Patton's Pick from the PMA Library: "Essentialism"

April 2020

"Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less" by Greg McKeown 

If you're looking for book recommendations in the productivity and professional development genre, Patton offers a weekly summary of some of the essential and emerging titles from the PMA Library.  This is also a recommendation of Angela Woods, the guest on Episode 30 of The Path Podcast.

An exercise in prioritization, Greg McKeown's "Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less" provides readers with a great philosophical and practical approach to minimizing overload and focusing on what's truly important. In our ultra-connected lifestyles it's too easy to try to do everything and ultimately fail.

Three Key Questions:

  1. What do I feel passionate about?
  2. What is my greatest talent?

  3. What meets a significant need in the world?


Three Takeaways:

  1. Determine Your Purpose. McKeown suggests you should only do one thing, but do it the best. He suggests you determine your task by identifying the thing that is best, inspirational + concrete = essential intent. You should explore to discern these vital few tasks from the trivial many which may cloud your judgement and waste your time. He suggests that you find space to escape, like Bill Gates' yearly retreats, to stay focused and lucid in your goals. 

  2. Live by Design. While some believe that strict routines hinder one's progress, McKeown assures readers that routines don't limit creativity or flow, but rather free you to be inspired. Specific decisions about how one spends their time eliminates a 1000 later ones when indecision and vagueness govern one's time. The routine ensures time is spent productively, consistently. 

  3. Minimize Options. Be slow to say yes and quick to say no. You should not major in minor activities, when they are distractions keeping you from your major goals. If you don't say no to a nonessential task, you say yes by default. Understand what you need to do and not do and be swift to decline distractions. Accept and appreciate trade-offs; not a loss but an opportunity to go big on those that remain. One should make cutting condensing and connecting another part of the daily routine. 

McKeown identifies two modes of living: Nonessentialist (distraction, dispersion of effort and intentionality) and Essentialist (motivated with directionality and force/support). Structuring one's life to follow the essentialist method proactively eliminates decision anxiety in the present and the future, allowing one to focus, be creative, and successfully achieve specific goals. Move from motion sickness to momentum. Instead of a millimeter of progress in a million directions, move in one direction.

Greg McKeown is the author of the New York Times Bestseller, "Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less" (Crown Business, April 2014). He has taught at companies that include Apple, Google, Facebook,, Symantec, Twitter and VMware. He was recently named a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum.