The discipined pursuit of less
Find the core Essentialist mindset
- Don’t attempt to invest in everything at once. You’re spread too thin.
- Don’t surrender your ability to choose. Others will then choose for us.
We can gain and lose certain options, but our ability to choose is always there. It can be forgotten, but not lost.
This requires knowing to saying “no” to many choices.
|“I have to.”||“I choose to.”|
|Forfeits the right to choose||Exercises the power of choice|
Some efforts yield more rewards then others. For your efforts, know the relationship between time and results.
Less but Better
Pareto Principle, or 80/20 rule: 20% of the efforts make 80% of the results. At one point, continually investing more and more into something can make our progress stall. That’s why finding and focusing on the top 20% of the efforts matters. This means we can accomplish more by doing less.
|Thinks almost everything is essential||Thinks almost everything is nonessential|
|Views opportunities as basically equal||Distinguishes the vital few from the trivial many|
Ask yourself, “Which problem do I want?”
Don’t straddle, or try to keep one strategy intact while adapting a new one. Make deliberate trade-offs in important areas. Otherwise you will be spread too thin and lose focus on the most important goals.
Trade-offs are natural for all decisions and should be accepted - since saying yes to one thing means saying no to several others. Even things we may want. Accept that we cannot have it all, so knowing what matters more is vital.
There are no solutions, only trade-offs
|Thinks, “I can do both.”||Asks, “What is the trade-off I want to make?”|
|Asks, “How can I do it?”||Asks, “What can I go big on?”|
Find the vital few from the trivial many. Know how to explore and evaluate many options before committing to any.
Need time to escape so you can:
- Figure out what really matters
- Get perspective
- Explore your options
- Get focus on life
- Explore 100 questions and possibilities
- Get space for intense concentration
- Avoid distractions
- Make yourself unavailable
This means setting aside time where we do nothing but think. Can also be time to do nothing except read.
|Is too busy to think about life||Creates space to escape and enjoy life|
Find the signal in the noise
Don’t just regurgitate the facts, think about their point and the relationships between them. What do they really mean to people?
Listen to what others don’t hear. People often react fast to what’s said and miss the larger point. Always remember the bigger picture. When you do look beyond the facts, connect it back to this.
Larger strategy: think of yourself as a journalist for your own life. Write a journal to remember the larger points and lessons from your day. Go out and investigate, talk to people, to see more of what people don’t normally hear.
Ask yourself, what question are you trying to answer? Avoid vague questions that create lots of unneeded opinions and comments.
|Pays attention to the loudest voice||Pays attention to the signal in the noise|
|Hears everything being said||Hears what is not being said|
|Is overwhelmed by all the info||Scans to find the essence of the info|
Play is anything we do simply for the joy of doing it. Not a means to an end. Can help everything from our personal health, to relationships, to education.
- It fuels exploration
- Broadens range of options available to us
- Antidote to stress
- Helps our brain’s executive functions
|Thinks play is trivial||Knows play is essential|
|Thinks play is an unproductive waste of time||Knows play sparks exploration|
Sleeping is how we invest back into ourselves. It’s how we pace and nurture ourselves. Underinvesting in sleep is damaging our most important asset. It makes it harder to think, plan, prioritize, and see the bigger picture. It gives us reserves of energy, creativity, and problem-solving abilities.
Don’t subscribe to the false belief that sleep is for the lazy. Sleeping makes us more productive, since we get much more work out of our time awake.
Even a nap can bring us some of these benefits!
- Protecting the asset of our bodies
- One hour of sleep is several productive hours, and is high priority
- Breeds creativity
- Gives the highest level of mental contribution
- Helps us prioritize
|One hour less of sleep is one hour more of productivity||One hour more of sleep is several more hours of higher productivity|
|Sleep is for failures||Sleep is for high performers|
|Sleep is a luxury||Sleep is a priority|
|Sleep breeds laziness||Sleep breeds creativity|
|Sleep gets in the way of “doing it all”||Sleep enables the highest levels of mental contribution|
Only say yes to what you feel total and utter conviction for. Otherwise it’s a thumbs down.
This is done by setting extreme criteria for important choices. Try the 90 Percent Rule: get the most important criteria for a decision, and based on that give a score from 0 and 100. Anything less than 90 is a fail.
We must accept the trade-offs, since you’ll often turn down good-looking choices. This forces you to wait for the perfect option, but by design - logically, consciously, and rationally, with criteria we’ve established in advance. We get the choice that lets us make our highest contribution.
If it isn’t a clear yes, then it’s a clear no.
All this requires explicit criteria. It’s recommended having:
- Three minimum criteria, where all must be met
- Three extreme criteria, where two must be met
To do this, we must overcome the fear of missing out on opportunities that don’t meet our criteria.
|Say yes to almost every request or opportunity||Says yes to only the top 10 percent of opportunities|
|Uses broad, explicit criteria like “If someone I know is doing it, I should do it.”||Uses narrow, explicit criteria like “Is this exactly what I’m looking for?”|
How do we cut out the trivial many?
It’s not enough to know what areas of life make the best contribution. You still have to actively eliminate the ones that don’t.
If you want to cut out unessential activities, you must be extremely clear about what your purpose is. Clear purpose inspires motivation and cooperation.
Lack of clear purpose leads to:
- Playing politics for power, making up their own games and rules
- Thinking everything is good, which often prioritizes peoples’ short term interests. Something good doesn’t mean it’ll contribute a lot.
Choose a purpose that’s both concrete and inspirational. Has a clear finish line. No meaningless cliches and buzzwords, since they’re not concrete.
To help find it, ask “if I could be truly excellent at one thing, what would it be?” Then ask, “how will I know when I succeeded?” Answering these is tough, takes trade-offs and discipline.
|Has a vague, general vision or mission statement||Has a strategy that is concrete and inspirational|
|Has concrete quarterly objectives, but ones that fail to energize or inspire people to take their efforts to the next level||Has an intent that is both meaningful and memorable|
|Has a value set but no guiding principles for implementing them||Makes one decision that eliminates one thousand later decisions|
Often a tension between what we feel is right and the pressure to say yes to someone. The fear of saying “no” is understandable with our herd instincts and fear of social awkwardness. We may say yes to something since we don’t know the essential things we’d want to say “yes” to instead. Plus saying “yes” often makes us feel regretful, resentful, and bullied.
Be willing to saw “no.” Our conviction may bother people in the short-term, but will bring respect in the long-term.
Tips for Saying No
- Remember that denying the request isn’t the same as denying the person
- Phrase it other ways, like “I’m overcommitted” or “I don’t have the bandwidth” in a clear, polite way
- Remember the trade-off you’d be making
- Know what’s being sold to you, whether it’s an idea, viewpoint, opinion, or whatever
- Accept it’ll often mean trading popularity for respect. Respect is more valuable anyway
- It’s better to clearly say no than giving a vague, delayed yes.
Specific “No” Alternatives
- Awkward pause. Count to three before saying no.
- The soft “no.” Say “no, but” and follow up with a compromise or opportunity to say yes another time.
- You’ll check your calendar and get back to them.
- Use email bouncebacks
- Say “Yes, what should I deprioritize?” Remind people what you’d be neglecting by saying yes. Great for boss requests!
- Use humor.
- You are welcome to “X.” I am willing to “Y.” Show support without throwing your full weight behind someone.
- I can’t, but X may be interested.
Learn the slow “yes” and the quick “no.”
|Avoids saying no to avoid feeling social awkwardness and pressure||Dares to say no firmly, resolutely, and gracefully|
|Says yes to everything||Says yes only to the things that really matter|
Sunk Cost Fallacy: Tendency to keep investing time and resources since we’ve already started doing this, even if we know it’s a losing proposition. The more we invest, the harder it is to let go, and takes more courage and confidence to do so.
Tips to Uncommit
- Avoid the Endowment Effect, or the tendency undervalue things that aren’t ours and overvalue things that are. This includes activities we do too.
- Pretend you don’t own something yet. “If I didn’t own it, how much would I pay for it?”
- Get over the Fear of Losing Out, or FOMO. Adults more often believe in the “don’t waste” rule, so it’s harder for them most times.
- Admit failure to begin success. Admit the mistake, make it part of our past, and move on as a wiser person.
- Don’t force a fit. Don’t be something you’re not.
- Get a neutral second opinion. Someone not emotionally involved and unaffected by the choice.
- Remember “status quo bias.” Don’t accept something just because you’ve always done it.
- Use zero-based budgeting. Use zero as a baseline for new budgets. Start from scratch, use no past precedent. All bets are off.
- Stop the casual committments. Never agree to things offhand. Pause five seconds, ask if it’s essential, then make a decision.
- Run a reverse pilot. Test if removing an item or activity will have negative effects. Test by doing this quietly for a few days.
|Asks, “Why stop now when I’ve already invested so much in this project?”||Asks, “If I weren’t already invested in this project, how much would I invest in it now?”|
|Thinks, “If I just keep trying, I can make this work.”||Thinks, “What else could I do with this time or money if I pulled the plug now?”|
|Hates admitting to mistakes||Comfortable with cutting losses|
Editing: Strict elimination of the trivial, unimportant, or irrelevant. A good editor makes it hard to not see what’s important. Deliberately removing what’s unneeded pulls more life out of what’s left.
Remember this will involve making trade-offs, since editing out the nonessential is removing several options for one.
Limiting options from the start makes it easier to decide, since there’s fewer things to pick between.
- Get as much value out of what you have as possible. For example, a piece of furniture that serves multiple functions. But it’s more about avoiding waste than cramming in more activity.
- Correct and edit things based on the overarching purpose or goal.
- Avoid the need to overedit too. Know when to show restraint, observe, and see how things develop before knowing what to edit.
|Thanks that making things better means adding something||Thinks that making things better means subtracting something|
|Attached to every word, image, or details||Eliminates the distracting workds, images, and details|
Setting boundaries is hard, but in the established areas we enjoy unambigious freedom and avoiding unneeded decisions. It’s obviously tough, but it helps us better control and choose what’s essential in our lives.
- Protects our time from being hijacked
- Don’t let others give us their problems, and indirectly keep them from solving it themselves
- Don’t let others set our limits for us
- Better to be upfront about your boundaries, to avoid wasting each others’ time.
|Thinks if you have limits you will be limited||Knows that if you have limits you will become limitless|
|Sees boundaries as constraining||Sees boundaries as liberating|
|Exerts effot attempting the direct “no”||Sets rules in advance that eliminate the need for a direct “no”|
Make the execution of the essential priorities effortless. These steps are the system for that execution.
Prepare for worst-case scenarios, so you can respond and adapt to the unexpected. Most projects and committments tend to expand fill (or overfill) the time we give them. Never assume the worst-case scenario - put in time and resource buffers to prepare for the unseen.
Nonessentialists will underestimate how long a task takes, and this comes back to bit them.
- When you receive a windfall or unexpected benefit, set it aside for a rainy day
- Starts big projects immediately, even if it’s just a little
- Acknowledge you can’t predict the unexpected
- Rule of thumb: add a 50% time buffer for activities
|Assumes the best-case scenario will happen||Builds in a buffer for unexpected events|
|Forces execution at the last minute||Practices extreme and early preparation|
Find the part of a process that slows every other part, and how to improve or remove it. What obstacle is holding back the biggest achievements?
Being good with a hammer, a Nonessentialist thinks everything is a nail.
It’s better to remove obstacles in the way, instead of using more tools and pressure to force a fix through. Removing obstacles is a simpler, more effective investment.
I order to do this, you must:
- Know your essential intent. Ask “how will we know when we’re done?”
- Find your biggest obstacle. There will likely be many, but focus most on the worst. Some activities could be considered “productive” but still slow down process.
- Remove the obstacle.
|Piles on quick-fix solutions||Removes obstacles to progress|
|Does more||Brings forth more|
The more we reach for the stars, the harder it is to get off the ground.
Starting too large makes it more likely to abandon the project as burdonsome. Start small and celebrate progress. Little achievement is still achievement, which is powerful motivation. This build forward momentum. Good example of this is a token system that gives many small wins and progress over time.
- Focus on Minimal Viable Progress. Find the simplest possible product that’s still useful and valuable.
- Do the Minimum Viable Preparation. Start at the earliest moment with smallest time investment. Just take the first step.
- Visually reward progress. Seeing visible progress is another great motivator.
|Starts with a big goal and gets small results||Starts small and gets big results|
|Goes for the flashiest wins||Celebrates small acts of progress|
Build useful routines so doing the essential becomes an automatic “program.” Let the good habits take over, so essentials don’t need to be forced. This saves energy you’d waste otherwise prioritizing things consciously.
Make essentialism the default position
This works due to the power of our habits - nearly 40% of our choices are inconscious through habits. Unproductive habits can damage us greatly this way.
- Every habit has a cue, routine, and reward. Find your cues and work to associate them with better actions
- Or try to create new triggers for new essential habits
- Take care of the hardest tasks first with your routines
- Know you can have different routines for different days or activities
- Know building strong routines takes time and effort
|Tries to execute the essentials by force||Designs a routine that enshrines what is essential, making execution almost effortless|
|Allows nonessentials to be the defaults||Makes the essential the default position|
Ask “What’s important now?” Tune in to what’s important in the hear and now. Don’t diffuse your efforts with distractions. Know how to stop, take a deep breath, and ask what matters most and what you’d need to do to sleep peacefully.
Essentialists know they can’t multifocus, or concentrate on two or more things at the same time.
Don’t worry about the future. If it’s tough, write it down to get the thoughts out of your head.
|Mind is spinning about the past or the future||Mind is focused on the present|
|Thinks about what was important yesterday or tomorrow||Tunes in to what is important right now|
|Worries about the future or stresses about the past||Enjoys the moment|