Books : reviews

Greg McKeown.
Essentialism: the disciplined pursuit of less.
Virgin Books. 2014

rating : 3.5 : worth reading
review : 19 November 2016

— Have you ever found yourself stretched too thin at home or at work?
— Have you ever felt both overworked and underutilised?
— Do you ever feel busy but not productive?
— Do you ever feel like you're constantly in motion, but never getting anywhere?

— If you answered yes to any of these, the way out is becoming an Essentialist.

This is not a time-management strategy, but a systematic discipline you apply every time you are faced with a decision. By forcing us to apply a more selective criteria for what is essential, the pursuit of less allows us to regain control of our choices so we can make the highest possible contribution towards the things that really matter.

Modern life offers us an abundance of opportunities; we cannot hope to say yes to them all, yet we often try to do so. We end up over-stretched, trying to do too much, so doing a lot poorly, rather than a little well.

McKeown's mission is to help us all improve our lives: decide what is essential, what really matters, and say no to the rest. The aim is to do fewer things, but do them better, and enjoy them more, whether at work or at home.

There are two parts to this. The first is the decision. Everything is a tradeoff; everything we say yes to has an opportunity cost: doing X stops us doing Y, or makes us do Y less well. Which is more important? If we don't make the choice, it gets made for us by default.

The second is possibly harder: learning to say no. We often agree to things because we don't want to upset or inconvenience the asker. But saying yes, and failing to deliver, is more problematic. And saying nothing, and just going along with the flow, is a huge time sink.

How do you say no if the asker is your boss at work? Well, try saying "Yes, I'm happy to do X. But if I do, I won't have time to do Y as well. Which one is your priority?" (Although I'm sure there are bosses that won't work with!)

There's more good stuff in the book, more steps in the process, more detail on how to execute the ideas, but these are the essential points. It's up to you to decide whether you want to read it, or do something else.