Book Review: Essentialism by Greg McKeown

This one took a while. The first six weeks of the new job were super busy, so instead of a week, this one took me a month to read. I like to think I was living out the premise of this book, and doing the most important things, so reading this book fell down the list. That’s my rationalisation anyway.

“If you don’t prioritise your life, someone else will”, probably the most punchy quote of the book. It follows a story where the author describes how he missed the birth of one of his children to attend a meeting with a client. A meeting which lead to nothing, except perhaps horrifying his client with a display of such poor decision-making.

I thought I had mixed feelings about this book, but as I tried to articulate them I realised that the biggest problem with Essentialism is that it takes maturity to apply, and perhaps you can only apply it successfully in a mature environment where the people in your life don’t take offence at the fact that you are choosing to focus on the most important thing – hardly a reason to discount the book, by maybe a reason to change one’s environment. The premise of the book is that we have a finite amount of time on this planet, and that far too many of us spend too much of that time doing things that really don’t matter. The cure, is to do “less but better” (as Dieter Rams would put it); to find the essential things in our lives, and to do them better by cutting out all the non-essential things; to align all our effort in one direction, rather than moving in such a wide range of directions that we ultimately go nowhere.

In general the book is well written, and easy to read, first exploring what the concept of Essentialism is, then looking at how to discern between “the trivial many” and “the vital few”, moving on to eliminating all but the most important things, and finally looking at how to make this a life-discipline.

There are tables in each chapter which attempt to draw a simple contrast between the mindset of the Essentialist and the non-Essentialist, as applied to the subject matter of each chapter. Sometimes these are helpful, and sometimes they just read like a list of opposites. Also, sometimes the calls to action in the book are quite emotive, and over-dramatic. I don’t find these help the argument, which is otherwise well stated, with a lot of supporting research.

Overall I found this a worthy read, and certainly a concept which I will have to work at applying to my own life.

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