Is the secret to accomplishing more doing less?

Greg McKeown believes that it is. In fact, he believes it so much that he wrote Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less to prove it—and the book makes his point pretty well.

The premise of Essentialism is relatively simple: if we spend more time focusing on the most important things we need to accomplish—and thus do them better—what we do will have a greater impact in our careers, our homes, or our lives. He describes it in this way:

The way of the Essentialist rejects the idea that we can fit it all in. Instead it requires us to grapple with real trade-offs and make tough decisions. . . .
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 nonessentials, and then removes obstacles so the essential things have clear, smooth passage. In other words, Essentialism is a disciplined, systematic approach for determining where our highest point of contribution lies, then making execution of those things almost effortless. (p. 7)

How is the execution of those things made “almost effortless”? Because each decision to refine our task list and reduce the number of projects we take on at one time will ultimately affect a thousand different other decisions down the road. One “no” now represents dozens, if not hundreds, of decisions we don’t have to make later. By constantly sticking to only what is essential, we create focus on what is important rather than what is urgent, and by doing so, we’re sucking the energy out of chaos so that we can use it to do better work, build stronger relationships, and have the time to think and reflect so that we can keep our lives on the right track.

Though it wouldn’t be too hard to look back over leadership and management books of the past to find similar themes, Mr. McKeown’s material feels fresh and insightful. As Solomon wrote, “There’s nothing new under the sun,” but there are new—and often better—ways of presenting old ideas to make them more relevant to today, and Mr. McKeown does that. At the same time, there has never really been a busier generation that has had to deal with more demands on our attention (we haven’t quite gotten to the Minority Report world where every add calls our name, but we’re definitely getting closer). The messages that “Sometimes you have to slow down to go faster” (in other words, slowing down to take time for people and relationship building will take you farther, faster in the long run) and “Sometimes you have to turn off to turn on” (turn the world around you off so you can turn your brain on) may never have been needed more than today.

Even just that message would be a good one, but Mr. McKeown applies layer on layer. He takes the idea of essentialism from the need to get the right amount of sleep to the power of good editing to the importance of play and freedom that comes from setting good boundaries. Every new example and angle adds to the power of his message.

If any of this sounds interesting or you want more motivation to simplify your life, learn better ways of saying “no,” get some checklists for figuring out what is most essential in your life, or get the basics on creating better habits, Essentialism is a good read and I think you will find it helpful. I certainly did.

So, what do you think? Is nonessentialism cluttering up your life with too many demands and not enough focus on what is really important? Are you looking to refocus and clear some of the clutter from your life? Maybe even some of the things that are killing your writing? (Share your struggles and solutions in the comments below. I’d love to hear from you!)

Book info: Greg McKeown, Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less (New York: Crown Business, 2014).

Disclaimer: “B4B” is my abbreviation of “Blogging for Books,” a service that exchanges free books for reviews. I received this book from (which has since closed down) for this review.