ESSENTIALISM

Overall, not the most thrilling book I've read, but there were a few good (albeit over-simplified and non-specific) points made around decision making, which taken with a pinch of salt may become valuable tools to implement. The introduction raised countless logical alarm bells for me so was a bit difficult to go through, but overall, I do think it was a decently spent afternoon. Would probably not recommend reading the physical book, either going for a (better-than-mine/legitimate) summary, or audio booking it at 3x the speed, you won't miss out on much.


Actionable takeaways:


- Try reading inspirational non-fiction first thing in the morning to ground you, give you perspective and put you in a creative mindset

- Try starting negotiations with yourself (and others) with the minset that there are no solutions, just trade-offs

- 20% of your work roughly translates to 80% of your results: identify this and pay attention and give your time accordingly

- Nothing fires up the brain like play, it increases brain plasticity, adaptability, and creativity

- You have more time, but less capacity to work when you're sleep deprived, a good night's sleep is essential - even a nap when you can manage it, can greatly help

- Straddling a strategy is when you try to adopt someone else's strategy without losing your own framework - this can be compeltely ineffective or even counterproductive

- The 90% Rule for decision making (when you are unsure) pick the most important criterion by which to judge that option can give it a score from 0-100. If that score is under 90, then equate it to 0 and move on

- If the option is more complex, write down three conditions which are essential for this option to need in order for it to be acceptable, and three for it to be extraordinary. It needs to pass 3/3 essential criteria and 2/3 non-essential criteria for you to accept it

- 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?

- Don't think "what will I say yes to?" think "what will I say no to?"

- Learn to say a quick no and a slow yes

- We're very bad at cutting losses, so think, "If I weren't invested in this, how much would I pay to get into it now?"

- Friction can be minimised by over-preparing (overstudy in advance)

- When researching for a creative endevour, you don't need to go all in immediately, you can release snippets and see how people react, then you can focus on the ones with the most reaction and see how they do and on and on before doing the whole work


What Essentialism means


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 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.


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. We become “good old [insert name],” who is always there when you need him, and we are presented with increased options and opportunities.


PHASE 3: When we have increased options and opportunities, which is actually code for demands upon our time and energies, 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 effect of our success has been to undermine the very clarity that led to our success in the first place.


“In a few hundred years, when the history of our time will be written from a long-term perspective, it is likely that the most important event historians will see is not technology, not the Internet, not e commerce. It is an unprecedented change in the human condition. For the first time-literally—substantial and rapidly growing numbers of people have choices. For the first time, they will have to manage themselves. And society is totally unprepared for it.”


We can either make our choices deliberately or allow other peoples agendas to control our lives.


Yet at a certain point, more effort causes our progress to plateau and even stall. It s true that the idea of a direct correlation between results and effort is appealing. It seems fair. Yet research across many fields paints a very different picture. Most people have heard of the Pareto Principle, the idea, introduced as far back as the 1790s by Vilfredo Pareto, that 20percent of our efforts produce 80 percent of results.


On adopting ineffective strategies


Harvard Business School professor Michel Porter terms “straddling” their strategy. In the simplest terms, straddling means keeping your existing strategy intact while simultaneously also trying to adopt the strategy of a competitor.


As economist Thomas Sowell wrote: There are no solutions. There are only trade offs.


On morning routines


If setting aside a full week seems overwhelming or impossible, there are ways of putting a little Think Week into every day. One practice I've found useful is simply to read something from classic literature (not a blog, or the newspaper, or the latest beach novel) for the first twenty minutes of the day. It broadens my perspective and reminds me of themes and ideas that are essential enough to have withstood the test of time. My preference is for inspirational literature.


On observation


Essentialists are powerful observers and listeners. Knowing that thereality of trade offs means they can't possibly pay attention to everything, they listen deliberately for what is not being explicitly stated. They read between the lines. Or as Hermione Granger, of Harry Potter fame (an unlikely Essentialist, I'll grant you, but an Essentialist in this regard all the same), puts it, "Actually I'm highly logical, which allows me to look past extraneous detail and perceive clearly that which others overlook."


Nonessentialists listen too. But they listen while preparing to saysomething. They get distracted by extraneous noise. They hyperfocus on inconsequential details. They hear the loudest voice but they getthe wrong message. In their eagerness to react they miss the point. Asa result they may, using a metaphor from C. S. Lewis, run around with fire extinguishers in times of flood.


I asked her to share the secret tips of her trade based on her years of experience capturing the real story amid all of the surface noise. Her reaction was encouraging: she said finding the lead and spotting the essential information are skills that can be acquired. She said, you need knowledge. Getting to the essence of a story takes a deep understanding of the topic, its context, its fit into the bigger picture, and its relationship to different fields. So she would read all the related news and try to spot the one piece of information that all others had missed or hadn't focused enough on. My goal, she said, was to understand the spiderweb of the story because that is what allowed me to spot any abnormal or unusual detail or behavior that didn't quite fit into the natural course of the story. It's crucial, Mariam says, to seek a different perspective on a given story, one that would shed the light on the topic in a fresh, different or thought provoking way. One trick she uses is role play: she puts herself in the shoes of all the main players in a story in order to better understand their motives, reasoning, and points of view.


On play


Play: what we do simply for the joy of doing rather than a means to an end

But in fact play is essential in many ways. Stuart Brown, the founder of the National Institute for Play, has studied what are called the play histories of some six thousand individuals and has concluded that play has th epower to significantly improve everything from personal health to relationships to education to organizations ability to innovate. Play, he says, leads to brain plasticity, adaptability, and creativity. As he succinctly puts it, Nothing fires up the brain like play.


Or as Albert Einstein once said: When I examine myself andmy methods of thought, I come to the conclusion that the gift of fantasy has meant more to me than my talent for absorbing positive knowledge


On sleep


Shattering the Sleep Stigma: So if protecting the asset is so important, why do we give up our precious sleep so easily? For over achievers part of the reason may be that they simply subscribe to the false belief, as I did, that if they sleep less they will achieve more. Yet there are ample reasons to challenge this assumption, like the growing body of research demonstrating that a good night s sleep actually makes us more productive, not less.


In just one example, a report from the Proceedings of the National Academy ofSciences revealed that even a single REM or rapid eye movement cycle enhanced the integration of unassociated information. Even a brief period of deep sleep, in other words, helps us make the kinds of new connections that allow us to better explore our world.


Ee have been talking about how to explore and evaluate options in order to discern the essential few from the many trivial, mediocre, or even just good. By definition this is a process of prioritisation. It includes the challenge of filtering options that, at first glance, all look important. Yet as the logic of an Essentialist explains, in reality there are only a few things of exceptional value, with most everything else being of far less importance. The problem with being sleep deprived is that it compromises our ability to tell the difference, and thus our precious ability to prioritize. Sleep will enhance your ability to explore, make connections, and do less but better throughout your waking hours.


The 90% rule


You can think of this as the 90 Percent Rule, and it s one you can apply to just about every decision or dilemma. 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. This way you avoid getting caught up in indecision, or worse, getting stuck with the 60s or 70s.


Making our criteria both selective and explicit affords us a systematic tool for discerning what is essential and filtering out the things that are not.


But if we just say yes because it is an easy reward, we run the risk of having to later say no to a more meaningful one.


How to make decisions


Here's a simple, systematic process you can use to apply selective criteria to opportunities that come your way. First, write down the opportunity. Second, write down a list of three minimum criteria the options would need to pass in order to be considered. Third, write down a list of three ideal or extreme criteria the options would need to pass in order to be considered. By definition, if the opportunity doesn't pass the first set of criteria, the answer is obviously no. But if it also doesn't pass two of your three extreme criteria, the answer is still no.


What are the ideal criteria for this option to be approved?

What are your minimum criteria for this option to beconsidered?

What opportunity is being offered to you?


If you're not quite ready to part with that metaphorical blazer, ask the killer question: "If I didn't already own this, how much would I spend to buy it?”


Likewise, in your life, 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?”


So once you have sufficiently explored your options, the question you should be asking yourself is not: What, of my list of competing priorities, should I say yes to? Instead, ask the essential question: What will I say no to? This is the question that will uncover your true priorities. It is the question that will reveal the best path forward for your team. It is the question that will uncover your true purpose and help you make the highest level of contribution not only to your own goals but to the mission of your organisation. It is that question that can deliver therare and precious clarity necessary to achieve game changing breakthroughs in your career, and in your life.


An essential intent, on the other hand, is both inspirational and concrete, both meaningful and measurable. Done right, an essential intent is one decision that settles one thousand later decisions. eg. "To get everyone in the U. K. online by the end of 2012.”


Once the big decision is made, all subsequent decisions come into better focus.


For example, if your manager comes to you and asks you to do X, you can respond with Yes, I m happy to make this the priority. Which of these other projects should I deprioritize to pay attention tothis new project? Or simply say, I would want to do a great job, andgiven my other commitments I wouldn t be able to do a job I wasproud of if I took this on.


Tom Friel, the former CEO of Heidrick Struggles, once said to me, We need to learn the slow yes and the quick no.


On ownership and cutting losses


Asks, If I weren't already invested in this project, how much would I invest in it now? Thinks, What else could I do with this time or money if I pulled the plug now? Comfortable with cutting losses.


A sense of ownership is a powerful thing. As the saying goes, nobody in the history of the world has washed their rental car!


It turned out the students whoowned the mugs refused to sell for less than 5.25, while those without the cups were willing to pay only 2.25 to 2.75.


There should be no shame in admitting to a mistake; after all, wereally are only admitting that we are now wiser than we once were.


You must choose which to use. When asked, Which ski trip will you go on? more than half said they would opt for the more expensive trip, eventhough they would enjoy it less. Their (faulty) reasoning was that using the cheaper ticket would be wasting more money than using the expensive ticket. It s natural not to want to let go of what we wasted on a bad choice, but when we don't, we doom ourselves to keep wasting even more.


On cutting out on-essentials


You must, as Stephen King has said:

Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribblers heart, kill your darlings.
To write is human, to edit is divine.

In other words, once you ve figured out which activities and efforts to keep in your life, you have to have a system for executing them. You can t wait until that closet is bursting at the seams and then take superhuman efforts to purge it. You have to have a system in place so that keeping it neat becomes routine and effortless.


Creating a buffer


The way of the Essentialist is different. The Essentialist looks ahead. She plans. She prepares for different contingencies. She expects the unexpected. She creates a buffer to prepare for the unforeseen, thus giving herself some wiggle room when things come up, as they inevitably do.


Of the variety of explanations for why we underestimate the amount of time something will take, I believe social pressure is themost interesting. One study found that if people estimated anonymously how long it would take to complete a task they were no longer guilty of the planning fallacy. This implies that often we actually know we can't do things in a given time frame, but we don't want to admit it to someone. Whatever the reasons, the result is that we tend to be later than we say we will be: later to meetings, later to deliver things at work, later in paying our bills, and so on. Thus execution becomes frustrating when it could have been frictionless. One way to protect against this is simply to add a 50 percent buffer to the amount of time we estimate it will take to complete a task or project.


Essentialists accept the reality that we can never fully anticipate or prepare for every scenario or eventuality; the future is simply too unpredictable. Instead, they build in buffers to reduce the friction caused by the unexpected.


What is the slowest hiker in your job or your life? What is the obstacle that is keeping you back from achieving what really matters to you? By systematically identifying and removing this constraint you'll be able to significantly reduce the friction keeping you from executing what is essential.


Research has shown that of all forms of human motivation the most effective one is progress.


On creating


For example, when I was still in the exploratory mode of the book, before I'd even begun to put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard), I would share a short idea (my minimal viable product) on Twitter. If it seemed to resonate with people there, I would write a blog piece on Harvard Business Review. Through this iterative process, which required very little effort, I was able to find where there seemed to be a connection between what I was thinking and what seemed to have the highest relevancy in other people's lives. It is the process Pixar uses on their movies. Instead of starting with a script, they start with storyboards-or what have been described as the comic book version of a movie. They try ideas out and see what works. They do this in small cycles hundreds of times. Then they put out a movie to small groups of people to give them advance feedback. This allows them to learn as quickly as possible with as little effort as possible. As John Lasseter, the chief creative officer at Pixar and now Disney, said, “We don't actually finish our films, we release them.”


On time


Essentialist is to tune into the present. To experience life in airos, not just chronos. To focus on the things thatare truly important not yesterday or tomorrow, but right now.


Yet his isn't simply the story of how practice and experience lead to mastery. Watching him work, you see someone entirely in the moment. Essentialists live their whole lives in this manner. And because they do, they can apply their full energy to the job at hand. They don't diffuse their efforts with distractions. They know that execution iseasy if you work hard at it and hard if you work easy at it.


Multitasking itself is not the enemy of Essentialism; pretending we can multifocus is.

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