Book Review: Essentialism the Disciplined Pursuit of Less
This post, is a part of my thinking and research for my new book, centred around the tensions between productivity and creativity. You can follow other related entries here.
If you’ve read my blog for any length of time, you’ve probably noted that I tend to be interested in a million and one things. In the past, having a broad (and random) knowledge base has come in handy on client projects or in my writing, but it has also been a huge detriment to my productivity. I want to try and do so many things that I get overwhelmed and end up not making progress on anything. Last year, I stumbled upon a book called “Essentialism: the disciplined pursuit of less” by Greg McKeown and it has had such a big impact on my life that I wanted to share my top three take-aways.
From the back jacket cover:
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. A must-read for any leader, manager, or individual who wants to learn who to do less, but better, in every area of their lives, Essentialism is a movement whose time has come.
The book guides you through a process that involves three phases: explore/evaluate, eliminate, and execute.
- Explore/Evaluate: Essentialist give themselves the opportunities to explore a wide variety of activities and ideas before they narrow down to their final selection. They never commit to anything without first thoroughly analysing how it fits within their goals and objectives.
- Eliminate: Identifying the things you want to work on is not enough, you have to then eliminate the activities that don’t make the list. This includes unnecessary meetings, social obligations, or other projects. Greg recommends focusing only on the “vital few.”
- Execute: The last part of the process involves actually doing the work. Essentialist have the discipline to stick to their focus and refuse to be sidetracked by unexpected requests or opportunities that will distract them from their goals.
I found the model to be helpful and easy to implement. My brain is always racing with so many ideas that it’s easy for me to get caught up in something that isn’t important in the grand scheme of things. I realized that if I was going to accomplish anything substantial, I would have to cut a lot of other stuff out – even if they were fun activities.
1) Create the Space to Think
One of the most important lessons I took from this book was to schedule in blocks of time to think, evaluate, and explore. It today’s productivity-obsessed culture it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking you have to fill up every minute of the day with work or social activities. In my group of friends everyone is running around so much that the term “so busy” has become a joke. Every week, I go over to my favorite coffee shop for a few hours to catch up on my reading, write morning pages, and just take some time to think about how everything is going. That time has become extremely valuable in gaining clarity about the things I want to pursue- and those I have to let go.
2) Prioritize Your Life or Someone Else Will
Unfortunately, we live in a work culture that has trained us to be hyper-reactive to all communications, meeting requests, and projects. People expect instant responses to their requests, even if that means interrupting your work on something important. For this reason, establishing clear prioritize for yourself is essential in getting things done. For me, hitting my daily word count and with working out are two big priorities. I will try to complete those before tackling emails and calls. That way, I always know that I’ve made good progress on the things that matter, without getting caught up meetings and requests.
I have stopped saying that I am “so busy.” Tim Ferris has said that a lack of time indicates a lack of priorities and going through the Essentialism process, I now wholeheartedly agree. If you don’t make time for your dreams, your health, your friends and your family – you’ll definitely pay for it later. (Coincidentally, ignoring those things are the most common regrets of the dying.)
3) Embrace the Power of No
It’s completely liberating to say no. Saying no to the things you don’t want to do is easy, the real hard part is saying no to the things you actually want to do because there are other things that are more important. For me, finishing my novel last year was one of the biggest accomplishments of my life. To do so I had to be very realistic about my limited free time since we were still writing and finalizing The Decoded Company. So I said no to a bunch of other stuff I wanted to do: spanish lessons, drawing class, learning the ukulele – I love all of these things but writing my novel was more important. It was cutting those stuff out that allowed me to focus and push through and write nearly 100,000 words in my spare time.
This year, I have a few projects around digital culture that I’m toying with, not to mention I want to write another novel, so I’m forcing myself to really evaluate how much time these projects will take before committing to starting them. Ultimately, this book has been a big in deciding what to pursue and what to let go. Prioritizing your dreams is a hard exercise, but an essential one if you want the chance to truly pursue them.
Bonus: Download a free copy of Greg’s “12 Myths that Lead to an Unfulfilling Life,”