The Disciplined Pursuit of Less
Life gets busy. Has Essentialism been gathering dust on your bookshelf? Instead, pick up the key ideas now.
We’re scratching the surface in this Essentialism book summary. If you don’t already have this New York Times bestseller, order it here or get the audiobook for free to learn the juicy details and support Greg McKeown.
1-Sentence Summary of Essentialism
Essentialism is a disciplined, systematic approach for determining where our highest point of contribution lies, then making execution of those things almost effortless
“[Essentialism] is a timely, essential read for anyone who feels overcommitted, overloaded, or overworked.”— Adam Grant, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Originals and Think Again
Are you trying to block out the noise and live your life with the absolute necessities?
If so, you aren’t the only one. Essentialism has become the new minimalism, and more people are picking it up.
With the rise of social media and the build-up of toxic productivity culture (or hustle porn), we’re looking for an escape. Luckily, Essentialism by Greg McKeown gives us that escape. Essentialism is a systematic, disciplined method for identifying our greatest areas of contribution and for making those activities nearly effortless.
In his book, Essentialism, Greg McKeown crosses philosophical theory with education theory to discuss how practicing essentialism can transform our lives.
Join us to learn more about the book and whether you agree or disagree with its key insights.
“Entrepreneurs succeed when they say ‘yes’ to the right project, at the right time, in the right way. To accomplish this, they have to be good at saying ‘no’ to all their other ideas. Essentialism offers concise and eloquent advice on how to determine what you care about most, and how to apply your energies in ways that ultimately bring you the greatest rewards.”— Reid Hoffman, co-founder of LinkedIn
About Greg McKeown
Greg McKeown is a writer, public speaker, and leadership and business strategist born in London. He graduated with an MBA degree from Stanford University after completing his undergraduate studies in communications and journalism at Brigham Young University.
Through his work with businesses around the world, McKeown focuses on essentialism. He helps companies eliminate extra noise by focusing only on what matters.
Famous for his minimalistic strategy, McKeown’s fame skyrocketed as a public figure when he started speaking on essentialist living and how it helped him professionally and personally.
With his professional experience and knowledge, McKeown has earned several honors. Most notably, the World Economic Forum inducted him into the Forum of Young Global Leaders in 2012.
StoryShot #1: Design a Place to Escape
First and foremost, you need a place to escape. Whatever place we choose will be our safe space.
These days, finding a space that’s your own is challenging. You’ll have to design it purposefully to make it happen.
As you’re choosing your space, you should be picky. Your area needs to be good enough to help you focus while completing your daily tasks.
Not just any space will do.
To focus correctly, we require a space that will support us. If you can’t concentrate in a busy room, don’t pick a busy room. If you need color on the walls, make it happen.
Having the right room for you will improve creativity while boosting productivity. With that in mind, it may take a while to build the space you want to use for your personal and professional projects.
The space that you decide on could be your home, the local coffee shop, your office, or somewhere else. There are no rules for what it has to look like or what it needs to be.
It’s your job to design your private room how you want to.
All you need to do is make sure you can think freely in the space. The room you choose should allow you to achieve your dreams without cluttering reality.
Finding your get-away room may be the first step to achieving what you want in life. Start thinking about what kind of vibe would motivate you.
StoryShot #2: Essentialists Have More Options Than Non-Essentialists
McKeown battles the widespread belief that essentialism leads to fewer options in life. He argues the opposite.
Non-essentialists get excited by many things, leading them to react to everything in life. These individuals become distracted by their pursuit of anything and everything. However, they don’t have the opportunity to explore all of these things. As a result, they end up exploring less often than essentialists do.
Essentialists go all out for the things that light a fire within them. They don’t focus on things that they care little about.
So, essentialists have more time to explore the things they’re in love with.
To make time for exploration, you must use the private room you’ve created. McKeown points to geniuses like Newton who quarantined inside his home for a year during the Great Plague. During this time, he formulated gravitational theory and became a famous mathematician.
We may need time and space to make some of our most significant discoveries. Spending time in this space may be the only way that we can unleash our creative minds.
As we venture deeper into essentialism, we need to spend time in our private rooms focusing on what we care about most.
Why would we spend our Saturday learning about something we only care 10% about? McKeown challenges us to follow the 90% rule. We should only put our energy towards things we care for at least 90%.
Only then can we become masters in what we want to know about.
StoryShot #3: If It Isn’t a Clear Yes, Then It’s a Clear No
McKeown picks apart our decision-making processes. Like the rest of us, he knows how indecisive we can be.
Often, we fall somewhere between ‘yes’ and ‘no’ on decisions we need to make. We want to avoid saying “yes” but we don’t want to rule it out either for fear of missing out altogether.
We should stop this back and forth. We should decide whether to say “yes” or “no”, unequivocally.
We can’t keep deciding on things half-heartedly. We’re either in or out. There’s no in-between with essentialism.
If you aren’t saying ‘yes,’ you’re saying ‘no’. It’s that simple.
We should also reconstruct the way we approach our decisions. Others may tempt us to say “yes” to everything if we have to decide on one answer.
Ask yourself these questions:
- What am I deeply passionate about?
- What taps into my talent?
- What meets a significant need in the world?
Applying more rigid criteria to our decision-making process will make it more likely for us to pick higher-level choices. If we challenge how we think about a question, we’re more likely to get a straight answer.
If someone asks you to do something you’re not interested in, your answer should be “no.” If someone asks you to do something that doesn’t fit your talents, the answer should be “no”.
Looking at things through a binary lens can help you decide faster. It also frees up time for things that matter to you.
StoryShot #4: Define Your Purpose in Life
Our life purpose seems to be the main plot for every self-help book out there. But that’s because it’s the most important thing you can do to help yourself discover who you are.
Find your life purpose, so you can work on that one thing. If you know that there’s one thing for you to do, why would you work on anything but that one thing for the rest of your life?
Many people find it helpful to create a mission statement for their lives. It may take a while to make, but this mission statement can help guide your decisions.
For example, your mission statement may be to help people live their lives to the max. With this mission in mind, you can decide what is and isn’t worth your time.
If you’re following this mission statement and someone wants you to help them start a soda company, you may find that this doesn’t align with your goals. So, you’d say no to the opportunity and keep moving until the right opportunity comes along.
As you’re practicing decision-making this way, you may find that you’re saying ‘no’ more often than ‘yes’, but that’s the point. You want to minimize the number of things you’re focusing on, so you can give more energy to a smaller list of things.
Putting ten items on your plate instead of forty can make a big difference. You’ll be able to give more of yourself to the things that matter.
StoryShot #5: Become A CEO of Your Life
McKeown asks you to become a CEO, but he isn’t talking about heading your own business (unless that’s your end goal in life). Quoting Jack Dorsey, the co-founder of Twitter, he asks us to become Chief Editing Officers in our own lives.
Chief Editing Officers are constantly assessing situations, cutting out unnecessary junk, and focusing on things that make sense.
That’s what you have to do in your life.
While discussing Chief Editing Officers, McKeown’s business background comes out. Quoting Jack Dorsey, the founder and former CEO of Twitter, he says that the primary job of a CEO in business is to be a Chief Editing Officer.
First, CEOs must consider trade-offs and what each would mean for an organization. We must think about potential exchanges and how they would better or worsen our lives.
Often, we ignore these trade-offs. We don’t think about how making other decisions may positively affect our lives.
Imagine if a business did this. Ignoring trade-offs could be detrimental and perhaps deadly for any business.
As essentialists, we have to consider trade-offs constantly. We’re aiming to maximize our lives using our interests. So, we have to consider what we want to give up to accommodate those interests in our lives.
Second, we must be ready to pivot our direction as new obstacles present themselves. If we’re planning to meet Goal A, we might have four smaller goals to accompany it.
But what happens if one of those goals falls through? In the proper CEO way, we need to remove or revise it and then keep moving.
This life editing is a natural part of essentialism. We must get used to cutting, revising, and correcting throughout our lives.
We rate Essentialism book 4.2/5.
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