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Review: Essentialism by Greg McKeown

Judd Lyon
Judd Lyon
Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown

How do we "discern the vital few from the trivial many?" That's what this book attempts to answer. It does an admirable job doing so, this book's popularity is well-deserved.

In an era full of a productivity hacks it's refreshing to read about stepping back and giving yourself time and permission to explore what's important.

The author references interesting examples of focusing on what's important. These include Michael Phelps "videotape", the secret behind Highland High School's rugby dynasty, and the importance and skills of editors.

The key things I learned from reading this book

  1. If you aren't serious about setting your priorities then the world will set them for you.
  2. Give yourself more time to think deeply about your options. Then make a decision and execute like hell.
  3. Do fewer things, and do them better. Deeper, not wider.
  4. Becoming an essentialist is about elimination and saying no. Saying no may feel uncomfortable but not only is it helpful to you but it's more respectful of other's time and feelings.
  5. Most things don't matter and the world is full of noise. You won't miss much by tuning it out.
  6. Essentialism is being deliberate and disciplined in how you evaluate trade-offs.

A sampling of my favorite passages

Dieter’s design criteria can be summarized by a characteristically succinct principle, captured in just three German words: Weniger aber besser. The English translation is: Less but better. A more fitting definition of Essentialism would be hard to come by.
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.
Our options may be things, but a choice—a choice is an action.
If you believe being overly busy and overextended is evidence of productivity, then you probably believe that creating space to explore, think, and reflect should be kept to a minimum. Yet these very activities are the antidote...
Our highest priority is to protect our ability to prioritize.
Here’s a simple, systematic process you can use to apply selective criteria to opportunities that come your way. First, write down the opportunity. Second, write down a list of three “minimum criteria” the options would need to “pass” in order to be considered. Third, write down a list of three ideal or “extreme criteria” the options would need to “pass” in order to be considered. By definition, if the opportunity doesn’t pass the first set of criteria, the answer is obviously no. But if it also doesn’t pass two of your three extreme criteria, the answer is still no.
The Latin root of the word decision—cis or cid—literally means “to cut” or “to kill.”
When other people are saying yes, you will find yourself saying no. When other people are doing, you will find yourself thinking. When other people are speaking, you will find yourself listening. When other people are in the spotlight, vying for attention, you will find yourself waiting on the sidelines until it is time to shine. While other people are padding their résumés and building out their LinkedIn profiles, you will be building a career of meaning. While other people are complaining (read: bragging) about how busy they are, you will just be smiling sympathetically, unable to relate. While other people are living a life of stress and chaos, you will be living a life of impact and fulfillment. In many ways, to live as an Essentialist in our too-many-things-all-the-time society is an act of quiet revolution.
The second is the pathetically tiny amount of time we have left of our lives. For me this is not a depressing thought but a thrilling one. It removes fear of choosing the wrong thing. It infuses courage into my bones. It challenges me to be even more unreasonably selective about how to use this precious—and precious is perhaps too insipid of a word—time.
“What is essential?” Eliminate everything else.