Over the weekend I finally got round to reading Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less after three friends, all startup founders, recommended I check it.
Essentialism is an in depth look at what happens when we put more energy into one thing instead of everything, both in life and work.
To expand, only a few things are vital to our goals and well-being, and everything else is unimportant. By focusing on these few essential things and learning to do better by doing less, we can craft a life that is far more productive and fulfilling.
All of us are busy and I’m sure we are all constantly trying to find areas in which we can reclaim time, making our days more productive and, at the same time, allowing us to focus on things that matter — to us. Two CEOs that have integrated essentialism well are Jack Dorsey and Peter Thiel.
Jack speaks about being an editor at Square and Twitter. So rather than constantly adding more and more to his set of responsibilities, he instead chooses to cut things out whilst empowering his team to do more of the creation.
I’ve often spoken to the editorial nature of what I think my job is, I think I’m just an editor, and I think every CEO is an editor. I think every leader in any company is an editor. Taking all of these ideas and editing them down to one cohesive story, and in my case my job is to edit the team, so we have a great team that can produce the great work and that means bringing people on and in some cases having to let people go. That means editing the support for the company, which means having money in the bank, or making money, and that means editing what the vision and the communication of the company is, so that’s internal and external, what we’re saying internally and what we’re saying to the world — that’s my job. And that’s what every person in this company is also doing. We have all these inputs, we have all these places that we could go — all these things that we could do — but we need to present one cohesive story to the world.
Peter Thiel takes it one step further with his “one thing” management strategy (used in the early days of PayPal) where each individual employee was given a single variable to optimise (improving page load time, increasing user base, increasing adoption of a single feature, etc.) which was then used as the sole performance review axis 3–6 months later. The most important benefit of this approach was that it compelled the organisation to solve the challenges with the highest impact.
Without this discipline, there is a consistent tendency of employees to address the easier to conquer, albeit less valuable, imperatives. As a specific example, if you have 3 priorities and the most difficult one lacks a clear solution, most people will gravitate towards the 2d order task with a clearer path to an answer. As a result, the organisation collectively performs at a B+ or A- level, but misses many of the opportunities for a step-function in value creation.
Throughout the book I was reminded of one technique that I’m currently trialling — the Pomodoro Technique. An exercise of “time boxing” tasks meaning that you are highly focused on one task for a set amount of time. It stops you mindlessly swapping between tasks — giving focus. It’s surprising how much this is already benefiting me.
Some of my favourite quotes from the book:
- When we push back effectively, it shows people that our time is highly valuable. It distinguishes the professional from the amateur.
- His stress went up as the quality of his work went down. It was like he was majoring in minor activities.
- Essentialism: only once you give yourself permission to stop trying to do it all, to stop saying yes to everyone, can you make your highest contribution towards the things that really matter.
- If you don’t prioritise your life, someone else will.
- Warren Buffett — He owes 90% of his wealth to just ten investments.
- The 90–10 model for making decisions. You can apply to just about every decision or dilemma. 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.
So remember, less but better.