How To Master Essentialism & Focus On What Matters | Greg McKeown on The Reader’s Journey

Check out The Reader’s Journey Episode Page & Show Notes

Key Takeaways

  •  “Life is made up of trade-offs and a lot of the time we don’t notice that when we’re making decisions” Greg McKeown
    • Every decision has a trade-off and when you say yes to one thing, whether or not you know it, you’re saying no to something else 
      • “We don’t recognize that in saying yes, we are saying no to something else”
  • As an Essentialist, ask yourself every day: “What’s the most important thing to do?”
    • “You can have many important things, but by definition, you can’t have very many important first things”  Greg McKeown
  • “When you create space to think and play and talk and connect and listen, and not be emailing, reacting, doing, meeting…You start to have breakthrough insights.” – Greg McKeown
  • “Sleep deprivation makes it harder for us to discern what’s important from what’s not important. It makes it harder for us to make decisions.” – Greg McKeown
    • “If you get four hours of sleep, it’s the same as if you’re drunk”
  • Be careful of the curse of capability: Saying yes to something just because you’re capable of doing it
  • “When a request comes in, pause” – Greg McKeown
    • Don’t just reactively say yes to something. Take a few moments to think about the request and whether it’s important or not.

Intro

Books Mentioned

  • The Great Mental Models by Shane Parrish
    • Greg enjoyed the book and uses it to teach his kids about mental models
    • “I think it’s such practical worldly wisdom” – Greg McKeown
  • John Adams by David McCullough
    • This book helped Greg appreciate John Adams and his son Quincy Adams 

How To Become An Essentialist

  • Essentialism is really written for anybody who feels stretched too thin at work or at home. If you’re busy but not productive.” Greg McKeown
  • As an Essentialist, ask yourself every day: “What’s the most important thing to do?”
    • “You can have many important things, but by definition, you can’t have very many important first things”  Greg McKeown
  • If you find yourself overworked and burning out, have a clear end time for your workday
    • Greg leaves his office every day at 5pm on the dot 
  • “Our highest ability is our ability to prioritize” – Greg McKeown
  • An Essentialist identifies what’s most important today and how it fits into the bigger picture:
    • “An Essentialist isn’t just being more present, they’re discerning what matters in the moment using perspective so they want to be able to take the right next action, what’s important now and doing it now. But they’re also taking time to plan and prepare and produce perspective so that they know in this moment what to do.”  – Greg McKeown

The Benefits of Trade-offs

  • “Life is made up of trade-offs and a lot of the time we don’t notice that when we’re making decisions” Greg McKeown
    • Every decision has a trade-off and when you say yes to one thing, whether or not you know it, you’re saying no to something else 
      • “We don’t recognize that in saying yes, we are saying no to something else”
  • Be careful of saying yes to an opportunity without thinking if it’s essential and without considering what you’re giving up in exchange for it
    • You have many choices in life, be aware of them

The Dangers of Being Busy

  • Being always busy isn’t a good thing:
    • “The risk is you are no longer in control of your own life. If you’re not in control of your schedule, you’re not control of your life.” – Greg McKeown
  • After Greg finished his new book, instead of diving back into work at full-speed, he took some time off to evaluate his goals, dreams, and also spent more time with his family 
    • “It was an amazing thing to just push things off and say no to things” – Greg McKeown
  • By taking a step back and creating space to think, you become more proactive:
    • “I want to fulfill my mission, therefore, I must create space. Otherwise, I will reactively do things.” – Greg McKeown

Make Time For Play

  • Play is a critical part of Essentialism
    • Play can be a wide range of activities: going for a walk, bike ride, swimming, playing with your kids, etc.
      • “Your brain is highly activated in purposeful play but you’re not stressed so it’s a rejuvenating experience” Greg McKeown
  • Play means turning off everything and unplugging completely
  • “When you create space to think and play and talk and connect and listen, and not be emailing, reacting, doing, meeting…You start to have breakthrough insights.” – Greg McKeown

Get Your Sleep

  • Losing sleep to get more work done is one of the worst tradeoffs you can make
    • You can trade sleep for productivity for the first day or so, but over the long run, it will do you more harm than good
  • People who are sleep deprived are actually poor at being able to tell that they’re sleep-deprived
  • “Sleep deprivation makes it harder for us to discern what’s important from what’s not important. It makes it harder for us to make decisions.” – Greg McKeown
    • “If you get four hours of sleep, it’s the same as if you’re drunk”
  • Top performers tend to sleep 8.4 hours in a 24-hour period
    • “Sleep and napping are correlated with high performance, exactly the opposite of what workaholism has subscribed to us” – Greg McKeown

Learning To Say No

  • There are multiple ways of saying no to an opportunity:
    • Ex: Tell your assistant to not schedule anything on Fridays
    • Ex: Set boundaries and don’t make exceptions 
  • Be careful of the curse of capability: Saying yes to something just because you’re capable of doing it
  • “When a request comes in, pause” – Greg McKeown
    • Don’t just reactively say yes to something. Take a few moments to think about the request and whether it’s important or not.
  • It’s better to say no to an opportunity upfront instead of saying yes to it and then saying you can’t do it later
    • If you say yes to an opportunity you don’t want to do, you’ll likely resent it the whole time  
      • If you find yourself in a situation where you said yes to something you don’t want to do, have a conversation with the person to reevaluate the situations and expectations

Applying Essentialism to Leadership

  • Essentialism isn’t just for individuals, it can be applied to leadership as well. All you have to do is apply the principle of less but better:
    • Hire slow and fire fast
    • Identify the most important goals and what not to work on
    • Every employee should know the main priority of the company
  • “An Essentialist leader can produce the most extraordinary results” – Greg McKeown
  • Warren Buffett uses 3 I’s when selecting people: 
    • Integrity
    • Intelligence
    • Initiative
  • As a business leader, you need to be able to separate a decision from a relationship and not make a wrong decision because you’re afraid of hurting a relationship
    • And then ask yourself, what’s the most compassionate way to execute that decision?
      • Ex: If you need to fire a friend because they aren’t good for a role, give them a generous severance package
The Reader's Journey : , , , ,
Notes By Alex Wiec

More Notes on these topics

Top Insights and Tactics From

31 Best Podcasts of All Time

FREE when you join over 25,000 subscribers to the
Podcast Notes newsletter

No Thanks