Book Summary: “Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less”

Written by Nick Hoang • August 18, 2020

This is one of my favorite books that I frequently revisit. As I grow older and as my career develops, life continues to present a flux of possible choices and opportunities. This is mostly a good and fortunate thing (not many people have the luxury to choose). But clearly, too many choices can be paralyzing.

To solve that problem, Greg Mckeown proposes a somewhat radical approach: eliminate most and pursue few. Although I don’t follow his advice religiously (sometimes I still take on more than I should), for the most part, “essentialism” has helped me take control of my life, focus on the things that truly matter, and excel.

I highly recommend you read the book in full (Amazon link), but if you don’t have time, here’s a summary:

  • The way of the essentialist is “less but better”.

  • Step 1: Explore: discern the trivial many from the vital few. Find highest point of contribution: right thing, right reason, right time.

  • Step 2: Eliminate

  • Step 3: Execute

  • Exercise the power of choice: “I choose to”.

  • Almost everything is non-essential, distinguish the vital few from the trivial many.

  • Ask “What is the trade-off I want to make. What can I go big on”.

EXPLORE

  • Create space to escape (literally) and explore life.

  • Create time to read non-fiction, classics that withstood the test of time.

  • Pay attention to the big picture, the story. Find the essence of the information. Keep a journal, but don’t focus on the small details, focus on the headlines.

  • Get out into the field.

  • Clarify the questions you want to ask yourself.

  • “Play” sparks exploration & creativity.

  • Protect the asset (aka. your body): sleep well.

SELECT & ELIMINATE

  • Set extreme criteria: it’s either a “Hell Yeah, or a NO”

  • 90% rule: give the option a score between 0 and 100. If it’s lower than 90, reject it.

  • Set up and use narrow criteria: “Is this exactly what I’m looking for?”

  • PROCESS: 1. define the opportunity 2. describe what are the minimum criteria for this option to be considered 3. what are the ideal criteria for this option to be approved?

  • Clarify your mission statement, be very clear.

  • Say NO gracefully: the soft “no” (“no but”), “let me check my calendar and get back to you”, “yes, what should I de-prioritize?”, use humor, a positive no (offer something else), “i can’t do it, but x might be interested”.

  • Un-commit: Be comfortable with cutting losses

  • If you have limits, you become limitless. Boundaries can be liberating.

EXECUTE

  • Build buffer for unexpected events

  • Practice extreme and early preparation.

  • Remove obstacles to progress.

  • Start small and get big results. Celebrate small wins.

  • The most effective form of human motivation is progress.

  • Design a routine, making execution almost effortless (think of Michael Phelps example).

  • Overhaul your triggers.

  • Do the most important thing first.

  • To operate at your highest level of contribution requires you deliberately tune in to what is important in the here and now.

  • Mind is focused on the present. Tunes in to what is important right now. Enjoy the moment.

  • Essentialist isn’t just about success; it’s about living a life full of meaning and purpose.