Essentialism in practice — part 1: books

Jodie Cook

Earlier this year I was on a plane on the way to Dubai, with Ben, my husband, about to spend four weeks remote-working on my social media agency, JC Social Media, publishing a few social media eBooks, training in a powerlifting gym and enjoying the sunshine with friends from the UK who had moved there three years ago. As Ben was watching the Martian (film) next to me, I was reading Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, by Greg McKeown, on my Kindle.

As I was reading the book the following things struck me:

· I agreed with almost everything the author suggested.

· Many of the sources quoted were books and articles I had already read.

· The luggage I had packed for this four-week trip was a backpack containing my laptop, purse, passport and snacks, and a suitcase that fits Ryan Air’s maximum hand luggage requirements. Nothing else.

· By all measures, I was already converted.

So whilst reading Essentialism and realising that I was pretty aware of everything suggested, I thought I’d write it up as a blog entitled ‘Essentialism in Practise’.

I don’t for a second claim to have all the answers, but throughout this blog are examples of how I practise essentialism in key areas of my life. The books I reference, including McKeown’s, give excellent case studies to explain why you should take note of their work, and action points for going forward. I see this as an account of how it can actually work in practice.

In part one I’m outlining the books I have read and implemented teachings from.

Part 1: BOOKS

Much of my inspiration comes from the following books:

Stuffocation: Living More With Less

James Wallman

Stuffocation explores the notion that we simply have too much stuff. From peer pressure from school friends and keeping up with the Joneses to marketing that convinces us we are inadequate without certain possessions, Stuffocation puts a simple and engaging view on something that probably affects all of us. Stuffocation has been described as an “exhilarating ghost train ride through the madness of over-consumption.”

In an article about Stuffocation by the Telegraph’s Tody Clements:

Firemen know there is a moment in a house fire when a room gets so hot that everything within spontaneously combusts. They call this flashover, and flashover happens sooner when rooms are crowded with objects. Thirty years ago flashovers typically occurred 28 minutes after the first spark ignited. Now the lapse between spark and explosion is estimated to be between three and four minutes. This is because today our rooms are usually full, packed to the cornices with highly flammable tat, and this is just one — albeit possibly the best — of the many reasons why James Wallman, a “cultural forecaster, helping brands such as Absolut, BMW and Zurich Insurance prepare for the future”, wants to persuade us to get rid of all the rubbish we’ve bought over the past decades, and live a simpler life.

Takeaway: Experientialism, not materialism.

Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less

Greg McKeown

Why I first liked this book is because I felt I understand exactly what it was about before actually reading it. Why I then liked this book is because the term ‘essentialist’ is a noun that can define a person, without being based on an absence of something. Let me explain: a smoker may call themselves a smoker, but a non-smoker would never describe themselves as a non-smoker unless specifically asked to, say on a medical form. Someone may call themselves as a Hindu, Catholic or Buddhist, but how many people actively call themselves an atheist? Surely an atheist is not what you are but what you are not, a non-believer in a god. Therefore it’s not a useful name. Same with someone who is a non-drinker, has no children, or isn’t a motorcycle driver. I don’t like descriptions that define something by way of absence of another thing.

This is exactly why I struggled with the word ‘minimalist’, because it’s not anything but the absence of something: stuff.

In Essentialism and Stuffocation, although minimalism as a concept is explored, what we’re really getting towards is essentialism and experientialism, i.e. what can make someone an essentialist and an experientialist.

This book is where it all started, and the key takeaway for me is that the term ‘busy’ feels like the new ‘no sleep’ — often your measure of how well work and home are going is how busy you are, or how little sleep you have had. McKeown isn’t keen on ‘busy’ as it demonstrates lack of control, lack of focus, and hints that you’re not looking a the bigger picture or doing what is important and worthwhile.

Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Happier Life

Arianna Huffington

Arianna Huffington is the cofounder and the editor-in-chief of the Huffington Post. She also describes herself as a sleep advocate and a flat shoe evangelist. In her successful career she has, and continues to, focus on wellbeing as a key factor in her ‘success’ — putting forward the argument that there are as many definitions of ‘success’ as there are people striving for it. A key discussion point is sleep and how essential it is to success, which she also explains in this TED talk that has over 3 million views.

Takeaway: define your own success and your own path rather than following someone else’s.

Anything you want: 40 Lessons for a New Kind of Entrepreneur

Derek Sivers

Derek Silvers is the guy who started CD Baby in 1998 by helping his friends sell their CDs. In 2000 he hired his first employee, in 2008 he sold CD Baby for $22 million. The blurb reads as follows:

Sivers didn’t need a business plan, and neither do you. You don’t need to think big; in fact, it’s better if you don’t. Anything You Want will inspire you to start with what you have, care about your customers more than yourself, and run your business like you don’t need the money.

Within this book Derek talks about how your customers don’t want to hear about your growth plans, how many new customers you have won, that you’re busy with prospecting. All they care about is that you are giving them all the time and attention they need. He shares this and many other insights into his own journey from accidental entrepreneur to a super-successful and genuine guy who practises what he preaches and helps others with his teachings.

Key takeaway: get back to basics with all areas of business, and throw away the rulebook of “we’ve always done it that way”.

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying: A simple, effective way to banish clutter.

Marie Kondo

Marie Kondo (nicknamed KonMari) is a tidying expert. Based on years of her tidying and storing and organising, she focuses on elimination of things that don’t spark joy in order to feel better about many aspects of daily life. Having started working in Japan, where apartments tend to be small and space scarce, she now works with large families and singles, people with 10 kids and with none, in all careers and all walks of life. Since the book was released there is now Facebook groups full of KonVerts, who share pictures of their efforts and describe how it has changed their life. It all sounds a bit wishy-washy and that’s what I thought when I picked the book up too, but Kondo’s principles are sound and she’s wise. She’s also seen everything! She gives a practical guide on how to only be surrounded by things you love, and advises to do it all at once rather than room by room or piece by piece.

Takeaway: Pick up and touch everything you own. If it doesn’t spark joy, it has no place in your life.

One Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results

Gary Keller

With this book and the others I’ve mentioned, the goal is using less to create more. It definitely isn’t something described as ‘medium chill’, which is effectively stepping back from the rat race and taking a pay cut in order to spend more time with the partner or kids. As these authors will agree, that doesn’t sound aspirational, and if you’re reading this blog it’s probably not what you’re looking for either.

Copied straight from the One Thing blurb:

YOU WANT LESS. You want fewer distractions and less on your plate. The daily barrage of e-mails, texts, tweets, messages, and meetings distract you and stress you out. The simultaneous demands of work and family are taking a toll. And what’s the cost? Second-rate work, missed deadlines, smaller pay cheques, fewer promotions-and lots of stress. AND YOU WANT MORE. You want more productivity from your work. More income for a better lifestyle. You want more satisfaction from life, and more time for yourself, your family, and your friends. NOW YOU CAN HAVE BOTH-LESS AND MORE.

There are many takeaways from this book: One regards what Keller calls the focusing question. Before doing anything, ask “What’s the one thing I can do right now, such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?”

Another is around focusing all your attention on one thing, or the case for putting all your eggs in one basket. Metaphors for this include “if you chase two rabbits you will catch neither” and others, backed up by companies and individuals that have focused on one thing and yielded excellent results. Once that one thing is defined, everything else is easier, because if something crops up that isn’t in line with your one thing, or an invitation lands in your inbox that will lead you astray, you have the focus and the nous to decline, for the better.

The 4-Hour Work Week: Escape the 9–5, Live Anywhere and Join the New Rich

Tim Ferriss

I have a love/hate relationship with Tim Ferriss’ books and blogs.

I love the concept of the new rich. Ferriss describes the old rich as a four bedroom detached house in the suburbs, an expensive car, kids at private school and yearly beach holidays, working like crazy until retirement when everything stops. With the concept of the old rich, retirement is seen as this oasis, and what everything is pointed towards.

The new rich gets completely away from this idea. People who are ‘new rich’ are finding better and smarter ways to eliminate non-essential tasks and things (see a pattern here?) and live a life filled with only what they want it to be filled with: specific people, specific possessions, specific experiences. The goal isn’t to go at 100mph until reaching retirement; the goal is to have a series of mini-retirements throughout your entire life.

This book takes you through designing automation into everything you put in place in your business, so that you are not the bottleneck for it carrying on without you. He also introduces the concept of a muse, something which gives you income without it requiring all of your time, or any of your time. Throughout the book are case studies of people with online businesses that they run from anywhere in the world, seasonal products and companies where entire off-seasons are devoted to learning new languages or taking dance lessons.

The third concept I love is that your absolute dream life costs so much less than you think, and I’ll talk about this later. 4HWW contains a load of links to downloads, of income/outgoing calculators, practical advice on travelling on a budget, as well as a whole load of other life-hacks.

One to check out one the 4-Hour Blog is the Facebook bankruptcy template. Do you dare?!

The stuff I don’t like quite as much is the feeling that customers aren’t valued in this book’s teachings, when in fact they are the lifeblood and enablers of your ‘new rich’ lifestyle. The email auto responders were a little bit of a step too far for me — but probably because my goals aren’t exactly the same as the rest of Tim’s audience. Despite this, I learnt a lot from this book.

…and finally:

What I Know for Sure

Oprah Winfrey

Oprah uses this book through which to share her own simple truths, each backed up by case studies and stories in her own life, which encourages quiet contemplation in yours. If you’re already ‘there’ with a lot of the books and principles I’ve described so far, then Oprah’s book will be the icing on the cake in your essentialist journey.


Jodie Cook

Written by

MD of social media management & training. Co-author @CleverTykes storybooks. Forbes #30under30. 57kg powerlifter. Never sits still.

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