Book Review: Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, by Greg Mckeown

This is my non-fiction pick for the quarter and it definitely met expectations. It seems that for many, doing more and being increasingly busy is a fail proof way to find success. The ideas inside this book argue that this philosophy is not only wrong, but it can actually prevent success. It comes down to a forest and trees problem. If you are too caught up in the trees, meaning meaningless or unproductive tasks, it’s all too easy to not see the forest, or the big picture. For someone who constantly feels that push to do more, this is a welcome message.

What is Essentialism?

Put simply, essentialism is a conscious effort to pare down efforts and activities so that you spend your energy only on projects that are meaningful and help make progress towards a goal. This means only taking on projects and assignments that make sense for you both personally and career wise.

Mckeown uses the example of life being like a well-organized closet. When a closet is cluttered and full of clothes that we don’t love or don’t fit, it’s hard to make decisions on what to wear. It’s hard to find what we need. Facing that mess is daunting. To organize a closet that’s stuffed to the roof with needless items requires lots of decision making and time. Items that are no longer needed must be disposed of. This requires time and planning or they might end up in bags somewhere else, like the basement.

Once the closet is clean, it is so much easier to see what is available and what we need to replace. Less time is made daily on deciding what to wear leaving more time and energy for more important tasks. However, a system needs to be put in place to maintain this clean space or in a matter of months, the closet will be cluttered and need to be cleaned out again.

We must regard our lives much like a closet. If we know exactly what our style is, and what fits us, it’s easy to choose the outfits and activities that work for what we are trying to achieve. This is the same as making smart goals that are measurable and on a time table. If we don’t know what we are trying to achieve, then it’s impossible to decide what activities and efforts will get us there.

By learning what is essential for us personally, we can easier choose what we need to do, or need to say no to. Often saying no can be the hardest part. However, with time, being clear on your needs and being understanding of the needs of other can only garner more respect.

My Review

This was a timely message for me. I suffer from “got to do everything” syndrome and very rarely say no to projects unless it clearly doesn’t fit my schedule. Reading the different examples of successful people who employed these ideas helped reinforce the idea that more isn’t better and quality is always better than quantity.

The book is well written, insightful, and full of great examples. Like most non-fictions, it does tend to repeat itself to emphasize the main points and themes. This comes with the territory and is expected, so I can’t fault it. Since I was listening to the audiobook while doing mindless chores, the repetition was helpful.

Recommendations

For all of those overachievers out there who are killing themselves to get ahead, this is a must read. It teaches the importance of prioritizing efforts and being mindful of the big picture, which is extremely helpful for those who always find there is too much on their plate.

This book was intended for business people and those who are working to get ahead in their careers or entrepreneurial endeavors. Which means that those of us not working in a corporate atmosphere might not relate to the majority of the examples, myself included. I don’t work in a corporate environment, but I do manage lots of details and schedules and am working to elevate my writing career one task at a time.

This book might be super frustrating for those of us who can’t be in charge of their schedules and plans, such as full-time parents with young children and babies in the home. That said, there are some important ideas that are beneficial to them as well, such as finding mindfulness in each task and being present.

I give Essentialism 4/5 stars for reminding me that there is power in simplicity.


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