Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown

Essentialism by Greg McKeown-book summary

Title: Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less

Author: Greg McKeown

“Do you ever feel busy but not productive? Do you ever feel that you’re always in motion, but never really getting anywhere?” – those are the key questions Greg McKeown poses in his book Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less.

The Essentialist is one who is driven by the idea that almost everything is noise and very few things are essential. The Essentialist believes it’s ok and necessary to say NO. In order to evaluate what is and isn’t essential, you first need to explore your options. Be patient with this process. Instead of reacting to that email or jumping into the next idea – take time to evaluate and think long-term.

Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less. Learn how to make smarter decisions in your life and cut out all the

Key Quotes:

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

“In order to have focus we need to escape to focus.”

My Reading Notes:

  • Instead of making just a millimeter of progress in a million directions – focus instead on making tremendous momentum towards accomplishing the things that are truly vital.
  • Cornerstone advice captured in just three German words: Weniger aber besser. The English translation is: Less but better.
  • Essentialism is not about how to get more things done; it’s about how to get the right things done. Your time is your biggest asset – invest it wisely.
  • Live by design, not by default. Don’t make choices reactively, but actively.
  • Key differences between an Essentialist and Non-Essentialist:
    • Essentialist thinks: “I choose to.”
      “Only a few things really matter.”
      “What are the trade-offs?”
    • But Non-Essentialist thinks: “I have to.”
      “It’s all important.”
      “How can I fit it all in?”
  • Fun Fact: The word priority came into the English language in the 1400s. It was singular. It meant the “very first or prior thing.” Only in the 1900’s did we change the word to plural. Somehow we would now be able to have multiple “first” things.
  • Understand that trade-offs are an inherent part of life, not as an inherently negative part of life. Instead of asking, “What do I have to give up?” they ask, “What do I want to go big on?”
  • It’s ok to be bored. In fact, it’s a pleasure to experience it! Instead of reaching for your phone to check your latest tweets or Instagram – take that time to really think and assess things that are happening in our life, or brainstorm ideas for the future.  The CEO of LinkedIn, Jeff Weiner, actually schedules up to two hours of blank space on his calendar every day. He spaces it out over thirty-minute increments, yet he schedules nothing. Bill Gates regularly takes a week off to simply read and think. It’s aptly called “Think Week.”

Actionable Items:

  • Reevaluate your priorities:  Don’t focus on how to get more things done; it’s about how to get the right things done.
  • Be wary of the Non-Essentialist trap of: (know what keeps you in the pit of focusing on too much.)
    1. Too many choices – the Paradox of Choice is an energy drain.
    2. Social pressure to do more – mute the outside noise, turn inward and spend that time sifting out the useless distractions.
    3. The idea that you “can have it all.”
  • Moving forward: “If you could be truly excellent at one thing, what would it be?”


Enjoyed this Book Summary? Inspired by Bill Gates Notes, together with my personal pursuit of continuous improvement – I’ve started the Book Summaries blog mini-series. Here, I share the nuggets of wisdom I’ve learned along the way.

~ Persist and Grow Forth ~