Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less

Author(s): Greg McKeown

Published: 2014

Report Published: 4th October 2016

Quake Magnitude: 6.0

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Field Survey

Essentialism, is as the title suggests, the art of recognising the essential and becoming comfortable with the concept of “doing less but better”. In this respect, it is an unorthodox time management book, which demonstrates the virtues of a strict selection of tasks and a commitment to excellence through the word “no”.

The book, in focusing on task optimisation and life quality, challenges the accepted business logic that being busy is the same as being productive or fulfilled. Consequently, it is full of excellent advice that I found myself repeating to friends (that includes you Agent Tiago) throughout the entire last week of September. Turns out that about 95% of the academic world is out of practice when it comes to saying the word “no”, and establishing clear boundaries.

The problem with Essentialism is its extremely repetitive nature, which got to me in the end and made me left wondering if it was really necessary to recap so often – unless it was only written for those people who are so tired and busy from embarking on non-essential activity that they don’t take in what is said the first, second or third time and need a fourth before anything goes in. In all honesty, the editor should have made the book a third shorter. The other issue I have is the grandiose statements that could lead a reader to believe that McKeown is the only author to have thought productivity out properly. In his world, only two camps of people exist, the enlightened essentialists and the foolish impoverished non-essentialist, or at least that is how it sometimes comes across. In this respect Graham Allcott in his down-to-earth Productivity Ninja writes so much better.

So who is Essentialism for? Well, if you can grit your teeth through the issues I explained in the previous paragraph, and you find yourself overworked, busy going nowhere and in desperate need of some quality “me time” and family time, then this book is absolutely for you! If you are leading a team you find to be ineffective, despite new staff arrivals and schedules full to the brim, this book is just what you are looking for too!


“The Essentialist knows that when we surrender our right to choose, we give others not just the power but also the explicit permission to choose for us.”

“What if society stopped telling us to buy more stuff and instead allowed us to create more space to breathe and think.”

“If we underinvest in ourselves, and by that I mean our minds, our bodies and our spirits, we damage the very tool we need to make our highest contribution.”

QUAKE Moment

McKeown’s book should have been so much better but the tedium killed me off in the end! It still scored a 6.0 on the QUAKE magnitude scale though, so that just tells you how much Essentialism shook out the ingrained “must time manage to do more” paradigm that pervades public life and belittles our private lives (as an example, think of the BS saying we have, I will sleep when I am dead).

For me, the most important lesson involved favours, which form the basis of how my relationships with people work – give and take! The problem is there a lot of takers who always promise that they will someday return the favour only to disappear quicker than Batman on Jim Gordon. And thanks to McKeown now I know why… when somebody asks you for a favour, unless it is your spouse, parents or a really good friend, nine times out of ten the important thing for them is the favour and not YOU! In which case any favour you do is rarely appreciated and almost never returned.

The other reason that the QUAKE magnitude was not as high it as could have been was the poor definition, (read butchering of) the Greek term Kairos. McKeown encourages the reader to live in Kairos moments but they are not a state. Rather, they are the “opportune moment” to learn something and switch tracks. Thus you cannot live in them but you find them. They are temporary and not permanent. And, you know when you have found one and lived it because it is then when you feel the paradigm shift.

QUAKE Books Agents I had to bring the issue to your attention as Kairos is the philosophical concept that underlines a QUAKE Moment and it is, as a pertinent example, when an ordinary book triggers a bookquake and becomes a QUAKE Book. But ok enough soap box already!


Aside from sending a fair few Agents off to Wikipedia so they can establish their Kairos missions, this book is making me ask more and more, the following questions:

In the light of eternity, does this really matter?

Is this really what I want to be known for or is it simply a distraction?

If I do a favour for someone, will they appreciate that I did it or do they just want the favour – in which case can I send them somewhere else or explain to them how my favours work?

Whether you read Essentialism or not, I urge you to ask yourself these types of questions. You might not be popular but you will find you suddenly have time in your day to go to the gym or read that book on your bedside cabinet.

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  1. Bella Sarah on October 12, 2016 at 9:19 am

    Greg McKeown’s book convinced me also to start making some changes. I just listened to him on the AoC Podcast, great show!

  2. very nice review. future reviews could incl the ESSENTIALS of the book to enable readers to decide whether it is to be GRABED now or later. moreover even if one decides not read atleast the essentials points are known to you. specially when someone has invested so much of time &effort in reading & reviewing.


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