Review: Essentialism by Greg McKeown

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From the moment we wake up, we are bombarded with the message that “more is better.” We are given the dangerous idea that we can have everything, do everything, and be everything.  We are told that busy people are productive people, and productive people are valuable people.  We expend our energy and focus on a hundred different things, and then wonder why we are not succeeding at anything.

Enter “Essentialism” by Greg McKeown.  The main point of this book is: “less but better.” This book was like a breath of fresh air, and clearly communicated an idea that needs to be heard more.  His motto of “less but better,” stresses the importance of discerning the vital few from the trivial many.

“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?”

Greg McKeown

The power of choice is one that is often underutilized and under-appreciated.  Our obligation to say yes fills up our life with things that aren’t even important to us, because we don’t know how to say no.  Essentialism strongly encourages us to think carefully before we commit to anything, and to dare to say no to all but the most important things. “If it is not a clear yes then it should be a no.” (McKeown)

“To discern what is truly essential we need space to think, time to look and listen, permission to play, wisdom to sleep, and the discipline to apply highly selective criteria to the choices we make….these very activities are the antidote to the non-essential busyness that infects so many of us.  Rather than trivial diversions, they are critical to distinguishing what is actually a trivial diversion from what is truly essential.”

Greg McKeown

The “fear of missing out” is at direct odds with the idea of essentialism.  Essentialism takes a great deal of courage, the courage to say no to the “okay option” now, in order to be free to say yes to the best option later on.  We don’t need to experience everything, and in fact, we can’t.  So isn’t it better to be extremely selective about what we allow to fill up our lives and our minds and our day?  Essentialism celebrates the fact that we only get one life, so instead of wasting it on non-essential, trivial pursuits, we should choose the best option, we should think more carefully before jumping into things, and we should take time to really live in the here and now.

This book is far from theoretical.  In each chapter, the author outlines another step that contributes to essentialism, and then provides some solid examples of how you might apply these in your own life.

In conclusion, some of the main takeaway points from this book include:

*Less, but better.

*Have extremely well-defined goals

*Learn how to say no to all but the vital few

*Focus on the moment

Have you read Essentialism?  What do you think of the idea “less but better?”

Reading suggestions: If you read and loved Essentialism, you will probably enjoy “In Praise of Slowness” by Carl Honore, or

The Power of Habit” by Charles Duhigg


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