Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less
Chapter 1: The Essentialist
- Less, but better.
- Pause constantly to ask, "Am I investing in the right activities?"
- Live by design, not default.
- Figure out where your highest point of contribution lies, and then design your life so that executing it is almost effortless.
- If you don't prioritize your life, someone else will.
- The word priority was introduced in the 1400s, and didn't have a plural form until the 1900s. You can't have two first things.
- Common deathbed regret: "I wish I'd had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me."
- It's not enough to identify which activities are your highest contributions. You also have to actively eliminate everything else.
- You need a system to make essentialism as effortless as possible. Perhaps a checklist.
- Analogy: your life = your closet.
- Discerning trivial many from vital few. Ask these three questions:
- "What do I feel deeply inspired by?"
- "What am I particularly talented at?"
- "What meets a significant need in the world?"
Steps of Essentialism (also parts of this book)
- Explore: discerning the trivial many from the vital few
- Eliminate: cutting out the trivial many
- Execute: removing obstacles and making execution effortless
Life is Short
Tell me, what it is you plan to do with your one wild and precious life? — Mary Oliver
Part I: Essence: What is the core mind-set of an essentialist?
Three assumptions we need to conquer:
- "I have to"
- "It's all important"
- "I can do both"
Need to replace these with:
- "I choose to"
- "Only a few things really matter"
- "I can do anything but not everything"
Chapter 2: Choose: The Invincible Power of Choice
- "If you decide to stay in the US..."
- It wasn't that he had decided that law school was the only option. It was that he had decided that no law school was not an option.
- He had chosen law school not because he wanted to be there, but by default.
- If we surrender our ability to choose, something or someone else will choose for us.
- We may not always be in control of our options, but we can always control how we choose among them.
- Don't blindly follow a path prescribed by another person.
When humans believe or feel that their actions don't have an impact, they respond in one of two ways:
- They check out. They give up on trying to do anything.
- They get hyperactive and try to do everything. They believe they don't have a choice in assignments or opportunities, and feel that they need to accept them all.
- To be an essentialist, you have to remember that your ability to choose is invincible. It can't be affected or taken away by anyone or anything.
- Move from "I have to" to "I choose to"
- If you forget your ability to choose, drip by drip you become a function of other people's choices, or even your own past choices.
- Don't give others the power to choose for you.
Chapter 3: Discern: The Unimportance of Practically Everything
- Boxer the horse. When things didn't turn out the way he hoped, he just worked harder, and nothing ever changed for him.
- There is a point when doing more does not produce more.
- Certain types of effort yield higher results than others.
- Working hard is important. But more effort does not necessarily yield more results.
- Pareto principle; 80/20 rule; Law of the Vital Few. This idea started the quality revolution in Japan.
- Similar: the "power law." Pareto principle but even to a greater degree. "Top software developers are more effective than the e average developer by a factor of 10,000x."
- "Sometimes what you don't do is just as important as what you do."
- "You cannot overestimate the unimportance of practically everything."
- "Even the many good opportunities we pursue are often far less valuable than the few truly great ones."
- Let go of the belief that everything is important.
Chapter 4: Trade-Off: Which Problem Do I Want?
Case Study: Southwest Airlines
- Most profitable stock you could have invested in from 1972-2002.
- Deliberate trade-offs:
- Only point-to-point flights. You can't fly anywhere.
- No meals, in order to reduce ticket prices.
- Choose seats when you board.
- No first-class; only coach.
- Totally clear about what they were (as a company), and what they weren't.
- Other companies noticed their success, and tried to "straddle" their strategy, but failed.
- "Ignoring the reality of trade-offs is a terrible strategy for organizations. It turns out to be a terrible strategy for people as well."
- Stop telling yourself "I can do both."
- "Saying yes to any opportunity by definition requires saying no to several others."
- One area where I really need to learn the concept of "I can't do both" is with sleep.
- Top execs are notorious for declaring everything as a top priority.
- It's natural to try to avoid trade-offs, because we want to be able to say "yes" to all good things.
- "There are no solutions. There are only trade-offs."
- Though painful, trade-offs represent a significant opportunity. They can help us deliberately choose what we truly want.
- Try to view trade-offs as an inherent part of life, not and inherently negative part of life. Instead of thinking, "What do I want to give up?" Think, "What do I want to go big on?"
- Elder Bednar recently spoke about how maintaining "life balance" is actually a myth. At any moment you're prioritizing one thing and neglecting another. He understands that trade-offs are a core component of life.
Part II: Explore: How can we discern the trivial many from the vital few?
A paradox of essentialism is that Essentialists tend to explore more options than Nonessentialists. The idea is that they do more research to decide what to go big on.
Chapter 5: Escape: The Perks of Being Unavailable
- We need space to escape and step away from the routine and daily demands in order to discern the trivial many from the vital few.
- We don't get that by default; we have to design it into our lives.
- Nonessentialists are too busy to think about life; Essentialists make time to explore and think about life.
- When people need to finish big projects, they often go into solitary confinement and cut off their internet access. How could I apply this methodology to web projects, when I need the internet to do the project?
- To write this book, he blocked out eight hours a day and worked on it from 5:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.
- When's the last time you set aside time just to think?
- Idea: start your day reading classic literature for 20 minutes. It centers you and helps you consider ideas that have withstood the test of time.
- He mentioned a bunch of books of scripture, including the Book of Mormon.
Chapter 6: Look: See What Really Matters
- Example with journalism class and writing a lead: "There will be no school Thursday."
- It's not just about regurgitating facts; it's about finding the point. It's about understanding what something really means, and why it matters.
- Story of Florida plane crash. Green landing gear indicator light wasn't working, but the landing gear was. The pilots were so absorbed with the light not working that they didn't realize the plane was no longer on autopilot, and they crashed.
- You can find "the lead" in any situation, even your personal life.
- Essentialists are powerful listeners and observers. Sometimes the most important thing to glean is what is not explicitly stated.
- Listen for the signal amid the noise.
- Keep a journal.
- "The faintest pencil is better than the strongest memory."
- Keep a "less, but better" mindset. Don't start out writing pages and pages, or you'll think of it as a daunting task to continue. Write less than you feel like writing. Restrain yourself until it becomes a daily habit.
- Every ninety or so days, spend an hour reading through it, and don't focus on the details, but try to find the headlines/leads.
- Clarify the question your trying to answer, and the root problem you're trying to solve. It may be different than it seems at first.
- 2021-06-16: While watching the Jazz lose another playoff game tonight I had a thought. Commentators keep talking about how the Jazz were the best team in the regular season because they had the best record. And I realized, literally none of that matters if they can't win playoff games. They are weak where it matters. I want to be strong where it matters. I don't want to get caught up in the details and the best worker on those details; I want to be the best person at finishing full projects. I need to remember the big picture.
Chapter 7: Play: Embrace the Wisdom of Your Inner Child
- Play = anything that we do simply for the joy of doing rather than as a means to an end.
- Play is important not just as an antidote to stress. It also boosts creativity.
- Mine your past for play memories. Do what you loved doing as a child.
- Non-essentialists think that play is trivial. It's not.
Chapter 8: Sleep: Protect the Asset
- We are the very tool we need to make our highest contribution.
- Ambitious, successful people have a tendency to damage the asset through lack of sleep.
- For type A personalities, the challenge is not to push yourself to the limits, but to know when not to.
- Perfect example of how more is not more: cutting down on sleep so you have more time in your day does not make you more effective.
- "While there are clearly people who can survive on fewer hours of sleep, I've found that most of them are just so used to being tired that they have forgotten what it really feels like to be fully rested."
- "Essentialists choose to do one fewer thing right now so they can do more tomorrow."
- He shoots for 8 hours a night.
- In a study, the best violinists slept 8.6 hours a day, and napped.
- At Google they have nap pods where you can schedule thirty minutes of sleep time.
- Sleep deprivation compromises our ability to prioritize.
Chapter 9: Select: The Power of Extreme Criteria
- "Hell yeah, or no." Another way of putting it is, "if it isn't a definite yes, then it should be a no."
- This is a good rule of thumb for minimalism.
- 90 Percent Rule. You can rate every option between 0 and 100. And if it's below 90, automatically say no.
- You will realize that there are trade offs with this approach, and it's good to be aware of them.
- Nonessentialist selection criteria:
- "If my manager asks me, I should do it."
- "If someone asks me to do something, I should try to do it."
- "If other people in the company are doing it, I should be doing it."
- The idea of "if other people are doing it, I should do it" is a rabbit hole now that we have social media and we see everything that everyone does.
- OKRs do a great job of guiding your selection criteria of what is essential and what is not.
- "If it isn't a clear yes, then it's a clear no."
- If we say yes to something just because it is an easy reward (a sale, a job offer, a timeshare at a discounted rate in a less-than-ideal location), we run the risk of having to later say no to a more meaningful one.
- In Good to Great by Jim Collins, he says that if there's one thing you're passionate about—and can be the best at—you should do just that one thing.
- Idea for applying selection criteria to an opportunity:
- Write down the opportunity
- Write down three minimum criteria for you to consider the option (must haves)
- Write down three extreme/ideal criteria for you to consider the option
- The option needs to fulfill all of the minimum criteria and two of the three ideal criteria
Part II: Eliminate: How Can We Cut Out the Trivial Many?
You have to actively eliminate the non-essential in order to have time and space to contribute more to the essential.
- Ask yourself, "If I didn't already own this, how much would I spend to buy it?" This general principle applies not just to physical things you own, but other areas or your life as well: "If I didn't have this opportunity, what would I be willing to do to acquire it?"
- Every time you fail to say "no" to a non-essential, you are really saying "yes" by default.
- Don't ask, "What, of my competing priorities, should I say yes to?" Ask, "What should I say no to?"
Chapter 10: Clarify: One Decision That Makes A Thousand
- What do I really want out of my career over the next five years?
- I want to be a tech lead.
- I want a blog with at least 50 readers.
- Strive for absolute clarity in your goals and purpose as a team (also applies to your personal life, though).
Chapter 11: Dare: The Power of a Graceful "No"
- It always feels wrong to say no to someone. But failing to say no can cause us to miss out on something far more important.
- Example of Steven Covey saying no to a professional dinner invite to keep his date with his daughter in San Francisco. She never forgot that night.
- After the initial let-down that people experience when we say no to them, they actually respect us more, because they understand that our time is valuable.
- Separate the decision from the relationship. You're not saying no to the relationship.
- Always think about trade-offs and opportunity cost. If you say yes to someone, what are you giving up?
- A clear "no" can be more graceful than a vague or noncomittal yes.
Chapter 12: Uncommit: Win Big by Cutting Your Losses
- [[sunk-cost-bias|Sunk Cost Bias]]
- Endowment effect: tendency to overvalue things we own and undervalue things that aren't ours.
- Antidote: "If I didn't own this item, how much would I pay for it?"
- "If I didn't already have this opportunity, how much would I sacrifice to get it?"
- Admit to failure to begin success. You can make a mistake part of your past only when you've admitted it. It's just admitting you're now wiser than you were.
- Zero-based budgeting for commitments: instead of budgeting your time based on existing commitments, assume all bets are off and try budgeting with a clean slate. Every commitment, resource, and use of time has to justify itself anew. This helps avoid status quo bias.
- Reverse pilot: when you test out removing something and observe whether there are negative consequences.
Chapter 13: Edit: The Invisible Art
- Deliberate subtraction to add more life to things. Applies to film editing and life. You can focus more on what matters.
Chapter 14: Limit: The Freedom of Setting Boundaries
- It's not just that the boundary between work and family have blurred (mostly because of technology); it's that work has invaded the family territory.
- Clayton Christensen standing his ground when being asked to come in for a client meeting on Saturday and then on Sunday. Reminds me of Dane Jacobson.
- If you don't set boundaries, there won't be any. Or worse, someone else will set them for you.
- Nonessentialists see boundaries as constraints that hinder their hyper productive life. Essentialists see boundaries as empowering.
- Boundaries protect you from having to say no to things that you don't care about. You set the rules in advance so you don't even have to say no.
- Don't rob people of their problems. Still serve and give, but don't let anyone make their problem your problem. If you do that, you're enabling them. And you're taking away their ability to solve it.
- Watering grass metaphor. Your neighbor never waters his grass, but when you water yours, the water falls onto his yard instead. He's happy because his grass looks great, but yours is dry and dying. It's a dual problem, because it's preventing him from solving his problem, and it's not allowing you to use your water for your own grass. You need a fence to make sure that his problems stay in your yard, and yours stay in his.
- To determine your boundaries, start listing people and situations where someone makes you feel twinges of resentment.
Part III: Execute: How Can we make doing the vital few things almost effortless?
Once you've figured out which activities and efforts to keep in your life, create a system for executing them.