Three Take-Aways: Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less

Reading Time: 3 minutes

“The way of the Essentialist is the relentless pursuit of less but better.” – Essentialism

“You cannot overestimate the unimportance of practically everything.” – Essentialism

This is meant to be more of a book report, than a review.  In particular, I want to highlight three key take-aways from the book, Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown, that I found impactful.  This also serves as a way for me to recall influential points in the book.

  1. Trade-Offs & Boundaries

Trade-offs and boundaries are good things.  Acknowledging that everything is a series of trade-offs will help you not try to do it all and be more thoughtful about where you do spend your energy.This one is pretty intuitive for me, maybe because of my training as an engineer.

However, I can definitely work on setting better boundaries.  The pandemic and work from home have not helped keep clear boundaries.  This is one I will need to work on a bit.  

“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?” The cumulative impact of this small change in thinking can be profound.”

“Mastering this Essentialist skill, perhaps more than any other in this section, requires us to be vigilant about acknowledging the reality of trade-offs. By definition, applying highly selective criteria is a trade-off; sometimes you will have to turn down a seemingly very good option and have faith that the perfect option will soon come along.”

“Essentialists, on the other hand, see boundaries as empowering. They recognize that boundaries protect their time from being hijacked and often free them from the burden of having to say no to things that further others’ objectives instead of their own.”

  1. Priorities

However, before you can really evaluate trade-offs and set boundaries, you need to have a clearer sense of your priorities and values.  Without knowing what you want to focus on, want to accomplish, want to contribute etc., one cannot effectively prioritize.  

“If you don’t prioritize your life, someone else will.”

“What if society encouraged us to reject what has been accurately described as doing things we detest, to buy things we don’t need, with money we don’t have, to impress people we don’t like? What if we stopped being oversold the value of having more and being undersold the value of having less?”

“The first type of nonessential you’re going to learn how to eliminate is simply any activity that is misaligned with what you are intending to achieve.”

I most definitely need to spend some time on this one.  Here were two good thoughts about figuring this out.

“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.”

  1. Step Back And Apply An Editorial Mindset

There is a reason newspapers and book publishers use editors.  Sometimes, you need someone who can step back, look at the bigger picture, and apply a critical eye.  Editors use their judgement and guiding principles to apply selection criteria about what should be included and what should not.  And they strive to ensure the included content is accurate, truthful, and consistent with the voice of their publication.  And a good editor seeks to bring out the best in their published content.  We should all spend time applying those editorial areas of focus to our own lives.

“Doing less is not just a powerful Essentialist strategy, it’s a powerful editorial one as well.”

“What I mean is that a good editor is someone who uses deliberate subtraction to actually add life to the ideas, setting, plot, and characters.”

“Being a journalist of your own life will force you to stop hyperfocusing on all the minor details and see the bigger picture. You can apply the skills of a journalist no matter what field you are in—you can even apply them to your personal life. By training yourself to look for “the lead,” you will suddenly find yourself able to see what you have missed.”

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