Book Review: Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less

There is one book that entrepreneurs have recommended more than any other book on Entrepreneurs on Fire. That book is Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less* by Greg McKeown. Essentialism focuses on removing the non-essential elements from your life so that you can pursue what is important. I was able to walk away with many ideas that I will be implementing as I reduce the number of things that I am working on.

I picked up this book in part because I heard it reference so often on Entrepreneurs on Fire, but also to complete a challenge from Modern Mrs. Darcy’s reading challenge. The challenge tasked me to read a book with a reputation for being un-put-down-able. I don’t know if this book was ” un-put-down-able ” but it did have a very positive reputation among the entrepreneurs who referenced it.

This book has 272 pages and 20 chapters arranged in four parts. The major parts include:

  • Essence
  • Explorer
  • Eliminate
  • Execute

As McKeown began the book he talked about what essentialism was. One of the points that stuck with me was that if we are focusing on many tasks, we are only making incremental progress on those tasks. Whereas, if we are pursuing only one task, we can make a significant amount of progress.

Rather than divide our energies among many tasks, McKeown recommended focusing on a smaller subset. This means that we have to be very selective of the tasks that we want to pursue. This means we have to turn down tasks even though they may look enticing but are not moving our goals forward.

Because we say yes to so many things, we spread ourselves so thin. We cannot give our best effort to all those things. It is not possible to do it all.

Essence

In this particular section, McKeown focused on the importance of choosing the activities you wish to pursue. This means turning down activities that are not helpful to achieving your goals. He also emphasized the need to be selective in deciding which activities will produce the greatest results. And pursue those.

Explore

In the explore section, McKeown provided many ideas to help you get away so that you can look at different options and choose the correct one. He recommends blocking out time so that you have time to think and explore new ideas. McKeown emphasized the importance of reading, which I’m a huge fan of. He also encouraged the use of a journal to capture ideas. I have a bullet Journal that I use as well as other journals that I’m experimenting with. I am trying to better program my day to get more results. I need to actually start using these journals more. Another idea shared is management by walking around (MBWA). This means that you need to get out from behind your desk to go out into the field to see what is going on. This will help identify your priorities. McKeown also has chapters on the importance of play and sleep. Again, these are tasks that are important for productivity.

One of the quotes that I’ve heard quite often is “if it is not a hell yes then it’s a no.“ It is attributed to Derek Sivers but also highlighted in Essentialism.

Eliminate

In this section, McKeown focused on ways we can cut non-essential tasks from our daily life. He noted that in every job, we can find ways to be busy, but that doesn’t mean we are productive. One way of becoming more productive is to clarify what we are actually working on and when we will finish it.

McKeown also provided strategies for being able to say no. He said this is difficult in the beginning but is essential to be productive, especially when we are giving a reluctant yes. Once again, “if it is not a hell yes then it’s a no.“

“Sunk-cost bias is the tendency to continue to invest time, money, or energy into something we know is a losing proposition simply because we have already incurred, or sunk, a cost that cannot be recouped” (McKeown, 2014, p. 146). We need to learn when to cut our losses even though we have made an investment. McKeown provided the number of strategies to be able to cut unnecessary tasks and items out of your life.

For everything from writing to filmmaking, producing a better product requires cutting things out. To be more productive requires eliminating non-essential tasks that are distracting from the best service possible.

Execute

To provide the best service possible McKeown offers different strategies. One strategy is to create a buffer. McKeown noted that we are not very good at estimating the amount of time something takes. By buffering in time to the schedule we can adjust when things don’t go right.

We also need to look at our systems and remove barriers where there are bottlenecks. Additionally, we need to celebrate wins and build upon wins as we move towards our goals. By looking at our systems, processes, habits, and routines, it is possible to create mechanisms that lead to success. We can analyze all these different systems for bottlenecks, which will lead to improvement.

Essentialism is another book in my exploration on how to be more productive yet happier with what I do. A lot of the strategies that I picked up in Essentialism tie into other books that I’ve read in a similar vein such as The One Thing, The 12-Week Year, and The 5 AM Miracle. If you feel that you’re not being as productive as you should, perhaps you have taken on too many things. I would definitely recommend reading Essentialism so that you can find what is essential in your life and remove non-essential things that are preventing you from your success. This is definitely a book I would recommend to others.


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