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Book review: "Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less"

The book Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, by Greg McKeown, carries a very important message: you shall not seek to do more, but rather to do less things, but do the ‘right’ ones. When people succeed in life (even moderate success), they are encouraged to do more and hence de-focus. In general, our society promotes the concept of doing more and more, which makes it hard for us to just say ‘no’ to additional commitments, even if those commitments invoke activities are not within our priorities. As Greg McKeown nicely puts it: if you don’t prioritize your life, someone else will.

Here are some key points I took from this book:

  • In our lives, almost everything is worthless, but a few things are very valuable, and we need to first and foremost define what these are.

  • “…to operate at your highest level of contribution requires that you deliberately tune in to what is important in the here and now.”

  • To decide what is the most important activity to tackle, it’s useful to ask yourself what is the very most important activity right now, not in a week and not in an hour. I found this to be a clever thought experiment.

  • People who are non-essentialists try to avoid tradeoffs, i.e., they try to do it all. On the other hand, essentialists feel comfortable with tradeoffs as part of life, and see life as a series of decisions in which they choose which problems they rather have. Essentialists see trade-offs as an inherent part of life; and not even a negative part.

  • An essentialist’s life is not as much about crossing items off a to-do list, but more about carefully thinking what items get in that to-do list in the first place.

  • A good idea (taken from Jack Dorsey, the cofounder of Twitter and founder of Square) is to define a ‘theme’ for every weekday, and have a routine for each day, by its theme.

Much like other books of this type, this book could have been made shorter. The message is very clear, so the first few pages get you convinced, and the remainder of the book preaches to the converted. That said, this length is not at all useless. It teaches many aspects and gives many tips for deploying essentialism in different areas of life. People who are really into it, as myself, would enjoy reading it all. Readers who only want the highlights could read something shorter on the topic instead, or listen to Greg speak about this topic in one of his interviews (see below).

The book is also filled with many tips for living ‘properly’, some of which are not sufficiently linked to essentialism per-se. It might be that I missed the connection, or that the connection is slightly indirect, but then again, those tips are valid and useful nonetheless, so I honestly do not mind if they fall squarely into the core definition of essentialism or not.

Apparently, Greg McKeown has become a rock-star. He was interviewed by Jordan Harbinger (here), and by Tim Ferriss (here). I personally liked the Jordan Harbinger interview better.


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Hadi on :

Hagai, Good (essentialistic) review. Especially liked Dorsey’s thematic day pointer. Sharing with the team.

Keep the reviews coming, -Hadi

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