I’ve thoroughly enjoyed Essentialism, a book that encapsulates the simple yet powerful notion of “do fewer things, do them well.” There’s not much else to it. While this philosophy is straightforward, it’s the way Greg McKeown presents and reinforces this message that makes the book truly compelling.
Having Essentialism in physical form proved invaluable. I filled the margins with notes, worked through exercises alongside the text, and took the time to fully absorb the material as I progressed.
Essentialism is not a new concept, but the key takeaway is the author’s focus on truly internalizing the message. “Focus on things that matter, trim the excess” is a simple motto to remember, yet challenging to implement. Throughout my life, I’ve adopted many of essentialist practices in one form or another, from guarding my calendar to learning to say “no” to prioritizing essential projects. However, over time, clutter inevitably creeps in.
McKeown wisely focuses on routines that support the essentialist lifestyle, emphasizing the importance of dedicated time for reevaluation and recentering. He suggests establishing routines that prevent slipping into the frantic “onto the next thing” mentality so prevalent in the modern corporate world.
An analogy that particularly resonated with me is the closet metaphor. While you can declutter your closet once, it will eventually refill with clothes you don’t need. To keep your closet tidy, you need to have a regular time to reevauate your outfits, know where the nearest donation center is, how to get there, and what hours is it open. Similarly, McKeown provides methodologies to regularly reevaluate our priorities, supporting the rigorous process of regularly discarding the non-essential.
Essentialism extensively focuses on routines, practices, and exercises. The edition I read includes a “21-day Essentialism Challenge,” a helpful list of concrete activities corresponding to each chapter. While some prompts, like “take a nap” or “play with a child for 10 minutes” are a bit silly (where am I supposed to find a child on a Tuesday, Greg?), many steps effectively reinforce and integrate the material into your daily life, such as “design your ideal calendar,” “practice saying no gracefully,” or “schedule a personal offsite.”
The latter suggestion, scheduling a personal offsite, left a significant impression on me. It’s time dedicated to strategizing around your personal and professional goals. While I occasionally reflect on my career and life, McKeown elevates this practice into a ritual – a full day focused on self-reflection, planning, and deliberate action.
Essentialism is a helfpul book that prompts the reader to think about the routines one can put in place to change the way we approach life. It’s a reminder that less can indeed be more, and that by focusing on what truly matters, we can create a life of greater purpose, meaning, and fulfillment.