“If it isn’t a clear yes, then it’s a clear no.”

Still on Essentialism by Greg Mckeown…  I like the idea of “if it isn’t a clear yes, then it’s a clear no.”  It does help simplify and clarify making decisions.  True enough, many tempting good opportunities do come our way and it can sometimes be difficult to discern and say no.

Having clear criteria to make selection decisions can help us pick and focus on what’s most important instead of making too many choices that result in spreading ourselves too thin and then missing the more desirable and important opportunities that may come later.

The key, according to Mckeown and TED speaker Derek Sivers in his piece “No more yes. It’s either HELL YEAH! or no.” as Mckeown mentions in his book Essentialism, is to use a simple technique for becoming more selective in the choices we make…that is, put the decision to an extreme test:  if we feel total and utter conviction to do something, then we say yes.  If not, then we say no.  If the answer is not a definite yes, as Mckeown quotes another leader, then it should be a no. This does actually help.  The bottom line is what’s most important to us.

When a tempting good opportunity comes, like an attractive project, if you don’t feel like it’s the right one for you, then it probably really isn’t. Sure, giving it more thought and reflection helps. And soon as you know in your mind and in your heart that it is not what your are looking for and not what you really want, then just let it go. This keeps you open and free for the right one when it comes along.

When the nagging thought that you might be wrong grips you, that you might be missing out on something great, why not sleep over it and revisit it the next morning?  Well, just remember to let go sooner than later so that you don’t end up uselessly obsessing and wasting precious time over it.

Decide what criteria you are going to use to consider and accept the opportunity. Such criteria varies and depends on each person.  Mckeown recommends you identify three minimum and three extreme criteria to evaluate the opportunity.  When it passes these, then it’s a yes go ahead.  He suggested that you write down at least three minimum criteria and three extreme criteria that the opportunity must pass. He also suggested, for instance, three possible questions to consider:  What am I passionate about? What taps my talent? What meets a significant need in the world?

Had I learned to think and decide this way much much earlier in my life, I may have been able to make better decisions faster. It’s not too late to start now because, as the saying goes, today is the first day of the rest of my life.

On Becoming an Essentialist vs. a Nonessentialist

My sister gave me a copy of the book Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg Mckeown for Christmas and I had put on the night table beside my bed.  I had a number of books to finish and so postponed starting it until two weeks ago.

It was a good thing that I began to read it sooner than later. It has helped open my eyes. I like several key messages which are so true. These are some of the ones that resonate.

Yes, I want to be an essentialist! Am I investing myself in the right activities? Which problem or opportunity do I want? That depends on what my immediate, short-term and long-term goals are. I suppose that I was, sometimes still am, guilty of wanting to have it all. With limited resources, time being the most important, I must admit that it makes sense to make hard choices about what to focus on. This starts with discerning my most important goals, and activities follow. Less but better. There’s no point in trying to do to many things and not doing well in the most critical ones. Better to focus on a few that make a difference and where I can make a difference.

Cut out the trivial many. This will be quite a challenge. After taking the HarvardX Course on Unlocking the Immunity to Change: A new Approach to Personal Improvement, one of the the things I realized was that I just had too many activities lined up and it wasn’t easy to decide which were real priotities. Now, also realizing that, let’s face it, the reality is such that there are always trade-offs and that we can’t choose to do everything, I’m able to help myself eliminate more of the activities that matter less.

Now, this one is a gem among gems. Apparently, Peter Drucker had told Jim Collins, author of the business classic Good to Great, that he could either build a great company or build great ideas but not both, and that Collins chose ideas. McKeown continues with the observation that Collins still has only three full-time employees in his company, yet his ideas have reached millions of people through his writing. I started to think, well couldn’t he do both? Hold on, that’s precisely how a nonessentialist thinks: I can do both. Again, there are, and will be, trade offs. So, better to make a choice, avoid spreading oneself too thin, and instead to maximize one’s success and contribution. Less is better. Less is more.

Create space to escape and explore life. Space to read. Space to concentrate. Space to think. This I think I am a little better at, but there is always room for improvement. It’s encouraging to know that some very well known and famous entrepreneurs deliberately carve out such space regulary to help them refresh themselves, discover new ideas, and learn new things. A good tip is to plan and schedule creating space in your calendar and stick to it.

I have a long way to go to being a true essentialist, one who thinks that almost everything is nonessential and being able to distinguish between the vital few from the trivial many. I am nevertheless happy that I’ve become more self aware of my nonessentialist beliefs, assumptions, and actions.  Telling myself that my “big” nonessentialist assumptions are not true (e.g., “Everything is important. I can do everything.”),  I can gain distance from them, test and modify them.  I can be less captive of my big assumptions, overcome my immunity to change in this area, and move a few steps closer to an essentialist “self-authoring mind.”