Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less – Greg McKeown


“Your obligation is to the highest point of contribution you can make.” 

What if doing less, and having less, actually leads to more fulfillment and higher achievement? Essentialism is more than a time-management strategy or a productivity technique. It is a systematic discipline for discerning what is absolutely essential, then eliminating everything that is not, so we can make the highest possible contribution toward the things that really matter. 

By forcing us to apply more selective criteria for what is Essential, the disciplined pursuit of less empowers us to reclaim control of our own choices about where to spend our precious time and energy instead of giving others the implicit permission to choose for us. 

The difference between essentialists and non-essentialists is how they allocate time and energy across three concentric circles in their lives. The outer circle is called "other." This includes things like your email, social media updates, or busywork tasks at work that vie for your attention. Non-essentialists start each day in this circle and often get stuck there. 

The second circle (which is closer to the center) is called “family.” Most of us consider our family to be important to us, but if we spend too much energy in the "other" circle, we’ll be pretty exhausted by the time we’re interacting with our families at the end of the day. 

Finally, there is the third, innermost circle. This is what Greg calls "protect the asset," which is yourself. This is your most elevated, intuitive place, where you can make the biggest contribution. And if you really understand what you can contribute in this circle, the costs of ignoring or overlooking it becomes clear. Unfortunately, many non-essentialists get so caught up in the other circles that they never reach this point. 

By contrast, an essentialist sets their priorities by starting from the inner circle and working their way out. They focus intently on what’s most important to them and learn to avoid the trivial. They are fiercely protective of their time and energy because they understand what they are otherwise giving up. 

When we think about our time, we need to replace our false assumptions with three core truths: 

  • "I have to" becomes "I choose to." 
  • "It’s all important" becomes "Only a few things really matter." 
  • "I can do both" becomes "I can do anything but not everything." 

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