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Book Review: Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg Mckeown
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Book Review: Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg Mckeown - Executive Leadership Articles

Book Review: Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg Mckeown

Executive Leadership Articles

Book Review: Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg Mckeown

“Have you ever found yourself majoring in minor activities?” asks Greg Mckeown in Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less (Crown, 2014). In today’s hyperconnected, multitasking world, are you spread so thinly that you can’t devote quality time or quality anything to any one pursuit? Mckeown says this is what the Non-Essentialist’s life is like, suggesting 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.”

First by identifying your most “essential intent,” then exercising your freedom of choice to say no to those things which do not contribute to the essential intent (and yes to those things which do contribute), you may at first find yourself resented by those whose requests you deny. But Mckeown says those same people will then respect you, especially when they see the focus and attention you pay to those things that truly matter.

If it all sounds like an extremely difficult shift in mindset, Mckeown sympathizes, and he illustrates his understanding with relevant, inspiring anecdotes of others who have succeeded and failed (including himself on both counts) at choosing to pursue the Essentialist life. He adds practical strategies for learning to say no, in a whole chapter devoted to “the power of a graceful no,” including some very specific tools for your “no” repertoire, such as “let me check my calendar and get back to you” and “the awkward pause.

In case you’d like to be pointed toward some of the things that contribute to your essential intent, several chapters are aimed at what might be called the essentials of your essential intent. The author makes the case for getting lots (and lots) of sleep, for taking time to play, for thinking first and then speaking, and for applying the power of “extreme criteria” to decisions about how you will spend your time and energy.

More than a book about finding balance in your life, Essentialism’s aim is to change the way you see the world around you and the many distractions that surround us all. Although it is not an overtly spiritual book (or approach), there is an undeniable philosophical (and not merely practical) bent to his argument, and Mckeown cites the teachings of several spiritual leaders, quoting the likes of Gandhi, Lao Tsu, and Socrates.

The prose is clear, if at times slightly repetitive and stylistically inconsistent (a native Londoner and current Californian, Mckeown sometimes move “towards” something, like a Brit, and sometimes “toward” something, like an American), the argument is sound, and the path from chapter 1 to chapter 20 is well organized. It becomes clear, however, that while Essentialism is not an all-or-nothing proposition, you’d really have to commit to it in order to see true benefit; water that is slightly murky is still not clear enough to drink, ‘though you might take a refreshing dip in it. Still, it’s hard to argue against the logic of keeping in the front of your mind (and daily life) those things which truly matter to you, and there’s probably something valuable in just the reminder.

Mckeown kind of makes you want to give it a shot, though, and he’s convinced that once you do, you’ll want others around you to enjoy the fruits of Essentialism: “I have a vision of people everywhere having the courage to live a life true to themselves instead of the life others expect of them. I have a vision of everyone—children, students, mothers, fathers, employees, managers, executives, world leaders—learning to better tap into more of their intelligence, capability, resourcefulness, and initiative to live more meaningful lives. I have a vision of all these people courageously doing what they came here on this earth to do. I have a vision of starting a conversation that becomes a movement.”

The book includes an appendix which provides ideas for bringing essentialism into the workplace, not just for you, but for your team and the rest of the organization, if you’re in a position to make that happen. It is number 6 on Amazon’s mid-year list of best business books of 2014 (so far), and a worthwhile read, especially if you’ve already worked your way through Flash Boys and #GIRLBOSS.

 

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Book Review: Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg Mckeown - Executive Leadership Articles

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