Essentialism by Greg McKeown

Greg McKeown is a speaker, bestselling author, and host of a popular podcast. He has been featured in The New York Times, Fast Company, Fortune, HuffPost, Politico, and Inc.; is among the most popular bloggers for LinkedIn; and has been interviewed on NPR, NBC, and Fox and on Steve Harvey and more. He is a Young Global Leader for the World Economic Forum. Originally from London, he now lives in California with his wife, And four children.

Essentialism is not about how to get more things done; it’s about how to get the right things done. It doesn’t mean just doing less for the sake of less either. It is about making the wisest possible investment of your time and energy in order to operate at our highest point of contribution by doing only what is essential.

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.

Today, technology has lowered the barrier for others to share their opinion about what we should be focusing on. It is not just information overload; it is opinion overload.

But when we try to do it all and have it all, we find ourselves making trade-offs at the margins that we would never take on as our intentional strategy. When we don’t purposefully and deliberately choose where to focus our energies and time, other people—our bosses, our colleagues, our clients, and even our families—will choose for us, and before long we’ll have lost sight of everything that is meaningful and important.

What if the whole world shifted from the undisciplined pursuit of more to the disciplined pursuit of less…only better?

What if we stopped celebrating being busy as a measurement of importance? What if instead we celebrated how much time we had spent listening, pondering, meditating, and enjoying time with the most important people in our lives?

Essentialism is not a way to do one more thing; it is a different way of doing everything. It is a way of thinking.

When we forget our ability to choose, we learn to be helpless. Drip by drip we allow our power to be taken away until we end up becoming a function of other people’s choices—or even a function of our own past choices.

Do setbacks often only strengthen our resolve to work longer and harder? Do we sometimes respond to every challenge with “Yes, I can take this on as well”? After all, we have been taught from a young age that hard work is key to producing results, and many of us have been amply rewarded for our productivity and our ability to muscle through every task or challenge the world throws at us. Yet, for capable people who are already working hard, are there limits to the value of hard work? Is there a point at which doing more does not produce more?

Essentialists see trade-offs as an inherent part of life, not as an inherently negative part of life. Instead of asking, “What do I have to give up?” they ask, “What do I want to go big on?” The cumulative impact of this small change in thinking can be profound.

The book Essentialism goes beyond preaching about the benefits of thinking deeply about what is important. The author creates a discipline and a series of daily habits that act as an antidote to the gravitational pull of trying to do too much.