Being a big fan of the motto “less is more”, seeing this book title, I knew that I had to get my hands on it! So, just a few days after the previous book review called ReWork, I got my hands on it and finished reading Essentialism – The Disciplined Pursuit for Less.
Overall, this is a really nicely written book and also really interesting. It’s not as provocative as the Rework one, but still it contains some views that are not what you would say “the status quo”. I think that apart from some points where I just disagree by character, on all the other levels, this book offerred a really useful insight for a hyper-active person like me (not only my opinion but that of my family, friends & colleagues). This book is about concentrating your power, energy, mind and soul if you will, on the things that matter, on the things that add value. It borderlines in many aspects with the lean theory of doing only the essential that add value, without wasting anything. For that, it’s a really useful read for all of us that tend to go big and try to fit everything into a day that would not be enough even if it lasted for 48 hours.
In a society, overloaded with information, we are constantly drawn towards trivial stuff. Towards things that are not essential in their core. You name it. Another task at work, another cute video of an animal doing something, another new cell phone model, another fad, another new fitness program, etc. The list goes on and on with things that come and try to grasp hold of our precious time, most of the times for the purpose of making a profit. Isn’t this one of the main points of these lean-like approaches? “Study a day in the life of your customer” they say. And then find the five minutes he/she has set aside for something and take them! Make them your own and engage them with your amazing app. Within this society that consumes itself, we have to find the balance within, starting from balancing the things around us.
Essentialism teaches among others that instead “I have to” we have to say “I choose to” and instead of “it’s all important” we have to say “there are only a few things that matter“. And last but not least, instead of saying “I can do both” we have to embrace “I can do anything but not everything“. On the same side with the JUDO approach that says that you want to achieve the maximum result with minimum effort. Or the Pareto Principle (20% of the efforts product 80% of the outcomes).
Essentialism also values things like “space“, “listening“, “playing“, “sleeping” and of course “selecting“. Having a life is a must, and there’s no slack for slaving off into endless 12-hour stretches. There’s no pushing back the birthday of your kids, or pushing back on an evening with your parents and/or friends. Everyone needs to have some space to relax, to concentrate and to live their lives to the fullest. On this subject, playing is also really essential. Not just for the sake of it but because playing leads to brain plasticity, adaptability and creativity. Playing is not for the lazy… As sleep is not for the lazy either. Thinking that you can get away with 6 hours of sleep or less for six months or so, cause you’re some kind of demigod, is out of the question. You need your sleep cause this is the only time that your mind can truly relax and absorb the new information and form new neural connections and paths.
The book also talks about the ability to SELECT what you’re interested in, and to do so with a CLARITY of thought. It pushes us forward to say NO whenever needed, rather than being the go-to guy all the time, saying one yes after the other. The author points out the lost art of EDITing and selecting the things that matter. I also liked the notion that when you set boundaries and limits to what you will do and for how long, this is when you actually become limitless, cause it’s only then that you can prioritize and focus on what really matters. I particularly liked the notion of the Minimum Viable Progress, taken directly from the lean approach, pointing out the need for making small but concrete steps towards a goal, instead of jumping like crazy to any direction.
I also learned to embrace and appreciate ROUTINE as something that can help a chaotic mind, find some peace. I really appreciated routine for more than it stands for today. It’s not just a bad word that shows boredom and repetition. Routine if how athletes win championships. Repetition of a process till perfected, is a routine that should be more appreciated than it is. Although it may not seem be that creative, it surely helps when you want to achieve high performance. I also liked the notion that someone can be a multitasker but not a “multifocuser”! You can do 2-3 things at the same time but you have to accept that you cannot do them with the same amount of focus and purpose.
Overall, this book was hard to read, not because of anything else, but mainly cause of my character! It contradicts many of the things that I am currently doing and I constantly found myself being a non-essentialist or a borderline essentialist while reading it. To be honest, I do accept most of my “worst-practices” as drawbacks that need changing. And for them, I feel really grateful that they were pointed out to me in such a structured way.
On the other hand, there are some things that I truly embrace about me, and that I don’t think I would change, even if this would mean that I wouldn’t be 100% essentialist. Either way, it feels like that no one is 100% of anything, so I guess that’s ok. To elaborate a bit on that, considering myself to be somewhat creative and free-spirited, I find some of the techniques and practices of the book a bit rigid and absolute (or too programmed/predefined if you will). So now, my challenge is to adopt the essentialist practices that seem closer to me, and work on them so that I can really stick to what matters most and make the best out of my time, energy, relations, work, etc.
*Please note that the previous lines are not a synopsis of the book. All the related posts are just about my personal interpretation of what a book contains, including some reflection as to what each book means for me. If you hold any copyright over the material discussed, please do not hesitate to contact me with your concerns.