Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less

By Greg McKeown
New York: Crown Business (2014)

Paperback, 260 pages

Reviewed by Bradley D. Cassell

Greg McKeown, writer, speaker, and Harvard Business Review blogger, creates a step by step plan to help busy people set priorities and attend to what is most important. According to McKeown, “Essentialism is not about how to get more things done; it’s about how to get the right things done” (p. 6). The author calls upon the busy reader to take control of their own choices and learn to say no to what is not important or essential in their professional and personal lives.

He utilizes three steps in discovering and embracing what is most important: explore, eliminate, and execute. Intertwined in these steps are practical stories of corporate executives who discovered their niche and priorities by following these principles. The author gives practical counsel such as getting plenty of sleep, taking time to play, gathering the courage to eliminate things that are not important even if it offends others, and even getting into a flow or routine of doing a few things well while cutting out the non-essential priorities that others place in our path.

I believe McKeown hits on a very important topic that goes beyond corporate America into the lives of many struggling to navigate the mass of tasks bombarding their lives. I feel that his approach is overly optimistic at times, especially in the realm of elimination of the non-essentials. There are tasks that must be accomplished in a work setting, even if we do not always find them to be essential to us personally.

The author’s approach on sleep is a bit overgeneralized as he uses research to share that at least eight hours of sleep is essential for maximum productivity and creativity in the workplace. I am all for sleep, but my personal sweet spot is seven hours, and anything over eight can be disastrous for my day. Could McKeown be going to an extreme to bring those who are getting three hours of sleep to find a middle ground?

Even though I feel McKeown can be overly optimistic and somewhat extreme in his three step approach to essentialism, I believe that it is a great read for anyone who feels overwhelmed with their daily tasks. The author does an excellent job of sprinkling in relevant stories along with practical counsel to get the reader to bring balance to a life that can easily become chaotic when attempting to embrace everyone else’s priority lists as our own.

Brad Cassell lives in Tampa, Florida and is the Lead Pastor of the Tampa First Seventh-day Adventist Church.

Leave a Reply