Essentialism
Essentialism

Essentialism

The way of the Essentialist is the path to being in control of our own choices. It is a path to new levels of success and meaning. It is the path on which we enjoy the journey, not just the destination. Despite all these benefits, however, there are too many forces conspiring to keep us from applying the disciplined pursuit of less but better, which may be why so many end up on the misdirected path of the non-Eessentialist. (Location 331)

If you don’t prioritise your life, someone else will. (Location 349)

He finds that for many, falling into “the undisciplined pursuit of more” was a key reason for failure. This is true for companies and it is true for the people who work in them. But why? (Location 384)

Today, technology has lowered the barrier for others to share their opinion about what we should be focusing on. It is not just information overload; it is opinion overload. (Location 401)

studies have found that we tend to value things we already own more highly than they are worth and thus that we find them more difficult to get rid of. (Location 441)

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. (Location 449)

The prevalence of noise: Almost everything is noise, and a very few things are exceptionally valuable. This is the justification for taking time to figure out what is most important. Because some things are so much more important, the effort in finding those things is worth it. (Location 473)

One paradox of Essentialism is that Essentialists actually explore more options than their non-Essentialist counterparts. Whereas non-Essentialists commit to everything or virtually everything without actually exploring, Essentialists systematically explore and evaluate a broad set of options before committing to any. Because they will commit and “go big” on one or two ideas or activities, they deliberately explore more options at first to ensure that they pick the right one later. (Location 480)

As Peter Drucker said, “People are effective because they say ‘no,’ because they say, ‘this isn’t for me.’” (Location 494)

To embrace the essence of Essentialism requires we replace these false assumptions with three core truths: “I choose to,” “Only a few things really matter,” and “I can do anything but not everything.” These simple truths awaken us from our non-essential stupor. They free us to pursue what really matters. They enable us to live at our highest level of contribution. (Location 557)

The ability to choose cannot be taken away or even given away – it can only be forgotten. (Location 601)

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 behaviour does not necessarily look like learned helplessness at first glance. After all, isn’t working hard evidence of one’s belief in one’s importance and value? Yet on closer examination we can see this compulsion to do more is a smokescreen. These people don’t believe they have a choice in what opportunity, assignment, or challenge to take on. They believe they “have to do it all.” (Location 617)

Non-Essentialist Essentialist Thinks almost everything is essential Views opportunities as basically equal Thinks almost everything is non-essential Distinguishes the vital few from the trivial many (Location 716)

In the simplest terms, straddling means keeping your existing strategy intact while simultaneously also trying to adopt the strategy of a competitor. One of the most visible attempts at the time was made by Continental Airlines. (Location 749)

We can try to avoid the reality of trade-offs, but we can’t escape them. (Location 797)

As economist Thomas Sowell wrote: “There are no solutions. There are only trade-offs.” (Location 810)

One paradox of Essentialism is that Essentialists actually explore more options than their non-Essentialist counterparts. Non-Essentialists get excited by virtually everything and thus react to everything. But because they are so busy pursuing every opportunity and idea they actually explore less. The way of the Essentialist, on the other hand, is to explore and evaluate a broad set of options before committing to any. Because Essentialists will commit and “go big” on only the vital few ideas or activities, they explore more options at first (Location 848)

If you believe being overly busy and overextended is evidence of productivity, then you 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 diversions, they are critical to distinguishing what is actually a trivial diversion from what is truly essential. (Location 861)

Before you can evaluate what is and isn’t essential, you first need to explore your options. While non-Essentialists automatically react to the latest idea, jump on the latest opportunity, or respond to the latest e-mail, Essentialists choose to create the space to explore and ponder. (Location 890)

Jeff Weiner, the CEO of LinkedIn, for example, schedules up to two hours of blank space on his calendar every day. He divides them into thirty-minute increments, yet he schedules nothing. It is a simple practice he developed when back-to-back meetings left him with little time to process what was going on around him.4 At first it felt like an indulgence, a waste of time. But eventually he found it to be his single most valuable productivity tool. He sees it as the primary way he can ensure he is in charge of his own day, instead of being at the mercy of it. (Location 948)

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. Not only does this squash my previous tendency to check my e-mail as soon as I wake up, it centres my day. It broadens my perspective and reminds me of themes and ideas that are essential enough to have withstood the test of time. (Location 970)

So apply the principle of “less but better” to your journal. Restrain yourself from writing more until daily journaling has become a habit. I also suggest that once every ninety days or so you take an hour to read your journal entries from that period. But don’t be overly focused on the details, like the budget meeting three weeks ago or last Thursday’s pasta dinner. Instead, focus on the broader patterns or trends. Capture the headline. (Location 1056)

What did you do as a child that excited you? How can you recreate that today? (Location 1192)

The best asset we have for making a contribution to the world is ourselves. If we underinvest in ourselves, and by that I mean our minds, our bodies, and our spirits, we damage the very tool we need to make our highest contribution. (Location 1233)

The real challenge for the person who thrives on challenges is not to work hard. He explains to any overachievers: “If you think you are so tough you can do anything I have a challenge for you. If you really want to do something hard: say no to an opportunity so you can take a nap.” (Location 1240)

Our highest priority is to protect our ability to prioritise. (Location 1342)

Sleep will enhance your ability to explore, make connections, and do less but better throughout your waking hours. (Location 1347)

You can think of this as the 90 Per Cent 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 per cent, then automatically change the rating to 0 and simply reject it. This way you avoid getting caught up in indecision, or worse, getting stuck with the 60s or 70s. Think about how you’d feel if you scored a 65 on some test. Why would you deliberately choose to feel that way about an important choice in your life? (Location 1373)

Like any Essentialist skill, it forces you to make decisions by design, rather than default. (Location 1381)

Non-Essentialist Essentialist Says yes to almost every request or opportunity Says yes to only the top 10 per cent of opportunities Uses broad, implicit criteria like “If someone I know is doing it, I should do it.” Uses narrow, explicit criteria like “Is this exactly what I am looking for?” (Location 1392)

Here’s a simple, systematic process you can use to apply selective criteria to opportunities that come your way. 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. (Location 1459)

Applying tougher criteria to life’s big decisions allows us better to tap into our brain’s sophisticated search engine. Think of it as the difference between conducting a Google search for “good restaurant in New York City” and “best slice of pizza in downtown Brooklyn.” (Location 1467)

But find it you must, because remember that anytime you fail to say “no” to a non-essential, you are really saying yes by default. (Location 1504)

We do a similar thing in our personal lives as well. When we are unclear about our real purpose in life – in other words, when we don’t have a clear sense of our goals, our aspirations, and our values – we make up our own social games. We waste time and energies on trying to look good in comparison to other people. We overvalue non-essentials like a nicer car or house, or even intangibles like the number of our followers on Twitter or the way we look in our Facebook photos. As a result, we neglect activities that are truly essential, like spending time with our loved ones, or nurturing our spirit, or taking care of our health. (Location 1556)

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. (Location 1566)

Courage is grace under pressure. —Ernest Hemingway (Location 1637)

A true Essentialist, Peter Drucker believed that “people are effective because they say no.” (Location 1714)

But whether it’s “I am flattered that you thought of me but I’m afraid I don’t have the bandwidth” or “I would very much like to but I’m overcommitted,” there are a variety of ways of refusing someone clearly and politely without actually using the word no. (Location 1732)

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 non-essential trap of telling ourselves we can get it all done. (Location 1737)

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 realising respect is far more valuable than popularity in the long run. (Location 1756)

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. (Location 1766)

Use the words “You are welcome to X. I am willing to Y.” For example, “You are welcome to borrow my car. I am willing to make sure the keys are here for you.” By this you are also saying, “I won’t be able to drive you.” (Location 1795)

An Essentialist has the courage and confidence to admit his or her mistakes and uncommit, no matter the sunk costs. (Location 1846)

PRETEND YOU DON’T OWN IT YET Tom Stafford describes a simple antidote to the endowment effect. 6 Instead of asking, “How much do I value this item?” we should ask, “If I did not own this item, how much would I pay to obtain it?” We can do the same for opportunities and commitment. 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?” (Location 1872)

You can apply zero-based budgeting to your own endeavours. 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. You can do this with everything from the financial obligations you have to projects you are committed to, even relationships you are in. (Location 1922)

FROM NOW ON, PAUSE BEFORE YOU SPEAK It might sound obvious, but pausing for just five seconds before offering your services can greatly reduce the possibility of making a commitment you’ll regret. (Location 1929)

A similar reverse pilot can be carried out in our social lives. 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 that in fact they might barely notice? 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. (Location 1946)

So it makes sense that the next stage in the Essentialist process, eliminating the non-essentials, means taking on the role of an editor in your life and leadership. (Location 1974)

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. Likewise, in life, 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. (Location 1982)

It can be quite painful to eliminate passages, pages, or even chapters that took weeks, months, maybe even years to write in the first place. Yet such disciplined elimination is critical to the craft. 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 (Location 1990)

That may be one reason why Stephen King has written, “To write is human, to edit is divine.” (Location 2013)

Non-Essentialists tend to think of boundaries as constraints or limits, things that get in the way of their hyperproductive life. To a non-Essentialist, setting boundaries is evidence of weakness. If they are strong enough, they think, they don’t need boundaries. They can cope with it all. They can do it all. But without limits, they eventually become spread so thin that getting anything done becomes virtually impossible. (Location 2094)

You can’t wait until that wardrobe is bursting at the seams and then take superhuman efforts to purge it. You have to have a system in place so that keeping it neat becomes routine and effortless. (Location 2169)

The non-Essentialist tends to always assume a best-case scenario. We all know those people (and many of us, myself included, have been that person) who chronically underestimate how long something will really take: “This will just take five minutes,” or “I’ll be finished with that project by Friday,” or “It will only take me a year to write my magnum opus.” Yet inevitably these things take longer; something unexpected comes up, or the task ends up being more involved than anticipated, or the estimate was simply too optimistic in the first place. (Location 2223)

Have you ever underestimated how long a task will take? If you have, you are far from alone. The term for this very common phenomenon is the “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. (Location 2277)

Of the variety of explanations for why we underestimate the amount of time something will take, I believe social pressure is the most interesting. One study found that if people estimated anonymously how long it would take to complete a task they were no longer guilty of the planning fallacy.9 (Location 2286)

One way to protect against this is simply to add a 50 per cent buffer to the amount of time we estimate it will take to complete a task or project (if 50 per cent seems overly generous, consider how frequently things actually do take us 50 per cent longer than expected). So if you have an hour set aside for a conference call, block off an additional thirty minutes. (Location 2292)

Essentialists 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. (Location 2312)

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? (Location 2343)

IDENTIFY THE “SLOWEST HIKER” (Location 2377)

“What is the obstacle that, if removed, would make the majority of other obstacles disappear?” When identifying your “slowest hiker,” one important thing to keep in mind is that even activities that are “productive” – like doing research, or e-mailing people for information, or rewriting the report in order to get it perfect the first time around – can be obstacles. Remember, the desired goal is to get a draft of the report finished. Anything slowing down the execution of that goal should be questioned. (Location 2380)

To reduce the friction with another person, apply the “catch more flies with honey” approach. Send him an e-mail, but instead of asking if he has done the work for you (which obviously he hasn’t), go and see him. Ask him, “What obstacles or bottlenecks are holding you back from achieving X, and how can I help remove these?” Instead of pestering him, offer sincerely to support him. (Location 2395)

Instead of starting big and then flaring out with nothing to show for it other than time and energy wasted, to really get essential things done we need to start small and build momentum. Then we can use that momentum to work towards the next win, and the next one and so on until we have a significant breakthrough – and when we do, our progress will have become so frictionless and effortless that the breakthrough will seem like overnight success. (Location 2461)

Note: Power of latent potential

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?” (Location 2500)

In an interview about his book The Power of Habit Charles Duhigg said “in the last 15 years, as we’ve learned how habits work and how they can be changed, scientists have explained that every habit is made up of a cue, a routine, and a reward. The cue is a trigger that tells your brain to go into automatic mode and which habit to use. Then there is the routine – the behaviour itself – which can be physical or mental or emotional. Finally, there is a reward, which helps your brain figure out if this particular habit is worth remembering for the future. Over time, this loop – cue, routine, reward; cue, routine, reward – becomes more automatic as the cue and reward become neurologically intertwined.”8 (Location 2624)

For a long time I wrote in my journal only sporadically. I would put it off all day; then at night I would rationalise, “I will do it in the morning.” But inevitably I wouldn’t, and then by the next night I had two days’ worth to write and it was overwhelming. So I put it off again. And so on. Then I heard someone say he had developed a routine of writing a few lines at the exact same time each day. (Location 2639)

I knelt down. I closed my eyes and asked, “What’s important now?” After a moment of reflection I realised that until I knew what was important right now, what was important right now was to figure out what was important right now! (Location 2757)

Saying no feels less uncomfortable. Decisions get much clearer. Eliminating the non-Essentials becomes more natural and instinctive. I feel greater control of my choices, to the point that my life is different. If you open your heart and mind to embrace Essentialism fully, these things will become true for you as well. (Location 2877)

Will you choose to live a life of purpose and meaning, or will you look back on your one single life with twinges of regret? If you take one thing away from this book, I hope you will remember this: whatever decision or challenge or crossroads you face in your life, simply ask yourself, “What is essential?” Eliminate everything else. (Location 2934)