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How to get important things done II

How to get important things done II

Just over a year ago, I wrote a piece called ‘How to get important things done’ in which I gleaned and presented lessons and principles from relaunching my business site.

I had been previously frustrated by the fact that I always had these interesting ideas but never had the time or focus or discipline to work on them until they were finished and ready to ship. Eventually, I was able to break the cycle by working on and launching my business site in the midst of the general chaos of life and work. I have already reworked the design and content of said site, and there is a whole new version with new additions in the works.

That’s something I find interesting, as I learn more and understand more, the website has to shift and evolve over time to reflect that. So just after one iteration is done and published, the next one begins. But that is life, some things never finish, you just keep tinkering and making it better.

Over the past year, I have grown better at getting things done, in addition to the aforementioned iterations to the business site, I have revamped my personal brand and website, and that only took about a month compared to the 6 months it took me to do the business site. I have also built a framework on which hang multiple personal projects that I am working on, and so far, I seem to be making progress on most of them.

In this post, I share 3 principles and ideas I keep in mind as I try to push these projects and get them done while juggling work projects, life and relationships.

 

Commitment

This is a rehash of an idea I spoke about in the previous post. If you want to get things done, you have to commit, and you have to sacrifice something else usually, to allow you to commit. There is no creative wall, there is no mental block, there is nothing standing between you and the work. You just have to set aside the time and sit down and do the work. That is the nature of getting things done, embracing the grind. If you just have one project you are trying to get done, all you have to do is focus, put in the hours and get it done. If you have multiple projects like me, this is more like a lifestyle, you are almost always working on something. Like getting and staying healthy, the idea is not just about bursts of activity and action. It is a commitment to a daily or weekly practice of putting bum to seat and slugging through the work.

 

Awareness

You cannot fall asleep at the wheel, you have to stay awake to your goals and what you are trying to accomplish. A lot of things happen, a lot of things vie for our attention. We have work to do, families to feed, careers to attend to, people to take care of. There is always something. And it is easy, incredibly easy to drift. All it takes is a week or two of relentless pressure and distraction and you can be cast adrift for months.

So, you have to stay awake. If our projects are a priority we must remind ourselves of them continually. That is why I created a device to help me remember and stay focused. I retrofitted my year diary to become a reminder of the value I provide, my ultimate aims and the main projects I am concerned with for the year. Thinking about things in the context of 12 months allows me to carve out each part of year accordingly and know if I am on track or not. It is long enough to allow me to put in proper work, but also short enough so I can actually close and end projects quickly.

 

Death by a thousand strokes

Some of the things you want to accomplish are big projects. They are not the sort of thing you can knock out in an afternoon. You need time. Especially as a creative. We require huge swatches of time, blocks of time to really dig in, focus and create. Time to get bored. Time to think. Time to research and to absorb. Time to create. Many times, you can only get these pockets of uninterrupted time in 30-minute increments, sometimes we are able to block out whole days. But whatever you have, make the best of each opportunity.

I have open projects all the time. I could steal 30 mins in-between client work to read over a portion of my book and make edits. I could repurpose the hour break I’m taking watching a show to also collect visual reference material for another project. The idea is that these projects are not usually tackled in one fell swoop from start to finish, but are approached bite by bite, piece by piece, brick by brick. This frees us up to not to be too anxious, but to take our time, working and revising, working and revising, learning, making false starts and starting again. In this way, our masterpiece emerges by a thousand strokes made over time.

Getting important things done when they are not directly tied to your job or anchored in societal norms and expectations can be almost impossible. There is just generally a lot that gets in the way, and that is how too many of us die with our song unsung. The unique creative thing you were meant to contribute to the rich tapestry of life, for better or worse.  

But crack the code, and be able to conceive a project, and see it to the end, for yourself, to your ends, not because someone told you so. That ability is extremely powerful and important in navigating an uncertain future and becoming antifragile. It shows initiative, it shows power. And even though you will inadvertently fail time and time again, if you stay the course and stay focused, eventually you will win, you will get what you want.

Nothing exists until it is measured

Nothing exists until it is measured

Having a written set of goals is not enough, you have to take action and then systematically measure your progress – Michael Hyatt

There is the idea (and I am bastardizing it here) that on a quantum level, things do not ‘exist’ until they are measured. Until you actually view light for instance, and depending on how it is measured, it will either exist as a wave or as a particle. Every atom is in a state of uncertainty, it is either there or not until you observe it, sort of like Schrödinger’s cat. Or something like that.

There is something else that does not really ‘exist’ until it is measured or observed. That is your goals and your dreams. The more attention you pay to your goals and dreams, the more you look at them and measure them, the more defined they become, the faster they come true. This is part of the reason why having a vision board works. It pays to keep the target before your eyes at all times.

A big dream killer is being vague. I know all about being vague, it is one of my favorite things. Vagueness is a comfortable nebulous zone where the potentiality is sky high, and you can be anything, you can be the greatest or you can be utterly crap, but you haven’t ‘been’ yet so it’s easy to revel in the idea of what you are going to do, instead of actually doing it. It is nice to wallow in the primordial soup of uncertainty.

But nothing exists, until it is made real. Nothing exists until it is born concretely. And that is where the fear lies. The fear of the irrevocable first step, a first step or an entire journey that could end up being less than perfect. The commitment to a dream, to a path. The forsaking of others. The burning of the ships, the tying yourself to the mast. Going all in, etc. All that can be scary.

But your dreams and goals must move from being vague to being defined and definite. It is easy to have aspirations, to want something to change. But for real progress to be made, the goals have to be defined, the metrics have to be clear. It is not enough to say you want to make more money, say exactly how much money you want to make and by when. Break your goals down to numbers that you can measure and aim for. Now there is accountability. Now there is a target, now there is a deadline. Now you can focus all your energy and make sure you hit them. You need a goal that can focus your faculties and provide you with the necessary direction, motivation and limitations to achieve it.

I have spoken about why you should build systems as opposed to setting goals. The concept that you should systemize the steps and daily actions you need to take to achieve what you want. This is very useful when you are starting out because you are still getting used to forming new habits and embodying a new vibration. You are not too concerned with hitting specific targets, you are just trying to get into the general ballpark of taking regular action towards those goals. While this idea builds our capacity and habits over time; to really squeeze the juice out of this process, you must take it to the next level by having discrete and clear targets to hold yourself accountable to. This is where you turn pro.

You have to know what your numbers are. They could be a once-off hit, like run a total of 20 000 miles in a year, or a streak, like blog once a week, every week for a whole year. They could be numbers to hit in the gym, an income target to reach in 6 months. It could be a new skill, being able to start and finish a project that you could not undertake before. In any case, you need a goal, you need a target to hit, and you need a way to measure your progress.

It is easy to fool ourselves and think we are doing work towards our goals. Once we start to look at the numbers for real though, we often see a different picture.

So how do we put this into practice? There are many ways to do this depending on your temperament and the nature of your goals. But I think it would generally look like this.

 

1. Define what success looks like

For every project, you have to define what success is. How do you know when you have won? For instance, I am working on a book now, and my time limit is 3 months, so by end of June I should be done. What does ‘done’ mean to me? It means I have taken the idea, put together all the material needed, as well as written and reworked and polished the manuscript to my personal satisfaction. At the end of June, I should have a book in Word that reads cohesively from start to finish.

That is a finite project, it has a beginning and an end. But what about projects with a reoccurring component? For my blog for example, success to me is maintaining a certain editorial schedule. And it is based on a scale. The absolute minimum is the once a week posts which I’ve been doing so far, and the higher limit is a schedule that sees me posting about 3 times a week. So, I know I am doing the minimum, but I have plenty room to improve.

 

2. Determine what it would take to achieve success

What gets measured, gets managed – Peter Drucker

Once you know what success looks like for your goals? You have to break it down further, looking at your schedule and how you spend your time and figure out what your daily or weekly actions must be to get you to that goal. For project-based goals like ‘writing a book’, it can mean drafting an execution road map for the project. It could play out like this – come up with book concept/idea, craft the book outline, collect all research and articles needed, write the book, edit the book (3 passes), design the book cover, design the book layout, create pdf file, upload, share.

Now I have a clear path to follow to reach this goal and I can set time frames for each section.

Another thing I would do, is break my goals down to daily or weekly activities I can do. For example, I can decide to work on my book for an hour every day, preferably first thing in the morning. I can round that off with 4 hours of dedicated time every weekend to really push forward on the project. This also gives me something to track and be accountable to in addition to the execution road map.

 

3. Be accountable

Men lie, women lie, numbers don’t – Jay Z (Reminder, The Blueprint 3)

The proof of the pudding is in the eating. To make steady progress towards the goal of having a book done by June, I would need to be constantly taking steady action. Every day I wake up, I know where I am on that roadmap and what I need to do next. At the end of every day I know if I spent an hour working on my book or not. I can track that. The more important the goal is, the more important it is to track and review my efforts.

 

4. Review

Now life is chaotic sometimes. Shit happen, things throw us off course. I could decide in the middle of the project, that this is crap and I actually don’t want to write a book. I could get busy with other projects and need to focus on those instead. But regularly I have the chance to review my work and my numbers and see if I need to adjust my plan to new realities or scrap the project all together. But at least, I have the numbers to back it up. I have a real frame of reference.

Measuring and tracking performance is not easy. It takes discipline and a commitment to the process. It is much easier to be vague and just play at it. But if you really trying to get what you want, embracing this idea will take you further faster than you could imagine.

Like I mentioned earlier, I’m incredibly great at being vague. I’ll put off making a decision to the very last moment, and I’m not great at tracking the time I spend on client projects talk less of the moves I make towards my goals. But I recognize that being more aware of my metrics could have some value, hence this post, which is a stern lecture to myself as much as it is an exhortation to you.

So, do you have any tactics or frameworks you use to chart your progress? It could be health, exercise, finances, learning, projects, anything! Do share, I would love to learn from you.

Airplane Mode, the greatest productivity hack

Airplane Mode, the greatest productivity hack

When you absolutely must get things done.

As I’ve mentioned many times before, two books I read in 2016 really changed my approach to life, and my work. They represent two concepts that work together to provide a powerful one – two punch combo that supercharges your ability to get things done.

The first book was “The One Thing” which I have written about. The One Thing offers the idea that only one thing really matters above all. On the macro level, there is the One thing you choose to make your life all about. In the day to day, there is the One Thing you could do that would make other things easier or unnecessary. It’s all about defining your vision and lining up your dominoes and whacking away at the first one until it falls and topples the next one with topples the next one and so on.

The second book is Deep Work by Cal Newport.

Deep work is the ability to focus on a hard task, to really concentrate for a long enough period of time. According to Newport, it is a skill that is becoming increasingly rare in a world filled with easy to access distraction. It is also a skill that is becoming incredibly important and useful in a networked world that needs you to learn skills quickly to thrive, and that allows you to affect millions with just your phone. We are too distracted at our work or at our businesses to give the right amount of effort and focus on the key tasks or projects that would make a definite difference. Doubly so for creatives or knowledge workers who need to expend considerable mental effort to produce good work.

There is a feature of the iPhone (and most other phones I would imagine, I’m hopelessly lost to the Apple hype train) that is irrefutably the best feature of the phone. It is not the above average camera (Samsung kicks its ass in my opinion), it’s not the design and how sleek it looks, it’s not the fact that it makes me look cool when I whip it out. It is the airplane mode function. With a swipe and a tap, I can turn the device from a portal to the infinite distraction machine that is the internet into a shiny paperweight.

Deep Work is the reason my phone is on airplane mode at least 50% of the time. This book is the reason I am many times unreachable, much to the chagrin of my friends and clients (I am so sorry guys but let me explain). It is also the reason I have been able to work on my business and my brand consistently over the past 18 months. It is the reason my design work has gotten stronger, the reason I’m learning faster and the reason my general productivity (the ability to get things done) has doubled or maybe even tripled.

It is also the reason I am less stressed and haven’t tried to hug a kitchen knife.

You see, regardless of how urgent and pressing everything feels, ultimately only a few things really matter. Out of the 100 or so different things you do or get asked to do today, probably none of them actually move you forward in any meaningful way towards a better life or better experience in 5 years. But if we know where we want to go, we can focus on the things that matter and move intentionally towards our BHAGs.

When you combine those two ideas, you are able to focus on what is most important and devote the kind of time and attention that it deserves. It is doing Deep Work on your One Thing.

In the midst of life’s noise, you can take the time to figure out what you want, count the cost, define the key activities and line up the dominoes. Now is the time to cultivate empty space, to block out some time that you can pay attention to the things that really matter. To learn the new skill, to work on the new business idea, to make some art, or simply to give back or build relationships. This is the time for Deep Work.

If I get anything done, and get it done well, or even quickly, my first step is always to switch the phone off. None of that ‘I’ll just put it face down’, that doesn’t work. Psychically I’m still attached, I’m still wondering about who’s trying to get in touch with me. It has to be off, and then finally I feel shut off from the world enough to allow my ideas and creative energy to bubble up to the surface.

Give it a try. If it’s too hard, put your phone in the drawer or the laundry basket or wherever. Just practice being cut off from your phone. See what that does for what you are working on.

When last did you give your full attention to a task? It feels very tempting to multitask. The pleasure of scrolling through our Instagram feeds, or losing hours of time to YouTube is very compelling and addictive. But if you are to get things done, if you are to move steadily to that BHAG, its very useful to learn how to switch off.

Even if it is just to think. From the moment we wake up, notice how we are mentally highjacked by our feeds. My first impulse when I wake up is to check my messages. First Whatsapp, then the Inbox, then Twitter (never Instagram until I’m mentally ready for that kind of mental and emotional assault). And just like that, my day can get highjacked by the needs and demands for others. Live like this enough days in a row and soon you are swept up in a fog of distraction, mediocrity and dissatisfaction. We all need space to think, to connect with ourselves, to heal, to spend some time in reflection or in the quiet pursuit of an interest or a craft.

The ability to go deep, both in your craft, in work and in your life will produce many benefits. It is a required resource in the marathon of pursuing your BHAG and cultivating a happy life. If you can isolate your main thing, and steadily devote time to it, you will stop feeling listless and more focused. And as you get better at it, that momentum of actually doing things will propel you to do some incredible things.

 

Making the system work for you

Making the system work for you

Last week I wrote about goals, covering the idea that we need Big Hairy Audacious Goals, because they have the potential to help us evolve to greater versions of ourselves. Combining that with smaller ‘checkpoint’ goals keep us on track, steadily stretching and progressing towards the BHAG. But beyond goals as we understand them, systems are an underrated tool and approach that work even better than just goals.

The power of a goal is readily compelling. It is the shining beacon that calls out to us, it is the big thing we want to achieve. And so usually we set it and then we hack away at it every day, or whenever we remember, trying things, failing, learning and trying again until we finally get there. This typical process requires a great deal of willpower, motivation and drive to get started and keep things moving.

Systems make things easier, and I’m going to unpack how. Like I mentioned last week, this is directly inspired by Scott Adam’s idea that “Systems are better than goals’ as expressed in his book. Check it out, it’s a great read and explains the idea in a fantastic way.

The idea of ‘Systems > Goals’ strikes a chord with me because it dovetails nicely with things I have blogged about before like ‘trust the process’, and ‘making time work for you’. It is understanding the incredible power of compound effect and leveraging that in your favor. There is a reason why the most prolific artists and creators of all time swear by some sort of system or routine. Routines free up energy to be creative where it counts, doing the actual work. Systems provide the framework to achieve greatness over time.

Using systems to achieve your goal

Everything we eventually become are the sum of the decisions we make and the actions we take in the day to day. The habits we pick up or develop become stronger every time until they become our default settings. If you can control that process and make sure your habits are the right ones, it becomes that much easier to attain success.

The systems approach works backwards by looking at the thing you want to achieve and reverse engineering the conditions needed to eventually get there. A simple example would be the goal to get to a certain level of fitness, or to get a certain body weight. We can guess that the key things needed for this to happen would be eating right, exercising right, and rest. The systems approach takes these elements and grafts them into your life in such a way that is tailor made to your strengths. You take those steps and turn them into habits by hooking them up to trigger moments in your day.

Quite simply, break down your goals to the actions that would take you there and then make it easy to regularly take those steps.

You could deploy strategies like doing meal prep on the weekends, boxing up each meal for the week separately. Now you don’t have to think about what to eat ever. You decided over the weekend. You simply pick the box you need, warm it up and eat when you need it. You could begin a lunch time or pre-bed ritual, spending 30mins stretching and doing body weight exercises before you go to bed. If you successfully executed these two relatively simple habits daily and weekly, you would be eating right and getting regular exercise. The habits get easier to maintain the more you do them and the effects compound over time. Once the habit is on autopilot you can tweak things to keep them interesting or more efficient. Like tweaking the exact foods you eat or doing more intense training.

If your goal is to read more books let’s say 40 books in the next 12 months. You could approach this goal haphazardly, reading whenever you remembered or had a book handy, or you could bake reading into your day-to-day life. You could simply commit to reading for 30mins every single day first thing in the morning, or you could decide to use your commute to work to listen to audio books. With a daily habit like that it becomes easier to hit that goal.

Systems require a considerable investment upfront to set up. It can be long and arduous work. But once they are running, systems save you time and energy. As they hum along, they make it easy, almost effortless to achieve your goals.

Using systems to improve your odds.

So far we have looked at simple goals, the kind that fall under the ‘checkpoint’ category. Could a systems approach be beneficial when tackling the BHAG, the Big Hairy Audacious Goal?

The Big Goals generally do not have a clear roadmap to achieving them. They are the sort of goals that take a long time of work and learning to eventually achieve. They also tend to require a large degree of luck. Being at the right place at the right time, knowing the right people can play a huge role in what manner of success and experience you have. How do we get luckier?

We deploy a system to optimize for the odds. Simply put, we work to make it more likely that we can achieve the goal. That is the general idea behind formal schooling. You go to school, work hard, and get good grades in an area of high demand to increase the odds that you will get a good job.

Take a look at the things you want to get done. If you want to do cool, experimental events and be known for it or even paid for it. Then you have to do research into the area and see who else is doing that sort of thing. Who pays for that kind of stuff? Brands? Maybe look at the few events companies that specialize in out-the-box events and offer to intern with them for free. Make prototype experiences and document them. Choose to do the things that would increase the odds that you would be able to do the work that you want to do.

If you want to create a successful start-up, then you have to work out a system to increase your odds of success. What do you need to succeed? A good product or service, a large and growing customer base, ability to deploy and scale. There are a thousand moving parts and factors that affect your success. But imagine what the long-term outcome would be if you had a system for learning more about business every day. Maybe every weekend, you brainstormed and built a landing page for an idea and put it out there. 52 weeks down the line, one of them catches off and gains incredible traction. The idea is that every day or every week you increased your odds by learning, making stuff, putting it out there at low risk, watching it fail and then improving it the next time.

See how taking a systems approach makes everything easier. Sure, it takes some time to get used to and build new habits, but it’s a worthwhile investment to make. Your key job becomes making the system even better and more effective over time.

Systems thinking is a powerful framework to use in approaching your goals. If you used this way of thinking to go after your checkpoint goals and used it to improve the odds of success on your Big Hairy Audacious Goal, you will be leveraging the power of process and the compound power of time to create something incredibly remarkable.

And eventually you will win.

Book Spotlight: Good Strategy/Bad Strategy by Richard Rumelt

Book Spotlight: Good Strategy/Bad Strategy by Richard Rumelt

Book: Good Strategy/Bad Strategy: The Difference and Why it Matters

Author: Richard Rumelt

As a creative, brand strategist and entrepreneur, I’m interested in strategy, and in my travels across the web, this book, ‘Good strategy/Bad Strategy’ came up quite a few times as the one book to read if you wanted to learn more about strategy. I finally finished it last week, and it really delivered.

In the book, Richard Rumelt showcases the difference between good strategy and bad strategy. Bad strategy is nothing less than wishful thinking, and can be recognized by broad fluffy words, bad objectives and an unwillingness to face problems. Good strategy on the other hand digs in to the situation at hand, addresses the critical problems, prescribes a general guideline in tackling them and includes clear coherent set of actions to take to actually get there.

Good strategy/Bad strategy is a highly recommended reading if you are a leader, a consultant, an entrepreneur or just interested in strategy. The insights are profound and are widely applicable, from the board room to personal dealings.

Highlights from Good Strategy/Bad Strategy

Despite the roar of voices wanting to equate strategy with ambition, leadership, “vision”, planning, or the economic logic of competition, strategy is none of these. The core of strategy work is always the same: discovering the critical factors in a situation and designing a way of coordinating and focusing actions to deal with those factors.

A good strategy does more than urge us forward towards a goal or vision. A good strategy honestly acknowledges the challenges being faced and provides and approach to overcoming them.

A good strategy has an essential logical structure that I call the kernel. The kernel of a strategy contains three elements: a diagnosis, a guiding policy, and coherent action.

The most basic idea of strategy is the application of strength against weakness. Or, if you prefer, strength applied to the most promising opportunity.

How can someone see what others have not, or what they have ignored, and thereby discover a pivotal objective and create an advantage, lies at the very edge of our understanding, something glimpsed only out the corner of our minds.

Identify your strengths and weaknesses, assess the opportunities and risks (your opponent’s strengths and weaknesses), and build on your strengths.

If you fail to identify and analyze the obstacles, you don’t have a strategy. Instead, you have either a stretch goal, a budget, or a list of things you wish would happen.

Strategic objectives should address a specific process or accomplishment, such as halving the time it takes to respond to a customer, or getting work from several Fortune 500 corporations.

Good strategy works by focusing energy and resources on one, or a very few, pivotal objectives whose accomplishment will lead to a cascade of favorable outcomes.

Good strategy is not just “what’ you are trying to do. It is also “why” and “how” you are doing it.

A good guiding policy tackles the obstacles identified in the diagnosis by creating or drawing upon sources of advantage.

Returns to concentration arise when focusing efforts on fewer, or more limited, objectives generates larger payoffs.

…he invested where his resources would make a large and more visible difference.

One of a leader’s most powerful tools is the creation of a good proximate objective – one that is close enough at hand to be feasible.

…imagine that they were allowed to have only one objective. And that objective had to be feasible. What one single feasible objective, when accomplished, would make the biggest difference?

A master strategist is a designer.

But the truth is that many companies, especially large complex companies, don’t really have strategies. At the core, strategy is about focus, and most complex organizations don’t focus their resources.

Extending a competitive advantage requires looking away from products, buyers and competitors and looking instead at the special skills and resources that underlie a competitive advantage. In other words, “Build on your strengths”.

The other way to grab the high ground – the way that is my focus here – is to exploit a wave of change.

You exploit a wave of change by understanding the likely evolution of the landscape and then channeling resources and innovation toward positions that will become high ground – become valuable and defensible – as the dynamics play out.

A good strategy is, in the end, a hypothesis about what will work. Not a wild theory, but an educated judgement.

To guide your own thinking in strategy work, you must cultivate three essential skills or habits. First you must have a variety of tools for fighting your own myopia. Second, you must develop the ability to question your own judgement. If your reasoning cannot withstand a vigorous attack, your strategy cannot be expected to stand in the face of real competition. Third, you must cultivate the habit of making and recording judgements so that you can improve.

Book Spotlight: Essentialism – The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg Mckeown

Book Spotlight: Essentialism – The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg Mckeown

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.