April 19 2018

A Book A Day #1: Essentialism by Greg McKeown

I did it! Despite the fact that it was the day of my kindergarten son’s first play, I managed to squeeze in enough time to read a book cover to cover. (This is a big feat because it’s a frickin’ jam packed work day!) First book up is Essentialism by Greg McKeown!

I bought this book years ago (it came out in 2014) but all of the content that’s in there is very relevant for anyone who’s leading a busy life. I’m going to follow a specific format for these 365 book reviews so it’s easy for you to skip to your favorite parts.

Brief Synopsis: Once we know our purpose in a project and we do our work well, this leads to success. What happens then? New opportunities arise. You think this is a good thing but these options unintentionally distract us and steal our time. We lose clarity and we start spreading ourselves too thin. Instead of really contributing to a project or, in a larger sense, this world, we’re pulled in a million different directions. The only way out? To live as an Essentialist. What does that mean? It means living a simpler life where you explore and evaluate all the options, eliminate most of them and then execute only on what’s truly important. This leads us to a life of meaning and purpose.

Top 5 Quotes:

“Ask three questions: ‘What do I feel deeply inspired by?’ and ‘What am I particularly talented at?’ and ‘What meets a significant need in this world?’…We are looking for the highest level of contribution: the right thing the right way at the right time.”

“What if society stopped telling us to buy more stuff and instead allowed us to create more space to breathe and think?”…What if instead of we celebrated how much time we had spent listening, pondering, meditating, and enjoying time with the most important people in our lives?”

“Working hard is important. But more effort does not necessarily yield more results. ‘Less but better’ does.”

“To discern what is truly essential we need space to think, time to look and listen, permission to play, wisdom to sleep, and the discipline to apply highly selective criteria to the choices we make.”

“It’s official. Sleep, that rare commodity in stressed-out America, is the new status symbol.”

A Good Story: When a woman named Cynthia was a little, 12-year-old girl, she made plans with her father to have a “date night.” They planned the whole itinerary down to the last minute – everything from attending the last hour of his presentation, taking a trolley, eating Chinese food, watching a movie, taking a nighttime swim and then ordering a hot fudge sundae from room service. That day was all going according to plan until the father ran into an old college friend and business associate after his speech. His friend wanted to invite the two of them to a seafood dinner at the wharf. Cynthia’s father responded: “Bob, it’s so great to see you. Dinner at the wharf sounds great!” The little girl was crestfallen, her daydreams dashed. But then the dad said, “But not tonight, Cynthia and I have a special date planned, don’t we?” He winked at her, grabbed her by the hand and they spent an unforgettable night in San Francisco. Who was this man? None other than Stephen R. Covey of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People! What a dad. Here’s how Cynthia remembers this day: His simple decision “Bonded him to me forever because I knew what mattered most to him was me!”

Statistics or Research:

Warren Buffet and his firm make relatively few investments but keep them for a long time. He only invents in businesses that he’s absolutely sure of and then bets heavily on them. He owes 90% of his wealth to just ten investments.

In regards to sleep, pulling an all-nighter or having a week of sleeping just 4-5 hours a night “induces an impairment equivalent to a blood alcohol level of 0.1%”

Nearly 40 percent of our choices are deeply unconscious.

Takeaway Tips:

Read something from classic literature for the first 20 minutes of the day. Don’t check your email as soon as you wake up. This practice centers you and broadens your perspective. Recommended books include: Zen, the Reason of the Unreason and Tao: To Know and Not Be Knowing.

Keep a journal. Write less than you feel like writing, that way it’s not a chore. Once every 90 days, take an hour to read your journal entries from that period. Focus on the broader patterns and trends. Notice the changes you made in your life.

Continually ask yourself “What’s important right now?” Pare your list down to the essentials.

Take some time to think before you make a commitment and say yes to something.

Set aside some time out of your day to just think.

Prepare everything you can ahead of time so you don’t stress yourself out later.

Who is This Book For?:

Busy, working moms who are trying to juggle it all.

CEOs and managers who need to lead and motivate a team.

Entrepreneurs who are trying to figure out what to prioritize.

My Biggest Takeaway: In this book, I learned about “constraints” or the obstacles holding the whole system back. Even if you improve everything else, if you don’t address the constraint, your project can’t improve. You need to ask the question, “What is the obstacle that is keeping you back from achieving what really matters to you?” Instead of looking for the most obvious obstacles, look for the ones slowing down progress. What is the bottleneck?

I applied this to getting my sons dressed in the mornings. My husband relies on me to pick out the children’s clothes. He’s always asking me to give him their clothes so that he can dress them. This causes both of us to stress out. We’re all rushed to get out the door. So what did I do? I realized that I was the “obstacle” and decided to pick out the clothes the night before and leave them at the top of the stairs. Now, Sam can get them dressed while I get ready. I did this for the past two days and OMG! There’s no more yelling, no more stress. Mr. McKeown, you have drastically improved my home life!

Do I Recommend It?: Absolutely! This book makes you want to live a simpler yet more meaningful life. I love how the author believes family (or relationships) should be at the top of your priority list. At the end of the day, isn’t it all about priorities?


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