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Essentialism : review of a new way of life

Today’s review has been on my to-do list for a long time. I think that I wanted to make sure I had the right words to share with you how much Essentialism : The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown had an impact on my life. It has a special place in my list of ten books that have changed my life for the better! At first, I wanted to write an extensive summary of the book and prepared detailed notes and quotations. The more I thought about it, the less it made sense. In the spirit of Essentialism, I had to write a minimalist review. Something simple and to the point, something that would inspire you to buy the book and read it yourself. I hope I will give you this urge with my review. Here we go.

To me, Greg McKeown’s Essentialism is more than  a simple non-fiction essay. It encompasses a philosophy, a way of life. Here is, in McKeown’s words, what is an Essentialist :

“The way of the Essentialist means living by design, not by default. Instead of making choices reactively, the Essentialist deliberately distinguishes the vital few from the trivial many, eliminates the non-essentials, and then removes obstacles so the essential things have clear, smooth passage. […] Essentialism is a disciplined, systematic approach for determining where our highest point of contribution lies, then making execution of those things almost effortless.”

In comparison, a Nonessentialist is someone who thinks that everything is important and tries to do it all. He lives by default and succumbs to the busyness of life. He is reactive and lacks focus and purpose. He is overwhelmed and stressed out and his most important work and relationships suffer. Most of us in this day and age are Nonessentialists.

An Essentialist understand that everything is a trade-off. Every choice he makes takes time and resources from something else. He has to know what is really essential to him to choose the wisest trade-off, the one that will get him closer to his goal.

The book is separated into 3 sections. I will briefly share with you the three steps of the Essentialist way of life.

Explore

An Essentialist will only commit to what is essential in his life. But first, he has to figure out what is. To achieve that, he will have to explore more options than the Nonessentialist. First, he will need space to think, reflect, journal about what is important to him. He will mingle in different activities and experiences before fully committing to any. In this section, McKeown encourages the Essentialist to embrace play as an important part of his exploration. When he has explored sufficiently, the Essentialist will evaluate his options and choose the ones he believes are truly essential.

McKeown proposes the Extreme Criteria rule to select the options that will be pursued. The Essentialist will evaluate each option by the most important criteria he will define. If the option scores less than a 9 out of 10 on the basis of this criteria, he will reject this option. Hence the term Extreme Criteria. Nonessentialists will often commit to activities and relationships that score 7 or 8 out of ten and find themselves overcommitted or devoting their time at the wrong place, at the wrong time. Essentialism means only the vital few will make the cut.

Eliminate

The first step to eliminate the trivial many that did not make the cut will be to set your essential intent. As I understand this concept, it is a kind of mission statement that you craft to state what is truly important for you. I have found that Michael Hyatt’s and Daniel Harkavy’s life planning method shared in their book Living Forward really helped me figuring out what is essential in my life. (I have written a full summary of their method in this blog post.)

The next step is probably the hardest. It is to learn to say no to what is not essential, to uncommit from the activities that are no longer serving you, to edit and limit your current activities and relationships to create the space needed by what’s essential. It will feel unnatural and heartbreaking at first, but soon, you will be able to embrace your highest point of contribution. You will feel that purpose is coming back into your life. It truly is an empowering feeling.

Execute

Now, you can focus on what is most important in your life. It is time to live in the now and fully embrace your relationships and activities. To fully experience the benefits of the Essentialism lifestyle, you must keep margin into your life, to make sure that your commitments get enough space to fully blossom. It is time to celebrate the small wins and feel the momentum growing. It is time to switch from doing to being. It is the way of the Essentialist.

Essentialism has been a game changer in my life, and in the life of many influencers I follow. I truly believe that this book will become a new classic, in the same vein as the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Steven Covey, or Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill. The principles in this book are timeless and can be applied at every stage of our lives. It becomes a way of living and will influence every decision we make. You can grab a copy of the book Essentialism, I am truly convinced that you will find a tremendous value by reading it.

Do you tend to be an Essentialist or a Nonessentialist? In what ways do you apply the principles of Essentialism? Let me know in the comments below!

*This article contents affiliate links. It means that if you buy something with the links I have provided, I will receive a small commission, at no cost to you.

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2 comments

  1. I have been such a non-essentialist. Just saying yes to everything and running from one obligation to the next. Winning here and there, but having no time to appreciate anything.

    I made some decisions recently to be more essentialist. I feel better already! I’m trimming the fat in my life and learning to say no. You are so right about “everything is a trade-off”.

    Thanks Anick!

    1. Thank you Sarah for your comment! I am pretty sure most of us could say we have been guilty with being non-essentialists at one point. Being aware is the first step to become more essentialist! You are on the right path Sarah!