essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less - by Greg McKeown

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“The way of the Essentialist means living by design, not by default. Instead of making choices reactively, the Essentialist deliberately distinguishes the vital few from the trivial many, eliminates the nonessentials, and then removes obstacles so the essential things have clear, smooth passage. In other words, Essentialism is a disciplined, systematic approach for determining where our highest point of contribution lies, then making execution of those things almost effortless. “

Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less is a nonfiction, self-help book that takes goal/objective related decision-making processes from the business world to everyday life. McKeown breaks down concepts for eliminating trivial decisions into four main steps that all conveniently begin with the letter “E”.

In this book, McKeown lays out a framework for proactively exercising Essentialism (like Minimalism?) as a continuous and mindful lifestyle. He presents the idea of being as careful and thrifty with our time as we would be with our money. No doubt, our time is more valuable than money and we all have an equal amount each day.

Overall, I did like this book. I read it quicker than I read most books. I gave this book 3 stars because I felt that there really were only a couple of important points that I took from the book and the majority of the book seemed to rehash a lot of the same points over and over. This book could have just been wound down into an essay. For a book where the main concept is about eliminating nonessentials, it is a bit ironic that it needed to be dragged out like this. Also, the scribbly figures strewn throughout gave me the idea that the author was assuming that I was dumb.

I heard about this author and book on Tim Ferriss’s podcast, The Time Ferriss Show, Episode #355 (January 09, 2019). Whenever I hear about a book from a podcast interview, I’m always afraid that the book will just be a longer version of what was already stated in the interview. In this case, that was true. However, the book did have a couple more important points than the 2 hours 16 minute long interview.

McKeown presented some interesting points that I identified with. These ideas line up with Stoicism and Minimalism which seem to be gaining popularity in North American culture. I like his idea of actively researching alternatives when making a decision. What are you saying ‘no’ to in order to say ‘yes’ to something? Also, the importance of performing consistent actions that promote good health such as getting a good amount of sleep and spending more time with loved ones. I have definitely noticed in my life that people tend to associate being overly busy with self-importance to the degree that it is unhealthy.

There are a number of things that I did not like about this book (aside from the nonessential length). There was a lot of repetition of main points and phrases. I got the idea the first time. As well, this book is littered with cliché anecdotes of commonly-referred-to business icons who exercised these virtues. I kept getting a nagging feeling in the back of my mind of the contradiction between this essentials-driven decision-making lifestyle that seems to be counter to consumerism yet holding Silicon Valley icons as the standard to live up to. I found these examples shallow and unrelatable.

This book lacked the real-life exercises that would have made it more applicable to daily life. I kept expecting a worksheet or rating system or something that the reader could use practically. Maybe this is presented in other content. I also found the oversimplification of Essentialism vs. Nonessentialism a bit problematic. Likely, there is a gradient between the two and the reader would fall somewhere on the scale. Knowing where you are on the scale and then developing steps to improve would be much more helpful than the tables representing the extremes.

If you find this book interesting, here are a number of other books that I have read recently that you may also be interested in:


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Joe Enns

Joe Enns Art is a website showing the oil paintings of Joe Enns, an Oil Painter and Fisheries Biologist located on Vancouver Island, British Columbia and the Pacific Northwest. This website is dedicated to showing the beauty of the natural world, developing oil painting skills, as well as, fisheries and stream conservation and restoration.