Essentialism by Greg McKeown – A Visual Summary

Essentialism by Greg McKeown – A Visual Summary

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Hello and welcome to Verbal to Visual, today I’d like to share a visual summary of the
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book Essentialism by Greg McKeown.
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This book is about the disciplined pursuit of less, which is an idea that intrigues me,
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especially as it relates to my professional life and what I’m attempting to do with
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my creative career.
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And I hope that you find these ideas useful and actionable as well, and to dig deeper
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into them, do go pick up the book.
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It’s a great read.
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Let’s start with two ideas that are at the core of essentialism.
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The first is that for every single thing that you say “yes” to, that means you’re
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gonna have to say “no” to a bunch of other things, which means it’s worth putting a
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lot of value in your yes, and also not being afraid to say “no”.
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That concept is a relatively simply one to grasp, but it does beg the question: “How
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do you determine what to say yes to?”
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One thing to keep in mind is that not all effort is created equal, that there are certain
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types of effort that yield more results that others.
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So what you’re on the lookout for are the best places to put your effort, the best “yes”,
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the tasks and that projects that you can take on that will yield the greatest results.
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With those core ideas and core questions in mind, we jump into the three sections of this
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book: explore, eliminate, and execute.
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Each chapter of this book has a single-word title, and that word is always a verb.
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I appreciate that about this book, the simplicity and the action-oriented nature of it.
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Within the explore section of the book, you must escape.
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You’ve got to create a time and a space where you can concentrate, where you can design,
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where you can read.
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This is all about the advantages that come with being unavailable, and intentionally
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creating times where you are unavailable to do deep thinking and deep work.
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You’ve also go to look.
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You’ve got to hone your observational skills and be a journalist of your own life.
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The idea from this chapter that I found to be the most helpful relates to the morning
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journaling that I do, and the prompt of “looking for the lead”.
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As I look back on the past day or maybe even the past week – what is the lead to that story?
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So in exploring the past, either the immediate past or distant past, what is the most fascinating
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thing about the particular chunk of time that I’m looking at.
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You also must play.
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The value of playing lies in it’s ability to broaden the range of options available
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to you.
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There’s this expansion of awareness that happens when you do enter that state of play.
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It’s also a very clear antidote to stress, which is likely a regular component of your
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life.
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And play has a positive impact on executive functions, things like planning and deciding
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and anticipating and prioritizing.
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Play actually allows you to do those things better.
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Sleep is an important activity as well, the idea being that you must protect the asset,
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the asset being your brain, your whole body, and your ability to make good decisions.
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Without enough sleep you lose the ability to see what actually is essential, and the
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quality of your effort and attention steadily declines.
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And in order to put your efforts toward the things that are most important, you have to
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select.
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You can’t say “yes” to everything, and you have to decide some metric by which to
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determine what gets your “yes”, and here McKeown brings in the idea from Derek Sivers
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of it being either “Hell yeah!” or “No.”
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There’s no in between.
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And that “hell yeah” only gets a very small percentage, so if you don’t have that
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immediate reaction, it’s probably not worth doing.
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From that exploratory section of the book, we move on to eliminating, starting with the
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prompt to clarify, deciding what is the target that you’re shooting for, bringing in this
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ideas of essential intent.
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And that without having your essential intent defined, it makes it a whole lot harder to
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know what things to say yes to and which things to say no to.
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And of those two responses, it’s understandable that it’s often harder to say no than it
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is to say yes, but it is something that you must dare to do.
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You must dare to say “no” even if it makes you unpopular, because as McKeown puts it,
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saying “no” often means trading popularity for respect, but in order to make that trade,
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you do need to say “no” firmly, resolutely, and gracefully.
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And I think it’s worth recognizing that it’s harder to do all of those things, to
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say “no” in that way, that it does take effort and practice, but that it’s worth
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getting good at saying “no” in those ways.
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Ideally you’ll get good at saying “no” up front, but sometimes you might need to
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uncommit.
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If you recognize that the direction you’re going is taking you toward a bad place, making
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the tough decision of turning the plane around and starting to move toward a better place,
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even if that turn requires an extra bit of energy.
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And you’ve also got to edit along the way, to make those subtractions that actually add
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quality to your life and to your work.
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This is the “kill your darlings” of Stephen King, the “if I had more time this would
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be a lot shorter”.
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This is where you move from being a journalist to being an editor, looking for opportunities
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to cut out anything that anything that isn’t essential so that there’s more space and
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attention given to what is.
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And where editing is something that often occurs after-the-fact, on the flip side you
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also have the opportunity to limit your options up front, to create boundaries in your life
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and in your work, within which you can actually feel a sense of freedom, that there’s this
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safe space that you’ve created where you can do your thing uninterrupted.
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And I think this applies both to the limits that you put on yourself for any particular
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creative task, but also the boundaries that you set up with other people, that appropriate
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boundaries within your relationships are what creates that sense of freedom.
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And from there we move on to the act of executing on those things that you’ve chosen to say
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yes to, starting with the value of creating a buffer, that there’s some space in between
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whatever you’re current focus is and a future commitment that’s coming your way, that
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a bit of breathing room actually will allow you to execute on your ideas more effectively
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so that your efforts fall more within that “D” range compared to the “A” range,
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because without the appropriate time buffers of financial buffers, there’s the risk that
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the quality of your effort will decline.
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Because your attention (either consciously or subconsciously) is elsewhere, worrying
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about the rapidly approaching upcoming commitment.
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And in order to execute on an idea effectively, you also must subtract.
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You’ve got to take a close look at the steps underlying your creative process and remove
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the obstacles that make those steps more difficult.
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So that instead of having this feeling of trudging up a stairway, maybe it can feel
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more like walking down one.
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For example, for me with these videos, I sometimes see the task of putting my face on camera
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for an intro and outro as an obstacle that’s actually keeping me from doing more and better
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work, which is why I’ve been experimenting with subtracting that from my process, because
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it might not be essential for my task here of sharing interesting ideas and helping others
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develop useful skills.
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So think about what the obstacles are in your process that you might be able to remove.
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And here there’s an emphasis on progress, and focusing specifically not on huge leaps
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of progress but instead on building for yourself a system of small wins, steps that you can
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take each day that allow you to start small and build momentum over time.
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Do you have a system like that in place?
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And is that system rooted in these small steps?
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The small wins that over time can take you far.
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And as you build that system, look for the things that get you in a state of flow.
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Look for those consistent routines that you can put in place for yourself because the
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more routine something becomes, the more that opens up the rest of your brain to devote
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to the challenging task in front of you, to again increase the quality of your effort,
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and thereby the likelihood that your effort will yield the best results.
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And as you’re focused on the progress of small wins and looking for that state of flow,
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what will help is a regular state of focus, of focused attention, focused energy, and
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to always be WINning – asking the question “What’s Important Now?”
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Not dwelling on something that happened in the past or stressing about something that
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might happen in the future, but putting quality attention to the present, and choosing to
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act on the thing that is most important right now.
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And to warp things ups, McKeown looks at what it means to actually BE an essentialist, that
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essentialism isn’t something that you do, it’s something that you are, with the enoucragement
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here to move the essentialist part of you to your core, that you live from a sense of
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essentialism and push the non-essentialist part of you away from that core.
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And then, over time, working to increase that essentialist core as the non-essentialist
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exterior gets smaller and smaller.
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So that’s a quick overview of what essentialism is all about.
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And each of the individual ideas here is actually an entire chapter within the book, so there’s
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lots to continue digging into there.
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And for me, as I hope you’ve seen here, one of the tools that I use to help me both
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decide what is essential and then execute well on the things that I’ve chosen to say
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“yes” to is visual note-taking, this process of giving ideas a visual form, of creating
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diagrams and small scenes to help you wrap your head around whatever it is you have in
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front of you, to get the most out of the mental effort you put into your work.
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And if you would like to develop that skill to help make your yes’s a little bit more
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impactful, then check out the resources at VerbalToVisual.com.
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Thanks for watching this video.
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I hope that you’re able to take some action on at least a few of these ideas, and maybe
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move toward those activities that are essential, and move away from the non-essential.
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Because I do think that is something that leads to a more fulfilled, that the disciplined
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pursuit of less has the potential to create more meaning.
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So thanks again for watching, and I’ll see you next time.
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Till then.

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