From Minimalist to Essentialist – 6 Takeaways From “Essentialism” by Greg McKeown

Essentialism Book Cover
  • Value Proposition
  • How to live a life true to yourself, not the life others expect from you.
  • Methods for being more efficient, productive and effective in both personal and professional realms.
  • Systematic way to discern what is important and eliminate what is not.
  • “Only once you give yourself permission to stop trying to do it all, to stop saying yes to everyone, can you make your highest contribution towards the things that really matter.”
  • Living by design, not by default.
  • If you haven't read the book yet, you can buy it here through my affiliate link. Thanks 🙂 ​

I’m sure you’ve heard the term Minimalism. You basically get rid of all the clutter in your life — physically and mentally. When I first started with my minimalism journey, I scanned all my belongings and got rid of all the stuff I haven’t used for a long time. And I can tell you, it felt amazing. I experienced a feeling of liberation and clarity in my mind like I never have before. It felt so great that I got to a point where it was too much. I was selling stuff just for the sake of owning less. In the end, I bought certain items again because I realized I needed them.

Don’t get me wrong, I still pursue the concept of minimalism but I changed my mindset from “Own as little as you can” to asking myself “What is really essential to me?” As you might guess, this shift happened while reading the book Essentialism by Greg McKeown.

#1 Less but Better

The concept of Essentialism is based on the German maxim, ‘weniger aber besser,’ which means, ‘less but better.’ Essentialism is all about finding out what is really essential for yourself and removing everything that is not. It’s about focusing on less less, but achieving more. Essentialism is not showing you how to get more things done. Instead, it teaches you about how to get the right things done. That’s a huge difference.

The point where Essentialism really kicked in for me was as soon as I applied it in my day-to-day life and not just to my physical belongings. Because “only once you give yourself permission to stop trying to do it all, to stop saying yes to everyone, can you make your highest contribution towards the things that really matter.” The complementary Action Plan for this book will help you accomplish exactly that. So if you want to experience what it’s like to be an Essentialist, sign up for the Action Plan.

#2 Essentialist vs Non-Essentialist

In order to become an Essentialist, you have to conquer the following non-Essentialist assumptions with the core truth for an Essentialist:

“I have to” → “I choose to”
“It is all important” → “Only a few things really matter”
“How can I fit it all in?” → “What are the trade-offs?”

#3 Core mindset of an essentialist

Realize you have a choice

Can you remember a situation where you told someone or yourself that you had to do something, without even considering whether it was actually true? Keep in mind that you can always choose how you spend your time and energy. Your ability to choose can’t be taken away from you. It can only be forgotten.

If you don’t prioritize and choose your own life, someone else will prioritize and make choices for you. The author experienced this by saying yes to a meeting and missed his child’s birth. But why do we often say yes to things we don’t actually want? Our society punishes saying no and rewards saying yes. Also, saying no is more awkward in the moment, and saying yes is celebrated in the moment.

Focus on the vital few

A non-essentialist thinks that almost everything is important, whereas an essentialist only focuses on the top priority to pursue. An essentialist is aware of the fact that almost everything is noise, and a very few things are really important. Sometimes what you don’t do is just as important as what you do do.

Trade-offs aren’t evil

If you start following the path of focusing on the vital few, you unavoidably have to make trade-offs. As hard as they may be, trade-offs represent a huge opportunity. So instead of asking yourself, “What do I have to give up?” replace it with, “What do I want to go big on?”  After all, as an essentialist, you don’t want to do everything. It doesn’t get you very far. Making trade-offs is important. Thus, start seeing them as something positive!

#4 Sleep – Protect the Asset

The author calls it “Protect the Asset.” The most important asset we have to make a change in this world is ourselves. If we don’t take care of ourselves, we damage the most important tool we have to make our contribution. Nowadays, a lot of people damage this asset by cutting out time to get sleep. They think the non-Essentialist way that one hour less of sleep equals one more hour of productivity, whereas Essentialist are aware of the enormous benefit of sleep and know that one hour more of sleep equals several more hours of higher productivity.

#5 The Power of Saying No

I’m pretty sure you experienced this situation way more often than you want to, saying yes to people too often in order to avoid feelings of social awkwardness and pressure. An Essentialis makes saying no a habit. This is a necessary step in order to be effective and to be able to follow through with the things that matter to you.

It doesn’t have to be a rude act to say no. The Action Plan for this book has a dedicated exercise and several examples to help you practice saying no. But for now, I want to give you some of the tips the author provides in his book:

  • Separate the decision from the relationship.
  • Saying “no” gracefully doesn’t have to mean using the word no.
  • Focus on the trade-off.
  • Remind yourself that everyone is selling something.
  • Make your peace with the fact that saying “no” often requires trading popularity for respect.

#6 Focus – What’s important now?

At this point, I want to give you another non-Essentialist and Essentialist contrast when it comes to the matter of focus.

  • Mind spinning about the past and future → Mind is focused on the present
  • Thinks about what was important yesterday or tomorrow → Tunes in to what is important at the present moment
  • Worries about the future or stresses about the past → Enjoys the moment

A word about multi-tasking vs. multi-focusing
You might expect some words about the downside of multi-tasking and that an Essentialist should not attempt to do more than one thing at a time. I thought so too when I was reading this part of the book. However, the author made a very good point which I would like to share with you. We can easily do multiple things at the same time, e.g. working on a blog post and listening to music. Or watching TV while cleaning up the room. What we are not able to do is concentrate or be laser focused on two things at the same time. So multi-tasking per se is not bad thing for an Essentialist, it’s assuming that we can multi-focus.

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