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There are many ways and approaches to get results. You can build a company or create things following various paths. And, our world is full of information and tools you can use. However, not all of them are equal. Some of these resources will help you get results faster than others. These resources are golden nuggets buried under pile of dirt. Have you ever heard about essentialism? Essentialism can help you find these golden nuggets. All you need is to follow three simple steps.
P.S.: In the end, I will give you 3 questions that will help you apply this idea of essentialism to any area you can think about.
The first step of applying essentialism to get better results in shorter time is deciding on what is your goal. There is one thing that is true. It doesn’t matter how much do you now or how many tools do you have. You can’t hit a target if you don’t know what it is. You can’t reach the destination if you don’t know where that place is. So, the first question you have to ask is what is the goal? What do you want to create, do or achieve?
I know that this may sound like many books in self-help section of a bookstore. However, I’m convinced that this is different. Imagine you want to start a business. Or, imagine you have a client who hired you to create design for her website. In both cases, you can apply essentialism. It can help you get the work done faster and better. What problem do you want to solve by building that business? Why that client thinks she needs a new website? Do you see the pattern?
It doesn’t matter what area do you want the essentialism to apply to. It can be a business, design, school, calisthenics, writing or even cooking. You always need to start with making clear decision about your end goal. You need to know what business do you want to build. Or, what design do you want to create. What exam do you want to pass. If you want to write a book or article you to know what it should be. By the same token, you need to know what meal do you want to cook.
You can choose more than one goal at the time
This first towards implementing essentialism is … Essential. It is also good to keep the amount of your goals in odd numbers. And, three are too many. In other words, work with one goal at the time. This will help you make it and keep it more manageable. It will also help reach that goal or get the work done faster. I have to admit that I like to not to follow this advice. One of the consequences is that it takes longer than necessary. Well, at least, I reduced my goals to 3.
Another thing to keep in mind, if you don’t want to follow this advice is that area matters. Some areas are safer environments for pursuing multiple goals. Or, I am at least doing my best to convince myself about it. Also, some goals can be work together quite well. What’s more, some goals can even support and enhance each other. For example, if you decide to start with strength training having another goal of eating healthy will help you with the first goal.
In the terms of building a business or creating a design, this synergistic effect can be a bit harder to find. One potential example. Your first goal is building a business by solving specific problem. Second one is learning machine learning. Yes, I have those. Both these goals require a lot of time and energy. Chances are that pursuing one will greatly shrink your personal and social life. What if you want to pursue both? Good luck with having any social life at all. I’m going through this now.
Long-term vs short-term
Anyway, these two goals may not seem compatible on the first sight. Well, first sight is sometimes wrong. Let’s assume that you manage to get your startup up and running. And, you also learned at least the basics of machine learning. Now, you can use machine learning to create algorithms and make your business more efficient. You may also find new and better way to solve the problem your business is solving using machine learning. Then, you will provide your clients a better service.
So, yes. These goals may seem like they compete with each other in the terms of time and effort. And, a lot of people would probably advise you to stick to one. However, this is short-sighted view. In the longer term, these goals support, benefit and even enhance each other. Similar effect might have studying different disciplines. For example, let’s say you are a web designer. Does it mean that you should restrict yourself only to studying web and graphics design?
Sure, if you want to stifle your creativity. Otherwise, having a mastery of two disciplines as goals will be better thing to do. It will help you create library of knowledge. This knowledge will then allow you to connect seemingly unrelated ideas. For example, you can take some pattern from architecture or electronic engineering and apply it to web design. As a result, you may create something that’s unique and innovative.
Make it clear and concrete
Still, you need to have a clear idea about what is the end goal. I heard a lot of people talking about vague goals such as learning design or building a company. Do you know where these people are today? Still on the start. These people didn’t know where they want to get specifically. As a result, they had no chance of finding the right tools and knowledge. So, whatever the end goal is, be specific! You want to build a company? What company? The same applies to working for clients.
Your client wants new web design? Why? What does he want to achieve by redesigning his website? Does he want to attract new sort of customers? Does he want to make the website more user-friendly for his current customers? Or, does he simply want to have a website with modern look because his competition does? Although, this is really a stupid end goal, it is still better than having no specific goal at all. You at least have something to work with.
Again, the same is true about anything and everything. You have to begin with clear end goal. This is the step number one. Don’t proceed to step number two, if you are not sure about it on 100%.
Go straight to the source
The second step to use this framework of essentialism is getting rid of all unessential information and tools. There is no time to waste on second-hand information and menial tools. You need to go straight to the source. When you stick to the source, you will get results much faster. Let’s say you want to learn about theory of graphic design. There are hundreds of books on the shelves in a bookstore. You may think about picking and reading a couple of them. This strategy will work.
The only problem is that you will have to invest much more time than is necessary. One person can read only one book at the time. I mean, literally, at least if you want to remember something from it. Also, there is no guarantee that reading more books will result in acquiring large amount of quality knowledge. We are living in an era where literally anyone can publish a book. And, he can achieve high ratings just with help of his friends and colleagues.
As a result, there are books that promise you to learn X in a week, or even a day. If you want to waste a lot of time reading many books, read those. Much smarter approach is going straight to the source. This means learning from the top people in the industry. Don’t read books written by people you never even heard about. Instead, find books written by, or with help of, the greatest.
Learn only from the best
You want to be the best at something? Then, learn only from people who achieved this status. Even if you don’t to become the best, this strategy is crucial for applying essentialism to learning anything. By the way, this is one of the lessons I learned from this interview with Brian Chesky. Brian learns in two ways. First, he learns by trial and error. Second, when he wants to go deep on some subject, he uses a process he calls “going to the source.”
The downside of using this process is that it requires doing some research. You can’t just enter the bookstore or visit Amazon and pick some random book on specific subject. Instead, you have to invest some time in finding the best source, or person, in the area you want to learn about. Then, you go straight to that source or person. You don’t care about anything else. This will help you significantly shorten your learning curve.
Do you want to learn about building a company? Skip all the books written by those self-proclaimed professional consultants. The majority of these people never built anything. Instead, pick books like Only the Paranoid Survive by Andrew S. Grove, The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz, Zero to One by Peter Thiel, Creativity, Inc. by Ed Catmull or Lean Startup by Eric Ries. All these books are based on experience and doing, not just talking or thinking.
Is learning design your goal? Then, take a look at Thoughts on Design by Paul Rand, The Vignelli Canon and Vignelli From A to Z by Massimo Vignelli, The Design of Everyday Things by Don Norman and Thinking with Type, Design as Art by Bruno Munari, Graphic Design, Referenced by Bryony Gomez-Palacio and Graphic Design by Ellen Lupton. Do you want to write better? Then, read On Writing by Stephen King, Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott and On Writing Well by William Zinsser.
The essentialism is about learning either from the people on the top or the pioneers in that area. Quite often, you will find that these two are one and the same. And, what if there is no book written by anyone on the top? Then, look for articles, interviews and videos. Look for any piece of information published by that person on that topic. There is usually something you can begin with.
And, lastly, if that person is still alive, reach out to her. You are living in an era where you have access to almost anyone. If that person is on the Internet, there is always some way of reaching her. This can be through email or social media. Again, do the research and find the best way to contact her. Before you do that, find some way how you can be useful to her. You have to make it a win-win. Do you want something? Then, offer something in exchange. Make it worth her time.
This is the last and most difficult step. It doesn’t matter how much time you spend planning, thinking, gathering resources or wishing. You have to follow that with execution on a massive scale. Do I really have to talk more about this? You have the books, articles, videos or even access to a mentor. Now, you have to do the work. Read, listen, watch, learn and practice. The work will not finish itself. It is up to you to do that.
A lot of people fail because they don’t make this last step. They may follow the idea of essentialism perfectly. They choose clear and specific end goal. Then, they gather the best resources. Unfortunately, this is where they stop. They don’t execute. This is exactly what I was doing for a long time. I set a clear goal. Well, I often chose vague goal, before I read about goal setting and the theory of essentialism. First mistake.
Then, I gathered as many resources as possible. This was my second mistake. The result was almost always analysis paralysis. I had no idea where to start. It was not a surprise that, even after a year, I found myself on the same place. There were many missing pieces. Lack of clarity, quality resources and execution. However, the most important one is, I believe, is execution. Even, if you lack the clarity or right resource, you can still get far if you execute.
Even if you are not sure you have all information you need or that your goal is not clear enough, execute anyway. You can always make your goal more specific or find better information on the go. However, you have to get moving. Momentum is everything! Make that step and execute.
Closing thoughts on essentialism in business and design
As I promised you, here are the three questions that will help you apply essentialism to anything. First, is this the end goal you really want? Second, will this (source, action, etc.) bring you closer to that end goal? Third, is this the most effective way to get to that end goal? If you answer any of these questions with no, you have something to think about. You are either pursuing a wrong goal, using wrong resource(s) or using resources that are not the most effective.
Last piece of advice for applying essentialism? It is up to you to change something or continue doing it in the same way. Don’t follow some advice just because someone told you to do so. Yes, even if that person is on the top. The world is constantly changing and what worked before may not work now. Or, there might be a better and more effective way to do it. So, question every advice, strategy and way of doing things. Make this part of your research.
I believe that it is better to invest time in testing your resources. A day or two you spent on research can lead to weeks or even months saved in the process of learning or doing. I will say it in a different, it is better to invest your time in sharpening the saw before you start cutting the trees. It is better to take the time and think about the problem than to attack it immediately. Just remember that you always have to make the last step. Execute!
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