Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less – Book Review

November 15, 2014 - Get free updates of new posts here

I’ve been reading more this year and so far my favorite has been Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown. It’s so good I bought it for the team at AppSumo so they could all read it.

I often talk about having one goal and prioritizing based that goal as a key to marketing. Essentialism is an in depth look at what happens when we put more energy into ONE thing instead of EVERYthing in life and work

 

I HIGHLY encourage you to buy the book, regain your focus, and start accomplishing more.

Essentialism Greg McKeown Book Cover

Below are quotes I pulled from the book as I read:

His stress went up as the quality of his work went down. It was like he was majoring in minor activities.

Is THIS the very most important thing I should be doing with my time and resources right now?

Essentialism: only once you give yourself permission to stop trying to do it all, to stop saying yes to everyone, can you make your highest contribution towards the things that really matter.

Think: Less but better.

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

Priority. It stayed singular for the next five hundred years. Only in the 1900s did we pluralize the term and start talking about priorities.

Think about what happens to your closet when you never organize it. Wear this someday in the future? Ask more disciplined, tough questions: “Do I love this?” and “Do I look great in it?” and “Do I wear this often?”

Will this activity or effort make the highest possible contribution toward my goal?”

As Peter Drucker said, “People are effective because they say ‘no,’ because they say, “this isn’t for me.”

As poet Mary Oliver wrote: “Tell me, what is it you plan to do / with your one wild and precious life?”

Straddled strategy – Attempting to invest in everything at once.

A choice is an action

Once dogs didn’t think they had a choice. Those dogs that had been powerless in the last part of the experiment did not. These dogs didn’t adapt or adjust

The ratio of hours to pounds. What really counted was the relationship between time and results. Think about the output for the time you are inputting.

Warren Buffett – He owes 90% of his wealth to just ten investments.

We discover how even the many good opportunities we pursue are often far less valuable than the few truly great ones.

Straddling means keeping your existing strategy intact while simultaneously also trying to adopt the strategy of a competitor.

Jim Collins could either build a great company or build great ideas but not both. Jim chose ideas.

Instead of asking, “What do I have to give up?” they ask, “What do I want to go big on?

An essentialist explores and evaluates a broad set of options before committing to any. Because Essentialists will commit and “go big” on only the vital few ideas or activities, they explore more options at first to ensure they pick the right one later.

Creating space to explore, think, and reflect should be kept to a minimum. Yet these very activities are the antidote.

When did you last take time out of your busy day simply to sit and think?

Journalism is NOT just about regurgitating the facts but about figuring out the point.

In every set of facts, something essential is hidden.

Nothing fires up the brain like play.

Protecting the Asset = Sleep!

The best asset we have for making a contribution to the world is ourselves.

What happens to our closets when we use the broad criterion, “Is there a chance that I will wear this someday in the future?” The closet becomes cluttered with clothes we rarely wear. But if we ask, “Do I absolutely love this?

We tend to value things we already own more highly than they are worth, and thus find them more difficult to get rid of.

If I didn’t already own this, how much would I spend to buy it?

The 90-10 model for making decisions. You can apply to just about every decision or dilemma. As you evaluate an option, think about the single most important criterion for that decision, and then simply give the option a score between 0 and 100. If you rate it any lower than 90 percent, then automatically change the rating to 0.

Vigilant about acknowledging the reality of trade-offs

[For hiring]

Whether the employee is organized enough to find a quiet place at an allotted time for phone interviews.

“Would he or she love working here?” and “Would we love having him or her work with us?” and “Will this person be an absolutely natural fit?”

What will I say no to?

Clarity about what is essential fuels us with the strength to say no to the nonessentials.

[Saying no to others]

Separate the decision from the relationship. Say no to non-essential meetings.

Initial annoyance or disappointment or anger wears off, the respect kicks in.

When we push back effectively, it shows people that our time is highly valuable. It distinguishes the professional from the amateur.

I say no very easily because I know what is important to me

If I weren’t already invested in this project, how much would I invest in it now?”

Nobody in the history of the world has washed their rental car. Tendency to undervalue things that aren’t ours.

By quietly eliminating or at least scaling back an activity for a few days or weeks you might be able to assess whether it is really making a difference.

The Latin root of the word decision—cis or cid—literally means “to cut” or “to kill. Imagine every cut produces joy.

Shift the ratio of activity to meaning.

Boundaries are a little like the walls of a sandcastle. The second we let one fall over, the rest of them come crashing down. Essentialists, on the other hand, see boundaries as empowering.

You need to put up your fences well in advance, clearly demarcating what’s off limits so you can head off time wasters and boundary pushers at the pass

Another quick test for finding your deal breakers is to write down any time you feel violated or put upon by someone’s request.

Essentialist, on the other hand, use the good times to create a buffer for the bad.

Needs to identify the “Herbie”: the part of the process that is slower relative to every other part of the plant. What is getting in the way of achieving what is essential?

“What obstacles or bottlenecks are holding you back from achieving X, and how can I help remove these?”

When we want to create major change we often think we need to lead with something huge or grandiose. BUT, in all forms of human motivation the most effective one is progress. Creates momentum and affirms our faith in our further success

Visualize. Something powerful about visibly seeing progress toward a goal.

“The tape” was a visualization of the perfect race. In exquisite detail and slow motion Phelps would visualize every moment from his starting position on top of the blocks, through each stroke, until he emerged.

Whenever she schedules a meeting or phone call, she takes exactly fifteen seconds to type up the main objectives.

With repetition the routine is mastered and the activity becomes second nature.

You can easily do two things at the same time: wash the dishes and listen to the radio. What we can’t do is concentrate on two things at the same time.

Pathetically tiny amount of time we have left of our lives. It challenges me to be even more unreasonably selective about how to use this precious

Peter Thiel took “less but better” to an unorthodox level when he insisted that PayPal employees select one single priority in their role—and focus on that exclusively

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


45 responses to “Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less – Book Review

  1. Sarah Moore Reply

    This book sounds incredible.

    I just asked my brother to get it for me for Christmas 🙂

    My main takeaway from having read your blog posts Noah, is that whole “one objective” framework for decision-making. It’s become gospel somewhat and I’m some kind of strange evangelist about it. I imagine as you practice it, you grow more effective too.

    Thanks for sharing this book! Can’t wait to read it 🙂

  2. Tim Soulo Reply

    Hey Noah!

    Thanks for the book suggestion and great takeaways you have here!

    Seems like I’m not the only person, who’s reading a book and making audionotes on my iPhone to later turn them into text 🙂 I also usually rate the books based on the amount of things I’ve noted.

    Did you read “Contagious” by Jonah Berger? Reading it now and I think it’s amazing!

  3. Dennis Seymour Reply

    Hi Noah!

    Your post makes me think I read the book on Blinkist lol.

    I read that book recently and I’ll be rereading it again this weekend. I’ve been yearning to actually apply Essentialism with my business. I’m just having really a bad time “prioritizing” the right things, the most important things.

    I hope to get to your mindset level soon. I’ll definitely keep practicing.

    Thanks for the inspiration/motivation!

  4. Seth Addison Reply

    Great writeup Noah. I like your comment: In every set of facts, something essential is hidden. This is one of those great insights that just keeps coming back to me throughout life. Regardless of the task at hand, there’s almost always something to be discovered. Thanks for the great post Noah.

  5. Brian Reply

    I’m about 3/4s of the way through the same book and must agree, this book is excellent. Helpful for getting a grip on business and personal priorities. It’s teaching me how to say “no”, even to managers.

  6. Ryan Biddulph Reply

    Hi Noah,

    I went on a social media fast 2 weeks ago. Now I spend 10 minutes or less on social each week.

    Super post! Because I embraced AND acted on this very concept last week. How timely, this helpful review of a concept lost on many.

    I write one, 6,000 word blog post weekly. I comment on relevant, authority blogs to grow bonds with influencers. That’s it. Oh yeah, I promote my eBooks too now, since I’m not writing them, and I’ll go on a writing blitz in a month or 2.

    But for now, I write blog posts and network with leaders. 2 cornerstones. Of course I work with my clients too but as for the basics of what I do, create through one channel, connect through one marketing strategy, and to say my effectiveness has skyrocketed would be a trite understatement.

    I was a former energy idiot lol….wasting bits of energy here and there, making no impact, being as quiet as a church mouse. I still get a bit scattered – since I’m human 🙂 – but largely took on a new strategy. Create pillar posts, comment, and write articles for clients (and coach clients too.) Amazing how when you do like 3 things, how much better you do ’em, versus saying “yes” to 10 things, and doing a poorer job working these channels.

    Thanks Noah, for the review, and for giving me more clarity…and for helping me better cure my sometimes maddening Racing Thoughts Syndrome, by simplifying!

    Ryan

  7. Niklas Reply

    Hey Noah,

    thanks for the quotes and the info, that book looks awesome! I really like: If you don’t prioritize your life, someone else will. We give away a lot of our time freely, even though it’s the only thing we can never get back (vs. money which you can regain.)

    If you like essentialism, you might wanna look at Gary Keller ‘The One Thing’ and Peter Drucker’s ‘Managing Oneself’ (I actually have the audio book, I can dropbox it to you, if you want, it’s just 45 minutes). Those two have helped me so much and are very much along the same lines.

    All the best from good old Germany,

    Niklas

  8. KW Stout Reply

    You sold me, I’m in. This book looks great. I’ve already been applying some of these principles to my life in the last year, but I’m curious to learn more about these ideas. Thanks for sharing!

  9. Dean Bokhari Reply

    Nice, Noah! This is actually next on my reading list.

    Not sure if you’ve read or heard of it or not — but ‘The ONE Thing’ is another excellent book that preaches a similar message to ‘Essentialism’.

  10. ameer Reply

    Noah. Thanks bro.

    Just finished reading the book.

    Reminds me of a stoic saying

    ‘Straightforwardness and simplicity are in keeping with goodness.”

    ~ Seneca

  11. KC Reply

    Been hearing about Essentialism from a number of close friends. Next on my reading list. Like the list of takeaways. Great way to repurpose highlights from Kindle/iBooks app.

  12. Johnross Reply

    “Nobody in the history of the world has washed their rental car.” Guess I’m the first… One of those rough nights in ATL, wouldn’t take it back for the world 🙂 Great quotes from the book, loved it. Feeling a bit smarter and more of a boss now. Thx.

  13. Andrew Gunn Reply

    Quite simply I NEED to read this book! 2014 saw me spreading myself far too thinly, trying to do too many things and eventually suffering from ‘overwhelm’, which no doubt caused a degree of poor productivity. I think this book will be the perfect accompaniment to another book I’m currently reading: ‘The One Thing’ by Gary Keller. Thanks for sharing ‘Essentialism’ here. I may not have discovered it otherwise. http://thelaptopincome.com/

  14. Lauren Jade Martin Reply

    Noah, thanks for sharing this! Definitely adding this book to my must-reads for this month! 😀 I just launched a new blog and I’m focusing on simplifying my life and maximizing my happiness so this is totally in line with my mindset. 😀 Hope you have a great new year. (oh and I most definitely added your blog to my list of daily must reads on my resources page)
    Discover Page 😀

  15. William Reply

    This book just went on my amazon wish list to buy very soon. Never heard of it but this review just told me I NEED to get it asap! I need to improve at focusing on what’s important and not stupid shit that my mind scatters on sometimes. Thanks for this post!!

  16. Mitko Ivanov Reply

    That’s my favorite kind of thinking and acting. Hit in one point until you dig out the gold. I’m glad that I landed here. You made a great review. I doubt if I really need to buy the book and waste more time in reading the same content.

  17. Chris Franco Reply

    I read this a few months ago. I got a lot out of it, too. “Less but Better”… On a sidenote, Noah, the second to last paragraph is missing a concluding word/period. Just wanted to give you a heads up. -CF

  18. Johnson Kee Reply

    Hi Noah,

    First time visitor and I’m already in love with you. This is exactly the post I needed to read. I’ve bought this book and am devouring it. Frankly, the issue for me is a deeply embedded sense of desperation that constantly makes me want to do everything and only move 1 mm in 1,000,000 directions.

    The quote about priority becoming plural in the 90s hit me like a tonne of bricks too.

    Thanks again, hope to read more of your stuff soon.

  19. Teknari Reply

    Hey Noah,

    Heard you on the Tim Ferris podcast yesterday, picked up this book and read it last night. It was good but I like things a little more on ground level. “The 4 Disciplines of Execution” is the same basic idea, but on more practical level, discussing how to find the drivers to move your one important goal which is key. It is more geared for a company, but can be applied on a personal level. Ciao!

    Teknari

  20. Justin Reply

    Hi Noah,
    “part of the process that is slower relative to every other part of the plant”
    That one really struck a chord. Really good write-up, really good book, really good blog! Thanks again, Noah!

  21. Thomas Brew Reply

    I love reading a lot. Recently I picked “The Power of Habit” written by Charles Duhigg and I am loving it.

    His techniques are so simple and easy to implement and I am seeing a big improvement since I started reading it.

    My favorite book of all time is “ReWork”

    I cannot describe how this book has changed my life and balanced my business life.

    I am going to grab this book for the summer and for sure going to learn some of the awesome things as you said in the article.

    Thanks for this awesome review.

  22. Reade Reply

    Awesome post. Though I was thoroughly confused after I read “Think: Less but better” as “Think: Less butter”.

    Glad I misread that one.

  23. Tauseef Alam Reply

    Hi Noah,

    Thanks for the awesome review.
    Can wait to read the book after reading this review? Is the book available on Kindle? Would like to buy it today.

    Regards
    Tauseef

  24. Bablu Yadav Reply

    Hey Noah,

    thanks for the quotes and the info, that book looks awesome! I really like: If you don’t prioritize your life, someone else will. We give away a lot of our time freely, even though it’s the only thing we can never get back

  25. Robert Wang Reply

    Great quotes picked from the book about Essentialism.
    I read a lot of books and recently i read a book “Who Moved My Cheese”. I was in love with that book.
    Now you have showed me new book to read. I will definately add it in my reading bucket list.
    Thanks for the share..