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Greg McKeown – Essentialism

Book Cover

Less is more.

Publisher: Crown Business (Random House)
Pages: 246
Type: Non-Fiction
Age: Adult
ISBN: 978-0-804-13738-6
First Published: 15th April 2014
Date Reviewed: 16th April 2014
Rating: 4/5

McKeown discusses the essentialist way of being (choosing only those options in life and work that will get you closer to your goal and forgetting those that distract you and use up time).

Essentialism is a relatively short and informative book, which whilst a little repetitive and high in case studies, succeeds in suggesting why McKeown’s thoughts are of use.

The author urges us to do the opposite of common working practises. He says to take on only a few tasks and excel in them, rather than to try and do everything. He notes a good night’s sleep as essential, in happy contradiction to the idea that a sleepless worker is a hero. And he recommends actively saying ‘no’ when we want, instead of saying ‘yes’ to what we actually don’t want – those things that will ultimately waste our time. He includes tales from his own life in a way that simply teaches, never preaches.

(It is an interesting concept when you think about how bloggers initially feel they should say ‘yes’ to every request, and how they can become better bloggers by being more in control of what they want to read and discuss, when they are more selective.)

McKeown recounts a conversation he had with a person who remarked that we are no longer bored. We have phones that text and can access the Internet whilst we’re in a queue, for example. No longer being bored is of course good, but McKeown notes the fact that it means we have less, even no, time for thinking.

It is interesting to consider McKeown’s values, what he hopes we’ll adopt. To view it as a list it reads as a holiday plan – time to think; less to do; more sleep; not being so busy; time for play and leisure; done is better than perfect. McKeown’s focus on quality is key to his argument. Discuss with your boss if a task given to you won’t get done, make time for your family. It’s intriguing to note that the author’s method of working means spending more time thinking about options than you would, but he discusses how planning saves time in the long run.

Overall the book is a good read and full of value, but there does come a point where you feel he could have applied ‘less is more’ to his content. He starts to repeat information, which may fit his thoughts on routines helping memory but isn’t necessary in a short book. There are a few too many stories where it would’ve been better to simply carry on discussing strategies. The book isn’t particularly well-written but that’s not important in regards to its purpose. This said, fewer instances of non-classic media being called classic, fewer uses of the word ‘classic’ in general, would have rid the book of its slight ‘name-drop’ atmosphere.

Essentialism provides a thorough grounding in a better way to live and work. It will best suit those who already have thoughts in mind to change, though almost everyone will find it of use in some way.

I received this book for review from the publisher.

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Natalie ~ the Coffee and a Book Chick

April 18, 2014, 2:18 am

I love your point about bloggers learning to control which books to say yes and no to, thus resulting in a better blogger. How true, I completely relate to this. The past two years, I stopped accepting books and only read what I chose to. Now, when I receive a book request, it’s coming from a trusted source who knows my book preferences. Consequently, my reading experience has been much improved, with just a few hiccups along the way since then. I am quite the fan to simply being honest with yourself in all things, and never more true than in the book blogging world.


April 18, 2014, 9:11 am

Interesting book and a wonderful review, Charlie. I am on two minds with respect to this – I love digressing and doing things which are away from the plan, but I also love doing things slowly. I think too much of focus makes life very formulaic with spontaneous moments coming few and far between. I would love a good balance of focus and spontaneity in my life. But I agree with McKeown that it is important to do things slowly and well and have a good night’s sleep and have time to think rather than rush from one task to another. I don’t know whether it is possible today with the kind of pressures and distractions we have, but it is a good thing to aim for. Thanks for writing about this interesting book.

Literary Feline

April 21, 2014, 7:33 pm

I think I drive my husband crazy with how sleep obsessed I am sometimes. I really do believe that sleep is important. I know it impacts my daily functioning and over all mental state.

I like the idea of finding balance.



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