Essentialism -The Disciplined Pursuit of Less is a New York Times Bestseller by Greg McKeown, published in 2014. According to Greg McKeown, the way of the Essentialist is a systematic discipline for distinguishing between what is utterly essential and eliminating everything that is not, to allow us time and energy to focus on making our highest contribution towards the few and vital things that truly matter to us. This puts us in a position that makes doing those essential things easy.
If you have ever felt overworked, stretched, busy but unproductive, overwhelmed by other people’s needs, and lacking personal time because you have difficulty saying no to other people’s requests, this book is for you.
“The life of an Essentialist is a life of meaning. It is life that really matters.”
The Disciplined Pursuit of Less encourages us to take charge of our lives by first rejecting the notion that we can “do it all and have it all”, and admitting that we can’t. Then Greg reminds us of our right to choose what we really want to do, and who, where and how we want to spend our energy and efforts.
Greg’s preferred metaphor is cleaning out the closet. He teaches us how to get over the “sunk cost bias and encourages us to get out of commitments that are not meaningful to us by asking ourselves “If I didn’t already own this, how hard would I be willing to work to get it?” This is not just with tangible things we own, but also with regards to current responsibilities, tasks and projects.
The author’s points on personal boundaries and mindfulness resonate with me, and hopefully with you too. He insists that we be slower to say yes and quicker to say no to opportunities that do not align with our goals and are not meaningful to us. He also urges us not to be afraid to be unavailable, and suggests tactful ways to communicate our reluctance using a graceful no or the delayed yes: “Let me get back to you.”
Finally, he encourages us to play often, sleep 8 hours, keep track of our lives by writing daily, and learn to be mindful, living in the present and enjoy our existence. He is clear that there would be trade-offs in this process but insists that these trade-offs would be worth it. I agree.
The author gleans a lot from other successful authors to support his stance. He uses examples from other books I have read including The Goal by Alex Rogo, The Seven Habits of Successful people by Stephen Covey, Malcom Gladwell’s Outliers on 10,000 hour rule and Michel Phelps swimming routine from The Power of Habit. He even references Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi, Steve Jobs, Moses, Prophet Mohammed, and even Jesus Christ’s way of life as essentialists.
Unfortunately, some examples in this book are down-right absurd, or for wealthy people who are not afraid to lose their jobs, certainly not advisable in Nigeria right now.
He gave an example of an employee who was asked to come on a Saturday. This guy told his supervisor he could not come in because that is his family day, as in he spends time with his family so he cannot come to work. The supervisor accepted and returned with a suggestion to come in on Sunday instead. This guy declined again saying that Sunday was his day for God. In the other example, this lady rejected a subsequent assignment, telling her manager that she couldn’t take on any extra work because she was planning her wedding. I had to laugh.
Look here, it’s like you are not serious. In this current economic dispensation, no one is trying to be unemployed. No one is telling their boss no, except they are the boss, or it is your father’s company. You will be looked at as unambitious, unwilling to go the extra mile and not ready to work. I’m a huge fan of saying no but saying no to my boss, is equal to saying no to my money, and my family or husband to be wouldn’t want me to do that.
Next, the first half of the book was clearly defined but I felt the second half was a bit mixed up. In his example of a speech you will give in a few months’ time, he advises that you spend 4 minutes daily to draft the speech, and then keep it till the next day. It may work for some people but, I’m obsessive and just can’t function in that way. When I put my hand to the plough, I keep going until I am done with it. I can’t do anything else. My brain will keep writing that speech even when I am sleeping, I will have no peace. I don’t think this has anything to do with trying to stick to essentials.
Finally, the way he writes it as if: it’s the Essentialist way all the time or the highway, like there’s no middle ground. I don’t think it’s possible or even smart to be a complete essentialist. I feel like we are all essentialists in some aspects and not in others, or essentialist sometimes, not always. The goal should be an essentialist as often as it is logical. An essentialist by his standards could make you a tiresome, boring and lonely person without any friends or career.
In conclusion, I love this book. It’s a small book, 272 pages, but an easy read packed with diagrams, tables, famous examples, popular quotes and personal experiences of the author to make it very inspiring, even though nothing he says here is new. It is an awakening that forces you to reevaluate your life and actions and I highly recommend you get a copy. It’s a collection of amazing advice we should read, perhaps once every year.
If you’ve read this book, do let me know what you think in the comment section.
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