Essentialism by Greg McKeown is about explaining the way of the “Essentialist” and teaching the reader how to get more done in less time and how to make the highest possible contribution towards the things that matter.
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Top 25 Takeaways
* In no particular order
1. The way of the Essentialist is the relentless pursuit of less but better. Essentialism is not about how to get more things done; it’s about how to get the right things done. Working hard is important, but more effort does not necessarily yield more results.
2. The 4 phases of the paradox of success: 1) Clarity of purpose enables us to succeed at our endeavor. 2) We gain a reputation as a “go to” person because of our success and we are presented with increased options and opportunities. 3) When we have increased options and opportunities, it leads to diffused efforts. We get spread thinner and thinner. 4) We become distracted. The effect of our success has been to undermine the very clarity that led to our success in the first place.
3. To harness the courage we need to get on the right path, it pays to reflect on how short life really is and what we want to accomplish in the little time we have left.
4. There are three deeply entrenched assumptions we must conquer to live the way of the Essentialist: “I have to,” “It’s all important,” and “I can do both.” To embrace the essence of Essentialism requires we replace these false assumptions with three core truths: “I choose to,” “Only a few things really matter,” and “I can do anything but not everything.”
5. To become an Essentialist requires a heightened awareness of our ability to choose. The Essentialist knows that when we surrender our right to choose, we give others not just the power but also the explicit permission to choose for us.
6. Pareto Principle and the Law of the Vital Few. Distinguishing the “trivial many” from the “vital few” can be applied to every kind of human endeavor large or small
7. The overwhelming reality is: we live in a world where almost everything is worthless and a very few things are exceptionally valuable.
8. Trade-offs. A Nonessentialist approaches every trade-off by asking, “How can I do both?” Essentialists ask the tougher but ultimately more liberating question, “Which problem do I want?” Trade-offs are not something to be ignored or decried. They are something to be embraced and made deliberately, strategically, and thoughtfully.
9. One paradox of Essentialism is that Essentialists actually explore more options than their Nonessentialist counterparts. The way of the Essentialist, on the other hand, is to explore and evaluate a broad set of options before committing to any. Essentialists spend as much time as possible exploring, listening, debating, questioning, and thinking.
10. It’s critical to set aside time to take a breath, look around, and think. This will give you a level of clarity in order to innovate and grow. We need space to escape in order to discern the essential few from the trivial many.
11. Create space to design, space to concentrate, and space to read. Newton created space for intense concentration, and this uninterrupted space enabled him to explore the essential elements of the universe.
12. “Play,” he says, “leads to brain plasticity, adaptability, and creativity.” Embrace the wisdom of your inner child. Play has the power to significantly improve everything from personal health to relationships to education to organizations’ ability to innovate. Play expands our mind and is an antidote to stress.
13. The best asset we have for making a contribution to the world is ourselves. If we underinvest in ourselves, and by that I mean our minds, our bodies, and our spirits, we damage the very tool we need to make our highest contribution. One of the most common ways people—especially ambitious, successful people—damage this asset is through a lack of sleep.
14. Pushing oneself to the limit is easy. The real challenge for the person who thrives on challenges is not to work hard.
15. Eliminate any activity that is misaligned with what you are trying to achieve. Find the “essential intent” which can be one decisions that settles one thousand later decisions.
16. Since becoming an Essentialist I have found it almost universally true that people respect and admire those with the courage of conviction to say no. A true Essentialist, Peter Drucker believed that “people are effective because they say no.”
17. Sunk-cost bias is the tendency to continue to invest time, money, or energy into something we know is a losing proposition simply because we have already incurred, or sunk, a cost that cannot be recouped. Individuals are equally vulnerable to sunk-cost bias. It explains why we’ll continue to sit through a terrible movie because we’ve already paid the price of a ticket. An Essentialist has the courage and confidence to admit his or her mistakes and uncommit, no matter the sunk costs.
18. Clearly, editing—which involves the strict elimination of the trivial, unimportant, or irrelevant—is an Essentialist craft. What I mean is that a good editor is someone who uses deliberate subtraction to actually add life to the ideas, setting, plot, and characters. It increases your ability to focus on and give energy to the things that really matter. We need to eliminate multiple meaningless activities and replace them with one very meaningful activity.
19. Boundaries are a little like the walls of a sandcastle. The second we let one fall over, the rest of them come crashing down. However, not pushing back costs more: our ability to choose what is most essential in life.
20. However, not pushing back costs more: our ability to choose what is most essential in life. In other words, once you’ve figured out which activities and efforts to keep in your life, you have to have a system for executing them.
21. Instead of focusing on the efforts and resources we need to add, the Essentialist focuses on the constraints or obstacles we need to remove. An Essentialist produces more —brings forth more—by removing more instead of doing more.
22. The way of the Nonessentialist is to go big on everything: to try to do it all, have it all, fit it all in. The way of the Essentialist is different. Instead of trying to accomplish it all—and all at once—and flaring out, the Essentialist starts small and celebrates progress.
23. Research has shown that of all forms of human motivation the most effective one is progress. Why? Because a small, concrete win creates momentum and affirms our faith in our further success.
24. Routine is one of the most powerful tools for removing obstacles. With repetition, the connections strengthen and it becomes easier for the brain to activate them. But the right routines can actually enhance innovation and creativity by giving us the equivalent of an energy rebate.
25. If you take one thing away from this book, I hope you will remember this: whatever decision or challenge or crossroads you face in your life, simply ask yourself, “What is essential?” Eliminate everything else.
10 Actions You Should Take
1. Frequently pause and ask yourself, “Am I investing in the right activities?” Subtract and trim the fat off of your activities and obligations.
2. Narrow down to avoid decision fatigue. The more choices we are forced to make, the more the quality of our decisions deteriorates.
3. Distinguish the “trivial many” from the “vital few” in all areas of your life. Said another way, identify the 80% and 20% in the 90/20 Pareto Principle.
4. Explore and evaluate a broad set of options before committing to any. The purpose of the exploration is to discern the vital few from the trivial many.
5. Become unavailable to the outside world every now and then. We need space to think and talk.
6. See the big picture and identify what really matters, rather than hyperfocusing on all the minor details
7. Make room for play. At work, at home, anywhere.
8. Invest in your mind, body, and spirit in order to make your highest contribution day in and day out.
9. Set extreme selection criteria. The 90 percent rule is an example. As you evaluate an option, think about the single most important criterion for that decision, and then simply give the option a score between 0 and 100. If you rate it any lower than 90 percent, then automatically change the rating to 0 and simply reject
10. Avoid falling into the sunk-cost bias and cut your losses quickly.