Book notes: Essentialism by Greg McKeown

Essentialism by Greg McKeown book summary review and key ideas.

Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown

Synopsis:

“Have you ever found yourself stretched too thin? Do you simultaneously feel overworked and underutilized? Are you often busy but not productive? Do you feel like your time is constantly being hijacked by other people’s agendas? If you answered yes to any of these, the way out is the Way of the Essentialist. The Way of the Essentialist isn’t about getting more done in less time. It’s about getting only the right things done. It is not a time management strategy, or a productivity technique. It is a systematic discipline for discerning what is absolutely essential, then eliminating everything that is not, so we can make the highest possible contribution towards the things that really matter.

By forcing us to apply a more selective criteria for what is Essential, the disciplined pursuit of less empowers us to reclaim control of our own choices about where to spend our precious time and energy – instead of giving others the implicit permission to choose for us. Essentialism is not one more thing – it’s a whole new way of doing everything. It’s about doing less, but better, in every area of our lives. Essentialism is a movement whose time has come.” -Audible


Opening thoughts:

This has been on Audible my wish list for a while, and I thought it would be a good time to read while in lockdown. Hopefully, I can come out of it with a more simplified perspective, drilling down to the essentials.


Key notes:

Chapter 1: The Essentialist

  • Reader’s note: Okay, he just spent a couple minutes talking about how saying no to things that don’t seem a priority and choosing to focus on things that are important makes him more effective and productive. I really hope that this book isn’t just this point and then several hours of fluff. If it’s just to have focus, I’ll be very disappointed. I hope there’s some meat and insight beyond what’s obvious here.
  • Life your life by design, not by default
  • If you don’t prioritize your life, someone else will
  • The paradox of success:
    • Phase 1: When we really have clarity of purpose, it enables us to succeed at our endeavor
    • Phase 2: When we have success, we gain a reputation as a go-to person
      • Then we are presented with increased options and opportunities
    • Phase 3: When we have increased options and opportunities, it leads to diffused efforts. We get spread thinner and thinner
    • Phase 4: We become distracted from what would otherwise be our highest level of contribution
  • The pursuit of success can be the catalyst for failure
    • Success can distract us from focusing on the essential things that produce success in the first place
  • As a society we are suffering from information overload and opinion overload due to increased connectivity from technology
  • Three steps:
    1. Explore and evaluate
    2. Eliminate
    3. Execute

Chapter 2: Choose – The Invincible Power of Choice

  • While we may not always have control over our options, we always have control over how we choose among them
  • The first and most crucial skill you’ve learned on this journey is to develop your ability to choose choice

Chapter 3: Discern – The Unimportance of Practically Everything

  • Reference to the Pareto Principle or the 80/20 Rule
  • The Power Law Theory: certain efforts actually produce exponentially better results than others

Chapter 4: Trade-off – Which Problem Do I Want?

  • Focusing on one strategy instead of trying to straddle multiple requires necessary sacrifice and trade-offs
  • Instead of asking “what do I want to give up?” ask “what do I want to go big on?”

Part Two: Explore

  • Essentialists spend as much time as possible exploring, listening, debating, questioning, and thinking
    • The purpose is to discern the vital few from the trivial many

Chapter 5: Escape – The Perks of Being Unavailable

  • The faster and busier things get, the more we need to build thinking time into our schedule

Chapter 6: Look – See What Really Matters

Chapter 7: Play – Embrace the Wisdom of Your Inner Child

  • A truly playful culture sparks creativity
  • Play is something you do simply for the enjoyment and not as a means to an end
  • Play can significantly improve everything from personal health, relationships, education, an organization’s ability to innovate
    • Play leads to brain plasticity, adaptability, and creativity
    • Nothing fires up the brain like play
  • Often times we feel most alive and make up our best memories are moments of play
  • Mine your past for play memories
    • What did you do as a child that excited you?
    • How can you recreate that today?

Chapter 8: Sleep – Protect the Asset

  • We must protect ourselves, our greatest asset: our mind, body, and health
  • High-performers deliberately and systematically build sleep into their schedules
  • Reader’s note: This is very related to the book I just read Why We Sleep
  • Lack of sleep compromises our ability to prioritize

Chapter 9: Select – The Power of Extreme Criteria

  • Having highly selective criteria forces you to make decisions by design rather than by default

Part Three: Eliminate

  • Ask yourself: If I didn’t already own it, how much would I be willing to spend to get it?
    • Similarly, if I didn’t have this opportunity, what would I be willing to do to acquire it?

Chapter 10: Clarify – One Decision That Makes A Thousand

  • Essential Intent is simple, concrete, inspiring, and easily measured
    • It gives everyone on the team clarity on exactly what they were trying to do so that they could coordinate their energies and actions to eliminate everything else
      • It gives clarity of purpose

Chapter 11: Dare – The Power of a Graceful “No”

“Courage is grace under pressure”

Ernest Hemingway
  • People are effective because they say “no”
  • When we have to say “no”, there is sometimes a trade-off of short-term popularity and long-term respect

Chapter 12: 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
  • The Endowment Effect: our tendency to undervalue things that aren’t ours, and over-value things because we already own them
  • The Status Quo Bias is the tendency to continue to do something simply because we’ve always done it
  • Zero-Based Budgeting is when every expense in line item needs to be justified for the next year and not using last year as a baseline

Chapter 13: Edit – The Invisible Art

  • An editor is relentless in the pursuit of making every word count

Chapter 14: Limit – The Freedom of Setting Boundaries

  • Setting boundaries is hard but necessary to be more effective
  • Don’t rob other people of their problems that they should be responsible for solving

Part Four: Execute

Chapter 15: Buffer – The Unfair Advantage

  • We have a tendency to underestimate the time we think we need even if we know it might take us longer
    • One strategy is to allocate a 50% buffer

Chapter 16: Subtract – Bring Forth More by Removing Obstacles

“To obtain knowledge, add something every day. To obtain wisdom, subtract something every day”

Lao Tzu
  • Systematically identify and remove or improve the bottlenecks or constraints that hold you back in your life, system, or organization
  • The essentialist doesn’t focus on the efforts or resources we need to add, but rather the constraints or obstacles we need to remove
  • Identify essential intent and the slowest hiker

Chapter 17: Progress – The Power of Small Wins

  • The two primary internal motivators for people are achievement and recognition for achievement
  • Focus on minimum viable progress: what is the smallest amount of progress that will be useful and valuable to the essential task we are trying to get done?
  • Visually reward progress

Chapter 18: Flow – The Genius of Routine

“Routine in an intelligent man is a sign of ambition”

W. H. Ordon
  • Routine is one of the most powerful tools for removing obstacles
    • Routines and habit free up cognitive space to focus on other things
  • Do the most difficult thing first
  • You can change up your routine to have themes for different days
    • Tackle one routine at a time

Chapter 19: Focus – What’s Important Now?

  • W.I.N. = what’s important now
  • To operate at your highest level of contribution requires that you deliberately tune in to what is important in the here and now
  • We can multitask but we cannot multi-focus

“In work, do what you enjoy. In family life, be completely present”

Lao Tzu

Chapter 20: Be – The Essentialist Life

“Beware the barrenness of a busy life”

Socrates
  • When you become an essentialist, you’ll find yourself doing things that others don’t do and vice versa

Main ideas / Themes:

  • Life your life by design, not by default
  • develop your ability to choose choice
  • Play can significantly improve everything from personal health, relationships, education, an organization’s ability to innovate. Often times we feel most alive and make up our best memories are moments of play
  • High-performers deliberately and systematically build sleep into their schedules
  • Having highly selective criteria forces you to make decisions by design rather than by default
  • Essential Intent gives everyone clarity of purpose so that they could coordinate their energies and actions to eliminate everything else
  • Setting boundaries is hard but necessary to be more effective
  • Systematically identify and remove or improve the bottlenecks or constraints that hold you back in your life, system, or organization
  • Focus on minimum viable progress: what is the smallest amount of progress that will be useful and valuable to the essential task we are trying to get done?
  • Do the most difficult thing first
  • W.I.N. = what’s important now

Closing thoughts:

This was a really good book for effectiveness and productivity. Reminds me of the book The One Thing which essentially says to focus on what matters, and making decisions that eliminate a thousand others. If you do what’s important, the rest doesn’t matter.

A key part of this book is also identifying and eliminating what slows you down and isn’t toward the primary goal you’ve identified. There are also several other helpful ideas like play, taking care of your health, essential intent, highly selective criteria, and doing difficult things first. Lastly, I think focusing on what’s important in the moment (aka W.I.N.) is super helpful.

Even though it seems like I’ve just been recommending all the books I read, I think it’s a good thing because at least I don’t feel like I’m wasting my time reading books I don’t enjoy or don’t add value. Also, I’d like to thing everything I review has some value for my blog readers.

Side note: if you enjoy my book notes, please let me know! I enjoy receiving all kinds of feedback and suggestions.

I do highly recommend this book for anyone interested in being more productive and and effective. Or even just simply figuring out what’s truly important and worth your time.


One Takeaway / Putting into practice:

There are a ton of great strategies and tactics to put into play from this book. However, my choice is something I feel like might help me out a lot when thinking about what keeps getting me stuck:

  • Focus on minimum viable progress: what is the smallest amount of progress that will be useful and valuable to the essential task we are trying to get done?

I need to focus on just taking small steps, aka doing an M.V.P. instead of getting overwhelmed at large, daunting tasks.


Nutshell:

Essentialism is the pursuit of less in order to accomplish more.


Similar books:


Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

4/5


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6 thoughts on “Book notes: Essentialism by Greg McKeown”

    1. Thank you! Yeah, I really enjoyed it. I haven’t read the one thing in a while, it’s been 4-5 years and I don’t even have notes on it, so it probably merits another read for me.

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