10 Key Takeaways From Essentialism

In today’s fast-paced world, most people are always on the go, striving to do more, and be more to better their existence. With a to-do list that’s full to bursting point, there’s always something more that we feel we need or should be doing.

In his book Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, author Greg McKeown asks a question: “What if we stopped celebrating being busy as a measurement of importance?”

Essentialism is a radical guide on simplifying life so that anyone can achieve their goals by only focusing on what truly matters. His approach champions self-care, minimalism, fiercely protecting time. Central lessons in McKeown’s teachings are taking the time to know what is most important to focus on, then choosing to focus on those things above all else. It may sound obvious to sleep, know your priorities and stop to smell the roses, but in today’s hyper-fast “want more, do more, be more” culture, it is too easy to get swept away in the rat race of business.

My key Takeaways from Essentialism by Greg McKeown:

Takeaway #1: Less Is More

In today's fast-paced world where multi-tasking is the norm and schedules are filled to the brim in an effort to achieve more, get more, and be more (all in the quest for supposed happiness) we need to remember that having 'everything' will not make us happy. Slow down and allow yourself to focus on what is essential for your happiness and well-being as you work on eliminating the junk that keeps you busy!

Takeaway #2: Do Less But Do It Better

Stop taking tiny steps forward in multiple directions instead, make great leaps forward in the things that matter to you and that you can excel in. Question your motives often by asking yourself 'do I choose to or do I have to?' You want to be eliminating items from the 'I have to' or 'I should' list aka the path of helplessness and doing more of what you choose.

Takeaway #3: Accept Tradeoffs

You can achieve a remarkable level of success by doing only a few vital things very well but you have to be able to accept and make tradeoffs. When you're doing your chosen things well, don't fall into the trap of thinking you can now take on more and still do everything well.

Takeaway #4: Schedule Escapism

Boredom can be good for you! Having time to do absolutely nothing except think allows you the time to get off the rat race and think clearly as you work out the bigger picture of what's important in your life and what's not. To help, keep a journal but instead of writing as much as possible, write as little as possible.

Takeaway #5: Schedule Play Time

Just like having time to think, time to play is essential too. Playtime allows you to develop novel connections between ideas resulting in inspiration, it helps you to de-stress, to analyze and then prioritize tasks.

Takeaway #6: Schedule Zzzz's

Some people think of sleep as a waste of time, a luxury they cannot afford but this way of thinking is counterproductive as sleep increases your ability to think and actually results in increased activity the next day!

Takeaway #7: Get Ruthless

Don't fall into the trap of thinking that all of your tasks, responsibilities, and belongings are essential. Use the 90% rule to help eliminate items/tasks - anything that scores less than an 89 out of 100 has to go). Alternatively, say to yourself that if you don't get a strong yes the answer is a strong no.

Takeaway #8: Learn to Say No

In order to get good at saying no to non-essential items you need to learn how to separate the decision from the relationship. 10 minutes of regret, worrying that you've disappointed someone or that you're missing out ensures you don't spend 60 minutes plus regretting something you've said yes to!

Takeaway #9: Admit Your Errors Fast

Have you carried on doing something that you knew wasn't working just because you didn't want to be seen to give up or give in? Forget about fixing failures and instead, admit your errors fast so that you can self-correct and move on with courage.

Takeaway #10: Clarity

How will you know when you've reached your goal? If you can answer this question you have the clarity to succeed.

Key Points From Essentialism

  • Very few things are vital to achieving your goals and maintaining your wellbeing. By doing less you can achieve better, more fulfilling results.
  • Focus on these 4 points of essentialism: 1. Do fewer things, but do them well; 2. Excel in your chosen direction rather than making tiny steps in multiple directions; 3. Continue to question if what you’re doing is a productive use of your time and energy; 4. Put changes in place to ensure you accomplish your vital tasks.
  • If you feel you “should” or “have to” do something you are weakening your ability to choose. When you only say ‘Yes’ to the things that serve you and no to everything that doesn’t, you hold the power.
  • Choose trade-offs and concentrate on what you’re good at. Practice the key of doing a few things exceptionally well rather than trying to do everything.
  • Schedule time and space in your daily routine to reflect and simply think about life. Ponder where your energy and time have been miss-spent. It will allow you to get creative and refocus on the bigger picture.
  • Be ruthless when it comes to cutting unnecessary things out of your life. Use the 90% rule (everything that is less than 90% certainty that you’d use again) to clear the clutter in all areas of your life.
  • Let go of non-essential responsibilities, tasks, and habits that stop you from reaching your goals. Set an essential intent so that you’re clear about your goals. Make sure your essential intent is both inspirational and clear by asking yourself ‘how will I know when I’ve reached my goal?
  • Elevate your listening and observation skills. (Essentialists are powerful observers and listeners. They read between the lines and listen deliberately for what is not being explicitly stated. In contrast, Nonessentialists listen while preparing to say something).
  • Play is an antidote to stress. It is a vital tool for inspiration and can be used to free your mind so you can work out what’s important to you.
  • Sleep is a priority; sleep breeds creativity and enables the highest levels of effectiveness and contribution. (“An hour of sleep is equal to several hours of productivity;)
  • Embrace “Hell Yes or No” - if you feel total and utter conviction to do something, then you say yes. Otherwise it’s a graceful No.
  • Set clear boundaries so you don’t continue to invest in something that is not working. Set the rules in advance to eliminate the need for a direct no.
  • As you execute the principles of essentialism, be prepared for unexpected obstacles and for essential tasks to take longer to complete than you thought. Give yourself a 50% buffer of time. (People have the tendency to underestimate how long a task will take, even when they have done the task before.)
  • Build upon your previous progress with small, incremental steps. Small wins give you the confidence to continue and allow you to make sure you’re on the right track.
  • Be clear about what your purpose is. Otherwise you would not know what to clear and how to prioritize.
  • Courage is a key in the process of elimination. Essentialists have the courage and confidence to admit their mistakes and uncommit.
  • Learn to cut your losses, whether it is relationships or money.
  • Build routines that prioritize the essential and design systems to make execution effortless. Reduce the friction from executing what is essential.

In-Depth Insight

If it isn't a clear yes, then it's a clear no..

Not all of your responsibilities, tasks, and belongings are essential but you have to be ruthless when it comes to cutting things out. Think about the last time you cleared your closet, you’ve probably heard of the rule that states, ‘if you haven’t worn it in a year, get rid of it’ but putting that into practice is much harder than it seems. You’ve likely made exceptions for certain items of clothing that you haven’t worn in far longer than a year such as that wedding outfit, or the item of clothing that no longer fits you resulting in the closet remaining much fuller than it would be if you’d stuck firmly to the 1 year rule.

The only way to beat this mindset is to be extreme, ruthless. Apply the 90% rule to clear the clutter in all areas of your life. This means giving everything a score of 0-100, using the closet scenario you would pick up an item and ask yourself ‘Am I ever going to use this again?’ and give the item a score between 0-100, 0 being a firm never and 100 being a definite yes. Anything that scores less than 90 gets discarded.

You could also use the ‘clear yes / clear no’ method which says that if your decision isn’t a clear yes (yes I’ll definitely wear that again) then it becomes a clear no and goes. Try putting it into action by making a list of 3 minimum things that an item must have in order to keep it i.e it’s stylish, it fits me well, I’m not embarrassed to wear it plus 3 ideal things that you want the item to meet i.e I wear it often, it’s in good condition, I look good in it. In order for an item to remain in your closet, it must meet the 3 minimum requirements as well as 2 or more of the ideal requirements.

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Essentialism Chapters

Chapter One - The Essentialist
Chapter Two - Choose: The Invincible Power of Choice
Chapter Three - Discern: The Unimportance of Practically Everything
Chapter Four - Trade-Off: Which Problem Do I Want?
Chapter Five - Escape: The Perks of Being Unavailable
Chapter Six - Look: See What Really Matters
Chapter Seven - Play: Embrace the Wisdom of Your Inner Child
Chapter Eight - Sleep: Protect the Asset
Chapter Nine - Select: The Power of Extreme Criteria
Chapter Ten - Clarify: One Decision That Makes a Thousand
Chapter Eleven - Dare: The Power of a Grateful "No"
Chapter Twelve - Uncommit: Win Big by Cutting Your Losses
Chapter Thirteen - Edit: The Invisible Art
Chapter Fourteen - Limit: The Freedom of Setting Boundaries
Chapter Fifteen - Buffer: The Unfair Advantage
Chapter Sixteen - Subtract: Bring Forth More by Removing Obstacles
Chapter Seventeen - Progress: The Power of Small Wins
Chapter Eighteen - Flow: The Genius Routine
Chapter Nineteen - Focus: What's Important Now?
Chapter Twenty - Be: The Essentialist Life

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My Favorite Quotes from Essentialism

"..It's 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."

"Just because I was invited didn’t seem a good enough reason to attend.. 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."

"Done is better than perfect."

"Sometimes what you don’t do is just as important as what you do."

"If it isn’t a clear yes, then it’s a clear no."

"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?"

"Remember that if you don’t prioritize your life someone else will... The way of the Essentialist means living by design, not by default."

"Today, technology has lowered the barrier for others to share their opinion about what we should be focusing on. It is not just information overload; it is opinion overload."

"What do I feel deeply inspired by?"
"What am I particularly talented at?"
"What meets a significant need in the world?"

"Essentialists see trade-offs as an inherent part of life, not as an inherently negative part of life. Instead of asking, “What do I have to give up?” they ask, “What do I want to go big on?

― Greg Mckeown, Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less

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Editor and Founder

Tal Gur is a location independent entrepreneur, author, and impact investor. After trading his daily grind for a life of his own daring design, he spent a decade pursuing 100 major life goals around the globe. His most recent book and bestseller, The Art of Fully Living - 1 Man, 10 Years, 100 Life Goals Around the World, has set the stage for his new mission: elevating the next generation of leaders to their true potential.

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