“Essentialism” by Greg Mckeown – A must-read book recap
I’ve just realized that there is one book that has been used as a reference more than 3 times across our posts so far. Even though book summaries are not our specialty, this one definitely deserves a humble attempt. If the post does not suffice that’s OK, we would be even happier if some of you decide to read it in full version. I’ve once more finished reading “Essentialism” by Greg Mckeown and decided it is high time I put my notes into a post. Manu gave this book to me as a Christmas present in 2014 with the note that it looks as if it was written especially for me. I am not sure what kind of planet alignment happened there but this book really made me realize there a N ways of improving my day to day life and get closer to my goals. It would address some of my biggest flaws in terms of discipline and sticking to what is important. There must be more of you that will find the same 1:1 connection with this book. I will be waiting for a drink from each of you as a thank you :) This being said, I will also have to reward my dearest Manu in a royal fashion, hehe!
Now… what’s the best way of summarizing 240 pages of meaningful content in one blog post? I am going for it all-in and will give it my best shot!
First and foremost, we would need to understand what do we mean by “essentialism” and how does that divide people into two categories: non-essentialists and essentialists. The first category will chase doing everything they can possible squeeze in a day’s time and for anyone, they will say “yes” to any request, will force execution at the last moment, feel out of control and most often exhausted and overwhelmed. So far, so good. I could see myself perfectly in this category as I am also the “Yes,man!” kind of fool. I now realized I shouldn’t be. Essentialists on the other hand will look at things differently – make choices according to the their goals and the aspects of their lives that really matter. They will take a moment to analyze, they will remove all possible obstacles so that execution is nice and easy. Most importantly, they will choose to be in control, get the things that matter done and enjoy the journey.
If you’ve already recognized yourself as being more of the first type, buckle-up! There is hope! :) It’s rather easy to fall into the trap of non-essentialism in today’s social and economical context – we have a lot of choices but also a lot of social pressure, we want to have it all but the “all” is not really well prioritized. Three phases will need to be completed for us to rethink our ways. But for these to work we need to understand the notion of “choice” and that this will always involve a trade-off. We need to separate the really important things from those that we can live without.
When was the last time you spent some time to analyze your goals and ambitions without any interruption? When was the last time you had one hour just for yourself – no emails, tv, phones, tablets and the like? In order to explore our options we need some space and that is one important thing that needs to be booked in every of our calendars. Give yourself say an hour a day to reflect and focus, read and get inspired. Whatever time interval works as long as you make it count.
One of the best tips in this subchapter was keeping a diary with short daily entries. Analyze your daily patterns once every 2 months in order to see what can be improved. Take out only the essence. By “looking” into the content of our daily lives, we aim to take out the most important information, listen to what is said but also to what is not being said. We need to try to keep ourselves from listening to those that are the loudest, from assimilate all the information, even if it has no value.
When looking to be more creative, adaptable, to sparkle your imagination… don’t forget to play. Non-essentialists believe play to be childish and unimportant whereas it will only show us more of our options, relieve us from stress and, apparently, stimulate our brains’ executive function. Has it been so long that you don’t know how to do it anymore? Draw something nice or play some hide-and-seek! :)
We’ve all heard the stories about the CEOs that sleep 2-3 h a night. Well, that’s not gonna lead anywhere nice. Greg Mckeown places emphasis on the importance of sleep and the wonders it does for our productivity. Don’t skip on sleep and make it your priority. You will notice a boost in performance and better quality contributions.
The principle about selecting the essentials is: “what is not a clear yes is a clear no”. Sort out opportunities by grading them from 1 to 10 using selective and explicit criteria. Stick to the 9s and the 10s and leave everything else for later or some other time in order to make the most valuable contribution.
We all have our goals and aspirations. But how many times have you heard goals such as “I would like to change the world”? Sounds amazing but it’s so vague that motivation will disappear in a heartbeat. Rephrase your objectives in such a way that they are concrete and inspirational, that you can measure them while you progress and still find them meaningful along the way. You will have to answer the question “How will I know that I have succeeded?”.
This part is about having the guts to say “no” to the things that are asked from you but are not essential. You will have to say it firmly but it can still be in a graceful and polite way. Keep your “yeses” to the things that matter to you.
Some of you must be aware of the term of “sunk-cost bias”. We’ve already put in a lot of effort into an initiative that doesn’t seem to show the expected results. We will continue to invest just because we’ve already put in too much effort/too many resources. Sounds familiar? Tough, heh? Try asking yourself what you would invest in the initiative if you would start with it right now. Try to get comfortable with the idea of having lost resources/time, especially if it is for the better cause in the long run.
This is one of my favorites. Non-essentialists will think that editing and improving something means adding stuff to it. Essentialist will actually remove things in order to make their initiative better. Eliminate noise, distractions. Say things clearly and to the point such that any stranger can get immediately what you are trying to achieve.
We encounter at this point the paradox of having limits set us free. We will have to learn to set limits so that we won’t need to say “no” in the first place. To better understand this point, take the example given in the book – kids in a schoolyard without fences would only be allowed to play in a particular area, next to the building, so that they would be safe from cars. Once the playground received a fence around it, kids would be able to use the whole surface and be more free in their play. The same principle applies also to our work and goals – set your boundaries and make them clear. If you do that well, other people will respect them and you will be able to “play freely” in our space.
Hardest point to achieve, at least if you ask me :) We’ve all said at least once “but it only takes 5 minutes”. And we’ve also, most of the time, concluded that 5 minutes never is 5 minutes. Whatever you do or plan, give yourself some sort of space for unexpected events. Planning can only be accurate to one point. Most of the times you will be faced with surprises that consume your carefully planned time. The book goes one step further and asks to start preparation or work at the earliest point possible. Even if you make the smallest possible step it will help out tremendously for your peace of mind and end result.
On the way towards our goals, we all identify things that slow us down. Be assertive and identify them early on, remove the obstacles and constraints you have. Our first impulse will be to add things in order to produce more results. Try for a change to experiment with the opposite.
This is a point that I initially got to learn from programming. You don’t go and develop 1000s of lines of code just in order to realize that nothing is working. Progress means making steps. Steps need to be small and properly celebrated. Your bigger goal or result will still need to be in sight but don’t go chasing it right away.
Manu wrote some while ago about the beauty of routines and how they can greatly improve your life. I’m rehashing the same point here as in order to have a nice smooth flow in your work or daily activities, you need to clear the way from all repetitive but necessary things. Build your daily routine in such a way that it will efficiently group together activities you have to do in order to leave room for focusing on the essentials. You need a certain time per day to workout, cook and walk the dog? Make a routine out of them so you have the rest of your day clear to be creative and productive.
We tie here the concepts of mindfulness and the ancient Greek kairos – same as chronos (time) but referring to quality and not quantity. An essentialist will focus on the present, on living the moment and enjoying it as it comes. What is important to you right now?
All the above points are illustrating a way of living, changing your ways in order to simply but better your life. You will get to apply this method in small things and in bigger things, limiting yourself to what is essential and thus, setting yourself free from all the noise. It won’t happen from the beginning and you might find yourself falling in your old ways. Becoming an essentialist is a journey and that has to be properly enjoyed.
I will wrap up now, signing myself up for all the above and eagerly awaiting your thoughts.