Two Booked Up Episode 11
Essentialism by Greg McKeown — Overview and Top Takeaways
[00:00:00] Shelley: Hello. You're listening to Two Booked Up, a podcast about business and personal development books and the conversations they ignite. I'm Shelley Tonkin Smith.
[00:00:15] Rowena: And I'm Rowena Mabbott. And today on Two Booked Up, we are discussing our next book, Essentialism, The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown.
[00:00:25] Shelley: So it's our first episode talking about this book. So that means in today's episode, we are going to provide an overview of the four key principles of essentialism, and then the core mindsets covered in the book.
[00:00:39] Rowena: Let's get started with a bit of an overview of essentialism.
So the idea behind essentialism is to eliminate all the non-essentials in our life in order to focus on what really matters. So let's talk about this through the structure of the book. So first, Greg groups things into key principles, as we mentioned, and there are four key principles, and initially he talks about the essentialist.
So he covers there about what is an essentialist, what does that mean? And then pretty quickly we dive into key principle one, which is essence. And the essence part means what is the core mindset of an essentialist. Within this, there are three chapters. So the first chapter which is Choose, the invincible power of choice. So this is where a mindset shift is around catching yourself. So instead of saying, I have to do this, or I should do this, we replace the words, instead saying I choose to, because if I don't then blah, blah, blah.
So for example, instead of I have to do the dishes, you can say, I choose to do the dishes because if I don't, I won't have a clean plate to use for dinner. So that's a very simple example, but Greg really explores the choice aspect of the mindset of an essentialist and how we can reframe our choices.
The next part is discern. And this is really all about the un-importance of practically everything. And so here, there's a really nice tip that I think works really well, which is asking ourselves. What's the most important thing I can do today. Now he does give some beautiful examples, but for example, I know for my day today, what was the most important thing I could do today? Probably for me, it was getting my son off to school camp. Everything else was important. Groceries was really important, getting my business stuff under control was important, but the most important thing today was getting my son to camp.
So that was the most important thing I could do today. In other circumstances, if you are looking at your business, you might think what's the one most important thing I can do today. And it might be something that shifts things forward. So it's using that question to discern what's the most important thing I can do today.
then the third section of this key principle, number one is the trade off, which talks about which problem do I want? So for example, when the thought crosses your mind? Yes. Yes, I can do both. Which to be fair, many of us think of quite a lot. Um, I know Shelley and I are fairly guilty of this.
we're very much likely to say, well, why can't I have both? Instead what Greg is encouraging us to do in this chapter is to stop. Pause. And just pick one of the choices, so that you actually trade off. So which problem do you want? So rather than saying, I'll do both things and try and squeeze them in and then end up with a life that is probably overscheduled and a bit overcommitted and maybe a bit overwhelmed instead, just choose one.
So that's really the key three areas within principle number one. So, Shelley, how about you? Can you explain to us the next Principle?
[00:04:05] Shelley: Yes. So once you have got this down of what it means to be an essentialist and the mindsets behind being an essentialist, the next key principle. And the next section of the book is to Explore. And the question he asks there is how can we discern the trivial many. From the vital few with the idea being that we've got lots of opportunities and lots of things, competing for our attention in our lives.
And how are we going to know which ones matter, which ones are important. And what was very interesting to me is that he actually gives Essentialists permission to explore, and he says, essentialists, are actually very exploratory. And they give themselves freedom to explore many different options, but in the end they only choose one.
I think sometimes for me, I go, oh, again of my curiosity and wanting to take part in many opportunities. I I think, oh, well, don't even look at any other options. But what Greg McKeown is saying is that you have permission to explore, but you don't need to go down any, or all of those paths. You kind of wanna explore with the idea of choosing one essential and important path.
And so the chapter sections in this bigger section are first of all, Escape. So we are so available on our phones and on our devices. So he says and suggests that you create a room in your home where there's no technology, put your phone to sleep at a set time and in a different room when you go to sleep.
So escape being available all the time. And there are so many perks of being unavailable. I love that chapter. And then the next chapter is chapter six, where he says, Look, that's the name of the chapter and actually see what matters.
[00:06:06] Rowena: Mm.
[00:06:08] Shelley: do we notice some themes coming through here, Rowena?
[00:06:10] Rowena: Oh my gosh. Some definite themes. Yes,
[00:06:15] Shelley: From Lazy Genius Way, what really matters. And here he recommends keeping a journal and even just write only one sentence a day, answering the question. What is the most important thing that happened today? Okay. So I, I like the prompt of what are the, I do three things that I don't wanna forget about today.
Um, but maybe framing it in terms of importance and prioritization can really help.
And then chapter seven, it's my favorite. It's about Play and embracing the wisdom of your inner child. And this is something that I want to dive a bit deeper on in a subsequent. So I have another podcast called Playful Mompreneur and really, as an essentialist, you want to allow yourself the freedom to play.
As you play, you discover new things and you lose yourself in the magical exploration that come so easily to children. But which I think we put ourselves into some kind of adult pressure. So you have permission to play. You also have permission, which maybe children don't do as well, is to Sleep. You need to protect the asset.
So take a nap. Sleep is so important to our brains. I'm not gonna give you a whole lecture on sleep, but Greg shares. And what I like about this book is that he's got lots of references to research studies on in this case, the importance of sleep and the detriment of a lack of sleep.
So you wanna protect your asset. You are the asset. So sleep. And then the last chapter in this section is to select and have the power of extreme criteria. So, Ooh, this is sometimes a little difficult for me, but, he gives you the tip that at one time today, when something isn't a clear yes, make it a clear no. So if it's not that hell yes. Make it a no. And that's what extreme criteria is. And sometimes this really helps me when I've again, feel overwhelmed is to go, is it a hell yes? No. Okay. Just say no. Other opportunities will actually come your way. So in this exploration process, you're opening yourself up to opportunities, but you're starting to have this criteria of what is actually essential. All right. And then we head onto the next section or the next key principle. Rowena, can you take us through that?
[00:08:53] Rowena: Okay. Yeah. And some of those, key principles you've just mentioned, particularly around the power of extreme criteria that is one of my absolute favorite parts of this book. So let's move on to key principle three. So Shelley just talked about explore and now key principle three is eliminate.
So the elimination section is all about how can we cut out the trivial many? So the last one was, how can we discern the trivial from the vital few? And this one is, how do we cut that stuff out? So we cut out that trivial stuff and he indicates that there's a lot of it.
[00:09:29] Shelley: This is the scary part.
[00:09:31] Rowena: This is the scary part.
Exactly. This is where, you know, the rubber hits the road, as they used to say. So the first thing on chapter 10 talks about clarify and, you know, I love clarifying things because that is a big part of the work that I do with my clients.
And he talks about here, how one decision makes a thousand. So he gives an example. One of the things that I think was really a great cut through message on this was before going into your next meeting and by meeting, it could be business meeting. It could be any kind of thing that you're doing with anybody else, any kind of relationship, conversation, pause and ask yourself, what is the one thing I really want to achieve coming outta this meeting?
So that really is just cutting through all that noise and getting to the core of what matters. So back on that idea about what matters, what's the one thing I wanna achieve. I think that's a great one in terms of clarifying and really getting clear. So then chapter 11 is dare. The power of a graceful no.
Now in this chapter, I love this one because I've done a fair bit of work on this myself. And it's about writing out how to say no gracefully and wording it carefully and practicing it. He actually gives suggestions on sitting down with a notepad and a pen and practicing, writing out all the different ways you can say no that are clear, succinct, but makes the other person still feel good.
Rather than a just blanket. No, you actually kind of do it. And it's a bit of an art too saying no in a way that the other person doesn't feel like you've just rejected them. So it's a, it's a really good chapter from that perspective. It's got a lot of practical tips.
[00:11:14] Shelley: I remember the, the one part about that chapter was also that you can actually gain a lot of respect by saying no, in that graceful way, it actually builds respect from the other person. In some cases, in many cases,
[00:11:26] Rowena: I agree. And I think it can actually be really positive for a relationship. If you say no in a very affirmative way. It can actually build strength in that relationship and build trust because they know that you are someone who can be relied upon to say no, when it doesn't suit you. And therefore when you are, when you do say yes, it means more. And which I think we talk about a little bit more as well later on in some of these other sections.
So the next chapter is called Uncommit. Which is pretty scary. And it does talk about win big by cutting your losses. So this is where one of the tips in this, which I quite liked is to look at each commitment on your calendar for the week, and basically ask yourself if I wasn't already involved.
Like if I wasn't already doing this, how hard would I work to get involved now? So it's that real question of, if I wasn't already doing this, would I say yes to doing it again? And I found that a very valuable question. I really liked this chapter. It really gave me a lot of food for thought around my own personal commitments, in my personal life, but also in my business life around things that I might have been doing, because I felt I should do them.
And there was a little bit of a yes tendency to say yes to things that perhaps I really should have said no to.
The next chapter within this same principle of eliminate is Edit, the invisible art. So here it's a little bit like the rule of decluttering, you know, the one comes in one must go out one in one out rule. Well, he basically suggests in this chapter, and this is why it stuck with me the idea of doing the same thing, but for your schedule.
So use that rule. If you say yes to a new activity, then edit out an existing activity to make space for it.
And then the last section within this key principle of eliminate is limit, which is all about the freedom of setting boundaries, which I think ties in beautifully with some of these, you know, the power of a graceful no, and uncommitting.
So the freedom of setting boundaries is basically. Giving you permission that next time someone asks you to do something, taking a minute pausing for a beat and saying, let me check my calendar and get back to you. Basically, you're just buying yourself some time to think about it against your current commitments, but it also gives you a moment to really think whether this is gonna serve you and whether it is truly essential to your life. And I'd also say, does it line up with what matters to you?
All right. So Shelley would you like to expand on the next key principle for our listeners?
[00:14:02] Shelley: Yes. So the final key principle is to execute and he asks the question here, how can we make doing the vital few things almost effortless? So now that you've established, these are your vital view. You've eliminated what doesn't belong and what's not essential. How can you actually then execute this whole plan?
So chapter 15 is all about the buffer and setting buffers in your time. And he actually subtitles this, the unfair advantage. So here it's something that I have been encouraged by my husband to do very often is to add buffer times when you are setting a deadline, when you're committing to a deadline, Garren just tells me to double it.
But Greg McKeon suggests to add four 30 minutes appointments on your calendar every day, just for buffer time. So you're not gonna know ahead of time, what you're gonna do with that time, but it's just white space, but it's booked in your calendar. Because sometimes the idea of white space can be like, oh, I will fill it with something.
But that buffer time just exists to help you handle the unexpected problems and the opportunities that come your way. So if you do get opportunities that do align with what is essential to you, you can have that buffer that space to actually take advantage of them rather than being completely overscheduled.
Then you are going to, and this is the next chapter is to Subtract, bring forth more by removing obstacles. So here he suggests that you design a morning routine that invigorates you. Remove the obstacles that come up in your day and I'm, I'm sure you're all starting to hear a lot of, parallels here with the lazy genius way you know, Kendra talks about it.
Look for that first domino that is going to, send all the dominoes flying in the wrong direction. You're going to remove those obstacles that that could come in your way, and a morning routine sets you up to have more, flow in your day, which we are also gonna get to is another chapter.
But the next chapter is all about progress and the power of small wins. So just making small steps towards what is important to you. And he gives you a challenge to start a meeting. Again, this could be dinner time. Start, start the meeting with the question, what has gone right since we last met? So you can use that as a conversation starter, perhaps with your family at supper time.
What has gone right since we last meet? I like it. It's a, it doesn't even have to have this kind of value-based judgment about it. Does it? It's just something that's gone. Right? Hey, Rowena.
[00:16:52] Rowena: Mm-hmm and let's add in there, Shelley, that since we've read this book, we use this ourselves. So when Shelley and I have our regular catchups, we frequently start with, so what's gone right since we last caught up? Or what's gone, right since we last met? Because it is such a lovely way to get started and it gives you a real positive boost of energy,
[00:17:12] Shelley: I love the energy of that question. Because often when you do get together, you're probably like, oh my goodness was in traffic or something went wrong and we tend to kind of start off with the negative. But having that prompter of what's gone right is really helpful.
And then, then we get into chapter 18 about Flow, and this is the genius of routine and as I say, I, I do sometimes resist against routine, but it keeps working for me. It keeps working for me and it keeps working for my family. So then that keeps me happy. You find this flow and you not always having to think about what are we doing in the next step of our day.
That decision fatigue is eliminated as you find the flow of routine. So he gives a challenge starting with a blank one week calendar, design, your dream routine. So this is how you want to ideally spend your time each week over the next quarter.
And it's how you would ideally want to spend your, your day. You're not gonna pull it off probably most days, but if you have that reference point, it, it just gives you that boundary.
And then chapter 19 is about Focus. What's important now is the prompting question there and he challenges you to pause once today and ask yourself what's important now.
So like for Rowena and I now recording this podcast what's importance is that we express our thoughts for this podcast complete this recording. That's what's important now. So my phone's on do not disturb. I've made arrangements, elsewhere in my life because what's important now is getting this podcast recorded.
And then finally the last chapter is called Be and this is all about the essentialist life. And so here, Greg challenges you to schedule a personal quarterly offsite to explore, to talk, to reflect, to dream and to plan and the goal being to see the big picture, to see what will matter in the end, to set long term goals from that perspective, and then to break that down into plans for the next quarter.
So it's getting really practical here. And what I will also just add is that, this book. Has been followed by Greg McKeown's next book called Effortless. And I think he really expands upon this last key principle of actually the execution of taking your essential, principles and ideas and making them effortless in, in the way you live your life.
So Rowena, now that we've given everyone the summary of the book, can you tell us a little bit about your overall, impression of the book and maybe a key takeaway that you want to share with listeners?
[00:20:03] Rowena: Sure. Shelley. So look, I love this book. I have to admit, I did read it quite a lot before we read Lazy Genius Way. And maybe that, influenced my love of this because I loved Essentialism a lot more than I loved Lazy Genius Way, I enjoyed Lazy Genius Way, but I loved Essentialism. At least when I first read it, I really actually liked the format and the practical suggestions for how we can truly embrace what is essential and just on the format, look a very simple thing, but You can read in chapter and feel like it's all encompassed and tied up with a nice bow that made it really easy to read. So my key takeaway, and I guess that's the key idea from the book that's stuck with me. And I know you and I have spoken about this a few times since we read the book.
Is the healthiest or the heck yes concept, which is basically that we should say no to requests unless they are a "Hell Yeah!" Which really are only a handful of things. Greg suggests they could be like 10% or less of the requests we receive, which pretty much means 90% of the requests we get should be declined.
Now I admit that it's actually really hard to live like this all the time, but it is an awesome process to run decisions through to make sure you're genuinely focusing on what really matters and what is therefore essential. I think he actually has a beautiful quote that says, "if it isn't a clear yes, then it's a clear no," and there's another quote that I think supports this too, which is, "sometimes what you don't do is just as important as what you do."
And I really love those. They both, resonate with me, but I guess to summarize the key message of the book, I did find a beautiful quote that I think captures it. It's a little bit longer. So this is the quote from the book. "Essentialism is not about how to get more things done. It's about how to get the right things done. It doesn't mean just doing less for the sake of less either. It's 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." Now that, to be honest, that sounds pretty great to me.
So how about you, Shelley, can you share what you liked and perhaps, maybe what you didn't like about the book?
[00:22:18] Shelley: Yeah. Sure. So what I liked about the book, I liked these Essentialist Non- Essentialist tables he's got in, just in terms of the formatting of the book. It was a great kind of summary, of what an essentialist would think and what a non essentialist would think.
Although it did feel like you got a real black mark, if you were in the non-essential camp but it was a very helpful, practical way of like, " what does essentialism look like and what does non-essentialism look like? I also liked all the stories from real people.
And I think interestingly enough, this is maybe where I liked The Lazy Genius Way more. There are a lot of, similar aspects, between the books but I just, I kind of like Kendra's stories.
I like that she's a mom. And she has a lot of the same challenges as I have, but Greg has studied this quite extensively and has a lot of stories from, um, real people. And then he's got several references to research, like really good factually based research, which I appreciated.
And I know you appreciate that. And in these kinds of books that it's not just simply him coming up with an idea himself, but he's actually using research that either he's commissioned or that he's used. I think essentially pardon in the pun! What I, what I didn't like about the book or what I think just challenged me or jarred me a little bit is that we all have many parts and often his examples would've been like someone in, in a business context or someone, A lot of them were in business contexts.
And I think as this multi passionate, mom business owner, homeschooling mom, wife, I have many parts as we all do. We have many parts to ourselves. And then I was just a little worried that the essentialism concept, didn't allow for this idea of the many parts of us. I, I do think there's ways around all of this, but I think. It's probably my multi passionate nature coming through here going, ah, I still wanna take part in all these ideas, but I really do feel that being guided by my values and being guided by what matters. Yeah, I think naming what matters and finding what's essential. When you can really find that sweet spot, it actually can bring those different parts of your life together. So I'd be interested to hear what other readers and listeners think of that aspect of the book.
Yeah. How do you integrate all of this? Essentialism aiming for like this one important mission in your life. Um, but we, we have these different parts, so. Yeah, I loved it. I, I really did love it.
And I, I felt that it was very helpful for me as a multi-passionate person as well, but I, I was challenged by it!
[00:25:06] Shelley 2: So there we go. That is your overview of essentialism and now, Rowena, I want to know what you are reading at the moment besides Essentialism.
[00:25:15] Rowena 2: Ah, well the book I'm reading at the moment is actually quite linked to essentialism. It's not effortless. I have actually, I have read that already, but the book I'm just, I actually just finished it yesterday is called The Yes Woman. How to reclaim your power by finally saying no. It's by an Australian journalist called Grace Jennings Edquist and it's been really good. It's well, researched it's full of interviews. I think she's over 200 interviews. It's got her own personal experiences in there as well. And it really dives deep into what creates a Yes Woman. And it talks about perfectionism. And particularly as females, how that kind of comes up in our lives.
It was a really good book. I enjoyed it a lot. And so Shelley, that's quite a heavy book that I've finished. How about yourself? What are you reading?
[00:26:04] Shelley 2: Yeah. I read Johnny Clegg's autobiography Scatterling of Africa. Now, Johnny Clegg is a South African musician and he sings, this fusion of sort of, I suppose, rock pop, and then Zulu music, so he's combined the two and he just makes such beautiful music. I dunno if people might know the Spirit of the Great Heart, and Scatterlings of Africa is another one.
[00:26:29] Shelley: So sadly in 2019. Johnny Clegg passed away after a battle with cancer. But he'd started this book about his early life and about how he came to be known as the white Zulu, how he embraced Zulu culture. Not only the music, but also the dancing, And a lot of the, cultural ceremonial aspects of Zulu culture.
So it was fascinating to learn about those roots and about his life and how he got to the point where he was just bringing his unique beauty and genius into the world. And his music really did touch my life. It just gives me such hope and just such joy when I listen to his music. So reading about his backstory was wonderful.
I kind of really wish that he could have completed the book, given me more information about the later times in his life of, the music and the touring and that kind of stuff. But it was really fascinating to learn about his roots. And I think that was his heart for the book was To tell the story of his early days and his origin story.
So I really enjoyed it. I recommend it to all my fellow South Africans. Going read Scatterling of Africa by Johnny Clegg and all of you across the world, go and Google, Johnny Clegg, go and listen to some of his music and you'll see why I love it so much.
[00:27:49] Shelley 2: Next week we are going to continue the essentialism discussion and we've given you the overview now, and we are gonna be talking next week about how we apply essentialist principles in our lives. So we'll bring in a little bit of family life. Maybe a little bit about how we do it in our businesses. And really how you can apply the essentialist life after you've read the book and dived into some of the theoretical principles, how can you actually apply it to your life?
[00:28:19] Rowena 2: Yep. I am. So looking forward to that discussion, but for now we hope this summary has got you thinking about how you can embrace what is essential in your life and let us know your thoughts. You can find us on Instagram, I'm @rowenamabbott on Instagram and Shelley, where can everyone find you?
[00:28:37] Shelley 2: I'm @shelleysmithcreative on Instagram, where you can comment on the post for today's episode and continue the conversation that way. And then you can also find the podcast's website with all the previous episodes at twobookedup.com. So that's T W O booked up.com.
[00:28:56] Rowena 2: And please make sure to tell your friends about two booked up, send them to two booked up.com or you can find us on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, or wherever you listen to your favorite podcasts.
[00:29:08] Shelley 2: And remember subscribe to the podcast so that you can find us in all future episodes.
[00:29:13] Rowena 2: Thanks so much for joining us on Two Booked Up today. Bye for now.
[00:29:17] Shelley 2: Goodbye. See you the next episode.