Essentialism By Greg McKeown

These are my personal book notes of Essentialism by the author Greg McKeown.

Have you ever found yourself stretched too thin?

Do you sometimes feel overworked and underutilized?

Do you feel motion sickness instead of momentum?

Does your day sometimes get hijacked by someone else’s agenda?

Have you ever said “yes” simply to please and then resented it?

If you answered yes to any of these, the way out is the way of the Essentialist.


  • Author: Greg McKeown
  • Title: Essentialism
  • Subtitle: The Disciplined Pursuit Of Less
  • First published: 2011
  • Type: non-fiction
  • Genre: self-help / mindset / focus
  • Author’s website:
  • Rating: 4/5
  • Recommended: Yes

Table Of Contents Of The Book

  • The Essentialist
  • Part I: Essence: What is the core mind-set of an Essentialist?
    • Choose: The Invincible Power of Choice
    • Discern: The Unimportance of Practically Everything
    • Trade-off: Which Problem Do I Want?
  • Part II: Explore: How can we discern the trivial many from the vital few?
    • Escape: The Perks of Being Unavailable
    • Look: See What Really Matters
    • Play: Embrace the Wisdom of Your Inner Child
    • Sleep: Protect the Asset
    • Select: The Power of Extreme Criteria
  • Part III: Eliminate: How can we cut out the trivial many?
    • Clarify: One Decision That Makes a Thousand
    • Dare: The Power of a Graceful “No”
    • Uncommit: Win Big by Cutting Your Losses
    • Edit: The Invisible Art
    • Limit: The Freedom of Setting Boundaries
  • Part IV: Execute: How can we make doing the vital few things almost effortless?
    • Buffer: The Unfair Advantage
    • Subtract: Bring Forth More by Removing Obstacles
    • Progress: The Power of Small Wins
    • Flow: The Genius of Routine
    • Focus: What’s Important Now?
    • Be: The Essentialist Life
  • Appendix
    • Leadership Essentials
  • Notes
  • Acknowledgments
  • Taking Essentialism Beyond the Page

Key Concepts and Ideas

Greg describes a process in his book that can help us making decisions and distinguishing the vital few from the trivial many.

The Wisdom Of Life Consists In The Elimination of Non-Essentials.
- Lin Yutang

Essentialism is not about how to get more things done; it’s about how to get the right things done.

It doesn’t mean just doing less for the sake of less either.

It is about making the wisest possible investment of your time and energy in order to operate at our highest point of contribution by doing only what is essential.

Spread Energy Vs Focused Energy

You simply cannot have it all.

I can do anything, but not everything.

We must decide what our agenda or goal is, and pursue only opportunities that lead us to our goals.

If you don’t have your own agenda, someone else will make one for you.

The ability to choose cannot be taken or given away, only forgotten.

Don’t commit casually to plans you’re not sure about.

Don’t stretch yourself too thin.

Instead, go all-in on the important stuff in your life.

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 nonessentials,
  • 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.

  Nonessentialist Essentialist
Thinks All Things To All People Less But Better
  “I have to.” “I choose to.”
  “It’s all important.” “Only a few things really matter.”
  “How can I fit it all in?” “What are the trade-offs?”
Does The Undisciplined Pursuit Of More The Disciplined Pursuit Of Less
  Reacts to what’s most pressing Says “no” to everything except the essential
  Says “yes” to people without really thinking Removes obstacles to make execution easy
  Tries to force execution at the last moment Pauses to discern what really matters
Gets Lives A Life That Does Not Satisfy Lives A Life That Really Matters
  Takes on too much, and work suffers Chooses carefully in order to do great work
  Feels out of control Feels in control
  Is unsure of whether the right things got done Gets the right things done
  Feels overwhelmed and exhausted Experiences joy in the journey

The way of the Essentialist is the path to being in control of our own choices.

It is a path to new levels of success and meaning.

It is the path on which we enjoy the journey, not just the destination.

Despite all these benefits, however, there are too many forces conspiring to keep us from applying the disciplined pursuit of less but better, which may be why so many end up on the misdirected path of the Nonessentialist.

If you don’t prioritize your life, someone else will.

The word priority came into the English language in the 1400s.

It was singular.

It meant the very first or prior thing.

It stayed singular for the next five hundred years.

You cannot overestimate the unimportance of practically everything.

What do you want to go BIG on?

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?”

Closing Thoughts

My book notes only cover small parts of the book.

So if you like what you read, please consider buying the book from the author.

Thank you for reading and stay awesome,

Tim for Online Business Dude

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If it isn’t a clear yes, then it’s a clear no.
- Greg McKeown