Filmmaker, Video Editor, Motion Graphics Designer, and Photographer in Cairo, Egypt.
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Monday, May 1, 2017

Part(2) - Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less


Major Highlights from Greg McKeown's book, "Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less".

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Part (1): here.
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ESCAPE: The Perks of Being Unavailable

WITHOUT GREAT SOLITUDE NO SERIOUS WORK IS POSSIBLE.  —Pablo Picasso

Before you can evaluate what is and isn’t essential, you first need to explore your options. While Nonessentialists automatically react to the latest idea, jump on the latest opportunity, or respond to the latest e-mail, Essentialists choose to create the space to explore and ponder.
An Essentialist focuses the way our eyes focus; not by fixating on something but by constantly adjusting and adapting to the field of vision.

LOOK: See What Really Matters

WHERE IS THE KNOWLEDGE WE HAVE LOST IN INFORMATION?  —T. S. Eliot

In every set of facts, something essential is hidden. And a good journalist knows that finding it involves exploring those pieces of information and figuring out the relationships between them (and my undergraduate degree was in journalism, so I take this seriously). It means making those relationships and connections explicit. It means constructing the whole from the sum of its parts and understanding how these different pieces come together to matter to anyone. The best journalists do not simply relay information. Their value is in discovering what really matters to people.

Being a journalist of your own life will force you to stop hyper-focusing on all the minor details and see the bigger picture. You can apply the skills of a journalist no matter what field you are in—you can even apply them to your personal life. By training yourself to look for “the lead,” you will suddenly find yourself able to see what you have missed. You’ll be able to do more than simply see the dots of each day: you’ll also connect them to see the trends. Instead of just reacting to the facts, you’ll be able to focus on the larger issues that really matter.

Essentialists are powerful observers and listeners. Knowing that the reality of trade-offs means they can’t possibly pay attention to everything, they listen deliberately for what is not being explicitly stated. They read between the lines. Or as Hermione Granger, of Harry Potter fame (an unlikely Essentialist, I’ll grant you, but an Essentialist in this regard all the same), puts it, “Actually I’m highly logical, which allows me to look past extraneous detail and perceive clearly that which others overlook.”

Nonessentialists listen too. But they listen while preparing to say something. They get distracted by extraneous noise. They hyperfocus on inconsequential details. They hear the loudest voice but they get the wrong message. In their eagerness to react they miss the point. As a result they may, using a metaphor from C. S. Lewis, run around with fire extinguishers in times of flood.4 They miss the lead.

In the chaos of the modern workplace, with so many loud voices all around us pulling us in many directions, it is more important now than ever that we learn to resist the siren song of distraction and keep our eyes and ears peeled for the headlines. Here are a few ways to tap into your inner journalist.

PLAY: Embrace the Wisdom of Your Inner Child

A LITTLE NONSENSE NOW AND THEN, IS CHERISHED BY THE WISEST MEN.—Roald Dahl

Play, which I would define as anything we do simply for the joy of doing rather than as a means to an end—whether it’s flying a kite or listening to music or throwing around a baseball—might seem like a nonessential activity. Often it is treated that way. But in fact play is essential in many ways. Stuart Brown, the founder of the National Institute for Play, has studied what are called the play histories of some six thousand individuals and has concluded that play has the power to significantly improve everything from personal health to relationships to education to organizations’ ability to innovate. “Play,” he says, “leads to brain plasticity, adaptability, and creativity.” As he succinctly puts it, “Nothing fires up the brain like play.”

Play expands our minds in ways that allow us to explore: to germinate new ideas or see old ideas in a new light. It makes us more inquisitive, more attuned to novelty, more engaged. Play is fundamental to living the way of the Essentialist because it fuels exploration in at least three specific ways.

Play doesn’t just help us to explore what is essential. It is essential in and of itself.

SELECT: The Power of Extreme Criteria

AN INNER PROCESS STANDS IN NEED OF OUTWARD CRITERIA.  —Ludwig Wittgenstein

In a piece called “No More Yes. It’s Either HELL YEAH! Or No,” the popular TED speaker Derek Sivers describes a simple technique for becoming more selective in the choices we make. The key is to put the decision to an extreme test: if we feel total and utter conviction to do something, then we say yes, Derek-style. Anything less gets a thumbs down. Or as a leader at Twitter once put it to me, If the answer isn’t a definite yes then it should be a no.” It is a succinct summary of a core Essentialist principle, and one that is critical to the process of exploration.

You can think of this as the 90 Percent Rule, and it’s one you can apply to just about every decision or dilemma. As you evaluate an option, think about the single most important criterion for that decision, and then simply give the option a score between 0 and 100. If you rate it any lower than 90 percent, then automatically change the rating to 0 and simply reject it. This way you avoid getting caught up in indecision, or worse, getting stuck with the 60s or 70s. Think about how you’d feel if you scored a 65 on some test. Why would you deliberately choose to feel that way about an important choice in your life?

Making our criteria both selective and explicit affords us a systematic tool for discerning what is essential and filtering out the things that are not.

If it isn’t a clear yes, then it’s a clear no.

Applying tougher criteria to life’s big decisions allows us to better tap into our brain’s sophisticated search engine. Think of it as the difference between conducting a Google search for “good restaurant in New York City” and “best slice of pizza in downtown Brooklyn.” If we search for “a good career opportunity,” our brain will serve up scores of pages to explore and work through. Instead, why not conduct an advanced search and ask three questions: “What am I deeply passionate about?” and “What taps my talent?” and “What meets a significant need in the world?” Naturally there won’t be as many pages to view, but that is the point of the exercise. We aren’t looking for a plethora of good things to do. We are looking for the one where we can make our absolutely highest point of contribution.
 

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