A book review and summary of Essentialism by Greg McKeown

By 

Tim

 

Metz

 

on 

September 5, 2021

The 70s hit song "Life in the Fast Lane" depicts a couple seemingly living a glittering life of sex, drugs, and rock 'n roll. Their mantra? "Everything, all the time." Sadly, they're hospitalized and broke by the time they're old and reach the end of the song.

Their lives might have turned out differently had they read Greg McKeown's book, Essentialism. He explains the way of the Essentialist—the disciplined pursuit of less but better. "It's about making the trade-off between pursuing lots of good things OR a few really great things." With the ever-growing information overload and distractions many of us suffer from, his essentialist book from 2014 becomes more relevant every year.

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The Essentialist book cover.

Book summary: Essentialism essentials

The author makes a compelling argument to make "no" your default answer instead of "yes." Learn to focus on those few things which truly matter and where you can make an exceptional contribution with your talents and experience. Forget about everything else.

At first glance, all look important. In reality, there are only a few things of exceptional value, with most everything else being of far less importance.

The book offers clear guidelines and practical tips organized in phases—explore, eliminate, execute—to lead you towards the "Essentialist lifestyle." Such a life means listening, debating, questioning, and thinking before committing. You'll win back the investment of that time by only executing those projects and tasks in which you can make an exceptional difference.

One of the book's most valuable tips is to evaluate an option as follows:

  1. Think about the single most important criterion for your decision.
  2. Give it a score between 0 and 100 on that basis.
  3. If it's below 90%, don't do it.

A quote from entrepreneur Derek Sivers that's included in the book captures this approach in one sentence: "It's either HELL YEAH or no." But these words also capture the difficulty of essentialism and explain the book's subtitle: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less [emphasis mine].

Making a list of all the commitments in your life and choosing only the ones that get a 90% "hell yeah!" response requires enormous discipline. The number of items that don't make that threshold shocks most people who do the exercise. In the way of the Essentialist, all those commitments have to go. 😲

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Essentialism author Greg McKeown.

Three essential takeaways and quotes from Essentialism

Here are three quotes from the Essentialist book that encapsulate its most important takeaways.

1. Master the three core Essentialist truths

There are three deeply entrenched assumptions we must conquer to live the way of the Essentialist: "I have to," "It's all important," and "I can do both." [..] Replace these false assumptions with three core truths: "I choose to," "Only a few things really matter," and "I can do anything but not everything."

2. Pause before committing and default to no

We need to learn the slow "yes" and the quick "no."

3. Find the one thing you can truly excel at—your essential intent

If we could be truly excellent at only one thing, what would it be?

Essentialism, the antidote to everything all the time

Essentialism is an easy read full of practical tips you can immediately apply. If you find yourself living in the fast lane, struggling with too many tasks, projects, and other commitments, this book can save your life.

⭐️ Rating: 4/5
🛒 View or buy Essentialism on Amazon

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