essentialism book I just finished my fourth book since changing a key habit over Christmas a few weeks ago. Essentialism, a New York Times bestseller by Greg McKeown, dissects “the disciplined pursuit of less.” The book uncovers ways to focus less on the trivial many, and focus more on the vital few. This book is really good. One that I’ll be sure to read again. It’s a type of handbook for prioritizing your life and paying great attention to what really matters.

Here are some key sections I noted while reading:

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.

That sounds fabulous, right? If we prioritized those things mentioned above, surely we’d all be better off. With this in mind, I’m trying to spend more time with my journal-slash-sketchbook. I’ve got to-do lists on my iPhone, MacBook, and more, but actually thinking through and clarifying a thought proves much more difficult with tiny distractions–notifications, email, little red dots, buzzes, blips, and rings.

My notebook and pen don’t do anything. I’m either writing or thinking while wielding those tiny tools. Nothing else. This is crucial.

Inspired by Newton, I took a similar, if perhaps less extreme, approach to writing this book. I blocked of eight hours a day to write: from 5:00 AM to 1:00 PM, five days a week (for 8 months). The basic rule was no email, no calls, no appointments, and no interruptions until after 1:00 PM. I didn’t always achieve it, but the discipline made a big difference. I set my email bounce back to explain that I was in “monk mode” until after the book was complete. It is difficult to overstate how much freedom I found in this approach.

“That’s great for him, Matt, but I’ve got a job and there’s no way I could do something like that.” That may be true, but their our ways to control our time. For example, I’ve started a habit to write for a minimum of 15 minutes each day when I turn my computer on for the first time. Some days I miss, but lots of days I don’t. Sometimes I write for 15 minutes and it's utter crap. Other days I get in the flow and go for an hour and write over 1,000 words. While I may not have 8 hours a day to work on a personal thing, I do have some time. So do you.

When I ask people, “What do you really want out of your career over the next five years?” I am still taken aback by how few people can answer the question.

This one hit me in the gut. I have ambitions, some concrete some vague, but I can’t really answer that right now in a cohesive fashion. To the journal!

So to remove the obstacle (you may have) you need to replace the idea “This has to be perfect or else” with “Done is better than perfect.”

Oh man, how many designers out there struggle with this? raises hand I’ve gone through personal site redesign after redesign after redesign. Never satisfied with my non-perfect online representation, I sat dormant, rotting in my own dissatisfaction. It was only when I made the decision to use the default Ghost theme as my website that I finally shed the emperor’s clothing of perfection and began to move forward. Over time I customized, tweaked, and fiddled with the design bit by bit. It’s still nowhere near perfect now and I’ve resisted the urge to do a full redesign every month for the last year. I will redesign eventually, but that time has not yet come.

The Essentialist designs a routine that makes achieving what you have identified as essential the default position.

The book refers to routines a lot. It tells the story of Michael Phelps, US Olympic Gold Medalist and all-round super swimmer, and how he has a rigid routine that starts the very moment he gets out of bed. What he eats, what he listens to, what exercises he does, in what order. Which foot gets placed onto the platform first. By the time the competition is about to begin, he’s already won over and over and over all day long, just as he (and his coach) have planned. Swimming in the competition is just one more simple step in his routine that is already on the fast track to success.

If we too are intentional about the essential things in our life, we can prioritize our own life instead of having someone else prioritize it for us.

We can all purge our lives of the nonessential and embrace the way of the Essentialist–in our own ways, and in our own time, and on our own scale. We can all live a life not just of simplicity, but of high contribution and meaning.

Yep, what he said.

If this sparks any interest, I’d highly recommend giving it a read. For your convenience, here’s a handy dandy Amazon affiliate link just for you. ;)