This week we are going to cover Part 2: Explore, which is made up of chapters 5-10. If you haven’t read the post from week 1 yet, go read it before you continue on with week 2.
It’s Time to Explore
The theme of the reading this week is exploration. According to the author, the way of an essentialist “is to explore and evaluate a broad set of options before committing to any.”
This is the exact opposite of the traditional mindset that most of us have. In fact, many people view taking time to consider their options – not to mention the larger amount of time it would take to consider a broad set of options – to be a waste of time.
But this kind of thinking is exactly what makes most people nonessentialists.
So the real question from this week is, what do we need to do to escape and begin thinking more like an essentialist?
The answer to that question is broken down into 5 practices for exploring what is essential. Lets take a closer look at each other them:
So many of us are so busy with all the “things” of life, that we forget to stop and take time to think. We are so busy chasing after all the “opportunities” that we forget to stop and take time to ask ourselves if this opportunity is the right one for us.
We also live in a society that makes it seem like we always need to be available. Think about it, when is the last time your phone rang and you didn’t feel the immediate need to answer it?
To live an essentialist life we have to break free from these. We all need to escape and create a little space in our life. According to the book there are 3 types of space that we need:
- Space to Design. When you set aside time to focus you have the ability to see how you want to design your life. You can examine opportunities that are presented and ask yourself if they are the right ones for you. The only way to design the life you want is to spend some time thinking about what you want it to be, so you know which opportunities are right for you when they present themselves.
- Space to Concentrate. We live in a world where we are constantly within reach of our phones, and many times have social media and email at most one click away. When is the last time you turned off your computer and phone and just spent time thinking? In the book he points out that “the faster and busier things get, the more we need to build thinking time into our schedule. And the noisier things get, the more we need to build quiet reflection spaces in which we can truly focus.”
- Space to Read. Reading is one of the most powerful things we can do – you may already know this since you are in the book club. As he points out in the book, “Bill Gates, who regularly (and famously) takes a regular week off from his daily duties at Microsoft simply to think and read.” Do you think Bill Gates can do this because he is Bill Gates? Or do you think that he is Bill Gates because he does this? I believe it is the latter of the two.
2. Look and Listen
This chapter talks a lot about taking a step back and looking at the big picture, and finding the details that most people miss.
In the book he says that when you begin to look at the big picture “You’ll be able to do more than simply see the dots of each day: you’ll also connect them to see the trends. Instead of just reacting to the facts, you’ll be able to focus on the larger issues that really matter.”
When you take time to focus on the big picture, you are better able to examine all the details so that you don’t miss the things that most people miss. According to the author, essentialists “know they can’t possibly pay attention to everything, they listen deliberately for what is not being explicitly stated. They read between the lines.”
So how do we better focus on the big picture?
One way outlined in the book is to keep a daily journal. I have done this myself at times – I use it for a few months but then fall off the wagon for a few months. However, I have found this to be extremely helpful. The act of taking a few minutes to write stuff down each day is a great way to clear your mind.
But the power of keeping a journal isn’t in the journaling itself. It is in the review of the journal. The key is to focus on the right things when you read the journal entries. As he says in the book,”don’t be overly focused on the details, like the budget meeting three weeks ago or last Thursday’s pasta dinner. Instead, focus on the broader patterns or trends. Capture the headline. Look for the lead in your day, your week, your life.”
When it comes to play most of think that it is a luxury that we will one day get to enjoy. The common belief is that we will be able to devote time to play “when I am more settled in my career” or “when I have more money in the bank”.
This type of thinking is so common with nonessentialists. According to the book, “This idea that play is trivial stays with us as we reach adulthood and only becomes more ingrained as we enter the workplace.” It is the belief that play is a reward that we have to earn. However, this type of thinking couldn’t be further from the truth.
The book points out these two truths about play:
- We were built for play. Have you ever wondered why you feel the most “alive” when you are doing things that could be classified as play? It’s because you were built for it! According to the book, “It helps us to see possibilities we otherwise wouldn’t have seen and make connections we would otherwise not have made. It opens our minds and broadens our perspective. It helps us challenge old assumptions and makes us more receptive to untested ideas. It gives us permission to expand our own stream of consciousness and come up with new stories.”
- Play leads to success in every other area of life. It may seem counterintuitive, but taking time off to play will actually make you more effective in your work. The reason is because “play is an antidote to stress, and this is key because stress, in addition to being an enemy of productivity, can actually shut down the creative, inquisitive, exploratory parts of our brain.”
So next time you find yourself thinking you don’t deserve to be able to play, remember this book and give yourself the gift of play.
Over the past few years the importance of getting enough sleep has began to become an extremely popular topic. Up until recently the belief that prioritizing sleep makes us less productive has been extremely popular. But there is a “growing body of research demonstrating that a good night’s sleep actually makes us more productive, not less.”
When the topic of sleep comes up most people say things like, “I am good with 5 to 6 hours of sleep” or “I function better on less sleep”. While this may be common to hear, it does not make it true. In the book he makes the point that “while there are clearly people who can survive on fewer hours of sleep, I’ve found that most of them are just so used to being tired they have forgotten what it really feels like to be fully rested.”
An interesting example given in the book is:
Pulling an all-nighter (i.e., going twenty-four hours without sleep) or having a week of sleeping just four or five hours a night actually “induces an impairment equivalent to a blood alcohol level of 0.1%. Think about this: we would never say, ‘This person is a great worker! He’s drunk all the time!’ yet we continue to celebrate people who sacrifice sleep for work.” How many hours per night do you sleep? If you get less than 8 hours of sleep per night you should make a change.
According to the author, “Essentialists instead see sleep as necessary for operating at high levels of contribution more of the time” and “this is why they systematically and deliberately build sleep into their schedules so they can do more, achieve more, and explore more.”
I have found one the of the best ways to do this is by setting a bedtime alarm. In the last iOS update Apple added a “bedtime” feature to their alarm clock app. I have mine set with my bedtime and my wakeup time, 8 hours apart, and the app alerts me 15 minutes before my bedtime to help me make sure I am in bed on time every night.
This is the last practice of exploration outlined in the book.
The common belief in our society today is that we have to say yes to every opportunity presented to us. However, to live as an essentialist we have to kill this belief. According to the author, “If the answer isn’t a definite yes then it should be a no.”
So how do we decide what to give a definite yes to?
The 90 Percent Rule
The 90 percent rule is a tactic outlined in the book to help you make better decisions. It is made up of the following steps:
- Decide what the most important criterion is for the option being presented
- Rate the option on a 0-100 scale
- If the score given is less than 90, automatically change the score to 0 and ignore this option.
It seems pretty simple right? Well it is, and it isn’t. The hardest part if being true with your score. Don’t give something a score over 90 just because you know giving it a lower score will cause you not to go after it. If it deserves a 90+, give it. If not, don’t.
This tactic helps you to avoid being influenced by FOMO.
What is FOMO? It stands for fear of missing out, and it is one of the most powerful feelings that can lead you to say yes to things you should have said no to.
The second method he outlines in the book for selecting what to say yes to, is to write down answers the following 2 sets of criteria regarding the opportunity that has been presented to you:
- Minimum criteria. What are the three minimum things the opportunity would have to pass to be considered.
- Extreme criteria. What are three ideal things the opportunity would have to pass to be considered.
Using this framework, if the option doesn’t meet the minimum criteria it is an immediate no. But, it also needs to be able to pass 2 of the 3 extreme criteria to get a “yes”.
Remember, “If it isn’t a clear yes, then it’s a clear no.”
My Favorite Quotes
- The way of the Essentialist, on the other hand, is to explore and evaluate a broad set of options before committing to any.
- To discern what is truly essential we need space to think, time to look and listen, permission to play, wisdom to sleep, and the discipline to apply highly selective criteria to the choices we make.
- Before you can evaluate what is and isn’t essential, you first need to explore your options.
- Yes, focus is something we have. But focus is also something we do.
- Here’s another paradox for you: the faster and busier things get, the more we need to build thinking time into our schedule. And the noisier things get, the more we need to build quiet reflection spaces in which we can truly focus.
- In every set of facts, something essential is hidden.
- Essentialists are powerful observers and listeners.
- Imagination is the source of every form of human achievement. And it’s the one thing that I believe we are systematically jeopardizing in the way we educate our children and ourselves.
- This idea that play is trivial stays with us as we reach adulthood and only becomes more ingrained as we enter the workplace.
- When I examine myself and my methods of thought, I come to the conclusion that the gift of fantasy has meant more to me than my talent for absorbing positive knowledge. – Albert Einstein
- Play doesn’t just help us to explore what is essential. It is essential in and of itself.
- The best asset we have for making a contribution to the world is ourselves. If we underinvest in ourselves, and by that I mean our minds, our bodies, and our spirits, we damage the very tool we need to make our highest contribution.
- Essentialists instead see sleep as necessary for operating at high levels of contribution more of the time.
- In a nutshell, sleep is what allows us to operate at our highest level of contribution so that we can achieve more, in less time.
- If the answer isn’t a definite yes then it should be a no.
There are tons of great tactics in this section of the book, but lets narrow it down to focus on two that can have the greatest impact right away.
- Get 8 hours of sleep every night. I know you may be thinking this is going to be impossible, but becoming intentional about your sleep may be the most powerful thing you will get out of this book. It seems so simple, but has such great impacts on your life. If you use an iPhone, set the bedtime alarm in your clock app. Make sure you set it to allow 8 hours of sleep, and still allow you to wake up at the time you need to be awake. If you don’t use an iPhone, go buy one. Just kidding… kinda. Set an alarm on your phone, tablet, computer, or even an old fashioned bedside alarm clock to go off 15 minutes before you need to be in bed.
- Start a journal. I personally use The 5 Minute Journal App for my iPhone. I think it is one of the best journals available. It guides you through a simple journaling process that only take you five minutes in the morning and five minutes in the evening. If you prefer a physical journal, check out hardcover edition of The Five Minute Journal. However, these are just suggestions. If you want to journal on notebook paper and keep it in a binder, you can. The method is not important, just pick one that works for you.
Coming up next…
Next week we will be covering Part 3: Eliminate which is made up of chapters 10-14.
See you next week! Continue to Week 3