Essentialism


The wisdom of life consists in the elimination of non-essentials. — Lin Yutang

  • The way of the Essentialist is the relentless pursuit of less but better. It doesn’t mean occasionally giving a nod to the principle. It means pursuing it in a disciplined way.

  • Essentialism is not about how to get more things done; it’s about how to get the right things done. It doesn’t mean just doing less for the sake of less either. It is about making the wisest possible investment of your time and energy in order to operate at our highest point of contribution by doing only what is essential.

  • The way of the Essentialist means living by design, not by default. Instead of making choices reactively, the Essentialist deliberately distinguishes the vital few from the trivial many, eliminates the nonessentials, and then removes obstacles so the essential things have clear, smooth passage.

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

  • After all, there is still a feeling of sunk-cost bias: studies have found that we tend to value things we already own more highly than they are worth and thus that we find them more difficult to get rid of. If you’re not quite there, ask the killer question: “If I didn’t already own this, how much would I spend to buy it?” This usually does the trick.

It is the ability to choose which makes us human. — Madeleine L’Engle

  • The ability to choose cannot be taken away or even given away—it can only be forgotten.

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 tremendous impact. — Richard Koch

  • Sometimes what you don’t do is just as important as what you do.

Strategy is about making choices, trade-offs. It’s about deliberately choosing to be different. — Michael Porter

  • “A strategic position is not sustainable unless there are trade-offs with other positions.”

  • We can try to avoid the reality of trade-offs, but we can’t escape them.

  • Trade-offs are not something to be ignored or decried. They are something to be embraced and made deliberately, strategically, and thoughtfully.

Without great solitude no serious work is possible. — Pablo Picasso

  • Today, everyone waiting around in an airport or a waiting room is glued to their technology tools of choice. Of course, nobody likes to be bored. But by abolishing any chance of being bored we have also lost the time we used to have to think and process.

Where is the knowledge we have lost in information? — T. S. Eliot

A little nonsense now and then, is cherished by the wisest men. — Roald Dahl

  • “We have sold ourselves into a fast-food model of education, and it’s impoverishing our spirit and our energies as much as fast food is depleting our physical bodies.… Imagination is the source of every form of human achievement. And it’s the one thing that I believe we are systematically jeopardizing in the way we educate our children and ourselves.”

  • Play doesn’t just help us to explore what is essential. It is essential in and of itself.

Each night, when I go to sleep, I die. And the next morning, when I wake up, I am reborn. — Mahatma Gandhi

  • The best asset we have for making a contribution to the world is ourselves. If we underinvest in ourselves, and by that I mean our minds, our bodies, and our spirits, we damage the very tool we need to make our highest contribution.

  • In a nutshell, sleep is what allows us to operate at our highest level of contribution so that we can achieve more, in less time.

  • Our highest priority is to protect our ability to prioritize.

  • As you evaluate an option, think about the single most important criterion for that decision, and then simply give the option a score between 0 and 100. If you rate it any lower than 90 percent, then automatically change the rating to 0 and simply reject it.

  • If it isn’t a clear yes, then it’s a clear no.

  • 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.

Courage is grace under pressure. — Ernest Hemingway

  • The right “no” spoken at the right time can change the course of history.

  • Yet as hard as it can be to say no to someone, failing to do so can cause us to miss out on something far more important.

  • “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing”

  • Either we can say no and regret it for a few minutes, or we can say yes and regret it for days, weeks, months, or even years.

  • Only once we separate the decision from the relationship can we make a clear decision and then separately find the courage and compassion to communicate it.

  • “We need to learn the slow ‘yes’ and the quick ‘no.’

Half of the troubles of this life can be traced to saying yes too quickly and not saying no soon enough. — Josh Billings

  • Sunk-cost bias is the tendency to continue to invest time, money, or energy into something we know is a losing proposition simply because we have already incurred, or sunk, a cost that cannot be recouped. But of course this can easily become a vicious cycle: the more we invest, the more determined we become to see it through and see our investment pay off. The more we invest in something, the harder it is to let go.

  • Tom Stafford describes a simple antidote to the endowment effect. Instead of asking, “How much do I value this item?”we should ask, “If I did not own this item, how much would I pay to obtain it?”We can do the same for opportunities and commitment. 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?”Similarly, we can ask, “If I wasn’t already involved in this project, how hard would I work to get on it?”

  • Only when we admit we have made a mistake in committing to something can we make a mistake a part of our past. When we remain in denial, on the other hand, we continue to circle pointlessly. There should be no shame in admitting to a mistake; after all, we really are only admitting that we are now wiser than we once were.

  • The tendency to continue doing something simply because we have always done it is sometimes called the “status quo bias.”

  • It might sound obvious, but pausing for just five seconds before offering your services can greatly reduce the possibility of making a commitment you’ll regret.

  • When we don’t set clear boundaries in our lives we can end up imprisoned by the limits others have set for us. When we have clear boundaries, on the other hand, we are free to select from the whole area—or the whole range of options—that we have deliberately chosen to explore.

To attain knowledge add things every day. To attain wisdom subtract things every day. — Lao-tzu

  • 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.

  • An Essentialist produces more—brings forth more—by removing more instead of doing more.

  • Removing obstacles does not have to be hard or take a superhuman effort. Instead, we can start small. It’s kind of like dislodging a boulder at the top of a hill. All it takes is a small shove, then momentum will naturally build.

Every day do something that will inch you closer to a better tomorrow. — Doug Firebaugh

  • Research has shown that of all forms of human motivation the most effective one is progress. Why? Because a small, concrete win creates momentum and affirms our faith in our further success.

  • Instead of starting big and then flaring out with nothing to show for it other than time and energy wasted, to really get essential things done we need to start small and build momentum. Then we can use that momentum to work toward the next win, and the next one and so on until we have a significant breakthrough—and when we do, our progress will have become so frictionless and effortless that the breakthrough will seem like overnight success.

  • There are two opposing ways to approach an important goal or deadline. You can start early and small or start late and big. “Late and big”means doing it all at the last minute: pulling an all-nighter and “making it happen.”“Early and small”means starting at the earliest possible moment with the minimal possible time investment.

  • When we start small and reward progress, we end up achieving more than when we set big, lofty, and often impossible goals. And as a bonus, the act of positively reinforcing our successes allows us to reap more enjoyment and satisfaction out of the process.

Routine, in an intelligent man, is a sign of ambition. — W. H. Auden

  • Routine is one of the most powerful tools for removing obstacles.

Life is available only in the present moment. If you abandon the present moment you cannot live the moments of your daily life deeply. — Thich Nhat Hanh

  • Multitasking itself is not the enemy of Essentialism; pretending we can “multifocus” is.

  • When faced with so many tasks and obligations that you can’t figure out which to tackle first, stop. Take a deep breath. Get present in the moment and ask yourself what is most important this very second—not what’s most important tomorrow or even an hour from now.

Beware the barrenness of a busy life. — Socrates


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