“Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less” by Greg McKeown: Part Two

Please check out Part One of my excerpts here. This is a powerful book. After completing this book I’ve re-evaluated not just my past decisions but I now view my future decisions in a different light. Anytime I expend resources such as time, money, effort, etc., the decision has to pass the question of whether this is what I want to be doing with my resources at this time. If the answer is “no”, pass. If it’s “yes” continue. In order to do that, you yourself has to decide what those priorities are, distill them down to their essence, and then always have them in mind. At least a short list is easy to remember. If you’re having trouble remembering, you should check out “Make it Stick” or better yet, “Moonwalking with Einstein”, both excellent books about memory.

  1. The word school is derived from the Greek word schole, meaning “leisure.” Yet our modern school system, born in the Industrial Revolution, has removed the leisure—and much of the pleasure—out of learning.
  2. “When I examine myself and my methods of thought, I come to the conclusion that the gift of fantasy has meant more to me than my talent for absorbing positive knowledge.” ~Albert Einstein
  3. The best asset we have for making a contribution to the world is ourselves. If we underinvest in ourselves, and by that I mean our minds, our bodies, and our spirits, we damage the very tool we need to make our highest contribution. One of the most common ways people—especially ambitious, successful people—damage this asset is through a lack of sleep.
  4. While we sleep our brains are hard at work encoding and restructuring information. Therefore, when we wake up, our brains may have made new neural connections, thereby opening up a broader range of solutions to problems, literally overnight.
  5. The 90 Percent Rule: 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 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.
  6. Jim Collin’s Good to Great, in which he contends if there’s one thing you are passionate about—and that you can be best at—you should do just that one thing.
  7. You can train leaders on communication and teamwork and conduct 360 degree feedback reports until you are blue in the face, but if a team does not have clarity of goals and roles, problems will fester and multiply.
  8. “If we could be truly excellent at only one thing, what would it be?”
  9. A good film editor makes it hard not to see what’s important because she eliminates everything but the elements that absolutely need to be there.
  10. What is the obstacle that is keeping you back from achieving what really matters to you? By systematically identifying and removing this “constraint” you’ll be able to significantly reduce the friction keeping you from executing what is essential.
    1. “What is getting in the way of achieving what is essential?”
  11. “Every day do something that will inch you closer to a better tomorrow.” ~Doug Firebaugh
  12. Research has shown that of all forms of human motivation the most effective one is progress. Why? Because a small, concrete win creates momentum and affirms our faith in our further success.
  13. The best place to look is for small changes we could make in the things we do often. There is power in steadiness and repetition.
  14. A Token System for Raising Children: The children were given ten tokens at the beginning of the week. These could each be traded in for either thirty minutes screen time or fifty cents at the end of the week, adding up to $5 or five hours of screen time a week. If a child read a book for thirty minutes, he or she would earn an additional token, which could also be traded in for screen time or for money. The results were incredible: overnight, screen time went down my 90 percent, reading went up by the same amount, and the overall effort we had to put into policing the system went way, way down.
  15. “Routine, in an intelligent man, is a sign of ambition.” ~W.H. Auden
  16. Routine is one of the most powerful tools for removing obstacles. Without routine, the pull of nonessential distractions will overpower us. But if we create a routine that enshrines the essentials, we will begin to execute them on autopilot.
  17. It’s natural and human to obsess over past mistakes or feel stress about what may be ahead of us. Yet every second spent worrying about a past or future moment distracts us from what is important in the here and now. The ancient Greeks had two words for time. The first was chronos. The second was kairos. The Greek god Chronos was imagined as an elderly, gray-haired man, and his name connotates the literal ticking clock, the chronological time, the kind we measure (and race about trying to use efficiently). Kairos is different. While it is difficult to translate precisely, it refers to time that is opportune, right, different. Chronos is quantitative; kairos is qualitative. The latter is experienced only when we are fully in the moment—when we exist in the
  18. Mindfulness helps you go home to the present. And every time you go there and recognize a condition of happiness that you have, happiness comes.
  19. It is easy to get caught up in the “paradox of success.” We have clarity of purpose, which leads us to success. But with out success we get new options and opportunities. This sounds like a good thing, but remember, these options unintentionally distract us, tempt us, lure us away. Our clarity becomes clouded, and soon we find ourselves spread too thin. Now, instead of being utilized at our highest level of contribution, we make only a millimeter of progress in a million directions. Ultimately, our success becomes a catalyst for our failure.
  20. When we look back on our careers and our lives, would we rather see a long laundry list of “accomplishments” that don’t really matter or just a few major accomplishments that have real meaning and significance?
  21. The Greeks have a word, metanoia, that refers to a transformation of the heart. We tend to think of transformations as happening only in the mind. But as the proverb goes, “As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.”
  22. When other people are saying yes, you will find yourself saying no. When other people are doing, you will find yourself thinking. When other people are speaking, you will find yourself listening. When other people are in the spotlight, vying for attention, you will find yourself waiting on the sidelines until it is time to shine.
  23. The first is the exquisitely important role of my family in my life. At the very, very end, everything else will fade into insignificance by comparison. The second is the pathetically tiny amount of time we have left of our lives. For me this is not a depressing thought but a thrilling one. It removes fear of choosing the wrong thing. It infuses courage into my bones. It challenges me to be even more unreasonably selective about how to use this precious—and precious is perhaps too insipid of a word—time.
  24. Whatever decision or challenge or crossroads you face in your life, simply ask yourself, “What is essential?” Eliminate everything else.

Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less


  1. I just started reading this book and now really look forward to making time to get through it. Thanks for your insight. 🙂

  2. Just finished reading this book. I am trying to take notes on the best parts and found your notes to be stellar. Thanks!

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