ICE Book Review: Essentialism – The Disciplined Pursuit of Less

By Rob Cooney

“When everything is a priority, nothing is a priority.”

-Simon Fulleringer

Do you feel overwhelmed? Do you have too much to do in too little time? These days, many of us will answer “yes” to the above questions. The essentialist doesn’t agree. The essentialist acknowledges that we can’t have it all or do it all. Unfortunately, this is easier said than done. Many of us fall into a trap.

We work hard and earn success. Our success earns us more opportunities. People seek our help or offer us exciting projects. As we say yes to these opportunities, we spread ourselves thin and become less effective at accomplishing what we desire. Our success undermines our future success.

To reverse this phenomenon, Greg McKeown explores the idea of the “disciplined pursuit of less.” To do this, he breaks essentialism into these main components:

Do less, but better

This is the “essence” of essentialism. McKeown argues that it isn’t simply learning to say “no” more often, it’s about “…pausing constantly to ask, ‘Am I investing in the right activities.’” As we all acknowledge when forced, there isn’t enough time to pursue all possible exciting opportunities. We must choose.

“Keep in mind that you are always saying ‘no’ to something.”

-Steven R. Covey

Reject the notion that we should accomplish everything

Success requires elimination. There is a profound amount of “noise” in our lives. Essentialists filter out the noise with a simple word: No. Unfortunately, accomplishing the “no” isn’t simple. It requires the essentialist to push against social expectations and can be frightening, but it is critical to success.

Remove obstacles to make execution effortless

Execution often seems to take a lot of time and energy. Essentialists deliberately design systems that make execution easier. Execution can be accomplished by building buffers, eliminating constraints, and focusing on small wins.

Essentialism as a concept is so simple it seems common sense. It runs counter to other productivity hacks because  the key to success isn’t getting “more” things done, but focusing on doing less in order to get the “right” thing done. We would all benefit from applying the concept to our “too busy, have to get xyz done” lives.