book-notes , strategy

Essentialism is deciding what goes on your todo list, not how many things you can cross off.

This is a summary of Essentialisim


  • Essential Intent is a Strategy that is Concrete, Inspiring, Memorable and Clarifies what not to do.
  • Three critical questions:
    • How do I know when I’m done?
    • If I didn’t own this, would I buy it?
    • If I didn’t have this opportunity what would I do to aquire it?
  • Three key differences between essentialisim and most people.
    • I choose to NOT I have to
    • Only a few things matter NOT it’s all important
    • I can do any one thing NOT I can do both.
  • Three steps essentialists take:
    • Explore and Evaluate
    • Eliminate
    • Execute
  • If you don’t choose, someone else will.
  • Less but better

Explore and Evaluate

2) Choose: You need to choose ☐


3) Discern: Only a few things matter, the rest are fluff. ☐


4) Trade off: Which problem do I want ☑

  • Try to avoid reality of trade-offs, but in reality they can’t be ignored.
  • Trade offs exist, can’t be ignored.
  • Embrace the trade off

5) Escape: Be unavailable ☑

  • Need to make space to think
  • To have focus, need to escape, to be able TO FOCUS.
  • Space to concentrate
  • Space to read

6) Look: See what matters ☑

  • Lead - The essence of the story.

    • Journalism Concept
    • Anecdote: Find the lead in high school:
      • Mr Black, principal of school announced all teachers will go to a conference on new topic, by famed anthropologist, blah blah blah.
      • THE LEAD IS: NO school on Thursday.
    • Figure out what matters, don’t relay facts.
    • Start with the 5 W’s
    • Then find the relationship between them.
    • What is the whole from the sum of the parts?
    • Overwhelmed, Confused, can’t find what’s important? You’re missing the LEAD!
  • With so much distraction, need to find the headlines.
    • ASK: What is the headline? What is the most critical thing here?
    • Lead is usually missed by others.
    • Find what is not being said.
    • Focus on what you think is critical, but listen to everything.
  • The big picture
    • Stop focusing on the small details and look at the big picture.
    • Train to look for the lead then …
    • See what you and others have missed …
    • Connect the dots into trends …
    • Focus on what matters instead of reacting to minutia.
  • Keep a journal
    • Faintest pencil better then strongest memory
    • Every 90 days review journal entries.
    • Look for the headlines in your journal, what matters most.
    • Daily view, very different from monthly view.
  • Get out into the field
    • The problem often isn’t the first order problem.
    • Need to immerse yourself in the problem see it in action
    • E.g. Customer Development/Self Awareness/Customer Visits/Amazon time on factory.
    • Story 20K electric incubator, Nepal can’t afford:
      • Goal: 1% of cost
      • First blush, 200$ electric incubator.
      • Team went to Nepal, saw home birth no electricity.
      • Built wax that could be warmed in boiling water and put in sleeping bags.
  • Key your eyes peeled for abnormal or weird
    • Find the key that has been missed.
    • See story as a spider web you can jump around to find the key.
    • See the problem from others perspectives
  • Clarify the question
    • Figure out the right question.
    • It’s easier to avoid it. But find it, and keep focused on it.
    • Only when you see the question clearly, can you answer it.

7) Play: Embrace your inner child ☑

  • Play doesn’t help us explore essential, it is the essential.
  • Anything we do simply for the joy of doing it, rather then a means to the end (xref: hobbies)
  • A mind invited to play
    • Nothing fires up the brain like play.
    • Don’t forget to do at work as well as home
  • Play makes us flexible and creative because:
      1. Broadens options
      1. Reduces stress
      1. Positive effect on executive function

8) Sleep: Protect it ☑

  • Don’t sleep, don’t think. Don’t think, can’t choose well.


9) Select: Hell Yes” or “No”. ☑

  • Rule out pretty good, and only settle for “Hell Yes”
  • Ask: Do I absolutely love this (as opposed to, would this be useful one day).
  • The 90% rule
    • Find most essential criteria, score 0 to 100, and if it’s not over 90, drop it.
    • Also, make criteria explicit so anyone can call your bluff, especially in a team.
    • Decisions are trade-offs, and sometimes you’ll lose, but it’s worth it.
  • Opportunity Knocks
    • Easy to get drawn to an OK opportunity thinking it’s a great deal.
    • But, don’t since it takes away your opportunity to do something awesome.
  • Should I take an opportunity meditation?
    • Write down opportunity
    • 3 minimum criteria the opportunity MUST pass to be considered.
    • 3 ideal/extreme criteria for opportunity for opportunity to be approved [Examples?].
    • 2 of 3 extreme criteria MUST pass
  • Explicit Validated Criteria:
    • Choosing criteria is hard, get reflection/coaching on it.
    • Make explicit, provides you clarity, and lets others help you.
  • Finding a new opportunity?
    • Tighter the criteria, better our brain/mentors can help us.
    • Vague: What’s a good opportunity?
    • Specific: What am I passionate about AND uses my talent AND meets a real need in the world?

10) Clarify: How will we know we’re done? ☑

  • How will we know we’re done?
  • Specific enough to know what NOT to do.
  • Intent Strategy that is Concrete, Inspiring, Memorable and clarifies what NOT to do!
  • Pretty Clear -> Really Clear
    • Pretty clear is ambigious
    • Ambiguity: stress, confusion, frustration.
    • Clarity: shared purpose, motivation, collaboration.
  • Ambiguity Pattern 1: Playing Politics
    • At work, when no idea what matters, you’ll try to look good to the boss.
      • Don’t know what matters? Try to show yourself better then peers, since it’s arbitrary.
      • Probably provides no value to the company.
    • At home, when no idea what matters, try to look good to peers.
      • Don’t know what matters? Try to show better then your peers since it’s arbitrary.
      • But it probably doesn’t matter to you.
  • Ambiguity Pattern 2: It’s all good (aka. bad)
    • TEAM: Everyone does what’s best for them in the moment, but it doesn’t add up to anything.
    • Personal: Do what’s best for you in the momember, but it doesn’t add up to anything.
    • See picture of magnetic by poles.
  • Essential Intent:

      | 2x2 Grid      |  Vague         | Concrete            |
      | Inspirational | Vision/Mission | Essential Intent    |
      | Bland         | Values         | Quarterly Objective |
    • Vision/Mission - Sounds like inspiration, but so vague ignored.
    • Values - So generic, doesn’t inspire passion
    • Quartely Objectives - a specific tactic/how, not inspiring.
    • Intent - Strategy that is Concrete, Inspiring, Memorable and says what NOT doing.
  • Answer the question, do not wordsmith.
    • Stop rearranging words, only answer the questions …
    • Answer: If we were great at one thing, what would it be?
    • Answer: If we succeeded, how would our accomplishemnt be described?
    • Answer: How do we know if we’re done?
  • Living with Intent
    • Apply to all aspects of your life.
    • It’s hard, but worth it.

11) DARE: Say No gracefully ☑

  • Say no firmly, resoloutely, and gracefully
    • Covery, Plan to spend time with his daughter, ran into friend asking over for dinner.
    • Daughter sad, since she was so excited about date with daD.
    • But, Covey said yes, but not today. I Have a date with my daughter.
    • Daughter recalled this story at Covey’s funeral.
  • Good ways to say no.
    • I’m flattered you thought of me, but I’m overcommitted
    • I’d love to, but I don’t have the bandwidth
    • Use the pause, count to 5, or let the person fill the void.
    • No but - I am currently writing a book, but I’d love together once this has happened, reach out then
    • Let me check my calendar Gives you time to come up with a good answer.
    • E-mail bounce Set a local OOF to give you the time to break through
    • Yes, what should I deprioritize
      • What would you like me to deprioritize to make this a prioirty?
      • I want to do a good job, and I won’t be able to do a job I’m proud of if I take this on.
    • You are welcome to X, I’ll do Y: I won’t write the deck, but I’m happy to give you feedback.
    • I can’t, you can try X
  • Ackward, but eventually you get respect/admiration.
    • See Drucker’s answer to Csikszentmihalyi
  • Focus on the trade off
    • Think about what you’re giving up, know this, and you’ll find the courage.
    • You can’t say yes, without saying no to something else.
  • Remind yourself that everyone is selling something
    • When you say yes, you’re buying something, make that thing essential.

12) Uncommit: Cut your losses. ☑

  • If wasn’t already invested, how much would I invest?
  • What else would I do with this time or money if I walked away now
  • Sunk Cost bias
    • Already put so much in, will be a win with just a bit more.
    • Antidote: Realize waste is OK (especially since it’s already happened).
    • Anecdote:
      • Realize waste is OK. Remember this story.
      • Buy ticket A for 100$, 2 weeks later ticket B for 50$
      • Expect concert B will be better
      • A and B on same day, need to choose which to go to.
      • Many pick A, because they’d waste less money.
  • Endowment affect (divestiture aversion) bias

    • Over value what you own.
    • No one washed a rental car.
    • Can’t get rid of a book you don’t read.
    • Can’t get rid of clothes you don’t fit into.
    • Antidote: Pretend you don’t own it yet
    • ITEM: If I didn’t own it, how much would I pay?
    • OPPORTUNITY: If I don’t have this opportunity, how hard will I work to get it?
    • INVOLVEMENT: If I wasn’t involved, how hard would I work to get involved?
  • Need to admit failure to begin success.
    • Until we admit failure, we’ll keep going in the wrong direction.
  • Stop trying to force a fit
    • Sometimes it’s the wrong job/opportunity/product for us. Need to let it go.
    • Antidote: Get an objective second opinion.
      • They can see clearly without sunk cost, or emotional investment.
      • It’ll give you “permission” to let it go.
  • Status quo bias
    • Do something just because you’ve always done it.
    • Antidote: Apply zero based budgetting
      • Don’t re-evaluate from history.
      • Re-evaluate from history
      • What would you pay for TODAY, not delta from yesterday.
      • Hard, but worth it.
  • Stop making casual commitments
    • Take 5s to ask if this is essential before you commit.
  • Get over fear of missing out
    • Loss averse, don’t want to miss out.
    • Antidote: Reverse Pilot
      • Try to stop doing it for a while, and see if anyone notices.
  • Meta: It’s hard
    • Uncommitting harder then not commiting but worth it.
    • Feel guilt to reneg - but it’s worth it.
    • Grandmother mind on this.

13) Edit: Invisible Art - Cut Early, Cut Often. ☑

  • Making better is through subtracting
  • Best picture, usually nominited or wins best editting.
  • Editting is hard to see, since it’s been removed.
  • A great editor provides clarity by removing the non-essential.
  • Removes annoying distractions
  • Eliminate everything distracting (words/images/details)
  • Cut out options
    • Painful, but in long run joyful, since no wasted energy and bad decision.
    • To write is human, to edit is divine.
  • Condense
    • Increase signal to noise, by removing noise.
      • Meaning to activity ratio.
    • In Words:
      • Are you saying what you want to say?
      • Can you say it as clear and concisely as possible.
    • In Life:
      • Are you doing what you want to do?
      • Can you do it simpler, and with minimal activity?
    • Can activities/assets have double duty? (Bike riding with kids)
    • Less waste.
    • Would have written something shorter, but didn’t have the time.
  • Correct
    • Are we in alignment with our overarching purpose?
    • If not correct it.
    • Need to check regularly. Review scorecard and mission statement.
  • Edit Less
    • Best surgeon cuts the least, not the most.
    • Don’t step in if don’t have to.
    • Don’t argue laws of physics.
    • Talk last, and only if needed
    • Minimize times of change.
  • Edit continuously - Avoid big bangs
    • Make more, but smaller correction
    • Frequent feedback.
    • Make cut/condense/correct a common part of our lives.

14) Limit: Set boundaries ☑

  • If you don’t set your boundaries someone will in advance.
  • Make boundaries clear before hand so people don’t feel jilted.
  • Don’t defend your boundaries and you’ll not be able to maintain them.
  • Boundaries are liberating
    • Anecdote: School on busy road. Kids afraid to play near road. Add fence, now can get close to road.
  • Don’t let them put their monkeys on your back.
  • Tell other your boundaries so they can respect them.

15) Buffer: Because, it’ll go wrong ☑

  • REALITY: You just can’t predict, add buffer.
  • Your estimate is wrong, add 50% buffer.
  • IF you don’t need your buffer, you’ll get free time and feel great.
  • Scenario planning.
    • What risks do you face on this project
    • What is the worst case scenario
    • What would make the social effects of this be
    • What would the financial impacts be
    • How can you invest to reduce risks or strengthen resilliance

16) Subtract: Can only ship by cutting ☑

  • Shipping is blocked by constraints/obstacles on the long pole.
  • Produce by removing constraints/obstacles on the long pole, not be doing more work on other things.
  • You ship by cutting features, not by adding features
  • Mythical Man Month - Ignoring the constraints, adding more production capacity.
  • Example, Boy scout hike, make the slowest hiker more efficient, put him at front of line, and help him.
  • Find and fix the long pole.
    1. How do we know we’re done? Crisp, specific statement of done.
    2. What is holding that back?
      • List+Rank: What is keeping me from completing this?
      • List+Rank: What obstacle, if removed, would make the majority of other obstacles dissapear?
      • Focus on top of list.
    3. Remove Top Problem
      • Too high a quality? Change perspective - done is better then perfect.
      • Blocked on person? Ask them slowest hiker, and what you can do to help.
  • Grandmother mind again - it’s hard, but the first step makes a difference.


17) Progress: Drip, Drip, Drip, Done ☑

  • Drip, Drip, Drip, Done.
  • Progress most motivating because 1) momentum 2) reminds future success.
  • Create small wins, celebrate progress
  • Focus on small wins till done, forcing a big win much harder.
  • Do the minimal viable progress
    • Easy to know you’re tackling a small chunk.
    • Done is better then perfect
    • Leave state where it’s much easier to start (aka. Call Susan @ 206-925-3219, as opposed to call susan)
    • Pixar: We don’t actually finish our films, we ship them.
  • Start minimum viable preperation as early as you can.
    • Start early and small.
    • It’s not intimidating, and you can get so much done before it’s urgent.
    • Seeing the progress makes it easy to take the next step.
  • The more clear progress, the better - put things on your wall, add check marks
    • Bonus, seeing success makes us enjoy and have satisfaction the process.
  • TODO: Figure out systems that make this easier:
    • Book summary - start with chapter outline, then section out line per section, the flesh out. Progress helps.
    • Scrum and Kanban.
    • Bug Burn down charts.

18) Flow (Habit): Genius of Routine ☑

  • Design a routine that focuses on essential, and makes execution effortless.
  • Make the essential the default routine.
  • Making it look easy
    • Routines lets us avoid distraction on fluff.
    • Routine cuts decision fatigue since decisions/willpower not required.
    • Repetition makes it autopilot
    • Autopilot mode gives us back cognitive capacity to work on hard stuff.
  • Routines are usually automatic.
  • A routine is; Trigger -> Routine -> Reward. After a while trigger/reward mingle.
  • Remove negative routines: change response on trigger.
  • New routine, create new triggers
  • Do the most difficult thing first - hard stuff done while we have will power.
  • Mix up your routines - each day different?
  • Tackle your routines one by one - it’s hard, use grandmother mind.

19) Focus: What’s important now? Be present. ☑

  • There is only now - be present.
  • Lose vs Beaten:
    • Beaten - external factors outside your control (better competition/external forces)
    • Lose - Lost focus, didn’t do the best you could given the situation.
  • Figure out what is important now
    • List 1) What do I need to do know so I can sleep well tonight
    • When stressed, ask what is important now.
  • Get the future out of your head
    • List 2) What will I do someday (get it out of your head so you don’t stress or forget it).
    • Gets open loops out of your head.
  • Prioritize: Work through lists in priority order
  • Pause and Refresh - a breath brings you back to the present instead of monkey mind.

20) Be: Summary ☑

  • Always ask what is most essential, cut everything else
  • Choosing and your todo list:
    • Life is about what you decide to put on your todo list, not how efficiently you cross things off.
    • Focus on essential is a choice, make it, or someone else will make your choices, and it’ll suck.
  • Regressions:
    • You’ll forget that you can’t do both, you can’t.
    • They’ll happen, keep grandmother mind, and try again.
  • Living a life that matters:
    • Family most important thing in your life, everything else will fade over time.
    • You have so little time – go look at cemeteries to see how little you have.
    • Remove fear of choosing the wrong thing, just choose and move on.
    • By deciding what is most important and doing it, you’ll have no regrets.

A1) Essentialist Leadership Principles

  • Essentialist teams
  • Leading as an essentialist
  • Ridciously selective
  • Debate until you have a crystal clear intent
  • Go for extreme empowerment
  • Communicate right things, to right people, at right time
  • Check often to make sure meaningful progress.