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.
I’ve been an avid reader for years, and out of the many books I’ve read, there are a few that truly stand out. These are books that contribute a unique idea, a new perspective or a tool that propel my life. So I’m starting a new series where I profile my favorite books, the ones that have had the most impact on me. Hopefully it inspires you to pick up one of these books, or at least you can pick something from this series and allow that to spur you into new action.
I had heard of Grant Cardone years ago through a friend who works in sales. I knew Grant had a lot of content on sales training and had a very balls-to-the-wall kinda vibe. I did not know just how much until I started listening to his podcast late last year. Cardone has insane energy and insane expectations lol. Watching, listening to or reading him is definitely a kick in the pants. He takes no prisoners and goes all in.
His book The 10X Rule is about thinking big, setting huge goals and taking insane massive action towards achieving them. I think it’s an important book because as far as getting what you want goes, we tend to under-estimate just how much effort it would take to achieve our goals (if we even dream big enough). if you do 10X more than you need to do to get what you want, the chances of you getting it simply skyrocket.
My Highlights from The 10X Rule
It takes the same amount of energy and effort to make $10 million as it does $10 000. Sound crazy? It’s not – and you’ll see this when you start operating at 10X levels. Your goals will change, and the action you take will finally start to match who you really are, and what you are really capable of doing.
Another component that is required for success is the ability to estimate the right amount of effort necessary for you – and your team – to achieve a goal.
As I look back over my life, I see that the one thing that was most consistent with any success I’ve achieved was that I always put forth 10 times the amount of activity that others did. For ever sales representation, phone call, or appointment others made, I was making 10 of each. When I started buying real estate, I look at 10 times more properties than I could buy and then made offers to ensure that I was able to buy what I wanted at the price I desired. I have approached all my business enterprises with massive action; that has been the single biggest determining actor in any success I have created.
In order to get to the next level of whatever you’re doing, you must think and act in a wildly different way than you previously have been.
Only you know your true potential and whether you’re living up to it; no one else can judge your success.
Take massive amounts of action at 10 times the levels you think necessary
This is the focus of the 10X Rule: You must set targets that are 10 times what you think you want and then do 10 times what you think it will take to accomplish those targets. Massive thoughts must be followed by massive actions.
There is nothing ordinary about the 10X Rule. It is simply what it says it is: 10 times the thoughts and 10 times the actions of the other people.
The 10X Rule is about pure domination mentality.
A person who limits his or her potential success will limit what he or she will do to create it and keep it.
As long as you are alive, you will either live to accomplish your own goals and dreams or be used as a resource to accomplish someone else’s.
It is not enough just to play the game; it is vital that you learn to win at it.
One of the greatest turning points in my life occurred when I stopped casually waiting for success and instead started to approach it as a duty, obligation and responsibility.
Discipline, consistent, and persistent actions are more of a determining factor in the creation of success than any other combination of things.
Instead, you must acquire the discipline, muscle memory, and achievements that result from taking massive action – while others think, plan and procrastinate.
Attack, dominate and keep your attention on the future, and then continue to repeat your actions – and your courage will grow. Do things that scare you more frequently, and they will slowly begin to scare you a bit less – until they become so habitual that you wonder why you ever feared them in the first place!
The successful know they can quantify what works and what doesn’t work, whereas the unsuccessful focus solely on “hard work”.
Results (not efforts) – regardless of the challenges, resistance, and problems – are a primary focus of the successful.
You can only be as successful as the individuals with whom you involve and associate yourself.
Stay focused on the future, be unreasonable about it, continue to add wood, and don’t focus on what people say has been done, can be done, or is possible!
Earlier this year I read a great book – Essentialism – The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg Mckeown. And it clarified my thoughts on an idea that has been dancing around the edges of my mind.
I like to do many things. In varsity, I did so many different things…taught dance school, involved in church activities, led cell group, designed on the side, attended classes, had a social life, etc, etc.
I liked doing many things because I liked the rush of being busy and trying to cram a thousand things into an impossible space of time.
Over time, some things fell away and I became more focused. My life was centred around designing and trying to make a living from that. For the past few years, I have been very undisciplined with my work. I would take on as many jobs as came my way, while trying to work on my personal ideas and projects. The price of this indiscipline was I was always frantic and at the mercy of my clients, and email. I burned out regularly as evidenced by my blog posts around mid year, every year. I never had the chance to slow percolate ideas and projects the way I really wanted to.
Last year however, I had the experience of being able to work on one project for months, building it from the ground up and designing multiple collateral for the idea. It was a nice change of pace from trying to fit 10 things into a month of time. I liked it, the pace of work was both challenging and easier. Challenging because it takes discipline to work in this way…pushing past resistance and fighting distraction. Easier because I didn’t feel so frantic and rushed. Better because my quality of work was higher.
As the third month of the year begins and we continue to plow through, I want to make great impact this year. I recognize that that means working on the right things. But you can only know what the right things are if you know what you truly want and what is important to you. Then you can identify what paths of action would take you there. You can sacrifice short term gain for the long term goal, and move steadily towards your aims. But this way of doing things is not always natural and is something we must develop a discipline in. You have to decide where your greatest level of contribution is, and where the greatest need is and where the two intersect. Eventually, you can do less and achieve a lot more, because the essential few things have a great pay off.
Having many options and opportunities is a blessing and a curse. Its great to be able to explore all these possibilities, but at some point, you have to close off some doors and focus on the essential few. Otherwise, your energy will be scattered in too many directions and you will not make any impact.
Focus on the essential few.
So I came across this idea again a week ago – the concept of two different mindsets: a fixed mindset and a growth mindset.
The concept is fairly straightforward. On the one hand, you have the fixed mindset. This way of thinking assumes that intelligence and traits are fixed, they are either there or not, either high or low, and you have what you have, it’s just the way it is. If you are smart, you are smart. If you are dumb, you are dumb.
On the other hand, there is the growth mindset. This basically means that what ever is…can be changed. So, intelligence is fluid, traits and skills are fluid, they change. You can actually become smarter…or dumber.
Now what is fascinating are the consequences of each way of thinking. In the fixed mindset, things get dangerous. You get told, ‘hey, you did well in this math test, you are quite intelligent’. What gets into your subconscious is ‘I am intelligent, this is part of my identity now. Because I am intelligent, I SHOULD always do well. If I don’t do well, then it means I’m dumb and that’s just not true, I am intelligent and awesome’. You carry around this self-identity and look for cues to support it. So you do things that you know you are definitely good at and shun everything that seems hard. Effort isn’t a good thing because it means that the thing is hard, and intelligent people don’t find things hard. You might even start to lie and inflate your performance or importance because you MUST support this idea of your intelligence.
In the growth mindset, you get told, ‘hey, you did well in this math test, you must have worked really hard on this’. Here the focus is on the EFFORT, what gets communicated to your subconscious is ‘I did well because I put in work’. So its not about you being smart or superior, its about the work and energy you put into solving those problems. Generally these people do better than the former group, they relish a challenge and are keen on working hard to overcome obstacles and learn, grow, become better.
I got the impression when I was very young that I was intelligent. I did very well in primary school without really trying. It was only in high school after languishing in mediocrity for a bit that I realized that if I put in more work and tweaked my study/learning habits I could actually go back to doing very well. So I learned from experience that if I wanted to be ‘intelligent’ I could boost that by practicing and working hard.
But the fixed mindset is still rooted quite deep within even though it’s slowly crumbling. The growth mindset requires humility and a focus on the process. You must be willing to come to the situation as a pure open-minded beginner, not thinking you know it all or anything at all. You must be okay with failing as long as each failure is an exhaustive lesson of where to grow. You must love the effort and the grind to the top. I’m not a good designer because the gods magically blessed me. I am a good designer because I have been working hard at my craft and if I continue to grind and tweak my process, I will continue to get better
Another place the fixed vs growth mindset plays out is in relationships, especially romantic ones. I am terribly guilty of being of the fixed mindset. Here, its all supposed to magically work out. The girl I’m with needs to just fit, the relationship should work, be sparkles and fireworks half the time, her flaws are problems that threaten our connection. While there is baseline for qualities I’d like, fairy tale perfection rarely happens. If I want an amazing and fulfilling relationship, that is something that will require mistakes, learning and working together to build that.
Lastly, I think about the effect of the fixed mindset on my life by the way of my fixation on perfection. I always thought I had to be the perfect kid, the perfect Christian, the perfect guy, and that caused me A LOT of distress when I would inevitable mess up. I have spent days pondering the question – ‘am I a good person?’ But if success comes from working towards being my best self, I don’t have to get it right all the time, I just have to be committed to working towards it.
I love to read. I love to read so much; I seldom finish one before I pick the next one. Actually, it’s a bit worse than that. Sometimes I read 2, 3…5 books at the same time.
I used to think this was a problem. I mean, shouldn’t one finish one book first then go to the next? Read sequentially, diligently.
Not according to this new mental framework I am using to evaluate things in my life. The idea that I am perfectly fine the way I am and leveraging that which is most authentic and natural to me to reach my aims. So basically, instead of being dissatisfied at myself for not being what I think I should be, I look at what I am and work with that. If you maximize what already is, you can eventually expand into what is not.
For instance, I like to read a lot, but I also lose interest quickly. I read quite a few blogs daily and I bathe in a constant stream of information and ideas. Shiny new books distract me, and I hunt down, buy and download as much as I can. I used to feel a little guilty when I’d pick up a book and then two weeks down the line realize I’m on a fifth book when I did not go past the 4th chapter in the first one. Then I realize it’s not about the books. No one is going to grade me on how I read books or give me a ribbon for good reading. It’s about ideas, extracting those ideas, and using those ideas.
I read across categories/topics…spirituality, business, psychology, design, success/motivation/self help, and I bump around so this week, I may be more interested in life hacking ideas and so I read some Tim Ferris, or Leo Babauta. Next week, I may want to wax philosophical so I settle into some Alan Watts or some Krishnamurti.
The good thing about reading in this way is that the ideas can cross pollinate in real time. The other week, I was busy digging into 4 books simultaneously – So Good They can’t Ignore You (Cal Newport), 33 Strategies of War (Robert Greene), How to learn anything fast (Josh Kaufman), The Start-Up of You (Reid Hoffman). And I did this intentionally because I was taking a week ‘off’ to think at length about my creative career and how to move things forward. Cal’s book traces the paths of great careers and how one cultivates one, Robert’s book deals with war and lessons learned from the greats, because lets face it, every encounter in the market place, in relationships is a warzone. In the new world, everyone has to think, network and operate like an entrepreneur, hence Reid’s book. And if you want to thrive in this new world, you must master the skill of learning so I’m reading Josh’s book.
The last book I finished was ‘Unlabel’ (Marc Ecko) and that begins to raise another layer of questions on authenticity, embodying your brand, and selling that to the world.
Reading in this way allows me to absorb ideas quickly and slowly begin to link them together and create a best practice, a way of being based on new knowledge that should move me closer and faster to my goal of living a good engaged creative life and providing value.
And that is why I read many books at once, it works for me and it is okay.
I’ve been reading ‘Moonwalking with Einstein’ by Joshua Foer, and this piece of text stood out for me.
Monotony collapses time; novelty unfolds it. You can exercise daily and eat healthily and live a long life, while experiencing a short one. If you spend your life sitting in a cubicle and passing papers, one day is bound to blend unmemorably into the next—and disappear. That’s why it’s important to change routines regularly, and take vacations to exotic locales, and have as many new experiences as possible that can serve to anchor our memories. Creating new memories stretches out psychological time, and lengthens our perception of our lives.
One of my values is living an interesting and varied life. It’s easier said than done, I tend to spend a lot of my time following the same routines, waking, working, attending to visitors. But, I am trying to switch it up a bit, walk around, visit people, sit in the park, be random. I also guess I’ll start taking more pictures of things and events…memories are good, they speak of rich life.