Essentialism by Greg McKeown – A Visual Summary

July 29, 2019 posted by

Hello and welcome to Verbal to Visual, today
I’d like to share a visual summary of the book Essentialism by Greg McKeown. This book is about the disciplined pursuit
of less, which is an idea that intrigues me, especially as it relates to my professional
life and what I’m attempting to do with my creative career. And I hope that you find these ideas useful
and actionable as well, and to dig deeper into them, do go pick up the book. It’s a great read. Let’s start with two ideas that are at the
core of essentialism. The first is that for every single thing that
you say “yes” to, that means you’re gonna have to say “no” to a bunch of other
things, which means it’s worth putting a lot of value in your yes, and also not being
afraid to say “no”. That concept is a relatively simply one to
grasp, but it does beg the question: “How do you determine what to say yes to?” One thing to keep in mind is that not all
effort is created equal, that there are certain types of effort that yield more results that
others. So what you’re on the lookout for are the
best places to put your effort, the best “yes”, the tasks and that projects that you can take
on that will yield the greatest results. With those core ideas and core questions in
mind, we jump into the three sections of this book: explore, eliminate, and execute. Each chapter of this book has a single-word
title, and that word is always a verb. I appreciate that about this book, the simplicity
and the action-oriented nature of it. Within the explore section of the book, you
must escape. You’ve got to create a time and a space
where you can concentrate, where you can design, where you can read. This is all about the advantages that come
with being unavailable, and intentionally creating times where you are unavailable to
do deep thinking and deep work. You’ve also go to look. You’ve got to hone your observational skills
and be a journalist of your own life. The idea from this chapter that I found to
be the most helpful relates to the morning journaling that I do, and the prompt of “looking
for the lead”. As I look back on the past day or maybe even
the past week – what is the lead to that story? So in exploring the past, either the immediate
past or distant past, what is the most fascinating thing about the particular chunk of time that
I’m looking at. You also must play. The value of playing lies in it’s ability
to broaden the range of options available to you. There’s this expansion of awareness that
happens when you do enter that state of play. It’s also a very clear antidote to stress,
which is likely a regular component of your life. And play has a positive impact on executive
functions, things like planning and deciding and anticipating and prioritizing. Play actually allows you to do those things
better. Sleep is an important activity as well, the
idea being that you must protect the asset, the asset being your brain, your whole body,
and your ability to make good decisions. Without enough sleep you lose the ability
to see what actually is essential, and the quality of your effort and attention steadily
declines. And in order to put your efforts toward the
things that are most important, you have to select. You can’t say “yes” to everything, and
you have to decide some metric by which to determine what gets your “yes”, and here
McKeown brings in the idea from Derek Sivers of it being either “Hell yeah!” or “No.” There’s no in between. And that “hell yeah” only gets a very
small percentage, so if you don’t have that immediate reaction, it’s probably not worth
doing. From that exploratory section of the book,
we move on to eliminating, starting with the prompt to clarify, deciding what is the target
that you’re shooting for, bringing in this ideas of essential intent. And that without having your essential intent
defined, it makes it a whole lot harder to know what things to say yes to and which things
to say no to. And of those two responses, it’s understandable
that it’s often harder to say no than it is to say yes, but it is something that you
must dare to do. You must dare to say “no” even if it makes
you unpopular, because as McKeown puts it, saying “no” often means trading popularity
for respect, but in order to make that trade, you do need to say “no” firmly, resolutely,
and gracefully. And I think it’s worth recognizing that
it’s harder to do all of those things, to say “no” in that way, that it does take
effort and practice, but that it’s worth getting good at saying “no” in those ways. Ideally you’ll get good at saying “no”
up front, but sometimes you might need to uncommit. If you recognize that the direction you’re
going is taking you toward a bad place, making the tough decision of turning the plane around
and starting to move toward a better place, even if that turn requires an extra bit of
energy. And you’ve also got to edit along the way,
to make those subtractions that actually add quality to your life and to your work. This is the “kill your darlings” of Stephen
King, the “if I had more time this would be a lot shorter”. This is where you move from being a journalist
to being an editor, looking for opportunities to cut out anything that anything that isn’t
essential so that there’s more space and attention given to what is. And where editing is something that often
occurs after-the-fact, on the flip side you also have the opportunity to limit your options
up front, to create boundaries in your life and in your work, within which you can actually
feel a sense of freedom, that there’s this safe space that you’ve created where you
can do your thing uninterrupted. And I think this applies both to the limits
that you put on yourself for any particular creative task, but also the boundaries that
you set up with other people, that appropriate boundaries within your relationships are what
creates that sense of freedom. And from there we move on to the act of executing
on those things that you’ve chosen to say yes to, starting with the value of creating
a buffer, that there’s some space in between whatever you’re current focus is and a future
commitment that’s coming your way, that a bit of breathing room actually will allow
you to execute on your ideas more effectively so that your efforts fall more within that
“D” range compared to the “A” range, because without the appropriate time buffers
of financial buffers, there’s the risk that the quality of your effort will decline. Because your attention (either consciously
or subconsciously) is elsewhere, worrying about the rapidly approaching upcoming commitment. And in order to execute on an idea effectively,
you also must subtract. You’ve got to take a close look at the steps
underlying your creative process and remove the obstacles that make those steps more difficult. So that instead of having this feeling of
trudging up a stairway, maybe it can feel more like walking down one. For example, for me with these videos, I sometimes
see the task of putting my face on camera for an intro and outro as an obstacle that’s
actually keeping me from doing more and better work, which is why I’ve been experimenting
with subtracting that from my process, because it might not be essential for my task here
of sharing interesting ideas and helping others develop useful skills. So think about what the obstacles are in your
process that you might be able to remove. And here there’s an emphasis on progress,
and focusing specifically not on huge leaps of progress but instead on building for yourself
a system of small wins, steps that you can take each day that allow you to start small
and build momentum over time. Do you have a system like that in place? And is that system rooted in these small steps? The small wins that over time can take you
far. And as you build that system, look for the
things that get you in a state of flow. Look for those consistent routines that you
can put in place for yourself because the more routine something becomes, the more that
opens up the rest of your brain to devote to the challenging task in front of you, to
again increase the quality of your effort, and thereby the likelihood that your effort
will yield the best results. And as you’re focused on the progress of
small wins and looking for that state of flow, what will help is a regular state of focus,
of focused attention, focused energy, and to always be WINning – asking the question
“What’s Important Now?” Not dwelling on something that happened in
the past or stressing about something that might happen in the future, but putting quality
attention to the present, and choosing to act on the thing that is most important right
now. And to warp things ups, McKeown looks at what
it means to actually BE an essentialist, that essentialism isn’t something that you do,
it’s something that you are, with the enoucragement here to move the essentialist part of you
to your core, that you live from a sense of essentialism and push the non-essentialist
part of you away from that core. And then, over time, working to increase that
essentialist core as the non-essentialist exterior gets smaller and smaller. So that’s a quick overview of what essentialism
is all about. And each of the individual ideas here is actually
an entire chapter within the book, so there’s lots to continue digging into there. And for me, as I hope you’ve seen here,
one of the tools that I use to help me both decide what is essential and then execute
well on the things that I’ve chosen to say “yes” to is visual note-taking, this process
of giving ideas a visual form, of creating diagrams and small scenes to help you wrap
your head around whatever it is you have in front of you, to get the most out of the mental
effort you put into your work. And if you would like to develop that skill
to help make your yes’s a little bit more impactful, then check out the resources at Thanks for watching this video. I hope that you’re able to take some action
on at least a few of these ideas, and maybe move toward those activities that are essential,
and move away from the non-essential. Because I do think that is something that
leads to a more fulfilled, that the disciplined pursuit of less has the potential to create
more meaning. So thanks again for watching, and I’ll see
you next time. Till then.

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