Thoughts from Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less

The message in some books resonates so completely that the book becomes a part of your intellectual resource. More than another book in your personal library, it becomes a compass point.

I’m on my third read of such a book: Essentialism by Greg McKeown. More accurately, the third round, since I read it the first time and then listened to the audio version the second and third times. McKeown’s crisp and deliberate British accent drives the message home, beyond what mere reading can do.

His is a voice that so exemplifies the message that listening to McKeown’s delivery is akin to injecting the essence of it straight into your bioneural network.

You feel it emotionally as much as you get it intellectually.

Which is important. We only act on what we feel. And we take the best actions when our feelings align with our intentions.

We are drawn to what we need.

My third go at Essentialism is down to one thing. I need its message.

Running a gallery in a massively disrupted retail environment while launching a series of books on creative spirit living while optimizing my health while maximizing family and friend time is . . . daunting. It can be WTF inducing. A bewildering competition of priorities that too often cancel each other out.

Maybe you are going through something similar in your own fashion. Too much calls at us these days. We also call on ourselves to take on too much. If so, you might benefit from reading Essentialism.  The subtitle says it all: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less.

It’s a relentless paring of inessentials to get at what is most essential for your life.

Here are some of Greg McKeown’s ideas. Just the kernels. Read the book for a full fleshing out.

— Chapter 7 is about play

A whole chapter. My heart beat a little quicker the first time I came upon this section.

I’ve long thought down time was as important to the well lived life as work and relationships. McKeown gets that. He makes play the merry soul of the philosophy of Essentialism. Without play, without relaxation, your brain and body burn out.

If you want to lead an effective, idea-oriented life, downtime is key. Sleep, play, renewal, movement, nothin’ time . . . that’s what we’re talking about. I love this man.

— “They would rather be understaffed than hire the wrong person quickly.”

— “If it isn’t a clear yes then it’s a clear no.”

McKeown riffs of the Derek Sivers formula: If it isn’t a Hell Yeah then it’s a No.

— “An essential intent is both inspirational and concrete. Both meaningful and measurable.”

— Essentialism asks two things of you:

1) “What is the one thing you can get really good at that will make an impact?”

The author quotes Jim Collins:

“If there’s one thing you are passionate about that you can be best at — that’s what you should be doing.”

2) “How do you know when you have succeeded?”

— Essentialists create space to think, explore, play.

There it is again!

Most books on focus and productivity ignore what makes life worth living: relationships, time to explore, optimal health. They ignore the other factors leading to great vitality. Not McKeown. Oh, I love him so 😉

“A non-essentialist is too busy doing to think about life.”

— “An essentialist creates space to escape and explore.”

— An essentialist starts small and early.

— “A routine makes success the default result.”

“Routine is one of the most powerful tools for removing obstacles. Without routine the pool of non-essential distractions will overpower us. But if we create a routine that enshrines the essentials we will begin to execute them on autopilot.”

“Instead of consciously having to pursue the essential, it will happen without our having to think about it. We won’t have to expend precious energy every day prioritizing everything.”

“We must simply spend a small amount of initial energy to create the routine, and then all that is left to do is follow it.”

— “When there is a high level of clarity, people thrive.”

— An essential intent (a purpose statement) includes:

A concrete and inspirational intent

And a decision that eliminates 1,000 later decisions

— Ask . . .

If I could become truly great at only one thing, what would it be?

And . . .

How will I know when I’ve succeeded?

— For good measure — and perhaps to compete with Marie Kondo — he throws in a question about how to manage your closet:

“Do I absolutely love this?”

Instead of:

“Is there a chance I’ll wear this in the future?”

— The same question applies to all things in life.

— Explore, eliminate the non-essential, execute

— The word priority for 500 years was singular only.

There was no such things as priorities, as there could be only one.

— “If it isn’t a clear yes then the answer is no.”

McKeown goes back to this idea throughout the book, so it bears repeating here too.

— Essentialists ask:

What can I go big on?

Non-essentialists ask:

How can I do it all?


Note: Naughty
Note: The mark of a Master