by Greg McKeown

Book Cover

Fun thing about this one: I forgot I already read it 2 years ago, and mid-book realized that it sounded familiar, checked on Goodreads and sure enough… Left such a mark on first read that I forgot I had it on Kindle and borrowed the audio book from library.

Quick enough, buying into the whole shtick of finding your intent and doing less. Not revolutionary either.


Essentialism is the pursuit of the meaningful few rather than the trivial many. Less but better. The gist is to determine what your intent is and your goals are, then focus on what helps achieving them and say no to everything else. Focus on achieving your own goals and determining your own priority rather than using someone else’s.


Essentialism is the pursuit of less but better

3 assumptions (i have to, it’s all important, i can do everything) replaced by 3 truths (i choose to, only a few things matter, i can do anything but not everything)

Less but better

Eliminate the trivial many to focus on the meaningful few


Behave like a consultant - say no to anything that is not essential

It’s about choosing

Learned helplessness - in the right situations people learn that nothing they do will improve their situation

Default logic can be that more can be accomplished by more work. Essentialism is about doing the right things, but fewer things

Need to make trade-offs. By definition trade off is between two things you want. Do the thing that fits best with your objectives

Essentialist needs to reflect to see the big picture

You need solitary time to think

Focus on the big picture beyond the facts. Think rather than react

Become the journalist of your own life - try to find what is not said

What goals are you trying to accomplish? What question are you trying to answer

Play is required to stimulate creativity

If not hell yes, then no. Apply selective criteria when evaluating opportunities. Avoid FOMO when deciding something that settles you on lesser opportunities that are readily available at the risk of turning down something better later.


To be able to sort essential vs trivial:

  1. You need clarity on what you want to achieve

  2. You need to know the purpose - define the intent of what you are doing, a goal like “provide internet to all english people”.

Focus on accomplishing your own goal, not somebody else’s

Saying no but to the essentials

Say no when things are not aligned with intent, the not essential. Clarity about intent is what fuels saying no.

Saying no is not easy and it has drawbacks. You need to separate the relationship from the decision. Accept you can’t be popular with everyone at all times

Avoid Sunk cost - admit failure and uncommit.

  • Endowment effect - we value more what we own, uncommit from non essentials just because you invested in it.
  • 0-base budgeting - start budget from scratch every year, rejustify all investments
  • Stop casual commitments. Pause before you commit, get out of the commitment.
  • Get out of FOMO.

Set boundaries - be clear on what you will and will not do. Dont remove the problems from their owner (doesn’t mean you cant help, but let people fix their issues)


Ceo as the company editor:. “There are a thousand things you can do, but only a handful of important ones”

Edit your life:

  • Remove options
  • Condense (replace 2h meeting with summary)
  • Replace (replace what being asked for by what is really wanted)
  • Skip (don’t reply to email thread, etc)


Create buffers - the unexpected is to be expected, overestimate, keep extra time, plan with redundancy and in advance. Start doing some of it long in advance to come prepared.

Use theory of constraints. Improve the one slowest constraint continuously. Don’t default to Band-Aid/quick fix solutions. Remove blockers.

Small progress is key to motivation. Minimum viable progress

Use routine to make the essential the default

To win you must deliberately focus on the here and now. Being beaten is that the other team was better. Losing is that we didn’t do our best.

When you get caught in worrying about all the things requiring your attention, figure “what is important right now”

Paradox of success - successful people get more loaded to the point where they don’t do any progress and become unsuccessful

If you don’t prioritize someone else will prioritize for you. Don’t use someone else’s priorities.

As a leader

  • Clear expectations, clear assignments
  • Select strictly when hiring

About Reading Notes

These are my takes on this book. See other reading notes. Most of the time I stop taking notes on books I don't enjoy, and these end up not being in the list. This is why average ratings tend to be high.