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I read this book for the first time back in early 2015, and I even blogged about the core idea here and a related idea ‘Deliberatism’ here. This is a crucial book, and it holds a hard-to-live-up-to idea that has the ability to transform your life, if implemented well. It pairs very well with ‘The One Thing’ which I will blog about sometime soon.

Too many times, we take on too much and we try to do everything. This is an excellent strategy when starting out. When you are new or young, try everything out, try different things, taste the berries, like Gary Vee would say. It’s this being open and saying yes to everything that will open doors and fuel your success. But once you get to a level of success, to move to the next level, you have to evolve and change your approach.

In every endeavor, there are the small proportion of factors that disproportionately affect the outcome. It is basically the 80/20 principle. There are the trivial many and the vital few. It is a profoundly important skill to be able to delineate between the few and focus your efforts on the things that really matter.

Imagine being able to accomplish more by doing less. This is the promise of Essentialism. How can you be more focused, more effective and less stressed?

Check out my selected excerpts below, and you can buy the book here.


My Highlights from Essentialism

In this example is the basic value proposition of Essentialism: 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.

… Less but better. A more fitting definition of Essentialism would be hard to come by.

Essentialism is not about how to get more things done; it’s about how to get the right things done.

It is about making the wisest possible investment of your time and energy in order to operate at your highest point of contribution by doing only what is essential.

The way of the Essentialist means living by design, not by default.

Essentialism is a disciplined, systematic approach for determining where our highest point of contribution lies, then making execution of those things almost effortless.

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

The pursuit of success can be a catalyst for failure. Put another way, success can distract us from focusing on the essential things that produce success in the first place.

To embrace the essence of Essentialism requires we replace these false assumptions with three core truths: “I choose to,” “Only a few things really matter,” and ‘I can do anything but not everything.”

When we forget our ability to choose, we learn to be helpless. Drip by drip we allow our power to be taken away until we end up a function of other people’s choices – or even a function of our own past choices.

Is there a point where doing less (but thinking more) will actually produce better outcomes?

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.

…and the noisier things get, the more we need to build quiet reflective spaces in which we can truly focus.

When there is a serious lack of clarity about what the team stands for, and what their goals and roles are, people experience confusion, stress and frustration. When there is a high level of clarity, on the other hand, people thrive.

We do a similar thing in our personal lives as well. When we are unclear about our real purpose in life – in other words, when we don’t have a clear sense of our goals, our aspirations, and our values – we make up our own social games. We waste time and energies on trying to look good in comparison to other people. We overvalue non-essentials like a nicer car or house, or even intangibles like the number of our followers on Twitter.

Creating an essential intent is hard. It takes courage, insight and foresight to see which activities and efforts will add up to your single highest point of contribution. It takes asking tough questions, making real trade-offs, and exercising serious discipline to cut out the competing priorities that distract us from our true intention. Yet it is worth the effort because only with real clarity of purpose can people, teams, and organizations fully mobilize and achieve something truly excellent.

Don’t ask, “How will I feel if I miss out on this opportunity?” but rather, “If I did not have this opportunity, how much would I be willing to sacrifice in order to obtain it?”

We all have some people in our lives who tend to be higher maintenance for us than others. These are the people who make their problem our problem. They distract us from our purpose. They care only about their own agendas, and if we let them, they prevent us from making our highest contribution by siphoning our time and energy to activities that are essential to them, rather than those that are essential to us.

Whoever it is that’s trying to siphon off your time and energies for their own purpose, the only solution is to put up fences.

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 inevitable do.

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.

…highly creative individuals use strict routines to free up their minds. Most creative individuals find out early what their best rhythms are for sleeping, eating, and working, and abide by them even when it is tempting to do otherwise,” Mihaly says. “they wear clothes that are comfortable, they interact only with people they find congenial, they do only things they think are important…personalizing patterns of action helps to free the mind from the expectations that make demands on attention and allows intense concentration on matters that count.

Focus on the hardest thing first.

They know that execution is easy if you work hard at it and hard if you work easy at it.

Essentialist never attempts to do more than one thing at a time.

“I do believe in simplicity. It is astonishing as well as sad, how many tribal affairs even the wisest thinks he must attend to in a day;…so simplify the problem of life, distinguish the necessary and the real” – Henry David Thoreau

The way of the Essentialist isn’t just about success; it’s about living a life of meaning and purpose.