Book: Essentialism – the disciplined pursuit of less

0000039082This is such an easy concept to grasp, but so hard to implement. The core premise is

„You must do and only do what is essential”.

Intuitively we all know it – we have to focus our efforts and do important stuff instead of paddling on the river of constant unimportant thingies.

But interruptions are sneaky and try to redirect us from the way of essentialism.

Be it politeness, doing things „while we’re at it” or just lack of focus.

Doing only essential things is key to achieving anything.

Amazon link

This mindset – for me – is key to productivity. Instead of another productivity app and great todo-list system – we need to filter our todos and try to get rid of the non-essential. Much of productivity advice seems like majoring in minor things. people get better at managing lots of unessential tasks and then take on busywork because it makes them feel productive.

The main points of essentialism are:

  1. Do less, but better
  2. Instead of accomplishing everything, choose specific directions
  3. The process of choosing what is important and what is not is ongoing

Tim Ferriss actually touched upon many of these ideas in „Four Hour Workweek”. He calls this „choosing a lead domino” – doing the thing that if done correctly can render others obsolete or unimportant.

Essentialism is especially lacking in business, where agendas keep creeping in and growing out of proportion. People have great ideas and other people include them not to offend anyone. Doing things to please others is the biggest contributor to amassing non-essential todo list.

Tricks to avoid offending people

  • Seperate decision from the relationship
  • 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.
  • The soft “no” (or the “no but”).
  • Say, “Yes. What should I deprioritise?”
  • Say it with humour.
  • “You are welcome to X. I am willing to Y.”
  • “I can’t do it, but X might be interested

 

My Kindle highlights

  • “Can I actually fulfil this request, given the time and resources I have?”
  • “Is this the very most important thing I should be doing with my time and resources right now?”
  • “Just because I was invited didn’t seem a good enough reason to attend.”
  • 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.
  • Dieter Rams was the lead designer at Braun for many years. He is driven by the idea that almost everything is noise.
  • Weniger aber besser.
  • The word priority came into the English language in the 1400s. It was singular. It meant the very first or prior thing.
  • Only in the 1900s did we pluralise the term and start talking about priorities.
  • 1. EXPLORE AND EVALUATE
  • “Will this activity or effort make the highest possible contribution towards my goal?”
  • 2. ELIMINATE
  • What if schools eliminated busywork and replaced it with important projects that made a difference to the whole community?
  • What if businesses eliminated meaningless meetings and replaced them with space for people to think and work on their most important projects?
  • “If you could do only one thing with your life right now, what would you do?”
  • a choice is an action.
  • “You cannot overestimate the unimportance of practically everything.
  • we live in a world where almost everything is worthless and a very few things are exceptionally valuable.
  • According to Porter, “A strategic position is not sustainable unless there are trade-offs with other positions.”3 By
  • “Which problem do I want?”
  • Instead of asking, “What do I have to give up?” they ask, “What do I want to go big on?”
  • 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.
  • When I say focus, I don’t mean simply picking a question or possibility and thinking about it obsessively. I mean creating the space to explore one hundred questions and possibilities. An Essentialist focuses the way our eyes focus; not by fixating on something but by constantly adjusting and adapting to the field of vision.
  • 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.
  • WHERE IS THE KNOWLEDGE WE HAVE LOST IN INFORMATION?– T. S. Eliot
  • “I realised that journalism was not just about regurgitating the facts but about figuring out the point.
  • I have seen play reverse these effects in my own children. When they are stressed and things feel out of control, I get them to draw.
  • Our highest priority is to protect our ability to prioritise.
  • “If the answer isn’t a definite yes then it should be a no.”
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • The largely indistinguishable statements make the task almost impossible.
  • “What do you really want out of your career over the next five years?”
  • when people don’t know what the end game is, they are unclear about how to win, and as a result they make up their own game and their own rules as they vie for the manager’s favour.
  • An essential intent, on the other hand, is both inspirational and concrete, both meaningful and measurable
  • “If we could be truly excellent at only one thing, what would it be?”
  • ASK, “HOW WILL WE KNOW WHEN WE’RE DONE?”
  • they noticed that some of the most grandiose were actually the least inspiring.
  • 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.
  • COURAGE IS GRACE UNDER PRESSURE.
  • The right “no” spoken at the right time can change the course of history
  • A true Essentialist, Peter Drucker believed that “people are effective because they say no.”
  • SEPARATE THE DECISION FROM THE RELATIONSHIP
  • SAYING “NO” GRACEFULLY DOESN’T HAVE TO MEAN USING THE WORD
  • there are a variety of ways of refusing someone clearly and politely without actually using the word no.
  • REMEMBER THAT A CLEAR “NO” CAN BE MORE GRACEFUL THAN A VAGUE OR NONCOMMITTAL “YES”
  • a clear “I am going to pass on this” is far better than not getting back to someone or stringing them along with some noncommittal answer like “I will try to make this work”
  • Sunk-cost bias
  • “the endowment effect,” our tendency to undervalue things that aren’t ours and to overvalue things because we already own them.
  • PRETEND YOU DON’T OWN IT YET
  • 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?”
  • APPLY ZERO-BASED BUDGETING
  • In a reverse pilot you test whether removing an initiative or activity will have any negative consequences.
  • he said he thinks of the role of CEO as being the chief editor of the company.
  • as Stephen King has said, “kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.”
  • “To write is human, to edit is divine.”
  • When sitting in a meeting, we can resist the urge to add our two cents. We can wait. We can observe. We can see how things develop.
  • NO IS A COMPLETE SENTENCE.—Anne Lamott
  • Jin-Yung1 was an employee of a technology company in Korea who found herself planning her wedding while simultaneously preparing for a board meeting that was to take place three weeks prior to her big day.
  • DON’T ROB PEOPLE OF THEIR PROBLEMS
  • The question is this: What is the “slowest hiker” in your job or your life?
  • BE CLEAR ABOUT THE ESSENTIAL INTENT
  • IDENTIFY THE “SLOWEST HIKER”
  • “What is the obstacle that, if removed, would make the majority of other obstacles disappear?”
  • As John Lasseter, the chief creative officer at Pixar and now Disney, said, “We don’t actually finish our films, we release them.”
  • DO THE MINIMAL VIABLE PREPARATION
  • “What is the minimal amount I could do right now to prepare?”
  • VISUALLY REWARD PROGRESS
  • With repetition, the connections strengthen and it becomes easier for the brain to activate them.
  • embedding our decisions into our routine allows us to channel that discipline towards some other essential activity.
  • “Focus on the hardest thing first.”
  • to operate at your highest level of contribution requires that you deliberately tune in to what is important in the here and now.
  • What we can’t do is concentrate on two things at the same time.
  • Multi-tasking itself is not the enemy of Essentialism; pretending we can “multi-focus”
  • 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!
  • GET THE FUTURE OUT OF YOUR HEAD
  • “What might you want to do someday as a result of today?”
  • He spent three years not reading any newspapers because he found that their contents added only non-essential confusion to his life.
  • when he died he owned fewer than ten items.
  • on my worst days I have wondered if my tombstone will read, “He checked e-mail.”
  • continue to discover almost daily that I can do less and less – in order to contribute more.
  • Choosing to set aside a day each week where I don’t check any social media so I can be fully present at home
  • “fewer things done better”
  • “Clarity equals success.”
  • DEBATE UNTIL YOU HAVE ESTABLISHED A REALLY CLEAR (NOT PRETTY CLEAR) ESSENTIAL INTENT
  • Essentialist leaders speak succinctly, opting for restraint in their communication to keep the team focused

 

2 thoughts on “Book: Essentialism – the disciplined pursuit of less

  1. Gaurav Kulkarni says:

    Excellent write up! I listened to a podcast by Art of manliness with the author of this book and liked it. Your post makes me want to read this soon! However I skipped your highlights because I would like to read the full book.

    Like

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