Essentialism by Greg McKeown

Essentialism

Summary
  1. McKeown shows you how to get more done in less time and do it better. You must be very selective about what to focus on, eliminate everything else and learn how to emphatically but gracefully say no. Less but better
Key Takeaways
  1. The wisdom of life lies in the removal of nonessentials
  2. Learn to say no – accept only the take you have the time and resources for. Allows you to produce higher quality work, be less stressed and more focused – do the work where you can have the biggest contribution
  3. Less but better
  4. Explore, eliminate, execute. With clothes, for example, ask if you love it, wear it often and look good in it. Then put clothes that don’t meet this into an eliminate pile. And lastly, execute as effortlessly as possible. 
  5. Essentialist choose to do something whereas others feel like they have to
  6. Tasks should meet these criteria – you’re passionate about it, good at it and the world needs it
  7. Be brutally honest and transparent about trade offs. More or better
  8. Schedule time daily to do nothing and just think
  9. Often what not said or done more important than what is being said or done. Read between the lines to get a sense of the big picture and trends 
  10. Aim to only do or have things that you absolutely love. Can try to implement a grading system and make a rule that anything that falls below an 8 is rejected. Whatever the rule is, make it selective and explicit 
  11. Saying no emphatically but gracefully is very difficult and takes practice. Must get over this fear as it really brings great results and respect from others. In short, learn the art of the slow yes and the quick no
  12. Be the editor of your life – remove things you consider nonessential. Deliberate and disciplined subtraction
  13. 4 rules of subtraction
    1. Cut out options
    2. Condense everything you say and do
    3. Understand your life’s overarching intent and what is important for you and make decisions fitting with that
    4. Edit/do less
  14. Start everything early and small
  15. Routine in an intelligent man is a sign of ambition
  16. Through habits, make the essential your default mindset which makes things looks easy. Routines allow you to do great things on autopilot. Spend a great deal of time consciously deciding what habits and routines you want to form and this will payoff in spades once it all becomes habit. Also creates mental space which allows you to try new and challenging things
  17. Every habit consists of a queue, routine and reward and in order to change a habit one must change the queue
  18. WIN – what’s important now – gets you to focus on the most important
  19. When you truly adopt the tenets of essentialism, you will often find yourself acting in opposite of the people around you. Saying no when others say yes, thinking when others are acting, listening when others are speaking
  20. Simplicity is extremely important for happiness
  21. Attempt to apply the question – is this essential? Into every aspect of your life. Eliminate the rest
What I got out of it
  1. No doubt implementing the ideas McKeown lays out here will be difficult but I also think they are no-brainers. Learning to gracefully but emphatically say no will be hugely important. The process of asking whether every possession/action/idea is essential is exciting (at least to me…) as I believe it leads to self-knowledge.

  • Almost everything is noise and diving into the essentials is often difficult and tedious. Being able to differentiate is vital and takes dedication and practice. Because the essential is few and far between, it is worth devoting a lot of time to it to make the right choices
  • Aim to always be productive and not busy
  • Constantly ask if what you’re doing is the best use of your time
  • If you don’t prioritize your life, somebody else will
  • Doing the nonessential often a problem for the successful because their high performance leads to more asks but this actually leads to lower quality work
  • Too many choices, increased social pressures, idea that you can have and do it all have infected us with non essentialist traits
  • With work, ask if the task will make the highest contribution to your goal
  • Trade offs are inescapable and must be dealt with depending on where highest contribution lies
  • Must be mindful of choices and make them active decisions
  • Must determine, based on your skills and passions, where your effort will have the most reward
  • Certain efforts produce exponentially better results. Important to understand this and be very selective on what you spend your time on
  • Southwest Airlines and Herb Kelleher are prime examples of sticking only to what is essential
  • “Without solitude, no great work is possible.” – Pablo Picasso
  • Need space to think in order to determine the essential and only get this space by deliberate actions
  • Journaling is a powerful habit and make sure to keep it short. Read over your entries every 3 months or so to get a quick recall
  • Make sure to schedule time for play – an activity you enjoy doing. Done for the means rather than the end. Play is in fact essential and helps spark our creativity
  • Be protective of your sleep as lack of it will, without a doubt, catch up to you. Sleeping a minimum of 7-8 hours will skyrocket the productivity of your waking hours
  • Saying no is at first very difficult but you’ll find that it leads to people respecting you more as they know that whatever you do decide to do you will do very well
  • A company’s mission statement should inspire employees with a clear sense of purpose
  • Absolutely must have a high level of clarity of goals in order to thrive. Decide with your team what the essential intent is. Having this big picture goal which must inspire your team eliminates thousands of other questions. Determine statement by figuring out what you can do better than anyone else and inspire people because they will have a concrete finish line to know when they have succeeded
  • Courage is grace under pressure
  • Must realize that denying the request is not the same as denying the person
  • Essentialists accept they will not be popular with everyone all of the time – then again, nobody is. Respect is far more valuable than popularity in the long run
  • Ways to say no – awkward pause, no…but, let me check my calendar and get back to you, use email bounce backs, say yes but what should I deprioritize, say no with humor, say you are welcome to X and I am willing to do Y, I can’t do
  • Get over your sunk cost bias. Cut losses quickly and don’t take them personally
  • Avoid commitment traps and the endowment effect (overvalue why we already own and undervalue what we don’t) by pretending you don’t own “it” yet and ask how much you’d be willing to pay for it
  • Absolutely no shame you have made a mistake – same thing as saying you are now wiser
  • Don’t force a fit – get a neutral second opinion
  • Avoid status quo bias – just because you have always done something doesn’t mean it’s the best way or that you should do it at all
  • Stop making casual or soft commitments
  • Set boundaries – when you’re available, keep personal and work life separate, they are empowering as you get to decide where the limits lie. Set rules to automate when you say no
  • Boundary rules – Might sound harsh but their problem is not your problem (harmful for both parties if you always solve their issues, find your dealbreakers, craft social contracts (what trying to achieve and what boundaries are), make execution effortless by knowing how to execute at every step and making it routine
  • We live in an unexpected world – install a buffer zone in everything you do. Plan for the unexpected, prepare well in advance and use windfall from good to better prepare for the bad
  • Acknowledging you can’t predict the future allows you to better prepare
  • Avoid planning fallacy – projects or tasks always take longer than expected. Add a 50% buffer to everything
  • Must pinpoint constraints/bottlenecks and do everything you can to resolve or improve them. Remove obstacles deliberately instead of reacting to them. Maximum benefit from minimum effort
  • Figure out obstacles by – being clear about desired outcome, define when your goal will have been achieved, identify biggest obstacle(s), even productive actions like research can be obstacles remove primary obstacle,
  • Every day do something that will inch you closer to a better tomorrow. Small wins beget big change. Don’t try to tackle it all and all at once – celebrate small progress
  • Major change does not require huge vision
  • Look for small changes you can make in what you do often
  • Create systems that reward small, positive behavior. Think in terms of Minimum viable progress
  • Create a visual reward system as you move towards a goal
  • Establish a morning and night routine where you visualize perfect race, meeting, day, whatever. The consistency cannot be over stressed
  • A great habit to form is taking care of the toughest thing first
  • In order to mix things up, can have a different routine for different days
  • Live completely in the now. – can’t control the future, only what is right in front of you in this moment
  • Implement the refreshing pause – one deep breath before interacting with family and friends to drop problems and become fully present
  • “Beware the barrenness of the busy life.” – Socrates
  • Life will move from crossing off your check list to putting less on it to start with

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