no guiding principles for implementing them.

“If we could be truly excellent at only one thing, what would it be?”

Nonessentialists say yes because of feelings of social awkwardness and pressure.

When people ask us to do something, we can confuse the request with our relationship with them. Sometimes they seem so interconnected, we forget that denying the request is not the same as denying the person. 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.

When you say no, there is usually a short-term impact on the relationship. After all, when someone asks for something and doesn’t get it, his or her immediate reaction may be annoyance or disappointment or even anger. The downside is clear. The potential upside, however, is less obvious; when the initial annoyance or disappointment or anger wears off, the respect kicks in. When we push back effectively, it shows people that our time is highly valuable. It distinguishes the professional from the amateur.

If your manager comes to you and asks you to do X, you can respond with “Yes, I’m happy to make this the priority. Which of these other projects should I deprioritize to pay attention to this new project?” Or simply say, “I would want to do a great job, and given my other commitments I wouldn’t be able to do a job I was proud of if I took this on.

Since 1981 not a single film has won Best Picture without a least being nominated for Film Editing. In fact, in about two-thirds of the cases the movie nominated for Film Editing has gone on to win Best Picture.

Jeff Dorsey thinks the role of CEO as being the chief editor of the company.

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.

The latin root of the word decision—cis or cid—literally means “to cut” or “to kill.”

I am not saying we should never help people. We should serve, and love, and make a difference in the lives of others, of course. But when people make their problem our problem, we aren’t helping them; we’re enabling them. Once we take their problem for them, all we’re doing is taking away their ability to solve it.

Add a 50% buffer to the amount of time you estimate to complete a task.

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?

Instead of just jumping into the project, take a few minutes to think. Ask yourself, “What are all the obstacles standing between me and getting this done?” and “What is keeping me from completing this?” Make a list of thee obstacles. They might include: not having the information you need, your energy level, your desire for perfection. Prioritize the list using the question, “what obstacle that, if removed, would make the majority of the other obstacles disappear?”

ESSENTIALIST: Starts small and gets big results. Celebrates small acts of progress.

NON-ESSENTIALIST: Starts with a big goal and gets small results. Goes for the flashiest wins.

Research has shown that of all forms of human motivation the most effective one is progress. Why? Because small, concrete win creates momentum and affirms our faith in our further success.

When we look back on our careers and our lives, would we rather see a long laundry list of “accomplishments” that don’t really matter or just a few major accomplishments that have real meaning and significance?

When you become an Essentialist, you will find that you aren’t like everybody else. 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. When other people are in the spotlight, vying for attention, you will find yourself waiting on the sidelines until it is time to shine. While other people are padding their resumes and building out their LinkedIn profiles, you will be building a career of meaning. While other people are complaining (read: bragging) about how busy they are, you will just be smiling sympathetically, unable to relate. While other people are living a life of stress and chaos, you will be living a life of impact and fulfillment. In many ways, to live as an Essentialist in our too-many-things-all-the-time society is an act of quiet revolution.