Book Summary: Essentialism

An account manage proposing the timeline for the upcoming projects. With limited time on our hands, the account manager need to say no to some.

Life is difficult. Our time is always limited. There is a pile of emails to react to, a never-ending to-do list, social media profiles that require regular attention, and you still need to get some work done.

Isn't it a strange world you and I live in? How do you deal with the never-ending demands on your time? If we were to divide the entire globe into two groups, we'd probably end up with the following:

People that attempt to accomplish everything are in group #1. Everything on their to-do list is essential to them, and they manage to cram it all in.

They say yes to a lot of things because successful individuals always manage to get everything done. They can take on too much and feel out of control at times, but who doesn't these days?

People who believe that less is more are in group #2. Only a few items on their to-do list are critical, and the rest may wait or even never be completed. They have a habit of saying no, which does not make them particularly popular. However, they appear to be in command and love their task.

Suppose you're like most people these days. In that case, you'd definitely identify with group #1, also known as the Non-Essentialists by Greg Mckeown, the author of Essentialism. This is where the majority of individuals spend their time, and I can definitely relate.

Mckeown contends that those who genuinely make a difference spend their time with group #2, the Essentialists. These individuals feel that achieving significant development in a few areas is more essential than making a centimeter of advance in a million ways.

Take inspiration from people who embody Essentialism.

A male coworker working as his wife puts a lightbulb on top of his head, indicating inspiration.

At its most basic level, an Essentialist allows oneself to quit attempting to devote all of their energy and time to the actually important things. This is a rallying call to learn how to say no in a society that demands more and more of you every day.

Here are a few people to look up to for ideas...

Steve Jobs was an Essentialist.

When Steve Jobs returned to save Apple from bankruptcy, he slashed items manufactured from 350 to 10.

When questioned about innovation and how Apple rose from the ashes to become the world's most valuable corporation, he said:

"People think focus means saying yes to the thing you've got to focus on. But that's not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully. I'm actually as proud of the things we haven't done as the things I have done. Innovation is saying no to 1,000 things."

Dieter Rams is an Essentialist.

Dieter Rams, a well-known designer, had a design criterion that could be summed up in three German words that translate to "less but better" in English.

Those three words encapsulate a lot. It is insufficient to just do less. Anyone may scratch several items off their to-do list and declare, "I'm not doing them." It's one thing to do less and make more progress, but it's quite another to do less and really make greater progress.

Richard Koch, the author of the book The 80/20 Principle, which popularized the 80/20 rule in business circles, puts it succinctly:

"Most of what exists in the universe - our actions and all other forces, resources, and ideas - has little value and yields little result. On the other hand, a few things work fantastically well and have a tremendous impact."

So it's not that Essentialists work less than Non-Essentialists; they devote a disproportionate amount of time to the truly important things.

Because everything wonderful comes in threes, here's another example to motivate you.

Jim Collins is an essentialist.

The business classic Good To Great was written by Jim Collins. Collins met with Peter Drucker one day when he was advised that he could develop a great firm or outstanding ideas. According to Drucker, he couldn't do both.

Collins selected the route of creating great ideas, and his work continues to influence business executives worldwide. He still only has three full-time employees, but their work has inspired tens of millions of people worldwide.

Essentialists are good at saying no.

A female opening and seeing rejections mail in her email. Essentialist have to master the art of saying no.

So, here's the catch. You must master the art of saying no if you want to become an Essentialist. Not only that, but you must understand that saying no implies a trade-off. There are numerous things that an Essentialist must say no to for everything that they say yes to.

Unfortunately, many of us wind up becoming Non-Essentialists simply because we cannot gracefully say no. It's amusing to consider it that way, but it's true.

This talent is not taught in high school or university, stopping millions of individuals from realizing their full potential in life.

Fortunately, Mckeown provides us with eight options for saying no to the unessential so that we can say yes to the essential.

  1. Use an awkward pause to your advantage. People despise quiet; therefore, if you wait long enough after someone asks for something, they'll ultimately fill the vacuum and find an excuse to retract their request.
  2. Use a "no but" clause. Use this in circumstances where you don't want to take on a task right now but might later. "No, but I would love to help you a few months from now...can we connect on this then?" you can say. Most of the time, you won't hear anything further about this request.
  3. Use the approach of "let me check my calendar and get back to you." This relieves you of the obligation to reply right away. If it's something you eventually don't want to do, you can just claim that you're unable to do so.
  4. Use an autoresponder for your emails. If you're feeling brave, you might set up an email autoresponder to answer each of your emails, informing them that you won't be responding to emails for a while.
  5. Use the technique of "yes, what should I reprioritize?" This is particularly useful when dealing with requests from superiors. When you tell your employer or teammate that you'll have to drop something else to complete their request, they'll often delegate the work to someone who can fit it into their schedule.
  6. Make use of a little humor. This is tricky to pull off effectively, but it's a fantastic approach to defuse an awkward situation.
  7. Use the "welcome to X" phrase. "I am willing to Y" is an answer that I am willing to provide. In the book, Mckeown uses the example of a buddy who asks to borrow his automobile. "You are welcome to borrow my car, and I will make sure the keys are here for you," he would say. In this manner, he may inform his friend that he can pick up the automobile if his friend is ready to do so. And he's not going to take his pal with him.
  8. Make a suggestion for someone else to do it. That's far simpler to respond, "I can't do it, but X might be interested," rather than flatly declining their request. You can appear to be helpful without having to complete the work yourself.

So there you have it: eight new methods to say no to the insignificant to make room for the important.

A Challenge

A male boss writing a rejection letter to the opportunities given to him; an example of an essentialist.

It's entirely up to you what you do with your newly acquired abilities. But I'd want to put you to the test. Whenever you are asked to do something for someone else over the next week, say: "Let me check my calendar."

After that, consider whether or not the request is critical to your long-term success.

If it isn't, use one of the other strategies you just learned to reply to the individual.

Continue to focus on the critical few items that will help you achieve whatever you desire in life.

It's all uphill from here!

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