Notes on 📖 Essentialism Greg Mckeown


These are notes and lessons I've gleaned from the book, Essentialism by Greg Mckeown. 

The Essentialist way of living requires you to trim the fat, to cut out things and 'sacrifice' things you do not deem very important. These things tend to be activities that society 'requires' you to take part in, and therefore it can be difficult to extricate yourself. The book wants to tell you that you have a choice to opt out and focus on what really matters to you.

Leaving space in your life means you are able to 'go big' on the essential goals, rather than stretch yourself in a million directions, only progressing a millimeter at a time.

My gripe with this idea is that not everyone has the privilege to wait for the perfect opportunity to come up. However, when it does present itself, you want to make sure you have space and time in your life to receive it. The first steps you can make is to be more focused in your daily life. This book can be very extreme and perhaps come across as rather condescending to someone who is not as privileged to wait or look for other opportunities. 

It's a catch-22 situation though- we will never know if life would be better if you chose one decision over another. For example, some essentialist ideas do not seem to work if you are in urgent situations. For example, if you are jobless and in need of money, you may jump at any opportunity for a job. In the long term of course the theory is to find a job that fits you and pays you well, but life is rarely so neat. Nevertheless I get where the writer is coming from, but I feel that this advice will benefit people who are in a comfortable situation and able to cruise along until something better comes up.

For myself, I used to be guilty of jumping at opportunities, and sometimes they turn out to be mistakes that drag on for years. Nowadays I try to take issues into deeper consideration before arriving at a conclusion. 

Saying no seems to be very difficult for many people, and often they find themselves stretched extremely thin. 

How to decide? The book suggests that 'anything less than a definite yes is a no'.

But what if someone calls in a favour? You can 'Separate the decision from the relationship'. 
'We forget that that denying the request is not the same as denying the person.' Essentialism challenges you to put you and your priorities first. It may seem indulgent and selfish at times but over time I guess you get things done.

Sometimes what the book suggests you do seem very impossible - to say no to your boss? I know very few people who would do that, and maybe that's the problem in society. 

Personal time and health is important and worth protecting. I've seen this quote recently: 'If you die, your employer will replace you within a month, but your family and friends will miss you forever.' We should maybe try to detach ourselves from the idea that we are 'indispensable' at work. Everyone, and everything is temporary.

'Protect your asset' as this book suggests. The asset in question is you. Take care of yourself!

Preparation is really key. 

Sleep is not for the weak - sleep fortifies your mind and thinking! 

I've been watching reading and watching Sherlock Holmes recently (the books and the BBC film series). Sherlock is definitely an essentialist! He is a keen observer and catches what is not present or not being said. This is a great skill to have!

Nowadays, in every spare moment we have, we are 'busying' ourselves with reading a new article, a new social media post or playing a game on our phones. Recognizing free time as important and allotting it time allows you time to process events that happen in the day. Just like you don't let your fan or air-con work 24/7 in the fear that they will overheat, you need to give your brain some downtime too.

The book uses decluttering ideas as well. Many people know the sunk cost fallacy but not many find the strength to make the decisions they know they need to make. For myself, I find that recycling/upcycling values tend to clash with the 'chuck-it -out' mentality of decluttering.

The writer also offers a look into his life of essentialism, placing family first. Here are some examples he shared.

  • Choosing to push back a work deadline in order to go camping with his children.
  • Choosing to say no to a speaking opportunity to have a date night with his wife.
  • Choosing to turn down work offers because he knows that it meant time away from family.

These are not easy decisions for the layman to make. But with practice, the writer suggests, our decision making will become stronger. Subtract the distractions and leave only the essential

The book is also useful for
  • busy and ovestretched people trying to carve out time for themselves
  • people trying to streamline practices at work
  • writers or editors
Last Thoughts
This book advocates a daring lifestyle. It is not easy to follow this way of life, especially if you are entrenched in societal beliefs and conform to many social practices.

It does however, encourage you to think about what is truly important in your life, and urges you to take steps to achieve these goals instead of pitter-pattering around other nonsense and time-sucking activities. 

I am far from being an Essentialist, but I can definitely apply some of these principles in my life. I recommend this book to anyone who wants to achieve very singular goals. For me, I am quite the quintessential nonessentialist - my passions and goals are everywhere, my decision can be capricious, and my thoughts and actions may not always be very cohesive. I am excited by thousands of things, ideas, activities. By choice, I do not have a niche or focus. 

Being an Essentialist is a bold undertaking that I find quite out of reach at the moment, and perhaps, not what I consider suitable or desirable for me. I will perhaps think more about this and try some of the strategies mentioned and see if it feels good or useful to me. Perhaps it was a difficult book to process because I found the ideas so extreme and contrary to my own.

Have you read this book before? What are your thoughts on it? How did you apply them in your life? I would love to know.