A year of books: Essentialism

Like many people doing important work, there are many demands for our time and attention. Sometimes it is almost paralysing and one can’t get anything meaningful done for serving the needs of others. I am yet to see a role advertised that says ‘help everyone else achieve their goals’


Essentialism by Greg McKeown sets out practical advice and techniques for spending time on the things that are important to you, and it goes way beyond just saying no and removing things from your life. McKeown asserts that routine, and creating buffers in our scheduled commitments to remove the frantic stresses of trying to do too much and then feeling like you aren’t doing anything well can help solve the problem.


There is also a powerful message in this book about sleep and the effects of deprivation and also about the importance of being in the present moment. I resonated with both these points as many of us often stay up late to try and get ahead for the next day, missing the important play time with our children as we have to get something finished by a deadline and we see no other way to achieve it except dropping the most important things to us.


As I read this book I couldn’t help but think of a few people who seem to have mastered this art to great effect, understand saying no in the right way and focussing on doing a few things really well. Personally I took as much from this book about my personal life as in my professional life, we all have much greater control over the external influences in this segment of our lives.


Play features heavily in this book and its importance for increasing activity in our hippocampus – the part responsible for our cognitive function. In the tech industry it’s clear to see why all the startups on the digital scene focus on play, with pool tables, games, and regular team activities. Google is the first one I can recall that really got this and created the most fun environment possible for their employees, all in the vain of increasing the right kind of brain activity.


Essentialism is about removing waste from our lives, but sometimes doing less can be harder that doing more. My favourite quote from the book was “I must apologise: if I had more time I would have written a shorter letter.” We have all written that really long email, that got an even longer reply and an even wider distribution list, when what we could have done is picked up the phone or scheduled a call to discuss further.


This book is definitely one I would recommend for the highly stressed person who just has so much to do and they just don’t know how to say no and find it difficult to know what to do as there is so much to do. Or for a person who really wants to focus on important things to them but can’t work out how to make it happen. I don’t think this book has any kind of silver bullet though, even the author recognises how difficult this can be and has taken a while to master the discipline himself.


Overall it was an easy read, and I learned a few good points from this book.


Rating 6/10

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