The best diagram ever - from Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less

I’m only 6 pages into this book and I know I have to buy it (and return this one to the library so someone else can read it).

Here’s why.

Page 6 has the best diagram ever! A diagram that should be painted on my wall so I can see it all the time.

Good, right?

The diagram shows all the effort we expend working on things.

On the left, it shows us working on multiple things, and not getting very far on any of them. As quoted in the book: “a millimeter of progress in a million directions.”


However, on the right the diagram shows if we focus the same amount of energy to less things we can make real progress on them.

What if those few things we give our energy to can leap us ahead at our job, or are things we really love doing. Things that matter.

Think about how effective and happy we would be.

The book, btw, is:

Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less
by Greg McKeown

I needed to see this diagram today and thought you might too.

It’s timely for me because yesterday I was feeling super anxious. All of the projects, emails and things I “needed” to do were swirling in a storm above my head, all vying for my time. I’d grab onto one, and another would try and push its way in.

The left diagram perfectly illustrates how I was feeling. Doing too many things and not getting anywhere.

Currently, when I start to feel like I’m doing too much, I find it helpful to make a giant list of all the “to dos” swirling in my brain.

This helps right away because things aren’t buzzing in my head anymore, they’re stuck on paper. Kind of like flies on flypaper. (Gross)

Then I take that list and try to isolate the things the REALLY matter.

I work on only those things and let the rest slide.

Like maybe I should call that store that wanted to sell Penguin & Fish products instead of making a fun Facebook graphic.

Or maybe I should finish designing my current fabric collection instead of cleaning up my email inbox.

Or even, maybe I should take that long walk on this beautiful afternoon instead of vacuuming the kitchen.

Working on what matters calms me down and gives me a sense of accomplishment. I know I’m getting farther on the right things.

When I finished my list yesterday, I could see right away a few things that stood out as most important. I worked on those items and I’m happy to report that yesterday was the most productive day I’ve had in weeks. I even got in that long walk.

I need to isolate the things that matter more often!

I look forward to reading the rest of the Essentialism (like I said, I’m only on page 6) and see what new directives I can apply to get me to the right side of the diagram.

As I’m writing this, in my office that’s filled with craft supplies and projects, I’m realizing the diagram also applies to my unfinished craft projects. Or UFOs (UnFinished Objects) as the crafty blogs say.

Just in my direct line of sight I can see 8 UFOs. Oof, counting them even triggered my anxiety a bit.

None of them are getting very far because I don’t know which one to focus on. Actually, not knowing which one to work on is keeping me from working on any of them. That’s a big 0% progress.

I wonder what would happen if I categorized my UFOs by how much they matter to me. And then work on those ones.

I think I would be much happier in craft land. Not only would I be working and finishing projects that I love, I’d be working on them period.

I’m going to give it a try.

I’ll be sure to report back on my UFO progress, and also relay the juicy tips I learn (and apply) from Essentialism.

Click this link to sign up to my newsletter to receive updates.

What do you think?

Would prioritizing your unfinished craft projects by which ones matter most help you finish them? Does the diagram from Essentialism ring true to you like it did for me? What tricks do you currently use to get things done?

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Comment below, or feel free to contact me (Alyssa) at emails [at] penguinandfish [dot] com (type out using the “@” and “.” symbols with no spaces).

All links in this post are affiliate links. That means if you click on the link and purchase the book, Amazon will send me a couple of cents for referring you. Or you could go to your local library and check it out like I did. I’m on my way to actually purchase the book right now. This one needs to be in my “at home” library.

On a side note. Essentialism is beautifully designed. Check out the Contents page below. My “Typography 1” professor would approve.

If you found this post interesting, I hope you'll join me to get weekly emails on how to craft a happy life - and make something cute in the process. For signing up you’ll also get a FREE Picnic Pals minis hand embroidery pattern.

Click here to join (it's FREE too!)


  1. I totally enjoyed your blog post Alyssa. this totally rings true for me on so many levels. I have UFOs, fledgling businesses that need attention, patterns to make, photographs to create, and blogs to update. and that's not even my real job of being the editor of a weekly newspaper. the diagram was very beneficial and I think I will get a lot out of the book. thank you for sharing.

    Best wishes

  2. Thanks for this - great diagram! I've got about 50 blog posts waiting for me to wade through them, as well as lots of UFOs and ore... Really ought to get on with stuff!!

  3. Oh my! That is so me... need to focus ... have so many creative pursuits I love, it is hard. Might check this book out... sounds interesting, thanks for the share! >^,,^< KittyAnn

  4. I really appreciate your professional approach. These are pieces of very useful information that will be of great use for me in future.

  5. Hi Alyssa! I stopped by to say thanks making your Away Knot video available on YouTube. I've read about the technique in a couple of books, but despite reading the text numerous times, I had a hard time getting it. Your video made it all clear, thank you. And thanks for the book recommendation! The topic speaks to me (I'm juggling a dozen projects!) and I will totally buy the Kindle version immediately.

    1. Hi Katrina. Oh I'm so happy the video helped out! It's the only way I do it now.

  6. Hi Alyssa, I'll be getting the book. It looks like there will definitely be tips and ideas for help in growing in this area. I've been on a simplifying theme this year and it looks like this will help. I also wanted to thank you for hooking us up with the video by Ira Glass that you sent out to us earlier this month. I've watched it many times since. Oh and about flypaper, there's a sewing blog that I've followed for years by Barbara called "Sewing On The Edge". And every once in a while she writes a post called flypaper thoughts. It's not necessarily a "to do" list. But certainly in the same vein of all those swirling thoughts. So after reading one years ago I got a notebook just for my flypaper thoughts and will write out all those thoughts when ever I find that certain thoughts are taking up too much space and energy. It really does help. As you said, once I've written out my thoughts, the really important things tend to emerge more clearly and some sifting can occur. Anyway, just wanted to say thanks for these helpful resources. They are puzzle pieces that help me focus and see the picture that I'm really wanting to create.

    1. Thanks for your lovely comment, Lydia. I LOVE the idea of "flypaper thoughts". I'm going to refer to them as that from now on. Gotta catch those thoughts!

  7. Hi Alyssa. I too struggle with the swirling thoughts in my brain. They have caused me many sleepless nights, until I learned to journal at night before turning out the lights. It gives me a place to deposit them until the next day. Then I make my lists of what I "need" to do and what can wait. My newest idea for sanity was to give myself a week to work on each quilting project that I want to work on, or the type of project to work on, such as "applique", or "pieced blocks". I schedule in 7 days on my calendar, and that is what I work on. Today is my last day to work on "pieced blocks", and tomorrow I start "applique blocks" for the next 7 days. Then I will work on my "Splendid Sampler" blocks for the next 7 days, (I am way behind). I will adjust the weeks as needed, I even put in a "Mending Day" at the end of the month. EWWW! Hate mending Lol.

  8. Hi Alyssa. I`d love to have a vacation in craftland too. Hard to put crafting at the top of the list of everything to do. Thanks for your book suggestion. Sewing is my sanity. Hope to keep it (sanity and sewing) ongoing.

  9. Hi Alyssa. This is a book I am going to have to put on my must read list and read it soon as that illustration is my life.

  10. I do get overwhelmed more and more as I age. There is a long long list of things I know I need to do and once they were done, I would be less anxious. (I call those my albatross chores. ie: cleaning closets) When I make a list it does help me focus on what I need to do instead of trying to 'remember' everything I need to do or want to do. Since I have retired and have been home, procrastination is my new 'friend'. While working I had a set schedule. Since retirement I do find it easier to act like Scarlet O'Hara and say "Tomorrow is another day!" and therefore put it off. Even though I do not sleep in like what my husband would do, I do like to get things accomplished in the mornings so I can piddle around the rest of the day. I split my chores up so I don't have to do all the cleaning in one day. The book sounds very interesting and I am going to check out our library to see if they have it. Thanks Alyssa! That is what I love about your blog...your not afraid to share.

  11. I do need help with organization I want to do everything but that is impossible. I have many unfinished projects just like you. I will check this book out. Thanks for the inspiration Elaine

  12. I just requested this book from my library, your post really peaked my interest. Sometimes I swear I developed ADHD late in life! The older I get the more scattered I become. Then add pain meds to the mix and not much gets done. Lots gets partially done, but nothing finished. Just this week I finished a chore I had been dreading for months! It took less than a hour! What a waste of energy all that time dreading it. But, what a sense of relief when it was done. Clearly I need help.

  13. I love this. Definitely going to read this book now. Thanks for your lovely posts and emails. :)

  14. I have kept a list for years now, I cross things off as I get them done and carry them over if I haven't gotten around to them. If they are carried over too many times, they obviously aren't that important to me. If I didn't put things on my list, I would forget to do them, and that is a big stressor in itself!

  15. Oh,my gosh! This is so me right now. Thank you for sharing and giving me great ideas to be able to get my UFO'S done.

  16. I made a list last night for today. I crossed several items off my list as I did them. Too late I noticed that stitching with you tonight was on my list - I missed it because I was too busy quilting. :) Maybe tomorrow I will stitch with you :)

  17. As i read your blog in the corner of my eye i can see my mail bowl growing exponentially! It's over a year now that the items in this bowl need to be filed. Why do i ignore it and yet allow it to make me feel guilty and like a slob? We teach our special ed kids at school (i am an E.A) to 'chunk' their work. So rather than throw them a worksheet or assignment, give it to them in pieces so it is doable and that they feel successful when finished, and are ready for the next chunk of the work. Well the same applies to me. So today i will try to file away the bank statements and bills and leave the rest for maybe next Saturday. Thanks for the blog.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...