“Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less” by Greg McKeown: Part One

This book really made an impact on me. Distilling the minutiae out of our lives and focusing on the few things that are really important can have a tremendous effect on our well-being. We all get caught up in trying to do to much and in doing so, fail to dedicate ourselves to just a few worthy causes, either professionally or personally. I’m personally guilty of that on a daily basis. After reading this book I’ve already noticed daily opportunities to adjust how and where I spend my resources. This has led me to re-evaluate my goals and start to remove the obstacles and distractions impeding me achieving those objectives. Enjoy. If you want something more like this, take a look at “The Signal and the Noise” and how we are inundated by a very noisy world and how it is a struggle to identify the signal amongst that noise.

  1. “Is this the very most important thing I should be doing with my time and resources right now?”
  2. Instead of spinning his wheels trying to get everything done, he could get the right things done. His newfound commitment to doing only the things that were truly important—and eliminating everything else- restored the quality of his work.
  3. 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.
  4. It is about pausing constantly to ask, “Am I investing in the right activities?” There are far more activities and opportunities in the world than we have time and resources to invest in. And although many of them may be good, or even very good, the fact is that most are trivial and few are vital.
  5. If you don’t prioritize you life, someone else will.
  6. The Core Mindset of an Essentialist:
    1. Individual choice: We can choose how to spend our energy and time. Without choice, there is no point in talking about trade-offs.
    2. The prevalence of noise: Almost everything is noise, and a very few things are exceptionally valuable. This is the justification for taking time to figure out what is most important. Because some things are so much more important, the effort in finding those things is worth it.
    3. The reality of trade-offs: We can’t have it all or do it all. If we could, there would be no reason to evaluate or eliminate options. Once we accept the reality of trade-offs we stop asking, “How can I make it all work?” and start asking the more honest question, “Which problem do I want to solve?”
  7. What if we stopped celebrating being busy as a measurement of importance? What if instead we celebrated how much time we had spent listening, pondering, meditating, and enjoying time with the most important people in our lives?
  8. 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.”
  9. 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.”
  10. The ability to choose cannot be taken away or even given away—it can only be forgotten.
  11. When people believe that their efforts at work don’t matter, they tend to respond in one of two ways. Sometimes they check out and stop trying, like the mathematically challenged child. The other response is less obvious at first. They do the opposite. They become hyperactive. They accept every opportunity presented. They throw themselves into every assignment. They tackle every challenge with gusto. They try to do it all. This behavior does not necessarily look like learned helplessness at first glance. After all, isn’t working hard evidence of one’s belief in one’s importance and value? Yet on closer examination we can see this compulsion to do more is a smokescreen. These people don’t believe they have a choice in what opportunity, assignment, or challenge to take on. They believe they “have to do it all.”
  12. “Most of what exists in the universe—our actions, and all other forces, resources, and ideas—has little value and yields little result; on the other hand, a few things work fantastically well and have tremendous impact.” ~Richard Koch
  13. Is there a point at which doing more does not produce more? Is there a point at which doing less (but thinking more) will actually produce better outcomes? (Yes there is, evidenced by the Laffler curve, explained in great detail in “How Not to Be Wrong”)
  14. The “Pareto Principle”: introduced as far back as the 1790s by Vilfredo Pareto, that 20 percent of our efforts produce 80 percent of results.
  15. “You cannot overestimate the unimportance of practically everything.” ~John Maxwell
  16. A Nonessentialist approaches every trade-off by asking, “How can I do both?” Essentialists ask the tougher but ultimately more liberating questions, “Which problem do I want?” An Essentialist makes trade-offs deliberately. She acts for herself rather than waiting to be acted upon. As economist Thomas Sowell wrote: “There are no solutions. There are only trade-offs.”
  17. Imagine a four-burner stove. One burner represents your family, one is your friends, the third is your health, and the fourth is your work. In order to be successful you have to cut off one of your burners. And in order to be really successful, you have to cut off two.
  18. 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.
  19. But by abolishing any chance of being bored we have also lost the time we used to have to think and process.
  20. In every set of fact, something essential is hidden. And a good journalist knows that finding it involves exploring those pieces of information and figuring out the relationships between them.
  21. Look for the lead in your day, your week, you life. Small, incremental changes are hard to see in the moment but over time can have a huge cumulative effect.


Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less

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