Book Review: Essentialism by Greg McKeown

Bottom Line Up Front: Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown is a potentially life-changing book that strikes to the root of a problem many of us in Westernized nations have: too much to do, too many places to go, too many commitments, and too many possessions. It should be the next book you read.

Essentialism book cover

I have noticed a trend throughout many things I have been reading or listening to for the past year towards minimalism. In exercise, it is minimum effective dose, i.e. the least I can do to get an adaptation. In living, it is about minimal possessions. I personally had been having these same thoughts and I noticed the repetition throughout articles and podcasts. The very fact that we have so much more capacity to become overwhelmed in our modern lives makes a turn to minimalism a necessity.

A friend recommended this book to me. It excited me because it fit right into where I was headed with my personal life. I have been preaching prioritization and simplicity at work, keeping my co-workers focused on simplifying vs complicating situations, being brilliant at the basics, and ensuring you prioritize your tasks so you are focused on what matters. I did this in my physical fitness practice. I programmed more simple workouts. I grew tired of the CrossFit WoDs that were so complex you couldn’t remember what was next mid-workout.

I had the book on my wishlist but I hadn’t purchased it yet. Then I heard the author, Greg McKeown on the Michael Hyatt podcast (link below). After the interview I was hooked. It was exactly what I was looking for.

What is an Essentialist?

Immediately the author hits you with a story of a businessman who has taken on too much and can’t get anything done. He finally decides he will only do things that are essential. If it isn’t the most important thing he should be doing at that moment, he says no to it. “Instead of making just a millimeter of progress in a million directions he began to generate tremendous momentum towards accomplishing the things that were truly vital.”

The rest of the book goes on to discuss various methods, mental models, and concepts about getting to the root of what is truly essential. I particularly enjoyed how he discusses something, then shows how a nonessentialist would act and contrasts it with the essentialist. Here is a great example from the first chapter:

essentialism chart
Click to expand

The author uses the phrase “less but better” throughout the book. I found this particularly poignant. Less is usually associated with worse, but the effect of removing the nonessentials leave you with something better. I reflect on this concept regularly now.

Here are some quotes from the book that illustrate Essentialism:

  • “The way of the Essentialist means living by design, not by default. Instead of making choices reactively, the Essentialist deliberately distinguishes the vital few from the trivial many, eliminates the nonessentials, and then removes obstacles so the essential things have clear, smooth passage. In other words, Essentialism is a disciplined, systematic approach for determining where our highest point of contribution lies, then making execution of those things almost effortless.”
  • “The way of the Essentialist is the relentless pursuit of less but better. It doesn’t mean occasionally giving a nod to the principle. It means pursuing it in a disciplined way.”
  • “The way of the Essentialist isn’t about setting New Year’s resolutions to say ‘no’ more, or about pruning your in-box, or about mastering some new strategy in time management. It is about pausing constantly to ask, ‘Am I investing in the right activities?'”
  • “Essentialism is not about how to get more things done; it’s about how to get the right things done.”

I highly recommend this book to anyone. It is easy to read and understand while being profound. I am actively taking steps to be an essentialist every day and I encourage you to do the same. Remember, less but better.

QUESTION: Have you made any movement towards essentialism in your life? Post thoughts to comments.

References & Further Reading


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