Ever since I heard about Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown, I was interested in reading it. I finally got around to it, and I was not disappointed!

There’s so much in the book, it’s impossible to review it all here. But here are some of my favorite thoughts.

McKeown describes the premise of Essentialism this way …

only once you give yourself permission to stop trying to do it all, to stop saying yes to everyone, can you make your highest contribution towards the things that really matter.

McKeown highlights the phrase, “Less but better” to describe the way of the Essentialist.

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. … It is about pausing to constantly 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.

We all have many options, and many of us try to do it all, or at least as much as we can. McKeown states, “The way of the Essentialist rejects the idea that we can fit it all in. Instead it requires us to grapple with real trade-offs and make tough decisions.”

McKeown asserts that Essentialism …

is a discipline you apply each and every time you are faced with a decision about whether to say yes or whether to politely decline. It’s a method for making tough trade-offs between lots of good things and a few really great things. It’s about learning how to do less but better so you can achieve the highest possible return on every precious moment of your life.

Many of us live with three assumptions …

  • “I have to.”
  • “It’s all important.”
  • “I can do both.”

McKeown suggests replacing these false assumptions with “three core truths” …

  • “I choose to.”
  • “Only a few things really matter.”
  • “I can do anything but not everything.”

McKeown warns, “When we forget our ability to choose, we learn to be helpless.”

Being an Essentialist requires the ability to say no, even to good things. McKeown notes, “saying yes to any opportunity by definition requires saying no to several others.” He argues …

Many capable people are kept from getting to the next level of contribution because they can’t let go of the belief that everything is important. But an Essentialist has learned to tell the difference between what is truly important and everything else.

Becoming an Essentialist requires making trade-offs.

Essentialists see trade-offs as an inherent part of life, not 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.

McKeown discusses some important disciplines like focus, play, and sleep.

We must make time and space to focus. McKeown argues …

the faster and busier things get, the more we need to build thinking time into our schedule. And the noisier things get, the more we need to build quiet reflection spaces in which we can truly focus.

McKeown emphasizes the role of play. He suggests …

play is essential in many ways. … play has the power to significantly improve everything from personal health to relationships to education to organizations’ ability to innovate. … play broadens the range of options available to us.”

Play is also “an antidote to stress.”

Sleep is important, as well. “Essentialists … see sleep as necessary for operating at high levels of contribution more of the time.”

McKeown contends, “We aren’t looking for a plethora of good things to do. We are looking for the one where we can make our absolutely highest point of contribution.”

I love the statement McKeown makes toward the end of the book. He asks …

If you take one thing away from this book, I hope you will remember this: whatever decision or challenge or crossroads you face in your life, simply ask yourself, “What is essential?” Eliminate everything else.

So, what is essential for you?

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