Josh Monen

Sharing my journey through life.

Category: Book Notes (page 1 of 3)

My Reading List (Evernote + Video)

So today I just wanted to share my reading list with you along with a short video about how I organize and manage that list.

Here’s the link to my reading list in Evernote.

And here’s a link to the video that walks you through how I add books to this list and how I prioritize which books to read next based on how many times it’s recommended to me.

Show Your Work by Austin Kleon (Highlights)

Summary:

The author says it best, “[This is] a book for people who hate the very idea of self-promotion. An alternative, if you will, to self-promotion. I’m going to try to teach you how to think about your work as a never-ending process, how to share your process in a way that attracts people who might be interested in what you do, and how to deal with the ups and downs of putting yourself and your work out in the world.”

Click here to buy on Amazon.

 


Table of Contents:

1: You Don’t Have to Be a Genius.

2: Think Process, Not Product.

3: Share Something Small Every Day.

4: Open Up Your Cabinet of Curiosities.

5: Tell Good Stories.

6: Teach What You Know.

7: Don’t Turn Into Human Spam.

8: Learn to Take a Punch.

9: Sell Out.

10: Stick Around.


My Highlights

1: You Don’t Have to Be a Genius.

Interesting idea, he talks about the “ecology of talent.” Where people support, look at, copy and steal ideas. 

Sometimes, amateurs have more to teach us than experts. “It often happens that two schoolboys can solve difficulties in their work for one another better than the master can,” wrote C.S. Lewis. “The fellow-pupil can help more than the master because he knows less. The difficulty we want him to explain is one he has recently met. The expert met it so long ago he had forgotten.

The best way to get started on the path to sharing your work is to think about what you want to learn, and make a commitment to learning it in front of others.

If all this sounds scary or like a lot of work, consider this: One day you’ll be dead. Most of us prefer to ignore this most basic fact of life, but thinking about our inevitable end has a way of putting everything into perspective.

Reading about people who are dead now and did things with their lives makes me want to get up and do something decent with mine. Thinking about death every morning makes me want to live.

2: Think Process, Not Product.
Become a documentarian of what you do. Start a work journal: Write your thoughts down in a notebook, or speak them into an audio recorder. Keep a scrapbook. Take a lot of photographs of your work at different stages in your process. Shoot video of you working. This isn’t about making art, it’s about simply keeping track of what’s going on around you.

3: Share Something Small Every Day.

Facebook asks you to indulge yourself by asking “How are you feeling?” Or “What’s on your mind?” Instead focus on answering the question: “What are you working on?”…Don’t show your lunch or your latte, show your work.

On Blogging

“Carving out a space for yourself online, somewhere where you can express yourself and share your work, is still one of the best possible investments you can make with your time.” — Andy Baio

More than 10 years ago, I staked my own little Internet claim and bought the domain name austinkleon.com. I was a complete amateur with no skills when I began building my website: It started off bare bones and ugly. Eventually, I figure out how to install a blog and that changed everything…One little blog post is nothing on its own, but publish a thousand blog posts over a decade, and it turns into your life’s work. My blog has been my sketchbook, my studio, my gallery, my storefront, and my salon. Absolutely everything good that has happened in my career can be traced back to my blog. My books, my art shows, my speaking gigs, some of my best friendships — they all exist because I have my own little piece of turf on the Internet. So, if you get one thing out of this book make it this: Go register a domain name. Buy www.[insert your name].com.

4: Open Up Your Cabinet of Curiosities
“All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste,” says public radio personality Ira Glass. “But there is this gap. For the first couple of years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is till killer.”

Ideas of things to share:
* Where do you get your inspiration from?
* What sort of things do you fill your head with?
* What do you read?
* Do you subscribe to anything?
* What sites do you visit online?
* What music do you listen to?
* What movies do you see?
* What do you collect?
* Who’s done work you admire?
* Do you have any heroes?
* Who do you follow?

5: Tell Good Stories
If you want to be more effective when sharing yourself and your work, you need to become a better storyteller. You need to know what a good story is and how to tell one.

“A character wants something, goes after it despite opposition (perhaps including his own doubts), and so arrives at a win, lose, or draw.” — John Gardner on the basic plot of all stories

This simple formula can be applied to almost any type of work project: There’s the initial problem, the work done to solve the problem, and the solution.

Remember what the author George Orwell wrote: “Autobiography is only to be trusted when it reveals something disgraceful.”

We all like to think we’re more complex than a two-sentence explanation, but a two-sentence explanation is usually what the world wants from us. Keep it short and sweet. Strike all adjectives from your bio. My example: I’m a freelance copywriter.

6: Teach What You Know
The minute you learn something, turn around and teach it to others. Share your reading list. Point to helpful reference materials. Create some tutorials and post them online. Use pictures, words, and videos. Take people step-by-step through part of your process. As blogger Kathy Sierra says, “Make people better at something they want to be better at.”

7: Don’t Turn Into Human Spam.

You Want Hearts, Not Eyeballs.
“What you want is to follow and be followed by human beings who care about issues you care about. This thing we make together. This thing is about hearts and minds, not eyeballs.” — Jeffrey Feldman

Stop worrying about how many people follow you online and start worrying about the quality of people who follow you.

“Whatever excites you, go do it. Whatever drains you, stop doing it.” — Derek Sivers

8: Learn to Take a Punch.
The first step in evaluating feedback is sizing up who it came from. You want feedback from people who care about you and what you do.

A troll is a person who isn’t interested in improving your work, only provoking you with hateful, aggressive, or upsetting talk. You will gain nothing by engaging with these people. Don’t feed them and they usually go away.

9: Sell Out.
People need to eat and pay the rent… Whether an artist makes money off his work or not, the money has to come from somewhere… We all have to get over our “starving artist” romanticism and the idea that touching money inherently corrupts creativity.”

Paul McCartney has said that he and John Lennon used to sit down before a Beatles songwriting session and say, “Now, let’s write a swimming pool.”

Even if you don’t have anything to sell right now, you should always be collecting email addresses from people who come across your work and want to stay in touch.

10: Stick Around.
The designer Stefan Sagmeister swears by the power of the sabbatical — every seven years, he shuts down his studio and takes a year off. His thinking is that we dedicate the first 25 years or so of our lives to learning, the next 40 years to work, and the last 15 to retirement, so why not take 5 years off retirement and use them to break up the work years? He says the sabbatical has turned out to be invaluable to his work: “Everything that we designed in the seven years following the first sabbatical had its roots in thinking done during the sabbatical.”

The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Anchor (Highlights)

Summary

Great book. As the author himself says, “The point of this book is to arm you with that research, so that you will know exactly how you can use the principles of positive psychology to gain a competitive edge in your career and in the workplace.
Click here to grab your copy on Amazon.

My Highlights

More than a decade of groundbreaking research in the fields of positive psychology and neuroscience has proven in no uncertain terms that the relationship between success and happiness works the other way around. Thanks to this cutting-edge science, we now know that happiness is the precursor to success, not merely the result. And that happiness and optimism actually fuel performance and achievement—giving us the competitive edge that I call the Happiness Advantage.


If we study merely what is average, we will remain merely average.


Extraordinarily, as late as 1998, there was a 17-to-1 negative-to-positive ratio of research in the field of psychology. In other words, for every one study about happiness and thriving there were 17 studies on depression and disorder.


I have sat for more than a half hour individually with over 1,100 Harvard students—enough caffeine to get an entire Olympic team disqualified for decades. I then took these observations and used them to design and conduct my own empirical survey of 1,600 high achieving undergraduates—one of the largest studies on happiness ever performed on students at Harvard.


Meanwhile, positive psychology researchers had finished a “meta-analysis,” a study of nearly every scientific happiness study available—over 200 studies on 275,000 people worldwide. Their findings exactly matched the principles I was teaching—that happiness leads to success in nearly every domain, including work, health, friendship, sociability, creativity, and energy.


The point of this book is to arm you with that research, so that you will know exactly how you can use the principles of positive psychology to gain a competitive edge in your career and in the workplace.


In the 1970s, the Dalai Lama claimed that mere thought could change our brain structure. Even without the aid of modern brain scans and fMRIs, Western scientists knew this was ridiculous. While it might be comforting to believe our brains can change, they said, it was only a myth. And certainly, if the brain could change, it couldn’t do so through mere thought or force of will alone. For most of the twentieth century, it was a commonly held notion in the most esteemed research circles that after adolescence our brains were fixed and unyielding. Neuroplasticity, the idea that the brain is malleable and can therefore change throughout our lives, was essentially the “Western Unicorn.”


Happiness implies a positive mood in the present and a positive outlook for the future.


Barbara Fredrickson, a researcher at the University of North Carolina and perhaps the world’s leading expert on the subject, describes the ten most common positive emotions: “joy, gratitude, serenity, interest, hope, pride, amusement, inspiration, awe, and love.”5


Researchers gave subjects a survey designed to measure levels of happiness—then injected them with a strain of the cold virus. A week later, the individuals who were happier before the start of the study had fought off the virus much better than the less happy individuals. They didn’t just feel better, either; they actually had fewer objective symptoms of illness as measured by doctors—less sneezing, coughing, inflammation, and congestion.


Meditate. Neuroscientists have found that monks who spend years meditating actually grow their left prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain most responsible for feeling happy.


Then there’s what might be thought of as the reverse placebo effect, which is in many ways even more fascinating. In one of my favorite all-time experiments, Japanese researchers blindfolded a group of students and told them their right arms were being rubbed with a poison ivy plant.3 Afterward, all 13 of the students’ arms reacted with the classic symptoms of poison ivy: itching, boils, and redness. Not surprising … until you find out that the plant used for the study wasn’t poison ivy at all, just a harmless shrub. The students’ beliefs were actually strong enough to create the biological effects of poison ivy, even though no such plant had touched them. Then, on the students’ other arm, the researchers rubbed actual poison ivy, but told them it was a harmless plant. Even though all 13 students were highly allergic, only two of them broke out into the poison ivy rash!


The mental construction of our daily activities, more than the activity itself, defines our reality.


Tal Ben-Shahar has pointed out that the term “deadline” is about as negative as you can get.


Job, Career or Calling

Yale psychologist Amy Wrzesniewski has made a living out of studying how the mental conceptions we have of our jobs affect performance. After many years and hundreds of interviews with workers in every conceivable profession, she has found that employees have one of three “work orientations,” or mindsets about our work. We view our work as a Job, a Career, or a Calling.

Job: People with a “job” see work as a chore and their paycheck as the reward. They work because they have to and constantly look forward to the time they can spend away from their job.

Career: By contrast, people who view their work as a career work not only out of necessity, but also to advance and succeed. They are invested in their work and want to do well.

Calling: Finally, people with a calling view work as an end in itself; their work is fulfilling not because of external rewards but because they feel it contributes to the greater good, draws on their personal strengths, and gives them meaning and purpose. Unsurprisingly, people with a calling orientation not only find their work more rewarding, but work harder and longer because of it. And as a result, these are the people who are generally more likely to get ahead.


The Pygmalion Effect

Now fast-forward to the twentieth century, to one of the most well-known psychology experiments ever performed. A team of researchers led by Robert Rosenthal went into an elementary school and administered intelligence tests to the students. The researchers then told the teachers in each of the classrooms which students—say, Sam, Sally, and Sarah—the data had identified as academic superstars, the ones with the greatest potential for growth.

They asked the teachers not to mention the results of the study to the students, and not to spend any more or less time with them. (And, in fact, the teachers were warned they would be observed to make sure they did not.)

At the end of the year, the students were tested again, and indeed, Sam, Sally, and Sarah posted off-the-chart intellectual ability. This would be a predictable story, except for an O. Henry-type twist at the end.

When Sam, Sally, and Sarah had been tested at the beginning of the experiment, they were found to be absolutely, wonderfully ordinary. The researchers had randomly picked their names and then lied to the teachers about their ability. But after the experiment, they had in fact turned into academic superstars.

So what caused these ordinary students to become extraordinary? Although the teachers had said nothing directly to these children and had spent equal amounts of time with everyone, two crucial things had happened. The belief the teachers had in the students’ potential had been unwittingly and nonverbally communicated. More important, these nonverbal messages were then digested by the students and transformed into reality. This phenomenon is called the Pygmalion Effect: when our belief in another person’s potential brings that potential to life.


Gratitude Study

Psychologist Robert Emmons, who has spent nearly his entire career studying gratitude, has found that few things in life are as integral to our well-being. Countless other studies have shown that consistently grateful people are more energetic, emotionally intelligent, forgiving, and less likely to be depressed, anxious, or lonely. And it’s not that people are only grateful because they are happier, either; gratitude has proven to be a significant cause of positive outcomes. When researchers pick random volunteers and train them to be more grateful over a period of a few weeks, they become happier and more optimistic, feel more socially connected, enjoy better quality sleep, and even experience fewer headaches than control groups.


Think You’re Lucky? You Probably Are

Wiseman asked volunteers to read through a newspaper and count how many photos were in it. The people who claimed to be lucky took mere seconds to accomplish this task, while the unlucky ones took an average of two minutes. Why? Well, on the second page of the newspaper a very large message read: “Stop counting, there are 43 photos in this newspaper.” The answer, in short, was plain as day, but the unlucky people were far more likely to miss it, while the lucky people tended to see it. As an added bonus, halfway through the newspaper was another message that read, “Stop counting, tell the experimenter you have seen this and win $250.” The people who had claimed to be unlucky in life again looked right past this opportunity.


List of 3 Good Things

When you write down a list of “three good things” that happened that day, your brain will be forced to scan the last 24 hours for potential positives—things that brought small or large laughs, feelings of accomplishment at work, a strengthened connection with family, a glimmer of hope for the future.

In just five minutes a day, this trains the brain to become more skilled at noticing and focusing on possibilities for personal and professional growth, and seizing opportunities to act on them. At the same time, because we can only focus on so much at once, our brains push out those small annoyances and frustrations that used to loom large into the background, even out of our visual field entirely.

This exercise has staying power. One study found that participants who wrote down three good things each day for a week were happier and less depressed at the one-month, three-month, and six-month follow-ups.


The most successful decisions come when we are thinking clearly and creatively enough to recognize all the paths available to us, and accurately predict where that path will lead. The problem is that when we are stressed or in crisis, many people miss the most important path of all: the path up.


As my mentor Tal Ben-Shahar likes to say, “things do not necessarily happen for the best, but some people are able to make the best out of things that happen.”


Decades of subsequent study have since shown that explanatory style—how we choose to explain the nature of past events—has a crucial impact on our happiness and future success.

People with an optimistic explanatory style interpret adversity as being local and temporary (i.e., “It’s not that bad, and it will get better.”) while those with a pessimistic explanatory style see these events as more global and permanent (i.e., “It’s really bad, and it’s never going to change.”). Their beliefs then directly affect their actions; the ones who believe the latter statement sink into helplessness and stop trying, while the ones who believe the former are spurred on to higher performance.


Optimistic Salespeople Win

So when Seligman was brought on to help solve the problems the salespeople were having at MetLife, one of the first things he looked at was their explanatory style. And indeed, testing revealed that the agents with more optimistic styles sold 37 percent more insurance than those with pessimistic ones, and that the most optimistic agents actually sold fully 88 percent more than the most pessimistic ones.

Furthermore, agents who were more optimistic were half as likely to quit as were the pessimists. This was the answer MetLife was looking for. They decided to hire a special force of agents picked solely on the basis of explanatory style. And it paid off.

The next year, these agents outsold their more pessimistic counterparts by 21 percent; during the second year, by 57 percent. Aware it had struck gold, MetLife decided to completely overhaul its hiring practices from that day on. If would-be agents failed the regular industry test but scored well in an evaluation of explanatory style, MetLife hired them anyway. And if they passed the industry test but had a low score on explanatory style, the company rejected them, no matter how smart they seemed.

The results: Within only a few years, MetLife’s turnover had plummeted while its market share had increased by almost 50 percent.


The Zorro Circle

Hour after hour, Alejandro is forced to fight only within this small circle. As Don Diego wisely tells his protégé, “This circle will be your world. Your whole life. Until I tell you otherwise, there is nothing outside of it.”


Neuroscientists have found that financial losses are actually processed in the same areas of the brain that respond to mortal danger.


Experiments show that when people are primed to feel high levels of distress, the quickest to recover are those who can identify how they are feeling and put those feelings into words. Brain scans show verbal information almost immediately diminishes the power of these negative emotions, improving well-being and enhancing decision-making skills.13


What Can You Control? What Can’t You?

Once you’ve mastered the self-awareness circle, your next goal should be to identify which aspects of the situation you have control over and which you don’t.

When I worked with the Shanghai manager and his colleagues I mentioned in the last chapter, I asked them to write out all their stresses, daily challenges, and goals, then to separate them into two categories: things that they have control over and things they don’t.

Anyone can do this simple exercise on a piece of paper, an Excel spreadsheet, or even on a napkin over post-work martinis. The point is to tease apart the stresses that we have to let go of because they’re out of our hands, while at the same time identifying the areas where our efforts will have a real impact, so that we can then focus our energy accordingly.


In The Talent Code, Daniel Coyle discusses how the strategy of “finding and improving small problems” has helped businesses flourish. The practice (often referred to as kaizen, which is Japanese for “continuous improvement”) involves a focus on tiny, incremental changes—improving efficiency on a production line, for instance, by shifting a trash bin one foot to the left. As Coyle points out, each tiny fix can add up to over a million tiny fixes each year.


Lead Copywriter Practicing Zorro Circle

As with other clients, I had her make two lists—what she could control and what she couldn’t. As often happens, she was surprised, I might say shocked, to see how much of her daily life fell into the former column. She managed a team of eight people, all talented copywriters who looked to her for instruction and guidance. She was in charge of leading the creative meetings that brainstormed ideas for each client. She may not have been a top executive, but every word the firm placed on a client’s advertisement was in her hands. So for her first Zorro Circle, we set the following goal: to improve only the copy that she herself wrote. Recommitting herself to this manageable goal not only helped her focus her energies on something she could handle; the best part was that, once her own performance improved, her circle of influence really did expand.


As Aristotle put it, to be excellent we cannot simply think or feel excellent, we must act excellently.


One of the life habits I wanted to create was exercising in the morning. I knew from numerous research studies that exercise in the morning raises your performance on cognitive tasks and gives your brain a “win” to start a cascade effect of positive emotions. But information is not transformation,


Positive outliers already know this to be true—indeed, it’s what makes them positive outliers. In a study appropriately titled “Very Happy People,” researchers sought out the characteristics of the happiest 10 percent among us.4 Do they all live in warm climates? Are they all wealthy? Are they all physically fit? Turns out, there was one—and only one—characteristic that distinguished the happiest 10 percent from everybody else: the strength of their social relationships.


This is why I often ask managers to write an e-mail of praise or thanks to a friend, family member, or colleague each morning before they start their day’s work—not just because it contributes to their own happiness, but because it very literally cements a relationship.


In fact, studies have shown that when three strangers meet in a room, the most emotionally expressive person transmits his or her mood to the others within just two minutes.


Mastery by Robert Greene (Highlights)

Summary

I love learning about people who have achieved mastery in their field. Whether it’s sports, business, chess, etc. I always find it fascinating “how” someone got there. I feel like Robert Greene does an excellent job dissecting the path to mastery in this book. After I read this I felt even more motivated to pursue mastery in my field (marketing and copywriting). It’s a great read! Check it out.

Click here to grab your copy on Amazon.

My Highlights

The basic elements of this story are repeated in the lives of all of the great Masters in history: a youthful passion or predilection, a chance encounter that allows them to discover how to apply it, an apprenticeship in which they come alive with energy and focus. They excel by their ability to practice harder and move faster through the process, all of this stemming from the intensity of their desire to learn and from the deep connection they feel to their field of study. And at the core of this intensity of effort is in fact a quality that is genetic and inborn—not talent or brilliance, which is something that must be developed, but rather a deep and powerful inclination toward a particular subject.


Our levels of desire, patience, persistence, and confidence end up playing a much larger role in success than sheer reasoning powers. Feeling motivated and energized, we can overcome almost anything. Feeling bored and restless, our minds shut off and we become increasingly passive.


The book is designed to lead you from the lowest levels to the highest. It will help to initiate you into the first step—discovering your Life’s Task, or vocation, and how to carve out a path that will lead you to its fulfillment on various levels.


And finally, he determined that he would be the first artist to create realistic angelic wings. For this purpose, he went to the marketplace and purchased several birds. He spent hours sketching their wings, how exactly they merged into their bodies. He wanted to create the sensation that these wings had organically grown from the angel’s shoulders and would bring it natural flight. As usual, Leonardo could not stop there. After his work was completed he became obsessed with birds, and the idea brewed in his mind that perhaps a human could really fly, if Leonardo could figure out the science behind avian flight. Now, several hours every week, he read and studied everything he could about birds. This was how his mind naturally worked—one idea flowed into another.


Among his various possible beings each man always finds one which is his genuine and authentic being. The voice which calls him to that authentic being is what we call “vocation.” But the majority of men devote themselves to silencing that voice of the vocation and refusing to hear it. They manage to make a noise within themselves…to distract their own attention in order not to hear it; and they defraud themselves by substituting for their genuine selves a false course of life. —JOSÉ ORTEGA Y GASSET


Instead you want to see your work as something more inspiring, as part of your vocation. The word “vocation” comes from the Latin meaning to call or to be called. Its use in relation to work began in early Christianity—certain people were called to a life in the church; that was their vocation. They could recognize this literally by hearing a voice from God, who had chosen them for this profession. Over time, the word became secularized, referring to any work or study that a person felt was suited to his or her interests, particularly a manual craft. It is time, however, that we return to the original meaning of the word, for it comes much closer to the idea of a Life’s Task and mastery.


Finally, you must see your career or vocational path more as a journey with twists and turns rather than a straight line. You begin by choosing a field or position that roughly corresponds to your inclinations. This initial position offers you room to maneuver and important skills to learn. You don’t want to start with something too lofty, too ambitious—you need to make a living and establish some confidence.


Eventually, you will hit upon a particular field, niche, or opportunity that suits you perfectly. You will recognize it when you find it because it will spark that childlike sense of wonder and excitement; it will feel right. Once found, everything will fall into place. You will learn more quickly and more deeply. Your skill level will reach a point where you will be able to claim your independence from within the group you work for and move out on your own.


Some 2,600 years ago the ancient Greek poet Pindar wrote, “Become who you are by learning who you are.”


You must understand the following: In order to master a field, you must love the subject and feel a profound connection to it. Your interest must transcend the field itself and border on the religious. For Einstein, it was not physics but a fascination with invisible forces that governed the universe; for Bergman, it was not film but the sensation of creating and animating life; for Coltrane, it was not music but giving voice to powerful emotions. These childhood attractions are hard to put into words and are more like sensations—that of deep wonder, sensual pleasure, power, and heightened awareness.


Roach instinctively found his way back to the ring because he understood that what he loved was not boxing per se, but competitive sports and strategizing. Thinking in this way, he could adapt his inclinations to a new direction within boxing. Like Roach, you don’t want to abandon the skills and experience you have gained, but to find a new way to apply them.


In the end, the money and success that truly last come not to those who focus on such things as goals, but rather to those who focus on mastery and fulfilling their Life’s Task.


Do not dream or make grand plans for the future, but instead concentrate on becoming proficient at these simple and immediate skills. This will bring you confidence and become a base from which you can expand to other pursuits. Proceeding in this way, step by step, you will hit upon your Life’s Task.


The principle is simple and must be engraved deeply in your mind: the goal of an apprenticeship is not money, a good position, a title, or a diploma, but rather the transformation of your mind and character—the first transformation on the way to mastery.


First, it is essential that you begin with one skill that you can master, and that serves as a foundation for acquiring others. You must avoid at all cost the idea that you can manage learning several skills at a time. You need to develop your powers of concentration, and understand that trying to multitask will be the death of the process.


It is better to dedicate two or three hours of intense focus to a skill than to spend eight hours of diffused concentration on it. You want to be as immediately present to what you are doing as possible.


Although it might seem that the time necessary to master the requisite skills and attain a level of expertise would depend on the field and your own talent level, those who have researched the subject repeatedly come up with the number of 10,000 hours. This seems to be the amount of quality practice time that is needed for someone to reach a high level of skill and it applies to composers, chess players, writers, and athletes, among others. This number has an almost magical or mystical resonance to it. It means that so much practice time—no matter the person or the field—leads to a qualitative change in the human brain. The mind has learned to organize and structure large amounts of information. With all of this tacit knowledge, it can now become creative and playful with it. Although the number of hours might seem high, it generally adds up to seven to ten years of sustained, solid practice—roughly the period of a traditional apprenticeship. In other words, concentrated practice over time cannot fail but produce results.


You must never disdain an apprenticeship with no pay. In fact, it is often the height of wisdom to find the perfect mentor and offer your services as an assistant for free. Happy to exploit your cheap and eager spirit, such mentors will often divulge more than the usual trade secrets.


Understand: when you enter a new environment, your task is to learn and absorb as much as possible. For that purpose you must try to revert to a childlike feeling of inferiority—the feeling that others know much more than you and that you are dependent upon them to learn and safely navigate your apprenticeship. You drop all of your preconceptions about an environment or field, any lingering feelings of smugness. You have no fears. You interact with people and participate in the culture as deeply as possible. You are full of curiosity. Assuming this sensation of inferiority, your mind will open up and you will have a hunger to learn.


There are two kinds of failure. The first comes from never trying out your ideas because you are afraid, or because you are waiting for the perfect time. This kind of failure you can never learn from, and such timidity will destroy you. The second kind comes from a bold and venturesome spirit. If you fail in this way, the hit that you take to your reputation is greatly outweighed by what you learn. Repeated failure will toughen your spirit and show you with absolute clarity how things must be done.


Understand: we live in the world of a sad separation that began some five hundred years ago when art and science split apart. Scientists and technicians live in their own world, focusing mostly on the “how” of things. Others live in the world of appearances, using these things but not really understanding how they function. Just before this split occurred, it was the ideal of the Renaissance to combine these two forms of knowledge. This is why the work of Leonardo da Vinci continues to fascinate us, and why the Renaissance remains an ideal.


We must make ourselves study as deeply as possible the technology we use, the functioning of the group we work in, the economics of our field, its lifeblood. We must constantly ask the questions—how do things work, how do decisions get made, how does the group interact? Rounding our knowledge in this way will give us a deeper feel for reality and the heightened power to alter it.


With the case of Mozart, however, it is generally agreed among classical music critics that he did not write an original and substantial piece of music until well after ten years of composing. In fact, a study of some seventy great classical composers determined that with only three exceptions, all of the composers had needed at least ten years to produce their first great work, and the exceptions had somehow managed to create theirs in nine years. Einstein began his serious thought experiments at the age of sixteen. Ten years later he came up with his first revolutionary theory of relativity. It is impossible to quantify the time he spent honing his theoretical skills in those ten years, but is not hard to imagine him working three hours a day on this particular problem, which would yield more than 10,000 hours after a decade.


The reason you require a mentor is simple: Life is short; you have only so much time and so much energy to expend.


Almost all Masters and people of power suffer from too many demands on their time and too much information to absorb. If you can demonstrate the ability to help them organize themselves on these fronts to a degree that others cannot, it will be much easier to get their attention and interest them in the relationship. Do not shy away from anything menial or secretarial. You want person-to-person access, however you can get it.


The problem with all students, he said, is that they inevitably stop somewhere. They hear an idea and they hold on to it until it becomes dead; they want to flatter themselves that they know the truth. But true Zen never stops, never congeals into such truths. That is why everyone must constantly be pushed to the abyss, starting over and feeling their utter worthlessness as a student. Without suffering and doubts, the mind will come to rest on clichés and stay there, until the spirit dies as well. Not even enlightenment is enough. You must continually start over and challenge yourself.


Accustom yourself to criticism. Confidence is important, but if it is not based on a realistic appraisal of who you are, it is mere grandiosity and smugness. Through the realistic feedback of your mentor you will eventually develop a confidence that is much more substantial and worth possessing.


Because he was a consummate outsider and his mind had not been indoctrinated in any school of thought, he brought a fresh perspective to every problem he tackled. He turned his lack of formal direction into an advantage.


Social intelligence is nothing more than the process of discarding the Naïve Perspective and approaching something more realistic. It involves focusing our attention outward instead of inward, honing the observational and empathic skills that we naturally possess. It means moving past our tendency to idealize and demonize people, and seeing and accepting them as they are.


Understand: your work is the single greatest means at your disposal for expressing your social intelligence. By being efficient and detail oriented in what you do, you demonstrate that you are thinking of the group at large and advancing its cause. By making what you write or present clear and easy to follow, you show your care for the audience or public at large. By involving other people in your projects and gracefully accepting their feedback, you reveal your comfort with the group dynamic. Work that is solid also protects you from the political conniving and malevolence of others—it is hard to argue with the results you produce.


If, like Graham, you simply do not have the patience that is required for managing and mastering the more subtle and manipulative sides of human nature, then your best answer is to keep yourself away from those situations as best as possible. This will rule out working in groups larger than a handful of people—above a certain number, political considerations inevitably rise to the surface. This means working for yourself or on very small startups.


As you accumulate more skills and internalize the rules that govern your field, your mind will want to become more active, seeking to use this knowledge in ways that are more suited to your inclinations. What will impede this natural creative dynamic from flourishing is not a lack of talent, but your attitude. Feeling anxious and insecure, you will tend to turn conservative with your knowledge, preferring to fit into the group and sticking to the procedures you have learned. Instead, you must force yourself in the opposite direction. As you emerge from your apprenticeship, you must become increasingly bold.


Although some argued that it was a waste of childhood for someone so young to be so single-minded, Wolfgang felt such an ardent love for music and the constant challenges it presented that in the end he derived much greater pleasure from his obsession than any amusement or game could provide.


The rift with his father was permanent and extremely painful, but sensing that his time was short and that he had almost too much to express, he threw himself into his music with an intensity that was even greater than what he had displayed in childhood. As if all of his ideas had been pent up for too long, he exploded in a creative outburst unprecedented in the history of music.


Masters and those who display a high level of creative energy are simply people who manage to retain a sizeable portion of their childhood spirit despite the pressures and demands of adulthood. This spirit manifests itself in their work and in their ways of thinking.


Masters manage to blend the two—discipline and a childlike spirit—together into what we shall call the Dimensional Mind. Such a mind is not constricted by limited experience or habits. It can branch out into all directions and make deep contact with reality.


What kills the creative force is not age or a lack of talent, but our own spirit, our own attitude. We become too comfortable with the knowledge we have gained in our apprenticeships. We grow afraid of entertaining new ideas and the effort that this requires. To think more flexibly entails a risk—we could fail and be ridiculed. We prefer to live with familiar ideas and habits of thinking, but we pay a steep price for this: our minds go dead from the lack of challenge and novelty; we reach a limit in our field and lose control over our fate because we become replaceable.


The task that you choose to work on must have an obsessive element. Like the Life’s Task, it must connect to something deep within you. (For Mozart, it wasn’t simply music, but opera that fully engaged him.) You must be like Captain Ahab in Melville’s Moby-Dick, obsessed with hunting down the Great White Whale.


To put Negative Capability into practice, you must develop the habit of suspending the need to judge everything that crosses your path. You consider and even momentarily entertain viewpoints opposite to your own, seeing how they feel. You observe a person or event for a length of time, deliberately holding yourself back from forming an opinion. You seek out what is unfamiliar—for instance, reading books from unfamiliar writers in unrelated fields or from different schools of thought. You do anything to break up your normal train of thinking and your sense that you already know the truth.


To help yourself to cultivate serendipity, you should keep a notebook with you at all times. The moment any idea or observation comes, you note it down. You keep the notebook by your bed, careful to record ideas that come in those moments of fringe awareness—just before falling asleep, or just upon waking. In this notebook you record any scrap of thought that occurs to you, and include drawings, quotes from other books, anything at all. In this way, you will have the freedom to try out the most absurd ideas. The juxtaposition of so many random bits will be enough to spark various associations.


On the other hand, we see many people, particularly in academia or in the sciences, who accumulate mountains of information and data from studies and statistics but never venture to speculate on the larger ramifications of this information or connect it all into a theory. They are afraid to speculate because it seems unscientific and subjective, failing to understand that speculation is the heart and soul of human rationality, our way of connecting to reality and seeing the invisible. To them, it is better to stick to facts and studies, to keep a micro view, rather than possibly embarrassing themselves with a speculation that could be wrong.


Let us say you have an idea for a new product. You can design it on your own and then launch it, but often you notice a discrepancy between your own level of excitement for your product and the somewhat indifferent response of the public. You have not engaged in a dialogue with reality, which is the essence of the Current. Instead, it is better to produce a prototype—a form of speculation—and see how people respond to it. Based on the assessments you gain, you can redo the work and launch it again, cycling through this process several times until you perfect it.


We routinely look for patterns in the world that confirm the paradigms we already believe in. The things that do not fit the paradigm—the anomalies—tend to be ignored or explained away. In truth, anomalies themselves contain the richest information. They often reveal to us the flaws in our paradigms and open up new ways of looking at the world. You must turn yourself into a detective, deliberately uncovering and looking at the very anomalies that people tend to disregard.


Linguists have enumerated the high number of concepts that have no particular word to describe them in the English language. If there are no words for certain concepts, we tend to not think of them. And so language is a tool that is often too tight and constricting, compared to the multilayered powers of intelligence we naturally possess.


The hand-brain connection is something deeply wired within us; when we attempt to sketch something we must observe it closely, gaining a feel through our fingers of how to bring it to life. Such practice can help you think in visual terms and free your mind from its constant verbalizations. To Leonardo da Vinci, drawing and thinking were synonymous.


As a trained engineer, Calatrava knew the tremendous advantages the computer provided for running models and testing the soundness of a structure. But working exclusively on a computer, he could not create in the same way as he could with pencil or brush and paper. The intervention of the computer screen cut off the dreamlike process of sketching, the direct contact it gave him with his unconscious. His hand and his mind seemed to work together in a way that was primal and real, and that could not be duplicated through a computer.


Perhaps the greatest impediment to human creativity is the natural decay that sets in over time in any kind of medium or profession. In the sciences or in business, a certain way of thinking or acting that once had success quickly becomes a paradigm, an established procedure. As the years go by, people forget the initial reason for this paradigm and simply follow a lifeless set of techniques. In the arts, someone establishes a style that is new and vibrant, speaking to the particular spirit of the times. It has an edge because it is so different. Soon imitators pop up everywhere. It becomes a fashion, something to conform to, even if the conformity appears to be rebellious and edgy. This can drag on for ten, twenty years; it eventually becomes a cliché, pure style without any real emotion or need.


In essence, what you are doing is creating some space in a cluttered culture, claiming for yourself an open field in which you can finally plant something new. People are dying for the new, for what expresses the spirit of the time in an original way. By creating something new you will create your own audience, and attain the ultimate position of power in culture.


The lesson is simple—what constitutes true creativity is the openness and adaptability of our spirit.


Going through volume after volume, readers would have the sensation that they were actually living and experiencing this world from within, the narrator’s thoughts becoming one’s own thoughts—the boundaries between narrator and reader disappearing. It was a magical effect; it felt like life itself.


This unseen element that constitutes the animal’s entire experience, and that makes battle a fluid, organic entity, can be called various things. To the ancient Chinese, who understood this very well, it was known as the Tao or Way, and this Way inhabits everything in the world and is embedded in the relationships between things. The Way is visible to the expert—in cooking, carpentry, warfare, or philosophy. We shall call it the dynamic, the living force that inevitably operates in anything we study or do. It is how the whole thing functions, and how the relationships evolve from within. It is not the moves of the pieces on the chessboard but the entire game, involving the psychologies of the players, their strategies in real time, their past experiences influencing the present, the comfort of the chairs they are sitting in, how their energies affect each other—in a word, everything that comes into play, all at once.


The time that leads to mastery is dependent on the intensity of our focus. The key, then, to attaining this higher level of intelligence is to make our years of study qualitatively rich. We don’t simply absorb information—we internalize it and make it our own by finding some way to put this knowledge to practical use.


To go along with this self-control, we must do whatever we can to cultivate a greater memory capacity—one of the most important skills in our technologically oriented environment. The problem that technology presents us is that it increases the amount of information at our disposal, but slowly degrades the power of our memory to retain it.


To counteract this, in our spare time we should not simply look for entertainment and distractions. We should take up hobbies—a game, a musical instrument, a foreign language—that bring pleasure but also offer us the chance to strengthen our memory capacities and the flexibility of our brain. In doing so, we can train ourselves to process large amounts of information without feeling anxious or overtaxed.


The brain of a Master is so richly interconnected that it comes to resemble the physical world, and becomes a vibrant ecosystem in which all forms of thinking associate and connect. This growing similarity between the brain and complex life itself represents the ultimate return to reality.


The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift. —ALBERT EINSTEIN


Your true self does not speak in words or banal phrases. Its voice comes from deep within you, from the substrata of your psyche, from something embedded physically within you. It emanates from your uniqueness, and it communicates through sensations and powerful desires that seem to transcend you. You cannot ultimately understand why you are drawn to certain activities or forms of knowledge. This cannot really be verbalized or explained. It is simply a fact of nature. In following this voice you realize your own potential, and satisfy your deepest longings to create and express your uniqueness. It exists for a purpose, and it is your Life’s Task to bring it to fruition.


He has published two books: On Lisp (1993) about the computer programming language, and Hackers and Painters (2004). His online essays can be viewed at PaulGraham.com.


Essentialism by Greg McKeown (Notes)

Summary

Like most entrepreneurs I struggle with distractions. I’m great at starting new things but it’s hard for me to identify the most important things in my business/life and focus on those. So when I start to feel like I’m getting spread too thin I pull up these notes and read them. I highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to embrace the philosophy of, “Less but better.”

Click here to buy a copy of this book on Amazon.


My Notes

The basic value proposition of Essentialism: only once you give yourself permission to stop trying to do it all, to stop saying yes to everyone, can you make your highest contribution towards the things that really matter.

Dieter’s design criteria can be summarized by a characteristically succinct principle, captured in just three German words: Weniger aber besser. The English translation is: Less but better. A more fitting definition of Essentialism would be hard to come by.


In many cases we can learn to make one-time decisions that make a thousand future decisions so we don’t exhaust ourselves asking the same questions again and again. The way of the Essentialist means living by design, not by default.


“In a few hundred years, when the history of our time will be written from a long-term perspective, it is likely that the most important event historians will see is not technology, not the Internet, not e-commerce. It is an unprecedented change in the human condition. For the first time—literally—substantial and rapidly growing numbers of people have choices. For the first time, they will have to manage themselves. And society is totally unprepared for it.” – Peter Drucker


“Will this activity or effort make the highest possible contribution toward my goal?”


What if schools eliminated busywork and replaced it with important projects that made a difference to the whole community? What if all students had time to think about their highest contribution to their future so that when they left high school they were not just starting on the race to nowhere?


It was a classic “straddled strategy” of attempting to invest in everything at once. The result was that while I was not entirely failing in any pursuit I was not entirely succeeding at any either.


William James once wrote, “My first act of free will shall be to believe in free will.”


Is there a point at which doing more does not produce more? Is there a point at which doing less (but thinking more) will actually produce better outcomes?


Think of Warren Buffett, who has famously said, “Our investment philosophy borders on lethargy.” He and his firm make relatively few investments and keep them for a long time. In The Tao of Warren Buffett: “Warren decided early in his career it would be impossible for him to make hundreds of right investment decisions, so he decided that he would invest only in the businesses that he was absolutely sure of, and then bet heavily on them. He owes 90% of his wealth to just ten investments. Sometimes what you don’t do is just as important as what you do.” In short, he makes big bets on the essential few investment opportunities and says no to the many merely good ones.

In an insightful op-ed for the New York Times, Erin Callan, the former CFO of Lehman Brothers, shared what she had sacrificed in making trade-offs by default. She wrote: “I didn’t start out with the goal of devoting all of myself to my job. It crept in over time. Each year that went by, slight modifications became the new normal. First I spent a half-hour on Sunday organizing my e-mail, to-do list, and calendar to make Monday morning easier. Then I was working a few hours on Sunday, then all day. My boundaries slipped away until work was all that was left.”


“There are no solutions. There are only trade-offs.” -Thomas Sowell

Jim Collins was once told by Peter Drucker that he could either build a great company or build great ideas but not both. Jim chose ideas. As a result of this trade-off there are still only three full-time employees in his company, yet his ideas have reached tens of millions of people through his writing.

To that end, the school has also created a hiding place called “Booth Noir.” This is a small room deliberately designed to fit only one to three people. It is windowless, soundproof, and deliberately free of distraction. It is, according to Scott Doorley and Scott Witthoft in their book Make Space, “beyond low-tech. It’s no tech.” It’s tucked away on the ground floor. It is not, as Doorley and Witthoft point out, on the way to anywhere else. The only reason you go there is to think. By creating space to think and focus, students can step back to see more clearly.


“Designing Life, Essentially.” The sole purpose of the class is to create space for students to design their lives. Each week it gives them a scheduled excuse to think. They are forced to turn off their laptops and smartphones and instead to turn on the full power of their minds.


Think of Sir Isaac Newton. He spent two years working on what became Principia Mathematica, his famous writings on universal gravitation and the three laws of motion. This period of almost solitary confinement proved critical in what became a true breakthrough that shaped scientific thinking for the next three hundred years. Richard S. Westfall has written: “In the age of his celebrity, Newton was asked how he had discovered the law of universal gravitation. ‘By thinking on it continually’ was the reply.… What he thought on, he thought on continually, which is to say exclusively, or nearly exclusively.” In other words, Newton created space for intense concentration, and this uninterrupted space enabled him to explore the essential elements of the universe.

Inspired by Newton, I took a similar, if perhaps less extreme, approach to writing this book. I blocked off eight hours a day to write: from 5:00 A.M. to 1:00 P.M., five days a week. The basic rule was no e-mail, no calls, no appointments, and no interruptions until after 1:00 P.M. I didn’t always achieve it, but the discipline made a big difference. I set my e-mail bounceback to explain that I was in “monk mode.”


Here’s another paradox for you: the faster and busier things get, the more we need to build thinking time into our schedule. And the noisier things get, the more we need to build quiet reflection spaces in which we can truly focus. No matter how busy you think you are, you can carve time and space to think out of your workday. Jeff Weiner, the CEO of LinkedIn, for example, schedules up to two hours of blank space on his calendar every day. He divides them into thirty-minute increments, yet he schedules nothing. It is a simple practice he developed when back-to-back meetings left him with little time to process what was going on around him. At first it felt like an indulgence, a waste of time. But eventually he found it to be his single most valuable productivity tool. He sees it as the primary way he can ensure he is in charge of his own day, instead of being at the mercy of it.

Journalism is not just about regurgitating the facts but about figuring out the point. It isn’t enough to know the who, what, when, and where; you have to understand what it means. This works in life just as it does in journalism.

Sir Ken Robinson, who has made the study of creativity in schools his life’s work, has observed that instead of fueling creativity through play, schools can actually kill it: “We have sold ourselves into a fast-food model of education, and it’s impoverishing our spirit and our energies as much as fast food is depleting our physical bodies.… Imagination is the source of every form of human achievement. And it’s the one thing that I believe we are systematically jeopardizing in the way we educate our children and ourselves.”

If there’s one thing you are passionate about—and that you can be best at—you should do just that one thing. – Jim Collins

As often happens to driven, ambitious people, his earlier success had distracted him from his clarity of purpose.


An essential intent doesn’t have to be elegantly crafted; it’s the substance, not the style that counts. Instead, ask the more essential question that will inform every future decision you will ever make: “If we could be truly excellent at only one thing, what would it be?”


The class reviewed more than 100 mission statements and noticed that some of the most grandiose were actually the least inspiring. For example, one had the mission to “eliminate hunger in the world,” but given that there were just five people in the organization, the mission felt like little more than empty words.

Then out of the cluttered landscape of such loose idealism came a statement we all immediately understood and were inspired by. It was from a slightly unexpected place: the actor Brad Pitt, who, appalled by the lack of progress in rebuilding New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, had started an organization called “Make It Right” with the essential intent “to build 150 affordable, green, storm-resistant homes for families living in the Lower 9th Ward.”


The right “no” spoken at the right time can change the course of history.


Sunk-cost bias is the tendency to continue to invest time, money, or energy into something we know is a losing proposition simply because we have already incurred, or sunk, a cost that cannot be recouped. But of course this can easily become a vicious cycle: the more we invest, the more determined we become to see it through and see our investment pay off. The more we invest in something, the harder it is to let go.


Jack Dorsey thinks the role of CEO as being the chief editor of the company: “By editorial I mean there are a thousand things we could be doing. But there [are] only one or two that are important. And all of these ideas … and inputs from engineers, support people, designers are going to constantly flood what we should be doing.… As an editor I am constantly taking these inputs and deciding the one, or intersection of a few, that make sense for what we are doing.”


This truth is demonstrated elegantly by the story of a school located next to a busy road. At first the children played only on a small swath of the playground, close to the building where the grownups could keep their eyes on them. But then someone constructed a fence around the playground. Now the children were able to play anywhere and everywhere on the playground. Their freedom, in effect, more than doubled. Similarly, when we don’t set clear boundaries in our lives we can end up imprisoned by the limits others have set for us. When we have clear boundaries, on the other hand, we are free to select from the whole area—or the whole range of options—that we have deliberately chosen to explore.


When Britain discovered North Sea oil in 1980, the government suddenly had a massive windfall in additional tax revenues, to the tune of 166 billion pounds ($250 billion) over a decade.
Arguments can be made for and against how this money was used. But what is beyond contestation is that it was used; instead of creating an endowment to prepare against unexpected disasters (such as, in hindsight, the coming great recession), the British government spent it in other ways.
Norway also benefited enormously from windfall taxes from oil but unlike Britain, Norway invested much of its good fortune in an endowment. Today, this endowment has grown over time to be worth an extraordinary $720 billion, making it the world’s largest sovereign wealth fund and providing a cushion against unknown future scenarios.

CONDUCT SCENARIO PLANNING
Erwann Michel-Kerjan, the managing director of the Risk Management and Decision Processes Center at Wharton, recommends that everyone, starting with heads of state, develop a risk management strategy. For example, he has worked, in connection with the World Bank, to identify the most vulnerable countries in the world, and as a result Morocco, identified as #58 out of the 85, has an action plan to prepare against areas of risk. When Erwann works with national governments to create their risk management strategies, he suggests they start by asking five questions:
1) What risks do we face and where?
2) What assets and populations are exposed and to what degree?
3) How vulnerable are they?
4) What financial burden do these risks place on individuals, businesses, and the government budget?
5) How best can we invest to reduce risks and strengthen economic and social resilience?
We can apply these five questions to our own attempts at building buffers. Think of the most important project you are trying to get done at work or at home. Then ask the following five questions:
1) What risks do you face on this project?
2) What is the worst-case scenario?
3) What would the social effects of this be?
4) What would the financial impact of this be?
5) How can you invest to reduce risks or strengthen financial or social resilience?
Your answer to that fifth and crucial question will point you to buffers—perhaps adding another 20% to the project’s budget, or getting a PR person on board to handle any potential negative press, or calling a board meeting to manage shareholder expectations—that you can create to safeguard you against unknowable events.

What is the “slowest hiker” in your job or your life? What is the obstacle that is keeping you back from achieving what really matters to you? By systematically identifying and removing this “constraint” you’ll be able to significantly reduce the friction keeping you from executing what is essential.


The Nonessentialist operates under the false logic that the more he strives, the more he will achieve, but the reality is, the more we reach for the stars, the harder it is to get ourselves off the ground. The way of the Essentialist is different. Instead of trying to accomplish it all—and all at once—and flaring out, the Essentialist starts small and celebrates progress. Instead of going for the big, flashy wins that don’t really matter, the Essentialist pursues small and simple wins in areas that are essential.


My wife Anna and I have tried to apply these ideas to our system of parenting. At one point, we had become concerned with how much screen time had crept into our family. Between television, computers, tablets, and smart phones it had become just too easy for the children to waste time on nonessential entertainment. But our attempts to get them to change these habits, as you can imagine, were met with friction. The children would complain whenever we turned the TV off or tried to limit their “screen time.” And we as the parents had to consciously police the situation, which took us away from doing things that were essential. So we introduced a token system. The children were given ten tokens at the beginning of the week. These could each be traded in for either thirty minutes of screen time or fifty cents at the end of the week, adding up to $5 or five hours of screen time a week. If a child read a book for thirty minutes, he or she would earn an additional token, which could also be traded in for screen time or for money. The results were incredible: overnight, screen time went down 90 percent, reading went up by the same amount, and the overall effort we had to put into policing the system went way, way down. In other words, nonessential activity dramatically decreased and essential activity dramatically increased. Once a small amount of initial effort was invested to set up the system, it worked without friction.


There is something powerful about visibly seeing progress toward a goal. Don’t be above applying the same technique to your own essential goals, at home or at work. When we start small and reward progress, we end up achieving more than when we set big, lofty, and often impossible goals. And as a bonus, the act of positively reinforcing our successes allows us to reap more enjoyment and satisfaction out of the process.


For a long time I wrote in my journal only sporadically. I would put it off all day; then at night I would rationalize, “I will do it in the morning.” But inevitably I wouldn’t, and then by the next night I had two days’ worth to write and it was overwhelming. So I put it off again. And so on. Then I heard someone say he had developed a routine of writing a few lines at the exact same time each day. This seemed like a manageable habit, but I knew that I would need some cue reminding me to write at the specified time each day or I would continue to put it off as I’d been doing. So I started putting my journal in my bag right next to my phone. That way, when I pull my phone out of my bag to charge it each evening (already a well-established habit) I see the journal, and this cues me to write in it. Now it is instinctive. Natural. I look forward to it. It has been ten years now and I have almost never missed a day.


The way of the Essentialist is to tune into the present. To experience life in kairos, not just chronos. To focus on the things that are truly important—not yesterday or tomorrow, but right now.


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?


He uses the acronym FCS (a.k.a. FOCUS) to teach his philosophy to his employees. The letters stand for “Fewer things done better,” “Communicating the right information to the right people at the right time,” and “Speed and quality of decision making.” Indeed, this is what it means to lead essentially.


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