I recently finished Greg McKeown’s book, Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, which is essentially about how to live a more purposeful, focused and intentional life. I’ve been experimenting with minimalism: actively reducing my number of possessions and the number of commitments in my life. As such, I was intrigued by the idea of essentialism. If you’re curious about what essentialism is, McKeown provides us with this explanation, “the basic value proposition of Essentialism: only once you give yourself permission to stop trying to do it all, to stop saying yes to everyone, can you make your highest contribution towards the things that really matter.” He sums this up nicely by stating, ”If you don’t prioritize your life, someone else will.” So true.
Essentialism was a quick read, filled throughout with stories, meaningful graphics and examples from the author’s personal life, but upon completing it I was somewhat at a loss about how to begin the process of determining what was essential for me. Defining the essential in my personal life was easy. But defining it for my life as a business owner was much more challenging. I returned to the book in search of a formula or list of questions for consideration that would lead me down the path of the essentialist. I didn’t discover any. Instead near the conclusion of each chapter McKeown highlights the characteristics of an Essentialist in comparison to a Nonessentialist. The comparisons are interesting, but didn’t provide me with the level of guidance I was looking for in creating my essentialist lifestyle. I needed to dig deeper into this book to find what I was looking for, or did I?
The book is divided into three parts: Part 1 encourages you to explore and evaluate which activities in your life are helping you make the highest possible contribution to your goal. Part 2 of the book “show[s] you how to eliminate the nonessential.” Part 3 is about creating “a system to make executing your intentions as effortless as possible.”
Upon rereading the book, in search of guidance, I noted that like many self-help books these days, much of what I deemed essential was included in the first chapter. In the first chapter McKeown summarizes essentialism by stating: “Essentialism is not about how to get things done; it’s about how to get the right things done” and “Essentialism means living by design, not by default.” I appreciated the truth in these statements. We find ourselves constantly on the go and busy, busy, busy, but are we accomplishing what matters most to us? Are we focusing on what is most important? You will benefit from reading this book if you can’t answer yes to these questions.
The strength of this book lies in raising awareness about essentialism and its benefits and it is for this reason that I recommend it. I appreciated the reminder that we have choices about what is essential in our lives. I spend a lot of time coaching people around this fact. I often have to remind myself of the same fact. Like any self-help book, the real benefit to the reader is in the application of the book’s principles. This book could have made a cleaner shift from awareness-raising to action-inducing if it had concluded each chapter or each part with a list of action steps or questions. This would have made my process of determining what was essential for me with respect to my business easier. Did I ever find the guidance I was looking for? Yes, it came in a list of three simple questions located in – yes, you guessed it – the first chapter.
In conclusion, I found it interesting that McKeown, when describing the process of transitioning to a life of essentialism, compared it to having a professional organizer assist you with discovering what is essential in your clothes closet – stating, “You can think of this book doing for your life and career what a professional organizer can do for your closet.” Luckily, as a professional organizer AND productivity coach, I’m qualified to assist individuals with both.
Have you read this book? If so, I’d love to hear your thoughts. If not, what questions or thoughts does this review raise for you about living a more essential life?