On a recent airplane flight from LA to Hawaii I found myself without a book to read. My iPad mini was loaded with at least ten books in the “to be read” queue, but I was thinking about beaches and sunshine. I knew I needed a real, physical, old-fashioned book. Without much hope, I popped into the airport sundries shop and managed to strike gold.
Essentialism, by Greg McKeown, is one of those books that is likely to change my life over the course of the next year in ways I did not anticipate.
Bottom Line Premise: Once you stop trying to do it all, you can make your highest contribution towards the things that really matter.
We are in a society with an over-abundance of choices. We have too many choices of how to spend our time, our money, our calories and our passion. Not only do we have too many choices, but we have too many really great choices and very few ways to escape the frenetic pace. The message in essentialism is not the minimalist, ascetic message of yesterday. It’s rather, a call back to conscious choice in how we invest ourselves in the world around us.
McKeown, after a discussion on the basic philosophy of essentialism, breaks the book down into exploring useful habits (escape, play, sleep etc. — all welcome topics when vacationing in Hawaii), eliminating non-essentials and executing a plan.
I took away several action points that we put into place almost immediately in our personal life and in our business:
- Get over the social awkwardness of saying “no” to social commitments or unwelcome business opportunities. You know the kind of thing I mean: the dinner you don’t really want to attend, or the job that is outside the sweet spot of your company’s profile.
- Add in healthy habits and schedule them. It sounds ridiculous, but my husband and I used to feel proud of our ability to be night owls, and almost ashamed of going to bed before midnight. Our daughters would poke fun at going to bed during “dork time,” as they called it. No more. Sleep really helps. Small habit change….huge payback.
- Add a buffer. Whether pricing jobs or booking a calendar, not scheduling everything so close to the edge provides huge peace of mind.
- Editing is one of the most important tasks of day-to-day life. As a writer I was already well-aware of the value of a great editor. Video productions pop with the right editing. The scenes left on the cutting-room floor are what create a truly great storyline. In life, as well, we need to edit. We need to edit our possessions, our activities, even our thoughts. One of the first suggestions McKeown makes is to go to the closet and eliminate some nonessential items, just to feel the lightness of letting go.
The author intersperses the benefits of essentialism throughout the book, but the last section highlights the increase in concentration, focus and flow you will reap from paring dow to the essentials. Well worth the read, and worth spending some time processing the true essentials in my own life. Not bad for an airport book!
Some quotes from Essentialism:
In order to have focus, we need to escape to focus.
Saying no is its own leadership capability. it is not just a peripheral skill. As with any ability, we start with limited experience. We are novices at “no.” Then we learn a couple of basic techniques. We make mistakes. We learn from them. We develop more skills. We keep practicing. After a while we have a whole repertoire available at our disposal, and in time we have gained mastery of a type of social art form. We can handle almost any request from almost anybody with grace and dignity. Tom Friel, the former CEO of Heidrick & Struggles, once said to me, “We need to learn the slow ‘yes’ and the quick ‘no.’
An essentialist produces more — brings forth more — by removing more instead of doing more.
In life, disciplined editing can add to your level of contribution. It increases your ability to focus on and give energy to the things that really matter. It lends the most meaningful relationships and activities more space to blossom.