We continue with part three of the book Essentialism by Greg McKeown. This section of the book discusses how we need to be eliminating the things in our lives that are not bringing us joy. What things are not making the cut with the values and interest we decided make us happiest?

Essentialism Book Summary, Part 3 – Eliminating Transcript

Welcome to part three of our Essentialism book study review summary series. We are in the middle of the book, almost to the end. 

If you missed part one, and part two, feel free to go back to those episodes. This section is all about eliminating. 

We had decided in part one and two, what types of things bring us and don’t bring us joy into our highest level of contribution, trying to decide where our values and our interests lie. Now we need to eliminate the things that just don’t make the cut. 

Speaking of that, before we get too deep into the book summary, I do want to bring up that this is Episode 46. Meaning that we’re almost at that 50 episode mark for the podcast. One I am extremely excited and proud of, and I thank you so much for being here and listening. 

I was supposed to do one episode a week. We’re six months in and almost 50 episodes in, so I need to start pacing myself a little bit better probably. Actually I want to know what you think of the podcast. Every 25 episodes I told myself I would ask for help from everybody that is here listening to the podcast. I want to know what I can do for you, how I can help you and what simple things I can help you simplify with a system. 

So if you wouldn’t mind taking just a couple minutes to fill out this survey, where I’m just going to check in on a few things: the length of the episodes, the frequency of episodes, if you have any special requests for guests for over the summer (I am trying to dip my toe into podcast guests), and also if there’s anything I can help you with. What types of things would you like me to answer on the podcast? I also have a couple of interesting questions in there as well. 

For spending some time helping me help you, I also want to gift you this cool PDF packet I’ve been working on. It’s a secret until you fill out the survey, but I think you’re gonna really like it. I will also choose some people to win a free coffee or book on me. So if you could do that, I would simply be thankful. 

Eliminating from Essentialism

Moving on, let’s talk about eliminating from the book. So this is the book Essentialism by Greg McKeown. 

If you’re just joining in and want to hang out, welcome, here we are. And what’s fun about this section is it really starts getting you to think, not only about the things that we do, but the things that you shouldn’t do. 

The first thing that stuck out to me in this entire section of the book, is this idea that you need to make one decision that actually makes 1,000 decisions. That sounds really vague, which is ironic, because the whole idea of this is that you need to make very specific decisions, goals, ideas, and values in your life, so that you have clarity and specificity. 

Because if you know with clarity, and you know the specifics of what you want and where you want to go, and what you want your life to represent, then that’s going to bring motion and forward steps into the choices that you make. 

But if you are a little vague, you start to get confused on which choice might be best for you. There becomes stress, frustration, and then you waste time and energy. We are definitely not about that here. So it will help you decide. One thing that will make other decisions down the road. 

The best example I can think of off the top of my head…I actually did this to prove a point to my environmental science class this year…is by going vegan. You are actually making one decision that is going to make 1,000 other decisions for you. 

When you go vegan you have to consider what you can and cannot do, but the boundaries are pretty specific there. When I was eating vegan to prove a point, and our depafrtment would want to order out food, that made that decision for me. Nope, couldn’t guarantee that it was going to follow those guidelines. I’m good. 

Or when I was going vegan, could I have eggs for breakfast, or would I have toast for breakfast. Well, toast without butter was going to be the goal because I was making one decision that fell in line with everything else. 

So you can start deciding very specific things that are then going to answer so many other questions for you. Then you don’t even have to consider those options. 

Four Quadrants of Eliminating

There’s actually a really great graphic in the book, and it is showing four quadrants. 

Inspirational, but General

The first quadrant is showing something that’s inspirational, but general, and that would be like a mission statement, or some sort of vision statement that companies might have. It inspires you to do something, but it’s also pretty broad in general. 

Bland, but General

Then you move over to bland, but general, down on the bottom quadrant. That is more of your values. Bland feels like a harsh word to use for values, but values don’t really spice things up. They’re very broad, and general. You could apply a lot of things to them, and they’re just kind of there. 

Inspirational and Concrete

When you move over into inspirational and concrete, instead of having this general mission statement, you put this essential intent to your life. It’s inspiring you and very concrete. 

Think about an inspirational version of SMART goals. You want it to be meaningful, measurable, to have some sort of time restriction to it so that you do have a little bit of a deadline and urgency to it. But you want it to inspire you to be that best version of yourself that you aim for. That highest contributor to all the things that you participated in. 

When you start to think about those things, then it helps you make big decisions that filter out all the small decisions. You have this essential intention for your life, or multiple intentions, that can narrow out 1,000 other things that you don’t even need to consider. They don’t fit within that overarching theme and goal for yourself. 

If you have an essential intent, then what you do is every time an opportunity (or even items) come into your radar, you get to ask, does this help me to achieve the intent? Is it part of this inspirationally SMART goal of mine? Or is it not? And if it’s not, you eliminate it. Done. Don’t even have to think anymore about it. 

Courage to Give a Graceful No

The next section talks about courage and how we have to have the courage to give a graceful no. It’s a key process eliminating once we know the things that we want to go after. 

We can eliminate all the 1,000 small decisions, because we are driving everything towards that essential intent. Then we have to be able to say no to things. 

And we do have a lot of fears about saying no just as a society, but there are very few times when people end up not being respected for the boundaries that they set. 

Their time becomes more valuable to the people that they give it to because they know that they’ve said no before, and the things that they’re willing to put their effort into. 

Everybody else recognizes that as important. The more you say no, the better off everything actually looks. There are literally dozens of tips and tricks and strategies that are given in the book for how to say no. 

One thing that I really liked was when they said that if you’re offered something, when somebody approaches you, you have to remember everybody is selling something. They’re selling their idea, a viewpoint, an opinion, more work for you. And it’s all in exchange for your time. 

When someone approaches you with something, is your time worth the exchange that is about to happen? 

They also mentioned that a clear no is definitely more graceful than a non committal yes. Sometimes, especially me, I do this a lot, we feel like it’s easier to just put off saying no directly. But that doesn’t actually make anybody respect what we’re doing in our choices. 

That actually is very frustrating for the person trying to get an answer out of you. 

Instead, they suggest that we need to learn how to say a slow yes and a quick no. 

When we say yes, we need to really pause and consider it. If we’re going to say no, we just need to go ahead and rip the band-aid off and say no. 

Uncommitting From Things Already Committed To

I’ve got some vocab words to throw at you for this next section where they’re talking about uncommitting from things that you have already committed to. 

There’s this idea of sunk cost bias, meaning that you tend to want to invest time, money and energy into something because you’ve already put a lot of time, money and energy into it. Even if you know it’s a flop, or know it is not something that is worthwhile in the long run for you. 

We feel like oh, we’ve done all of this so far, we just need to see it through to the end. But I think almost anybody would argue from the outside looking in, that doesn’t seem like a very great idea. 

We need to really reconsider those things and decide if it’s from an outsider’s point of view, something they would invest their time, energy and money into. 

But then there’s also the opposite of that, where it’s the endowment effect. We have all these things, all these opportunities, and we overvalue them, because we already own them. When you already own something, you have this little possessive part of you that wants everybody else to love it just as much as you think you do. 

This also happens when you’re in charge of events, or activities. Hello, have you signed up for one too many things after school that your students can get involved in? 

Well, we tend to feel like we have some emotion, some extra value, this endowment effect tied up into those events and activities. It’s harder to say, You know what, this really is not something that I can do right now. Sometimes it is the best thing to step away. 

The way to look at it is, with sunk cost bias or the endowment effect, if you did not currently have that item, event or opportunity in your life, how much would you sacrifice to obtain it? 

If you are in charge of the chess club at your school, and tomorrow it was given to somebody else…how hard would you fight to get the chess club back? 

If you’re not willing to fight that hard, then it might be something that you really need to reconsider if it’s worth being in charge of. Or if you feel like you have more put into it, because you have the sunk cost bias and endowment effect kind of swirling around in your head. 

A third little vocab word that I really liked was the status quo bias. I think a lot of us in education have seen this played out a time or two where you’re doing something just because it’s always been done. Sometimes you have to admit failure so that you can begin to succeed. You need to admit that something is not working, so you can start over and make something that does work. 

Four Thing to Consider When Uncommitting

There’s actually four things that they consider you try when you’re looking at figuring out what you can uncommit from.

1. Zero Based Budgeting Style

Every month sit down and start with a budget of zero. Figure out what you are spending money on, essentially, and then moving out. 

What are the things you would put into a budget first? You’d probably put things like mortgage, car payment, insurance, your electricity, internet, phone bill, all those things. And it starts to fill up with the important things. Then you see what is left over energy and time wise. 

You can do that with your commitments as well. 

2. Casual Commitments

They also say to really start being aware of how many casual commitments you make to people. In events that don’t actually give you that fulfillment that you’re looking for. 

Does it fit that essential intent that you’ve been working towards? 

3. Pause Before You Speak

Then the other one is to pause before speaking. This goes with the slow yes. 

We want to be slow to say, yes, and to stop and think. Really consider how it’s going to affect us. Maybe ask the person who is wanting you to get involved in an event, or wanting you to take part in something, if you can get back to them the next day because you’re going to check out something on your calendar. 

I know I use that excuse all the time saying I’m just gonna check with my husband and see if it works. That will always buy me a day or two to really consider if I want to take part in that or if it’s just something I feel like I have to. 

4. The Reverse Test Pilot

This last one is also very interesting. It’s called the reverse test pilot

When you test pilot something, you’re trying to see how everything works. If it’s going well, if there’s anything that you need to fix. A reverse test pilot is actually removing something going ahead and cutting it out of your calendar for a week or two taking a break. 

Yes, we were on a break!

See if there’s any negative consequences. Do you feel like you lost anything when you took a break? Or did it feel like a relief that you didn’t have to attend? 

Those are four different ways that we can start to practice uncommitting and look at what we’re doing. 

Edit to Eliminate

Then there’s the edit section, where the whole idea is that what’s important to you should be obvious to people who are looking at your life. It should be obvious in the ways that you spend your money, your time and your energy. 

Is how you spend your money, time and energy a reflection of what you want your life to represent? If we have fewer options, then we’re making better choices on how to fill those things. 

Three Steps for Editing

So the three steps that they suggest for editing is:

1. Condense As Much As Possible

They use the metaphor of saying five words, when two will do. You can condense it down and make it short and sweet. 

There’s actually like this whole Sparta section in another book that I’m reading right now, where Spartans (yes, like the 300 Spartans) were known for not giving more than what was needed in answers. 

If they were asked a question, they would respond in a singular word. If it got to the point and answered the question, they were done right there. They thought they could move on. 

That’s what we need to start doing with our activities. If we want some sort of outcome, how can it be condensed so that we don’t have to spend more time, money and energy on it? I think a lot of these great examples come from things like planning meetings.

How many planning meetings do you need for an event? Or can you just do one planning marathon, get it knocked out, everybody’s focused that one time and then be done with it. 

2. Be Comfortable Course Correcting

The next is to be comfortable correcting the course. If you feel like you’ve gotten kind of off your path towards the things that you value most, feel free to steer yourself back in the right direction. As you go, edit, but with restraint. Don’t try to make all these changes all at once. Start making minor adjustments, but every single minor adjustment needs to be deliberate. That way, you can also test all things out as you cut them or add them in. 

3. Limiting or Setting Boundaries

The last section in this whole section is about limiting. And really, it comes down to boundaries. 

I feel like teachers are getting better and better at recognizing when and where and how to set boundaries. But we also still struggle on executing them. The goal is not only to have them, but to stick by them. 

The way that they suggest setting boundaries is to keep a log of anytime that you feel your time or energy are violated, or you’re put out by somebody’s request or something that you had to do. Then create boundaries from those things. 

Whether it is a boundary against talking to certain people to just preserve yourself, or it is a boundary that is allowing you to focus less and less time on a task that is something that needs to be done. Even though it doesn’t feel essential to you. 

I’m just gonna go ahead and leave with this quote. I might be putting this in my classroom over the next week or so. One of the things with boundaries that they put out there is saying:

“Don’t rob people of their problems. If you take away their problems, then you take away their ability to solve them.”

So if you are taking on extra work, because somebody else has a problem, they’re never going to learn how to solve it for themselves. 

That feels like a perfect place to end this part of the eliminating summary. I think that we all know a few people who probably need to hear that quote.

This section was “eliminate” condensed into 20ish minutes. Next week, we’re going to wrap up with “execute.”

There was a lot going on in this section. It was all extremely valuable. I really loved reading this section and listening to the audiobook. If you still want to follow along with your own version of the book I will link it here for you. Also, please take that listener survey if you wouldn’t mind. It would be amazing. 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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