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on 22 July 2014
I borrowed this from the library, having seen Michael Hyatt rave about it on his blog. I was not disappointed. It is a highly useful compendium of advice to help busy people focus. I have many demands on my time; this is an important skill for me, and one I am not always good at executing, because it involves swimming against a tide that assumes someone like me should be busy and have a finger in many pies.

If there were one area where I think the book could be improved, it is that in a few of the chapters there are insufficient real-life illustrations of the principles being expounded. That said, most chapters are fine in this respect.

I am aware that I could collect a number of McKeown's articles from the web as other reviewers have said, but for me it is handy to have all this together in one place. So my library copy is going back today, and I am ordering a paperback for my bookshelf.
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on 9 June 2014
Corporate cog, small business owner, artist, or harried stay-at-home parent--we all have big goals we'd like to pursue if we could just find enough time in the day. The number one piece of advice offered by teachers, mentors, life coaches and time management gurus? Prioritize. Sounds great. But how does one do that when faced with a never-ending list of must-dos?

According to author Greg McKeown, the first thing to dump is the list.

A "priority," he says, is ONE thing. The First thing. Discovering what your First thing is--and how to structure life so that you're able to focus on it--is what ESSENTIALISM: THE DISCIPLINED PURSUIT OF LESS is about.

The concept is simple enough: Do less but do it better. Yet, as we know, simple doesn't mean easy. There's nothing easy about admitting to your boss that you cannot possibly do justice to project he's set on your desk when there are three other ones demanding your attention. It isn't easy to give up your bowling league, your online gaming group, and your book club to finally finish that novel you've been writing since college. And it's downright excruciating to say to your kids: will it be karate, soccer OR drama? Because mom and dad need their time, too.

What McKeown proposes is a radical re-think of how we design our days and focus our attention. ESSENTIALISM is directed to the corporate world, but the ideas and suggestions are easily adaptable for those in public service, the self-employed, students or those looking to make the most of a hobby they're passionate about. It really is up to each of us how far we want to take this philosophy--from solving a particular problem (How do I plan a wedding for 500 AND sleep AND not lose my job?) to a total life makeover that strips our days down to the barest and most meaningful essentials. The book provides a framework for individual readers to explore, adapt and build upon.

I do wish Essentialism was a bit longer and included more case studies of people in varying life/work situations. I guess that would undermine the premise--that our lives are OUR lives and only we know what our priority (in the singular!) should be. Nevertheless, it would have been helpful for McKeown to delve a bit more into the problem of competing demands--as a father of small children, he must have plenty of experience with the challenge of balancing family and work. Also, some might say that his view of how bosses will take take an employee's decision to skip time-wasting meetings or reject new projects is overly optimistic, especially in our still-recovering job market.

I borrowed my copy of ESSENTIALISM from the library, but I'm going to buy my own. It looks to be one of those books that become more and more useful as you put its ideas to work. It'll be something to turn to when, invariably, I find myself allowing the trivial to hijack my "one wild and precious life."
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on 20 September 2014
This book is about reframing how we see busy-ness and is a manifesto for a simpler approach to modern life. Plenty of interesting anecdotes and practical tips. I found some of it repetitious but that's no bad thing in reinforcing the central tenets of the book. There are no easy answers and the book's title gives the clue as to how to put the author's ideas into practice. Like a good coach, Greg raises the reader's awareness and it's down to you to take action through a relentlessly disciplined approach.
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As I began to read this book for the first time, I was again reminded of an Einstein observation - "Make everything as simple as possible but no simpler" -- as well as of Greg McKeown's previous book, Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter, in which he and co-author Liz Wiseman juxtapose two quite different personas whom they characterize as the "Multiplier" and the "Diminisher." Although they refer to them as leaders, assigning to them supervisory responsibilities, they could also be direct reports at the management level or workers at the "shop floor" level.

Multipliers "extract full capability," their own as well as others', and demonstrate five disciplines: Talent Magnet, Liberator, Challenger, Debate Maker, and Investor. Diminishers underutilize talent and resources, their own as well as others, and also demonstrate five disciplines: Empire Builder, Tyrant, Know-It-All, Decision Maker, and Micro Manager. They devote a separate chapter to each of the five Multiplier leadership roles.

In Essentialism, McKeown focuses on what must be done to increase what is essential to an organization's success - as well as to an individual's success - by reducing (if not totally eliminating) whatever is not essential to such success. I agree with him: Almost anyone in almost any organization (whatever its size and nature may be) can choose how to expend time and energy; reduce/eliminate "noise" and clutter, preserving only what is exceptionally valuable; and decide which few trade-offs and compromises to accept while rejecting all others. Essentialists have what Ernest Hemingway once characterized as a "built-in, shock-proof crap detector," one that is especially reliable when detecting their own.

"There are three deeply entrenched assumptions we must conquer to lived the way of the Essentialist: `I have to,' `It's all important,' and `I can do both.' Like mythological sirens, these assumptions are as dangerous as they are seductive. They draw us in and drown us in shallow waters."

These are among the dozens of business subjects and issues of special interest and value to me, also listed to indicate the scope of McKeown's coverage.

o The Cluttered Closet Test (Pages 17-19)
o The Essentialist Mind-Set: A Three-Step Process (20-25)
o Discern the Vital Few from the Trivial Many (60-61)
o How to Create Spaces to Design, Concentrate, and Read (65-71)
o Clarify the Question (80-81)
o A Mind Invited to Play (86-89)
o Protecting the Asset: Ourselves (94-96)
o The 90 Percent or NOTHING Rule (104-107)
o How to Cut Out the Trivial Many (116-117)
o From "Pretty Clear" to "Really Clear": Two Common Patterns (121-124)
o The Power of a Graceful "No" (131-0135)
o The "No" Repertoire (140-143)
o How to Avoid Commitment Traps (148-154)
o EDIT: The Invisible Art (155-162)
o LIMIT: The Freedom of Setting Boundaries (163-167)
o How to Produce More by Eliminating More (188-192)
o FLOW: The Genius of Routine (203-205)
o The Essential Life: Living a Life that Really Matters (236-237)

McKeon also provides an appendix, Leadership Essentials, during which he suggests and discusses five:

1. Be Ridiculously Selective in Hiring People
2. Go for Extreme Empowerment
3. Communicate the Right Things [values, standards, objectives] to the Right People at the Right Time
4. Check in Often to Ensure Meaningful Progress

Greg McKeon makes frequent use of terms such as "less," "more," and "better." For example, the essentialist mind-set affirms "Less but better." We know what he means: Less (if any) of what is non-essential but better results. In this context, as he explains, essentialists are trimmers and pruners, eliminating organizational fat while strengthening its bones. That is especially important these days when, on average, less than 30% of those who comprise a U.S. workforce are actively and positively engaged; the other 70+% are either passively engaged ("mailing it in") or actively undermining efforts to achieve the given business goals.

Obviously, no brief commentary can do full justice to the abundance of information, insights, and counsel provided in this volume but I hope that I have at least indicated why I think so highly of it. I encourage those who share my opinion to check out David Shaked's Strength-Based Lean Six Sigma: Building Positive and Engaging Business Improvement, published by Kogan-Page (2013).
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on 22 June 2014
Greg very beautifully portrays the virtue of essentialism in our personal lives and businesses. The many examples he gave in the book are very relevant.
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on 25 June 2014
An absolute gem!!! Potentially life changing! Teaches you practical techniques to 'cut the garbage' & focus on what's important! Buy it
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on 22 June 2014
Very well written and full of practical, eye-opening points made by the author. Strongly recommend for everyone to read, refine and restructure their life to the principles of essentialism.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 22 December 2014
As the author says, 'Essentialism is not a way of doing one more thing; it is a different way of doing everything'. Many of us are 'majors in minor things', that is, we do too many things, most of which are non-essential. Given that we have limited time, the habit of doing unnecessary things affect the quality of the things we really need to do. That is the essence of essentialism - precision. Doing what needs to be done and no more.

McKeown rehashes many of the ideas that R Covey has advocated in his 'Seven Habits of Highly Effective People', but he has done it in a very efficient way, and the success of his effort lies in the fact that the reader can finish his book in one evening and feeling refreshed with bright ideas and the inspiration to put them into practice right away.

One of his points is that we should learn to say 'no' to projects that we have no inclination or use for. We must appreciate the fact that we have a choice, and the exercise of that choice in saying 'no' is crucial. When too many things impinge on our time and energy, something has to give. We must appreciate that. In this regard, he tells us that it is important to understand trade-offs. If we commit to something, we might have to give up something else. Choose which has the priority. It is as simple as that.

Another useful habit is to learn to focus on only one thing at a time. That, as is now well-known but not fully understood, is not the same as multi-tasking. We can multi-task by, say, washing the dishes and listening to music. But we cannot multi-focus. We must therefore learn to eliminate the things that are trivial. Warren Buffet, McKeown reminds us, made his fortune on 10 big investments - not hundreds.

How do we begin? McKeown suggests that we can start by eliminating and cutting losses. Discard things that are losing propositions, things we accumulate that are cluttering our lives. We must have the courage to cut losses. Be realistic and build buffers, he tells us; so that we do not underestimate the time we need to get a thing done.

Finally, it is important to be decisive. We must be clear as to what the issue is before us, constantly asking what it is that we need to do and whether we need to do it. If the answer is not clearly yes, then, he says, it is clearly no.
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on 27 May 2014
I've read Greg's articles in HBR and think the concepts are great. I believe in the disciplined pursuit of less, and determining which of multiple competing demands in life are essential. There is a lot of wise stuff in here, clearly expressed in an accessible way.

However, the book seemed a little grandiose and repetitive. I didn't need "such is the way of the essentialist" plonked at the end of each bit of advice and then a table with an obviously stupid option and an obviously less stupid option labelled non essentialist and essentialist (let alone with the tables being split over pages in a way that was hard to make any sense of in the Kindle edition). Claiming that every great business leader and religious leader is an essentialist, from Steve jobs to mother Teresa, via Warren Buffet and Buddha to all his chums in silicone valley (but failing to think that Hitler or Stalin or other single minded people who are less benevolent might fit the criteria) was a nifty bit of logic. If he'd have mentioned it twenty times less the reader would still not have missed that Greg went to Stanford (and assumed every reader would have been horrified to get a score of 65 on a test, despite this being a mid 2:1 and quite respectable in the UK).

So, a mixed review from me. Read Greg's stuff. But maybe not in this book as the best of it is available on the net in his essays, and if in this book, not on the Kindle.
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on 10 September 2014
Having read the reviews I thought that I'd give this book a try. It hasn't disappointed. The author sets out the ideas behind the book really well and throughout there are examples of how a essentialist would think and respond. Some real food for thought and a book that you can take something away from.
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