Better, Not More

What should you really be doing? To Greg Mckeown’s mind, this is an increasingly urgent question that each of us should answer…and abide by. He lays out his idea in the book Essentialism.

Who Is This?

Greg Mckeown is a time management specialist and researcher who runs a company called THIS.

What’s the Big Idea?

We simply can’t “do it all” or “have it all”. We have an infinite number of ways that we could spend our time, including many okay or even possibilities (and quite a number of bad choices, too!) but only a few best choices. These ideal activities are at the intersection of what we’re good at, what we feel passionate about, and what the world needs.

Essentialism is a disciplined mindset and set of practices. An Essentialist identifies these best choices for him- or herself, and takes consistent (daily, hourly, even minute by minute) actions to pursue those very specific aims. He or she has the self-control to disregard the unimportant multitude of distractions that beset us all.

My Take

A brilliant idea, a slightly underwhelming execution.

The concept of the book is fantastic. Not new – it’s a philosophical argument for the Pareto Principle with some suggestions on ways to find your personal 20% – but the idea’s framing makes it instantly accessible. I have found myself using the term “essentialism” in my day-to-day life to describe exactly what the book means by it: figuring out the few key activities that are worth my time.

And yet, that execution. This book feels flabby because it’s packed to the brim with personal anecdotes. Yes, they illustrate McKeown’s points. But he could have cut at least 25% of the stories and I wouldn’t have missed them. It’s a particularly amusing mis-step for a book about the essential few going overboard with unnecessary examples.

Essentialism is, additionally, more manifesto than road map. To be fair, I don’t know that Mckeown wanted to write a how-to guide. I was disappointed by the approach, however; the author makes a powerful case for WHY you should choose essentialism but doesn’t provide any systematic instructions on HOW to become an essentialist.

An important caveat: my expectations were particularly high for this book; half of the reason that I picked up Essentialism was because I’d read and loved Multipliers, which was co-written by Mckeown and Liz Wiseman. (And I’ll be reviewing it! Eventually! It’s on my ever-growing list.) My complaints shouldn’t lead you to think this was a bad book; it certainly wasn’t. I just wanted it to be fantastic, and it wasn’t that either.

Meant For

Perennial jacks- and jills-of all trades, multi-taskers, and people who can’t say no. People who feel busy yet underutilized, as if they’re not providing their top contributions.

Bottom Line

If you find the concept of essentialism interesting, I do recommend checking it out – it’s a quick read and gives you something to think about. Just be prepared to dig out a more practical action-oriented book for specific actions towards the goal of finding and focusing on your essentials.

Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg Mckeown – 272 pages – Published 2014 by Virgin Books

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