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Hanne, reading on Cloud 9

Avid book reader. Lover of fantasy, contemporary fiction, short stories and non-fiction. This blog is a work in progress - and it will likely always be that way.

Review: Essentialism

Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less - Greg Mckeown

It must be tough to write a book about Essentialism because people will be watching like a hawk to see whether you stick to your own advice – and sadly I’m not sure that he did.

But first things first, I didn’t have a name for it but ‘Essentialism’ is what I have been doing for a while now – at work at least. I have yet to tell any of my family or friends that I wasn’t positively answering their invitation because it wasn’t essential to me and my goals for the near future.
But at work, I am a strong believer in this principle. It’s way too easy to get enrolled in everything, meaning you won’t be able to actually achieve anything. So pick carefully and focus on that, just that. And yes, sometimes you can’t pick yourself, because it’s something you have to do. But even then, be mindful about what is important.

In this book, Greg McKeown gives sound advice. Unless you are over the moon enthusiastic about a new possible project, say no. Don’t ever say yes, just because you fear people will like you less. Because even though saying no will sometimes result in some frowning from the other party, I strongly believe that how you say your no is more important. I know people at work who will almost shout back a brisk and severe ‘No, not now!’ and I don’t like them much indeed. But saying in a friendly way that ‘now is not a good time’ hasn’t hurt any relationship yet.

There are two things I liked less about the book. The first is that he uses a lot of examples that have been used to death so to speak: I cannot even begin the count the number of non-fiction I read lately that uses the example of Rosa Parks’ bus ride and the ‘No school today’ essential journalism lesson of Nora Ephron. Then on top, he uses many examples of other books I (unfortunately for the author) recently finished: d.school’s babywarmers from Creative Confidence (Tom and David Kelley) and Michael Phellps’ swimming routine from The Power of Habit (Charles Duhigg). None of these examples are bad, but they felt like old material to me.
But then again, anyone who rarely reads business or popular psychology books won’t mind because they probably won’t recognize the stories and find them just as insightful as I did, the first time I read them.

The second one is that I think the author did not stick to the essentials. Or better said: he didn’t stick to the essentials that would serve everyone. Take his chapter about planning for instance: He gives the example of a speech you will have to give in a few months’ time. His advice is to start now, and spend 4 minutes daily to draft the speech, and then put it away until the next day.
I can imagine this working for some people, but Mr Greg Mckeown has never been inside my brain: If I even start thinking for 30 seconds about something like that, my head will be bubbling and fizzing with ideas for the next 24 hours at least. Meaning that my brain will be too busy with possible speech scenario’s to get anything else done. Some people are planners, some are not – I don’t think this has anything to do with trying to stick to essential things.
There are a few chapters like that in the second part of the book, where Mr Mckeown described processes that work for him, but in my opinion are not necessarily linked to this philosophy of essentialism, and even make them sound a little elitist in his many overviews of how Essentialists are different (better?) than other people.

Net, I believe in the philosophy, and the book describes it very well while giving good advice, especially in the first half. The second half might not serve everyone as he mixed too many other things into it that might not work for everyone, but unfortunately the way he writes it he leaves no option: you either do it all and be part of the Essentialist club, or you don’t.
Having said that, I think us readers are smart enough to pick and choose and not be bothered about whether Mckeown will think we do it properly or not.



Disclaimer: A review copy was provided to me by the publisher, but does not sway my rating either way. This review reflects my own experience and opinion with this book.