Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less

July 9, 2015 book 3 min read

As my job responsibilities have shifted in the past six months, I have found myself struggling to identify which opportunities I should take on and which fall outside of my purview. So I have found myself saying yes to almost everything for fear that I might miss out if I say no.

My week has become full of meetings, context switches, and planning ambitious projects that I know I won’t have time to work on, interrupted by very brief bursts of productivity. I am constantly busy but not accomplishing any of my goals. Thankfully, Jason Long recommend this book.

The way of the Essentialist means living by design, not by default. Instead of making choices reactively, the Essentialist deliberately distinguishes the vital few from the trivial many, eliminates the nonessentials, and then removes obstacles so the essential things have clear, smooth passage. In other words, Essentialism is a disciplined, systematic approach for determining where our highest point of contribution lies, then making execution of those things almost effortless.

Or stated more simply:

The way of the Essentialist is the relentless pursuit of less but better.

It doesn’t mean just doing less for the sake of less either. It is about making the wisest possible investment of your time and energy in order to operate at our highest point of contribution by doing only what is essential.

One of the more helpful insights to me is that my lack productivity is simply caused by a lack of progress, as obvious as that sounds. I’ve been pursuing very lofty goals, which means most of my energy is being poured into planning the ideal instead of taking the first few small steps.

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…When we start small and reward progress, we end up achieving more than when we set big, lofty, and often impossible goals.

Once you become an Essentialist, you will find that you aren’t like everybody else. 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. While other people are padding their résumés and building out their LinkedIn profiles, you will be building a career of meaning. While other people are complaining (read: bragging) about how busy they are, you will just be smiling sympathetically, unable to relate. While other people are living a life of stress and chaos, you will be living a life of impact and fulfillment. In many ways, to live as an Essentialist in our too-many-things-all-the-time society is an act of quiet revolution.

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avatar of Brandon Keepers I am Brandon Keepers, and I work at GitHub on making Open Source more approachable, effective, and ubiquitous. I tend to think like an engineer, work like an artist, dream like an astronaut, love like a human, and sleep like a baby.