We continue the discussion of Essentialism by Greg McKeown today in a jam-packed episode of ways we stop our own exploration short of what will truly help us to decide what is valuable to our own happiness and contributions!

Essentialism Book Summary, Part 2- Explore your Options Transcript

Today, we’re talking about part two of Essentialism, and it is all about “explore.”

If you missed part one, go back to episode 42, where we talked about the essence of essentialism. Which is kind of weird when you say that. 

Today we’re talking about “explore.” We want to understand the value in steps that help us identify worthwhile tasks in our life. And there are a couple, I wouldn’t say random, but they feel like miscellaneous, useful tidbits that are also thrown in there to help us explore effectively. 

So we’re going to hit all of the pieces today. The overall theme is that right now, as a society, we are so busy pursuing every possibility. 

We have the FOMO and we actually end up exploring less options because we say yes to things that don’t really matter. Saying yes so quickly that we have no clue what other things are out there. 

We want to spend time researching and trial running particular things that we believe could be something that is effective. Makes the most of our time, our energy, but also our contribution to the world and society as a whole. So if you can explore safely and in the right way, then you can choose the vital few things that are going to lead to your biggest impact. 

That’s what Simple Systems With Sam is all about, right? We are taking and simplifying the things that we don’t want to have a large footprint in our day in our life, but that we know need to get done. 

I will always say laundry is my thing, but I am trying to simplify it so that I don’t have to spend all of this time dreading putting mental mindspace into laundry. I can move on with my day into things that are actually going to light me up and bring me happiness and make me feel like I’m contributing to my overall goal. My overall impact on my family, on the world, on everybody that I can. 

If you believe that you need to be productive so that you can do more, then hopefully these five things that we’re about to talk about are going to convince you that…to do more means that you need to figure out how to do less. 

There are five big topics covered in this section of the book for how to explore the big key items, for exploring your options as best as you can. To find that thing that really gives you your highest level of happiness and contribution. Finding the vital few that are going to be the things that you can pour your energy and passion into. 

1. You Need Space to Think

The first one is that you need space to think. This is how you can escape from everything around us. 

I actually have been using this one story from the book with my freshman as we teach Newton’s Laws. 

When Newton came up with his three laws of motion, he actually secluded himself in a small cabin, just away from everything for two years. The whole goal was just to continuously think about everything. He allowed his brain to get bored, which we as a society are not super good at right now. Allowed himself to open up his mind and think outside the box as to how things that were bigger than we could have ever imagined work. How does the universe work? How do these laws of motion come together? 

Just by giving himself some freedom and a safety of knowing that there was no right or wrong, there’s nobody else around to bother or impress…he was able to come up with some important works of physics and science in general. 

We need these safe places for ourselves to also kind of escape to, so that you can explore with your brain what all the different possibilities are. 

Maybe what you will do is just sit and allow yourself to think about what you want your future to look like. There’s no right or wrong answer. Nobody’s going to critique you. You don’t have to worry about answering all of your kids’ bathroom potty questions. But instead, you can just let yourself go, and let your mind do some really creative things because brains are just super cool. 

Not only that, you need the freedom to explore and ponder and feel safe. You also really need to focus, but not in the sense that you are focusing on one small piece of an issue. 

Instead, you want to remove yourself, take a 500 foot view, a 5000 foot view.

I really love the analogy that they put in the book where it says…Think about how your eyes focus. When you need to focus on something, you might try to stare at one thing, but that might be the only thing that comes into focus. Instead, your eyes are trying to take in an entire field of information so that they can adapt and adjust to everything that is coming at them. 

We need to do the exact same thing. Instead of focusing on a problem, or trying to solve all of our financial issues, or anything that might be happening, we need to allow all of the information to come into us in that safe space. Maybe we’ll see something we haven’t seen before. 

That kind of goes back to our Root Cause Analysis episode, where we’re trying to figure out if this is my small problem. What is something else that’s connected to it that I can try to tweak in a small, easy way that can waterfall effect everything else? 

To do this, you also, especially as busy moms and teachers, are going to probably need to create a scheduled excuse to think. We’re going to need to give ourselves some strategic time and a calendar, where we know that’s my thinking timeyou can’t mess with me

I actually have a friend that in college, whenever she had to study for a test would put on a hat and say it’s her thinking cap. You could not bother her when she had the thinking cap on because she was really focused on the assignment…on studying. That was kind of her way of letting everybody else know that she’s in the zone. We couldn’t bother her. 

You can do a small meditation, take a walk or drive in silence, journal. It doesn’t have to be anything big to start with. Starting by giving yourself space, and time to think and focus on the big picture, can help you narrow in on what you’re actually going to find important and what things you can release. 

2. You Need Time to Look and Listen

One of the things that I think we all inherently kind of struggle with is not jumping into something the immediate second that it’s proposed to us. Not actually giving ourselves time to weigh our options and see what is happening, but also listen to the input of those around us. Listen to what people are saying, but also kind of take a journalistic view and listen to the things that aren’t being said. Maybe the things that aren’t being said can also help guide what you need to know about what you could be getting involved in. 

I love that when the author talked about listening in the book, it was specifically saying that we need to listen to understand, not to formulate a response. 

Sometimes…I am super guilty of this…when you are listening to someone in a conversation, you hear something, and you’re busy then zoning out trying to figure out what you are going to say next. Instead of taking in all the information that that person has given to you. When you can take in all the extra information, when you give yourself a pause in time to see all of the options and to hear all of the input and feedback, then that will also help clarify all of the different decisions you’re gonna make.

3. We Need Permission to Play

It’s no secret that there are a lot of big companies that have turned their corporate headquarters into play spaces. Google is a really great example of this. 

Does anyone remember the movie “The Internship”, where they went to work at Google as middle aged men. They were either car salesmen or mattress salesmen, I don’t even remember where it started, but they interned with a bunch of teenagers and kids in their early 20s at Google.

Google was full of bikes and then there were areas where you can play and that’s actually how the campus is. 

Letting yourself kind of release childlike wonder puts yourself back in the mindset of a child. If you’ve never seen a small child just let their imagination run wild with no inhibition, nothing holding them back, it is just so inspiring that they couldn’t care less about anything else but what is going to work for them. What the best option is going to be for them. They’re a little bit selfish, but in play, they’re also super creative. 

We need to act like kids some more. Maybe we just need to take some extra time to disconnect and play with our own kids to get back in that childlike mindset. When you allow yourself to do that, you can help understand what your own root of what you want, and what you need the most, come to light. 

If you are acting like a child, you can be a little selfish, but you also can ignore some of the things that feel really heavy. You can play, have fun, create in a creative way to accomplish tasks or to say no to things. 

Giving ourselves the freedom and the flexibility to remove the pressures also is going to help you figure out what your highest level of contribution could go towards. It will help your happiness. I don’t know a single time I have had a tea party that hasn’t helped my happiness. 

4. The Wisdom to Sleep

I will be very honest. I listened to an extremely long audio book over the summer about sleep that I think it’s just called Why We Sleep. It was very interesting all the science that goes behind how sleep is so important for us. We notice it right when we start feeling overly stressed out. When we feel like everything is becoming too heavy, and we just need a minute. We kind of just naturally crawl into bed, and we just take the extra time to allow ourselves to refresh. 

There’s so much that happens while we’re sleeping, and we need to allow ourselves the time for our bodies to reset. We have to let our muscles relax, and let our brain clear everything up. 

There’s an interesting story in the book of somebody who was an intense CEO of a company that he founded. He was constantly traveling the world, and I believe he ended up having a stroke. He went to his doctor and his doctor said, “I really think you just need to take two months off. Just halt what you’re doing for two months and do nothing”. And the CEO was like, I’ll do it in one month, and then I’ll be back.

In the first week that he let go of all of his responsibilities that he’d had for years, it says that he slept for almost 14 hours a day for two weeks. He went back to his doctor and said, you’re right, I need more time. And two years later, all of his levels were equalized, he was still able to do valuable work, but he wasn’t putting his body through something that it literally couldn’t rebound from. 

So know that sometimes it is best to just go to sleep. Let your body do a natural reset of all its hormone levels and mental processing of everything that we go through in the day. Sleep is almost always the cure.

If we want to get more technical than me telling you that sleep is very important, there is actually a study from a university in Germany where they said, “a full night’s sleep may actually increase your brain power and enhance our problem solving abilities. While you sleep, your brains are hard at work encoding and restructuring information. But even a nap can increase your creativity.” 

Sleep allows us to technically achieve more in less time because when we have sleep in our body is refreshed and revitalized, we have the energy and the bandwidth to mentally handle more problems with less consequences. 

5. Select the Things That are Important

We take all of these steps and combine them into the overall goal of this section, which is being able to select the things that are important. Set yourself up with space and time to think, look and listen. You allow yourself to play and have that childlike wonder. Give yourself some sleep. But then in the end, all of those steps are going to help you process how you prioritize everything. They’re saying that everything looks important. But really, we have to see what is going to benefit you. 

It reminded me of Love is Blind on Netflix. I was watching the recap, After the Altar, before this new season comes out…I’m very excited about it…and one of the women was turned down at the altar. It was not very pretty. Her family was asking her why she was still in contact with her ex-fiance, and what benefit did it actually have for her. 

It was really eye opening for her to see how she may have thought she wanted this relationship, but she was getting no positives out of it. There was no closure, there was no moving on for her. In fact, the entire thing was benefiting him, because he didn’t feel like he was as much of a jerk. He was kind of a jerk.

We need to take that same lens with enough sleep and enough energy and enough creativity, to be able to prioritize what is going to matter. 

The quickest way that they say to prioritize the things in your life, all of the millions of things that we legitimately have moving around in our head, in and out of our day, in  your inbox and offers and opportunities, is actually a very common idea that has been thing float around the internet for a few years at least…it’s either a hell yes or it’s a hell no.

You’re either going to say, I want to do this with every fiber of my being, and if you don’t feel that excitement for it, it’s not for you. Because if you don’t feel that excitement for it, what benefit is it to you to go ahead and put your effort into it? To spend your time and trade off something? Because if you say yes to something that you’re kind of excited about, you’re saying no to a lot of things that honestly might hold the same weight or even more weight. 

Anything less than a definite yes, should be a definite no. 

Another way to ask it is, do you absolutely love something? Do you absolutely love it? Marie Kondo in your brain. Do you absolutely love it, and do you want to keep it? If it doesn’t pass the 90% rule, consider kicking it out of your life. What is the most important criteria for what void that item fills, or that task fills in your life?  

The author goes into this explanation of a 90% rule. Create the most important criteria that you have for some section of your life. If we’re talking about events that you might attend, or maybe we’re talking about clothes that you’re decluttering from your closet, whatever it is, what is the most important thing?

Let’s talk about clothes because I think clothes are really easy to kind of step away from and think pretty clearly. If you are in your closet, and you’re planning on decluttering, your clothes have a purpose. What is that purpose to you? 

To me, it’s to make me feel good with little effort. So feel good, no effort. That’s my main criteria.

If I was to rank all the clothing in my closet, give it a grade, a grade on how good it makes me feel with little to no effort, and it doesn’t hit a 90%…if it doesn’t get an A, it’s out. 

Why would I have anything less than an A in my closet? Why are we allowing a C average piece of clothing to just sit there? Maybe it doesn’t fit you and it’s earned a D because it does not fulfill the feeling of making you feel good with little effort. There’d be a lot of effort to get into something that’s two sizes too small. Kick it to the curb. You don’t need that type of negativity in your life.

Actually just having that one important piece of criteria for everything, for an event that you would attend, an opportunity that you may take advantage of, you need to have a highly selective criteria list. And if it doesn’t hit 90% or above, it doesn’t fit. 

For me…I will say in the last week, my kids have been assigned their soccer coaches for the new soccer season coming up. It has always been a goal of mine, always, to coach my kids soccer teams. I always want to do what my mom did when she took over our team when I was younger, and she took us through the end of our like rec seasons that we could do. 

Well, the opportunity popped up where my four year old doesn’t have a coach, and I had to really sit and consider, is this my chance? Is this my opportunity? And my biggest piece of criteria is, am I going to feel like I’m fulfilled better? Am I going to feel like I fulfilled a closer relationship with my daughter by doing this? And the answer is…I’d give it maybe a 65-70% chance of working out that way. That’s just not going to be good enough.

I know that they need a coach, and I will help assist the coach if they need it on the day. But I cannot trade off the effort that I would have to put into it for a D minus, maybe D plus trade off. If I’m not sure it’s a 90% or a hell yes, then it’s gotta be a no. 

So if we can essentially make checklists (“essentially”… see what I did there?), if we can make a checklist for the things, whether it’s an item or a task, or an event that we take on in our life, make a checklist that has criteria that’s selective and explicit and needs to be very specific, so that you can decide if it checks the box or not. 

Having a checklist is going to give you a system that tells you how you can decide if it’s essential, or it’s not. You can go ahead and filter it out and not even feel bad about it, because it’s not going to move you in the direction that you want. 

There’s this thing called FOMO. Actually, did you know that there’s this new thing called YoYO that my freshman brought to my attention? You’re Only Young Once. 

Sometimes we say yes to things because we have this fear of missing out. Or, we have this fear that we won’t ever be able to get to do this thing again. It might be an easy reward, a quick social hit to boost your social status, or make you feel like you’re involved and you know what’s going on. But then you might end up having to say no to something that’s more meaningful. 

Sometimes it can be hard to decide what your criteria might be. It doesn’t have to just be one criteria. 

Opportunities and How We Filter Them Out

So let’s walk through the way that the book wants us to look at opportunities and how we should filter them out. 

You’re going to write down the opportunity. The opportunity could be an item that you’re planning on purchasing, something that is passed along to you at work, taking on a kids soccer team, going to a bachelorette party, any of these things.What are the three minimum criteria to be able to consider that?

Let’s take the bachelorette party, for example. Some minimum criteria that you would need to have are: 

  • Cost – needs to be affordable enough that you’re not trying to go into super high debt to fly around the world to do a bachelorette party.
  • Availability for those dates – that would probably help. 
  • And I would also say you probably have to like the people that are going. 

That would be my minimum criteria. If it doesn’t pass all three pieces of minimum criteria, then it’s a no.

Next up, you’re gonna come up with extreme criteria. What’s the ideal situation for you to be, this is a hell yes for me? Not just, okay, yeah, I can make it work. But this is going to be the best experience, the most fulfilling, the most happy thing that I could do.

Come up with three extreme things that are going to make it the perfect opportunity. If it doesn’t pass two of them, the answer is going to be a no. That kind of falls into that 90% for you. You hit a minimum criteria, and then in an ideal situation, if you’re not getting two thirds of the ideal scenario, and the ideal outcome out of it, then it’s not worth your time and effort.  

Wrapping Up

The author wraps up by talking about a Google search. If you are gonna go to New York for the first time, would you type into Google, “good restaurant in New York City?” Or would you say “the best pizza slice in Brooklyn?” Which one are you going to search for? Are you going to search for the good, the thing that only hits the bare minimum? Or are you going to say I want the best of the best? And I want that for my life too. 

This was a very heavy part of the book. I did not expect this episode to get this long. The next step is “eliminate” which is definitely one of m y favorite things to do. But this explorer section gives us a really good way to view everything that is handed to us. 

I’ll link that book here if you’re interested in getting all of the nitty gritty details about what is happening in between the big pieces that I pulled out for you. But if you take some extra time to take a step back and look at where you’re at right now with your tasks and the responsibilities you’ve taken on, try to give yourself that space. 

Give yourself time to think, and start deciding if it all meets that 90% criteria. Is everything that you’re taking on a worthwhile opportunity for your best happiness and contribution? And I’m just gonna leave it there. Until next time. 

If you missed the last post, visit the link below:

43: Simplify it all with Value Added Tasks


Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown

5 Steps to Simplify Your To Do List

Focus Blocks

Productivity Planner

Unit Planning Kit

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Keywords: criteria, sleep, explore, opportunity, minimum criteria, brain, important, tasks, effort