Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg Mckeown


Do you feel like you have more to do than is humanly possible? This book may be for you. Greg Mckeown explores the practice of essentialism in his best selling book. This book isn’t about how to get more done in less time, time management or productivity. It is about getting the right things done. Simply put it’s about saying “no” to things that aren’t essential to what you really want and need to accomplish. At the core of it, Mr. Mckeown walks the reader through how to evaluate requests for your time and attention against what is important to you either personally or professionally. It’s not another task on your list to check off. It is a different way of getting things done that will, hopefully, make you feel less frazzled and more fulfilled.

Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less is structured in four parts. Part one is Essence. In this part of the book you will learn what essentialism is as defined by Mckeown. You will also discover how to prepare the mind to shift into essentialism through choice, discernment and trade-offs. Part two is Explore. Here you will learn tactics to differentiate the “trivial many from the vital few” through escaping, looking, playing, sleeping and selecting. In part three, Eliminate, Mckeown discusses how to go about eliminating that which is distracting by clarifying, daring, un-committing, editing and limiting. Lastly, in part four, we Execute. In this part you will discover how to set essentialism into motion by buffering, subtracting, progressing, flowing, focusing and being.

What Worked For Me

The book is easy to read and makes practical sense. The author cites many reasons why these techniques work and holds up several highly successful executives as examples. The chapters are relatively short, clear and concise. The average reader wouldn’t have a hard time grasping the concepts or even performing the recommended steps.

It validated many of my beliefs about managing my time and life, especially as a woman. I am very fond of the saying “no is a complete sentence”. I found there are many things I do that I don’t think I noticed I was doing but it was good validation to see them in the book. For example, when someone asks for help with something I ask questions to understand the time commitment and the requirements to understand if it’s something I can deliver. As women we can often feel or it is often expected of us to just say yes. Also in the book there are some things that I don’t do so well. I have lots of ideas about this website for example, and instead of focusing on one at time I focus on all of them and end up getting very little done.

Finally, sleep and play are important. In today’s society there is this perception that you have to be busy, all of the time. That if you get eight hours of sleep every night you’re somehow a failure. Or there is no time to relax or play. This is false, false, false. I’ve written about the importance of sleep and disconnecting (play). It is good to see this captured in the book and supported by rationale. The brain and body simply need time to regenerate. That is the way the brain and body are designed. When the limits are pushed you actually become less productive. You might be getting things done, but are they the right things? Are they done well?

What Didn’t Work For Me

There was nothing earth shattering revealed in the book. I think the book is mostly common sense. It just organizes that common sense in a way that resonates well. They are easy to understand steps but not new steps.

The premise is great unless your manager doesn’t think so. Mr. Mckeown cited many high level executives who have adopted essentialism. I’m curious if they were like that before ascending to the CEO of their respective companies. Some of the things he suggested you can probably do with your manager, such as having them prioritize your work load. For many people who work within a hierarchy they simply have to do what their boss says, or the President, or General Manager. It would have been helpful if some practical tips were provided for people at various levels of control over their work load.

I’m not sure this works for women in the workplace. Even though it validated my beliefs there is one huge fundamental bias this book doesn’t address, that women who say no are deemed difficult to work with. It doesn’t matter how they say no, or why they say no, it only matters that they say no. Additionally, if you’re a minority woman you have additional stereotypes heaped on top of being a woman. Women are expected to say yes. Even women feel guilty when they have to say no. I don’t believe women and men have different abilities to practice essentialism, I do believe that they would be perceived wildly different for practicing it. Again, it would have been helpful to have the author address that at some level.

The Verdict

Essentialism is a quick and easy read with valid points and easy to follow steps to focusing on the vital few instead of the trivial many. Where this book misses the mark for me though is it seems that it would benefit white males the most and black women the least. Primarily because of the resulting perception practicing essentialism would cause. A black woman would likely be seen as being difficult or “hard to work with” while a white male would be seen as courageous, focused and a leader. As such I would have liked to have seen more women executives put up as examples of essentialism.

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Nile Harris
Nile Harris, the Chief Chick, is a word weaver and dream believer with 20 years of experience in healthcare, finance, and education. This aspiring motivational speaker, TED presenter and LinkedIn Influencer is committed to valuing people, driving healthcare access and innovation, and weaving words that move people to action. Her views are her own.
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Genre: Business, Non-Fiction, Self Help
Subjects: Leadership, Management, Productivity

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