The Tim Ferriss Show – Greg McKeown on How to Master Essentialism

Check out The Tim Ferriss Show Episode Page and Show Notes

Key Takeaways

  • “If you don’t prioritize your life, someone else will”
  • There’s a predisposition that we have to value things more because we own them – this is known as the endowment effect
  • Here are a few great questions to ask yourself, related to the endowment effect:
    • “If I didn’t own this item, how much would I pay to obtain it?”
    • “If I did not have this opportunity, how much would I be willing to sacrifice in order to obtain it?”
  • Tim has a potential interesting book project in the works:
    • It would be related to addressing past psychoemotional trauma (the emotional component of life that very often drives so many of our behavior patterns)
    • “What I would put together, would be a comprehensive description of my personal journey, but also the tools that I’ve found to be most effective not only for myself, but for others as well”
  • “It’s not being unhelpful to the world, for you to say no to something that’s less important. That’s not being selfish. Your obligation is to make the highest contribution that you can make to society.”
  • When a request comes your way, make sure to ask yourself – “If I do this thing, what doesn’t get done? What else gets pushed out?”
  • “Saying no respectfully, reasonably, and gracefully can come at a short term social cost, but part of living the way of the essentialist is realizing that respect is far more valuable than popularity in the long run”
  • Some great ways to politely decline something, or say no:
    • Tell the requester what you’re currently working on, and that you couldn’t possibly take on anything beyond that
    • Gently say – “I just don’t think I could add anything to that project. Thanks for thinking of me. I don’t think I’d be the right person for that.”
  • Quotes from Greg’s book, Essentialism:
    • “Essentialism is not about getting more things done. It’s about getting more of the right things done.”
    • “It’s not about efficiently doing what’s on the to do list. It’s realizing that the most important thing isn’t even on the to do list.”
    • “Every time I’m not doing something that’s essential, I am giving up something that is essential”
  • You ALWAYS have a choice
    • Instead of saying to yourself: “I have to” – Say: “I’m choosing to do this because…”
    • “If you just go with the flow of, ‘Oh, I don’t have a choice,’ you can end up living a life so differently than the one you really intended to live”

Intro

Essentialism

  • Tim says it’s one of the most highlighted books he has on his Kindle, as well as one of the few books that he revisits on a regular basis
  • How did Greg come to write the book?
    • “One of the initiating moments was when I received an email from my colleague at the time, saying, ‘Look, Friday between 1 and 2 would be a very bad time for your wife to have a baby, because I need you to be at this client meeting.”
      • Greg’s wife ended up having his baby late Thursday night
      • However, he still had this feeling that he should attend the Friday meeting, to keep everyone happy, and he did
      • “I remember afterwards being told, ‘The client will respect you for the choice you just made.’ And I don’t know that they did….But even if they had, it’s obvious to everyone that I made a fool’s bargain. I violated something more important, or more essential, or for something less important and less essential.”
        • What did Greg learn from this? – “If you don’t prioritize your life, someone else will”
  • “The very nature of success, is that you will have this basic problem – you’ll be stretched too thin, at work, at home, and beyond. You’ll feel busy, but not productive. You’ll feel many different pursuits highjacking your agenda each day, and you’ll just have more that you want to do, than you can do.”
  • Most of the literature on success, is how to actually become successful
    • But the problem for many people, is what to do once you are successful
    • How does Tim define success? – Someone who has more options than they can execute on in their totality

The Endowment Effect

  • Many people, for example, have more things in their closet than they can use, usefully – they’re cluttered
    • The endowment effect describes the fact that we tend to overvalue things we own
    • “There’s a predisposition that we have to value things more because we have them”
    • We overvalue things we shouldn’t even have in the closet – they should be thrown out
  • Think about what you’re pursuing in life..
    • Are you pursuing anything because you used to think it was “the thing”, but now you’re just pursuing it because you just sort of caught on to it, and feel a sense of ownership?
    • Ask yourself – “Is what I’m pursuing serving me anymore?”
    • “It’s about the stuff that really we need to get past, and let go, so that we can pursue the right things. not just the things that we are pursuing because at one time we wanted to pursue them”
  • A few great questions to ask:
    • “If I didn’t own this item, how much would I pay to obtain it?”
    • “If I did not have this opportunity, how much would I be willing to sacrifice in order to obtain it?”
    • “If we were not already in this line of business, how much would we pay to pursue it (or would we pursue it in the first place?”

An Example of Essentialism in Tim’s Life

  • Greg asks Tim if there’s something in his life right now, that’s essential to him, but he feels he’s under investing in
    • Tim says – A potential book project related to addressing past psychoemotional trauma, aka the emotional component of life that very often drives so many of our behavior patterns, specifically the organization of all of Tim’s past “experiments” related to this
      • By experiments he most likely means psychedelics sessions
      • “It’s something I didn’t think I would write for probably a few decades, but I’ve put it on a closer burner. It’s been pushed from a back burner to a front burner.”
      • “What I would put together, would be a comprehensive description of my personal journey, but also the tools that I’ve found to be most effective not only for myself, but for others as well”
    • “Many of the books that I’ve written, while very effective for helping people to build businesses, improve physical performance and appearance and so on…those same objectives can be used as numbing agents to avoid the root psychological or emotional traumas that are causing destructive behaviors” – Tim
    • In a sense, all of Tim’s previous books have prepared him for this
    • Greg brings up a good quote – “That which is most personal, is most universal”
  • Greg asks Tim, what the daily amount of time is, that he would need to invest into this project, for him to no longer feel like he was under investing in it
    • It’s a bit complicated….”This is a project where I don’t yet feel I have gathered enough research to proceed to the writing and synthesis phase, even though I’ve collected notes for over 5 years. There’s the question of am I not ready, or am I simply putting off the next step (writing) because I’m fearful of something. I would say once I get into synthesis phase, I would be putting in 4-5 hours per day, minimum, on this to feel fully vested.” – Tim
      • “But I would be thinking about it, all the time. It would be constantly running in the background”
    • Tim is facing a dilemma – does he continue doing research or start compiling everything into book form (aka writing)
  • But he has fears…
    • “The fear may be as simple as f*cking it up. I’ve built this book up in my mind for the last 5 years as almost certainly the most important book I have written to date, and will ever write, and there’s a very clear fear of fumbling the ball when I’ve been given a fantastic opportunity to do some good.”
    • Tim remembers a saying – “Worrying is like praying for what you don’t want”
    • But….good now is better than perfect later
      • “There’s a lot of suffering in the world, and not that I’m playing savior or anything like that, I’ve experienced a lot of pain myself and found things that work. There’s an argument to be made that the compounding of suffering over time, would mean that if I put out a book that’s 80% of what it could be in 10 years, it’s still better that I put it out now.”
  • How much has Tim been working on this project?
    • Mostly on and off  – “2 weeks of 24/7 research, and then 2 weeks of trying to figure out what the f*ck just happened”
  • A good thought from Tim to close this:
    • “I’m really trying to have the base assumption that it’s not how many people that don’t get it matters, it’s how many people that do get it”
    • There are 3 categories – those who see, those who see when shown, and those who will never see
      • “In the context of a book like this, I’m trying to focus on the first two categories”
  • Greg 100% thinks Tim should write this book (we do as well)
    • Anxiety has become the #1 diagnosed condition, beating out depression

What is something non-essential that Tim is over investing in?

  • Tim no longer does any book blurbs or speaking engagements
    • Tim notes one of the great concepts in the book Essentialism, is trying to find the one decision that removes a thousand decisions (which he applied to the above)
  • “I find myself struggling to say no to people who probably land on the spectrum of good acquaintance to reasonably good friend, who ask for help with various things”
    • Tim says he gets dozens of requests for book promotions on social media, or for being on his podcast
    • “I think I allocate too much time to trying to explain myself to those people, or placate those people in some way”
  • Greg has some good points on the above:
    • EVERYBODY underestimates the time that there requests will take, and therefore underestimate the severity/significance of their requests
      • “In their head, their ask is very small, but the reality is that their ask is much bigger” – They don’t think about the reputational risk for Tim, if he endorses something he doesn’t have time to even read
  • Tim recalls a line he heard a while back – “Your lack of planning does not constitute my emergency”
  • So Greg’s advice to Tim – Write out a list, in a document, of specifically why those sorts of requests are a challenge for him to accommodate, and then walk through each of them when a friend asks him to do something he’d rather not do
  • A great point to close this:
    • “You can’t actually get this next book, that we’ve just identified launched, living, and out into the universe, and also do everything that people think is reasonable for you to do. You cannot do both of those things.”
    • “It’s not being unhelpful to the world, for you to say no to something that’s less important. That’s not being selfish. Your obligation is to make the highest contribution that you can make to society.”

Reframing a Request

  • When a request comes our way, we commonly just ask ourselves – “Can I do this?” 
    • And we’ll say “I can do this, yeah” …and then we do it
  • BUT you should be asking yourself – “If I do this thing, what doesn’t get done? What else gets pushed out?”

Some of Greg’s Key Rules

  • No personalization
    • For example, if he’s giving a speaking keynote – he won’t really alter the slides or the talk much (it’s just too much work)
    • “If you personalize everything, it’s like you’re rewriting a book every time. You have to rethink everything.”
  • Don’t over correct based on negative feedback
  • Don’t do things, you don’t want to do
    • If you have to drag yourself out of bed to work on a project, why are you doing it?

Don’t Forget About the Third Option

  • With any request that comes out way, we have 3 options
    • We can say yes
    • We can say no
    • Or we can negotiate – people often forget about this

How to Decline Things Politely

  • Tim has a great point, after you deliver a polite decline – “You only have control over the delivery of that message, not how people emotionally respond to it.”
    • It’s up to the recipient how they want to respond – if they overreact in a negative way, it’s their problem, not yours
    • All you can do is deliver your decline in a fair, nice manner
  • Some relative highlights Tim has from Essentialism relating to this topic:
    • “Make your peace with the fact that saying no often requires trading popularity for respect”
    • “Yes, saying no respectfully, reasonably, and gracefully can come at a short term social cost, but part of living the way of the essentialist is realizing that respect is far more valuable than popularity in the long run”
  • How does Greg go about saying “no”?
    • First a point – “Highly creative people are willing to block out space to do the work that they were built to do, and aren’t just doing what everybody else is doing, or what everybody asks of them.”
      • “We’re such novices at saying ‘no’. We’re just so fearful of it. We don’t learn how to do it, and we don’t do it. We just assume bad things are going to come from saying ‘no’.”
        • But that’s often not the case…
    • One great way, gently say: “I just don’t think I could add anything to that project. Thanks for thinking of me. I don’t think I’d be the right person for that.”
    • The best no is often a yes
      • Tell the requester what you’re currently working on, and that you couldn’t possibly take on anything beyond that
  • Warren Buffet has said something along the lines of – “The difference between successful people and very successful people is that very successful people say no to almost everything”
  • “Sometimes people will react badly, but if we’ve been respectful, if we’ve been thoughtful, if we’ve been useful within the parameters that we’ve identified….if then someone is upset, and takes the victim approach, they’re basically throwing a tantrum. That’s not good enough reason to have said yes to it.”

The Challenge for Type As

  • A great quote from Essentialism:
    • “For Type A personalities, it is not hard to push oneself. Pushing oneself to the limit is easy. The real challenge for the person who thrives on challenges is not to work hard. If you think you are so tough you can do anything, I have a challenge for you – if you really want to do something hard, say no to an opportunity so you can take a nap.”

Personal Offsites – The Importance of Stepping Back and Looking at the Big Picture

  • Every now and then (about once a quarter), Greg likes to step back, and ask himself a series of questions (he calls it, doing a “personal offsite”):
    • What’s been happening in my life, and am I on a path to where I hope to be?
    • Where am I? Where have I been? What’s been going on – (He’s just trying to get a clear view of his life)
    • Going forward, from a long term perspective, what would I like to achieve? What feels important?
    • What impact do I want to have on future generations?
  • What might this “personal offsite” look like?
    • Do it in nature, where it’s quiet 
    • Or anywhere where you won’t be interrupted
    • Literally go off the grid if you can (or without text and email)
  • “It’s not just goal setting. You could just set the wrong goals. It’s about finding what’s essential to me – what feels like my mission to pursue”
  • The purpose of these sessions is to draw up unexpected insights, something you already know, but is being buried because you’re thinking about life in reactive ways
    • “This helps to reveal to us, the difference between good things, and essential things”
    • The whole idea it to create space, to be able to listen to that voice (aka your consciousness) so you can discern between all the good options, and what it really is you were put on this earth to do
  • Greg will often bring some books to these offsites:
    • What kinds of books? – “What it isn’t, is as important as what it is – it’s not rubbish”
      • “It’s as far away as the latest news update that I can get”
        • “Everything is breaking news now. When you click on the bait, what you find is that somebody is talking about someone who was tweeting, about somebody else, who was tweeting, and THAT’S the breaking news!”
    • Any examples?

Some Great Essentialism Quotes

  • “Essentialism is not about getting more things done. It’s about getting more of the right things done.”
  • “It’s not about efficiently doing what’s on the to do list. It’s realizing that the most important thing isn’t even on the to do list.”
  • “Every time I’m not doing something that’s essential, I am giving up something that is essential”
  • “The ability to chose cannot be taken away or even given away, it can only be forgotten”
    • You ALWAYS have a choice
    • Instead of saying: “I have to” – Say: “I’m choosing to do this because…”
    • “At the core, what we are is our ability to choose. That’s who we are. That’s what makes us human.”
  • “To become an essentialist requires a heightened awareness of our ability to choose”

Wrapping Up

  • “If you just go with the flow of, ‘Oh, I don’t have a choice,’ you can end up living a life so differently than the one you really intended to live”
  • What would Greg put on a billboard? – “Light”
    • “Every moment in our lives, in whatever capacity we’re in, there is always a choice…in this moment, to step towards light, or to step towards darkness”
  • “To obtain knowledge, add things every day. To obtain wisdom, subtract things every day.” – Lao Tzu

Random

  • Tim’s email bounce back has a word document attachment, with a clear list on the things he does not do (book blurbs, speaking engagements etc.)
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