Essentialism by Greg McKeown is a business/management/self-help book; the advice and information in the book is useful across multiple aspects of one’s life. The book is packed with practical information and useful strategies for simplifying things in your life. The book argues that by making a few changes in the way we approach decision making and other things, we allow ourselves the mental capacity, space and time to make more important decisions clearly, use time and energy towards the most meaningful or important projects, activities, decisions, etc. The author makes many strong points in his book – these were the three that stuck with me:

  1. We can’t do it all. Meaning we can’t take on multiple important tasks (or multiple tasks in general) and expect to do them all well or even expect to be able to do them all. The ones who do attempt to do everything usually end up doing a poor job on one or more tasks or jobs.
  2. There are always trade-offs. Meaning we can’t have it all either; the author argues that agreeing to do everything that comes our way because of the possible opportunities, whether networking, monetary, resume building, etc., will more than likely result in our getting burnt out, forgetting to do something, make a mistake or, worse case scenario, all three. The idea is that we have to be choosy – we have to be able to weigh the possible opportunities for the project, job, task, duty, etc. and evaluate if the time you’ll spend doing that activity will equal the possible opportunities or rewards as opposed to finishing a project you’re already working on or a possible volunteer opportunity doing something you’re interested in. We have to accept the fact that there are trade-offs for every decision and indecision.
  3. The previous two points all lead up to this one which is being able/willing to say no in a graceful and professional manner. We don’t say no to every request, but only to the requests that we know would be a waste of time – something that would take away from us using our time in a more productive or useful way. If we know the request or ‘obligation’ (like a work meeting that you could easily have summarized for you by a colleague because you would offer no useful or meaningful input or get any useful or meaningful output from attending) would not result in anything accomplished, then maybe your time is better spent doing your job duties/tasks so your own work doesn’t pile up.

McKeown gives some experiences as examples to illustrate his points. There were two that were most memorable to me; the first was a moment when the author’s wife had just given birth to their first child. While at the hospital, the author received a call from someone from his job called him about an urgent meeting and strongly felt that Mr. McKeown should be there. Conflicted about whether he should stand up for what he knows is right and doing what he thinks he ought to, Mr. McKeown leaves for this meeting just after becoming a dad. Once he gets to the meeting, he is unable to focus on the meeting and nothing gets accomplished. The clients attending the meeting could tell his attention was elsewhere and didn’t think he needed to be pulled away to attend the meeting. On the other side of the experience McKeown learned something very important:

“If you don’t prioritize your life, someone else will.” – Greg McKeown

A lesson we can all take to heart and should learn from without having to go through ourselves.

The second moment he mentions is when Steve Jobs of Apple contacted graphic designer Paul Rand to design a few options for a logo for a company NeXT. However, Rand only wanted to design one option or logo, so he told Jobs –

“No. I will solve your problem for you. And you will pay me. And you don’t have to use the solution. If you want options go talk to other people. But I will solve the problem the best way I know how. And you use or not. That’s up to you.” – Steve Rand

I thought this was a pretty epic response to give to Jobs, the creator of Apple and a great businessman. But I liked that he so blunt and honest about how he was going to handle the situation and that after everything was done, it was up to Jobs to use it or not. I also love that Rand was confident he could fix the problem and did. McKeown’s reason for citing this example was to show how sometimes we have to be willing to give up popularity to gain respect. I think this is an extremely important lesson for business people and entrepreneurs, but also feel it is a good lesson for anyone. The ability to show how valuable your time is and confidence in the quality of your work helps others to do the same although not all will.

So, I loved this book. It is like reading someone having a conversation with you. It is casual and full of examples from experiences he has had or others have had to illustrate what he means. There are funny parts, but many helpful pieces of information and advice. I think that the information in this book is useful in a lot of areas of life and to a lot of different people. Old and young, professionals, retirees, students (of all ages really as long as information is broken down into age appropriate bits they can use; I shared some of these points with my children) and everyone in between. This time I was lucky and able to borrow this book from my dad (huge thanks to him, by the way!), but you can always check your local library or you can purchase the book for $25.00 at B&N (just want to mention that the B&N price is the online price for the book and that the price may differ from your local store) or for $18.81 at Amazon (its a Prime item too!). This is a good time to note that both prices quoted here are for hardcover edition of the book, but Amazon offers the paperback edition as well.

Thanks for stopping by and sorry for the delay in getting this blog post up; life just gets busy sometimes. 🙂

-xo