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Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less Hardcover – Abridged, April 15, 2014
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"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 NYT bestseller “The Start-up of You”
"Greg McKeown’s excellent new book is a much-needed antidote to the stress, burnout and compulsion to “do everything,” that infects us all. It is an Essential read for anyone who wants to regain control of their health, well-being, and happiness."
-–Arianna Huffington, Co-founder, president, and editor in chief, Huffington Post Media Group”
“Essentialism holds the keys to solving one of the great puzzles of life: how can we do less but accomplish more? A timely, essential read for anyone who feels overcommitted, overloaded, or overworked—in other words, everyone. It has already changed the way that I think about my own priorities, and if more leaders embraced this philosophy, our jobs and our lives would be less stressful and more productive. So drop what you’re doing and read it..”
--Adam Grant, Wharton professor and bestselling author of Give and Take
“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, NYT 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
"While everyone else is still leafing through Lean In or Outliers, get a competitive jump on the new year with....Essentialism... learn how to identify the right things, focus on getting them done, and forget the rest. In other words, 'do less, but better.'” -Forbes
“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.
In a world of increasing chaos and complexity, the ideas and tools of Essentialism turn chaos into commitment and complexity into accomplishment. This timely, well written book is a must read and do for any employee, manager, leader, or parent whoever feels overwhelmed. It is truly the right book at the right time.
- Dave Ulrich, Professor, University of Michigan School of Business and Partner, the RBL Group
"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
"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 fine "the way of the essentialist" -Success Magazine
"Essentialism will give you richer, sweeter results and put you in real control, giving greater precision to the pursuit of what truly matters.” -Forbes.com
About the Author
Greg McKeown writes, teaches, and speaks around the world on the importance of living and leading as an Essentialist. He has spoken at companies including Apple, Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, Salesforce.com, Symantec, and Twitter and is among the most popular bloggers for the Harvard Business Review and LinkedIn Influencer’s group. He co-created the course, Designing Life, Essentially at Stanford University, was a collaborator of the Wall Street Journal bestseller Multipliers and serves as a Young Global Leader for the World Economic Forum. He holds an MBA from Stanford University. www.gregmckeown.com
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Really, there's only so many ways to present this information. Essentialism isn't new or groundbreaking. It doesn't have amazing insight. Still, it does present information which is valuable. If someone hasn't read about this before, maybe this book will be the one that helps them improve their life. It could also be that the book's system of having short, illustrative stories connects with an audience more clearly than other styles of presentation do.
Author Greg Mckeown provides a variety of systems to help the reader become an Essentialist. Keep a journal and watch for changes. Make sure you get ample sleep each night, because lack of sleep leads to issues with brain functioning. Consider each choice and if you don't enthusiastically want to say YES to it, then say no. The time you free up could lead to a perfect opportunity for you. Be present in the moment. Aim for small victories that then add up. Allow time for play - it keeps the brain elastic and creative.
His stories give examples and background for many of his instructions. He talks about an experiment with dogs where the dogs "learned helplessness" - they didn't even try to avoid electric shocks because they'd been taught they were just part of life. Greg explains that often humans are like this. We give up on even trying to change things.
Greg says, imagine you set a goal to drive across town without using the brakes. Sure, if you timed all the lights just right you could do it. But life isn't like that. Life has stoplights and cars pulling out and so on. The only way to maintain your goal would be to build in a buffer of space so that you could account for those things. Life is like that. You need a buffer to account for the normal issues.
So all of this is great. Again it's not new, but it's important. These are things we should keep in mind and practice. I'm a proponent of people learning and understanding these things.
Where I have an issue is with the many other things he snakes into his message which I feel are less healthy. And since they're all in this common "wrapper" they might be ingested by readers without thought.
For example, while sometimes he talks about donating things to charity, at other times he says to "throw away" what you don't want. He denigrates the idea of taking on charity work in a field we adore. Apparently only work you get paid for is worth your time. He praises parents who only allow their child to do "one big thing" in order to get into their chosen college choice. What if the kid also is interested in photography or softball, just at a lesser level? Apparently this is "bad" because the kid should only be allowed to do one thing.
Couple that with his statement that parents shouldn't do ANYTHING for their own creativity like attend book clubs or go golfing. They should spend their days 24x7 focused on their kids as an ideal. Now, I'm all for engaged parents. But I also think kids should have kid-time and parents should have parent-time to keep them all well rounded. If nothing else, a parent who takes an hour a day to celebrate their passion for watercoloring is providing a healthy role model to their child that they, too, should always have space for their own creativity and passion.
I dislike his use of "yes, but" language for turning people down. So many other books explain why this is poor phrasing. Also, he harps on the idea that if you say no to people that they'll grow to respect and love you. Sure, some might - but not all will. It's better to be realistic rather than idealistic in presenting information.
One of Greg's praise is for a person who says "productivity in my experience consists of NOT doing anything that helps the work of other people." What?? So even if I adore photography, I shouldn't participate in my local photography club, which I am just so joyful about, simply because it helps other?
Again, I say absolutely that much of the message here is healthy. But there's no need, in my mind, for these unhealthy messages to be mixed in. Will some readers skim over them? Certainly. But other readers won't. And it's like presenting a delicious dinner that has some pesticide-laced items in them. Some people won't eat those - but why in the world have them on the plate? Surely the product would be even better without those items.
So as much as I love the idea of Essentialism in general, this book in particular just has too much questionable material in it to recommend. It's not like it's a choice of this book or none others. It's a choice of this book or HUNDREDS of others which are just about identical. And with so many of those others being awesome, and covering the same material, I highly recommend the others.
As a final note, I was also flabbergasted that, even though I own the hardcover, I had to pay another $10.99 to get the Kindle copy. That's an outrageously high price for a Kindle version of a book that has no printing or other costs involved. The profit margin on that for the author is incredibly high. And, not only that, but the way the Kindle book is laid out is sub-optimal, from asterisks that aren't explained until many pages later to the page layout and the way jumps are handled. So it's not even that you're paying a premium for an extremely well designed Kindle option.
Initially the author goes on about how busy people often don't get that much done because they are distracted by unimportant tasks impeding their work on vital tasks by being distractions. This harks back to advice to separate your work into urgent, non-urgent, important and non-important - advice many have heard before.
The book, as these often are, is anecdotal. In most books, anecdotal tales consist of anonymous and probably apocryphal, such as, "Lisa S came into my office carrying her saxophone. She denied to me she had her sax with her which confirmed my diagnosis that she was musically delusional" and so forth.
Here, the tales are almost always attributed to not only an identifiable person, but one who is at least slightly a public figure - usually a player in the tech industry. The author clearly thinks we'll be impressed not only that he knows these folks but that their having simplified their lives will impress us to follow suit.
At several points, the author shows how employees, in an effort to become an 'essentialist' (the goal here) tells their boss something like, "No, I won't do as you say because I want to finish what I'm working on". This defiance, the author tells us, earned the respect of that boss with no adversity or blow back. I think that rather optimistic outside of the high tech Bentley / BMW / Audi / Benz circles this author seems to orbit about within.
The gist of the book is about 20 pages. Then we go on for another 80 or so repeating the same advice along with some more celebrity anecdotes. Finally, in the last maybe 30% of the book, the author branches off a bit into what an 'essentialist' is verus a 'non-essentialist' the latter is one who is still clogged up with unimportant tasks.
The contrasts have nothing to do with keeping your life simplified. They are just the author's sundry dewdrops of advice on how to conduct your life. Most make plenty of sense but they are clearly in the book only to make it long enough to not look silly.
Overall if the message is new to you, then the book is very worthwhile reading, but for most of us, we know this stuff and we're either doing it or finding some roadblock to being able to do it. Conditionally recommended.