After reading this book you will understand the importance of essentialism, have the ability to explore and understand what is most important to you, removing everything else, and keep non-essential things out of your life permanently.
The metaphor returned to throughout the book is how would you go about clearing out the closet? First thing would be to look through everything, explore each article of clothing.
Next step is to select those things you no longer want. The author suggests asking yourself “Do I love this?” and if the answer is “No” the it has to go.
Last step is to follow through and get rid of the items selected. This may be to pass on, sell to second hand shop, donate or dump. Once complete your closet will be much cleaner. Imagine you could do this with your life.
You also need an ongoing skill of not adding to the closet unless it is absolutely required. By choosing to add something does it replace an existing item? If so, throw out the thing it replaces.
A key message from the book is that you have a choice. You should be aware of those choices and make them consciously.
A lot of the time people fail to make decisions, just going with the flow. Decisions then get made for you. When this happens the choice will not always be the best one for you. Take control of your life - make your own decisions.
Take the 80/20 Principle, as described in Richard Koch’s book of the same name. The principle states that 80 per cent of the value is achieved from 20% of the activities.
Koch showed that if business focus on the smaller, but more valuable business activities and remove those which are not adding much to the bottom line, they can vastly improve performance.
Think doing less but doing it better. The investment style of Warren Buffet is given as an example. Don’t try to make lots of tough decisions, just make a small number of really good ones.
To figure out what is important to you, whether in your professional life, your personal and family life or in the wider society, you need to make decisions that remove unimportant activities; learn to say “No”.
In each area, can you identify the single most important thing that you could be doing right now? If so then that is the only thing that you should be doing. Everything else is a distraction.
I was surprised to find that being and essentialist requires that we examine many more choices than the non-essentialist. It can be time consuming to consider all the options. Making the right decision, once, is the aim.
People tend to find something that they like a little and dive in. Spending the most precious of resources, time and concentration, on it before finding out it is not the perfect solution.
To fully explore the options there are some simple strategies to follow.
Escape from your life for a while to try to figure out what is essential; it is not possible to do so from within the tumult of life’s flow. This could be one day per month or a week’s retreat, but should be distraction and obligation free.
Plan this time in advance and use it to explore ideas. It may simply be time to read a new book, or to learn a new skill, to play with it for a while and to find out if it fits your life. Make connections from this experience and see can it add value.
If you have difficulty figuring out what is really important, a suggestion is to use the journalistic trick of asking the following five Ws and one H questions. What, When, Why, Where, Who and How?
Keep a daily journal. Start by writing less than you feel like writing but do it every day. This advice helped me to restart a journal I felt it was too much effort to add to daily, and weekly was too much of a chore. Small bite sized entries can be done in a few minutes.
Review after every two or three months and look for trends that would be difficult to spot on a daily basis, only emerging over longer periods. Problems that are on your mind can be identified and addressed. Things that are just burning up your time or causing stress and tiredness can be eliminated.
Play is something that we need to make time for. Somehow adults start thinking that to be playful is to be childish. In some ways this is correct - but research shows that play is how children rapidly learn new skills.
If you can incorporate play into your everyday life, not just sitting in front of the television, but actively practicing, doing, moving, then you open new doors.
As a means to develop personal health, both spiritual and physical, to improve relationships by playing with others and as an antidote to stress, play has great potential value in everyone’s life.
Companies are beginning to catch on to this idea, that play is a driver of innovation. Google and other big companies are well known for the toys and spaces they create to allow people to play.
Life tip from Essentialism: If your children are cranky and out of sorts, get them to draw. It will drain the stress and make everyone happier. I’ve used this tip successfully with my own two young children.
As a software developer, I think we learn new languages, frameworks and skills best by playing with the technology. By using and trying out things we learn what works and what doesn’t.
If I’m guilty of any non-essentialist practice it would be to not get enough sleep. Whether it’s staying up too late watching sport or getting up too early, perhaps to exercise or to get time to update this blog before my day job, I allow myself to get into a state of sleep deprivation.
The number one thing to keep in mind is to protect the asset, your mind that is.
Make choices that allow you to sleep. There are consequences; if you are worried that you might hear a conversation about a TV show or sporting event that you chose not to stay up for the next day, but will watch the recording later, is that really more important than getting enough rest?
Everyone is different. Find out what average level of sleep you need to maintain good concentration in all the things that are essential. Include working life, personal interest and relationships. Cutting sleep can affect any or all the above.
Once you know what level of sleep you need create a plan that allows you to meet those needs. Choose not to do things that impact the plan.
I’m quite jealous of the folks at Google. They have sleep pods in which you can sign up and plan a short nap completely cut off from the office outside. Google at least values the importance of their employees getting adequate sleep. A short nap can be effective at restoring cognitive ability.
The ninety per cent rule suggests that you should only accept the top ten per cent in any selection. Use a scoring mechanism to allocate scores and only accept possibilities that are in the top slots.
Another approach is to create a list of both standard criteria and extreme criteria, three of each. If any of the standard criteria are not met then it’s an automatic rejection. Only keep those options that meet at least two of the three single criteria.
The aim of the game is to find the one huge thing that we are best suited to do, to make an impact on, to which we can make the highest contribution.
What is your essential intent? It’s a hard question to answer. But if you do then you have something that helps to make all other decisions easy.
After spending time to explore and discover the prime motivating factor in your life, the next step is to eliminate everything else that conflicts with this activity.
Learn to say “No” to anything that does not contribute directly to this intent. Be wary of anything that might appear to help, but actually will waste your time.
Write down what you want your life in five years time to be. Make it precise and clear. Identify the first two or three steps that need to be done and take them.
A key phrase from the book is that you should say “No” to good things so that you can say “Yes” to important big things. Doesn’t sound too easy, does it?
Chapter eleven gives great tips to help, such as putting in a long pause before saying “No”. Even wait until they feel compelled to say the next words. Can’t wait to try this.
Of these my favourite tips from part three of the book focuses on estimation. Humans are bad at estimating things, especially the time it takes to do a task. In software development under estimation is the norm.
Adding fifty per cent to all tasks is a reasonable way to counteract this chronic underestimation. Greg suggest another, deeper approach, to use extreme preparation.
Once you get an essential task, start immediately. Begin with the tiniest thing that can possibly be done to start the ball rolling. That might simply be to list the questions you have, or to start a things to do list of things. You don't have to complete anything, but just get started and bite off things early in the process.
This leads into another strategy for execution of the essential lifestyle. You should celebrate all wins, even small wins. From a software developer’s point of view, when we began using the Agile process properly, breaking things down into small tasks, we immediately started to feel the benefit of making tangible progress on a daily basis.
Sometimes this can break down a little. We have so many small tasks it’s hard to see the bigger picture. Developers have complained to me that user stories are broken down to such small bits that there is little challenge remaining.
By asking “What’s important now?” the answer is usually that getting a user story into production is the key. Anything that speeds up the process sufficiently, that makes it simple, is a positive influence.
Keeping site of the important things, regular, quality software delivery, and planning to the extreme so that the right code is delivered at the right time is an essential part of being a developer.
The book wraps up with some advice for being a leader and an essentialist. The key thing to note is that teams that have a high clarity of purpose are those that are the most highly performing. Make sure not to give ambiguous directions to team members; make sure they know exactly what is the priority.
As a leader, it is likely that you have amassed some experience in several fields. Trying to stay active in too many of them will lead to a break down of clarity.
I’ll end with the word priority, which derives from Latin. The original meaning of the word was to identify something as the most important. This has evolved slightly with the verb to prioritise, which suggests that it is possible to have two priorities, one which is less important than the next.
Make yourself have only one priority - everything else should be of less importance. Only when you can no longer work on the priority, perhaps having completed the work or it dropping in value for the business, should you try to pick the next priority.
Communicate the priority freely to those around you. Certainly your subordinates should know, this will help to produce a highly effective team. But also ensure that you discuss your priority with your boss.
If your boss cannot give you the clarity you need do your best to formulate your own. If they disagree, then challenge them to set one themselves.
Once agreed, report frequently on progress.
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