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.