Essentialism – A Review

I reviewed Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, by Greg McKeown, for the November 2017 issue of Newsreel, an audio magazine for the blind, and it’s time to share my thoughts on it here for you.

Essentialism is a guide for figuring out what is truly necessary. Though not a Christian book, it’s the best self help book I’ve read in years. It helped me make a difficult, major decision I had been putting off.

Essentialism involves determining what is truly essential as opposed to the trivial. It’s not about getting more things done. Instead, it’s about getting the right things done.

One way to sum up the concept is the old saying, “Pick your battles.” Or, ask yourself the question, what is the best investment of my time and efforts? What is really essential?

Essentialism is about doing less to contribute more. In other words, less is better.

My late friend Gerald told me many times that we should all be more like cats. They don’t do much of anything, and they don’t care.

But essentialism isn’t about being lazy or irresponsible. And it’s not about unplugging from technology or living a minimalist lifestyle.

The truth is, you and I can’t fit everything into our lives we, or others, might like us to. We must make trade offs and tough decisions. We must learn to say “No” much more than we do.

The way of the essentialist is to follow the path of being in control of choices. We can enjoy the journey, not merely the destination. Believe it or not, success can distract us from focusing on the essential things that produce success in the first place.

McKeown scoffs at the notion that a person or a business can have multiple priorities. The fewer the priorities, the better. Considering the definition of the word, how about having only one priority?

The next time you’re tempted to multitask, keep in mind we cannot multi-focus. One of the tasks we engage in will not be our chief focus. Only one can be.

Throughout the book McKeown makes statements describing the contrast between the nonessentialist and the essentialist. As you might expect, the book is clear and poignant. Many of its points are worth mulling over to be sure they’re understood.

Chapters follow a progression based on key realities and the method for choosing to be an essentialist.

Essentialists must face three realities.

  1. We can choose how to spend our energy and time.
  2. Almost everything is noise. Few things are exceptionally valuable.
  3. Trade offs are a reality. We can’t have it all or do it all.

McKeown says the question isn’t how can we do it all. Rather, it is who will get to choose what we do and don’t do. When we forfeit our right to choose, someone else will choose for us.

That’s powerful, isn’t it? Why do we let others have so much control over us?

Acknowledging the three realities mentioned above leads to a three step system or method for becoming an essentialist.

  1. Explore. Discern the trivial many from the vital few.
  2. Eliminate. Cut out the trivial many.
  3. Execute. Remove obstacles and make execution effortless.

The book’s chapter topics include: choosing, discernment, play, sleep, saying No, clarifying purpose, uncommitting, setting boundaries, preparing for unpredictability, removing obstacles, taking advantage of small wins,the importance of routine, focus, and simplifying our lives. The appendix gives helpful tips for those in leadership positions.

It’s with good reason the subtitle of this book is “The Disciplined Pursuit of Less.”

I’m thankful McKeown’s book isn’t about hype or contrived motivation. It’s about narrowing life down to do–and be–what is most important.

Read it soon for yourself. It just might change your life.

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