In the final part of the book summary of Essentialism by Greg McKeown, we break down the execution section. This section is all about systems, routines, and all of the things you need to think about when you are trying to plan a day. But with as little friction as possible.

Essentialism Book Summary, Part 4 – Execution Transcript

Welcome to part four. Our final section of our Essentialism book study-summary-podcast series where I never came up with a great name for it. But I tried to condense about 50 pages at a time of the book Essentialism by Greg McKeown into about a 20 minute long podcast episode. So clearly, I’m not covering everything. 

It is a jam packed book full of really great anecdotal stories and also more specific details. I have highlighted mine. Each section is color coded in a different section. I have tabs and dog eared things. I basically whittled it down to the essentialist parts, which is the whole point of the book. So I hope that Greg appreciates that. 

Section one, we talked about the essence. What makes us who we are? The things that make us our happiest. That bring our highest contribution to the world and how we figure those things out. 

Part two is about exploring options. Making sure that you know everything that’s out there, and you’re exploring in a way that’s productive. You’re not just saying yes to everything and are figuring out what might actually work for you. 

In part three we eliminated what was not bringing us joy and got a little cut throat with it. We just learned how to say no to a bunch of stuff, because not everything is worth it for us. 

And now we are in the execution section. 

Execution from Essentialism

This section on execution is kind of my thing. It’s all about systems, routines, and different things you should think about when you are trying to plan a day. That includes all of the essential things you need to do. But with as little friction as possible.

We want it to be so easy that you almost can’t be stopped from completing the tasks. We’re going to talk about a few of Greg’s favorite ways. 

I actually disagree with a few of the things that are said about execution. It comes from more of a parent and teacher aspect. I just don’t know if I feel like they could work in the corporate world. I just don’t think that all of the ideals are actually what is going to be beneficial for us. So I have cut those out for you. That was about 25 pages right there. 

We still have a lot to talk about. So buckle up, we’re gonna start talking about buffers. 

Buffers for Execution

Before we can get started executing things, we have to make the realization that there’s such a thing called a planning fallacy. We tend to underestimate how long it’s going to take us to complete things…even when we’ve already done the task before. 

Everybody does this. You’ll say, I’m going to run to the store. I’ll be back in 10 minutes, when in fact, the store is seven minutes away. It is literally impossible for you to be back in 10 minutes. Or saying that, I can create this worksheet for a class, it’ll probably take me like half an hour. Is that okay? It’s not going to take you half an hour. 

In fact, one of the things that Greg brings up is that he believes that it’s more of a social force that makes us want to feel like we are more competent. We try to downplay how long something should take us. Instead, all you’re doing is putting more stress on yourself. Giving yourself more pressure to complete something that physically is not able to be completed in the time you’ve allotted. 

So we’re going to add some buffers in. Every time you say that you’re going to do something or trying to map out your day, give yourself time and a half. Give yourself an extra 50% on what you estimate it would take for you to do. 

That’s another reason I love block scheduling. Head back to episode three if you’re interested in that, because block scheduling gives you a whole chunk of time. You just have a couple things to get done. So you can clearly give yourself more once you finish it. But really, you kind of underestimate the amount of things that you can get done. And then you’re just really proud of yourself…we all love a little pick me up. So give yourself extra buffer time, because we’re gonna get busy. We’re gonna get distracted. 

Within that you also want to have contingencies as part of a buffer if something were to go horribly wrong. What is a quick and simple backup plan? This is not a worst case scenario all the time. It is a if this doesn’t work out, I already know which way I’m going to steer it

I like to relate this to my sub plans that I sell because I think that the sub plans are a contingency plan for everything. If you need to be gone for an hour for a meeting, and you just found out that morning, pull out one of your sub plans that you can use any time of the year. 

If you are out for an emergency, pull out a random sub plan that you can use anytime of the year.

You need a day in the classroom, your contingency plan is one of those templates of assignments. 

Give yourself a sort of backup to fall to, for anything that you think would cause you more stress if it went completely wrong. 

Subtract And Remove Obstacles

The next thing is to subtract and remove obstacles that are in your way. The term constraints are obstacles that hold an entire system back. 

In a factory setting, this is something that is looked at very frequently. I worked as a quality engineer for an ammunition facility. I can tell you that we focused on those constraints and limitations. 

We also acted in a very reactive way. When something broke down, we handled the problem. The plant itself was not willing to necessarily turn towards a more proactive solution. One where you tried to stop problems before they happen. But that’s what we need to try to do. We want to limit the things that are going to cause issues. Limit the problems that are going to slow us down. 

The book goes into the story of hikers. How a Boy Scout troop leader was leading a group of teenage boys on a hike to a campsite. Well, every so often, they had to stop because there’s the slowest hiker at the back of the pack. Instead, he put the slowest hiker up front. They then took the excess weight out of his backpack and dispersed it among the faster hikers. They could speed up the entirety of their walk because they prioritized helping the thing that was slowing them down the most. The thing that was impeding their progress. 

So we need to decide what obstacles are keeping us held back from going at the pace that we want. From achieving the things that are essential and really matter. Figure out how we can reduce the friction of whatever that constraint is. 

As long as you take the one time investment to remove the obstacle, take time to really evaluate your systems, see what types of things are holding you back a little bit, it’s going to reduce your long term effort and help maximize your results.

The steps to doing that is: You have to be clear about the essential intent. Your essential intent is what we talked about last time. Something that has a SMART goal with inspiration. You want to know what you’re actually aiming for, so you can decide what the slowest hiker of that process is. 

What is the thing that you have to really take a look at and see how you can speed up the process? Then remove the obstacle. It’s not saying necessarily take out the slowest hiker. But make it so that the slowest hiker can be sped up or isn’t slowing the rest of the process down. Instead, it can be guiding the rest of the process. 

This is something that we are definitely going to work on more in future podcast episodes. A great place to start is the root cause analysis podcast. In that episdoe we went back and figured out what the core problems might be. The ones that are really causing all of your pain. 

Having The Power Of Small Wins

The next section is having the power of small wins behind you. Celebrating all of these small things, because being an essentialist, is about taking the small steps. Knowing that you are focusing on that long term goal. 

Instead of overwhelming yourself with an entirety of a big picture, break the giant project down into manageable chunks. That way you can take the next step, and you don’t just get nervous and scared and overwhelmed. That’s the friction that we don’t want as we are trying to move towards the things that truly matter. 

There is an article in the Harvard Business Review (which this author actually was an author for) that said, “of all the things that can boost emotions, motivation and perception during a work day or honestly, whenever you are doing some tasks, the single most important thing is making progress in meaningful work and there’s power in steadiness and repetition.” 

Creatie an opportunity for yourself to have small wins. To build your own momentum that you can repeat over and over again. 

This is actually one of the things that I’ve been practicing right now. Building more of a commitment to the promises that I make to myself. By doing that, I’m rebuilding my mind’s trust to follow through on all the things that I signed up for. 

Every day, I decide on one thing that I will follow through with. Something super small. Like washing my face, or getting up and making sure that I have packed a healthy lunch that day. Things that I’m already kind of working towards. They shouldn’t be that hard. By making those promises to myself, and following through on them, I’m building momentum and those small wins. Then I can start building it up even higher. It’s always about one small step. 

That’s why they say when you’re about to start a new workout program, just start with getting dressed. Start motivating yourself by changing into workout clothes. From there anything you do is a bonus. Once you are regularly getting into your workout clothes, start with one pushup. Don’t push it too hard, don’t push it too fast. Go ahead and use those small little victories to build momentum. 

Another great way to think about that is when you’re trying to set up these small wins. Think about the minimal, viable progress. What is the smallest amount of progress that you could make that is actually heading in the right direction? The literal smallest thing, but it is doing what you need to do. 

If you know that you’re behind on bills, maybe the smallest thing you can do is start a location where you collect all of the bills. Whether that’s an inbox, signing up for e-billing, or a space on your counter. The next step, the smallest next step you could take, is getting them collected in a single place. 

Then decide what is the minimal amount that you can do right now. After you’ve made the decision to tackle that task. What is the smallest thing that you can do right now to give yourself some forward progress on that? 

There is an example used in the book this. Whenever this lady decides to schedule a meeting, or a phone call, she puts it into her phone with the main objective for that meeting. So that later before it happens, she’s already started essentially the outline of what needs to be discussed. 

In our case that could be when we are unit planning. Going through the unit plan process. Filling in the unit plan spreadsheet. I will put in ideas of assignments that I want to have into the spreadsheet. Then I can go back later and see what I was trying to tell myself earlier. I’ve already given myself a head start actually completing the task of creating that assignment or finding that assignment somewhere. I can also easily delete it if I decide that that’s not an essential task I really need to focus on. Whatever it is, you just want to start it and give yourself that sort of momentum ahead of time.

Why Routines Are Worth It for Execution

Then we go into an entire section on why routines are worth it. I honestly don’t really want to talk too much about routines. That’s what we do in every single podcast episode. But there are some really notable concepts in here that I want to bring up.

The whole point of a routine is that when you repeatedly do a certain task, you’re making new connections through your synapses. And as you repeat it, that connection is strengthened and becomes easier for the brain to activate them. Routines are made up of a cue, routine, and reward. The better cues that we can set for ourselves, or the cues and triggers that we can break to break a bad habit, is going to form a stronger connection in our brain. Then we don’t even have to think about it. That’s how it becomes routine through practice. We know that two plus two is four.  

We’re doing the same thing with simple steps every day. We can build a strong connection through all of our neurons, and it will just go on autopilot for us. That means that you’re freeing up your mental space to concentrate on something new. Which is a huge step because almost 40% of the choices that we make every day are deeply unconscious. This means that we are not deciding to breathe in and out. We’re not deciding to blink. But also, we are not always focused on the road when we drive the same path every single day. 

We can make some unconscious moves without really realizing it. So don’t you worry, we will get into way more depth on routines. We have in past episodes and in any future episodes. That is what we do here is create simple systems and simple routines.

Focusing On What’s Important Now (WIN)

The last thing that I found really useful in the execution part of the book, was making sure that you’re focusing on what’s important now. 

It’s a lovely little acronym, because it spells WIN. Are you winning, in your focus? What is important right now? Not in the past and not in the future, we can’t control those things, we can’t change those things. But in the here, and now. 

If you can stay present, kind of like a Buddhist principle, tune out everything else and tune into the sensations, the feelings, the emotions that you have in the present moment, you generally are just going to be happier. Also, happy people don’t shoot their husbands. That is from the movie Legally Blonde! 

We will get more done because we don’t feel the stress and the friction between the things that we’re doing. And the quote that they say with this is that “multitasking itself is not the enemy of essentialism.” 

I told you how I like to multitask. Pairing up something that you have to think about with something that you don’t have to think about so much. But pretending that we can multi focus is. If you’re giving your focus to too many things, nothing will ever get done. 

Then we have a lovely set of about 20 pages that wrap up the book into a nice little bow. This quote, I thought, was really something that stood out to me: “When we look back on our careers and our lives, would we rather see a long laundry list of accomplishments that don’t really matter, or just a few major accomplishments that have real meaning and significance.” 

Can we try to focus on everything, and feel like we’ve added that value into our lives? Or, by giving ourselves just the few things that we really care about, that we truly want to represent our lives as a whole, we can make meaningful progress towards them. We can feel like at the end of the day, we have done a good job. 

So that is our wrap up of Essentialism by Greg McKeown.

I really do enjoy this book. I think it is an amazing book. There are so many great takeaways from it. I’m also very glad that we are done with this podcast series. Here’s the thing: it’s a lot of information all at once. We’ve talked about it. I just feel like it’s not simple enough to break a whole book down into four episodes. 

I would actually love to know your thoughts and your feedback on whether or not you enjoyed this series. Or any other episodes. How I can help you even better? 

As we approach our 50th episode mark, I would love it if you could fill out the survey linked here. It just helps me to understand how I can help you through the podcast. 

I make no money off of this podcast. I do this because I really want to share the ideas and the thoughts that I have around how you can simplify your life and your routines. Just find more joy in doing less of the things. 

I would really appreciate you filling out the survey. To say thank you, I’m going to send out a special PDF to all the people who fill out that survey and leave their email at the bottom. Also, I will be sending three people a $20 gift card to go have a lovely relaxing little date to themselves on me. 

So thanks for hanging in there as we go through this book. Can’t wait to start our next series. Until next time.

50 episode survey here!

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

42: Essentialism Book Summary Part 1

44: Essentialism Book Summary, Part 2- Explore your Options

46: Essentialism Book Summary, Part 3 – Eliminating

Other Episodes Mentioned:

3: Block Schedule Party!

38: The 5 Whys of Root Cause Analysis


Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown

5 Steps to Simplify Your To Do List

Focus Blocks

Productivity Planner

Unit Planning Kit

How to Find Me


Instagram – @engineerdoeseducation

Instagram – @simplesystemswithsampodcast


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Keywords: routines, essentialism, essentialist, decide, task, buffer, systems, focus