The Disciplined Pursuit of Less: Essentialism by Greg McKeown

Lately, I’ve had many conversations with people around campus about how overworked and overwhelmed everyone is right now. Perhaps is it simply that point of the semester. However, I suspect that something more is going on related to the demands that we all have for our time and energy. I recently read a fantastic book related to the pressures on us that has me rethinking my own priorities and goals. Greg McKeown’s Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less challenges our paradigms and encourages a reassessment of what we work on each day. Like many people, I try to be as efficient as possible to squeeze more out of the time I have to get work done. McKeown argues for doing less but better. As he writes, “Essentialism is a disciplined, systematic approach for determining where our highest point of contribution lies, then making executive of those things almost effortless.”

The picture above from his book blew me away. It was like I was looking in a mirror.

Most people, McKeown challenges, make a millimeter of progress in a million directions.

Guilty as charged.

An Essentialist expends the same amount of energy, but by investing in a few areas is able to make significant progress.

I’m not looking for a way to get out of work. I don’t mind hard work. Heck, I even enjoy it.

Yet, I want to see significant progress rather than feeling as if I’ve spent all this time and energy with little to show for it.

Trivial Many and the Vital Few

Three assumptions guide much of how we make decisions on a daily basis, “I have to,” “It’s all important,” and “I can do both.”

What if instead, we change to say, “I choose to,” “Only a few things matter,” and “I can do anything but not everything.”

The reality is that most of what we do really isn’t all that important. There are a few areas where we can invest and show significant progress. These are the vital few. Why do we spend so much energy on the trivial many? Our goal should be to learn the difference between the two.

I spend so much of my time working to get more done. If I just spend a few more minutes, if I find a new efficiency, I can get more done.

What if I spent this same time, effort, and energy on how to get the right stuff done.

Am I investing in the right activities?

This question may the most important one we ask ourselves. We should ask it every day if not every hour. Am I working on the right thing right now? If the answer is no, then why am I doing it?

Believe me, I know how hard this can be. This strategy requires real trade offs and tough decisions. Some people will get mad if I don’t do something. Others will be frustrated.

Radio host and financial guru Dave Ramsey likes to say, “If broke people are making fun of your financial plan, you’re probably doing something right.”

I think the same applies here.

If overwhelmed and exhausted people are mad about your goals and how you’re spending your energy, you’re probably doing something right.

This post only scratches the surface of McKeown’s Essentialism. It is worth your investment to get a copy for yourself. I highly recommend it.