Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown

I’m inspired by Mark Zuckerberg’s annual projects and decided to have one of my own.  Read a non-fiction book every week and write about it. 

Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown

At the end of the book, the author sums up this way:

whatever decision or challenge or crossroads you face in your life, simply ask yourself, “What is essential?” Eliminate everything else.

This mirrors the beginning of the book where he quotes the Chinese writer, Lin Yutang:

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

The reason why we need to do this, McKeown argues is so we can focus and make our “highest contribution towards the things that really matter”.

To figure out what these things are, we should ask these three questions:

“What do I feel deeply inspired by?”
“What am I particularly talented at?”
“What meets a significant need in the world?”

To eliminate non-essentials, we must learn to say no, accept trade-offs, set boundaries, admit our mistakes and cut our losses. Not easy. But McKeown reminds us that focusing on the essentials is a choice. You can choose to say no to your boss, you may risk your promotion but you can say no.

Not easy, but still a choice.

Nowadays, I love books that inspire me to ask questions. Here are some questions that I asked myself after reading:

  • What are the things that really matter in my work, at home, in my personal life?
  • What should be my highest point of contribution?
  • What do I want to do with my “one wild and precious life”?
  • What can I reduce, simplify and focus on?
  • What should I give up?
  • What losses do I need to cut?

Some things I learnt:

“Weniger aber besser”

Dieter Rams’ design philosophy – Less but better. I sometimes find people who say “less is more” is really interested in more. Less but better is better.

We should think more deeply about our actions than our options.

For too long, we have overemphasized the external aspect of choices (our options) and underemphasized our internal ability to choose (our actions).

We don’t just have options that we must blindly follow. We can choose. We can choose neither of those options. We can change things. We don’t have to accept job A or job B. We can make our present job better. If we don’t know what we want, we may be led by the options that are available. Led astray.

There was no plural for priority.

“The word priority came into the English language in the 1400s. It was singular. It meant the very first or prior thing. It stayed singular for the next five hundred years. Only in the 1900s did we pluralize the term and start talking about priorities.”

“You cannot overestimate the unimportance of practically everything.”

This quote by John Maxwell is my lens of looking at things. Just a few things are important. Cherish those things. Fight for those things. Clear a way for those things. Those things are everything.

Warren Buffet said: “Our investment philosophy borders on lethargy.”

Laziness and lethargy can be virtues if it means we focus on a few important things rather than work on many things.

To decide means to kill. 

“The Latin root of the word decision—cis or cid—literally means “to cut” or “to kill.” Deciding means giving up on something.

I love this quote.

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

2 key words – available and abandon. Great news – life is available! Even though it hurts, it’s confusing, it’s painful, life is available. Life is available – despite the circumstances.

Abandon – that’s a crime. Don’t do it. Abandon the past! Abandon the future! Don’t abandon the present moment. Live immediately!

Thich Nhat Hahn takes a full hour to drink a cup of tea with other monks every day.

A full hour for a cup of tea! I must try it. He talks to Oprah about it here

Someone visits cemeteries around the world when he travels.

Made me think. I enjoy walking in them. Should make this a habit. Good to think about death. The Stoics encourage it.


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