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Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less Hardcover – April 15, 2014
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“In this likeable and astute treatise on the art of doing less in order to do better...McKeown makes the content fresh and the solutions easy to implement. Following his lucid and smart directions will help readers find ‘the way of the essentialist.’”—Success
“Do you feel it, too? That relentless pressure to sample all the good things in life? To do all the ‘right’ things? The reality is, you don’t make progress that way. Instead, you’re in danger of spreading your efforts so thin that you make no impact at all. Greg McKeown believes the answer lies in paring life down to its essentials. He can’t tell you what’s essential to every life, but he can help you find the meaning in yours.”—Daniel H. Pink, author of To Sell is Human and Drive
“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/chairman of LinkedIn and co-author of the #1 New York Times bestseller The Start-up of You
“As a self-proclaimed ‘maximalist’ who always wants to do it all, this book challenged me and improved my life. If you want to work better, not just less, you should read it too.”—Chris Guillebeau, New York Times bestselling author of The $100 Startup
“Great design takes us beyond the complex, the unnecessary and confusing, to the simple, clear and meaningful. This is as true for the design of a life as it is for the design of a product. With Essentialism, Greg McKeown gives us the invaluable guidebook for just such a project.”—Tim Brown, CEO of IDEO
“In Essentialism, Greg McKeown makes a compelling case for achieving more by doing less. He reminds us that clarity of focus and the ability to say ‘no’ are both critical and undervalued in business today.”—Jeff Weiner, CEO, LinkedIn
“Essentialism is a powerful antidote to the current craziness that plagues our organizations and our lives. Read Greg McKeown’s words slowly, stop and think about how to apply them to your life—you will do less, do it better, and begin to feel the insanity start to slip away.”—Robert I. Sutton, Professor at Stanford University and author of Good Boss, Bad Boss and Scaling Up Excellence
“Essentialism is a rare gem that will change lives. Greg offers deep insights, rich context and actionable steps to living life at its fullest. I’ve started on the path to an Essentialist way of life, and the impact on my productivity and well-being is profound.”—Bill Rielly, Senior Vice President, Intel Security
About the Author
- Publisher : Currency; 1st edition (April 15, 2014)
- Language : English
- Hardcover : 272 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0804137382
- ISBN-13 : 978-0804137386
- Item Weight : 13.4 ounces
- Dimensions : 5.69 x 0.97 x 8.52 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #7,398 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
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Technology was supposed to make our working lives easier, and our workdays shorter. Two decades later, we are still waiting for promised spare time.
Author Greg McKeown describes a seminal experience that led him to a profound conclusion. He was in the maternity ward with his wife and newborn child. A colleague called and asked whether he planned to attend the meeting scheduled at that time, and he said yes. “To my shame, while my wife lay in hospital with our hours-old baby, I went to the meeting.” His colleague mention that the client would respect him for making the decision to be there, but the look on the client’s face showed little respect. “I had hurt my family, my integrity, and even the client relationship.”
(What is your story? Pause and recall one. It will make the solution this book offers so much more meaningful.)
The important lesson McKeown discovered from this experience was that if you do not prioritise your life, someone else will.
Many forces make this prioritization no easy matter for even intelligent, thoughtful, and capable people. The result is the remaining in the “death grip of the non-essentials.” One of the reasons for this is that our society punishes the good behaviour (saying no,) and rewards the bad behaviour (saying yes.)
At a more subtle level, there are two reason mentioned in the book that stood out for me. The first is that the success often distracts us from focusing on the essentials that were the reason for the success in the first place. The second is that we have so much choice that it overwhelms our ability to manage it. Psychologist point out that a glut of choices causes “decision fatigue” which reduces the quality of the decision we do make.
When the word “priority, ” first entered the English language in 1400s it was in the singular. Today, it has a plural form allowing people to talk of their top ten priorities! This is part of the reason we entertain the myth that you can have it all, you can have ten top priorities. With ten priorities, it is not surprising that we lose sight of everything that is meaningful and important, in business and our private lives.
We need to separate the essential from the non-essential only because we cannot meet all our commitments to work, friends, family, social causes, and the rest. The time required simply is unavailable. There are only 24 hours each day. That is it.
The basic proposition of Essentialism is that “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.” Essentialism is not simply a matter of saying “no” more often, or honing your time management skills. Rather, it is asking, “What is the most important thing I should be doing now?” It is all about how to get the right things done.
Mckeown captures the method he presents for becoming an Essentialist in the “wardrobe” metaphor.
Your wardrobe is cluttered and disorganized. You have difficulty finding clothes, and have no place for new ones. The Essentialist would address this problem in three parts.
The first is to “Explore and Evaluate." Rather than considering whether you might ever wear garment again in the future, ask more focused and stronger question: “Do I love this?” and “Do I look great in it?” and “Do I wear this often?” If the answer to this question is negative, put the garment into the black bag for delivery to a charity.
In your personal or professional life this question would be “Will this activity or effort make the highest possible contribution towards my goal?” As you work through this book, you will clarify what your goal is in the various aspects of your life.
The next step in wardrobe management is the “Eliminate” step. This is the step that prevents you having 10 top priorities or in term of the metaphor having a “probably should get rid of” pile. If you are not ready to put this pile into the black bag, you could ask this question: “If I didn’t already own this, how much would I spend to buy it?” The business equivalent is “If I didn’t have this opportunity, what would I be willing to do to acquire it?”
The Eliminate step is a critical part of the value of this book, with the most value coming from the methods. McKeown describes how to rid yourself of the non-essentials in a way that earns you respect from colleagues, management, and clients.
The third step in wardrobe management is to “Execute.” To do this, you need to decide on a charity that will be the recipient of the clothing, what time they are open, and to schedule that into your diary. Without the plan to see this through, they will return to your wardrobe, sooner or later.
There is a discipline required to be an essentialist, and some courage. Your work-life is not like a wardrobe. In your work-life, the clothes get out the black bag and back into your wardrobe without you doing anything. A schedule you set can be scuttled within 20 minutes of your arriving at the office. Even being able to say “no” well, requires courage.
Learning how to do less is the only way to get the maximum return on every irreplaceable moment of your life. Stephen Covey, clearly an Essentialist, put it this way: “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.”
Readability Light -+--- Serious
Insights High +---- Low
Practical High +---- Low
*Ian Mann of Gateways consults internationally on leadership and strategy and is the author of Strategy that Works.
"If you have a big presentation coming up over the next few weeks or months, open a file right now and spend four minutes starting to put down any ideas. Then close the file. No more than four minutes. Just start it."
" MIX UP YOUR ROUTINES It’s true that doing the same things at the same time, day after day, can get boring. To avoid this kind of routine fatigue, there’s no reason why you can’t have different routines for different days of the week. Jack Dorsey, the cofounder of Twitter and founder of Square, has an interesting approach to his weekly routine. He has divided up his week into themes. Monday is for management meetings and “running the company” work. Tuesday is for product development. Wednesday is for marketing, communications, and growth. Thursday is for developers and partnerships. Friday is for the company and its culture.9 This routine helps to provide calmness amid the chaos of a high-growth start-up. It enables him to focus his energy on a single theme each day instead of feeling pulled into everything. He adheres to this routine each week, no exceptions, and over time people learn this about him and can organize meetings and requests around it."
“In work, do what you enjoy. In family life, be completely present.”
“Mindfulness helps you go home to the present. And every time you go there and recognize a condition of happiness that you have, happiness comes.”
"The Prophet Muhammad lived an essential life that included mending his own shoes and clothes and milking his own goat and taught his followers in Islam to do the same."
Henry David Thoreau (who wrote, “I do believe in simplicity. It is astonishing as well as sad, how many trivial affairs even the wisest thinks he must attend to in a day; … so simplify the problem of life, distinguish the necessary and the real”).
"While other people are padding their résumés and building out their LinkedIn profiles, you will be building a career of meaning."
"The life of an Essentialist is a life lived without regret. If you have correctly identified what really matters, if you invest your time and energy in it, then it is difficult to regret the choices you make. You become proud of the life you have chosen to live."
"If you take one thing away from this book, I hope you will remember this: whatever decision or challenge or crossroads you face in your life, simply ask yourself, “What is essential?” Eliminate everything else."
Top reviews from other countries
1. I have become much better at saying no, but saying it nicely or without actually using the word!
2. I have become better at getting things done and prioritising what is and is not important to me (although that is still work in progress)
3. I have become better at time management.
4. I procrastinate less (not totally gone, but also work in progress)
All in all a very useful and thought provoking guide to help you take back control of areas of your life. It has certainly helped reduce my stresses and anxiety in life and I would strongly recommend reading if you are stressed or anxious.
"Charlie O. Simms taught a Journalism 101 class at Beverly Hills High School. He started... by explaining the concept of a "lead". He explained that a lead contains the why, what , when, and who of the piece. It covers the ESSENTIAL(my emphasis) information. Then he gave them their first assignment: write a lead to a story.
Simms began by presenting the facts of the story: "Kenneth L. Peters, the principal of Beverly Hills High School, announced today that the entire high school faculty will travel to Sacramento next Thursday for a colloquium in new teaching methods. Among the speakers will be anthropologist Margaret Mead, college president Dr. Robert Maynard Hutchins, and California governor Edmund 'Pa' Brown"
The students hammered away on their manual typewriters trying to keep up with the teacher's peace. Then they handed in their rapidly written leads. Each attempted to summarise the who, what where, and why as succinctly as possible: "Margaret Mead, Maynard Hutchins, and Governor Brown will address the faculty on ..."; "Next Thursday, the high school faculty will ..." Simms reviewed the students' leads and put them aside.
He then informed them that they were all wrong. The lead to the story, he said, was "There will be no school on Thursday."
"In that instant," Nora Ephron(of [Sleepless in Seattle] and [When Harry met Sally]) recalled, "I realised that journalism was not just about regurgitating the facts but about figuring out the POINT. It wasn't enough to know the who, what, when, and where; you had to understand what it MEANT. And why it MATTERED." Ephron added, "He taught me something that works just as well in life as it does in journalism." " p73-74
Disclaimer - I have not read a whole lot of management/self-improvement books, so I cannot say that I am a very good judge of the genre. There is a danger that this book is actually littered with tired old cliches that I hadn't noticed, in which case I shouldn't have bothered you with this. That said -
Self-improvement books are a strange breed - myself included, you so often see people who read one and then complain that the book only wrote about the really obvious things. In the same sense, however, homo sapiens are a strange breed who never quite do what they know to be the obviously good things for themselves. grin emoticon Enter, then, the study of management - the study on "coordination of the efforts of people to accomplish goals and objectives by using available resources efficiently and effectively". Sounds like self-improvement on a larger scale, but with the added benefit of providing results from well-designed research.
The author is a management consultant with an MBA degree from Stanford. Perhaps naturally, the book often reads like a business strategy book with plenty of case studies from the corporate world, but as Ephron says, those methods can easily be used for life in general. The book's message can be neatly summed up in one sentence - "Figure out what is really important and essential in your life, and eliminate everything else to focus your efforts and achieve maximum output/contribution to society". The rest of the book is just filled up by how to achieve that goal.
While 'the rest of the book' is coherently structured with a logical, well-suited flow and sensible, well-researched suggestions backed up by sociology/psychology research findings(these days it seems impossible to read something that doesn't quote [Flow] by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and [Thinking Fast and Slow] by Daniel Kahneman, although probably due to my reading interests. Perhaps I should just give up and add them to the reading list), some solutions that the author suggests will just sound implausible. One example is the importance of being able to say no to your boss so that you can concentrate on something more essential. Obviously, I cannot imagine myself doing so to my bosses, consultant surgeons. For some other solutions, I thought they can only be done when one is reasonably financially secure, so that he/she can take the risk/hit by cutting out/declining all the non-essential activities that regularly plague our lives. However, (as my stock-phrase goes) if we are to look at the moon instead of the finger pointing at the moon...
The part that really inspires me in this book is its single-minded pursuit and the determination for what constitutes the most important thing in our lives; what makes our lives meaningful for us(as illustrated in the above anecdote), and what will ultimately enable us to be useful to the rest of the humanity. Sure, it may not always be obvious to all of us, and the method of elimination the book suggests may not guarantee to lead us to an answer. In fact, our lives may quite possibly be meaningless! :-D Nevertheless, for me it is certainly worth a try.
The other aspects that left a strong impression for me was the authors repeated emphasis on how pursuing Essentialism is a choice, and the importance of EMOTIONAL(not intellectual) acceptance of the book's ideas for them to work - which is to say, as discussed at the beginning, it is not because we don't know what to do why we don't do them. There is always a choice, and we simply choose not to.
What worked better for me was Tony Crabbe’s Busy. This got more into the psychology of why people tend to overcommit, get distracted or avoid stuff in the first place. Tony Crabbe also uses coaching strategies to help the reader come up with their own solutions.
Sorry - Essentialism wasn’t for me! It may work for some though...