This book is one of the best personal development books that I have read so far so yes I highly recommend not only reading it, but also writing notes and rereading after some time has passed. Pretty much anyone can benefit from this book, but it would be most beneficial for the high achievers, managers, entrepreneurs and for all of us who think that 24 hours in the day is not enough. The book talks about the fact that we do have a choice and that almost everything in our life is noise, and there are only a few things of exceptional value. The books talks about how to effectively edit your life since editing and condensing doesn’t mean doing more at once, it simply means less waste, lowering the ratio of words to ideas, square feet to usefulness, or effort to results. The book can be found on Amazon.
About the book
In the beginning the basic concept of essentialism is introduced in three short words: less but better. Then an emphasize is made about the need to be able to say no to demands on your time even if this can be awkward. There are even tips about how to politely and assertively say no. Emotions distract us from the reality of the fact that either we can say no and regret it for a few minutes, or we can say yes and regret it for days, months or even years. However, we don’t want to hurt people so no has to be said respectfully and gracefully and in most cases people will actually respect us more of saying no than if we would say yes.
Then the paradox of success is introduced which consists of four phases: in the first phase we have clarity of purpose and we succeed; in the second phase due to the success we gain a reputation as a “go to” person and we get more and more opportunity; in the third phase more opportunity demands more time from us and it diffuses our efforts; in the fourth phase we become distracted from stuff that are otherwise our highest level of contribution. The paradox itself is of course the fact that pursuit of success can produce failure!
In this world of huge number of choices, it’s really difficult to filter what’s important and what’s not. This effect is called decision fatigue and it is probably one of the reasons Mark Zuckerberg always wear the same shirt. One interesting fact: the word priority was initially in the English language a singular word, only later it become a plural word. In this section author emphasizes that only one thing can be priority and that having 6, 7 or more priorities is not possible and silly.
There is a good metaphor in the book that our life is quite similar with our closet for clothes in which people shove clothes every day and even though you try to get it in order in the end of the day it’s still brimming with clothes. I personally also very often start my working day with the to do list and a plan, but by the end of the day I am happy if my to do list is not even longer then in the morning!
I have also seen myself in the description of the person that always tries to fit just one more thing and who is often slightly late due to the obvious fact that I squeeze to many stuff and since I am assuming best case scenario which is not good. Essentials prepares and plans, expects the unexpected and creates a buffer to prepare for the unforeseen. Many people suffer from this so called “planning fallacy” so a good workaround solution is to always add a 50 percent buffer to the estimated time.
One of the good advices in the book that I have started practicing is to keep a daily journal. Good suggestion is to read through your notes every 3 months.
Play is in business world of today seen as childish and trivial. Play is anything that we do simply for the joy of doing and that play leads to brain plasticity, adaptability, and creativity so it’s very important.
Another part of the book talks about sleep. The author there claims that typical ambitious and successful people of today damage themselves through lack of sleep! Because these types of people very easily push themselves over their physical and mental limits, the real challenge for achievers is not to work hard! Sleep is very important and it’s not luxury and for lazy people, scientific research showed that 7 to 8 hours of sleep boost productivity, creativity and highest levels of mental contribution.
There is also a tip on how to actually eliminate nonessential. One of the options in the hiring example is to choose only the ones that are above 90 on the scale to 100 and also if you are not 100% certain that you should pass the opportunity. Another way to choose opportunities is to make a list of three minimum and three extreme criteria and then choose only opportunities that meet all three minimum and 2 out of 3 extreme criteria which is very strict but necessary.
People also have ownership bias i.e. they value more the things they already have so a good question to ask is: “if I didn’t own this, how much would I spend on it now?” Similarly, for offered opportunities one should always ask: “If I didn’t have this, what would I be willing to do to acquire it?”
People also have sunk cost bias which is tendency to invest time, money and energy into a losing proposition because we have already sunk a cost that can’t be recouped. In these situations, you should always ask if I weren’t already invested in this project, how much I would invest now? There is another tendency called “status quo bias” which is to continue doing something simply because we have always done it. The essentialists always ask should something be done at all and if not stops doing it.
A lot of people nowadays don’t know to answer the question what do they want from their career over the next five years and only some of them are sort of clear about their purpose. This is a big problem because any person or team without the clarity of purpose and without knowing what their roles and goals are – you experience confusion, stress and frustration, but with high level of clarity people and teams thrive.
In the book there are some good tips on how to assertively and gracefully say no: to use the awkward pause as a tool, to reschedule in the future when you are less busy, to use email bounce backs, to reply that you will check your calendar, to say yes to your boss but then ask what to deprioritize, to channel the person asking to another person etc. The author makes good point that everybody is trying to “sell” us something: an idea, viewpoint or an opinion in exchange for our time so we need to be aware of this. People will respect us more for saying no, and it’s anyway better then saying something noncommittal (which sounds like a promise) and then letting them down.
There is another powerful concept of prototyping but in reverse. So in a reverse pilot you remove something, activity, initiative and check will it have negative consequences. If it doesn’t you remove the activity.
There is also a very interesting part about setting boundaries. Nonessentialist see them as problematic, but essentials view them as empowering, the ones protecting their time and removing the burden of saying no too much.
In projects and processes, it is very important to identify the slowest process and fix it and then find another slower process etc. Similarly, we can make a list of obstacles that are in our way of reaching a goal, prioritize the list and work from top to bottom. The best way to improve is also to look for small changes in things we do often and to start early and small and to always reward progress.
There is another part I liked and it’s about the big importance of setting routines. Routines help difficult things to become easy and they free mental space to concentrate on something new. Although we generally think of routines as dull and creativity killer, routines actually help us be more creative. We need to be cautious not to get caught in nonessential routines like checking email/phone when we wake up, picking junk food along the way or spending too much time browsing useless web portals or watching TV. All habits are made of cue, a routine and a reward so to turn bad habits to good one we should associate the cue to some important good habit.
There is a part about living in the past, present or future where the author explains why although hard it is of utmost importance to live in the present moment. There are several books covering this topic, the most famous probably being the power of now from Eckart Tolle: https://www.amazon.com/Power-Now-Guide-Spiritual-Enlightenment/dp/1577314808
The book ends with good motivation for us to be more essential. It also talks about importance of family because in the end everything else fades into insignificance. Since in this world we really have only a short amount of time we shouldn’t fear doing the wrong thing, we should be more courageous and of course be very selective (only essential) how to use this precious time.
Good quotes and excerpts from the book:
If you don’t prioritize your life, someone else will.
As Peter Drucker said, “People are effective because they say ‘no,’ because they say, ‘this isn’t for me. ”
Essentials value space to think, time to look and listen, permission to play, wisdom to sleep, and the discipline to apply very selective criteria.
As John Maxwell has written, “You cannot overestimate the unimportance of practically everything.
„Our highest priority is to protect our ability to prioritize. (on prioritizing sleep).
The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing
Stephen King has written, “To write is human, to edit is divine.”
NO is a complete sentence. —Anne Lamott
To attain knowledge, add things every day. To attain wisdom, subtract things every day. —Lao-tzu
Every day do something that will inch you closer to a better tomorrow. —Doug Firebaugh
A popular idea in Silicon Valley is “Done is better than perfect.”
Life is available only in the present moment. if you abandon the present moment you cannot live the moments of your daily life deeply. —Thich Nhat Hanh
Lao Tzu: “In work, do what you enjoy. In family life, be completely present.”
Beware the barrenness of a busy life. —Socrates
whatever decision or challenge or crossroads you face in your life, simply ask yourself, “What is essential?” Eliminate everything else.
Motivational paragraph: Once you become an Essentialist, you will find that you aren’t like everybody else. When other people are saying yes, you will find yourself saying no. When other people are doing, you will find yourself thinking. When other people are speaking, you will find yourself listening. When other people are in the spotlight, vying for attention, you will find yourself waiting on the sidelines until it is time to shine. While other people are padding their résumés and building out their LinkedIn profiles, you will be building a career of meaning. While other people are complaining (read: bragging) about how busy they are, you will just be smiling sympathetically, unable to relate. While other people are living a life of stress and chaos, you will be living a life of impact and fulfillment. In many ways, to live as an Essentialist in our too-many-things-all-the-time society is an act of quiet revolution.
I believe this is my most extensive book review and for a good reason. This is a must read book that will certainly change your life for the better. It will help you think and plan more wisely, it will help you choose only the essential and it will help you be happier and calm and more successful in pursuing your goals. For any suggestions, comments and questions please contact us via firstname.lastname@example.org.