Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less - Greg McKeown

Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less - Greg McKeown

Learn to increase your productivity with practices that eliminate what is unimportant and focus only on what is essential.

Are you always busy, but not so productive? Are you constantly overwhelmed? Do you feel that your time is being "hijacked" by other people's commitments?

If you identify with these situations, the practices proposed by the book "Essentialism", by Greg McKeown, can change your life and help you accomplish a better performance by doing less.

Want to know more? Keep reading this summary!

About the book "Essentialism"

"Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less" was written by Greg Mckeown and published on 14 April 2014, by Currency.

Divided into 4 parts, the book brings practical solutions that help eliminate everything that hinders you from being productive and efficient.

It reached the bestseller level by the New York Times and was recommended by other authors and successful entrepreneurs, such as Reid Hoffman, co-founder of Linkedin.

About the author Greg McKeown

Greg McKeown studied communications, journalism and holds an MBA from Stanford University. He is an author, business strategist and management consultant.

Founder and CEO of the leadership and strategy design agency McKeown, Inc., Greg has lectured on companies such as Apple, Google, Facebook, Twitter, and Linkedin. Also, he is one of the leading writers of the Harvard Business Review blog.

To whom is this book indicated?

The teachings of "Essentialism" are for those who want to be more productive, efficient, and to learn how to better manage their time and activities.

Besides, it can also help people with difficulties in identifying their priorities in life.

Main ideas of the book "Essentialism"

The key points of "Essentialism" are:

  • Less is more;
  • Few things are really essential in your life;
  • Creating a routine is important to focus on what is essential.

In this summary, we will explain the 4 parts of the book, showing the main ideas of Greg McKeown about each one of them. Let's begin?

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[Book Summary] Essentialism - Greg Mckeown

Overview: Part 1 - Essence

In this first part, Greg McKeown defines what is essentialism and shows the mentality necessary to practice this discipline.

He explains that to be an essentialist, we need to replace the false assumptions: "I need to do it"; "All these things are important" and "I can do both" by the three fundamental truths of essentialism:

  • "I choose to do";
  • "Only a few things really matter";
  • "I can do anything, but I can't do everything".

In "Essentialism", the author dedicates a chapter to talk about each of these expressions. Here are the ideas behind each of them:

The power of choice

According to the author, the first step is to recognize that you have a choice. When we forget that possibility, we are left at the mercy of other people's choices.

Therefore, an essentialist is someone who values the power of choice.

Few things really matter

Many people fail to deliver their maximum performance because they believe that everything is important. So it is important to invest some time to evaluate your options.

With this evaluation, an essentialist can separate what is vital (usually few things) from what is trivial.


When we find a difficult choice between two things we long for, this is what we call a trade-off. Normally, our will is to do both, which often goes wrong.

In this situation, essentialists don't ask themselves how they can do both. They choose the one that will make them grow more.

That way, they can judge what will give the greatest opportunity and focus on that, because it is essential.

Overview: Part 2 - Exploring

Greg McKeown describes five practices that should be used to distinguish what is really essential.

So let's get down to business. The practices are:


Our lives are very busy now, right? Often we have the perception that we don't have time for anything, much less to think about ourselves.

In this chapter of "Essentialism", the author discusses the importance of stopping a little and thinking.

What he suggests is to invest as much time as possible (but don't let that get in the way of your tasks, of course) to escape the daily rush and focus, read, and think about life.


The main lesson of this chapter is simple but fundamental: we must stop focusing too much on small details and pay attention to the big picture.

For this, McKeown provides some tips:

  • Keep a diary to register and analyze your life;
  • Explore the problem in practice so it will be easier to assess the cause;
  • Pay attention to unusual details.

Have fun

According to the book "Essentialism", having fun is not neglecting responsibilities.

Greg McKeown explains that having fun is necessary for stress management. As a consequence, it also influences productivity, creativity and quality of life. That is, it is part of the essential matrix.

So, allow yourself to have a few moments of fun!

Sleep and recover

The author Greg McKeown makes it clear that the greatest asset we have is ourselves, whether contributing to the world or our own lives. Therefore, we must protect this asset, that is, our health.

The essentialist understands that one more hour of sleep represents several hours of high productivity, so treats sleep as essential.

Also, a good night's sleep enhances creativity and enables higher levels of contribution to be achieved.


The book "Essentialism" brings the "90% rule" to help you make important decisions.

It is simple: you have to rate each option. Those below 90, you reject. That way, you avoid getting stuck with average options.

When finding a new opportunity, the author recommends the following approach:

  1. Write on a paper what is the opportunity (e. g. giving a speech at an event);
  2. Below it, decide 3 criteria by which the opportunity should be approved so that you start considering it (e. g. audience of more than 1000 people, transportation costs paid);
  3. Finally, write down the ideal criteria for the opportunity to be approved. (e. g. 5000 people will attend the lecture and you will receive a bonus).

According to Greg McKeown, you should only accept an opportunity that meets all your initial criteria and at least 2 ideal criteria.

That way, you can separate which are the opportunities that will bring great benefits and are essential.

Overview: Part 3 - Delete

In the third part of the book, Greg McKeown shows how to eliminate everything that is not essential. Thus, we can increase our level of contribution with the activities that really matter.

We separate the main aspects of this segment of "Essentialism":

The force of saying "no"

It is common to find ourselves in situations where we agree to something out of obligation or just to avoid major conflicts.

In these cases, the author explains that an essentialist must master the art of evaluating the situation and, if appropriate, saying "no" in a respectful and eloquent manner.

This is one of the book's most important skills, and also one of the most difficult to learn.

By adopting this practice, you have to accept that it will not always be popular. Especially in contexts where people are not used to having their requests denied.

The Pitfalls of Commitment

Have you continued to invest effort and time into a decaying project?

Often, people refuse to admit that they made a mistake and remain committed to projects that are bound to fail. That's where the pitfalls of commitment are!

The essentialist, on the other hand, sees no problem in admitting an error and redirecting the time and effort to a more productive project.

To avoid falling into this kind of trap, here are some tips:

  • Do not overestimate your own projects. Always ask yourself: "if I wasn't involved, how much effort would I make to get into this activity?";
  • Do not think that giving up something that is flawed is a waste;
  • Ask for the opinion of someone neutral;
  • Admit failure to start succeeding.

It is important to impose limits

This principle is of great importance, since with the new means of communication, people have the idea that we are available all the time. This makes the line between work and family more and more blurred.

According to Greg McKeown, non-essentialists see limits as a demonstration of weakness and disability. However, what happens most is loss of quality in the results caused by the lack of limits.

In contrast, the essentialist recognizes that limits are crucial because they allow you to eliminate the demands and problems of others. So, you focus on what is really essential!

Overview: Part 4 - Perform

In the last part of the book, McKeown teaches you how to create a system to perform those activities that you have identified as essential. The steps suggested by him are:

Prepare yourself

Good preparation is crucial to prevent unexpected problems from getting in the way of the project. The essentialist accepts that it is not possible to predict or control the entire context and prepares for the worst.

To help you, the author proposes the following practices:

  • Always add 50% of the time needed to your estimate. That way, you protect yourself from any surprises;
  • Simulate different scenarios. Thus, you can make a plan and already know beforehand how to act in certain circumstances.

Identify and Remove Obstacles

The main idea of this chapter of "Essentialism" is that essentialists increase their productivity by removing obstacles that are hindering rather than helping to accomplish more.

To do this, the author explains that you must stop and think before starting the project: "What are the obstacles in my journey to complete this task?".

This insight allows you to find the best way to solve the problem and increase your progress, which is covered in more detail in the next chapter.

Visualize your progress

As Greg McKeown affirms, essentialists advance slowly and, in the end, achieve great results. Throughout the process, they celebrate every small wins.

This visualization of progress is a powerful tool to increase satisfaction during the task.

Create a routine

When we are doing things within a routine, its accomplishment ends up being easy and natural, right? That is why you have to establish one for your progress!

Don't know how to do this? It is simple! To begin, you must eliminate habits that are not essential and work on habits that benefit you.

To help the reader, Greg quotes a part of Charles Duhigg's bestseller, "The Power of Habit", which explains how you can take advantage of everyday practices to become more productive.

Stay Focused

Finally, the author talks about the importance of staying focused on what is most important at the moment, according to the priorities you have set in previous practices.

He makes an important distinction: "multitasking" is not the enemy of essentialism, but "multifocal" is.

Multifocal is a problem because we cannot concentrate on two things at once. When we do it, we only make mistakes and decrease our productivity.

What do other authors say about it?

Tony Robbins, in his book "Unshakable", brings some ideas in common, since, for him, many people earn money, but do not feel better. According to the author, some of the richest people in the world live in constant fear of losing everything and feel unsatisfied when they wake up in the morning. Is that wealth? Not for Robbins! To feel really rich, you need to take care of your emotions.

The book "Focus", by Daniel Goleman, is based on the idea that self-awareness is a focus that functions as an internal compass. It governs your actions and aligns them with your values. Willpower and self-control are functions of self-awareness. Focusing on achieving a goal requires self-control to subdue your impulses and ignore intrusive emotions.

In the book "Discover Your True North", the author Bill George also addresses the internal compass. For him, true north is your direction, that is, who you are. Thus, the north represents your most important values: the vital markers you use to navigate through life.

Okay, but how can I apply this to my life?

The teachings of "Essentialism" aren't easy to apply. It is important to keep in mind that you won't become an essentialist overnight.

However, following the suggested practices, it is possible to change. Here are some tips:

  • Start slowly. Gradually identify and eliminate things that are not essential in your life;
  • Put as much effort as possible into what you consider essential;
  • Focus on one thing at a time.

Did you like this summary of the book "Essentialism"?

What is essential for you? Leave a comment, your feedback is really important to us!

If you want to know the details of all these practices suggested by Greg McKeown, you can buy the complete book by clicking on the image below:

Book “Essentialism”

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