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

 

Book: Walden by Henry David Thoreau

41p2bri0sgfl“Walden” is a history of 1 year of Henry David Thoreau’s life when he decided to practice minimalism and live in a cabin that he has built by his own hands.

It was an extreme case of practicing what he preached and he preached ( in 1800s ) that constant struggle to keep up with the Joneses is a waste of humanity’s potential. He advocated for civil disobedience when state was violating human rights and above all – mindfulness in both life choices and day to day activities.

It all sounds so current now.

Most of the luxuries, and many of the so-called comforts of life, are not only not indispensable, but positive hindrances to the elevation of mankind.

Amazon Link

the cost of a thing is the amount of what I will call life which is required to be exchanged for it,

Maria Popova from the amazing Brain Pickings site is quite a fan of Thoreu and has covered all this better than I ever could:

In the first part, he focuses on the consumer society and how we are a bit sheepish in our day-to day lives. In the second part he describes in detail his experiment with the cabin, thoughts and insight gained from observing nature and the passing of seasons.

I have to admit that that nature descriptions were less interesting for me. Exciting as it sounds, It was a bit hard to go through 10 pages of descriptions of the habits of ducks.

Nevertheless, this book is full of gems.

My highlights

  • I lived alone, in the woods, a mile from any neighbor, in a house which I had built myself, on the shore of Walden Pond, in Concord, Massachusetts, and earned my living by the labor of my hands only.
  • slave and prisoner of his own opinion of himself, a fame won by his own deeds. Public opinion is a weak tyrant compared with our own private opinion.
  • The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. What is called resignation is confirmed desperation.
  • A stereotyped but unconscious despair is concealed even under what are called the games and amusements of mankind.
  • prejudices. No way of thinking or doing, however ancient, can be trusted without proof. What everybody echoes or in silence passes by as true to-day may turn out to be falsehood to-morrow, mere smoke of opinion, which some had trusted for a cloud that would sprinkle fertilizing rain on their fields.
  • Most of the luxuries, and many of the so-called comforts of life, are not only not indispensable, but positive hindrances to the elevation of mankind.
  • A man who has at length found something to do will not need to get a new suit to do it in;
  • I say, beware of all enterprises that require new clothes, and not rather a new wearer of clothes.
  • If it is asserted that civilization is a real advance in the condition of man—and I think that it is, though only the wise improve their advantages—
  • and the cost of a thing is the amount of what I will call life which is required to be exchanged for it,
  • the necessity of the young man’s providing a certain number of superfluous glow-shoes, and umbrellas, and empty guest chambers for empty guests, before he dies?
  • I would rather sit in the open air, for no dust gathers on the grass, unless where man has broken ground.
  • men have become the tools of their tools.
  • We have adopted Christianity merely as an improved method of agri-culture.
  • Tuition, for instance, is an important item in the term bill, while for the far more valuable education which he gets by associating with the most cultivated of his contemporaries no charge is made.
  • I think that it would be better than this, for the students, or those who desire to be benefited by it, even to lay the foundation themselves.
  • The student who secures his coveted leisure and retirement by systematically shirking any labor necessary to man obtains but an ignoble and unprofitable leisure, defrauding himself of the experience which alone can make leisure fruitful.
  • “But,” says one, “you do not mean that the students should go to work with their hands instead of their heads?” I do not mean that exactly, but I mean something which he might think a good deal like that; I mean that they should not play life, or study it merely, while the community supports them at this expensive game, but earnestly live it from beginning to end.
  • Which would have advanced the most at the end of a month—the boy who had made his own jackknife from the ore which he had dug and smelted, reading as much as would be necessary for this—or the boy who had attended the lectures on metallurgy at the Institute in the meanwhile, and had received a Rodgers’ penknife from his father?
  • The consequence is, that while he is reading Adam Smith, Ricardo, and Say, he runs his father in debt irretrievably
  • I am wont to think that men are not so much the keepers of herds as herds are the keepers of men, the former are so much the freer.
  • but I would have each one be very careful to find out and pursue his own way, and not his father’s or his mother’s or his neighbor’s instead.
  • Above all, as I have implied, the man who goes alone can start today; but he who travels with another must wait till that other is ready, and it may be a long time before they get off.
  • There is no odor so bad as that which arises from goodness tainted.
  • If I knew for a certainty that a man was coming to my house with the conscious design of doing me good, I should run for my life, as
  • https://gum.co/Walden-audiobook/secret-2015
  • What is a house but a sedes, a seat?—better if a country seat.
  • perchance, for a man is rich in proportion to the number of things which he can afford to let alone.
  • The Harivansa says, “An abode without birds is like a meat without seasoning.”
  • Morning brings back the heroic ages.
  • Our life is frittered away by detail. An honest man has hardly need to
  • Our life is like a German Confederacy, made up of petty states, with its boundary forever fluctuating, so that even a German cannot tell you how it is bounded at any moment.
  • As for work, we haven’t any of any consequence.
  • And I am sure that I never read any memorable news in a newspaper. If we read of one man robbed, or murdered, or killed by accident, or one house burned, or one vessel wrecked, or one steamboat blown up, or one cow run over on the Western Railroad, or one mad dog killed, or one lot of grasshoppers in the winter—we never need read of another.
  • To a philosopher all news, as it is called, is gossip, and they who edit and read it are old women over their tea.
  • There was such a rush, as I hear, the other day at one of the offices to learn the foreign news by the last arrival, that several large squares of plate glass belonging to the establishment were broken by the pressure—news which I seriously think a ready wit might write a twelve-month, or twelve years, beforehand with sufficient accuracy.
  • If one may judge who rarely looks into the newspapers, nothing new does ever happen in foreign parts, a French revolution not excepted.
  • The best books are not read even by those who are called good readers.
  • and in this respect I confess I do not make any very broad distinction between the illiterateness of my townsman who cannot read at all and the illiterateness of him who has learned to read only what is for children and feeble intellects.
  • We have a comparatively decent system of common schools, schools for infants only; but excepting the half-starved Lyceum in the winter, and latterly the puny beginning of a library suggested by the State, no school for ourselves. We spend more on almost any article of bodily aliment or ailment than on our mental aliment.
  • Shall the world be confined to one Paris or one Oxford forever? Cannot students be boarded here and get a liberal education under the skies of Concord? Can we not hire some Abelard to lecture to us? Alas! what
  • Shall the world be confined to one Paris or one Oxford forever? Cannot students be boarded here and get a liberal education under the skies of Concord?
  • Why should we leave it to Harper & Brothers and Redding & Co. to select our reading? As the nobleman of cultivated taste surrounds himself with whatever conduces to his culture—genius—learning—wit—books— paintings—statuary—music—philosophical instruments, and the like; so let the village do—
  • I love a broad margin to my life.
  • For my own part, I was never so effectually deterred from frequenting a man’s house, by any kind of Cerberus whatever, as by the parade one made about dining me,
  • I believe that every man who has ever been earnest to preserve his higher or poetic faculties in the best condition has been particularly inclined to abstain from animal food, and from much food of any kind.
  • I believe that every man who has ever been earnest to preserve his higher or poetic faculties in the best condition has been particularly inclined to abstain from animal food, and from much food of any kind.
  • but this is one of those sayings which men love to repeat whether they are true or not. Such
  • the harmony which results from a far greater number of seemingly conflicting, but really concurring, laws, which we have not detected, is still more wonderful.
  • What I have observed of the pond is no less true in ethics. It is the law of average. Such a rule of the two diameters not only guides us toward the sun in the system and the heart in man, but draws lines through the length and breadth of the aggregate of a man’s particular daily behaviors and waves of life into his coves and inlets, and where they intersect will be the height or depth of his character.
  • If he is surrounded by mountainous circumstances, an Achillean shore, whose peaks overshadow and are reflected in his bosom, they suggest a corresponding depth in him. But a low and smooth shore proves him shallow on that side. In our bodies, a bold projecting brow falls off to and indicates a corresponding depth of thought.
  • Ice is an interesting subject for contemplation.
  • At the same time that we are earnest to explore and learn all things, we require that all things be mysterious and unexplorable, that land and sea be infinitely wild, unsurveyed and unfathomed by us because unfathomable.
  • We need to witness our own limits transgressed, and some life pasturing freely where we never wander.
  • The universe is wider than our views of it.
  • Patriotism is a maggot in their heads.
  • It is remarkable how easily and insensibly we fall into a particular route, and make a beaten track for ourselves. I had not lived there a week before my feet wore a path from my door to the pond-side; and though it is five or six years since I trod it, it is still quite distinct.
  • that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours. He will put some things behind, will pass an invisible boundary; new, universal, and more liberal laws will begin to establish themselves around and within him; or the old laws be expanded, and interpreted in his favor in a more liberal sense, and he will live with the license of a higher order of beings.
  • Some are dinning in our ears that we Americans, and moderns generally, are intellectual dwarfs compared with the ancients, or even the Elizabethan men. But what is that to the purpose? A living dog is better than a dead lion. Shall a man go and hang himself because he belongs to the race of pygmies, and not be the biggest pygmy that he can? Let every one mind his own business, and endeavor to be what he was made.
  • Why should we be in such desperate haste to succeed and in such desperate enterprises? If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer.
  • Tom Hyde, the tinker, standing on the gallows, was asked if he had anything to say. “Tell the tailors,” said he, “to remember to make a knot in their thread before they take the first stitch.” His companion’s prayer is forgotten
  • came into this world, not chiefly to make this a good place to live in, but to live in it,
  • A man has not everything to do, but something; and because he cannot do everything, it is not necessary that he should do something wrong.