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Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less Kindle Edition
Have you ever found yourself struggling with information overload?
Have you ever felt both overworked and underutilised?
Do you ever feel busy but not productive?
If you answered yes to any of these, the way out is to become an Essentialist.
In Essentialism, Greg McKeown, CEO of a Leadership and Strategy agency in Silicon Valley who has run courses at Apple, Google and Facebook, shows you how to achieve what he calls the disciplined pursuit of less. Being an Essentialist is about a disciplined way of thinking. It means challenging the core assumption of ‘We can have it all’ and ‘I have to do everything’ and replacing it with the pursuit of ‘the right thing, in the right way, at the right time'.
By applying a more selective criteria for what is essential, the pursuit of less allows us to regain control of our own choices so we can channel our time, energy and effort into making the highest possible contribution toward the goals and activities that matter.
Using the experience and insight of working with the leaders of the most innovative companies and organisations in the world, McKeown shows you how to put Essentialism into practice in your own life, so you too can achieve something great.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
The wisdom of life consists in the elimination of non-essentials.
Sam Elliot1 is a capable executive in Silicon Valley who found himself stretched too thin after his company was acquired by a larger, bureaucratic business.
1 Name has been changed.
He was in earnest about being a good citizen in his new role so he said yes to many requests without really thinking about it. But as a result he would spend the whole day rushing from one meeting and conference call to another trying to please everyone and get it all done. His stress went up as the quality of his work went down. It was like he was majoring in minor activities and as a result, his work became unsatisfying for him and frustrating for the people he was trying so hard to please.
In the midst of his frustration the company came to him and offered him an early retirement package. But he was in his early 50s and had no interest in completely retiring. He thought briefly about starting a consulting company doing what he was already doing. He even thought of selling his services back to his employer as a consultant. But none of these options seemed that appealing. So he went to speak with a mentor who gave him surprising advice: “Stay, but do what you would as a consultant and nothing else. And don’t tell anyone.” In other words, his mentor was advising him to do only those things that he deemed essential--and ignore everything else that was asked of him.
The executive followed the advice! He made a daily commitment towards cutting out the red tape. He began saying no.
He was tentative at first. He would evaluate requests based on the timid criteria, “Can I actually fulfill this request, given the time and resources I have?” If the answer was no then he would refuse the request. He was pleasantly surprised to find that while people would at first look a little disappointed, they seemed to respect his honesty.
Encouraged by his small wins he pushed back a bit more. Now when a request would come in he would pause and evaluate the request against a tougher criteria: “Is this the very most important thing I should be doing with my time and resources right now?”
If he couldn’t answer a definitive yes, then he would refuse the request. And once again to his delight, while his colleagues might initially seem disappointed, they soon began respecting him more for his refusal, not less.
Emboldened, he began to apply this selective criteria to everything, not just direct requests. In his past life he would always volunteer for presentations or assignments that came up last minute; now he found a way to not sign up for them. He used to be one of the first to jump in on an e‑mail trail, but now he just stepped back and let others jump in. He stopped attending conference calls that he only had a couple of minutes of interest in. He stopped sitting in on the weekly update call because he didn’t need the information. He stopped attending meetings on his calendar if he didn’t have a direct contribution to make. He explained to me, “Just because I was invited didn’t seem a good enough reason to attend.”
It felt self-indulgent at first. But by being selective he bought himself space, and in that space he found creative freedom. He could concentrate his efforts one project at a time. He could plan thoroughly. He could anticipate roadblocks and start to remove obstacles. 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. Instead of making just a millimeter of progress in a million directions he began to generate tremendous momentum towards accomplishing the things that were truly vital.
He continued this for several months. He immediately found that he not only got more of his day back at work, in the evenings he got even more time back at home. He said, “I got back my family life! I can go home at a decent time.” Now instead of being a slave to his phone he shuts it down. He goes to the gym. He goes out to eat with his wife.
To his great surprise, there were no negative repercussions to his experiment. His manager didn’t chastise him. His colleagues didn’t resent him. Quite the opposite; because he was left only with projects that were meaningful to him and actually valuable to the company, they began to respect and value his work more than ever. His work became fulfilling again. His performance ratings went up. He ended up with one of the largest bonuses of his career!
In this example is the basic value proposition of Essentialism: only once you give yourself permission to stop trying to do it all, to stop saying yes to everyone, can make your highest contribution towards the things that really matter.
What about you? How many times have you reacted to a request by saying yes without really thinking about it? How many times have you resented committing to do something and wondered, “Why did I sign up for this?” How often do you say yes simply to please? Or to avoid trouble? Or because “yes” had just become your default response?
Now let me ask you this: Have you ever found yourself stretched too thin? Have you ever felt both overworked and underutilized? Have you ever found yourself majoring in minor activities? Do you ever feel busy but not productive? Like you’re always in motion, but never getting anywhere?
If you answered yes to any of these, the way out is the way of the Essentialist.
The Way of the Essentialist
Dieter Rams was the lead designer at Braun for many years. He is driven by the idea that almost everything is noise. He believes very few things are essential. His job is to filter through that noise until he gets to the essence. For example, as a young twenty-four-year-old at the company he was asked to collaborate on a record player. The norm at the time was to cover the turntable in a solid wooden lid or even to incorporate the player into a piece of living room furniture. Instead, he and his team removed the clutter and designed a player with a clear plastic cover on the top and nothing more. It was the first time such a design had been used, and it was so revolutionary people worried it might bankrupt the company because nobody would buy it. It took courage, as it always does, to eliminate the nonessential. By the sixties this aesthetic started to gain traction. In time it became the design every other record player followed.
Dieter’s design criteria can be summarized by a characteristically succinct principle, captured in just three German words: Weniger aber besser. The English translation is: Less but better. A more fitting definition of Essentialism would be hard to come by.
The way of the Essentialist is the relentless pursuit of less but better. It doesn’t mean occasionally giving a nod to the principle. It means pursuing it in a disciplined way.
The way of the Essentialist isn’t about setting New Year’s resolutions to say “no” more, or about pruning your in-box, or about mastering some new strategy in time management. It is about pausing constantly to ask, “Am I investing in the right activities?” There are far more activities and opportunities in 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. The way of the Essentialist involves learning to tell the difference--learning to filter through all those options and selecting only those that are truly essential.
Essentialism is not about how to get more things done; it’s about how to get the right things done. It doesn’t mean just doing less for the sake of less either. It is about making the wisest possible investment of your time and energy in order to operate at our highest point of contribution by doing only what is essential.
The difference between the way of the Essentialist and the way of the Nonessentialist can be seen in figure 1 above. In both images the same amount of effort is exerted. In the image on the left, the energy is divided into many different activities. The result is that we have the unfulfilling experience of making a millimeter of progress in a million directions. In the image on the right, the energy is given to fewer activities. The result is that by investing in fewer things we have the satisfying experience of making significant progress in the things that matter most. The way of the Essentialist rejects the idea that we can fit it all in. Instead it requires us to grapple with real trade-offs and make tough decisions. In many cases we can learn to make one-time decisions that make a thousand future decisions so we don’t exhaust ourselves asking the same questions again and again.
The way of the Essentialist means living by design, not by default. Instead of making choices reactively, the Essentialist deliberately distinguishes the vital few from the trivial many, eliminates the nonessentials, and then removes obstacles so the essential things have clear, smooth passage. In other words, Essentialism is a disciplined, systematic approach for determining where our highest point of contribution lies, then making execution of those things almost effortless.
The way of the Essentialist is the path to being in control of our own choices. It is a path to new levels of success and meaning. It is the path on which we enjoy the journey, not just the destination. Despite all these benefits, however, there are too many forces conspiring to keep us from applying the disciplined pursuit of less but better, which may be why so many end up on the misdirected path of the Nonessentialist.
The Way of the Nonessentialist
On a bright, winter day in California I visited my wife, Anna, in the hospital. Even in the hospital Anna was radiant. But I also knew she was exhausted. It was the day after our precious daughter was born, healthy and happy at 7 pounds, 3 ounces.1
Yet what should have been one of the happiest, most serene days of my life was actually filled with tension. Even as my beautiful new baby lay in my wife’s tired arms, I was on the phone and on e‑mail with work, and I was feeling pressure to go to a client meeting. My colleague had written, “Friday between 1–2 would be a bad time to have a baby because I need you to come be at this meeting with X.” It was now Friday and though I was pretty certain (or at least I hoped) the e‑mail had been written in jest, I still felt pressure to attend.
Instinctively, I knew what to do. It was clearly a time to be there for my wife and newborn child. So when asked whether I planned to attend the meeting, I said with all the conviction I could muster . . .
To my shame, while my wife lay in the hospital with our hours-old baby, I went to the meeting. Afterward, my colleague said, “The client will respect you for making the decision to be here.” But the look on the clients’ faces did not evince respect. Instead, they mirrored how I felt. What was I doing there? I had said “yes” simply to please, and in doing so I had hurt my family, my integrity, and even the client relationship.
As it turned out, exactly nothing came of the client meeting. But even if it had, surely I would have made a fool’s bargain. In trying to keep everyone happy I had sacrificed what mattered most.
On reflection I discovered this important lesson:
If you don’t prioritize your life, someone else will.
That experience gave me renewed interest--read, inexhaustible obsession--in understanding why otherwise intelligent people make the choices they make in their personal and professional lives. “Why is it,” I wonder, “that we have so much more ability inside of us than we often choose to utilize?” And “How can we make the choices that allow us to tap into more of the potential inside ourselves, and in people everywhere?”
My mission to shed light on these questions had already led me to quit law school in England and travel, eventually, to California to do my graduate work at Stanford. It had led me to spend more than two years collaborating on a book, Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter. And it went on to inspire me to start a strategy and leadership company in Silicon Valley, where I now work with some of the most capable people in some of the most interesting companies in the world, helping to set them on the path of the Essentialist.
In my work I have seen people all over the world who are consumed and overwhelmed by the pressures all around them. I have coached “successful” people in the quiet pain of trying desperately to do everything, perfectly, now. I have seen people trapped by controlling managers and unaware that they do not “have to” do all the thankless busywork they are asked to do. And I have worked tirelessly to understand why so many bright, smart, capable individuals remain snared in the death grip of the nonessential.
What I have found has surprised me.
I worked with one particularly driven executive who got into technology at a young age and loved it. He was quickly rewarded for his knowledge and passion with more and more opportunities. Eager to build on his success, he continued to read as much as he could and pursue all he could with gusto and enthusiasm. By the time I met him he was hyperactive, trying to learn it all and do it all. He seemed to find a new obsession every day, sometimes every hour. And in the process, he lost his ability to discern the vital few from the trivial many. Everything was important. As a result he was stretched thinner and thinner. He was making a millimeter of progress in a million directions. He was overworked and under-utilized. That’s when I sketched out for him the image on the left of figure 1.
He stared at it for the longest time in uncharacteristic silence. Then he said, with more than a hint of emotion, “That is the story of my life!” Then I sketched the image on the right. “What would happen if we could figure out the one thing you could do that would make the highest contribution?” I asked him. He responded sincerely: “That is the question.”
1. A version of this story was published in a blog post I wrote for Harvard Business Review called “If You Don’t Prioritize Your Life, Someone Else Will,” June 28, 2012, http://blogs.hbr.org/2012/06/how-to-say-no-to-a-controlling/. --This text refers to the hardcover edition.
About the Author
- ASIN : B00HELB6XI
- Publisher : Virgin Digital; 15th edition (17 April 2014)
- Language : English
- File size : 7388 KB
- Text-to-Speech : Enabled
- Screen Reader : Supported
- Enhanced typesetting : Enabled
- X-Ray : Not Enabled
- Word Wise : Enabled
- Print length : 267 pages
- Page numbers source ISBN : 0753555166
- Best Sellers Rank: #620 in Kindle Store (See Top 100 in Kindle Store)
- Customer Reviews:
About the author
Reviewed in India on 2 February 2021
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It teaches in detail on how to set boundaries and say NO to social pressures!
It teaches how to make choices in life that matter to us.
It teaches (step by step) on how to choose activities that are meaningful to us and not just because everyone else is doing them.
I find this book is like a chapter from Stephen Covey's 'The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.' But an elaborated chapter. It is definitely a worthwhile read.
I bought the paperback version and the fonts and binding are okay.
Book Summary : Essentialism is a disciplined, systematic approach for determining where our highest point of contribution lies, then making execution of those things almost effortless.
1. 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.” Essentialism is about pausing constantly to ask, “Am I investing in the right activities?
2. Essentialism is not about how to get more things done; it’s about how to get the right things done. It doesn’t mean just doing less for the sake of less either. It is about making the wisest possible investment of your time and energy in order to operate at your highest point of contribution by doing only what is essential.
3. The way of the Essentialist means living by design, not by default. Instead of making choices reactively, the Essentialist deliberately distinguishes the vital few from the trivial many, eliminates the non-essentials, and then removes obstacles so the essential things have clear, smooth passage. The way of the Essentialist is the path to being in control of our own choices. It is a path to new levels of success and meaning. It is the path on which we enjoy the journey, not just the destination.
4. If you don’t prioritize your life, someone else will. "When we don’t purposefully and deliberately choose where to focus our energies and time, other people – our bosses, our colleagues, our clients, and even our families – will choose for us, and before long we’ll have lost sight of everything that is meaningful and important.
5. Before saying yes to anything, ask yourself, “Will this activity or effort make the highest possible contribution towards my goal?”
6. Essentialists ask, “What do I feel deeply inspired by?” and “What am I particularly talented at?” and “What meets a significant need in the world?
7. Essentialists invest the time they have saved into creating a system for removing obstacles and making execution as easy as possible.
8. Essentialism is not a way to do one more thing; it is a different way of doing everything. It is a way of thinking.
9. 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. Ask yourself, “If you could do only one thing with your life right now, what would you do?”
10. To become an Essentialist requires a heightened awareness of our ability to choose. When we forget our ability to choose, we learn to be helpless. Drip by drip we allow our power to be taken away until we end up becoming a function of other people’s choices—or even a function of our own past choices.”
11. A non-Essentialist thinks almost everything is essential. An Essentialist thinks almost everything is non-essential. We live in a world where almost everything is worthless and a very few things are exceptionally valuable. Many capable people are kept from getting to the next level of contribution because they can’t let go of the belief that everything is important.
12. Trade-Off—Which Problem Do I Want? : A non-Essentialist 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? Instead of asking, ‘What do I have to give up?’ Essentialists ask, ‘What do I want to go big on?’”
13. 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.”
14. Look—See What Really Matters : “Being a journalist of your own life will force you to stop hyper-focusing on all the minor details and see the bigger picture. One of the most obvious and yet powerful ways to become a journalist of our own lives is simply to keep a journal.”
15. Our highest priority is to protect our ability to prioritise. Select -The Power of Extreme Criteria : The 90 Percent Rule: “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 it. If it isn’t a clear yes, then it’s a clear no.
16. The killer question when deciding what activities to eliminate is: “If I didn’t have this opportunity, what would I be willing to do to acquire it?
17. Dare—The Power of a Graceful “No” : “Only once we separate the decision from the relationship can we make a clear decision and then separately find the courage and compassion to communicate it.” Essentialists accept they cannot be popular with everyone all of the time.
18. Uncommit—Win Big by Cutting Your Losses : 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. An Essentialist has the courage and confidence to admit his or her mistakes and uncommit, no matter the sunk costs.
19. Don’t ask, “How will I feel if I miss out on this opportunity?” but rather, “If I did not have this opportunity, how much would I be willing to sacrifice in order to obtain it?” Similarly, we can ask, “If I wasn’t already involved in this project, how hard would I work to get on it? Essentialists accept the reality that we can never fully anticipate or prepare for every scenario or eventuality; the future is simply too unpredictable.
20. Progress—The Power of Small Wins : “Instead of trying to accomplish it all—and all at once—and flaring out, the Essentialist starts small and celebrates progress. Instead of going for the big, flashy wins that don’t really matter, the Essentialist pursues small and simple wins in areas that are essential.”
Whatever decision or challenge or crossroads you face in your life, simply ask yourself, “What is essential?” Eliminate everything else.
The language is lucid and the chapters are explained with examples, charts and tables to make it easier for the reader's to understand various concepts.
By Ayantika Mukherjee on 3 February 2021
The language is lucid and the chapters are explained with examples, charts and tables to make it easier for the reader's to understand various concepts.
When we have clarity of purpose we tend to contribute our best. When our career progresses, we get multiple options, paths and these new options can lead us to diffused effort and reducing our chances of great success in future.
Though many of the concepts, pitfalls, opportunities, and examples are generally things we might already know of, the distinction that the author brings out through the tables mentioned above, make it interesting reading. Across a spectrum of work & family-based stories, examples, and experiences, the author has expressed his thoughts in a humble and vulnerable way. Looking forward to applying the concepts of essentialism! (as well as, Effortless, the next book by this author!)
Some parts were uninteresting and prolonged. Could've been better. There are other options to choose from, better ones i feel, on the similar kind of a topic.
If you're looking for something good to read, if you're a beginner, suggest you to go for it since the language and writing style in easily understandable.
Top reviews from other countries
1. I have become much better at saying no, but saying it nicely or without actually using the word!
2. I have become better at getting things done and prioritising what is and is not important to me (although that is still work in progress)
3. I have become better at time management.
4. I procrastinate less (not totally gone, but also work in progress)
All in all a very useful and thought provoking guide to help you take back control of areas of your life. It has certainly helped reduce my stresses and anxiety in life and I would strongly recommend reading if you are stressed or anxious.
"Charlie O. Simms taught a Journalism 101 class at Beverly Hills High School. He started... by explaining the concept of a "lead". He explained that a lead contains the why, what , when, and who of the piece. It covers the ESSENTIAL(my emphasis) information. Then he gave them their first assignment: write a lead to a story.
Simms began by presenting the facts of the story: "Kenneth L. Peters, the principal of Beverly Hills High School, announced today that the entire high school faculty will travel to Sacramento next Thursday for a colloquium in new teaching methods. Among the speakers will be anthropologist Margaret Mead, college president Dr. Robert Maynard Hutchins, and California governor Edmund 'Pa' Brown"
The students hammered away on their manual typewriters trying to keep up with the teacher's peace. Then they handed in their rapidly written leads. Each attempted to summarise the who, what where, and why as succinctly as possible: "Margaret Mead, Maynard Hutchins, and Governor Brown will address the faculty on ..."; "Next Thursday, the high school faculty will ..." Simms reviewed the students' leads and put them aside.
He then informed them that they were all wrong. The lead to the story, he said, was "There will be no school on Thursday."
"In that instant," Nora Ephron(of [Sleepless in Seattle] and [When Harry met Sally]) recalled, "I realised that journalism was not just about regurgitating the facts but about figuring out the POINT. It wasn't enough to know the who, what, when, and where; you had to understand what it MEANT. And why it MATTERED." Ephron added, "He taught me something that works just as well in life as it does in journalism." " p73-74
Disclaimer - I have not read a whole lot of management/self-improvement books, so I cannot say that I am a very good judge of the genre. There is a danger that this book is actually littered with tired old cliches that I hadn't noticed, in which case I shouldn't have bothered you with this. That said -
Self-improvement books are a strange breed - myself included, you so often see people who read one and then complain that the book only wrote about the really obvious things. In the same sense, however, homo sapiens are a strange breed who never quite do what they know to be the obviously good things for themselves. grin emoticon Enter, then, the study of management - the study on "coordination of the efforts of people to accomplish goals and objectives by using available resources efficiently and effectively". Sounds like self-improvement on a larger scale, but with the added benefit of providing results from well-designed research.
The author is a management consultant with an MBA degree from Stanford. Perhaps naturally, the book often reads like a business strategy book with plenty of case studies from the corporate world, but as Ephron says, those methods can easily be used for life in general. The book's message can be neatly summed up in one sentence - "Figure out what is really important and essential in your life, and eliminate everything else to focus your efforts and achieve maximum output/contribution to society". The rest of the book is just filled up by how to achieve that goal.
While 'the rest of the book' is coherently structured with a logical, well-suited flow and sensible, well-researched suggestions backed up by sociology/psychology research findings(these days it seems impossible to read something that doesn't quote [Flow] by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and [Thinking Fast and Slow] by Daniel Kahneman, although probably due to my reading interests. Perhaps I should just give up and add them to the reading list), some solutions that the author suggests will just sound implausible. One example is the importance of being able to say no to your boss so that you can concentrate on something more essential. Obviously, I cannot imagine myself doing so to my bosses, consultant surgeons. For some other solutions, I thought they can only be done when one is reasonably financially secure, so that he/she can take the risk/hit by cutting out/declining all the non-essential activities that regularly plague our lives. However, (as my stock-phrase goes) if we are to look at the moon instead of the finger pointing at the moon...
The part that really inspires me in this book is its single-minded pursuit and the determination for what constitutes the most important thing in our lives; what makes our lives meaningful for us(as illustrated in the above anecdote), and what will ultimately enable us to be useful to the rest of the humanity. Sure, it may not always be obvious to all of us, and the method of elimination the book suggests may not guarantee to lead us to an answer. In fact, our lives may quite possibly be meaningless! :-D Nevertheless, for me it is certainly worth a try.
The other aspects that left a strong impression for me was the authors repeated emphasis on how pursuing Essentialism is a choice, and the importance of EMOTIONAL(not intellectual) acceptance of the book's ideas for them to work - which is to say, as discussed at the beginning, it is not because we don't know what to do why we don't do them. There is always a choice, and we simply choose not to.
What worked better for me was Tony Crabbe’s Busy. This got more into the psychology of why people tend to overcommit, get distracted or avoid stuff in the first place. Tony Crabbe also uses coaching strategies to help the reader come up with their own solutions.
Sorry - Essentialism wasn’t for me! It may work for some though...