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I don’t read many books more than once. Of the few that I do, there is one I revisit the most. This book is Essentialism by Greg McKeown.
This book is about how to identify the things in your life that are absolutely essential to you and how to cut out mostly everything else. Here are a few of my favorite ideas from the book.
If you don’t prioritize your life, someone else will. This means you need to say “no” to almost everything so that you have the time and energy to say “yes” to the few things that actually matter.
For me, the things I want to always have the bandwidth to say “yes” to are writing, lifting weights, spending time with people I care about, getting outside, traveling, and learning new code.
These things bring me joy and meaning. And the only way to maximize my time spent on them is by saying “no” to most other things. As Derek Sivers says, “it’s either a HELL YEAH or a no.”
You cannot overestimate the unimportance of practically everything. This is such a freeing insight. Most meetings, events, parties, status games, email exchanges, social media feuds, etc. are all unimportant. They mean nothing in the grand scheme of things. Once you realize this, you can let go of any tension, stress, and anxiety you have associated with these things.
“What if we stopped celebrating being busy as a measurement of importance? What if instead we celebrated how much time we had spent listening, pondering, meditating, and enjoying time with the most important people in our lives?”
This quote has stuck with me since the first time I read this book. Unfortunately, “being busy” has become our way of signaling to our peers that we’re important and have lots of obligations on our plate. But at the end of the day, being busy merely distracts us from the most important things in life: family, health, and contribution. I actually feel bad for anyone who claims they are busy. It means they have said “yes” to too many things.
Life is a game of trade-offs. If you spend money on one thing, you have less to spend on another. If you say “yes” to one obligation, you forfeit time you could be spending on something else. As Paula Plant says,
“You can afford anything, but not everything.”
This applies nicely to time management as well:
“You can say yes to anything, but not everything.”
Pick a few important things to say “yes” to and ignore everything else.
“We overvalue nonessentials like a nicer car or house, or even intangibles like the way we look in our Facebook photos. As a result, we neglect activities that are truly essential, like spending time with our loved ones, or nurturing our spirit, or taking care of our health.”
Obsession with acquiring things is what forces most people to stick it out in a job they hate for several decades. And because jobs are so time-consuming, this leaves less time to spend focusing on relationships and health – two areas that are essential to our well-being.
By recognizing that most material purchases are nonessentials that add little to no lasting happiness to our lives, it’s easier to say no to them. This leaves us with more time and money to put towards things that actually matter.
Essentialism is a book that has had a profoundly positive impact on my life. I recommend picking up a copy at your local library.
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