This is one of my favorite books that I frequently revisit. As I grow older and as my career develops, life continues to present a flux of possible choices and opportunities. This is mostly a good and fortunate thing (not many people have the luxury to choose). But clearly, too many choices can be paralyzing.
To solve that problem, Greg Mckeown proposes a somewhat radical approach: eliminate most and pursue few. Although I don’t follow his advice religiously (sometimes I still take on more than I should), for the most part, “essentialism” has helped me take control of my life, focus on the things that truly matter, and excel.
I highly recommend you read the book in full (Amazon link), but if you don’t have time, here’s a summary:
- The way of the essentialist is “less but better”.
- Step 1: Explore: discern the trivial many from the vital few. Find highest point of contribution: right thing, right reason, right time.
- Step 2: Eliminate
- Step 3: Execute
- Exercise the power of choice: “I choose to”.
- Almost everything is non-essential, distinguish the vital few from the trivial many.
- Ask “What is the trade-off I want to make. What can I go big on”.
- Create space to escape (literally) and explore life.
- Create time to read non-fiction, classics that withstood the test of time.
- Pay attention to the big picture, the story. Find the essence of the information. Keep a journal, but don’t focus on the small details, focus on the headlines.
- Get out into the field.
- Clarify the questions you want to ask yourself.
- “Play” sparks exploration & creativity.
- Protect the asset (aka. your body): sleep well.
SELECT & ELIMINATE
- Set extreme criteria: it’s either a “Hell Yeah, or a NO”
- 90% rule: give the option a score between 0 and 100. If it’s lower than 90, reject it.
- Set up and use narrow criteria: “Is this exactly what I’m looking for?”
- PROCESS: 1. define the opportunity 2. describe what are the minimum criteria for this option to be considered 3. what are the ideal criteria for this option to be approved?
- Clarify your mission statement, be very clear.
- Say NO gracefully: the soft “no” (“no but”), “let me check my calendar and get back to you”, “yes, what should I de-prioritize?”, use humor, a positive no (offer something else), “i can’t do it, but x might be interested”.
- Un-commit: Be comfortable with cutting losses
- If you have limits, you become limitless. Boundaries can be liberating.
- Build buffer for unexpected events
- Practice extreme and early preparation.
- Remove obstacles to progress.
- Start small and get big results. Celebrate small wins.
- The most effective form of human motivation is progress.
- Design a routine, making execution almost effortless (think of Michael Phelps example).
- Overhaul your triggers.
- Do the most important thing first.
- To operate at your highest level of contribution requires you deliberately tune in to what is important in the here and now.
- Mind is focused on the present. Tunes in to what is important right now. Enjoy the moment.
- Essentialist isn’t just about success; it’s about living a life full of meaning and purpose.