Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit Of Less


Essentialism was an interesting book to read while reflecting on the last year and planning for the next.  My plan for next year is defined by: doing less; focusing more; being kind to myself – all topics addressed to a greater or lesser degree by the book.  The over-arching theme of the book is to pare life and work down to the essentials, it’s an idea who’s time has come.  Our lives are too cluttered, we spend too much time acquiring new things, trying to do it all, when perhaps we should be enjoying what we have and doing the few things that really enrich our lives and make an impact at work. It’s a message highly congruent with my recent simplicity quest.

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 your highest point of contribution by doing only what is essential.

The book reads a lot like a collection of blog posts, the early chapters providing the framework and then the rest describing areas of good practice; but it lacks a deep exploration of a single persons experience of living and working in this way.  Much of the material is familiar to me, what I’m really looking for is hard won experience, Essentialism doesn’t provide it.

Still Greg does provide a systematic approach for determining where our highest points of contribution lie, he claims to make the execution of those things almost effortless, although I’m not sure he succeeds in that.  I liked the emphasis on increasing control over the choices and priorities we have to make in life.

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

My favourite part of the book provided a simple three point framework for thinking about the topic:

1. Individual choice: We can choose how to spend our energy and time. Without choice, there is no point in talking about trade-offs.

2. The prevalence of noise: Almost everything is noise, and a very few things are exceptionally valuable. This is the justification for taking time to figure out what is most important. Because some things are so much more important, the effort in finding those things is worth it.

3. The reality of trade-offs: We can’t have it all or do it all. If we could, there would be no reason to evaluate or eliminate options. Once we accept the reality of trade-offs we stop asking, “How can I make it all work?” and start asking the more honest question “Which problem do I want to solve?

All of my resolutions this year will involve a mixture of making tough choices, eliminating noise and distraction and making trade-offs between my health, my work and my other responsibilities and vices so I found the book worthwhile.  Generally though I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone who has read widely on personal development and personal productivity already.  An alternative might be to just read some of the author’s blog posts.  For an excellent look into how to live the focused life I recommend Carl Newport’s blog and his excellent book on how to plan your a career.

You can sum up the book up nicely as:

If you don’t prioritise your life, someone else will

I wrote this blog post on a lazy afternoon after I’d put the Christmas decorations away for another year.  I like decorations, but I like the clean lines, warm colours and simplicity of the house without them more; so while putting them up and anticipating Christmas is a joy, taking them down is even better – and it’s a nice way to prepare for the new year.  These lazy winter afternoons provide a perfect opportunity for afternoon walks to enjoy the sunsets, I took the photo at the top of this post yesterday, sunsets are one of the highlights of my life.

Steve Richards

I'm retired from work as a business and IT strategist. now I'm travelling, hiking, cycling, swimming, reading, gardening, learning, writing this blog and generally enjoying good times with friends and family

1 Response

  1. Rod Keller says:

    Wonderful posts, thoughtful and good. I’ll be back again. This essentialism concept reminds me of the voluntary simplicity movement but seemingly with more of a philosophical base.

    Thanks for the mental fodder…

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