Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown

Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less

Have you ever found yourself stretched too thin? Do you simultaneously feel overworked and underutilized? Are you often busy but not productive? Do you feel like your time is constantly being hijacked by other people’s agendas? If you answered yes to any of these, the way out is the Way of the Essentialist. The Way of the Essentialist isn’t about getting more done in less...

Title:Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less
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Edition Language:English

Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less Reviews

  • Hanne

    It must be tough to write a book about Essentialism because people will be watching like a hawk to see whether you stick to your own advice – and sadly I’m not sure that he did.

    But first things first, I didn’t have a name for it but ‘Essentialism’ is what I have been doing for a while now – at work at least. I have yet to tell any of my family or friends that I wasn’t positively answering their invitation because it wasn’t essential to me and my goals for the near future.

    But at work, I am a stro

    It must be tough to write a book about Essentialism because people will be watching like a hawk to see whether you stick to your own advice – and sadly I’m not sure that he did.

    But first things first, I didn’t have a name for it but ‘Essentialism’ is what I have been doing for a while now – at work at least. I have yet to tell any of my family or friends that I wasn’t positively answering their invitation because it wasn’t essential to me and my goals for the near future.

    But at work, I am a strong believer in this principle. It’s way too easy to get enrolled in everything, meaning you won’t be able to actually achieve anything. So pick carefully and focus on that, just that. And yes, sometimes you can’t pick yourself, because it’s something you have to do. But even then, be mindful about what is important.

    In this book, Greg McKeown gives sound advice. Unless you are over the moon enthusiastic about a new possible project, say no. Don’t ever say yes, just because you fear people will like you less. Because even though saying no will sometimes result in some frowning from the other party, I strongly believe that how you say your no is more important. I know people at work who will almost shout back a brisk and severe ‘No, not now!’ and I don’t like them much indeed. But saying in a friendly way that ‘now is not a good time’ hasn’t hurt any relationship yet.

    There are two things I liked less about the book. The first is that he uses a lot of examples that have been used to death so to speak: I cannot even begin the count the number of non-fiction I read lately that uses the example of Rosa Parks’ bus ride and the ‘No school today’ essential journalism lesson of Nora Ephron. Then on top, he uses many examples of other books I (unfortunately for the author) recently finished: d.school’s babywarmers from Creative Confidence (Tom and David Kelley) and Michael Phellps’ swimming routine from The Power of Habit (Charles Duhigg). None of these examples are bad, but they felt like old material to me.

    But then again, anyone who rarely reads business or popular psychology books won’t mind because they probably won’t recognize the stories and find them just as insightful as I did, the first time I read them.

    The second one is that I think the author did not stick to the essentials. Or better said: he didn’t stick to the essentials that would serve everyone. Take his chapter about planning for instance: He gives the example of a speech you will have to give in a few months’ time. His advice is to start now, and spend 4 minutes daily to draft the speech, and then put it away until the next day.

    I can imagine this working for some people, but Mr Greg Mckeown has never been inside my brain: If I even start thinking for 30 seconds about something like that, my head will be bubbling and fizzing with ideas for the next 24 hours at least. Meaning that my brain will be too busy with possible speech scenario’s to get anything else done. Some people are planners, some are not – I don’t think this has anything to do with trying to stick to essential things.

    There are a few chapters like that in the second part of the book, where Mr Mckeown described processes that work for him, but in my opinion are not necessarily linked to this philosophy of essentialism, and even make them sound a little elitist in his many overviews of how Essentialists are different (better?) than other people.

    Net, I believe in the philosophy, and the book describes it very well while giving good advice, especially in the first half. The second half might not serve everyone as he mixed too many other things into it that might not work for everyone, but unfortunately the way he writes it he leaves no option: you either do it all and be part of the Essentialist club, or you don’t.

    Having said that, I think us readers are smart enough to pick and choose and not be bothered about whether Mckeown will think we do it properly or not. :)

  • Nancy

    This is exactly what I needed to read at exactly the right moment. As I have felt my life spiralling out of control, this is the book I picked up. The author gleans from the best and most successful people and their philosophy and supports his stance that, with a proper personal mission statement, SMART goals, and a willingness to simplify and change our perspective, we can prioritize and live, with, play a more meaningful life. His philosophy is one that supports greater joy with family, less c

    This is exactly what I needed to read at exactly the right moment. As I have felt my life spiralling out of control, this is the book I picked up. The author gleans from the best and most successful people and their philosophy and supports his stance that, with a proper personal mission statement, SMART goals, and a willingness to simplify and change our perspective, we can prioritize and live, with, play a more meaningful life. His philosophy is one that supports greater joy with family, less clutter and better use of time in all aspects.

    My favorite and most meaningful truism that I gained is that if we don't clearly make boundaries, someone else will make them for us. He gave the example of an executive who was asked to come on a Saturday for a meeting. He told his supervisor he would not come since that is his designated family day. The supervisor returned after discussing it with the other peers who agreed to come instead on Sunday. This executive felt the pressure to conform yet again declined by explaining that Sunday was his day to worship God. He gained respect for his personal time and values. Although not expressly stated, I discovered that when I have not set clear boundaries and give the extra mile consistently, I've set the norm. Boundaries, purpose and goals are essential to a fulfilling life in every aspect.

    This book encompasses all that is taught in books by successful leaders like Stephen Covey, Clay Christensen, Henry Eyering, to name a few. It was what I needed.

  • Ryan Dejonghe

    ESSENTIALISM by Greg McKeown is a book that should be read annually. In it we are asked, “What if we stopped celebrating being busy as a measurement of importance?” Not that it is a new concept, but it is a book that assembles all the great philosophies and thinkers into a cohesive and inspiring format. McKeown starts from Socrates (“Beware of the barrenness of a busy life”) and works his way into modern thinkers such as Drucker, Gladwell, and Csikszentmihalyi.

    McKeown makes the concession that e

    ESSENTIALISM by Greg McKeown is a book that should be read annually. In it we are asked, “What if we stopped celebrating being busy as a measurement of importance?” Not that it is a new concept, but it is a book that assembles all the great philosophies and thinkers into a cohesive and inspiring format. McKeown starts from Socrates (“Beware of the barrenness of a busy life”) and works his way into modern thinkers such as Drucker, Gladwell, and Csikszentmihalyi.

    McKeown makes the concession that essentialism is “not about eschewing e-mail or disconnecting from the Web or living like a hermit.” It’s about finding—get ready for it—what is essential. He includes a drawing to help illustrate this: on one side is a circle with several small arrows coming out of it; on the other side is a circle with one long arrow. Picture it. We have so much resource, so much time, so much energy. The less we are committed to, the more successful we become in our task. McKeown points out that the word “priority” didn’t have a pluralization until the 20th century.

    I’m reminded a lot of last year’s book GETTING TO IT! by Jones Loflin and Todd Musig. In it, the authors talked about using a filter for your time. One of those filters being the ability to say “no”. Here, McKeown describes how to fulfil your “no” repertoire and filter through the opportunities that we are given as our success increases. McKeown emphasizes the continuous analysis of: explore, eliminate, and execute.

    Like those before him, no good personal success book would is complete without a metaphor. Here, the metaphor is cleaning your closet. There are always trade-offs in cultivating the essential. In your closet, instead of asking yourself if you should get rid of something, ask “If I didn’t already own this, how much would I spend to buy it?” In your closet of life and time, when an opportunity presents itself, McKeown encourages you to question each new opportunity.

    This book is not a one-trick pony. It is a singular, life-changing concept that presents a “massive shift in thinking”. Page-edge to page-edge is filled with quotes and references used in context as a toolbox offering to help shift our thought from busywork=success to the new paradigm of concerted effort=success. For the references, journal entries, and scientific studies that don’t fit within the pages, there are a plethora of footnotes for further reading.

    I’ll list some of the other books the author quotes below, but one of the more enlightening ones that stands out is a reference to the study about the 10,000 hour rule, most famously known in Malcom Gladwell’s OUTLIERS. It says if you put in time, you’ll be an expert. Another finding from that same study shows that over eight hours of sleep was also a contributing factor. This illustrates the paradox that expertise isn’t just about putting in the hours, but rest and focus are nearly equal contributors.

    The bottom line is that I love this book and books like this. It contains interesting, forward-thinking thought presented in a new light. It contains lots of references to already established material from well-researched authors. It’s not just a collection of quotes, but an assembly of ideas, drawings, charts, and other helpful learning materials. In other words, practice what you read in this book and your life is guaranteed to improve. Read it again next year and you’ll learn something new.

    Thank you to the Crown Publishing Group and Crown Business for supplying me with a review copy of this book. Here are some of the other books the author references for further reading:

    DRIVE by Daniel Pink

    THE POWER OF HABIT by Charles Duhigg

    THE 7 HABITS OF HIGHLY EFFECTIVE PEOPLE by Stephen R. Covey

    THINKING, FAST AND SLOW by Daniel Kahneman

    GOOD TO GREAT by Jim Collins

    FLOW by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

  • John Lee

    According to McKeown, essentialism is living one's life in such a way that all of one's energies are concentrated on accomplishing the vital few things that really matter. In order to do this, one must know what the essential things are, cut out the things that are not essential, and put oneself in a position where doing the essential things becomes effortless.

    It's a great book for everyone, and provides insights on how to apply this philosophy not only to one's personal life but to the workplac

    According to McKeown, essentialism is living one's life in such a way that all of one's energies are concentrated on accomplishing the vital few things that really matter. In order to do this, one must know what the essential things are, cut out the things that are not essential, and put oneself in a position where doing the essential things becomes effortless.

    It's a great book for everyone, and provides insights on how to apply this philosophy not only to one's personal life but to the workplace as well. It's not really a "business" book, but I do think that managers and those in leadership positions within a company would get a lot out of it.

    For me personally, it was a big wake-up call. I wasn't really living an essentialist life, to say the least, and while nothing McKeown says in this book is revolutionary, it was a revelation to me. This book really made me think about my life and how I go about living it: the priorities I give to tasks and projects, what I really want to do in my life... For that reason, I'm very glad I read it.

  • Emily

    All 272 pages of this book could have been condensed into a three-page blog post, perhaps without the pages filled with cutesy large text. My ultimate takeaway is that I find Greg McKeown incredibly annoying. However, there are also some other, intuitive ideas that can be helpful, like:

    · You cannot have it all. Decide what your agenda or goal is, and pursue only opportunities that lead you to that goal. If you don't have your own agenda, someone else will make it for you. Don't commit casually t

    All 272 pages of this book could have been condensed into a three-page blog post, perhaps without the pages filled with cutesy large text. My ultimate takeaway is that I find Greg McKeown incredibly annoying. However, there are also some other, intuitive ideas that can be helpful, like:

    · You cannot have it all. Decide what your agenda or goal is, and pursue only opportunities that lead you to that goal. If you don't have your own agenda, someone else will make it for you. Don't commit casually to plans you're not sure about.

    · Don't be afraid to be unavailable. If you can't do a side project, say so. Focus requires you to set aside time for your priority.

    · Teams function better if there is one clear, quantifiable, overarching purpose. I'm trying to work on this as a manager, so it was nice to have this reinforced.

    · Keeping a journal and making time to read are important. McKeown literally suggests the Book of Mormon, which makes me want to read trashy YA instead. I do agree that it's better to take time for yourself in the morning - I always feel better when I have time to hang out and make myself breakfast, instead of checking my email as I sprint for the N train.

    There, see? I wrote this book in four bullet points! Essentialism!

    On the topic of Greg McKeown: I find it extremely - if not

    - difficult to take someone seriously who tries to use Rosa Parks and Nelson Mandela as examples of essentialist thinkers. "Rosa Parks said NO to others' agendas, you can too!" Is this for real? It's so obvious that this guy is a rotating speaker for Jack Dorsey companies. Google's got Lego sets in its offices, guys! Unleash your (nebulously defined) sense of play!!

    It may just be that I've never sacrificed sleep for productivity (because I'm a monster when I don't sleep at least 7 hours), but I also find the recent spate of celebrities and CEOs touting the benefits of sleep somewhat odd.

    really just wants you to take a nap? Jeff Bezos sleeps eight hours? No one has ever thought of this before. AMAZING.

  • Margaret Mechinus

    I liked the table of contents. It laid out his essential points in a concise list. The chapters themselves were overworked and repetitive. Nothing new here, including his anecdotes and examples.

  • Prakash Loungani

    Could have been a 100 pages shorter without losing anything essential

  • Scott

    I met Greg McKeown just after I finished his book, Essentialism. I found out that he was a bishop in my stake (Mormon-speak for being a church congregation leader in my general area of Palo Alto, CA). He was approachable and kind. After introducing myself and complimenting him on his book, he asked me a few questions about myself. Namely, what was I doing in my life and what was my end goal in my professional career. I was taken aback, because not many people jump straight to such a core questio

    I met Greg McKeown just after I finished his book, Essentialism. I found out that he was a bishop in my stake (Mormon-speak for being a church congregation leader in my general area of Palo Alto, CA). He was approachable and kind. After introducing myself and complimenting him on his book, he asked me a few questions about myself. Namely, what was I doing in my life and what was my end goal in my professional career. I was taken aback, because not many people jump straight to such a core question when just getting to know someone - then again, he IS an essentialist, so what's the use for extraneous commentary. :) We didn't have much time to speak as he was about to leave the church building with his family. Before we parted, he challenged me to take 20 focused minutes and define what I wanted to do with my life - to write out in words my ultimate goal of my professional life. "And don't forget to time it" he said. This man truly lives and breathes the principles that he teaches in this book.

    After completing Essentailism, I immediately gave the book to a friend who I know to be overly encumbered with side-projects outside of his day job. His extraneous favors stem largely from his inability to say "no" to friends and colleagues. I'm hoping that Essentialism will help him set up an internal framework to politely refuse these offers and be more proactive about the way he spends his spare time. Because that's exactly how I've felt after reading McKeown's book. I plan to live by his quote, "Don't let anyone else hijack your schedule."

  • Sheri

    Such a frustrating book. McKeown addresses an important topic that I certainly need to work on, and that's what persuaded me to read this book (based on some praising reviews) and kept me reading it through my annoyance with his tone and attitude. I'm not sure I learned anything new but I definitely was pushed to think about some things that I generally set to the side about how I choose to spend my time and the projects I take on. The book was valuable enough that I'm glad I read it. But I was

    Such a frustrating book. McKeown addresses an important topic that I certainly need to work on, and that's what persuaded me to read this book (based on some praising reviews) and kept me reading it through my annoyance with his tone and attitude. I'm not sure I learned anything new but I definitely was pushed to think about some things that I generally set to the side about how I choose to spend my time and the projects I take on. The book was valuable enough that I'm glad I read it. But I was consistently and thoroughly irritated by McKeown's presentation of Essentialism (the capitalization is significant) as a club of the initiated, a realm of those who can look over the top of their glasses at the rest of us who are wallowing in the overwhelming busy-ness of life. This book was written for an audience of readers who have that luxury of choosing how they want to spend their time, who have power in social and economic terms. This is advice from the Stanford-educated elite (and he repeatedly mentions his Stanford grad school education) for their peers. That doesn't mean the rest of us can't learn anything from it -- I'm in a position of enough power and freedom to recognize my opportunities to follow some of his advice -- but I don't see any recognition by McKeown that he's presenting a life plan for the professional upper class. His self-serving comparisons to the civil rights movement and Gandhi's anti-colonial projects suggest that he sees this book as something equivalent to a universal lifestyle guide. His citations also were rather appalling -- e.g., an interview from Oprah magazine and YouTube videos rather than sources that had passed some kind of editing process -- which I found wryly amusing in light of his highlighted Stanford credentials. I was glad to get to the end of the book (partly because it's somewhat repetitive) because my annoyance was so high. My overall reactions: 1) I need to pay much more attention to the need to pare down my list of tasks and how I lead projects, and 2) I have no interest in following McKeown further in terms of his writings, appearances, columns, etc.

  • Julie

    This book contains great advice for affluent people who don't fear losing their jobs when they choose really important things like planning their weddings (real example from the book) over doing tasks that are part of the job that they've been hired to do.

    One bit of advice is - go to the South of France for a year when your work adversely affects your health. Why didn't I think of that when I had surgery? Maybe you don't need to pay for electricity and housing if you live on the beach.

    Where is t

    This book contains great advice for affluent people who don't fear losing their jobs when they choose really important things like planning their weddings (real example from the book) over doing tasks that are part of the job that they've been hired to do.

    One bit of advice is - go to the South of France for a year when your work adversely affects your health. Why didn't I think of that when I had surgery? Maybe you don't need to pay for electricity and housing if you live on the beach.

    Where is the chapter on why it's important to choose to pick your kid up from school when she can't stop vomiting, rather than to finish bringing the payroll system back on line? Family first! Tough choices are for undeserving slackers. All those essentialists will figure out a way to get paid if it is important to them.

    The message of doing what is most important is a good one. Unfortunately, so many of the examples are so ludicrous that it's hard to take the author seriously.


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