Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less - by Greg McKeown

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. 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.

If you don't prioritise your life, someone else will.

Decision fatigue: the more choices we are forced to make, the more the quality of our decisions deteriorates.


There are three deeply entrenched assumptions we must conquer to live the way of the Essentialist: "I have to," "It's all important," and "I can do both." To embrace the essence of Essentialism requires we replace these false assumptions with three core truths: "I choose to," "Only a few things really matter," and "I can do anything but not everything."

"You cannot overestimate the unimportance of practically everything."

A non-Essentialist approaches every trade-off by asking, "How can I do both?" Essentialists ask the tougher but ultimately more liberating question, "Which problem do I want?" An Essentialist makes trade-offs deliberately. She acts for herself rather than waiting to be acted upon. As economist Thomas Sowell wrote: "There are no solutions. There are only trade-offs." Essentialists see trade-offs as an inherent part of life, not as an inherently negative part of life. Instead of asking, "What do I have to give up?" they ask, "What do I want to go big on?" The cumulative impact of this small change in thinking can be profound.


An Essentialist focuses the way our eyes focus; not by fixating on something but by constantly adjusting and adapting to the field of vision.

One practice I've found useful is simply to read something from classic literature (not a blog, or the newspaper, or the latest beach novel) for the first twenty minutes of the day. Not only does this squash my previous tendency to check my e-mail as soon as I wake up, it centres my day. It broadens my perspective and reminds me of themes and ideas that are essential enough to have withstood the test of time. My preference is for inspirational literature, though such a choice is a personal one.

Play is fundamental to living the way of the Essentialist because it fuels exploration in at least three specific ways. First, play broadens the range of options available to us. It helps us to see possibilities we otherwise wouldn't have seen and make connections we would otherwise not have made. It opens our minds and broadens our perspective. It helps us challenge old assumptions and makes us more receptive to untested ideas. It gives us permission to expand our own stream of consciousness and come up with new stories. Second, play is an antidote to stress. Third, play has a positive effect on the executive function of the brain.

Our highest priority is to protect our ability to prioritise. Sleep will enhance your ability to explore, make connections, and do less but better throughout your waking hours.

"If the answer isn't a definite yes then it should be a no." You can think of this as the 90 Per Cent Rule, and it's one you can apply to just about every decision or dilemma. As you evaluate an option, think about the single most important criterion for that decision, and then simply give the option a score between 0 and 100. If you rate it any lower than 90 per cent, then automatically change the rating to 0 and simply reject it. This way you avoid getting caught up in indecision, or worse, getting stuck with the 60s or 70s. Think about how you'd feel if you scored a 65 on some test. Why would you deliberately choose to feel that way about an important choice in your life?


The Essentialist looks ahead. She plans. She prepares for different contingencies. She expects the unexpected. She creates a buffer to prepare for the unforeseen, thus giving herself some wiggle room when things come up, as they inevitably do.

Use extreme preparation. Add 50 percent to your time estimate. Conduct scenario planning.

Bring forth more by removing obstacles.

  1. Be clear about the essential intent.

  2. Identify the "slowest hiker." What is the obstacle that, if removed, would make the majority of other obstacles disappear?

  3. Remove the obstacle.

The power of small wins. Focus on minimal viable progress. Do the minimal viable preparation. Visually reward progress.

The genius of routine. Routine, in an intelligent man, is a sign of ambition. --W. H. Auden