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“Is this the very most important thing I should be doing with my time right now?”


“Almost everything is noise. Very few things are essential.”

Less, but better.

It’s about pausing constantly to ask–am I investing in the right activities. Most are trivial. Few are vital.

Selecting only things that are truly essential.

If you don’t prioritize your life, someone else will

The undisciplined pursuit of more is usually the key for failing, especially in big companies.

Decision fatigue.

Myth–we can have it all.

job descriptions with huge lists of requirements.

When we try to do it all, we make tradeoffs that we would never make.

We can either make our choices deliberately or let other people control our lives.

“I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself and not what others expected of me.”

Instead of asking: Is there a chance I will where this some day in the future?
Ask: Do I love this? Do I look great in it? Do I wear it often?

Will this activity or effort make the highest contribution to my goal?

“If I didn’t already own this, how much would I pay to buy it?”

How many times have you made your to-do list, only to have it grow by the end of the day.

Essentialism is about organizing the closet of our lives.

Very few things are exceptionally valuable.

The reality of tradeoffs– we can’t have it all or do it all.

Step 1: Explore

Which problem do I want to solve?

Essentialists explore before committing. Then they go BIG on 1 or 2.

-What do I feel deeply inspired by?
-What am I especially talented at?

We are looking for our highest level of contribution.

Step 2: Eliminate

You must say no.

This means pushing against social pressure.

Step 3: Execute

Essentialist build a system where execution is most likely.

There is tremendous freedom in eliminating the non-essentials.

I can do anything, but not everything.

It is the ability to choose that makes us human.

I was not failing in any pursuit, but I was not succeeding either.

Keeping your options open is overrated–but what about antifragility?

In sacrificing my ability to choose, I chose.

When we don’t choose, somebody else will choose for us.

Learned Helplessness–when people think their actions don’t matter, they usually stop trying.

Remember your ability to choose. That’s very important.

Non-essentialist: I have to.
Essentialist: I choose to.

The Unimportance of Practically Everything

Most things have little value.

What is the most valuable result I could achieve in this job?

Buffet– invests only in the businesses he was sure of and bet heavily on them.

90% of his wealth comes from 10 investments.

Some efforts produce exponentially better results than others.

The best software developers are 10000x more effective than an average software programmer.

Essentialist– almost everything is non-essential.

Discern more, do less.

Southwest Airlines — Every choice was made in an effort to keep costs down. Essential–they’re a low cost airline.

Straddling– keeping your strategy in tact while also trying to adopt the strategy of a competitor simultaneously.

Habits creep in over time. little by little.

When you have a bunch of values, it gives employees no clear directions. What if the values conflict at times?

Same with being loyal to all stakeholders–shareholders, management, client, etc. Which one is priority.

Ex: Amazon–loyal to the end customer.

She insisted on 18 yearly priorities.

non-essentialists– ask how they can do both.

Instead of asking what do I have to give up, they ask: what do I want to big on?

Essentialists explore broadly, so that they can find the right thing to go big on.

An essentialist creates space to explore life.

Bill Gates — takes a week off every year to just think, read and reflect. Even while he was CEO at Microsoft.

Constantly ask–What are we trying to achieve? Is this the most important thing? Drill it home.


Nothing fired up the brain like play

Essentialists know play is essential

Play reduces stress

“He eliminated all stress in his life”

Protect the asset

The best asset we have is ourself.

#1 asset for continuing highly is ourself.

Sleep is essential

It drives peak performance

Bill gates- all big mistakes

They hire slowly and deliberately

Hell yes or no

If it’s not a clear yes, it’s a clear no.

Is this someone I want to work with everyday

Clarity or purpose is a huge indicator of performance

A clear no is more respected than a wishy washy yes.

Chief editing officer

Progress is the greatest motivator.

2 primary motivators:
-recognition for achievement

Shoot for progress in meaningful work.

Build momentum–then it gets going and it seems like overnight success.

Make small progress in something you do often.

Incentives–5 tokens per week. Extra token for reading a book.

Start small and celebrate wins

Minimum viable progress.

Pixar–tries stuff and sees what works

We don’t finish our films, we release them.

Start a project as early as possible with a least effort as possible.

What’s the smallest part I could do right now? This helps limit procrastination.

Big chart

When we start small and achieve progress, more motivated and more success.

A non-essentialist tries to get things done by brute force.
An essentialist designs a routine that gets things done almost naturally.

Phelps’ routine was so ingrained.

Visualize the perfect day.

Noah’s Notes
Is THIS the very most important thing I should be doing with my time and resources right now?

Think: Less but better.

Priority. It stayed singular for the next five hundred years. Only in the 1900s did we pluralize the term and start talking about priorities.

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

As Peter Drucker said, “People are effective because they say ‘no,’ because they say, “this isn’t for me.”

As poet Mary Oliver wrote: “Tell me, what is it you plan to do / with your one wild and precious life?”

What really counted was the relationship between time and results. Think about the output for the time you are inputting.

We discover how even the many good opportunities we pursue are often far less valuable than the few truly great ones.

Instead of asking, “What do I have to give up?” they ask, “What do I want to go big on?

When did you last take time out of your busy day simply to sit and think?

Protecting the Asset = Sleep!

What happens to our closets when we use the broad criterion, “Is there a chance that I will wear this someday in the future?” The closet becomes cluttered with clothes we rarely wear. But if we ask, “Do I absolutely love this?

We tend to value things we already own more highly than they are worth, and thus find them more difficult to get rid of.

If I didn’t already own this, how much would I spend to buy it?

The 90-10 model for making decisions. You can apply to just about every decision or dilemma. As you evaluate an option, think about the single most important criterion for that decision, and then simply give the option a score between 0 and 100. If you rate it any lower than 90 percent, then automatically change the rating to 0.

Clarity about what is essential fuels us with the strength to say no to the nonessentials.

Separate the decision from the relationship. Say no to non-essential meetings.

When we push back effectively, it shows people that our time is highly valuable. It distinguishes the professional from the amateur.
I say no very easily because I know what is important to me
If I weren’t already invested in this project, how much would I invest in it now?”
By quietly eliminating or at least scaling back an activity for a few days or weeks you might be able to assess whether it is really making a difference..
Boundaries are a little like the walls of a sandcastle. The second we let one fall over, the rest of them come crashing down. Essentialists, on the other hand, see boundaries as empowering.
You need to put up your fences well in advance, clearly demarcating what’s off limits so you can head off time wasters and boundary pushers at the pass
Another quick test for finding your deal breakers is to write down any time you feel violated or put upon by someone’s request.
Essentialists, on the other hand, use the good times to create a buffer for the bad.

Need to have a margin of safety in all areas of your life.

What is getting in the way of achieving what is essential?

“What obstacles or bottlenecks are holding you back from achieving X, and how can I help remove these?”

When we want to create major change we often think we need to lead with something huge or grandiose. BUT, in all forms of human motivation the most effective one is progress. Creates momentum and affirms our faith in our further success
Visualize. Something powerful about visibly seeing progress toward a goal.

“The tape” was a visualization of the perfect race. In exquisite detail and slow motion Phelps would visualize every moment from his starting position on top of the blocks, through each stroke, until he emerged.

Whenever she schedules a meeting or phone call, she takes exactly fifteen seconds to type up the main objectives.

With repetition the routine is mastered and the activity becomes second nature.

You can easily do two things at the same time: wash the dishes and listen to the radio. What we can’t do is concentrate on two things at the same time.

Pathetically tiny amount of time we have left of our lives. It challenges me to be even more unreasonably selective about how to use this precious

Peter Thiel took “less but better” to an unorthodox level when he insisted that PayPal employees select one single priority in their role—and focus on that exclusively

I have a hard time sticking to things. I think we all do. Yet, it seems that the people who are most effective in life are extremely consistent. They crank out what they have to do each and every day.

Seth Godin writes something small on his blog everyday. But clearly he is a God, not a human. Just look at his last name.

Casey Neistat films a vlog, edits it, and uploads it every day. But he sleeps like 4 hours a day, so he’s not human either.

But seriously, people who can consistently produce on a day to day basis are just amazing. And it’s that ability that I want to cultivate in my own life.

I have a lot of ideas, and some of them are pretty good. But instead of executing them and making them a reality, I never get around to it or I start on it and end up quitting because I get tired of it or sidetracked.

But I imagine if I would just stick to one of these ideas for a year, I would have accomplished something pretty awesome and noteworthy. It doesn’t matter if the idea isn’t perfect because it will evolve over time.

That’s why people who dream up ideas all day are kind of useless–they don’t ever bring it into the world. Whereas, the dude with no ideas, but the ability to execute is swimming in success.

Don’t overthink it. Do it. And do it everyday.

Gary Vaynerchuk coincidentally posted on this topic today in his article–Why I Love Mediocre Ideas

The one thing I will always try and drive home with everyone who reads what I write, who listens to my keynotes, who watch the show is this: execution is everything.

Amazing ideas happen all the time. I’ve had great ideas. The guy sitting next to you as you read this has great ideas. The girl you see on the bus in the morning has great ideas. But once you have that idea, the next step is to go and do it. Just make it happen.

But there are so many great ideas. So many of them. There are way less great executions.

Because execution is hard.

I’ve seen a hell of a lot of people execute on less than average ideas to build amazing lives. There are so many businesses making hundreds of thousands of dollars on totally mediocre ideas. You know what’s an average idea? A social and digital agency. That is a below average idea. But it worked. Because I executed on it, and I made it happen.

Stop treating your ideas so preciously. Make them real. Tangible. Taste them and touch them. Get in the dirt and work, and let the idea evolve.

What Works For You?

Trent Madden  —  November 20, 2015 — Leave a comment

“it isn’t so much knowing a whole lot, as knowing a little and how to use it that counts.” – John Graham, Letters From A Self-Made Merchant To His Son

It’s not what you know, it’s not what you do, it’s what you do effectively that counts [paraphrase] – Michael Oliff, Hacker To Hero

“80% of reference files are never referenced again.”

Almost nothing matters. I mean that.

There are tons of articles being posted on my news feed, emailed to my inbox, and “suggested” for me to read. Most of them don’t matter at all. 99%. Even the 1% aren’t worth anything sometimes. Sure, they may be interesting reads and thought provoking, but is it going to make a measurable difference in my life? The odds say no.

That seems like a pretty miserable way to go through life–deeming everything as meaningless. But that’s not what I mean. To make room for what matters, you have to be ruthless about it. I’ve found that it’s very difficult to get clear and focus on anything for a consistent period of time. Especially, with the flood of click-bait and sweeping life declarations from my social media follows. (No, I don’t want to read your blog. Only write on mine.)

I reiterate–99% of it should be ignored. Because in 23 years of living, I’ve discovered a few gems of insights that have helped me to live a better life. Just a few, and they have been hard won. And I didn’t find them in some Buzzfeed piece.

I found them through life experiences, experiments, failure, meeting, talking to, and observing people and great books. It’s very difficult to make significant changes in your life.There’s limited time and energy each day to focus on improvement, so I want to focus on the things I know have a great chance to work.

The most important insights come from your own life. What has worked for you in the past? What has not worked for you in the past? And can you conclude that it’s having a significant affect on your happiness, productivity, and life.

What has worked for me?
-Exercise (especially in the morning)
-Being around and talking to people, not isolating myself.
-Weekly Planning
-Daily Planning
-Breaking projects down into small steps.
-Focusing on the process, not the big goal.
-Having accountability
-Building tiny habits
-Focusing on habits, not motivation.
-Collaborating with people on projects
-Being honest
-Be very realistic about problems and working with reality, not against it.
-Not hanging out with people who care too much about status or being “cool”

Everyone is different, so it’s important to find things that work for you, make note of it, and then deliberately do those things on a consistent basis. It’s the most simple formula I’ve found for living a happy, productive life: find what works and then do more of it.

When things get more complicated, it deters focus, which deters action, and you forget what worked for you in the first place. Pretty silly if you ask me.

So focus on what you do effectively, not what you think you know.

Goals For 2015?

Trent Madden  —  February 25, 2015 — Leave a comment

Goals are tricky and tough to stick to.

You never know when something can happen in your life that causes you to change your priorities and values. I suppose this happens more when you’re younger and still trying to figure out your direction in life.

Periodically,, I used to make a long list of goals and pledge that I was going to turn my life around and finally become my best self. I’ve since learned a plan l like that is destined to fail and that the less goals you have, the more effective you are, as change requires a period of conscious effort before a behavior can be ingrained.

On a 3-6 month timeline, I think it’s usually realistic to achieve 1-2 goals of reasonable impact. When I was job-hunting with daily-sustained effort, it took me about 2 months to find a good job that fit. That was my primary goal at the time and took up most of my concentration. I made very minor progress on my other goals to reach 50 books read and improving my golf game by the end of the year.

From my experience, it’s wise to concentrate on 1 goal per three month period. If you complete the goal early, that’s great. Then you can put your full concentration on the next goal. However, this doesn’t mean you have to drop all your existing commitments–just put them on maintenance. For example, if you are exercising consistently, continue to do that and monitor your behavior, but you don’t need to find some a new workout routine or put on 15 pounds of muscle at the moment. Later, you can if you so choose.

So starting out in 2015, I had been going to the gym pretty consistently 2-3 times a week for a couple months. So I wanted to concentrate on solidifying that goal and making sure I was working out 3 times a week.

By now, I’m pretty solid with that so I’m prepared to add a new goal: 

To get 1,000 email subscribers for my new website I’m launching. It’s a site about personal finance with an emphasis on the early retirement/financial independence movement. I have a long-term ambitious goal to be financially independent by the time I’m 30, and I wanted to use this new site to track my progress.

I like the idea of tackling a new subject, writing about it, and then engaging with other people who are interested in similar things. I also have a plan to write a book on the subject to synthesize my thoughts, share it with people, and perhaps make some side income.

So I pretty much have 4 main priorities right now: 

-Build the new website (1,000 email subscribers by EOY) 
-Workout consistently (3x per week)
-Maintain productivity at my job. (Get all my tasks done on time)
-Save money. (Save/Invest 60% of my income.)

Everything else is not important. Of course, I will take time to spend time with friends and relax from time to time. I’m not trying to go completely insane here, but as far as goals go, I know what I need to do to move things forward.

I’ve come to realize that success comes from focus. A recently popular book call Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less has helped to remind me of that truth. So I’m excited to really make progress with the new site, while maintaining my existing habits at work and in the gym.

Let’s slap 2015 in the face.